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

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  • 08/13/14--08:23: Canto-Malaysian evening
  • I'm out for a third night in a row, and it was pouring down hard again.  I walked the exactly same route as I did last night, only tonight I stopped just a little short and went up to Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊).  We had a visitor in town, and I'm glad this venue was chosen for the gathering.  I haven't been here since a pretty disastrous lunch a few years ago, and I'm curious to see how the Rubberman decided it was worthy of two macarons.

    Chef Cheng was seated by the door and recognized Susan the Great.  No doubt this was the reason why the kitchen sent out a plate of pan-fried radish cake (煎蘿蔔糕).  Not quite as mushy as I remembered from my last lunch here, but still a little too wet for my taste.

    Bird's nest stuffed in chicken wing (燕窩釀鳳翼) - a signature dish here that I don't particularly care for, because bird's nest really does nothing for me.

    The crispy skin was absolutely delicious, but the stuffing was simply too soft and without any flavors in my book.

    Stewed minced assorted meat with bean curd (琵琶豆腐) - the recipe for this dish is in Susan's cookbook A Celebration of Food, so of course we had to order this.  Pretty nice.

    Sautéed pig's tripe tip in black bean and pepper sauce (豉椒炒肚尖) - not bad.  The tripe was sliced very thin and remained very crunchy, although my personal preference is still the version at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源) - for the thicker cut that leads to a more crunchy texture.

    BBQ baby pigeon (脆皮妙齡鴿) - they've always done a good job here, although I kept myself to just a quarter pigeon.

    Chinese ham with Chinese broccoli (雲腿芥菜膽) - not bad, but a little translation fail on the menu.

    Signature special fried rice (富哥招牌炒飯) - very, very good as it's been fried at high-heat for that "wok hei (鍋氣)".

    2003 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - minty, cedary and sweet.

    We were very kindly comped some delish Xinjiang melon and watermelon, as well as beancurd sheet andgingko nut soup (腐竹白果糖水).  However, we had deliberately kept the menu short because there were plans to move to dinner number two...

    No, I'm not kidding.  Two days after tasting the fabulous durian pudding at Café Malacca for the first time, someone (not yours truly) was craving for it and wanted to go back.  So the bunch of us trekked over, and our visitor decided that she was gonna take advantage of this excursion and get some authentic Malaysian dishes.

    Well, I was pretty full and needed to stay disciplined, so I sat and watched as the ladies dug into things like assam laksa, otak otak, satay and roti canai.  I wanted one thing only - the durian pudding.  It was my third time having it in exactly seven days, and it was still awesome.  Tonight, though, I decided to get an extra one to take home...

    Burping up durian has never been so satisfying.

    P.S.  The durian pudding lost at least half of its intense flavors a day later.  I guess I'll need to keep going back to have it at the cafe...

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  • 08/13/14--23:45: A heavier second nibble
  • Very few of my meals are work-related, but I had occasion to lunch today.  After going through the usual process of picking the restaurant with Mo' Unni, we eventually settled on Duddell's.  I had only been there once, at the invitation of the restaurant, and left a little underwhelmed.  Now that more than a year has passed and they have gotten themselves a little macaron, I was curious to see if things had gotten better.

    Pan-fried bean curd sheet roll with fungus (香煎上素付皮卷) - pretty nicely done.  Dry and crispy sheets.

    Fried rice roll with XO chili sauce (XO醬煎腸粉) - at first these looked like mini versions of Korean ddeokbokki (떡볶이), but they are actually hollow at the center.  Pan-fried until golden and crunchy, yet slightly chewy at the same time.  Pretty good.

    Shrimp dumplings with matsutake mushroom (松茸筍尖鮮蝦餃) - premium ingredient here.  Pretty good, too.

    Steamed barbecued pork bun (蜜汁叉燒包) - methinks someone loves this, since it was the first item mentioned while we were rounding up the order...

    Pretty good filling, and the bun itself was fluffy enough and not soggy.

    Braised E-fu noodle with roasted duck and enoki mushroom (金菇火鴨炆伊麵) - two of us were eyeing this dish, so this was a no-brainer.  Pretty tasty, but this was seasoned a little more heavily than I expected.

    Steamed bean curd sheet bag with fungus and bamboo shoot (羅漢石榴球) - the filling is tasty as expected, but I did not expect this heavy sauce.  I was kinda hoping for something similar to the one I had at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), whose flavors were more subtle and delicate.

    Not bad for a second nibble.  I guess I'll have to come back for dinner some time...

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  • 08/15/14--22:07: Beach cleaning
  • I'm currently staying at my summer home on the beautiful south side of Hong Kong Island, which puts me pretty close to Fergie.  When I pinged him about his plans for this weekend, I was thinking more along the lines of getting together for some wine and food.  Instead, he asked me if I would be interested in joining him to clean up Repulse Bay Beach.  Well, it's been a while since I last did some actual volunteer work, so I dragged my ass out of bed this morning to do some good...

    The two dozen or so of us each got a pair of tongs, and most of us shared plastic bags between us.  Ever the antisocial loner - and not knowing anyone other than Fergie's family - I took a bag by myself and set off for the far end of the beach.

    While I started by picking up the few obvious pieces such as half-empty beer cans and plastic cups, it was glaringly obvious that most of these have been picked up by the regular cleaners in their sweep.  So I moved closer to the water and focused on what was being washed up by the waves.

    In all my years in Hong Kong, I can probably count the number of times I've been in the water with both hands.  When I first arrived, I was told by someone that Hong Kong didn't treat its sewage and simply dumps raw sewage into the sea.  That was a disgusting thought.  Although Hong Kong now treats sewage at a facility on Stonecutter's Island, a portion of raw sewage still gets dumped without treatment.  So no, I haven't really wanted to get into the water in a long time.

    Walking along Repulse Bay Beach today, I came face to face with another reason for not going to the beach - garbage.  It wasn't just garbage being left behind by people going to the beach, but stuff coming from everywhere.  I didn't go into the water myself, but Fergie's family told me that there was plenty of it in the water, and at one point the kids were pinching their noses from the smell.  As for me... I saw syringes, enemas, plastic sticks and balls of all sizes, and bits of styrofoam.

    I bent down and started picking up little bits and pieces with my tongs - focusing on the smaller bits.  I wish I had a shovel, because trying to squeeze little things between the tips of those tongs wasn't the easiest thing to do.  This was laborious, and it may seem really inefficient and not worth spending my time on tiny plastic balls or styrofoam pellets. But I persisted for the better part of the next hour.

    You see, tiny bits of styrofoam or plastic may not look like much, but they are garbage nonetheless.  In fact, they are worse because they are often overlooked because of their size.  They end up floating around or being suspended, and because they are so small, it's possible that they get eaten by fish in the sea.  Even if the fish don't die from ingesting these things, I don't think any of us would like to eat fish that has eaten plastic or styrofoam.  So to me, it's just as important to rid our beaches and oceans of these small bits.

    When our time was up, I realized that my bag actually carried a little bit of weight.  Sure, some of that may be sand, dead leaves and other organic matter, but at least I got rid of some stuff that I was sure others would ignore.  Next time Fergie organizes a beach cleaning, Imma bring my own shovel... and stick around a little longer.

    I still had a little time before my lunch appointment - and I was thirsty and sweaty - so I decided to hydrate myself by grabbing some ice coffee at Pacific Coffee.  I chose not to pick up the bottled water that was sponsored for the event because I didn't want to create more waste for our landfills, so naturally I didn't want to get my coffee in a plastic cup, either.  I requested for the staff to serve me ice coffee in a mug, which left my server a little puzzled at first.  But when I went back to pick up the coffee, the supervisor thanked me for being environmentally friendly.  Well, I'm glad somebody knows what I was doing... and I hope that more people would follow suit.

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  • 08/18/14--07:54: The usual canteen stuff
  • It's been a while since our last birthday gathering, so the troops were rounded up for another dinner.  It came as absolutely no surprise that no one wanted to pick the restaurant, and the inevitable result was that we once again found ourselves back at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  It would seem that this gang just doesn't wanna eat anywhere else...

    One of us was running late because of work, so we tried to wait for him while sipping on some wine.  But I had a pretty small lunch, and already had a beer before I showed up at dinner, so I was starving pretty badly and practically on the verge of passing out.  And as we know, they ain't go no bread at Chinese restaurants... so I finally decided to order something to tide us over.

    Barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - you can't go wrong by starting dinner with this, and there was plenty of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth fat in the pieces that I picked up.

    How I love to squeeze the fat out with pressure from my teeth...  This put a smile on my face.

    Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - more things to nibble on,,, and easy to grab with my fingers.  Very yum.

    Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - as good as it's ever been, with that wafer-thin crackling.  Oh and the other parts of the pig were yummy, too.  Tonight the ribs weren't over-seasoned, and the neck was nice and marbled.

    Double-boiled soup with winter melon and duck (冬瓜火鴨湯) - we wanted winter melon soup (冬瓜盅), but were told that they had just sold out of the last one.  When we subsequently asked what the soups of the day were,  we were then told that this was available... Anyway, this was very good.  I particularly liked the pork belly that was also used in the soup, and in fact couldn't help but eat a few of the pieces... with the fat and the rind.

    Steamed humpback grouper (清蒸老鼠斑) - very, very good.  And I would expect nothing less than flawless execution.  Alas, not the most sustainable catch...

    Hairy gourd with conpoy (瑤柱節瓜) - pretty simple comfort food, but very homey and satisfying.

    Fook Lam Moon's famous crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - never had cause to complain about this here chicken, and tonight the pieces I took were very moist inside that amazing crispy skin.

    Yolk and sesame paste birthday buns (蛋黃麻茸壽飽) - well, it's a birthday celeberation so you can't do without these birthday "peaches" (壽桃).  We ordered both types of fillings, but everyone (except for the guy who was too slow) went for the sesame paste version instead of the more common lotus seed paste variety.

    Gotta love that filling...

