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

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    It's not often that I get to eat with Big Mac.  We are usually not in the same city, so we only get to see each other when I visit Taipei.  I was therefore very excited about him moving here, because that meant (hopefully) we would get to eat out together more often.

    Tonight's organizer suggested that we meet at Chiu Tang (潮廳), which is an exclusive restaurant/lounge whose cuisine I have enjoyed a few times.  They also know how to handle wines, which is definitely a plus.

    I was the first to arrive and had ample time to browse through the menu.  Not surprisingly, the rest of the table left me with the enviable task of ordering the food.  The head waiter came and started to suggest dishes.  Naturally he suggested we start with the classic Chiuchow specialties of marinated goose (鹵水鵝), tofu...etc. but then the usual upselling happened.  He suggested everything from shark's fin soup (which I would never order for environmental reasons) to poached slice conch (which, at upwards of HKD 1,000 per serving, I find ridiculously expensive for something I can't appreciate) to something else I can't quite recall - all of which I flatly refused.  He also suggested the cold flower crab, which I knew would not be cheap but accepted.  Items such as flower crab and conch are listed on the menu as "market price", which is what gave rise to the Cantonese expression of "seafood price (海鮮價)"...

    He then asked if we wanted some soup, and suggested that we have the whelk head soup (螺頭湯).  I said OK to this, and he left our private room after noting down other items.  A mere two minutes later, a light bulb went on in my head and I came to my senses.  I grabbed a menu, rushed out to him, and asked him to confirm the soup that he suggested and that I had just agreed to.  It was the double-boiled fresh sea whelk head soup with black chicken and fish maw (花膠鮮螺頭燉竹絲雞), and at HKD 398 per bowl, the total cost for the 7 of us would have come to more than HKD 3,000 after service charge.  I quickly nixed this, and picked a more traditional (and budget-friendly) alternative at a mere HKD 98 per bowl.

    It's not the first time that staff at a restaurant has tried to upsell because they felt we looked like a bunch of fat sheep they can slaughter.  Incidentally, the last time it happened to me was at another restaurant owned by the same boss.  I guess it's the clientele that the staff have gotten used to at this restaurant group... If you dare to step foot in this exclusive, all-private-room restaurant, you should be able to just open your wallet and shell out whatever it takes.  And I'm obviously not their target clientele...

    Chilled giant flower crab Chiuchow-style (潮式大紅蟹) - first to arrive at the table, which was just as well.  Seven of us split this one crab, which meant that I got to have one piece of the body with two small hind legs attached.  The crab was very good, as I had expected it to be.

    Soy-marinated platter (鹵水拼盤) - this came with pig-trotters, pig intestines, sliced goose, goose intestines and tofu.  Very yum.

    Deep-fried grey mullet with salt and pepper (椒鹽九肚魚) - the Bombay duck was very tender, not bad at all.

    Deep-fried home made mashed shrimp ball and crab meat ball (自家製蝦蟹棗) - the elongated shrimp balls had a softer texture and had diced water chestnuts inside.  The round crab meat balls had a firmer, chewier texture.

    Marinated goose liver (鹵水鵝肝) - for some reason our platter didn't include goose liver, and I had to specifically add it as an additional order.  I think the waiter probably thought we were complete cheapskates and would never order it, so he didn't plan on sending us any...  Of course this was pretty yummy... It's a signature dish, after all!

    Boiled pig's tripe with preserved vegetable and pepper in soup (胡椒鹹菜豬肚湯) - a Chiuchow classic, this is something I absolutely love.  The big chunks of tripe were very delicious.  The only problem with this soup is that it is pretty damn peppery, which kinda numbed our taste buds for wine...

    Sauteed sliced beef with kale in satay sauce (沙茶牛肉蘭遠) - I was asked to pick a signature dish, and to be honest you can't come here without ordering something with satay beef.  This was pretty awesome... the beef slices were tender, and the heavy peanut satay sauce was just so yummy.  I just kept picking up more of this...

