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

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  • 07/03/14--07:50: Dinner on the Horizon
  • One of my clients very kindly invited me out to dinner tonight, and grabbed a couple of more guys to share a few bottles of wine together.  As it turns out, my client is an old friend of Sheets', so I looked forward to a relaxing evening amongst friends.

    We headed to Aberdeen Marina Club after work, and stopped in at La Cave for some bubbly while we waited for reinforcements to arrive.  The Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru was nice and smooth, very balanced in terms of acidity and ripeness on the palate.  Somewhat caramelized nose.

    After finishing our bubbly, we moved to the Horizon (海天閣) for some dinner.  Our host had already arranged for the wines to be dropped off and decanted, and we would order some simple dishes in batches to go along with the different wines.

    Crispy bean curd (脆皮黃金豆腐) - this was OK, largely saved by the deep-fried minced garlic and chili.

    Pan roasted French beans, shrimp paste (百花煎釀四季豆) - pretty interesting, as this is usually done with green chilis or bell peppers.

    Barbecued pork, honey glazed (蜜汁叉燒皇) - pretty decent.

    1988 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Estate Vineyard - the color was a beautiful amber.  Nose was very sweet, bubblegum-like, caramelized, honey, marmalade, and oaky.  Later on showed straw notes.  Ripe and mature but still alcoholic, with a finish that was kinda dry.  After 2 hours, this was totally buttery, with a little coconut.  An absolutely beautiful wine.

    Wok fried beef fillet, salty egg yolk, broccoli (翡翠金沙牛柳粒) - pretty nice, actually.  Don't think I've ever had this particular combination before, as the salty egg yolk is often on seafood, tofu or veggies.  I think they used just the right amount of the yolk, without too thick of a coating that could be overpowering.  The broccoli was a little bitter, though...

    Pan fried Estuary garoupa, superior soya sauce (頭抽煎龍躉球) - pretty decent, but the garoupa was a little muddy.

    1998 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard - still really young and just beginning to soften up.  Really sweet and fruity, which is just what I would expect.  The slightly pungent smell of the grape skin is still evident here.

    Sautéed bean curd skin, preserved vegetables, yellow chives, bean sprouts (韮皇味菜銀牙炒腐竹)

    Steamed oxtail, red wine sauce (砵酒燴牛尾) - the stewed oxtail was not bad at all.  And of course it worked with the bottle of Cali cab...

    Pan fried rice noodles, abalone, chicken (鮑魚絲雞絲煎米粉) - oh yeah... just what I needed at the end of the meal... crispy pancakes of thin rice vermicelli, doused with some tasty sauce and toppings.  I'd do another 2 bowls of this any day...

    1986 Joseph Phelps Insignia - very strong notes of leather, kinda medicinal, stinky, smoky, earthy, pencil lead... and still some fruit left.  Very soft on the palate after almost 30 years.

    This was a very enjoyable evening, as our host very generously shares his wines with us.  I'm very much looking forward to our next gathering where, hopefully, I will have an opportunity to bring out a few bottles from my overflowing cellar full of Californians.

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    Another long-awaited gathering, and this time our organizer has chosen Kam's Restuarant (甘飯館), the new restaurant opened by Kevin Kam (甘崇軒), eldest son of the late Kinsen Kam (甘健成), whose father opened a little restaurant called Yung Kee (鏞記飯店).  This is the branch of the family that lost out in the feud, so the third generation has now struck out on their own and opened two outlets.

    The space wasn't very big, and I arrived a little early, while the diners from the earlier seating were still finishing up.  Business was very good, and anyone without a reservation was turned away at the door.  And even those with reservations would have to wait until their table freed up.

    First came the century eggs with pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑).  Not liking the half that I took today... The chemical/ammonia flavors were a little too much.

    We were hungry and eager to try out some of the old favorites, and in the end we had just about the right amount of food for four hungry mouths...

    The signature roast goose (燒鵝) was pretty good.  I never used to care for the roast goose at Yung Kee, and found it to be overrated most of the time.  Tonight, though, I found little to complain about.

    Sweet and sour pork with hawthorn (山楂咕嚕肉) - the classic version made with hawthorn berries and pickled ginger.  Pretty good, and not too much sauce.

    Steamed tofu with preserved mustard and minced pork (梅菜肉崧蒸豆腐) - pretty decent.

    Fried eggplant with crab meat (蟹燒茄子) - the eggplant was fried and slightly crispy on the outside, and a heavily starched crab meat and conpoy (干貝) sauce was ladled on top.  Yum.

    Stir-fried beef with deep-fried crullers (鬼馬牛肉) - interesting to find that the last time I had this dish was actually at Yung Kee.  Crispy, deep-fried crullers?  Crunchy water chestnut?  Sign me up!

    Goose fat fried rice (鵝油炒飯) - with a name like that, what's not to like?!  Sooooo yummy.  I made this mistake of having an extra half-bowl... and got a little stuffed.

    Wine consumption was a little weak tonight, as only 2 of us were really drinking...  Plenty of leftovers.

    2011 Happs Pinot Noir - strong nose of grape skin and forest.  Sugar sweet on palate.  Lolly water.

    1999 Querceto Cignale - a little smoky with grilled meats.  Rounded tannins.

    We went a couple of blocks down the road to have dessert at Auntie Sweet (甜姨姨私房甜品), even though I was completely stuffed.  I debated about ordering an interesting drink, but in the end I got something more "usual" for me...

    Sago cream with durian (榴槤西米露) - lots of durian here, but it was a little overripe... and on my tongue it almost felt like it was a little carbonated... with a tingling sensation.  Otherwise there was not much to complain about.

    Pretty good first visit, and the pricing was more than reasonable.  Would be very interested in coming back to try out a few more things!

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  • 07/10/14--08:25: Pork, pasta and more
  • I was thinking of keeping things simple and low-calorie for dinner tonight when I got a call from Fergie as I was finishing up in the office.  He was bored, had time to kill, and just happened to pass by my office building.  Would I have time for a drink, he asked.  The reality was that I had a head start on him, and already downed a beer with Fat Donkey in the office.  So I guess another drink couldn't hurt...

    We got to discussing about dinner plans, and I suggested that we go and check out Orto.  A couple of years ago, a friend had introduced me someone who was thinking about opening a restaurant, and some time later Orto opened up just steps from my new office.  Not quite sure, though, why it took me this long to go check it out...

    Salumi misti - not a bad start to go along with our wines.

    Capesante avvolte con guanciale - we saw this being served to another table, and the second I saw the word "guanciale" I was sold.  This was very nice indeed.  The scallop was delicious, can't go wrong with the guanciale, and the tomato and basil salsa on top was good, too.

    Tagliatelle al cioccolato con salsa di calamari e pomodori - we were curious about the homemade pasta, so we took the cocoa tagliatelle.  The cocoa flavors didn't really hit me as being something outstanding, but overall this was pretty good.

    Ravioli di salmone con salsa di asparagi, gamberi e pomodori - another homemade pasta.  The ravioli was very much undercooked the first time, and was a lot harder than just al dente.  So we sent it back.  The second time was better, although the corners were still a tad chewy, but it was close enough to al dente.  Pretty yummy otherwise.

    Carpaccio di manzo in salsa cipriani - a little surprised at the spiciness of this dish...

    The grilled lamb chops were pretty decent, if slightly under-seasoned.

    We asked for medium-rare, although I wished it were a teeeeny bit more pink.  Still pretty juicy, though.

    The original plan was to grab a drink, so we did...

    2009 Nicola Santoleri Crognaleto - bland at first, but became nutty and metallic with prosciutto.  A little ripe on the palate later on.  Ordered this so that we could get corkage waived on the bottle that I brought...

    1985 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - very smooth on the palate, but towards the end slightly denser than expected as we did not decant.  A little violet and leather on the nose.  Pretty nice but this wine is on the way down.

    Not a bad dinner.  With this place being so close to the office, and pricing being very reasonable, methinks me should come back for a quick dinner or two...

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  • 07/13/14--07:02: How to live to be 100
  • Tonight mom's side of the clan celebrated the 100th birthday of my maternal grandmother.  Much like the gathering of dad's side of the clan last year, everyone flew back to Taipei - including my Brazilian Uncle, cousin and family from Brazil.  As we had done for the two previous celebrations, Last-Minute Uncle booked a banquet room at the Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) for this occasion.

    This was obviously a big occasion, and old friends and relatives were invited to join us in wishing grandma happy birthday.  I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen in decades... mostly people who watched me grow up - whether as elders or people I used to play with as a kid - and certainly people who last saw me before I hit puberty.  We've grown distant over the last few decades, and may not even recognize each other on the street, but the connections remain unbroken, thin as the strands may be.

    We sat grandma at the head table with some of her friends and other guests of honor.  The table of 13 included at least 5 members who were above 90, and I estimated that the combined age of the table at somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100.  Not something you're likely to see everyday.

    Before tonight's celebrations, a few people had asked me how grandma had been able to achieve her longevity.  I didn't think much of it at first, but eventually gave it some thought...

    First of all, grandma isn't one of those people who had a very restrictive diet.  After all, mom picked up a good part of her repertoire from grandma, so they never had a low fat/vegetarian/healthy diet at home.  I grew up with braised pig trotters, pork belly, braised ham hock and other good stuff as home cooking, so grandma never avoided any of that stuff.  But we always did have a balanced diet at home, with lots of veggies and fruits.

    And as far as I remembered, grandma's always had a sweet tooth.  This only got worse in the last few years, as her diet shifted to include more sweets and desserts than savory items, even during regular meals.  In the last couple of years she showed a clear dislike for savory dishes, and would happily lap up anything sweet that we put in front of her.  Outside of regular meals, she has a constant supply of sweet snacks and now survives on a certain brand of coffee candy.  It's probably this dietary imbalance that has resulted in her dramatic weight loss in the last 2 years.  She was always pretty chunky before that, but is literally skin and bones nowadays...

    Regardless of her diet, grandma always exercised... and in fact she can't sit still!  She proudly recalls time and again about the fact that she was a basketball player in nursing school (what was the number on her jersey again?).  For decades, she would get up early (as old folks often do), walk over to Da'an Forest Park (大安森林公園) nearby and stroll for an hour or more.  When the weather gets bad, she would stay at home but work out by swinging her arms and legs on the balcony - also for an hour or so.  For years she also practiced waidangong (外丹功) and even got little Foodie Wannabe into the act.  The exercise regime probably only let up in the last couple of years.

    And she was always strong as a cow (substituting for an ox here...).  She loves traveling (and in fact anything to do with fun) and took trips overseas well into her 80s.  Even as an eighty-something, she would be at the front of the tour group once they got off the tour bus, leaving all the twenty- and thirty-somethings in the dust behind her.  That was always hilarious to watch.

    So we celebrate grandma's first hundred years tonight, and I asked one of grandma's friends to make sure that she invites me to her 100th birthday party.  Grandma's still free of any major health problems despite her advanced age, but she has gotten a little frail in the last couple of years.  My wish today is to spend as much time with her as I can, as she's my sole remaining grandparent, and unfortunately, they don't stick around forever...