    I was really full, so I passed on the other desserts that the gang ordered.  I had already taken in way, way too many calories for the day.

    As usual I supplied the wines for our dinner - picking out bottles that were easy to fish out of my overcrowded cellar - which may explain why I was being slightly more generous than usual...

    2005 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard - took out 2 bottles of this baby.  Very ripe on the nose with some lemon citrus, and good amount of oak.  Ripe and sweet on the palate.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - opened up two of these and decanted them just before serving.  Very ripe on the nose, with plenty of stewed prunes, a little forest, and a little salty plum.  Clearly getting a little tired.  After extended aeration the palate died pretty badly.

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  • 08/22/14--00:17: Sometimes, less is more
  • A couple of good friends were interested in checking out the seasonal summer tasting menu at Pierre, and invited me to join them for lunch today.  As it's been quite a while since my last visit, I figured it was time to go back and check it out.

    Things didn't exactly get off to a good start when I arrived.  I asked the receptionist for my friends' reservation, pronouncing both their last names as well as spelling them out.  Nope. No such reservation.  I was asked if I was in the right restaurant - as if I were the blubbering idiot - but of course I was.  I tried to check for the reservation again, and this time a lightbulb went off in someone's head.  "Oh, zed-h-..." Ah yes, as a speaker of American English, I always pronounce the letter "zee", but I guess that was news to the receptionist...

    My friends arrived and we fell into conversation while looking at the menu.  I had already checked out the menus online before coming, and since I'm feeling a little poor lately, paying more than HKD 1,000 for the 4-course tasting menu lunch seemed a little too rich for my blood.  The "express lunch" - which is a silly misnomer because you can never get out of this place in a hurry - seemed a lot more palatable at about HKD 600 for 3 courses.  So that's what I decided to have... if only someone would come and take our order.  Despite having been the first to arrive, the staff seemed to think we were in no hurry to eat, and only came to take our order after both neighboring tables were taken care of - some 15 to 20 minutes after we were presented with our menus.

    An array of amuses bouches were brought to our table, but our server left without any explanation of them.  When I asked the server to describe them, the explanation came but sounded a little vague.  Another member of the waitstaff seemed to explain it much better to the next table, so we pulled him over and asked him to describe these one more time...

    Parmesan crumble (domes) and turmeric flavored crispy sandwich with Brillat-Savarin filling (flat ones) - the crumble was fine but the Brillat-Savarin was awesome.  Our other server had described the crisps as being flavored with egg yolk sauce (蛋黃醬)...

    Sesame crackers - nice with plenty of cumin flavor.

    And tasted great with the dip.

    Lentil mash with lentils, paprika and cumin - very, very delish.

    "Caillette ardéchoise", snail, "red sauce" - I love just about any sausage, and this minced pork and green vegetables sausage sounded perfect to me... and it was!  There were a few snails on the side, and the "red sauce" was made with red cabbage, red currants and Port wine.

    There were chunks of fat next to slightly chewy and crunchy bits of pork, mixed in with what seemed to be spinach and maybe parsley.  Wonderful in terms of both flavor and texture.

    Pan-sautéed Obsiblue prawns with green curry, crunchy turnips with white Port, emulsified shell juice - it wasn't surprising that I found the Obsiblue prawns slightly overcooked, but no biggie.  Loaded with onions, trompettes de la mort, turnip cubes and shredded French beans.  I know it says green curry, but the shellfish sauce kinda turned everything a reddish orange.  In any case, it was delicious.  Pierre Gagnaire has always been one of the few chefs who I admired for being able to blend the flavors of East and West, and this was a perfect example.  Loved that kick from the curry.

    Poached peach in Muscat wine, almond flavored yoghurt and peach sherbet - this looks like a dish from Disneyland... with all those multi-colored meringue sticks.  There's a peach poached in Muscat de Baumes-de-Venise at the bottom, surrounded by Muscat jelly and peach foam and topped with peach ice cream.  The peach was really delicious, although I found the jelly a little bitter.  Overall, though, this was very summery and delish.

    While we found the level of service somewhat wanting, I really liked all three of the courses I had.  My friends, however, had a different experience.  While their giant langoustine seemed to be incredibly delicious, the veal was apparently disappointing.  Basically they thought they were having stir-fried slices of beef, and a Chinese restaurant would have done a better job at it.

    Even before we had placed our orders, Winnie the Chew - who is well-known among our friends for being cheap value-conscious - had questioned out loud about what she was getting from the tasting menu given the premium she was paying.  After we had finished our respective meals, it would appear that I was the happier camper while paying significantly less for lunch.  I guess that's the problem of going for an expensive meal - one's expectations are raised proportionate to the price of the meal, and it becomes easier to get disappointed about not getting one's money's worth.

    Well, I had a good lunch, and now I needed the next few hours to digest and make room for a big dinner...

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  • 08/22/14--08:21: Japanese collage
  • A friend was kind enough to invite me for dinner tonight, and was even kind enough to choose a restaurant with "light" fare to accommodate the fact that I had a big lunch today.  Japanese was the order of the day, and they decided on Shin Shu (信州) in K-Town.  This is a couple of doors down from Bistronomique (which, incidentally, my friend David is no longer involved with), and happens to be run by the same people.

    I recalled reading the review from Susan in the paper, and remembering that she liked the food.  So I felt pretty safe about trying out this new place.  Yes, the decor was pretty bare.  In fact it looks like your average neighborhood Japanese joint, not some place that serves up premium ingredients.  But hey, as long as the food is good, I ain't gonna complain much...

    Susan had mentioned that the omakase was satisfying at a reasonable price, so naturally we followed suit.  We need rearrange the serving order a little bit in order to match the alcohol we brought.

    Edamame (枝豆) - pretty standard for many Japanese restaurants to serve this first...

    Onsen egg with sea urchin and salmon roe (温泉卵、雲丹、イクラ) - pretty nice, but the surprise was the little sansho leaf (木の芽) which gave the whole thing the slightest of kicks and made it much more interesting.

    Sashimi selection - a good mix consisting of olive flounder (鮃) roll with a dab of sea urchin (雲丹), young yellowtail (ハマチ), half of a very thick scallop (帆立貝) that was nice and sweet, and a botan shrimp (牡丹海老) that was pretty nice.  As is customary, I gave away my two slices of medium fatty tuna (中トロ).  Nice to see that they served this with some myoga (茗荷).

    This simple, clear soup came with a couple of rolls of fried tofu skin (油揚げ), shiitake (椎茸) mushroom, and a single shrimp ball (海老団子).  A couple of pieces of green yuzu (柚子) skin provided it with incredible fragrance.

    Grilled sweetfish (鮎塩焼き) - this is the season for sweetfish, and grilling is the classic way to enjoy it.

    Tempura (天ぷら) - this was the first time that I've had abalone (鮑) tempura, and it was pretty interesting.  Because I ate it whole, while the abalone wasn't really chewy, the thickness and the size of it meant that it took some work.  The shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子) were pretty nice.

    Sushi platter - I actually forgot to take a picture of the platter... which hasn't happened in a long, long time.  There was mackerel (鯖) with a thin slice of marinated kelp (昆布), great amberjack (間八) with a little yuzu (柚子), scallop (帆立貝) with a dab of black truffle sauce, sea urchin (雲丹), and torched salmon (炙り鮭) wrapped in lettuce with some sesame sauce (胡麻タレ).  All pretty yummy.

    Wagyu tataki (和牛たたき) - finally, the dish that should have been served much earlier.  Thin slices of Kagoshima (鹿児島) beef, ever-so-slighly seared.  Very, very tender and well-marbled.

    The peach sorbet wasn't bad at all.

    I thought the food was pretty good overall.  We got a bit of everything - from sashimi, sushi, tempura, grilled fish to beef.  No fails.  In fact most of the food was well-executed.  I thought I might have wanted a little more of the specials, especially after seeing boxes of fresh matsutake (松茸) mushrooms lying around... but I was perfectly fine with the amount of food we got.

    Of course with this bunch there would be plenty of wine...

    1999 Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet - a little toast, a little oxidized but drank perfectly fine.  Medium acidity here.  Clashed badly with the scallop sashimi and soy sauce.

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, degorgée Janvier 2013 - pretty ripe on the palate, with notes of marmalade.  Always delicious to drink this wine.

    2013 Hakurakusei Zankyo "Super 8" (伯楽星 残響 "Super 8"), bottle 127/365 - one of my favorite sakes in the world.  The blend of Yamada Nishiki (山田錦) and Omachi (雄町) rice is milled down to a mere 8% of its original size, taking seimaibuai (精米歩合) to the very extreme.  Initially there was tons of banana, ripe and sweet musk melon and other tropical fruits.  Very sweet on the palate and extremely smooth and rounded.  As it warmed up a little, the palate got slightly drier.  What a beautiful sake!

    1970 Angelus - ripe on the nose, a little smoky, a little green pepper and woody.

    1996 Dom Pérignon - from some of the very first batches to arrive in Hong Kong.  A very, very well-made Champagne, with incredible balance between the acidity and ripeness.

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  • 08/27/14--02:14: Afternoon delight
  • I first saw announcements about a Pierre Hermé Infiniment Citron Aternoon Tea a few weeks ago, and thought it looked pretty interesting - especially since I'm a big fan of the Fat One.  But somehow it didn't register in my mind that there would be tons of people in town who would want to have afternoon tea like this, so I didn't rush to book a table immediately.

    By the time I thought about doing something about it, both of the remaining weekends had been totally booked out.  Not wanting to miss the chance to taste some yummy goodies, I booked a table for a weekday afternoon, then roped in a couple of ladies of leisure who worked in the building to join me.

    I dunno what it is, but I've been having some trouble with finding reservations at 5-star hotels lately.  I myself had no trouble getting seated at Cafe 103 at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong for this tea session.  However, one of the ladies had a little trouble joining me.  First the receptionist informed her that there was no reservation under my name.  When she insisted on having the special afternoon tea, she was told that all the tables were fully booked (which was probably true).  She was then led downstairs to a private room at another restaurant - where apparently she was responsible for kicking out the chef in the middle of an internal meeting.