    Stir-fried leafy amaranth (清炒莧菜) - this was very young and tender.  Top quality ingredient.

    Pan-fried noodle with Chinese chive accompany sugar and vinegar (黃金伊麵) - another signature dish in Chiuchow cuisine, and they do it very well here.

    The noodles are pan-fried until they're golden on one side.  The other side is sprinkled with a layer of finely diced yellowed chives (韮黃), and then the whole thing is flipped upside down onto the plate, so that the chives are now underneath the noodles while the crispy layer is on top.  Black vinegar and sugar is then added to taste.  Soooooo yummy.

    Steamed dark sugar care honey sponge cake (蜂蜜黑糖糕) - umm... I think they meant "sugar cane".  Anyway, this wasn't nearly as good as the last time I had it.  While there was some fragrance, it was a lot more muted and bland tonight.

    We brought along a few bottles of wine tonight, but nobody bothered to bring a white...

    2003 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - minty, a bit smoky.  Classic Left Bank that never goes out of style.

    2001 Capanelle Solare - a little smoky, some tannins here, and I could smell the acidity.

    1981 Penfolds Grange - very obvious coconut butter, sweet, vanilla, a little leather, and minty.  Smooth on the palate now but still full-bodied.

    At the end of the evening we took a look at our bill.  The flower crab - our sole "expensive" item tonight - cost HKD 2,800 and was more than 50% of the food bill.  Ya know, it was a pretty good crab, but was it THAT good?!  For my HKD 400 share of the crab, what I had was a small section of the body and a little bit of leg.  I think I could do a lot better with that money in another restaurant.  Meanwhile, my friends were completely shocked by the price of the crab, and I think more than a few of them actually preferred the satay beef - at less than 1/10 of the price - to the crab...

    And just imagine if I had said "yes" to the other suggestions from our waiter.  Our bill would have come out to be HKD 2,500 a head instead of HKD 1,000...  Could we "afford" it?  Yes, we all could.  Would we be happy campers after that meal?  Most certainly not.  I, for one, would have felt that I did not get my money's worth.  At HKD 1,000 a head, it wasn't "cheap" by any means, but the quality of the food was such that we could justify paying that price for the level of happiness delivered in return.  I guess that's similar to my experience with another meal last much, where less was actually more!

    No, I'm not worthy enough to dine in this restaurant... is the inevitable conclusion after tonight's dinner.

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  • 09/25/14--08:22: The 'plus one'
  • A good friend of mine who is certainly an A-lister in town was invited by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to dine at Pierre tonight, and was kind enough to invite me along as the "plus one" instead of my friend's spouse.  As I had been a longtime fan of the restaurant and of Pierre Gagnaire, I was only too happy to accept the invitation.

    We were treated to a 6-course menu dégustation, which featured a few dishes from the upcoming "Magic 8" dinner celebrating the restaurant's 8th anniversary, amd Pierre himself will be in town for the festivities.

    But first came the series of amuses bouches, some of which I had already tasted at my lunch last month.

    Parmesan crumble (domes) and turmeric flavored crispy sandwich with Brillat-Savarin filling (flat ones) - had these before and once again it was the Brillat-Savarin that really kicked ass..

    Oyster leaf with herring and lemon cream

    Sea bream with persimmon wrapped in shiso leaf - the distinctive flavors of perilla leaf and flower worked well with the sweetness from persimmon.

    Sesame crackers - flavored with cumin and dipped with lentil mash with lentils, paprika and cumin.  Very yum.