    P.S.  the banquet menu at the Grand Hotel was OK.  The only thing I didn't like was the sea cucumber that came with the abalone, as it was just foul and fishy.  The kitchen should have canned the dish once they realized their supply of sea cucumbers was off.  I'm still kicking myself for having swallowed it, but I couldn't very well have spat it out in front of our guests!

    The other problem?  The banquet room we were in stank.  Yes, it really STANK.  Mom noticed the smell the minute she walked into the lobby of the hotel, but it took me halfway through dinner to realize it.  I initially thought it was the sea cucumber in front of me, but confirmed that it was the stinky, moldy carpet (or air vents) as I walked halfway across the room and the smell stayed with me.  Yuck.

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  • 07/15/14--00:12: Kyoto, Taipei
  • It's been a while since I last caught up with a couple of friends, and lunch was planned for today.  One of us looooves Japanese food, and had initially suggested that we go to Shoraku (匠楽).  Unfortunately, it's one of those places that I've blacklisted, so a table was booked at Sasa Sushi (笹鮨) instead.  I was all set to revisit after my pretty good lunch some time ago, when something in the media caught my eye.

    I haven't been excited about eating at Shintori (新都里) in about a decade, and pretty much only go with the parental units when family friends invite us.  Right now, however, they are doing a seasonal promotion together with Kinmata (近又), the venerable Kyoto establishment I had the pleasure of visiting with the parental units in 2006.  Wanting to enjoy a little taste of Kyo-ryori (京料理) in Taipei, I requested for a venue change and my friends very kindly indulged me.

    Starter: egg yolk vinegar, octopus eggs, geoduck, gluten, tomato, loofah, pear and wolfberries (前菜: 蛋黃醋 章魚卵 象拔蚌 楊麩 玉女蕃茄 絲瓜 梨 枸杞) - served on a lotus leaf.  Not sure if I've ever had octopus eggs before, but this was pretty interesting.  Lots of different ingredients lending multiple types of texture.  I was particularly surprised by the presence of gluten here.

    Starter soup: edamame tofu, rosy seasbass, water shield, yuzu rind (前湯:枝豆豆腐 紅喉 鶴菜 蓴菜 柚子輪) - the tofu had a pretty sticky texture like mochi (もち), and my inner child came out as I stretched and played with it a little.  The edamame (枝豆) flavors were definitely there.  I always love water shield (蓴菜) for the slippery texture that also makes it fun to play with.  While I loved the fragrance that yuzu (柚子) imparts, I thought for some reason that the soup was slightly bitter...

    Raw: seasonal sashimi (生品:季節生魚片) - sweet shrimp (甘エビ), abalone (鮑), olive flounder (平目), fatty tuna (トロ) that I gave away; served with myoga (茗荷), cucumber flower, taro stem (芋茎) and okra.  The plates, which resemble Chinese ink paintings, were very pretty.  Surprisingly, the wasabi tasted a little too sharp today...

    Deep-fried: pike conger, Domyoji rice, dried shiitake, fava beans, plum sauce (炸品:海鰻 道明寺米 乾香菇 蠶豆 梅肉芡汁) - summer is pike conger season, so I'm not at all surprised to see this on the menu.  Interestingly this was made into a roll and stuffed with sticky rice, fava beans and dried shiitake mushrooms.  And yes, plum sauce and pike conger is a classic combination.  Topped with a ton of shredded ginger.

    Cold dish: Kamo eggplant, sea urchin, prawns, shishito pepper, corn, perilla flowers (冷砵:賀茂茄 海膽 明蝦 獅子辣椒 玉米 紫蘇花) - I've always loved those big, round Kamo eggplants from Kyoto, and today I got half of a big one.  The topping included deliciously chilled sea urchin and prawns, and a refreshing "salsa" of corn and shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子), topped with perilla flowers.

    To the left of the eggplant, there is a trail of jelly sprinkled with perilla flowers.  One would take note of a single kernel of corn on each side of the jelly.  According to our server, the line of jelly is meant to symbolize the magpie bridge (鵲橋) which takes shape on each Chinese Valentine's Day (七夕), and the corn kernels are meant to represent the Cowherd (牛郎) and the Weaver Girl (織女).  Ummm...

    Simmered dish: Manganji pepper, taro, sansho leaf, anago narutomaki (煮品:萬願寺唐辛子 芋頭 木之芽 星鰻鳴門卷) - hmmm... our server told us when we had the pike conger earlier that it would show up again in the menu, but the menu shows something different.  Anyway, it's interesting that they would make a narutomaki (鳴戸巻き) out of a premium ingredient like anago (穴子).  The pepper and taro were pretty good, but the sansho leaf (木の芽) was much milder than expected.

    Grilled dish: perch, perilla flowers, white sesame seeds, sansho powder, ginger (烤品:鱸魚香味燒 紫蘇花 白芝麻 粉山椒 薑筆) - pretty decent, and the "crust" on top was very fragrant and made the dish.

    Soup: red miso soup (湯品:赤味噌湯)
    Rice (主食:星) - the bowl of rice was pretty wet, falling just short of being soggy, with lots of dried shrimp mixed in to provide a crunchy texture.

    Dessert: seasonal fruits (甜點:季節水果) - with a piece of red bean yokan (羊羹).

    This was a much bigger lunch than I had initially expected when I first read about it... because there isn't a shorter lunch menu.  I was pretty stuffed when we got done.  In terms of quality, I guess that's as good as I'm gonna get in Taipei for kaiseki - at least until RyuGin (龍吟) opens their Taipei branch in late September.  I wasn't blown away when I went to Kinmata in Kyoto, so my expectations were tempered before coming to lunch.  For the price I paid, I'm not really gonna complain too much...

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  • 07/15/14--07:46: L'Idiot 2.0
  • It's been a while since my friends closed down L'Idiot, and I was really excited to find out that they were reviving the place - this time inside their family's flagship hotel.  So I rounded up a couple of old colleagues and mutual friends, and asked the boss to book a table for us.  We wanted to try out the place during its "soft opening" period.

    I wanted to catch up with Afu - who, by the way, is still very very very very single - so I dropped by the restaurant in the middle of the afternoon.  Younger brother Fudy was also around, and the two of them took turns showing me the place as well as the kitchen.  There's a room all the way in the back where they are dry-aging their own slabs of beef, and the familiar smell hit me as soon as I opened the door.  A few other places in Taipei are claiming to dry-age their beef, but these guys are doing it for real.

    Fudy also showed me his proud acquisition - a Josper oven that is supposedly the only one in Taiwan.  Given his passion and insistence on aging his own beef, it's not surprising that he would want to have one of these in the kitchen.

    They also go a step further and imported the oak casks used by Jack Daniel's to age their bourbon.  The chips are supposed to impart a little bourbon flavor to the meat cooked in the oven.

    I talked a little more with the two brothers about the ideas behind the new L'Idiot and the lessons learned from the first time around.  Fudy now spends a ton of time playing farmer, and harvests herbs and vegetables to use in their restaurants.  He doesn't try to grow everything he uses, but if there's something that he needs and a supplier isn't readily available, he will be his own supplier.

    There was still a couple of hours to go before dinner, so I left to run a few errands before coming back...  Meanwhile, I had worked out tonight's menu with Fudy.

    Baba ganoush and tomato bread - very, very tasty.  A great "amuse bouche" to start us off.

    Yilan house duck prosciutto, seasonal fruit, pickles - Fudy ages his own duck breasts along with other cured meats, and this was pretty good.  The fig is actually grown locally in Taiwan.

    Clams and house chorizo, roasted bell peppers, farm pesto, grilled bread - the Venus clams from Donggang (東港) were pretty good, but I really liked the house-made chorizo.  The bell peppers were also very delish, and the pesto - made from herbs Fudy grows himself - was wonderful.  I wish I had more stomach space to take down more of the bread and pesto.

    Ceviche: Yilan shrimp, Hokkaido scallop, citrus salad - oh this was good...  The Stout red shrimps (胭脂蝦) from Yilan (宜蘭) were boat-fresh and very sweet.  The Hokkaido scallops were yummy.  The ceviche was done with a mixture of grape juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice along with some olive oil.  Finished with some grapefruit and orange wedges, as well as some pickled fennel from Fudy's own farm.

    Truffled maple pork chop, apple, grilled scallion, mashed potato - not bad, and I do like the hint of maple flavor here.

    Lobster risotto: Maine lobster, sautéed vegetables - pretty tasty, but a little too soft for my taste.  Fudy did tell me that they have to cook the rice a little more for local tastes, and I forgot to tell the kitchen I wanted it al dente.

    House-aged bone-in ribeye - cooked in the Josper oven, of course.  This was a damn big piece of meat... and I was really tempted to pick up the bone and gnaw on it.  But I didn't, and probably should have, like the dog that I am...

    We asked for medium rare, but nowadays I am used to having my beef more on the raw side, like the amazing chuleta de Rubia Galega.  What we had was still very tasty.  Even though the beef isn't aged for as long as the ones I've had in Hong Kong, you can still taste some of the complex, cheese-like flavors that comes after dry-aging.  Yummy.

    Roasted potato and onion, Hollandaise

    Fudy sent out a couple of desserts for us, but I'm not really interested in the molten chocolate cake...  So I had the tiramisu that came with coffee ice cream on top.  Very yum.  I wish I had more stomach space...

    1999 BOND Matriarch - very sweet, with exotic coconut butter.  Drinking very nicely.

    Good food, good wine, and good company.  I'm glad we got a chance to check out the new L'Idiot, and my friends immediately booked another dinner for later this week.  I will need to come back and check out some of the other dishes, and maybe introduce dad to some real dry-aged beef.

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    My annual birthday dinner with my group of wine friends is long overdue, and an earlier gathering had to be rescheduled due to a business trip.  But this delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it opened up the chance to try out a very special promotion.

    At an earlier dinner organized by Susan the Great, I found out that One Harbour Road (港灣壹號) at the Grand Hyatt was going to celebrate their 25th anniversary and present special menus based on recipes of Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠), the famous cookbook author.  She is also the granddaughter of Jiang Kongyin (江孔殷), the scholar known as 江太史 and a famous gourmand. I found that the restaurant has put together a number of dishes, spread across two different set menus, so I quickly made two the first night. so I could try out all the dishes.  Tonight would be the first pass.

    We were really hungry while waiting for our last arrival, and as they don't exactly have a bread basket at Chinese restaurants, I ordered a small plate of honey roasted barbecued pork (蜜糖汁叉燒).  This was actually pretty nice - tender with just enough fat - but I guess one would expect that from a place of this caliber.

    Once everyone was here, the real feast began:

    Stir-fried minced quail and assorted vegetables in lettuce cups (炒鵪鶉鬆) - this is normally served with pigeon, but it's nice to have quail, too.

    And they come served like so... Everything is very finely diced and showcases the chef's knife skills.  Very, very yummy, without any need for additional sauces.