    Curiously enough, somewhere along the line the staff asked whether she was meant to join me and my "wife".

    When my friend finally managed to join me a few minutes later, she told me what had happened to her and we all had a good laugh.  I had never been here before and certainly had never met any of the staff.  How the staff thought he knew me well enough - despite not being able to find my reservation - to know that I have a wife that I didn't know I have... is completely beyond me.

    Anyway.  We were kinda left to our own devices for a while, but we finally managed to flag down someone to place our beverage order.  I was a little surprised to find that our waiter didn't know the name of the special tea that was recommended to accompany the nibbles...

    First came the savory bits:

    Confit duck meat and foie gras tart, candied lemon skin - pretty good, actually.

    Citron egg salad brown bread sandwich - I love egg salad, and this was a little more interesting than usual.

    Herbed smoked salmon dark rye bread sandwich with lemon curd - probably my favorite of the bunch.  This was just too classic - with a thin layer of smoked salmon on top of the bread, generously coated with dill that provided a lovely fragrance in the mouth.

    Seafood mousse citron bread Swiss roll with crab roe - very interesting.  The seafood mousse inside tasted kinda sweet, and juxtaposed with the savory flavors from the crab roe on top.

    Then came the main event...

    Émotion Infiniment Citron - my clear favorite today.  I absolutely loved the combination of textures between the lemon cream, lemon Chantilly cream, lemon gelée, fresh lemon peel, candied lemon peel and lemon pâté sablée.  The different intensities of lemon flavors coming from the different components made things pretty complex and interesting, too.

    Cake Infiniment Citron - seemingly boring in comparison, but this was nevertheless a very good, moist lemon pound cake.

    Choux Infiniment Citron - just as complex as the Émotion, with lemon cream, lemon Chantilly cream, fresh lemon peel, candied lemon peel, lemon crumble and lemon pâté sablée all stuffed in the choux.  Of course there was just a weeeettle bit too much stuffing, so you gotta lick off some of the cream before putting any pressure on the choux with your fingers...

    Sorbet Infiniment Citron - it took a few minutes for the sorbet so soften up enough to eat, but this was really refreshing.

    Cheese Cake Infiniment Citron - also really yum.  Base made with pâté sablée and ladyfinger with lemon juice, the light cheese cake was topped with lemon cream and lemon marmalade.  I'm normally not a fan of light and soft cheese cakes - as I prefer the classic New York style - but I'll make an exception for the Fat One.

    Macaron Infiniment Citron - aaaahhh... the origin of it all.  Wonderful flavors, but just a tad too soggy.

    Thé Cérémonie - this was the "supreme recommendation", which uses Japanese sencha (煎茶) as a base with almond, cardamom and jasmine.  Gotta say that I wasn't a fan... Just didn't think almond and cardamom went well with the tea.

    I was stuffed.  I had a relatively light lunch in anticipation of this, but this was by no means a small afternoon tea set.  It was really, really yummy, though.  There wasn't a single item that I didn't like, and that's a rare occurrence.  I'm so glad I was able to make it here today.

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  • 08/29/14--00:28: High end dim sum next door
  • I had another occasion to lunch for work today, and chose to take our client to Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂魚翅酒家) since it's nearby.  It's been a while since I've had dim sum from Sun Tung Lok, and I thought the quality was certainly good enough for a client lunch.

    Steamed rice flour rolls with shredded turnip, enoki and Yunnan ham (金包銀絲腸粉) - I've always liked this dish, and yeah it was pretty satisfying.  Love the crunch inside.

    Baked abalone puff (特色鮑魚酥) - somehow not as good as I remembered.  The slices of abalone inside were a little too chewy today.

    Baked ham and spring onion cake (火腿焗燒餅) - oooooh baby, come to papa!  These were pretty decent in terms of size, and maybe my tastes have changed since last year, but today I liked the abundance of lard.  Yum.

    Conpoy and shrimp dumpling in supreme soup (上湯瑤柱鮮蝦水餃) - these were pretty good, and the soup made things very classic.

    Pan-fried bun with wagyu in black pepper sauce (黑椒和牛生煎包) - I had initially wanted to order steamed preserved vegetable and pork bun (梅菜皇扣肉包), but the staff convinced to change to something else with preserved leafy mustard (梅菜)... and somehow I ended up with this - probably because this featured Japanese beef and was more expensive.  Anyway, this was very yummy, and I was burping up black pepper and onions for the rest of the afternoon...

    Stir-fried kailan with ginger sauce (薑汁炒芥藍) - very nicely done, with reasonably young kailan (芥藍) and the skin shaved off the stems.  Wonderfully crunchy.

    The client had never been to Sun Tung Lok and left suitably impressed.  And why wouldn't he have been?  The food was definitely top-notch.

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  • 09/01/14--08:58: The speakeasy next door
  • A week ago fellow bloggueurGary pinged me and asked me if I had any interest in joining a dinner that was being organized at a private dining room.  Well, I was completely plastered when he pinged me on a Sunday afternoon, and it took me until well after dinner time to sober up, check out his pics from the last dinner, and respond.

    At the appointed time, I leisurely strolled out of my office building, traversed the 10 meters to the other side of the street, and found myself in front of a building that, in my 2 years of working out of my current office, I had never once taken notice.  Dinner would be here tonight, at a private entertainment facility in the heart of Central.

    Although I had never had the pleasure of meeting the organizer before, I found myself among familiar faces.  We had chefs, restauranteurs, and the venerable Dashijie (大師姐) - eldest pupil of the late Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠).  I had the pleasure of dining with Dashijie once last year, and tonight we were also joined by Mrs. Chen's godson Wilson.  As I looked around the table, it was very obvious that the person with the least knowledge about Cantonese cuisine - or food in general - was yours truly.

    Pan-fried termite mushroom (煎雞盅) - one of the guests supplies wild mushrooms from Yunnan, so we started with twin plates of shrooms.  This was very nice.  Pan-fried without any oil whatsoever, since the mushrooms themselves have enough oil and moisture.

    Pan-fried matsutake (煎松茸) - I gotta admit that I'm a Neanderthal when it comes to matsutake mushrooms... I haven't had them all that many times - probably because my first experience left me wildly disappointed - and most have probably been dried slices which were rehydrated.  Tonight, finally, a lightbulb went off in my head and I finally realized what all the fuss was about.  The fragrance wasn't the intense, in-your-face type, but more subtle and elegant - with a long finish.  Very, very nice.

    Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - I'm assuming this is Iberico and not Japanese kurobuta (黒豚).  This was kinda different...  There was definitely strips of fat, but in general this was leaner than expected.

    Plenty of strong pork flavors here, and this was also interesting in that it was done with soy sauce in lieu of the usual honey glaze.  Yum.

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - not surprisingly I couldn't really taste the birds' nest, but the crab meat was very tasty.  Spongy, tofu-like texture thanks to egg whites made these pretty easy to inhale.  Very yum.

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - I've stopped ordering this at various restaurants around town, because so many kitchens add way too much baking soda to achieve the texture they desire, and some also add a layer of corn starch glaze.

    Tonight I tasted neither.  The texture was also crunchy and springy.  Definitely one of the better versions in town.  Oh and the prawn paste that came as the condiment was really, really pungent and strong.  Just a little dab and you'll feel like you've just sucked on the fermented heads of 10 prawns...

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - this classic mix of pork tripe, celery, red bell peppers, water chestnuts, yellowed chives, sweet pickles, coriander and Indian almonds was one of the best I've had in town.  In fact it could very well be better than the one at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), thanks to the chef's skills stir-frying this at high heat for that wok hei.

    Double-boiled winter melon soup with shrimps, Yunnan ham, fresh crab meat and lotus seeds (百寶燉冬瓜盅) - one of the better versions I've had in memory.  Yes, I think I even prefer this to the one I normally get at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    Even though both versions feature the same ingredients - crab meat, shrimp, whelk, roast duck, ridged gourd, lotus seeds and Tonkin jasmin (夜香花) - I found this to be more to my liking.  The reason?  The flavors of the soup was much milder.  The chef did use Yunnan ham to create the base, but one could hardly taste it.

    Steamed blackspot tuskfish (清蒸海青衣) - really, really wonderful.  The flesh was so fluffy and pillowy... but just firm enough.

    Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - very, very well done.  Skin was crispy and paper-thin, the result of ladling hot oil over the chicken over and over again in a laborious process.  I deliberately picked out pieces of chicken breast, and they were moist and tender.  I scolded the Chicken Fiend for leaving a quarter of the chicken on the plate, and in the end she managed to polish it off with some help...

    Four treasure vegetables with Yunnan ham (雲腿扒四寶蔬) - not bad, but our resident Yunnan expert felt the ham could have been of better quality.

    Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - OMG this was sooooo freakin' good!  Why did I only get half of a small bowl?!  Why is it that you only get to eat something like this at the very end of a huge meal, when you're already totally stuffed... when you have very limited stomach space left?!  Since my office is literally right next door, can the chef just whip up a big bowl of this for me at lunchtime?  I would have no problems eating this 3 times a week.

    Almond cream with egg white and lotus seeds (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - nice and creamy, with just enough almond fragrance.

    There were a couple of wine lovers tonight, and we each brought a little something to dinner...  I stopped myself after the first few bottles as I felt myself reaching capacity...

    Isojiman Daiginjo Junmai (磯自慢 大吟醸純米), BY25 - very fragrant nose of banana, honeydew melon, starchy rice.  Medium palate between sweet and dry, with a dry and spicy finish.

    Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne MV Rosé - pretty fruity and yeasty on the nose.  Kinda ripe on the palate with some bitterness on the finish.

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, dégorgée Septembre 2008 - ripe and caramelized on the nose, with savory minerals and salty plum (話梅).  Also ripe on the palate.  It's been 6 years since disgorgement so this is showing a little age.