    "Ringo Starr" duck foie gras (2008) - so we've got pumpkin, a slice of jamón ibérico, foie gras mousse, milk chocolate, and a slice of red pepper on top.  This was so interesting... you'd expect the creaminess coming from the foie and the milk chocolate, but then you've got the savory flavors and slight chewy texture of the jamón, all topped off with the smokiness from the pepper and enhanced with a couple of grains of salt and ground peppercorns.  I took it in two bites even though it was small enough to be inhaled in one, but the complexity of this dish and the amount of thought that went into this... I must make the 90-degree Japanese bow in Pierre Gagnaire's direction to show my respect...  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    Pan-sautéed langoustines "Terre de Sienne" (1989) - apparently inspired by the beauty of Sienna.  The langoustine was very, very tender.  In fact, if it were any softer I'd call it mushy.  On a bed of green lentils from Puy, with nori (のり) chiffonade and topped with enoki mushrooms (榎茸).  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    Thick sea bass steak grilled with capers, black garlic purée, anchovy, pig's ear, bone marrow; "Caillette ardéchoise", crunchy white cabbage (2014) - a very busy, two-part dish.  The sea bass "steak" was really thick, and I had to make a real effort to cut through it.  Sitting on a bed of Korean black garlic purée which imparted deep flavors and some cabbage, the fish was topped with a layer of chopped pig's ear and bone marrow - ingredients with rich, fatty flavors that I love... while using the acidity of capers as well as pickled fennel to cut through the fat.   Sprinkled with deep-fried crumbs and sorrel.

    The caillette ardéchoise was something I absolutely loved last time, but tonight it was a little too tiny as it played sidekick to the sea bass, and there just wasn't enough fat in it.  Oh well... Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    We were first shown the whole piece of grilled turbot before it was properly plated...

    Grilled turbot, laid on pan-sautéed razor clams / chorizo / fennel / lemon (2014) - another busy dish!  So in addition to the line-caught turbot from Brittany, we've got bouquet shrimps from Brittany, clams, razor clams, chorizo, and fennel all in a lemon citrusy, yellow wine sauce.    Yum.

    Beef with sea urchin, braised daikon turnip, blackwheat pancake, seaweed butter (2013) - the beef sat on a galette blé noir.  The braised daikon (大根) tasted a little pickled, while I thought the sea urchin was a liiiittle strong in terms of flavor.  I thought the beef was just OK (probably because it was a filet?) but it was the seaweed butter (from Bordier, no doubt) that really made it shine.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    I was kinda full already, but someone twisted my arm to take the extra slice of Saint-Nectaire... which was served with a pear marmalade and a sprinkle of walnuts and pickled walnuts.

    Pierre Gagnaire's Grand Dessert (which, naturally, counts as just ONE course...)
    Caribean chocolate soufflé, smooth chocolate ganache cream with Burgundy brandy, Sicilian pistachio parfait (1981) - created in Saint Etienne during the year when Pierre opened his own restaurant.  Made with Ecuadorian biscuit, and a Venezuelan chocolate ganache poured over the pistachio parfait.  Very yum.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    9th Conduit Street (2006) - a really refreshing dessert named after the street address of Gagnaire's restaurant Sketch in London.  Aloe vera, green apple sorbet, green apple biscuit, arugula sponge cake and arugula, with a tiny green olive financier on the rim.  Very, very nice.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

    Le Texturé (2009) - LOTS going on here... vanilla panna cotta, orange marshmallow, coconut biscuit, pear sorbet, banana, and a pineapple smoothie.  So tropical and fruity, and indeed a mishmash of textures.

    ...aaaand here's where I started to act like an ass and a fucking know-it-all.  There were some cubes I didn't recognize.  Texture-wise they were crunchy, almost a little starchy and grainy, with some acidity.  I didn't recognize it and asked our friendly waiter.  He said it was "frosted pineapple", but I didn't believe him.  Really?!  It couldn't have been!  Where were the fibers?!  Even pineapple cores didn't taste like this, and I just had some pineapple core a few nights ago.  It was more like a jicama or yamaimo (山芋).  I even ended up making a typically Arrogant Prick-like statement like "I'm from a pineapple-producing country, and THIS IS NOT PINEAPPLE!"