    Supreme Scholar's deep-fried custard (太史戈渣) - I have to say... the presentation today seemed a little... "whatever"?  There are very few places that offer gaozha nowdays, but they can still be found at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) or Seventh Son (家全七福) in Hong Kong, Da Shan Wu Jia (大山無價) outside Taipei, or Lu Sang (呂桑) in Taipei.

    This doesn't have any milk, but was actually made with Italian eggs.  I always love the deep-fried custard like this, and relish every opportunity that I get to have it.

    Minced spinach soup with supreme stock (碧綠菜蓉羹) - we seemed to have skipped a dish, but oh well.  This was absolutely beautiful!  The spinach was not puréed but cut into shreds by hand, once again showcasing the knife skills of the kitchen.  It's almost as fine as the egg drops in the soup.  The ham flavors of the supreme stock were beautiful, and enhanced by a sprinkle of shredded ham on top.

    Fan shape prawns in clear sauce (清湯蝦扇) - this was introduced to us as something that nobody does nowadays... and I gotta say that it's not hard to understand why...

    So, they take the shells off of the prawn, butterfly it, then pound the shit out of it.  Then they cook it in superior broth.  The result?  The texture was completely rubbery, almost like a sheet made of prawn paste that has gone through a blender.  Since they cooked it in superior broth, all I could taste was ham, not prawn.  In fact, the only time I remotely tasted some prawn was when I bit into the last bit of the tail, as the flesh was still protected by the shell.  I think my friends pretty much all had the same reaction.  Not a fan.

    Dried scallops braised with garlic cloves and sea moss (珧柱蒜脯) - so we finally get to have this, even though it's out of sequence.

    A classic that is well-executed.  I just love it when they cook conpoy well.

    Stir-fried garoupa fillet with night-fragrant buds, pine nuts and bell peppers (夜香花炒魚球) - this is when my friends caught me making that "WTF" expression on my face.  The server was trying to explain the dish, and when he came to the Tonkin jasmine (夜香花), he said something along the lines of "this is an edible ingredient (係一種食材)"...  No shit, Sherlock!  You've put it on a plate for me to eat, so of course it's edible...  It also happens to be a fragrant flower.

    Anyway, this dish was OK.  I'm not sure what kind of garoupa fillet was used, but the texture was slightly chewy so I wondered if it could be giant grouper (龍躉).  There were plenty of pine nuts, which kinda dominated the flavors of the toppings.

    Stir-fried chicken fillet, fresh basil, shallots and preserved black beans (古法豆豉雞) - this is fresh, local chicken that had been slaughtered today.  Apparently this was stir-fried without the conventional sauces, but the flavors come from the preserved black beans.  Very nice.

    Stir-fried chanterelles with basil and sweet corn (黃菌炒玉米粒) - the chanterelles were very nice, and I loved the crunchy texture and sweetness of the corn.

    Sweet pumpkin soup with purple glutinous rice (南瓜紫米露) - yum!  I thought the two main ingredients worked together perfectly.

    Well, this was a birthday dinner, so I brought along a bunch of wines.  But unlike last year, the line up tonight was, shall we say... cheap?  I decided not to bring out a bunch of expensive big guns, but wines I thought would be interesting to drink.

    Jacques Selosse Exquise, dégorgée le 15 Juin 2009 - very ripe and sweet on the palate, oaky.  Later on showing sugar cane and Chinese licorice.  Wonderful.

    The next flight was a pair of Rieslings from the same vintage but different vineyards.  Interesting to do a comparison.

    1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Auslese aus halbe Flasche - very floral and elegant, a little sweet, some tropical fruit like lychees.  Acidity was higher than expected, and rounded on palate.

    1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese 153 aus halbe Flasche - more intense, with classic flinty, polyurethane notes.  Slightly more viscous and definitely sweeter on the palate.

    The next trio was an interesting set, and they were served blind.  For the 2000 vintage, Jean-Luc Thunevin laid out plastic on parts of his vineyards to avoid possible rainfall.  The rains never came, but INAO ruled that the wine could not be designated either as from the 2000 or a Saint Emilion.  They were declassified to vin de table, and Thunevin put a couple of very cool labels on them.  I wanted to taste the Valandraud with its declassified counterpart, and also the declassified Clos Badon that I'd had in my collection since buying them en primeur in 2001.

    2000 Valandraud - decanted about 1½ hours prior to serving.  Very smoky, a little ripe, closed up later and lost some of the sweetness.

    L'Interdit de Badon - not as ripe, smoky, wet cardboard, green pepper.  Definitely a corked bottle.

    L'Interdit de Valandraud en magnum - ripe and sweeter, very fragrant, smoky, with pencil lead and cedar notes.  More intense than Valandraud, and I think we all preferred this over the "real" Valandraud.
    1970 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from magnum - a little ripe, minty, smoky, a little exotic, acidic on palate, aromatic, with stewed cherries and some exotic coconut.

    This was a fun dinner for me.  The food was pretty good, with a few clear winners but also a disappointment or two.  The wines were also interesting and drank well.  Needless to say, I fell asleep at the table - again... and my friends took turns taking pictures of me while I slept.  Sigh...

    Now very much looking forward to next week, when I revisit and taste through the second special menu...

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  • 07/22/14--08:04: The stony summer dragon
  • A few weeks ago I ran into Chef Sato from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), and we chatted about the new Shoun RyuGin (祥雲龍吟) that Chef Seiji Yamamoto (山本征治) is opening in my hometown Taipei and how excited I was.  I apologized for not having visited his restaurant as often as I would have liked, and was surprised that he remembered that my last visit was only a couple of months ago.  Mrs. Tigger had told me about their recent visit and that the Japanese white peach was now on the menu, so I promised Chef Sato that I would make a visit this month.  My Favorite Cousin is always up for a good meal, and since she works in the same building as the restaurant, I asked her to join me for dinner tonight.

    I received a call from the restaurant staff this afternoon, and after confirming that I was still coming tonight, the person at the other end of the line checked to make sure I want tuna removed from my menu.  I was pleasantly surprised that they remembered - since I forgot to tell them not to give me tuna last time - and chalk it up to good customer profiling.

    As I walked out of the elevator on the 101st floor on my way to the restaurant, the receptionist greeted me my name.  Another pleasant surprise, although since both Chef Sato and Takano-san know me by sight, that information has probably also been passed down to others.  Guess I'm not as anonymous as I thought...

    Cold somen topped with white shrimp and premium caviar (富山 "白海老"フランス ソローニュ川 "キャビア"そうめん) - always love to start off with this in the summer since it's really refreshing.

    In addition to the glass shrimps (白海老) and caviar, there were cubes of cucumber, Chinese yam (山芋), eggplant, diced scallions and seaweed (のり).

    "Black custard" with aori squid ("アオリイカ"の黒い茶碗蒸し) - the bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) was delicately scored and very tender.   The egg custard was made with squid ink and dashi (出汁) from the squid, as well as some yuzu (柚子) rind which lent its fragrance.  There was some acidity here, and I wondered if there was a shot of ponzu (ポン酢).  Garnished with scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ) and radish.  Very nice.

    Poached Gillardeau oyster wrapped with shyabu-shyabu wagyu beef and grated celeriac jelly ("ジラルドーオイスター"と "のざき牛"セロリ大根おろしのジュレ) - the newest creation from Chef Sato.  The Gillardeau was very gently poached, and the beef from Nozaki Farm in Kagoshima (鹿児島) - obviously fatty and tender - was lightly cooked shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) style.  Topped with celeriac and apple vinegar jelly and finely chopped scallions.  Melt-in-your-mouth and mmm mmm good.

    Charcoal grilled kinki with ichibandashi soup, night jasmine, winter melon and aka eggplant (炭火焼きんきのお椀 "夜香花""冬瓜""赤茄子") - apparently Chef Sato was inspired by the Chinese classic winter melon soup (冬瓜盅) to create this dish, and uses Tonkin jasmin (夜香花) in the soup. The ichibandashi (一番だし) was delicate as ever.  The kinki (喜知次) was exceptional.  Wonderful smoky flavors from grilling, and soooo fatty and yummy.  Could I please have another bowl?

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - since I wasn't getting any tuna, My Favorite Cousin didn't, either...
    Marbled flounder (真子鰈) - nice and a little chewy.
    Sea urchin (雲丹) and scallop (帆立貝) - both from Hokkaido, topped with seaweed jelly.
    Surf clam (北寄貝) - with sudachi (酢橘).
    Homard bleu (オマール・ブルー) - cooked sous vide.

    Grilled sweet corn and shrimp dumpling with mild yuba soy skin (炭火焼 "とうもろこし"を纏った海老真蒸 生湯葉と鶏出汁の餡) - the dumpling sits on a bed of yuba (湯葉), which was very delicate, and the broth was made with Longgang chicken (龍崗雞) from Guangdong.  Topped with deep-fried shredded corn husk, like a kadaif.

    I loooove Japanese sweet corn, and here they've made a dumpling with shrimp paste and corn, so there's a blend of textures.  The grilling also imparts lightly charred flavors.  This was sooo delicious!  Just nibbling on the shreds alone brought happiness.

    Large eel grilled over Binchotan charcoal ("龍吟 夏の名物"大鰻の炭火焼) - I had this Taiwanese eel last year and loved it.  Loved the sauce (たれ), and of course looooved the sansho (山椒) powder on the side with that numbing kick.  The sansho leaves (木の芽) on the eel were nice, too.  Didn't really care to eat this with the "white wasabi"...

    Simmered whole "Ezo" abalone with abalone reduction over shiitake mushroom rice ("蝦夷鮑"と焼き椎茸の御飯) - O-M-G... I looooooove this abalone.  Every time I come here and have this... it's just sooo soft and fluffy... having been scored until it resembles a set of gills.  I'm guessing that the scoring helps to speed up the cooking process, enabling the chef to cook it for a minimum amount of time and thereby avoiding it becoming too chewy.  The shiitake (椎茸) rice, as always, was nice with a subtle fragrance.  The seaweed (のり) on top made everything better.

    Even the wakame (わかめ) was nice and came with jelly on top.

    A cup of sencha (煎茶) to cleanse our palates before dessert.  My Favorite Cousin had never been here before, and admired the beautify of the tea cup.

    RyuGin specialty -196°C peach candy and +99°C peach jam (ピーチキャンディ -196°Cの桃飴 +99°Cの飴炊き桃) - summer is peach season, and this is the best version out of all the variations I've had.

    Of course you need to have it with the jam... to have both hot and cold sensations in one mouthful.  I wouldn't mind having another one of these... but of course I don't have the stomach space for it...

    Physalis "Japanese lantern fruit" pudding (ほうずきプリン) - summer is also the season for the Japanese lantern (ほうずき), and here it's made into a pudding.  Nice acidity here.

    Finally, Chef Sato prepared a special dessert for the two of us - Zenkoji anmitsu (善光寺餡蜜).  Zenkoji Temple is in Nagano Prefecture (長野県), where Chef Sato hails from.  This cup has homemade vanilla ice cream at the bottom, plus azuki beans (小豆), apricot, a layer of jelly on top, and some red perilla (赤紫蘇) flowers and muscovado (黒蜜). Yum.  Of course Chef Sato was very kind to send us this special dessert, but now my stomach was ready to explode...