    2011 Egon Müller Riesling Scharzhofberger Kabinett - lovely, floral nose with flinty notes.  Palate was surprisingly sweet for a kabinett.

    1988 Clinet - a little green and probably un petit bouchonée...  with brett.  A little bit of stewed fruit here.  Still reasonably drinkable.

    1980 de Fargues - obvious botrytis and acetone on the nose with apricot notes.  Good acidity here.

    This 15-year old single malt distilled at Laphroiag was exactly what you'd expect it to be... pretty strong at 50%, with the alcohol starting to singe the hair in your nostrils.  Plenty of hospital disinfectant here...

    This was a very, very good evening.  The wines were pretty enjoyable, the food was of very high quality, and the company of fellow gourmands was tough to beat.  I now very much look forward to our scheduled gathering next month...

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    Two years after his debut performance, Curry once again hosted his MNSC dinner at Megan's Kitchen (美味廚).  There's no question that the MNSC boys all love the food here, but the reality is that many of the dishes simply don't work with the reds that we tend to pop when we come here.  Tonight, though, there was an added bonus.  It seems that the restaurant has been doing some renovation work, and I was hit with the paint fumes as soon as the elevator doors opened.  Blind tasting under these circumstances would be a real challenge...

    The host asked the owner to put together a menu for tonight, and given that she is a wine lover herself and knows exactly what we are doing tonight, one can only assume that she was deliberately trying to screw with our palates... perhaps on Curry's orders!

    Deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚) - always a crowd favorite, and that sprinkle of deep-fried garlic and chili was just perfect with the Cali reds we were drinking...

    Japanese-style fried chicken (日式炸雞件) - pretty good.  Deep-fried dish #2.

    Deep-fried tofu with black truffle (炸黑松露豆腐) - curious thin sheets of bean curd with blobs of black truffle paste on top.  Not bad at all.  Deep-fried dish #3.

    Marinated boneless pig trotters (涼拌無骨豬手) - oh this was so sooo good... I'm a sucker for pig trotters, thanks to all that skin and fat and gelatin and collagen... which can be simultaneously soft, springy and crunchy.  Marinated with sesame oil, with plenty of chopped chili and spring onions... there is just enough kick here.  I found myself unable to stop reaching for more.   Chili/spicy dish #2.

    Crab meat and mushroom soup (生拆蟹肉多茸羹) - nice and thick thanks to the abundance of corn starch, but we've got really nice and big chunks of fresh crab meat here.  Very, very yum.  Was that a sprinkle of deep-fried garlic and chili flakes on top?

    Deep-fried crab claw (椒鹽大肉蟹箝) - mmmmm more deep-fried food, and more deep-fried garlic and chili.  Let's just say that the crab that this claw came from wasn't exactly a baby.  Chili/spicy dish #3 and deep-fried dish #4.

    Baked garoupa fillet with corn in cream sauce (鮮粟米奶油焗斑球) - oh this is so Canto... The cream was really, really nice.

    Surprisingly, though, this dish was spicy!  Quite a few of us were caught by surprise, fooled by the heavy cream and veg.  Chili/spicy dish #4.

    Stir-fried pork neck with dried shrimp (蝦米醬爆豬頸肉) - aaaaaand another spicy dish... this time a lot more in-your-face.  Just looked at the chili oil with seeds and chopped dried shrimp and shrimp paste covering the pork and celery.  Another dish where I couldn't resist reaching out my chopsticks for more and more, red Bordeaux be damned.  Chili/spicy dish #5.

    Crispy chicken (南乳脆燒黃油雞) - really yum... and the prawn crackers were so nice... Deep-fried dish #5.
    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with beef in black truffle sauce (黑松露牛肉煎腸粉) - finally!  I dish that was neither spicy nor deep-fried... just pan-fried.  Ya just can't come here without ordering something that's got the minced beef and black truffle sauce... and today those pan-fried rice flour rolls were killer.  My stomach was already bursting at this point, yet I just couldn't help myself...

    Baked four vegetables in whole pumpkin with Portuguese sauce (原隻南瓜葡汁焗四蔬) - anything smothered in molho português tastes pretty good in my book, and this was no exception.  Broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms.  Chili/spicy dish #6.

    Stir-fried kailan with ginger sauce (生磨薑汁炒芥蘭) - can't go wrong with this classic and all the antioxidants...

    豐料鮑汁荷葉飯 - rice flour rolls AND rice?  Yes, ma'am!  This was very tasty and pretty full-on thanks to the abalone sauce.  Too bad I could only fit in a small bowl...

    Before we even showed up, Curry had announced that this would be a magnum dinner with 6 big guns.  We were, of course, kinda hoping that we would be drinking 6 magnums of Jayer... but none of us would have cause to question his generosity once we tasted the wines and realized what they were!

    First pair: opened 3½ hours and decanted an hour prior to serving
    1991 Dominus from magnum - nice and smooth on the palate, with a little cedar, a little grassy, bigger and more smoky than the Harlan, a little spicy.  Later on pretty savory.

    1991 Harlan Estate from magnum - nice, sweet fruit, with a hint of grass, mint and a tad savory mineral.

    Second pair: opened and immediately recorked 2 hours prior, and decanted 15 minutes prior to serving
    1975 La Mission Haut-Brion from magnum - nose seemed very oxidized at first, kinda dusty but cleared up later.  Nose of grilled meats, coffee, and mocha.  Later on turned pretty savory.

    1975 Petrus from magnum - some fruit here and a little minty.

    Third pair: opened and decanted 15 minutes prior to serving
    1966 Petrus from magnum, ex-château - more concentrated than the '78.  Minty, metallic, a little sweet, a little smoky, and almost coffee notes.  Definitely a better wine than the '78.  97 points.

    1978 Petrus from magnum - cool fruit, lovely and elegant.  Slightly ripe and sweet.  96 points.

    This was a really fun evening... with good food and obviously good wines.  Unfortunately I couldn't really smell the wines from the first two pairs, so I ended up not scoring them.  Nevertheless I am extremely grateful for Curry's generosity, and I did really enjoy the last pair of Petrus...

    In case anyone was wondering... yes, you can drink Petrus with spicy food.

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  • 09/06/14--07:57: Mooncake tasting with mom
  • It's customary for me to bring home a haul of mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival.  For a few years I was buying them from Lung Hing Heen (龍景軒) at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, simply because Last Minute Uncle liked their distinctive fragrance.

    But last year, mom did a side-by-side comparison of Lung King Heen's white lotus seed paste mooncake with double salted egg yolk (酥皮雙黄白蓮蓉月餅) with the very old school lotus seed paste mooncake with double salted egg yolk (雙黄蓮蓉月餅) from Wing Wah (榮華) - the kind of mooncakes I used to have 30 or 40 years ago when I was growing up.  Believe it or not, the Wing Wah mooncake won hands down.  Not only did it have a richer, denser lotus seed paste, the duck egg yolk inside was still soft with visible oil - while the yolk in the Lung King Heen version was dry and had visible clumps.  That was a revelation.

    For the first time in quite a few years, I chose not to order any mooncakes from Lung King Heen... especially now that the Four Seasons Hong Kong has decided to do what the Peninsula has done for a number of years - offering mass-produced, hotel- and not restaurant-branded mooncakes.  I decided to try something new.

    A while ago I heard that Dashijie (大師姐) had made some traditional mooncakes with lard.  I got kinda excited, because this was the type of old school stuff that mom would like.  So I got online and ordered some... In retrospect I probably should have asked Dashijie about her mooncakes at dinner a few days ago...

    Last week I learned from mom that, for reasons unbeknownst to me, Last Minute Uncle is now a fan of Peninsula's mini egg custard mooncakes (迷你奶黃月餅) that people have been going crazy over.  I myself am not a fan of these, and try my damnedest to stay away from them.  But Last Minute Uncle is someone I need to keep happy, so I quickly placed an order with Mara Js Pâtisserie since I tasted them not too long ago...

    I dutifully hand-carried them back to Taipei this morning, and immediately went about tasting them with mom after lunch...

    Mom showed me this sorry ass-looking lotus seed paste and egg yolk mooncake (蓮蓉蛋黃) from Humble House (寒舍) in Taipei.  I didn't even have to bite into it to know that it sucked.  The lotus seed paste didn't taste like much except that it was sweet, and the whole thing was oily.  Looking at the yolk I had to wonder what kind of bird it came from... I think even quail eggs have bigger yolks.

    I can certainly understand why mom hasn't even bothered to open up any of the other 5 mooncakes in the box...

    Next up was the egg custard mooncake (上等奶黃月餅) from Mara Js, which we nuked in the microwave for about 10 seconds.
    Mom liked the flavors, especially the fact that there was actual yolk in the filling.  But she felt that the filling should have been denser and more compact, as it was pretty easy for this to crumble and fall apart.  This was her favorite of the bunch.

    For me the main event was always gonna be the traditional yellow lotus seed paste mooncake with double egg yolk (傳統雙黃欖仁蓮蓉月) from Dashijie (大師姐), which I thought would be the one made with lard.  But I was mistaken.  The ones which were made with lard were apparently from a special batch that wasn't for sale, and lard certainly wasn't listed as one of the ingredients for this.  We nuked this for about 20 seconds as instructed.

    Well, I thought this was pretty good.  The yolk was still kinda moist, the lotus seed paste was tasty, and I especially liked the Indian almonds (欖仁).  For mom, this was decent but she found the lotus seed paste a little on the fluffy side.  At least we could see a little oil ooze out onto the plate.

    Finally we come to the dried jujube paste mooncake with walnut (南棗琥珀合桃月餅), also from Dashijie.  Growing up with Shanghainese roots, I naturally gravitate towards things made with dried jujube paste.

    It should surprise no one that mom has pretty standards, and this was her least favorite of the ones I brought home.  She noticed that the jujube paste wasn't exactly gleaming, which indicated that the paste wasn't really rich.  Sure enough, we found red bean paste listed as an ingredient in the dried jujube paste, so the flavors weren't pure.  You just beat an old hand with experience...