    I demanded asked for an answer from the kitchen.  Our waiter brought out the 5 different textures on a plate, and the cube I inquired about was indeed frosted pineapple.  On its own, at room temperature and without any influence from other sauces, I finally acknowledged that it probably was a chunk of pineapple core... just frozen beyond recognition.  In my defense (albeit a feeble one at that), two other people at the table who tasted this cube that was delivered especially from the kitchen couldn't tell, either...

    ...which brings us to the point about Pierre Gagnaire and his creativity.  Who the hell would have thought to freeze pineapple core and turn it into something else?!  Only a master.

    Our hosts were very generous tonight, and served us a series of delicious wines to go along with our food:

    2004 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne - pretty ripe with a little minerality.

    2009 Bouzereau Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes Dessus - a little flint, a little ripe and a little sweet.  Initially too muted as it was too cold.

    2005 Talbot - a little minty, smoky and a little sweet.

    2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Moelleux - a little ripe, almost smoky but not quite.  Acetone, marmalade, musty and bready?

    On a night when I wasn't in my best condition and was already leaving wines in my glasses, our generous hosts offered up one final bottle.  I didn't need any more alcohol in my system, but it turned out to be an offer I just couldn't refuse...

    Roses de Jeanne Inflorescence La Parcelle Blanc de Noirs Lieu-dit "Côte de Béchalin", dégorgée en Avril 2012 - I couldn't for the life of me figure out the vintage that was stamped on the table.  Oh well... Classic Cedric Bouchard... yeasty nose, very smooth on the palate, a little ripe and actually somewhat bitter on the finish.  Always happy to drink anything from this man.

    Finally, a few chocolate nibbles to finish off... from left to right jasmine, rum and hazelnut praline.

    Well, what can I say, other than I enjoyed a fantastic evening?  Food was superb, but that isn't surprising given I've always been a fan of Pierre Gagnaire, and I'm among the minority of my friends who "get" the cuisine here.  Service tonight was impeccable, but then that is to be expected when we have an army fawning over my A-lister friend as I sit next to the GM of the hotel.  But I must apologize for acting like an ass... (and I wish I could channel Michael Keaton in Much Ado About Nothing when calling myself an arse)

    Many thanks to our hosts for their generosity and extremely fun company.  One must remember one's place, not get too accustomed to this, and take nothing for granted.  I was, after all, just the "plus one" - collateral damage.

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    Let me start with a little background on myself:  I'm Taiwanese by origin (I tell people I'm MIT... "made in Taiwan") and spent some years in my youth growing up and being educated there.  Which is to say that at one point I was brain-washed by the KMT about parts of China's history.  My grandpa served under Chiang Kai-shek and always hung a portrait of the Generalissimo that he received from the man himself.

    As I grew up and spent my years from puberty to adulthood abroad, I became exposed to different points of view, and (I hope) matured into someone who embraces democracy, freedom of expression, equality for all...etc... you know, all the "Western" values.  In a recent interview with a journalist from a US paper, I stated that I am "as liberal as they come" when it comes to the issues and ideas related to freedom and equality, although I respect the right for people to have opinions different from mine.

    I'm certainly not the world's foremost expert when it comes to anything, but I have spent a number of years watching China and its leadership from different points of view.  I lived through the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 as a college student, and that had a significant impact on me.  So you can understand that I'm not the biggest fan of the leadership in Beijing.

    Nearly twenty years ago, I made the decision to relocate with my firm from New York to Hong Kong.  It was a good career move, and I landed here in June 1995.  The plan was to stay for two years, and move somewhere else before the Handover in 1997.  Well... it's glaringly obvious how that plan worked out...

    In the months leading up to the July 1, 1997 Handover, many people asked me what I thought would happen after the Chinese took over Hong Kong.  My responses at the time ran along the lines of "not a lot would change for the first five years, but then things will just go down the toilet." I was sure that instead of Mainland China rising up to Hong Kong's level - as Deng Xiaoping supposedly envisioned - the two sides would actually converge... meaning Hong Kong would actually be worse.