    A cup of matcha (抹茶) to finish the evening.

    1995 Jos. Joh. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - nose of petrol and white pepper.  Medium sweetness with good acidity balance.

    This was an excellent dinner... and I'm ever so grateful to be able to enjoy Chef Sato's creativity.  The interesting part of Chef Yamamoto's philosophy at RyuGin is that the cuisine at each restaurant is different, as each one sources local ingredients.  Now I'm really looking forward to RyuGin opening in Taiwan, and see what they will create with the abundance of local produce there.

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  • 07/23/14--08:10: Holycow
  • When I had dinner with 娜姐 last week, she mentioned that Neal Martin was coming back to town... and would I be interested in joining them for a casual dinner?  As Neal is an easygoing guy and it's been a while since I last saw him, I figured there was no reason not to join them for dinner.

    I had suggested a Cantonese restaurant that none of us had been to, as I kinda wanted to check the place out.  But our hostess was a little concerned about whether the wine service was up to her standards, so we ended up at Holytan (葆里湛) - which was literally across the street from my office building.

    I vaguely remember seeing glimpses about this place on social media, so I found a review on Fungry and Fabulousand became a little worried.  Would I have the same kind of experience as a wine dinner a few months ago, where I could only smell the grilled beef and not the wonderful wines I was drinking?  That would be a real shame, since we were sure to bring out some nice bottles tonight.  Fortunately our hosts have been there on several occasions, and didn't find ventilation to be an issue.

    I arrived and was relieved to find that the aircon was on full blast, so I wasn't able to smell the kitchen.  After everyone arrived and the wines had been taken care of, it was time to eat!

    The amuse bouche was a little skinned cherry tomato with beef gelatin, sprinkled with what I thought was black olive powder.

    Wildcat Cove oysters with tomato jelly and caviar - these oysters from Washington State were pretty creamy with a little brine.  Interesting to have the tomato jelly on top, and after reading Lynn's review I found myself being very gentle with the oysters... less I splashed jelly all over myself.

    Slow-cooked blue lobster with sake sorbet - we were asked to taste the sorbet first.  I couldn't get much sake flavor but did taste lots of tomato, so I checked with our server and only then was told that it's actually sakeand tomato.  The homard bleu was very, very tender, and the fennel was kinda interesting, but I wasn't a fan of the creamy-lemony sauce.

    Vegetable soup - Brussels sprout, tomato, radish, potato... and curiously flavored with rosemary.  Pretty nice, though.

    The draw of this place seems to be their Japanese beef, and everyone seems to talk about their unique/proprietary "far infrared oven" that cost like a gazillion dollars.  Well, I don't get hard-ons over kitchen equipment like some people I know - because ultimately it's not how much you spent on your equipment, since the question that really matters is "DOES IT TASTE GOOD?" - so I didn't ask to see the oven.  But I was curious to know how they cooked the beef differently, so I asked.  And I got slightly conflicting answers from the kitchen staff and the waitstaff...

    In the end I think it goes like this... (keeping in mind that this was told to me when I was a little buzzed, so it may not be totally accurate)  The beef is grilled in a small grill over Binchotan (備長炭) for the smoky flavors, then it goes into the "far infrared oven" - which apparently has two parts - at 88°C for one minute.  Then it gets moved to the other part of the oven at around 50~60°C for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour.  Then I think it goes back to the grill for a second finish over Binchotan... but I'm not entirely sure about this last part.

    Kagoshima ribeye - the result was a very nice-looking piece of beef...

    ...which was very well-marbled.  Very succulent and melt-in-your-mouth.  Lovely smoky flavors from the Binchotan, but not too heavy.  Very delish.  Perfect on its own.

    For some reason the staff insisted that we try out their Japanese rice, and instructed us to eat the beef and rice together in the same mouthful.  Well, I do what I'm told... and of course having the rice soaking up all the fatty juices oozing out of the beef ain't half bad...

    Cheesecake and mango sorbet - not bad, but I only really like New York cheesecake...

    Now about the wines... We discussed the theme a few days beforehand, and finally settled on having everyone bring something from 1998.

    1981 Krug - sweet and caramelized nose, with a little straw, Chinese licorice (甘草), minerals and marmalade.  Acidity was pretty high, and there were almost no bubbles left.  Very lovely.

    1998 Roulot Meursault Les Vireuils - initially when the bottle was opened, we detected oxidation but wasn't sure if it was premox.  Turned out it wasn't, but it was still a tiny bit off.  Surprisingly dry on the palate, a little dusty, a little flinty, with marmalade.

    1998 Haut-Brion Blanc - HUGE nose, slightly pungent, mineral, flinty and lean.  The Sauvignon Blanc was definitely front-and-center, with a little bit of plastic.  Later on it opened up and became a little buttery and fatty, showing its ripeness.  Absolutely awesome, and by far the wine of the evening for everyone.

    1998 Prieuré Roch Vosne-Romanée Clos Goillotte en magnum - very cloudy as expected, very toasty corn, plenty of sweet fruit, not clean but a little dirty, slight hint of forest with animal and leather coming out later.

    1998 Leroy Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts - nose of toasty corn, also a little dirty, with plenty of nice fruit.

    1998 Guigal La Turque - despite being decanted for close to 3 hours, the wine was still pretty closed and tight.  Nose of forest pine, smoky and woody, very clean and cool.  Very fragrant later, and after almost 4 hours we finally found some bacon fat.  This bottle was waaay too young.

    1998 Dalla Valle Maya - ripe and smoky nose, still pretty tannic on the palate.  A different animal.  45% Cab Franc and 55% Cab Sauvignon.

    1998 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese from half bottle - petrol, flinty, apricot, marmalade.  Nice acidity.

    It's hard not to have fun when you're in good company and there are so many good wines at the table.  Many thanks to 娜姐 for thinking of me...

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    It's been 6 days since my first dinner at One Harbour Road (港灣壹號) with the first of two special Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠) menus, and two days ago we received the devastating news that she had passed on.  Apparently the restaurant had thought about canceling the promotion after her passing, but the family felt it wouldn't be what Mrs. Chen wanted - she would have wanted to introduce more people to her recipes and promote old-school Cantonese cooking.  For my part, I'm glad they didn't cancel it, because I think the best way to remember her is by being here and enjoying those dishes.

    Dinner tonight was organized by Susan the Great, and we were joined by none other than Wilson Kwok - Mrs. Chen's godson and the proprietor behind W's Entrecôte.  Wilson's presence made things a lot more interesting for the rest of us.

    I planned my two dinners so that I would be able to take both of the set menus.  I also checked against the à la carte menu and found there was one dish that didn't appear on either of the set menus.  After getting the nod from Susan, I ordered this as an extra on top of the set.  This way I would have gone through every single dish on offer during this promotion.

    Supreme scholar's deep-fried custard (太史戈渣) - the only overlapping dish between the two set menus, and I can certainly understand why.  I still love having this every time, and the presentation was a little better tonight.

    Stir-fried minced dried oysters, pork, sausages and fungi in lettuce cups (炒雜菌蠔豉鬆) - just look at the presentation... Beautifully trimmed lettuce, and I Love Lubutin thought that my mom would appreciate this attention to detail.

    Different filling than last week, and the smoky flavors of the dried oysters hit us as soon as the dish arrived.  Amazing amount of work has gone into dicing the ingredients...  Yummy.

    Braised sea cucumber and black mushrooms (冬菇黃肉參) - very classic combo, and the mushrooms were really, really good. The sea cucumbers were OK and retained some of their springy texture.  I guess I prefer mine to be softer, growing up with mom's version of stuffed sea cucumbers...  I think I Love Lubutin misses my mom's sea cucumbers, too...

    Minced partridge broth with chrysanthemums, bamboo shoots and fungi (菊花鷓鴣羹) - no surprise that all the ingredients were finely shredded, just like the famous Supreme Scholar's five snake soup (太史五蛇羹).  Apparently this was because Mrs. Chen's grandfather - the Supreme Scholar Jiang Kongyin (江孔殷) - smoked opium and had lost much of his teeth, so the ingredients needed to be thin enough to be eaten without having to chew very much.

    The origin of this version of the soup apparently dates back to 2003 when Hong Kong was affected by SARS.  It was difficult to import snakes at the time, so Mrs. Chen came up with a substitute using partridge.  I thought this was pretty nice, although Wilson felt it wasn't thick enough to be a 羹.  We were all a little surprised at the dark color of the crispy fried dough... and felt they were fried for a little too much and would overpower the soup.

    Matsutake sandwiched with shrimp paste (百花松茸夾) - it's not matsutake (松茸) season so the kitchen used pre-sliced dried matsutake, which naturally didn't have the same type of fragrance as fresh ones.

    The shrimp paste somehow was also a little bland...

    Stir-fried sliced fresh abalone and straw mushrooms (草菇炒鮮鮑片) - with abalone from Dalian (大連).  Thanks to our server's allocation skills, I got me one lousy little thin slice of abalone...

    Stir-fried breast of duck with young ginger in honey sauce (蜜糖子薑鴨脯) - it only took one little nibble to see that this was no "young ginger (子薑)"... since the flavors were too strong and spicy.  We made the comment to the sous chef (since the executive chef had flown to Tokyo for a promotion), who told us that it was still young ginger season (albeit the tail end), but the stock was acquired some time ago.  I was also nonplussed about the duck, while others felt it had been slightly overcooked.

    Steamed chicken skin with shrimp paste (江南百花雞) - this was the extra dish.  After steaming, the meat of the chicken had been completely removed and placed with a thick layer of shrimp paste.  I was a little disappointed that the dish wasn't presented as a "whole chicken"... and was also hoping for the flowers that gave the dish its name.

    One of us wanted to remove the skin, prompted another to remark that the dish would be rather bland without the skin...

    Gala mix of fungi and vegetables (鼎湖新素) - a lot of different ingredients here... with bean sprouts, bamboo pith, sugar snaps, lotus seeds, lily bulbs, button mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, black wood ears, white wood ears and another type of shroom I couldn't name.  The was pretty good, except I found the ginkgo nuts to be pretty bitter, and Da Jam complained of a couple of lotus seeds with their cores left inside - which are also bitter.

    Almond cream, yellow fungi and egg white (黃耳蛋白杏仁露) - this was really, really good.  Perhaps one of the best almond cream I've had.  Maybe it was the yellow fungi that made the difference?

    We were a little more restrained with wines tonight, since a few people had driven their cars to dinner.  We tried to bring wines made from varietals that Wilson had recommended for pairings, but I made the mistake of bringing a Pinot that had too much age on it...

    2005 Kistler Chardonnay Stone Flat Vineyard - nice and toasty nose, and a little buttery.  The toasty nose got pretty heavy later as it opened up.

    2010 Wagner Family of Wines Sauvignon Blanc - this was definitely a Sauvignon... with a little pipi de chat.  Nice and crispy, with a hint of green apple.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - decanted just before serving.  nose of leather, a little stewed and ripe.  Nice acidity.  I think the wine is getting tired and going downhill.