    Well, I guess that was it for this year.  I'll figure out which new ones I'll buy next year and look forward to another tasting with mom.

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  • 09/07/14--07:38: Smoky kaiseki redux
  • I'm in Taipei hanging out with family, and that means spending time with Last Minute Uncle and... you guessed it, making last-minute plans for dinner.  Sporty Cousin's birthday is coming up, and he had talked to the parental units about going to Toutouan (燈々庵), after asking me about it during my last trip back to Taipei.  A couple of hours before dinner time, Last Minute Uncle picked up the phone and make a reservation, and I would have a chance to see how the cuisine has evolved since my last visit.

    Once again I took the Toutouan set (燈庵 会席) for comparison purposes, even though I didn't really wanna be eating this much tonight...

    First a shot of apple vinegar, which really was sweetened apple juice with a few drops of vinegar.

    Assorted starters (八寸 旬菜七品) - seven different items to nibble on:

    Magatama tofu (勾玉豆腐) - served on the side in a cup.  This was made with cashew nuts, which would explain its sweetness, tempered by some wasabi and dashi (出汁) jelly.  Basically a very thick mousse in terms of texture.
    Matsuba crab pressed sushi (松葉蟹箱寿司) - wrapped in a leaf with burdock and ginger.  Very bland.
    Purple yam (紫芋) - with winter melon sugar (冬瓜糖) on the outside.
    Leafy amaranth (莧菜) - with fried crushed peanuts, but I found it a little bland.
    Myoga (茗荷) with scallop mousse - the myoga seemed lightly pickled and stuffed with a delicious mousse made with scallops.
    Deep-fried yam dumpling (芋団子揚げ) - supposedly made with duck from Yilan (宜蘭) but there were only a few shreds and didn't really provide much flavor.
    Deep-fried bamboo shoot (筍揚げ) - this really was the tender tip of the shoot.

    Pumpkin and red sea bream dumpling and grilled sea bass (椀物 南瓜しんじょと鱸塩焼き) - the pumpkin and red sea bream dumpling was very soft, fluffy and yummy.  Covered with a very thin sheet of radish, a sprinkle of very young pea shoots and a small piece of yuzu (柚子) rind for fragrance.  The grilled sea bass had thin strands of carrots on top.  All in a light broth made with dashi (出汁).

    Six types of seasonal sashimi (造り 旬の魚6種盛り) - salmon (鮭), great amberjack (間八), chicken grunt (鶏魚), needlefish (針魚), sea urchin (雲丹).  I gave away my piece of fatty tuna (トロ) as per usual practice.

    Salmon and pomelo salad (旬肴 秋鮭と文旦のサラダ仕立て) - with pea shoots, perilla flowers, red capsicum, king oyster mushrooms, toasted almond slices and a little bit of caviar on top.

    Third anniversary special: celebratory grilled red sea bream with sea urchin (三周年特別焼物 祝い鯛雲丹焼き) - from Wakasa Bay (若狭湾) in Fukui Prefecture (福井県).  Just like my last visit, the grilled fish came with a heavy smoke that filled the room.  In fact, it was so smoky that we knew when any table close to us (and we were all in private rooms in the basement) were being served this course...

    The red sea bream was coated with sea urchin and chrysanthemum.  Served with pickled ginger strands and roasted chestnuts on the side, and sprinkled with deep-fried scales from the sea bream.  Very yum.  Using sea urchin as a "spread" was certainly interesting, but the real killer was the fish scales...

    Grape vinegar

    Deep-fried cherry salmon (揚物 山女魚唐揚げ トリュフ餡) - this was really, really good.  The fish was very tender inside, with a nice glaze was made with dashi (出汁).  I ate all of it, including the crunchy bones and head.  This actually reminded me a little of the sweetfish from RyuGin.

    Grilled abalone with cheese (進肴 鮑黄身チーズ焼き) - this was lit and finished within our view.

    Cheese and seaweed powder was sprinkled on top, and shimeji (しめじ) mushrooms were mixed in among the slices of abalone, with pickled myoga on top.  Interesting that they also had the liver here.   The abalone was pretty good, but unfortunately I didn't care for the cheese powder they used... tasted cheap and crappy.

    Hooba miso style beef (強肴 特選牛朴葉味噌焼き) - a regional style from the Hida area famous for their beef, hooba miso is cooked over the leaf of Japanese bigleaf magnolia (朴の木) to release the fragrance from the leaves.  The US Black Angus beef was very, very tender, and not surprisingly the sweetish white miso worked well.  There was also peach, maitake (舞茸) mushrooms, eggplant and shishito pepper (獅子唐辛子) on the side.

    Steamed rice with lotus seed and salmon roe (食事 イクラと蓮の実の御飯) - this was probably the first time I've had just lotus seeds together with the rice...

    Desserts (水物)
    Apple compote with roselle jelly (林檎コンポートローゼルゼリー) - served with what seemed to be almond panna cotta and yogurt, along with blueberries and candied roselle on top.

    Kintoki sweet potato with fig cream (金時芋無花果クリーム和え) - not a fan, as the acidic cream tasted a little sour and weird.
    Pineapple and orange sorbet (パイナップルとオレンジのシャーベット) - texture was a little meh...

    Wagashi (甘味 上生菓子)

    Macha (茶品 抹茶)

    Masumi Sanka Junmai Daiginjo (真澄 山花 純米大吟醸) - we wanted to sip something so I ordered this in a 300ml bottle.  Nice and fragrant flavors of fermented rice, with a little banana.  Palate was a little drier than expected.
    This was a lot of food, and once again I felt a little uncomfortable at how full I was, but thankfully this was some really good food.  I thought the food was pretty decent on my first visit, but now I think the food is even better.  It may not be on par with the best of Japan, but the quality is certainly high, and certainly among the best that Taipei has to offer.  Many thanks to Last Minute Uncle for the treat!

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  • 09/12/14--23:50: Send-off lunch
  • Babu is making a stopover in Hong Kong in the midst of her globetrotting, and I had a chance to meet up with the Tiggers for lunch and spend a few precious moments with my godson Bear.  Not surprisingly we met up at their go-to weekend lunch spot Man Wah (文華廳), and I arrived after everyone's had their first round of dim sum.  I quickly played catch-up...

    Golden taro puff, abalone (蜂巢鮑魚盒) - as good as I remembered and one of the best things on offer here... stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms in addition to taro mash.  What's not to like about deep-fried, flaky taro mash?!
    Tiger prawn, bamboo shoot dumpling (筍尖蝦餃皇) - very good.
    Conpoy and vegetable dumpling (瑤柱萵筍餃) - pretty interesting, with rehydrated conpoy (瑤柱) providing the heavier flavors and chewy texture, while the diced celtuce (萵筍) stems provided the crunchy texture.

    Beef tenderloin puff, black pepper sauce (黑椒牛柳酥) - another incredibly fatty item... Just look at the flaky, deep-fried rings on the outside...

    Roast suckling pig (化皮乳豬件) - what's not to like about suckling pig?!
    Barbecued pork, honey (蜜汁叉燒皇) - not bad.

    Organic bean curd, black mushrooms (紅燒有機豆腐) - always on the table when the Tiggers are here.

    Wok fried vermicelli, crabmeat, shredded pork (桂花蟹肉炒新竹米粉) - oh boy, this was really, really good!  Stir-fried at high heat to produce wok hei (鑊氣).  This was simply fragrant and delicious.  As good as this was on its own, I couldn't resist ladling spoonfuls of the restaurant's XO sauce and mixing it in... Simply amazing!

    Fried five grain rice, glutinous rice, assorted vegetables (五穀糙米炒飯) - not bad at all.

    The petit fours included coconut milk jello with corn and mung bean which were kinda bleh, and glutinous rice dumplings which were much better.

    Pretty filling and satisfying lunch.  Many thanks to Babu for the treat!

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  • 09/13/14--08:46: Hot in the city
  • It's been YEARS since I last got together for dinner with a couple of friends, and they decided that it was high time they went out with their "foodie friend" and get some benefits out of eating with me.  Originally they had suggested that we visit a certain new restaurant in town, but upon being advised by yours truly that there was a greater-than-zero chance of being poisoned by the kitchen (I had been rather unkind in a post on another of the group's restaurants, had received hate mail from someone in the restaurant group, and have since then never dared to set foot in any restaurant belonging to the same group), my friends decided it would be in their best interests to try another place like Penthouse by Harlan Goldstein instead...

    I was a bit lazy and didn't call far enough ahead to book, and by the time I did the only available table was on the outdoor balcony.  Surprisingly the ladies didn't mind, so I retracted my request to move to the first available table outside.  Then I pinged the big man himself to let him know I was coming, and he promised to show us some magic.

    My friends arrived a few minutes before me, and was told by the staff that we could not sit facing each other but had to sit in a row facing the city (and away from the restaurant).  My blood started to boil as I received text messages updating me on the situation.  WTF?!  How do you expect the 6 of us to sit in a row and have a conversation?!  I was ready to have a fit and told my friend to let the restaurant have it if they insisted on the moronic seating arrangement.  Fortunately, the situation seemed to have been resolved by the time I arrived... but the evening had gotten off on the wrong foot.

    Since I had already been here twice and liked most of what I had, and this was Harlan we're talkin' about, I dispensed with ordering and just asked Harlan to send out whatever he felt was appropriate... giving him carte blanche.  We turned our attention to the wines we brought instead...

    Spanish farm-raised bluefin tuna tartare, slow-cooked egg and creamy tuna sauce - didn't end up having this as I was away from the table taking care of the wine...

    Heirloom tomato tartare, burrata cheese, balsamic jelly - this was OK.

    Beef carpaccio roll, rocket, stracchino cheese and truffle - this was OK, with some nice flavors from the truffle.