    Well, there's no doubt in my mind that many things in Hong Kong are worse than they were before the Handover.  While we still enjoy a higher degree of freedom of expression and more liberties than people in Mainland China, things are certainly "less free" today than before.  But hey, things could be worse, right?

    Well, today things got worse.  A lot worse.  I was never a fan of the current Chief Executive CY Leung.  The guy has ZERO integrity.  Just look at the case involving him putting up illegal structures at his residence.  This was a guy who built a career out of property surveying, who clearly knew what was and was not legal.  When you knowingly break the law, you don't deserve to be leading Hong Kong.  Anyway, enough about this guy.

    Today I saw tensions escalate quickly between protesters wanting more democratic freedom and the Hong Kong Police.  While some of the action of the protesters were clearly out of line, it is indisputable that Hong Kong Police were being very aggressive.  Pure speculation, but I'm guessing that some of them enjoy emptying their cans of pepper spray right in the protesters' faces.  And there was no need to deprive the protesters of their umbrellas, while the police kept their own protective shields and helmets.

    As evening began, we heard that the police had fired teargas into the crowd.  That was totally uncalled for.  Was the crowd being aggressive?  Were the police physically threatened?!  It's true that I wasn't there myself, but I have serious doubts about that.  So what justified the use of teargas?  It's upping the ante unnecessarily, and only serves to piss people off.

    Then there are the signs that Hong Kong Police hold up to warn the crowd.  While some display milder language, and we see ones that warn "Disperse or we will use force", I was more than a little shocked to see others that said "Disperse or we will fire (guns)".

    WTF?!  Fire what?!  Are you gonna shoot into the crowd?  With what?!  Rubber bullets, or real ones??  Is this really happening in Hong Kong?!  Or have I been transported to Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, or back in time to the Beijing of 1989?  I sincerely hope not.

    To be fair, I'm not aligned with the causes of the protesters.  While I would like to see a full "Western-style" democracy implemented in Hong Kong, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the powers that be in Beijing didn't see fit to grant the people of Hong Kong what some of them had wished for.  That was to be expected.

    And Benny Tai and his gang of people - who did their share of "saber-rattling" (as if what they were holding were really sabers) in front of Beijing - didn't help things.  Anyone who has spent any time studying the actions of Beijing over the years would know that they don't respond well to threats, never mind that Benny and his friends were never in a position to threaten Beijing with anything.  Finally, anyone who teaches law as a profession and encourages others to break the law just gets reduced to a big fat zero in my book.

    I also think the students are a little too naive here.  I applaud them for standing up for what they believe in, and making sure that their voices are heard.  But what makes them think that CY Leung will come out and talk to them just because it's what the students wanted?  What makes them think that Beijing will just toss out what they had just decided on, and lose face in front of the entire world?!  I'm not gonna opine on whether they were manipulated by other interests or who these people were, but needless to say they still have some learning to do... not necessarily in the classrooms but in life.

    Anyway... I've lived here for the better part of 20 years, and although I've never used the term "my beloved" in relation to Hong Kong, it is for better or worse home as far as I'm concerned.  I hate to see things go down this path, and I am fearful of what may be yet to come.  But I pray that what I am most fearful of will never come to pass.

    Meanwhile, the eyes of the world are on Hong Kong.  Maybe it's time the world sees CY Leung for the man he really is.  Your move, CY Beijing.  The world is watching.

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    An old friend is back in town for a visit after a prolonged absence, and we made plans to catch up.  In spite of the inconvenience of Occupy Central, we decided to stick to our original plan and meet up for drinks at Butler.

    I started with a more "girlie" drink... It's been years since I last had a melon ball, and since I was at a Japanese bar...  This was not bad at all.

    Then I was ready to move on to a "real" drink... and these days I'm liking negroni.  The version here was pretty damn bitter, with nice citrus flavors and fragrance.  Yum.

    We nibbled on some sausage platter, but still needed a real dinner!  So we adjourned right next door to Spring Deer (鹿鳴春), one of the classics in this town.  I haven't been back here for more than a decade... and I was pretty excited about going back.