    So I've done it.  Been here twice and gone through all the dishes.  I'm happy to have done this, and certainly wanted to pay tribute to Mrs. Chen.  I hope her recipes are passed on and we can continue to taste these dishes for years to come.

    Curiously, having spoken to different friends from both dinners, the general conclusion seems to be that the first halves of both menus are much more interesting than the latter halves.  For me, the highlights were the two soups which required some effort to prepare, and also the lettuce cups with their finely diced and flavorful fillings.  Would I be able to have them again?  I certainly hope so.

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  • 07/25/14--00:36: Stop the Press
  • It seems that more and more restaurants are closing or moving because of rent hikes or other issues with space, and this has been a global phenomenon - affecting even places like wd~50 and Union Square Cafe in New York.  The latest victim struck a little closer to home, and came in the form of the flagship restaurant of the Press Room Group.

    In 2006 a couple of the MNSC boys got together with their buddy and opened up the Press Room and Classified.  It was refreshing to see guys who loved and knew their food trying to bring authentic French brasserie experience to Hong Kong.  It was also in an offbeat location - taking many of us out of our comfort zones.  But we showed up in droves, and nowadays the Press Room Group is a formidable player on the Hong Kong FnB scene.

    Last week I was very surprised to receive an email from Pineapple, informing us of the impending closure of the Press Room and inviting us to join the "farewell" dinner.  Unfortunately I had already made plans to join another gathering, and was too happy and inebriated to drop by afterwards... so I missed the group farewell.

    Well, today is the last day that the Press Room is open at its original location, so when I realized I had an opening in my schedule, I trekked over on foot in the blistering heat to have lunch here, one last time.

    They brought me the menu, but I didn't really need to look at it.  There have always been just one thing I liked best here for lunch...

    One last croque madame.  Quintessentially French.  The sunny side up egg on top makes all the difference.  And while I was supposed to be cutting back on food consumption after a 3-day eating spree, I ate every single one of the frites.

    I was tempted by the French onion soup that I saw at the next table, but unfortunately I had neither the time nor the calorie quota today... so I settled the bill and headed back to the office.  On my way out, I took one last look at some words of wisdom...

    Oui, je pense que je mange tres bien...

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    I was invited to join a friend for dinner tonight.  I was initially a little hesitant because it was to be a table full of strangers, and I wasn't really sure what to expect.  We were opening some wines at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), and I figured it's high time I went back to check on the food since my last visit was actually late last year...  And as it turned out, I did know a couple of the diners other than the friend who invited me.  Whew...

    I was one of the earlier ones to arrive, and I found the restaurant to be mostly empty.  This led me to take a picture of the empty space and upload it onto social media, jokingly using the Cantonese phrase 拍烏蠅 (translated as "swatting flies") to describe how quiet it was.  Keeping in mind that this is a restaurant with a Michelin star, that's an off-shoot of the famed Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), on a Thursday night, after the benchmark Hang Seng Index had a pretty good run for the month.  Where the hell was everybody?!

    As it turned out, most people at the table were gonna be late, so it was customary to stagger the food orders while bottles were popped opened as they arrived.  This made for a pretty long dinner...

    Barbecued pork with honey sauce (蜜汁叉燒) - it's always a good idea to start with some char siu.  This was pretty decent.

    Deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚) - I do agree with the others that the batter tonight was slightly on the thick side, but it was still enjoyable.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - there must have been a chance of chefs somewhere between when I first had this here and tonight, because stylistically this has completely changed.  What had been mind-blowingly good crunchy and springy patties were now much too juicy and wet, and more akin to slider patties.  While they still had some nice, crunchy cubes of lotus root on the inside, what blew me away was the abundance of those cubes the first time - especially on the outside.  Yes, these were still pretty yummy, but I really much prefer the version I had on my first visit.

    Pan-fried honey glazed eel (蜜汁煎鱔) - not surprisingly, the eel is just a liiiiitle muddy.

    Barbecued suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - we had half a pig, and I've never not liked the pig from Fook Lam Moon or any of its offshoots.  I lost count of how many pieces of crackling and fat I had...

    Crispy chicken wings stuffed with glutinous rice and preserved sausage (臘味飯釀雞翼) - very yummy.  It's been a while since I last had stuffed chicken wings, and these were pretty nice.

    I looooove glutinous rice with preserved sausage, so this was a real treat.  The shreds of dried conpoy also added more fragrance to the stuffing.  Inhaled.

    Vegetarian treasures in bean curd skin bags (腐皮羅漢石榴球) - very yummy... stuffed with corn, black wood ear fungus (黑木耳), white wood ear fungus (白木耳), carrots and shiitake mushrooms.

    Scrambled egg with 'kei wai' prawns, century egg and spring onions (蔥花皮蛋基圍蝦炒滑蛋) - a dish that I absolutely loved last time, and still pretty good tonight.  Wonderful comfort food.

    Sauteed finely minced pigeon served with crispy lettuce and 'hoisin' sauce (西生菜乳鴿崧) - I've been having a lot of these lettuce cups in the last couple of weeks, but I ain't complainin'!

    So these guys, too, trim the edges of their lettuce cups.  Nice little details that show the level of care.

    Long braised beef brisket and tendon in chuhau sauce in casserole (燜柱侯牛腩筋煲) - even the lean brisket was pretty tender.  Yum.

    Chicken casserole in morel sauce (羊肚菌雞煲) - pretty yummy, actually.

    Pork and shrimp boiled dumplings (水餃) - these shuijiao tasted a little sweet, with detectable amount of white pepper and shreds of black wood ear fungus.

    Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮荷葉飯) - pretty decent.  Getting a little stuffed after this...

    Stir-fried E-fu noodles flavoured with dried flounder (浦魚乾燒伊麵) - I don't think my friends have ever ordered this at Fook Lam Moon, so I think this was the first time I've ever had E-fu noodles in dried flounder sauce... If memory serves, most other versions I've had in the last 2 decades of living in Hong Kong seemed to have been made with abalone sauce.  Looks like I still have a lot to learn about Cantonese cuisine...  This was nice, though.

    Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - I think we were all in agreement that this was below par... maybe because it was the kitchen's last call and the chef had actually knocked off...  The exterior just wasn't crispy at all, and this turned out to be one of the only dishes with leftovers - there were still 2 pieces of pork that nobody wanted.

    Blanched choy sum (白灼菜心) - with no oil or anything else added.

    Stir-fried baby kailan (清炒小芥藍) - it's been a while since I last baby kailan - one of my favorite veggies.  Yum.

    Stir-fried noodles in superior soy sauce (豉油皇炒麵) - good that this was done very dry as requested, but why was it sooo damn salty?!

    Deep-fried sesame balls (燈影煎堆) - we just had to have these... soooo awesome, incredibly fragrant with the deep-fried sesame seeds.

    As if that wasn't enough food, the proprietor of Mara Js La Pâtisserie very generously brought us some treats.  More sugar and butter... YES, PLEASE!

    Egg custard moon cakes (奶黃月餅) - the kitchen heated these up for us so we could enjoy them at their best.  Egg custard moon cakes normally aren't my thing, but these were pretty good.

    Palmiers - OH-MY-GOD!!!!  I've had these before, and always thought they were good, but I honestly don't remember them being this awesome!  Wonderfully crispy, flaky, buttery and fragrant, but without too much sugar to make it overly sticky.  If I had a bag of these in the middle of the day, I probably couldn't have stopped myself from finishing it all.  As my stomach was on the verge of exploding, I only managed to take down 2½ of these...

    Well, this was my first time drinking with this wine crowd, and my friend was being a little coy about the time of wines people were accustomed to bringing.  I was told "no need fancy grand cru stuff" but left to guess the rest, although it was to be a Burgundian evening.  As it turned out, 2 bottles kinda stood out this evening... and I jokingly complained about having been tricked into bringing one of the more expensive bottles...  Many of the wines were tasted blind, so it was kinda interesting to have a more objective take on these "cheap" wines.

    1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - very heavy nose of toast, roasted corn, a little lemon citrus.  No surprises here... but I love it.

    2011 Cecile Tremblay Bourgogne La Croix Blanche - really fragrant nose, sweet, a little bubblegum, very ripe, definitely minty and eucalyptus.  Later on the nose became super-bubblegum.

    2009 Charles Audoin Marsannay Clos du Roy - very alcoholic on the nose, with dried herbs, cool but pretty sweet fruit.  A little pungent on the nose and a little bitter on the palate.  Made me wonder if this was fermented with stems.  This opened up a little further and then somehow the palate died and became yucky...

    2000 Anne Gros Clos-Vougeot - pretty sweet, with nose of dried herbs and cedar, a little ripe.  Very nice.

    2010 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Rousseau-Deslandes par Champy - nose of cedar, nice and ripe, pretty sweet, so fragrant on the palate, with exotic spices and a little forest.

    2001 Coche-Bizouard Monthélie 1er Cru Les Duresses - corked.

    2007 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée - opened more than 2 hours before I drank it.  Nice and sweet, very fragrant, a little leather and bacon fat.

    2005 Jean-Paul et Stéphane Magnien Clos Saint-Denis - sweet and nice.

    2005 Deutz Amour de Deutz - yeasty and ripe.  Always yummy.

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    L was in town on a layover.  She had pinged me in advance and requested that I take her to On Lot 10 - thus fulfilling my duties as ambassador-at-large for David once more.  She had seen me rave about "the best beef in the world" and wanted some.  So I got in touch with Susan the Great - whom L introduced me to almost 2 decades ago - and she promptly organized a little gathering for tonight.

    As usual we gave David carte blanche, and only requested the Rubia Galega in advance.  While I was thinking of ordering double portions of fewer starters, David would have none of that... and insisted on sending us single portions of more dishes so that we could taste.  Not surprisingly, I kinda got the short end of the stick tonight... which was OK because I knew I would be coming back again next week!  MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    Acquerello risotto: Hokkaido sea urchin/sweet corn/girolle mushroom - loved this last time, and really yummy tonight - especially with summer truffles shaved on top.  The risotto wasn't perfectly al dente although I didn't have a problem with that.  But why did I only get a spoonful of this?!  As the Chinese would say, it wasn't even enough to fill the gaps between my teeth (不夠塞牙縫)...

    Frog legs meunière: soft poached egg/girolle/baby spinach - a request from our guest of honor.  Unfortunately I only got a few scraps...  A tiny sliver of egg white and maybe a girolle or two.  No frog leg left for me...

    Summer truffle capellini: tomato/basil/garlic confit - very yummy, especially that clove of confit garlic that I so lovingly chewed on...

    Artichoke heart foie gras presse: truffle/mushroom - this was cut into 6 wedges and there were 7 of us... so I gave up my slice since I was coming back next week.  Got a slice of mushroom and 2 slices of truffle as consolation prize.

    Beef tartare "battuta": caviar/oysters - the beef is literally hand-beaten, and I believe very lightly seasoned... since there was a layer of caviar on top.  There was also a ring of gelée.

    Then came a trio of main courses, which we had been saving precious stomach space for...