    Seafood paella - I guess this was off the menu, and HG carried it from the kitchen himself.  The carabineros were tasty but a little on the small side, although that didn't stop me from greedily sucking out whatever was in the head...  The scallops were a little overcooked and chewy, but the octopus was slow cooked and very, very tender... while retaining some bite.  Throw in clams, chorizo, and pimentos into the mix and you got tons of flavor - especially when you finish this in the Josper oven.  I couldn't believe it when no one wanted the socarrat, so I scooped up a good portion of it and gorged.  A little wet for my taste, but still pretty damn yummy.

    60-days wet-aged U.S. Brandt striploin - gotta say I wasn't a fan.  Not a whole lot of flavor here... really just kinda bland.  I think we all agreed that this was a little disappointing.

    Still pretty juicy but slightly tougher than I expected.

    60-days wet-aged U.S. Brandt hanger steak - as expected this had more flavor than the striploin.

    Australian grain-fed yellow chicken, marinated with garlic, herbs, sea salt, lemon and black pepper - the big upside surprise of the night.  The chicken was cooked sous vide for 4 hours and then put on ice.  It's brought up to temperature after being ordered, then roasted for 18 minutes.  This was incredibly tender, and even the breast meat that I had was very, very succulent.  The drumstick still had pink areas and a bit of blood, but that's fine by me.  Very, very good stuff, and I'd order this again.

    I probably should have taken some of that Italian rocket salad, but I was happy enough with the amount of food I'd already taken in... especially all that paella...  The ladies also shared a dessert between them but I was content to sit this one out.

    Two of us brought a total of 5 bottles of wine, and Harlan was kind enough to only charge us corkage on two.

    2009 Pazo Señorans Albariño - full-bodied and oaky.

    1975 Pontet-Canet - brett, a little fruit left, cedar on the nose.  Naturally the tannins are still here since it's a '75.

    1970 Gaja Barbaresco - over the hill and gone, no more fruit left, just acidity, smoky and savory, soy sauce.

    1999 Araujo Syrah Eisele Vineyard - exotic, tropical coconut and vanilla, along with some coffee.  Pretty nice.

    2001 Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Ripe al Convento - kinda ripe, still big tannins but they are softening, full-bodied and alcoholic.  A little coffee and smoky nose, with almost a hint of mung beans.

    The food tonight featured a few underwhelming dishes, which hasn't happened to me at one of Harlan's restaurants for a long, long time.  But I was happy to see my friends and meet new friends, although I thought it was a little warm to sit outdoors... and it also made for very tricky lighting for photography.  Next time I'll tell the restaurant it's indoor seating or bust...

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  • 09/14/14--06:48: Ex-boss at the Boss
  • The ex-boss was in town with his family, and no surprise that the responsibility of choosing where to have dinner fell on my shoulders.  Given this was his kids' first trip to Hong Kong and a request was made for "what I can't have normally find (in Taipei)", I naturally took them to a good Cantonese restaurant - since there is virtually no decent Canto restaurant in Taipei...

    After checking with a few places in Central, I decided to lead our contingent to the Boss (波士廳), an underrated restaurant which got themselves a little macaron in the last round.  I had only ever been here for lunch, and relished the opportunity to try out more dishes when dim sum items aren't on offer.

    Double-boiled almond soup with pig lungs (生磨杏汁燉白肺湯) - definitely something you can't find in Taipei.  First of all, I don't think anyone makes anything savory with apricot kernels in Taiwan... and I doubt that many people cook with and eat pig's lungs.  In any case, I thought the soup was nicely done here... with a rich and slightly thick texture and plenty of fragrance.  The kiddies seemed to like it, too... and even ate the pieces of lung.

    Steamed leopard coral trout (清蒸東星斑) - something else that Cantonese restos in Taiwan don't seem to do well is steamed fish, so we had to have it while they're here.  I think they over-steamed this ever-so-slightly, but still fresh and tasty.  The kids had fun devouring the fish like a couple of pirahnas... and I have a couple of after pictures for the record...

    Baked crab with vermicelli and home-made sauce in casserole (奇香粉絲蟹煲) - I liked this the first time, and ordered this as one of the kids wanted crab.  Very fragrant, indeed, with Thai basil, garlic, peppercorns, fermented soy beans (豆瓣).  I also find it interesting that they throw in thin slices of three-layered pork along with the crab and glass vermicelli.  Very, very yummy.

    Deep-fried chicken pieces with home-made shrimps sauce (大澳蝦膏炸碎雞) - this was the dish that I fell in love with on my first visit, and I'd order it any chance I get!  Loooove the taste of shrimp sauce!  There was just enough of it to make things a little stinky, but it's the kind of stinky where, if you got it on your fingers, you couldn't resist putting your fingers up to your nose so you could smell them... Slurp.

    Fried noodle with black truffle (法國黑松露炒麵) - I was expecting to see a big bowl of E-fu noodles (伊府麵) or something, but they made this with the same egg noodles that are used for classic Cantonese wonton noodles.  Thankfully there were no notable alkali flavors, but that may have just been covered up by the good amount of black truffle paste used to toss the noodles.  Very yummy, but could have used a little more wok hei (鑊氣).

    I was very happy with the food tonight, and judging by the reaction of the kids - and the leftover fish bones and crab shells - I'd say that they enjoyed it, too!  Given that this place is just a stone's throw from my office, I gotta come back more...

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  • 09/11/14--08:16: Out on the Town
  • Those who know me well know that I am never in a hurry to visit new restaurants, as the probability of "stepping on a land mine" is incredibly high.  Usually I wait a few months - sometimes up to more than a year - for places to work things out.  Why pay a good chunk of my hard-earned money if I'm gonna get subpar food and/or service?!

    Starting tonight I'm throwing that philosophy out the window... if only for limited occasions.  I've been invited by the South China Morning Post to be a guest contributor to their First Served column - which appears in the 48 Hours weekly magazine and highlights brand new restaurants in town.  It's a short column, but it represents a complete departure of what you normally see in this space.  Let's see if they actually ask me to keep writing this stuff after a couple of times...

    The restaurant I chose for my very first review was Town, the latest venture from Chef Bryan Nagao.  I haven't tasted Chef Nagao's food in years - probably not since my last visit to Kokage... but I figured since he's a well-known figure in town he deserves some coverage.

    The place was maybe a third full when I arrived, and the staff very kindly poured me some tap water when lemon twist when I asked for it.  They even asked me if I was hungry and wanted some bread while I waited for my friend.  So far so good.

    My friend arrives and before she has had a chance to catch her breath, a waitstaff comes over and asks if she wants to anything.  She is annoyed, and this would turn out to be the beginning of what she feels is "over-service".

    I let my friend choose her dishes first, and it turns out that all three dishes were my first choice also... so I had to pick other ones that she could eat, since we were sharing...  Interestingly we saw Sicilian red prawns appear on three different dishes, which is unusual but on second thought made a lot of sense.

    Sicilian red prawn carpaccio, black truffle caviar, yuzu, croutons - my friend's starter turns out to be the best dish of the evening.  Very fresh and full-flavored prawns, with the tiniest clump of truffle caviar, really tiny baby cucumbers with flowers, finely diced celery, croûtons and a bayberry (楊梅) in the middle.  The only annoyance is that the uneven sprinkle of salt meant that some mouthfuls were saltier than others.

    Tempura shrimps, candied walnut, spicy aioli - these were pretty good, but it looks like something I would have at Nobu.  In fact, I did have something very similar there.  Some of the candied walnuts delivered slightly pungent flavors, and that aioli was definitely more spicy than I expected.

    Bryan's suckling pig, clams, pancetta, baby spinach, miso broth - my friend again picked something that jumped out at me from the menu.  Everyone knows I'm a sucker for suckling pig... just gimme fatty pork any day.  The meat here was very tender and moist, and nicely flavored with the fat.  The skin was smoky enough that I could smell it from my seat.  While my friend found it a little salty with the miso broth, I found it a little bland without the skin as the piece I tasted did not soak up any broth.  The clams were made infinitely more interesting with the pan-fried chunks of pancetta.

    Herb black codfish, wasabi gnocchi, Sicilian prawns, celery root, mushrooms - don't see no herb on my cod, but it tasted just like it should... very moist and succulent.  In fact it almost oozed juices... although the seasoning was slightly uneven.  The wasabi gnocchi were more of a curiosity than anything, but the Silician prawns were bursting with intense flavors.  Pan-fried chanterelles and celery root purée provided the contrast of savory and sweet flavors,

    Soufflé yuzu with vanilla ice cream - the soufflé did rise, but it wasn't as wobbly as I would have liked.  Yes, it was fluffy, but somehow the texture was a little off.  I liked the fragrant citrus flavors of yuzu, but honestly once I shoved the scoop of ice cream into the soufflé and mixed it up, I couldn't tell it was vanilla...

    At the end of the meal I found myself in unfamiliar territory...  My friend seemed to be a harsher judge of the food than I was, which doesn't happen often.  I didn't find any major faults with any of the dishes, other than perhaps the soufflé.  None of it was mind-blowingly good, but in general the savory dishes were pretty well-made and tasty.  Would I be adding this to my rather short list of go-to restaurants?  Probably not.  But given the quality of the food and the fairly reasonable prices charged, I would have no objections to coming back to try more selections from what the chef has to offer.

    A few words about service... This is a new restaurant and I think the staff are trying a little too hard... I know this would be labeled a #firstworldproblem but when multiple waitstaff keep coming up to you after every single dish to ask how the food was, eventually it can get a little annoying.

    Towards the end of the meal when I started to check my work email on my phone, one server came and talked to my friend, and they were probably discussing the story behind the restaurant when the server mentioned that the chef was "of the same level as the chef from Bo Innovation".  At this point I stopped fidgeting with my phone, looked up and asked for clarification.  "They belong to the same class" was the next sentence.  Neither my friend nor I have any clue what this person was saying.  Whatever it was, did it come from the chef himself or some bullshit PR machine?  Yes, both Bryan and Alvin put Asian elements into their "Western" food, but beyond that my simplistic mind don't see a whole lot of similarity, nor do I see the two of them at "the same level".  That just ended our evening on a weird note...