    We showed up at 9pm on a Monday night with no reservation, and thankfully a couple of tables had just left.  The restaurant was about 80% full, which I thought was pretty damn good.  But wait!  The restaurant looks like it's been refurbished!  The chairs had all been re-upholstered (or replaced), not a single hole was to be found in our tablecloth (nor were any visible from neighboring tables), and the only chip I could find in the china was on the spout of one of the tea pots.  In this respect, things are so different tonight compared to my last visit, and I kinda miss the "authenticity" of it...

    Stewed ham and Tientsin cabbage (上湯火腿炆津白) - absolutely not surprised that at an old school Chinese resto like this, the veg dish came first instead of last as it's supposed to...  Gotta say the flavors were pretty old school, too.  Very yum.

    Fried shredded beef with chilli sauce (乾炒牛肉絲) - very yum!  This was the dish that we were expecting at Fu Lu Shou, and the execution here is much, much better.  In addition to the sweet batter, we could at least taste the beef, and there was shredded bamboo shoots, chili peppers and garlic - all of which contributed a whole lotta flavors.  And these were stuffed into sesame seed pockets.

    The restaurant serves northern Chinese, or Pekinese cuisine (京菜).  Naturally the signature here is roast Peking duck (北京烤鴨) - the kind with lots of fat underneath the crispy skin; the kind where you can just see the liquid duck fat drip down as the cleaver goes through the duck...  Very old school.  And since we didn't request other preparations for the duck, we got the meat and the skin together in the same slice.  The ducks here aren't young and the cuts can be thick, so the texture was a lot firmer compared to what one might find elsewhere.

    The pancakes here were also very old school... not the delicate, paper-thin variety at some of the finer establishments.  These were the thick and floury kind.

    Deep fried mutton by Peking style (京燒羊肉) - another classic Pekinese dish.  Love that fatty, lamby taste!

    We were completely stuffed, but I for one was very happy and satiated.  I think it's important to make time and visit old school establishments like this - where they still cook the food the same way as it has been for decades.  It may not be fine dining, but delicious nevertheless.

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  • 09/30/14--08:45: Goodbye, September
  • It's the last day of September, and I sorely needed something to take my mind off of the mense horrendum I just went through...  While the rest of Hong Kong either participated or talked about Occupy Central/Hong Kong, I chose to dodge the action and holed up at my favorite On Lot 10 instead.  I wanted to divert my attention away from the topic, if only for a couple of hours.

    As usual I had requested specific items ahead of time, and we discussed the rest of the menu with David upon arrival.  Once again I was playing my usual duty of ambassador-at-large for the restaurant, introducing a few friends who had yet to discover the place...  I can't remember whether it was David or one of the staff who joked that 60% of their customers show up requesting dishes they have read about on this here blog.  While this is undoubtedly a flattering exaggeration, I do know of real instances where friends of mine have shown up at the restaurant and told the staff that they know me... in the hope of getting "special treatment".  I've thought about this before and I'll bring it up again... when is David gonna start paying me some commission?!  Methinks it's about time we come to some sort of arrangement... SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!

    All joking aside, food has always been fantastic here, and tonight was no exception.

    Ovoli salad - radish, greens, Parmigniano-Reggiano, chervil, and very thin slices of Italian ovoli mushrooms.  While these mushrooms are very much sought-after as a delicacy, I don't think my palate is delicate enough to appreciate their very subtle flavors...  Nevertheless the salad was very delicious and enjoyable... and in stark contrast to the heavy assault of flavors later.

    Sea urchin omelette - everything was soft and yellow/orange... although I must admit I found the flavors of the sea urchin to be a little too strong for my taste.

    Summer truffle capellini, tomato, basil, garlic confit - I've always loved David's capellini, and tonight everything came together and just "wow"ed us... Even disregarding the mountain of summer truffle shavings, the combination of tomato, basil and garlic confit would have been enough for me to lick the plate clean.