    Shellfish "a la plancha": palamós prawn/razor clam/squid/clam/buchot mussel - this was the "upgraded version" of what's on the regular menu, and downright monstrous.  The squid was delish as usual; there were buchot mussels and clams aplenty; razor clams were fresh; and I particularly liked the green peppers.  But the best thing, of course, was the Palamós prawn.  David thinks they may be even better than the carabineros, and I wouldn't disagree with him.  As I was sucking out the contents of the head, my tongue, the sides and the roof of my mouth started sticking together... it was so good!  My greedy neighbor kept trying to convince the others that they really didn't want the heads...  Very sneaky and calculating, that one...

    Steamed blackspot tuskfish 'en papillote' - the blackspot tuskfish (青衣) was soooo tender and delicious.  The lemon and coriander clearly gave it a different fragrance and flavor profile than what one would find in Cantonese restaurants.

    Lomo de Rubia Galega - once again I have come for the great Rubia Galega, coming from 12-year old oxen that has been dry-aged for 120 days.  Tonight, however, we were served strip loin instead of the ribeye.

    This meant that the meat was a lot leaner, with firmer texture.  This was still very tender and relatively juicy, but it wasn't soft and melty as our guest of honor had been expecting.  What hasn't changed, though, was the incredible explosion of flavors I experienced with every bite.  That funky, cheesy flavor.  From a slice of beef.  Truly incredible.

    Well, I called shotgun and grabbed the bone... and eagerly gnawed on it.  I also took the chunk of fat at the very end.  I didn't dare eat the whole chunk, but carefully trimmed little charred bits from the edges.  Sooooo freakin' awesome!  I wish I were 10 pounds lighter so that I wouldn't care about taking all of this in.  Oh and of course the taters and lettuce were incredible.  How the hell does David make romaine lettuce taste so good?!

    I wasn't sure this was a drinking crowd, so I only brought a few bottles...

    Chartogne-Taillet Rosé - very fruity with lots of raspberries.  Yum.

    2005 Kistler Chardonnay Stone Flat Vineyard - toasty nose, nice and buttery.  Drinking well.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - initially I thought it might have been ever so lightly corked, but this grassy green nose faded with time.  Smoky, a little earthy and mineral.  Smooth on the palate and drank well.

    Thanks to the strict portion control with starters and the fact that we were having strip loin instead of ribeye, we actually weren't filled to the brim like we usually are.  We briefly contemplated having dessert, but had a better idea.  So I picked up the phone and called our friend Jeremy Evrard at Upper Modern Bistro, and asked him to prepare a table for the bunch of us.  We were gonna have ourselves some cheese!

    Of course we let Jeremy full discretion so he could give us whatever was at optimal readiness.  He knows how much I like Époisses and apologized for having run out of it.  He even told me that my beloved fromagerie Gaugry is moving to using pasteurized milk for their Époisses!  Quelle horreur!!!

    Two of these were laid out on the table, and at the end of the evening it was pretty obvious which end of the table really like their cheese...

    Brillat-Savarin with truffle shavings - could this triple-cream cheese get any better?  Why, yes!  Just add truffle!

    (Chabichou de Poitou?) - not 100% if I this was the cheese we had.  Made from goat milk.  The goats move to munch on grass from the coastal areas, which delivers the minerality that shows up here.  Creamy but firm texture, a little sweet and nutty.

    Pavé de la Ginestarié - a little acidity here, kinda creamy and sweet, and a little nutty.

    Anneau du Vic-Bihl

    Pérail - made with sheep's milk.  Pretty pungent and a little savory.  Probably my least favorite tonight.

    Brin d'Amour - I'm actually getting used to all the herbs on the outside nowadays...

    Comté, aged 4 years - my standard for Comté these days... Yes, definitely a spoiled brat.

    Saint Félicien - guess who was trying to run away?  Lick, lick...

    Colombier Fermier

    Roquefort Le Vieux Berger - made by Maison Combes, it is reputed to be the last hand-made Roquefort in France.  Really salty here, but also nutty.

    Mimolette - I didn't ask how old this was, but I figured Jeremy only serves us the 24-month variety, which would explain the saltiness.

    As if I hadn't consumed enough calories already, I took up a couple of strips of bread so that I could enjoy them with some wonderful strawberry and apricot jam.  Nom nom nom...

    Jeremy very kindly recommended a bottle of white to go with the cheese:

    2012 Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés - tropical peach and a little flint.

    What a wonderful evening!  It is always good to catch up with old friends... over some good food and good wine, and especially good cheese!

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  • 08/03/14--07:20: Penthouse dining
  • It's been a while since I last met up with Ninja for a meal, so we made plans to catch up tonight.  I narrowed it down to a choice of 2 restaurants, and Ninja decided to go for Penthouse by Harlan Goldstein.  I relished the chance to check out one of Harlan's new joints, since plenty of people have already been and written about it.

    I arrived while the sun was still up, and got an eyeful of the stunning view of Victoria Harbour.  I can't remember the last time I got a view like this from the Hong Kong side, and this was definitely one of the perks of dining here.

    I didn't want to choose anything I could get any other day at Gold by Harlan Goldstein or Harlan Goldstein's Comfort, so Ninja and I scanned through the menu and picked out a couple of things... nothing crazy.  As it turned out, it was still too much food.

    Hokkaido scallop carpaccio, avocado, aji panca, passion fruit, crispy rice - pretty good, actually.  The scallop slices were tender and sweet.  I liked the creamy avocado, the fruity flavors and acidity from the passion fruit, and then there's the crunchy crispy rice for textural contrast.  Of course, rice crispies are also nice and fragrant.  Pretty good way to kick off.

    Foie gras and warm eel, apple puree, sweet chili sauce - Ninja and I both stared at the plate in front of us for a little while, having been left a little speechless.  We were both thinking of numerous creations where chefs have combined layers of eel with layers of foie gras terrine, blending the flavors of the two ingredients and allowing them to compliment each other.  But what we have here... was a piece of pan-fried foie gras, and a piece of grilled eel...  Where we supposed to eat them separately, or together in the same bite?  I wasn't sure, but I put both in the mouth together, and kinda found the flavors I was looking for.

    Spanish Duroc pork ribs bomba rice, chorizo and piquillo peppers - well, I don't seem to remember Harlan offering any "stone pot paella" at any of the other outlets, so I figured I'd try this out.  The Spanish Duroc pork ribs were the same as the ones from Comfort, and really melt-in-your-mouth yummy as I had expected.  The rice was very tasty thanks to the piquillos and the chorizo, although once I started spooning the homemade garlic aioli on top I found myself unable to stop.  We were also told that the finishing touches were added by putting the whole thing into the Josper.  However, the one minor flaw here was the complete absence of socarrat.  I even tried leaving some of the rice in the stone pot, but there wasn't enough heat left.  Oh well...

    Italian arborio rice, Maine lobster, sakura shrimps, lobster sauce, basil and bottarga - we were a little apprehensive about ordering two rice dishes... but I really wanted to try both.  This turned out to be the better of the two, which wasn't at all surprising given that the sauce was basically the same one Harlan uses for my favorite carabinero pasta - lobster, sakura shrimp (桜海老), bottarga... all the intense and unique flavors that I love.  The rice itself was also done pretty well... and there was plenty of lobster to go around.

    Ninja decided that she was full, and left it up to me to finish the two rice dishes.  I hesitated a little but decided to finish the risotto... because I simply couldn't resist that sauce.  The end result?  I was a little too stuffed... to the point where I could easily have been nauseous.  No dessert for me, then...

    We were generally pretty happy with what we had... which didn't surprise me given that this is one of Harlan's joints.  One minor annoyance, though, was that the waiters were a little over-eager trying to take the stone pot away when there was still food left.  We wanted to pause a little before finishing it up, and I guess the staff was waiting till we had cleared it before serving us the risotto.  I had to tell about 4 different guys that we weren't finished with the bomba rice... but eventually the helpful manager got the hint.

    We were also a little disappointed to find out that the rooftop wasn't finished so we couldn't go up for a drink.  Maybe next time...

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  • 08/07/14--00:57: Stuffing Malaysian-style
  • Today I found myself in the rare position of attending a "media tasting", and it wasn't exactly your run-of-the-mill restaurant promotion, either.  For some reason I received an invitation from the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) to lunch at Café Malacca, so that I could sample Malaysian food and learn about the Malaysian Kitchen Programme.  Well, I had a pretty good dinner at the restaurant last year, and though I already have some exposure to Malaysian food through my years of living in Singapore, I was curious to see what more I could learn.  So I said 'Yes' to the invitation.

    The very kind people from MATRADE were on hand to talk to us about the Malaysian Kitchen Programme, which is a global initiative to introduce Malaysian food to the world, not just through restaurants but also the distribution of food ingredients.  I guess it's not surprising that they are really focusing on the trade aspect in addition to the cultural aspect of food...

    We started by sharing a few dishes, then each of us ordered a "main course" for ourselves...

    Emping - these bitter deep-fried crackers are often found in Malaysian or Indonesian cuisine, and are made from flour ground from melinjo seeds.  They are bitter and therefore an acquired taste.  Fortunately I have grown to enjoy the bitter flavors over the years.

    Beef and chicken satay - nice flavors in the peanut sauce, and plenty of cumin on those sticks.  It's also nice to see the full set of condiments... cucumber, red onions and ketupat.

    Rojak - star fruit, pear, cucumber, guava, green mango, squid and deep-fried Chinese crullers (油條) all mixed with a prawn paste sauce.  This was probably the first time in my life that I actually enjoyed rojak... since I never cared for it as a kid.

    Gado gado - seemingly the usual mix of cooked vegetables, with cabbage, bean sprouts, green beans, fried tofu, cucumber, potato and eggs.  But this was much better. The peanut-based sauce was sweeter, spicier, and very fragrant thanks to the kaffir lime leaves.

    I was no longer hungry and starting to feel somewhat satiated, but then came some roti canai which were just absolutely delish.  What's not to like about flour fried in ghee?!  There were three types of curry that we could choose to accompany the roti:

    Fish curry - made with flounder.  This was relatively mild, with acidity coming from tomatoes.

    Chicken curry - this definitely stood out.  Much more smoky and nutty than the crap found around town, and I believe I detected some cloves...

    Lamb curry - the lamb was very, very tender, and the curry was a little darker, grayish, and also a little nutty.

    I was already pretty full by now, but I still haven't tried the one "main course" I had my eye on...

    Penang assam laksa - I have always preferred the thick, coconut milk-based broth of Singapore laksa, so today I decided to give assam laksa a try. Thankfully the broth is much lighter without the coconut milk, and the acidity really helps... a little.  Fish flakes, mint leaves, shredded pineapple, red onions with a generous sprinkle of finely diced bunga kantan (ginger flower) on top.  Pretty nice, actually.

    Just when I was bursting and wanted to stop, I realized to my horror that I had forgotten to mix in some otak udang, which was a sweetish, viscous paste made from prawn heads that's kinda like belacan meets kecap manis.  So I had a few more mouthfuls...  Boy, am I glad I had just excused myself from the table so I could secretly go off and loosen my belt a notch!