    The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here. (requires subscription)

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  • 09/17/14--00:11: Quickie business
  • The boss is in town and we needed a place to lunch and catch up.  L'altro happens to be close to the office, and I figured the boss would want a change from the usual Chinese, so we went for an Italian experience.  Their two-course set lunch was just perfect for our purposes.

    Millefoglie croccante, carne cruda e ricotta agli aromi mediterranei - kinda interesting, although the flavors here were a little unusual compared to the beef tartare I am used to.  You can definitely feel the different texture of the hand-chopped wagyu.  I guess the crispy millefeuille was OK...

    "L'altro" maccherone all'amatriciana - pretty yummy.  This was an easy choice, because as soon as I see "all'amatriciana" the image of guanciale immediately pops up in my head...  Yes, I'm predictable that way.  The maccherone was al dente, the tomato sauce was fine, but it was those deep-fried slices of pork cheek that made me really, really happy...  I would have happily taken a few more slices of guanciale.  Maybe I'll request it next time!

    Lunch was quick, simple yet delicious.  I really gotta come for dinner one of these days...

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  • 09/17/14--07:35: No fook mee on the menu
  • I did it!!!  I went into Ho Lee Fook (口利福), ate a full dinner, and came out alive and unharmed!!!  Allahu Akbar!!!

    Ever since word came out that someone was opening a restaurant with the very cheeky name of Ho Lee Fook, I'd been joking with friends that I wanted to go there and eat some 'fook mee'.  But my plans came to a screeching halt when I found out that the place was run by Black Sheep Restaurants...

    You see, once upon a time I had been rather unkind to (read: trashed) the first restaurant opened by the same group.  It was one of the few times when I felt a restaurant had few, if any, redeeming qualities, and I didn't care if I ever went back... so I kinda just let it rip in my blog post.  Within 24 hours of putting up my post, one of the guys responsible for the group sent me hate mail via two different channels.  He was obviously not very pleased that I, who had eaten his food for free at his invitation, actually dared to say anything negative in return.

    Well, not only did the restaurant not close down, but these guys ended up opening one restaurant after another - sometimes by becoming the local partners of establishments from New York City.  I stayed away from all of them, as the running joke among my friends was that as soon as I was spotted by a certain someone, I'd end up getting (food) poisoned.  Every time a friend suggested that I join them at one of these establishments, I'd ask them if they wanted to risk being poisoned... jokingly, of course.  Somehow my friends always ended up suggesting that we go somewhere else instead...

    But when I was asked to join some friends for a review of this here restaurant, the temptation was just too great... and I finally relented.  I wanted to see what the fuss was all about, poison be damned.  Besides, someone else was making the reservation...

    I arrived at the appointed time, but none of my friends were in sight.  I tried pinging them and calling them, but no one picked up.  After going down to the dining area in the basement, I realized that it was near impossible to get any cell reception down there.  Not the greatest situation in this day and age, but maybe it ain't so bad from a different angle.

    I left the ordering to the experts, and just sat back and waited for the barrage of food...

    Wagyu steak tartare, Yunnan style, hot and sour, herbs - not bad at all, with deep-fried and marinated shallots, and Thai basil.  A little spicy, and a little acidic.

    Served on deep-fried krupuk made from cassava.

    Fried chicken mid wings with shrimp sambal - these were OK, and the sambal wasn't too spicy.

    Mom's "mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork" dumplings, sacha soy dressing - this wasn't an accurate description, because we were all surprised by the big clumps of pork inside and how little cabbage there was.  The wrappers were pretty thin and more akin to Japanese gyoza (餃子) wrappers instead of the traditional Beijing-style dumplings.  I liked the spicy soy with chopped chilis, but I don't remember tasting any sacha sauce (沙茶醬).

    Fried cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, maple bacon chili jam - mmmm smoky bacon... spicy sauce with fermented soy beans (豆瓣醬).

    Then came a trio of classic Cantonese roast meats: the Worm Supplier had forgotten to specify our wish for fatty pork, so the Kurobuta pork char-siu was slightly on the lean side... although it was still tender and the grill marks were obvious.  The soy chicken was OK and came with the traditional minced ginger and spring onion dip on the side.  The real winner was the roast goose, as the skin was delightfully crispy, sheltering chunks of fat that oozed and coated the succulent meat with flavor.

    Grilled calamari, leek, Chinese celery, five-flavor sauce - the calamari was very lightly grilled, and came with a nice melange of Thai basil, Chinese celery, chili and deep-fried shallots.

    DIY pork san choi bao, cucumber kimchi, chili bean paste, garlic stems mixed herbs - curious that they should add corn here, along with chopped chives and shredded Thai basil.  I added a little cucumber kimchi but not the pickled purple cabbage.  Not bad at all.

    Roast wagyu short ribs, jalapeno puree, green shallots kimchi, soy glaze - YUM!  The beef had clearly been deep-fried to create a thin crust.  We got to have three different textures here: the bits attached to the tendon obviously were cooked a little more and were more crusty.  One end of the rib delivered slices which were more marbled with more even distribution of fat, which was very nice.

    Then there was the opposite end, with obvious chunks of fat.  Slurp.  I was happy to have this on its own along with the scallions, but the jalapeño purée added a nice little twist to the dish, too.

    Prawn lo mein with shellfish oil, grilled shallot, crispy garlic - it was inevitable that we would compare this with Alvin's version, which I last tasted at MC Kitchen (I refuse to call it MIC Kitchen even though the assholes at McDonald's made him change the name).  This was not bad, but a far cry from our preferred dish.  The shellfish oil was also a little sour... perhaps to cut through the oil... but I like my fatty oil!

    We ordered all three desserts on offer, but unfortunately none of them really stood out...

    Passion fruit sorbet, lime and coconut marshmallow, pomelo, roasted rice - the sorbet was nice, and came with kaffir lime leaf chiffonade.  Not sure about the roasted rice powder...

    Granny Smith apple granita, Calpis sorbet, mochi, koji jelly - this was probably my favorite of the three, but only because it tasted cool and refreshing.

    This had Granny Smith apple, plum, slightly alcoholic koji (麹) jelly, milky and sour Calpis (カルピス), and little chunks of mochi (餅) which were just too chewy and weird.  I just felt that they were simply a bunch of ingredients thrown together without much thought of how they would work together...

    Matcha sponge cake, chocolate ganache, hazelnut praline, strawberries - not sure why they bothered with the sponge cake, because the chocolate simply overpowered everything... except the strawberries.

    And... we got fortune cookies at the end!  I am still a little miffed that we didn't get them at Fu Lu Shou (福祿壽).

    This was a good amount of food and I don't think any of us left hungry.  I thought the food was reasonably good - at least the savory dishes - and there were no obvious fails.  Given the reasonable pricing, I can see how this place can become popular with plenty of satisfied customers - especially with the expat crowd.

    However, I do still have a few pet peeves.  Like the other restaurant in the group which I had the misfortune of visiting, the place was just too damn dark.  I saw diners at another table whip out their smartphones and turn on their camera torch just so they could read the menu.  What's up with not wanting us to read the menu?!  The music was also just too damn loud.  I understand these guys wanna create a hip, happening joint with the vibe... but when you turn the volume above a certain level, your customers can no longer hear themselves think, much less carry on a conversation.

    Well, I had already tempted fate once tonight, and I shall count my blessings and thank my lucky stars that nothing happened... so I'm still staying the hell away from the other places!

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  • 09/21/14--08:45: Typhoon birthday
  • I'm back in Taipei again for a short trip this weekend, this time to hang out with dad on his birthday.  But with me being the "typhoon magnet", this also turned out to be the weekend when Typhoon Fung Wong decided to pay Taiwan a little visit... and totally confuse us by going in all sorts of weird directions.  I was seriously worried throughout the entire weekend that either the restaurant I booked would be closed, or that my flight the next morning would be massively delayed.  Thankfully it all worked out well in the end...

    I booked a table for us at STAY via their website and online portal, which was confirmed with a return phone call pretty quickly and painlessly.  While the restaurant called me a couple of times leading up to the dinner to confirm that we were still coming and not cancelling due to the coming wind and rain, my response was simply "if you are open for business, we will come".  On a night like this, I was ever so grateful that the restaurant was situated inside a shopping mall - so that we can pull into the underground parking lot and stay dry in spite of the elements.

    Last-Minute Uncle couldn't join us tonight, so both Foodie Wannabe and Sporty Cousin came along with us.  It's actually kinda satisfying to see Sporty Cousin maturing and becoming capable of appreciating fine dining - a far cry from this performance three years ago.

    For some reason I've never ordered the set menus here, and I wasn't about to start tonight.  Maybe because my lunch at home was comparatively light (since I was full from taking the Girl Who Ate Everything for a heavy breakfast), but tonight I felt I needed more food than usual... so I ended up ordering two starters.  OINK!

    The trio of amuses bouches arrived, and helped us get started:

    Zucchini mousse - with a little black olive.

    Smoked salmon with crab roe

    Pumpkin mousse with nuts - nice and light lemon flavors.

    Japanese sea urchin "bavaroise", light fennel foam - loved the light fennel foam, and the sea urchin custard below had brunoise of fennel encased throughout.  The finely shredded nori (のり) seaweed worked well with the raw sea urchin.  Nice and absolutely no complaints here.

    Fricassee of Burgundy snails, fregola, watercress and confit tomato - yes, I am a creature of habit, and I must have fregola here every time I'm here... since there is always some dish with fregola on the menu.  This was exactly the same dish that I had 3 months ago on my birthday, and I had no regrets about ordering it again.  Yum!

    Australian lamb cutlet, eggplant caviar, zucchini and lamb jus - loved the flavors here... green zucchini discs, brunoise of carrots and yellow zucchini, black olives... all worked well with the lamb jus.

    I had asked for medium-rare instead of medium as suggested by our waitress, but to me this looked more medium... although it was more rare closer to the bone.  Not bad at all, but too lean for me.  Where's the fat?!