    Frog legs meunière, soft poached egg, girolle, baby spinach - always a fan of this, especially with that soft egg and the piment d'espelette powder.  Oh that garlic, again...

    Steamed yellow croaker 'en papillote'- what a treat!  It's not easy to have the opportunity to have wild yellow croaker (黃花魚) nowadays, and we had three of them tonight.  The flesh was very, very tender... and this has always been one of my favorite fish since childhood.  What made things even better tonight?  Slices of matsutake (松茸) mushrooms.  Jealous die you leh...

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - I promised Big Mac that I'd introduce him to my favorite beef in Hong Kong, so this was definitely the main event tonight.  I honestly can't get enough of this 12-year old beef that has been aged to close to half a year... and the flavors just blow me away every time.  I tried to be very disciplined and only had 1½ slices, but this was soooo tender and yummy.  Even Ninja was blown away by this, and she's not a beef person, either.  Needless to say the taters and lettuce were popular, too.

    Challandais "blood" duck bateau, sangria sauce - David tells us this was the same duck that is used at La Tour d'Argent.  Very, very nice and tender... with chestnuts, griottines, pearl onions, peas, carrots, potatoes, grapefruit and lardon.  I wish I had more stomach space.

    Sautéed spinach - glistening under the light...

    Comté - a little saltier than I expected, but very nice.

    Tarte Bourdaloue and tarte citron - both are staples here and pretty nice.

    This was a wine crowd, and we were certainly not short on bottles...

    2004 Bruno Paillard Assemblage Brut, degorgée en Mars 2012 - yeasty nose, with ripeness on the palate but surprisingly high acidity.

    1983 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Auslese - very big nose of plastic and polyurethane, with white flowers and acetone.  A little sweet but still nicely balanced.

    2011 Ram's Hill Sauvignon Blanc - mineral, flinty, green apple, muscat grapes.  Very ripe, and absolutely beautiful.  One of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

    1996 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - smoky and cedar notes.  Very fragrant and delish.

    2008 Cos d'Estournel - very ripe and exotic nose, with vanilla and coconut butter.  Very sweet, too.

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    For those of us in Hong Kong, the combined protests by students and other citizens under the banner known as Occupy Central (with Love and Peace) / Occupy Hong Kong / Umbrella Movement has been going on for about a week now.  Things escalated last weekend when the Hong Kong Police decided to fire teargas on the crowd, which only served to galvanize public support for the protests.

    Since then the protests have spread outside of the original area known as Admiralty (which is adjacent to Central), first to Mongkok and also to Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui.  There has always been debate about whether the protests should focus on the central business district of Hong Kong as originally intended, but there was no stopping the spontaneous actions without a central command for this movement.

    On Friday this took a turn for the worse as what some of us feared turned into reality.  Mongkok has always been an area tainted by triad activity, and scuffles broke out throughout the day.  Different factions who opposed the blockade began arguing with the protesters, and some of that led to violent confrontations.  Tents were torn down, people were physically beaten, a few people even ended up bleeding.  Emotions ran high throughout the evening and into the next day.

    I wasn't anywhere near Mongkok, and I couldn't tell you what really happened.  I looked to a variety of sources - both from traditional and social media - for news about what transpired.  There seemed to be a mix of agitators.  While some were probably neighborhood citizens who were angered by the disruption caused to their lives - not to mention the negative economic impact - there seemed to be more than a fair share of unsavory-looking characters who, shall we say, may have more colorful backgrounds and "associations".

    While the Umbrella Movement protesters have mostly remained peaceful and non-violent, these new people who arrived in the area were clearly looking for trouble.  Fights broke out, and from the very narrow viewpoint afforded to me in the comfort of my chair, there seemed to be a conspicuous absence of police on scene.  According to some reports - which admittedly may be biased - police made little effort to intervene and halt the spread of violence.  There certainly wasn't the same level of crackdown and use of force as was witnessed on September 28th.  Hell, looking at the number of arrests made on the two days, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the police was letting the thugs off the hook.  Numerous reports surfaced regarding instances where police arrested violent thugs, walked a couple of blocks away from the crowd, and subsequently released them.  Charges of collusion between police and triads quickly spread.