    Coconut jelly - this was perfect on a hot summer day.  So refreshing!  If I weren't literally about to burst I could have had 2 of these.

    Durian pudding - made with D24 durians from Malaysia, these were TO DIE FOR.  I've always preferred Malaysian durians over the relatively bland Thai ones.  Honestly, if this place weren't so far away from me I'd come here every week for dessert.  It's THAT good.

    I was in pain.  I just had a delicious lunch but now I seriously needed to be away from other people... to minimize any collateral damage in case I really did explode.  So I thanked my generous hosts and carried my stomach back to the office...

    Now a couple of words about Café Malacca, as explained to me by my friendly neighborhood Malaysian Trade Commissioner:

    The reason why some of the dishes taste so different - and so much better - than other versions available in Hong Kong is that they source their ingredients from Malaysia, as opposed to using local substitutes.  I do believe that it makes a difference, and of course MATRADE would be there to help with that.  Chef Sunny Tse may not hail from Malaysia, but apparently he has traveled to Malaysia and Singapore to learn about the dishes, hence the more "authentic" flavors here.

    The other thing that was explained to me by my friendly neighborhood trade commissioner is that the restaurant maintains two separate kitchens, as one of them is halal.  She herself is Muslim and this is naturally very important to her.  When Muslims dine at the restaurant, even the utensils used are completely different.  In fact, they get a set of black plates, bowls and spoons that actually look nicer than the generic white ones that I got to use...  This is clearly good news for Muslim travelers and local diners alike.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed my second visit today, and given how awesome the desserts were (and the savory dishes were good, too)... I just might have to come back more often.

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  • 08/08/14--01:26: Quando, Giando, quando
  • For various reasons which are fair or unfair, certain parts of Hong Kong are treated as culinary "deadzones" by my pea-sized brain.  I just simply don't think of those areas whenever I'm looking for a place to eat.  This, of course, comes from habit which is ever-shifting with the times.  There was a period during the earlier part of my life in Hong Kong where I frequented northern Wanchai a lot - and spent a considerable amount of time at the Grand Hyatt.  Those days are long gone with the departure of certain friends, so nowadays I rarely find myself in that neighborhood.

    So it's not surprising that I never had occasion to dine at Giando, since its location at Fenwick Pier is even more awkward than even the Grand Hyatt.  When a friend - who is obviously a big fan of the place - found out, she promptly organized a lunch so we could catch up.

    I have a big dinner tonight, so the original plan was to keep it light and order only one pasta dish.  But the set lunch looked reasonably priced, and I did want to try out something else, so we all decided to go for it.  The two ladies whose company I had the pleasure of enjoying also wanted to share a starter together.

    Burrata di bufala con insalata di pomodori misti - yes, this is what fresh burrata should be - creamy and semi-liquid inside the solid "bag".  The marinated piece of eggplant was OK, but what stole the show were the Italian tomatoes.  These were soooo incredibly sweet that I seriously wondered if the chef had soaked them in a bowl of sugar water.

    Insalata di gamberi, anguria e pomodori - the shrimps were bigger than I expected, and also a lot crunchier than expected.  In addition to cucumbers and tomatoes, the cubes of watermelon made this a very summery dish.  Nice touch with the basil and pistachio.  Was there a sprinkle of oregano, too?

    Rigatoni all'amatriciana - how do I resist anything made with guanciale?!  Of course I can't, so this was chosen over a couple of other very attractive options.  Loved the tomato and pork cheek, but the pasta was a little inconsistent.  Some of it was fully cooked, while others ranged from being a little al dente to borderline undercooked.  Still enjoyed it, though!

    Sorbetto alla pesce - the Italian peach sorbet was really smooth and nice.  Perfect ending to my lunch.

    I was a little more stuffed than I had wanted to be, but I couldn't complain too much.  Perhaps I can find my way back here a little more often and run through their pasta selection, as the ladies seemed to have enjoyed their choices.  But what really might make a difference for me could be the Mercato by Giando downstairs that sells all sorts of yummy stuff... and I promptly went to pick up some Italian tomatoes like datterino on the vine.  I immediately realized why Wilson Da Jam said that he would go broke if he didn't stop shopping there...

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  • 08/08/14--08:34: More fans for Dutchy
  • Mere hours after I had the pleasure of enjoying the company of two ladies over lunch, I found myself at a table with three ladies for dinner.  The occasion?  Well, besides the fact that this turned out to be BFF's surprise early birthday dinner, it was an opportunity to introduce Chef Richard Ekkebus' magic to the ladies.  In much the same way that I was, the Specialist had visited Amber during its early days and had been unimpressed.  It took a very special dinner last year for me to convert to an unabashed fan, and I figured I could do the same for a few others.

    So I made a booking and pinged Richard.  I told him that I was on a mission to convert a few fans for him, and was waiting to see what he could throw at us.  Basically, I threw down the gauntlet and told him to let me have it.  Of course, I had every confidence that he would deliver.

    Herring and beetroot jelly on rice cracker, with sour cream and onion - very nice.

    Foie gras lollipops - the kitchen was informed that one of us doesn't eat offal, so a cherry tomato was offered as a substitute.  As for the rest of us... the mouthful of foie gras was as tasty as ever.  And still love the beetroot.

    Pita bread with aubergine caviar, bell pepper and anchovy - the filling was still very delish.

    Jamón ibérico croquetas - gotta love the acidity from the liquid filling.

    Girolles, carrots, shallots and green peas with tarragon emulsion and crispy bacon - pretty nice to have a mix of textures inside.  The tarragon emulsion was pretty rich.

    "Pineapple" tomato, fresh almonds, niçoise olive and summer truffle salad - I had the pleasure of tasting this dish last year, and it was just as yummy tonight.  The peppers and basil were a lot more than just garnish.  As for the tomatoes themselves... really really yummy.  I think today's just a tomato day for me.

    Clear gazpacho, stragiatella di buffalo - spheres of buffalo milk cheese, gazpacho, tomato hearts, cannelloni of tomato, Japanese Amelia tomatoes, cucumber and radish in a clear tomato gazpacho.  Slurp.

    Bellota baguette soufflé - the baguettes were soooo light and airy, since they were practically hollow inside.  Can't tell you how much I enjoyed this.

    Aji horse mackerel served raw over koshihikari rice and sake lees emulsion, pickled cucumber, turnip and wild fennel - loved the emulsion made from sake lees (酒粕) and Koshihikari (越光) rice, and the rice and sesame crispy.  The aji (鯵) was lightly smoked, and a little spicy.  There were also a few pearls of olive oil caviar.

    Violin zucchini, avocado, green olive and fresh almond tartar with black truffle gel and fragments - very nice with bûche de chevre from Corsina, black truffle gel inside the zucchini tubes, and chunks of black truffle.

    Fougasse - with tomato and thyme and served alongside.  Very nice.

    Kinki roasted unilateral on the skin, poached mitzutako, hand pounded condiment of barbeque bell pepper and anchovies - now this was really something!  I'd love kinki (喜知次) any day of the week, but to have it here (perhaps in place of Richard's signature amadai) was a real treat.  Needless to say the flesh was supple, and thankfully not as oily as usual.  The "hand-pounded" bell pepper (I was told tomato) came with fresh almonds and North Pacific giant octopus (水蛸) - something I love but don't see often.  The spicy kick from the peppers was really nice.  The seaweed waffle came with anchovy dots, which made it just full of flavors of the sea.  Finally, the kinki jus was flavored with citrus.

    'Dombes' frog legs in crispy kataifi sprinkled with 'quatre epices' purée and chips of garlic, Italian parsley sabayon - this was so fun to eat!  Frog legs from Dombes, coated with a layer of ground kataifi and deep-fried.  Wonderful flavors from the spices and the chicken jus, and of course I had to roll these in the parsley emulsion.  I just pinched the bones between my fingers, picked these up and shoved them into my mouth.  The mixture of girolles, peas and some kind of stringy seaweed was really tasty, too.

    Wagyu tongue fondant with kelp cured Omi wagyu, tomato salad with seaweed and bonito flakes - apparently this was a new dish, someone almost didn't get to have it.  As the kitchen was told that one of the guests does not eat offal, they naturally assumed that anyone who doesn't eat offal wouldn't eat tongue, either...  Fortunately we were able to correct their assumption before dinner started, otherwise I think I would have had my head chopped off... because this was certainly the best dish of the evening - the unanimous opinion of the four of us.

    It's a millefeuille of beef, with layers of kelp-cured tongue and Omi (近江牛) beef, with capers, onions, tomato, kelp, what seemed to be charred bits of beef fat, all deliciously wrapped with a paper-thin layer of beef sirloin and topped with a sprinkle of nori (のり) chiffonade and deep-fried potato puffs. The acidity of the tomato and capers helped to cut through the incredible amount of fat in each mouthful.  Absolutely incredible and melt-in-your-mouth.  You wanna talk umami?  Try this.

    On the side, chunks of watermelon and "salt tomatoes" (grown with volcanic ash fertilizers, perhaps?) from Fukuoka wrapped in wakame (若布), topped with olive oil caviar and bonito flakes.

    French unpasteurized cheeses matured by Bernard Antony - Sebastien wheeled the cheese cart over and served us a small selection...

    Camembert - I had forgotten how incredible this Camembert was!  I wonder if it's the same one I had last year... where the rind was washed with Calvados.  The flavors here were savory and nutty, so much more intense than your average Camembert.
    Reblochon - very salty and pungent.
    Gruyère - creamy and nutty.
    Époisses de lait cru - from Gaugry.  Absolutely loved it.

    Comté 24 mois - nice and nutty.
    Mimolette 24 mois - wonderfully salty.
    Saint-Marcellin - sooo ripe, acidic, stinky, funky and gamey.
    Fourme d'Ambert
    White peach poached in sake, citrus, nectarine cream marigold petals, sake lees ice cream and rice crispy - sooooo yummy.  So this was triple-sake: peach, ice cream and jelly.  Incredibly refreshing.

    Dulcey chocolate spheres coated in Manjari 64% chocolate with salted and caramelized macadamia nuts and cocoa sorbet - loved the creamy milk chocolate centers inside dark Manjari.  Served with chocolate sponge on one of the spheres, and chocolate soil.

    Petit fours - 6 different types, including cubes that were like orange blossom marzipan, raspberry jelly, hazelnut puff, (pistachio?) mint macaron, salted caramel and chocolate tart, and pine nut financier.

    Fantastic food demands to be in the company of fantastic wines, and we were lucky enough to choose a few nice bottles...

    1989 Krug - nice and aged, a little savory, salty plum, sweet grass and marmalade.  Slight hint of bitterness on the finish.  Very lovely.

    2004 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - nice and toasty, very big nose, crisp, pure and beautiful.  Later on sweet and butter.

    2004 Dujac Charmes-Chambertin - very fragrant, fruity, a little smoky, very sweet on the nose but dry on te palate.  Nice woody flavors with some leather.