    I had ordered two starters with the intention of not having any dessert, but in the end I wanted to see what the new pastry chef could deliver.

    Pineapple pavlova, lime, ginger and crispy meringue - actually pretty nice combination of flavors and texture.  Served with local pineapple hearts on the side, which naturally provided crunchy texture but were relatively bland in flavor.

    Tropical opera and coffee eclair - the opéras were made with layers of sponge cake, and I didn't find the texture very interesting.  The éclairs, on the other hand, were fantastic.

    Cute little soft pineapple lollipop to finish off.

    I've been lucky enough to track down wines from dad's vintage, and so we brought them along to toast dad.  Once again, the restaurant refused to charge me corkage despite my protests...

    1940 Cheval Blanc - very light in color... almost fading to a rosé... with LOTS of sediment here.  There was still some fruit here, a little prune, leather, animal, and smoked meats.  The nose improved with aeration in the bottle, and after one hour I even detected some savory minerals.  The wine drank very nicely, and even after almost 3 hours the wine had not faded.  Fantastic stuff!

    1940 Sisqueille Rivesaltes - I brought the leftover from last night and finished it off, offering some to the chefs at the end of the meal. Nose has softened up a little, but the alcohol was still a little sharp. Still got the marmalade, nutty, and apricot notes.

    This was another wonderful dinner.  Once again mom liked both of the dishes she ordered, and also got to taste other dishes since dad and I would offer her a bite of ours.  She's become a real big fan of this place, and as for me... I can't find fault with the dishes here, either.  I guess we'll be coming back here a little more frequently now...

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  • 09/22/14--08:57: Gaga for Gaggan
  • It's been almost six years since I began my boycott of Thailand - for their government's inhumane treatment of the Rohingya which began two administrations ago.  Given that I haven't stepped foot in the country for more than a decade, it's natural that I haven't paid any attention to what's new and hot in terms of restaurants in the country.  Names like Nahm and Bo.lan simply appear as blips on the edges of my radar and quickly fade away.

    The first time I read about Gaggan was from Scubagolfer, and he wasn't particularly impressed with all that foam.  Afterwards I once again told myself that I wasn't missing anything by not going to Bangkok, and wondered whether once again the people responsible for San Pellegrino's The World's 50 Best Restaurants had somehow hyped the place up...

    A couple of months ago, word came around that Chef Gaggan Anand was coming to the Landmark Mandarin to do a pop-up.  This was exciting news, because it gave me an opportunity to taste his food while still maintaining my boycott.  By the time Chef Richard Ekkebus from Amber told me that seats were "selling out fast"the last time I saw him, I knew I needed to make a move pretty quickly.  Thankfully I was able to secure a table on the first night - traditionally the least desirable evening when it comes to pop-ups.

    During the cocktail hour, the bar served us a couple of signature cocktails from the restaurant as well as some nibbles inspired by street food in India.

    Frozen Bite - pineapple juice, coconut water, lime juice, coconut and lime (?) foam.  Definitely very tropical.

    Pani puri - one of the cooks was busy injecting the sweet, white chocolate shells with the acidic and spicy mix which was coriander water, cumin and other spices.  Topped with some silver foil.  Very interesting mix of flavors here.

    Yogurt explosion - aaaaahhh... the trademark "spherification" from Gaggan's time with Ferran in Barcelona.  This actually tasted like lassi.  Yum.

    Spiced nuts in edible plastic bag - inside the rice paper bag were spices alongside wasabi peas and coated peanuts like the ones I used to buy from Koh-Kae in Thailand.

    Keema pav - minced lamb filling with what I thought were lentils.

    Paradise - coconut water, coconut milk, lime juice (?) and a sprinkle of tonka bean powder on top.  A little too rich for my taste...

    We subsequently moved to our assigned tables, and after some words from the chef, dinner was served!

    Viagra® : freshly shucked oyster, kokum reduction and horseradish ice-cream - we were instructed to eat the leaf along with the lemon foam first, then move on to the oyster with the pungent horseradish ice cream and kokum reduction.  I think the horseradish would have been a little overpowering were it not for the acidity of the kokum...

    2012 Pascal and Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Blanc Terre de Maimbray - nose of flint, mineral, and slightly ripe, very aromatic.  Dry on the palate, which was a perfect match with oysters.

    Willy Wonka and foie gras factory : foié gras mousse with spiced red onion, raspberry-hazelnut praline and glaze - very interesting to have such a light, airy mousse made with foie gras.  I thought I tasted a little turmeric.  Not surprising to see the use of raspberries here, but the red onion glaze was very yummy.

    Alchemist's cake : dhokla: lentil flour cake with curry leaves, mustard seeds, dates and coconut ice-cream - given that I'm not well-versed in the diverse "Indian" cuisine (if there were such a thing...), I had no idea what Gujarati dhokla tastes like in its original form.  I found the cake a little too dry.  The blend of spices like mustard seeds and curry leaves was interesting, but I would have preferred a little more coconut ice cream to make the thing more moist and easier to go down.  Such is the opinion of this idiot...

    2012 Sebastiani Chardonnay Sonoma Coast - as New World as it gets when it comes to Chardonnay... tons of vanilla, tropical and floral notes.  Very ripe on the palate.  I first commented that this was "very Cali", but that puzzled My Favorite Cousin because to her, it tasted just like an Aussie Chard...  I guess many New World Chardonnays all taste like this...

    Down to earth : summer vegetables, asparagus, morels, mushrooms, artichokes with 62°C egg yolk and truffle chilly air -  Wow!  What a fantastic dish!  One's first impressions when reading the list of ingredients would be that this was just like any of a number of similar dishes found in many places - soft-boiled egg with mushrooms and truffles.  But it was much, much more than that.  The soup had a really strong kick to it, coming from black pepper, chili powder and coriander.  What a nice surprise!

    Bong connection : red mullet in green chilly herb marinade with Bengali mustard, sweet potato, cauliflower and spiced gel - the other underwhelming dish, which was a sentiment shared by everyone at the table.  Even though I know how particular Richard is about the fish he sources in his kitchen, I just found this red mullet pretty uninteresting.  Yes, the mustard was spicy and pungent, and had a very distinctive kick to it, but I didn't think it added to the fish or brought out its flavors.  The sweet potato spiced gel was nice, but the frozen cauliflower powder on the side was predictably bland.

    2009 Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir - interestingly this seemed to be mostly cool fruit, with lots of forest and dried herb notes, perhaps tasting a little bit of stem.  There was also some ripeness in the fruit.

    Portuguese connection : Iberian pork, sous vide for 48 hours with pickling spices, served with a vindaloo curry reduction - how do I not like a block of pork belly, especially when it's iberico?!  And when the sauce was as familiar as vindaloo, and the pork was cooked with spices such as star anise... can you say INHALED, boys and girls?

    2011 Couly-Dutheil Chinon 'Domaine Rene Couly' - a little smokiness, almost like Chinese medicine along with exotic spices.  Kinda tannic still... Paired well with the pork.

    Jhinga nisha : fresh water prawn grilled with curry leaf infusion and mango chutney - what a beautiful dish!  Chef Gaggan apologized at the start of the meal for not being to recreate every dish perfectly in someone else's kitchen, since there was no way that he could carry a 500-lb tandoor with him as part of his luggage.  Well, it would seem that he did very well using Richard's stock of binchotan (備長炭) when bringing this dish to life, grilling the prawns at 360°C.  The smoky flavors were just incredible.  Classic tandoori flavors and very spicy, with curry leaf foam and coriander, as well as a small dab of mango chutney on the side.  One of the best dishes this evening.

    Best memory : free-range lamb chop sous-vide, grilled and finished with green herb oil - initially the chops they served me were pretty flat-looking, and since I preferred my lamb to be on the raw side, My Favorite Cousin very kindly swapped hers with mine.

    But when I cut into it, it would seem that the flat chops she was now digging into were more pink than mine.  Very curious.  In spite of this, the lamb chop was extremely yummy, with lots of spices coating the exterior.  The beetroot purée helped temper the flames a little... as did the fragrant basmati rice served on the side.

    Spiced croissants - these were some of oiliest croissants my fingers have ever had the pleasure of holding... They were simply oozing butter.  I was also surprised at how brown they were... almost to the point of getting charred.  We didn't understand why they were called "spiced croissants" at first, since they tasted just like any other... until we found large chunks of flakes bearing Sichuan peppercorns that had fallen off.

    2010 Fattoria di Petroio Lenzi Chianti Classico - slightly higher acidity here.  This was OK, but in reality my taste buds weren't exactly operating at full capacity after the lamb chop...

    Divine : mango snowball, pistachio and white chocolate powder - my snowball had clearly fallen off its base on the way to me, which was a bummer.

    Cracking the thicker and harder-than-expected chocolate shell revealed the mango cream inside, flavored with cardamom.  This was OK, but everyone at the table immediately thought of the dessert at RyuGin (龍吟)...

    2007 Schlumberger Pinot Gris Spiegel - a little ripe and slightly tropical.

    Dinner itself took close to four hours - a very long affair... but we didn't mind.  This was such an interesting and delicious meal, and was certainly a real eye-opener for all of us.  For someone such as myself who loves molecular/modernist/progressive cuisine, I think Chef Gaggan certainly hit all the spots for me.  I only wish I had a better background in Gujarati cuisine, so that I could fully appreciate how the dishes had been inspired by their originals yet deconstructed with modern methods - the same way that I appreciate Alvin and what he does at Bo Innovation.

    Chefs Richard and Gaggan came over at the end and we chatted a little about how the food tonight was taking the classics and giving them a modern interpretation.  Chef Gaggan said something along the lines of "some people want to preserve the classics, but some people want to go and destroy it".  I guess there's no question as to which camp he belongs to!

    Well, the day I decide to break my boycott on Thailand is the day that I'll pick up the phone and make a reservation for Gaggan in Bangkok.  Until then, I'll have this dinner to reminisce over.

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