    1999 Rouget Echezeaux - nose was a little spunky, smoky, tighter than expected.

    This was a fantastic meal.  The ladies kept saying that judging by the food alone, we could be sitting somewhere in Europe, and for me Amber is undoubtedly up there with the best in the world.  Somewhere along the line, it was said that "that was the best meal I had in Hong Kong in many years".  Now THAT is high praise indeed!  Mission accomplished... with three new fans for Richard to add to his growing legion.

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  • 08/09/14--08:28: The 12-year old
  • I'm back at On Lot 10, again, with the aim of introducing a few friends to my new favorite beef.  Last month I visited my friends' restaurant and saw that they were dry-aging their own beef, and I really wanted to show them David's Spanish Rubia Galega.  One of them was in Hong Kong this weekend, so I set up a dinner and made sure we got ourselves some beef...

    Artichoke heart foie gras presse: truffle/mushroom - finally got to have this.  Very nice summer dish with the foie gras encased inside the artichoke heart.

    Summer truffle capellini: tomato/basil/garlic confit - very delish just like last week.  So easy to inhale this, especially with all that summer truffle.

    Acquerello risotto: Hokkaido sea urchin/matsutake mushroom - while I really like this with corn and girolles, it doesn't take a genius to see that it's even better with matsutake (松茸).  One day I'll just come here and inhale this...

    Rubia Galega carpaccio - even better than last time, from the cap of the ribeye, with black truffle chiffonade...

    Paella with Palamós prawns, sea cucumbers and buchot mussels - they always do wonderful paellas here, and the seafood always changes.  Tonight we had Palamós prawns again, and though they were a little mushy, the flavors were all there.  The heads, of course, were simply awesome.  And it seemed fitting that we would have espardenyas.  Soooo yummy.

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - ah.... the chuleta...  I have missed you!  Tonight the portion was a little smaller since there ended up with only four of us, but we did a pretty good job in polishing off most of this.  The flavors were still incredibly intense, like the aged Comté or Gruyère I love so much.  I waited and watched while everyone worked on the tender cuts of meat, and finally I couldn't hold out any longer... and reached out to grab the foot-long bone.  If the flavor of the meat was already intense, it should surprise no one that what's left on the bone was just out of this world.

    We also had some Comté and Brie de Meaux, as well as some pear tart and lemon tart to finish.

    2011 Ram's Hill - lots of green apple, white grapes like muscat, a little mineral.  Extremely ripe with a very long finish.  Yum!

    1995 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve - very fragrant and cedary nose, sweet on the palate, and very full-bodied with some tannins left.  Drinking nicely.

    I was glad that David was able to sit with us towards the end of the evening and hang out with Fudy a little, as it's always interesting to get chefs together and be a spectator to their conversations.  Of course, it's always nice to drink with David, even though most of the time I'm not bringing anything mind-blowing to his restaurant.  I hope he still enjoyed them, though...

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  • 08/11/14--08:01: The search for General Tso
  • No, this isn't about the documentary that I'm absolutely dying to watch, although I'm borrowing the title because it fits.

    I remember getting some culture shock when I first moved to the US to start college.  The Chinese food I encountered in Spittsbush was nothing like most of the food I grew up eating.  What the hell was "chop suey"?!  "Lo mein" was clearly some kind of noodle dish, but why were these stupid Americans putting it on top of rice and eating it in the same mouthful?!

    But soon I found myself getting pretty fond of General Tso's chicken, thanks to the chicken being deep-fried and covered in a sweetish brown sauce.  I ate a lot of it.  I had never heard of it growing up, but my uncle told me that it's actually called 左宗堂雞 and Hunanese in origin, and a little less sweet and a little spicier in its original form.

    Well, I haven't had much American Chinese food since I moved to Hong Kong before the Handover, and on most of my early trips back to the US, getting American Chinese food wasn't exactly at the top of my list.  But eventually I grew to miss it, and even tried in vain to look for it all over San Francisco's Chinatown on my last trip in 2008.  No go.  During my trip to Chicago and New York this past June, I was again too interested in the local cuisine... and for the one meal where I thought about having Chinese on the fly, even Panda Express was closed...

    So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that someone actually wanted to serve gweilo Chinese food in Hong Kong.  And tonight, my friend who grew up in the US decided that we should check out Fu Lu Shou for ourselves.

    Our visit started with a little bit of annoyance.  When I booked our table last week, I was told that the access code to enter the metal gates would be given to us when they called us to reconfirm the reservation today.  We had a 6:30 p.m. booking, but by 5:50 p.m. no one had bothered to call me.  After a couple of tries I finally got through to the restaurant, but the person who answered the phone had to ask someone else for the code... Oh well, at least we got in.

    I had spent some time combing through the write ups in blogosphere, so I had some idea about the kind of food on offer.  Someone had mentioned that everything they had was deep-fried, and a quick scan through the menu shows that easily 70% of the dishes are indeed battered and fried... and all the dishes we ordered turned out to be deep-fried, too...  A healthy meal, it was not.

    I had read somewhere that the restaurant does not allow BYO, so we ended up each ordering a cocktail.  How could I imagine starting the meal with anything other than a drink called fook yu?!  In fact, I looked for noodles called fook mi on the menu, but alas it was nowhere to be found.  Well, this Hennessy VSOP-based drink was kinda tasty, but what the hell were they thinking when they put chunks of chocolate into a drink with ice cubes?!  I also found it a little expensive since it cost the same or more as all but one of our dishes.

    Sesame prawn toast - nice and fragrant with all those sesame seeds.  Unfortunately this was very bland, and really needed the sweet chili sauce.

    Sweet and sour pork - drenched in sauce, unlike the classic versions from top Cantonese restaurants in town.  This was OK.

    General "FLS" Tso's chicken - the only dish that I insisted on having.  Turned out to be the best dish of the evening, and the only dish we finished thanks to yours truly.  OMG how I missed these battered and deep-fried chunks of chicken... with that "brown sauce" which wasn't as sweet as I remembered but a little more spicier than I remembered - thanks to the abundance of chili peppers which didn't seem to be in the American versions.  Dare I say that this was more "authentic" as it bears some resemblance to dishes with Hunanese roots?  Anyway, I came, I ate, I was happy.

    Crispy honey chilli beef "rusty nails" - well... this was pretty much mostly batter and that sweet sauce drizzled on top.  We couldn't tell whether it's beef or something else on the inside because it didn't particularly taste like anything.  But hey, it's deep-fried and it's sweet...

    Battered fish in corn and egg sauce - a dish often found in cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳) and even some old school Cantonese restaurants.  This was actually pretty decent, and my second favorite after the chicken.  I didn't find the batter too heavy, and it retained a reasonable degree of crispiness.

    Wok fried broccoli with ginger and garlic - overcooked, but I actually didn't mind too much.

    Well, that was a lot of food for the three of us, and we certainly couldn't finish it all.  While the food wasn't perfect, I went in with pretty low expectations so I guess I wasn't too disappointed.  At least I know where I can go for General Tso's chicken if I ever had the craving again.

    Since we were done with dinner by 7:30 p.m. and the night was still young, I suggested that we go have dessert somewhere else.  So we hopped into a cab and headed for the Traders Hotel, so we can have a taste of my new favorite dessert at Café Malacca.

    Yes, boys and girls.  I'm back for that amazing durian pudding made with Malaysian D24 durians.  It was sooo full of rich durian flavors, and I loved the thick and creamy texture.  The fragrance of the durian simply lingered in my mouth for a very, very long time. Oh yes, I was burping up durian again...  Had I lived anywhere close to this place, I would have picked up a few of these to go.  As I am a considerate person, I decided not to upset any cab or bus drivers and passengers...  Until next time, then!

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  • 08/12/14--08:02: The Chairman in red (rain)
  • It's been a while since I last caught up with a friend, and we arranged a gathering at the Chairman (大班樓) - one of his favorite restaurants in town.  As it's been a long time since I was last here, I was glad to have the opportunity to come back.

    I was all excited about dinner until it started to really piss down about half an hour before dinner started.  As the restaurant was only about half a kilo away, the only real option was to get there on foot. Unfortunately, it was pissing down so hard and fast that you couldn't avoid getting wet even with an umbrella.  There were also numerous pools and streams cutting across various sidewalks, so that it was impossible to keep your shoes and feet dry.  While only small parts of me got wet, some of the guests tonight arrived almost completely drenched.  They weren't kidding about the Red Rainstorm Warning...

    I was happy to leave the ordering to my friend so that I could try out something other than "the usual".  I think it worked out pretty well for me...

    Deep-fried crab meat and mushrooms dumplings (酥炸蟹肉香菇盒) - not a fan.  Too greasy and mushy on the inside.  While the shiitake mushrooms were nice, I didn't really taste much crab meat.

    Pan fried minced pork cakes with salted fish (馬友咸魚煎肉餅) - very nice.  The pork patties were juicy, and the flavors of the salted fourfinger threadfin (馬友) were outstanding.

    Razor clams steamed with aged lemon and garlic (二十年咸檸檬金銀蒜蒸蟶子) - initially I thought this was just like the regular stuff you see at all the seafood restaurants in town, but that 20-year old preserved lemon really stood out.  Very nice.  Always love that minced garlic and glass vermicelli.

    Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged ShaoXing wine, fragrant chicken oil and flat rice noodles (雞油花雕蒸花蟹配陳村粉) - can't come here without having this.  Tonight we got ourselves a "medium", which was maybe a little less than what I would have liked.  Needless to say the crab was fresh; the sauce with Huadiao wine and chicken fat was incredibly fragrant and tasty; and mixing the flat noodles into the sauce was simply divine.  Too bad we didn't ask for seconds.

    The Chairman's soy sauce chicken (十八味豉油雞) - very, very good.  Tender and succulent meat, with very prominent flavors of herbs and spices.  Yum.

    Wagyu beef brisket in white peppered beef broth (清燉澳洲和牛坑腩) - not bad.  The brisket was pretty tender, while the radish was still firm and almost crunchy.

    Steamed kai lan with pickled Chinese vegetables (梅菜蒸芥藍) - pretty nice.  Love it when they bring out the preserved leafy mustard (梅菜).

    Oxtail in Port and cumin (大班樓缽酒茴香牛尾) - so tender that the meat fell off the bone with a light nudge.  Full-on flavors but didn't feel excessively rich.  Inhaled in mere seconds.

    We brought a few bottles to go with dinner:

    2005 Petaluma - a little corked, but we ended up drinking it anyway because the heavy oak kinda masked it.  Very ripe, a little oxidized, caramelized and sweet on the nose, but slightly bitter on the palate.  Also with some straw notes.

    Krug Grande Cuvée - love the ripeness of old reserve wines.

    2007 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne - ripe on the palate, and later on a little buttery.  Slightly ripe on the finish.  Heavy toast emerged after a while.

    2002 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - forest and potpourri notes, some sweet fruit.  A little tight at first but starting to loosen up and drink well.

    1981 Mouton-Rothschild - soooo classic.  Very smoky, savory soy sauce, cedar, mint and dried herbs.

    The heavy rain tonight didn't seem to have dampened our appetite for both food and wine, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to try out to check out the menu after a long absence.  Hopefully it won't take another couple of years until my next visit...

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