    Well, I don't have any evidence proving any linkage between the police and triads, and I certainly won't make that accusation here.  But even the police admitted that the agitators moved into the area hard and fast, and that they couldn't respond quickly enough.  So it would seem reasonable to suspect that this wasn't simply the spontaneous acts of random individuals, but rather more "organized".  Of course the explanation from police only led to more accusations of biased handling of the situation, as a distrusting public wondered why it took as long as an hour for police to bring in reinforcements.

    Regardless of who was behind Friday's violence, it was simply unjust.  I had seen enough, and was determined to stand up against it.  I had hitherto not lent my support to the protesting public because I did not agree with their methods, but this was something else.  There was a call to rally against violence tonight, and I gladly answered that call.

    I had spent the better part of the afternoon - OK, ALL of the afternoon - holed up in the comforts of an air-conditioned building attending a wine auction.  After the auction ended, I made the short walk between the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  I wanted to see the scene of protest with my own eyes and take in the atmosphere.  I didn't have any of the so-called "five treasures of protest" with me, but I did have one of my SLRs, a very foldable umbrella, and water in my own thermos so I wouldn't generate more waste.

    I started seeing road barriers around the intersection of Lung Wui Road (龍匯道) and Fenwick Pier Street (分域碼頭街).  Surprisingly I saw no police officers there - just an empty stretch of road leading past Citic Tower towards the roundabout in front of the collection of government buildings.

    I came to the entry gate of Legislative Council Complex, and went inside to the entrance foyer.  There was no security guard on hand.  A group of students had camped out there and probably has been for days.

    Next I moved up from the street level to Tamar Park, past the Central Government Offices and onto one of the footbridges linking the complex to Admiralty Centre.  I'm now looking at the main body of the protesting crowd, who have camped out on Connaught Road Central and Harcourt Road.  This was a sight not usually seen in Hong Kong.  There was still an hour to go before the 8pm start of the rally, but the crowds have already flowed back.

    The local and international media have staked out strategic positions on the various footbridges, stationing their cameras there and using them as makeshift reporting booths.  From there I can look down at the crowd with various tents acting as medical, supply and other stations.  The crowd stretches toward both Central and Wanchai.

    There are posters, flyers, and all kinds of signage EVERYWHERE.  This particular series stood out.  Spoken like true revolutionaries.

    Even poor Paddington Bear was accused of being a violent thug (presumably by the police)... since he was carrying an umbrella in the color that has come to symbolize the student movement, and also a roll of cling wrap - dangerous offensive weapons indeed.

    What was really impressive was the stretch of stairwell from the street level to the upper level courtyard which leads to the entrance to the government offices.  Somebody started by putting up messages written on multi-colored Post-its about "Why We Are Here", but this stretch has now been renamed "Lennon Wall Hong Kong".

    There are literally thousands of little Post-its and other pieces of paper stuck here.  Pads of Post-its are left on a stand here, and anyone can pick one up and leave their own very personal messages.  Taking a few steps back and getting the full view of this "installation" is quite a sight to behold.  Believe it or not, similar messages are not just left here, but stuck on walls of barricades left in the middle of Tim Mei Avenue (添美道).  These have been covered in plastic to shield them from the rain that has hit Hong Kong sporadically over the last week.

    News about the protesters picking up their own trash has circulated around the world, and there were indeed many signs around reminding people to be mindful.  I actually didn't see too much garbage lying around in the center, but I did see piles of it on the outskirts.

    I guess I spent most of my time in the middle of the protest areas, so I really didn't see heavy police presence.  In fact, I can count the number of occifers I saw on one hand.  All of the protesters I came across were peaceful.  No one was shouting at anyone else.  They just wanted to come out and show the rest of Hong Kong (and the world) what they stood for.

    The rally officially started around 8pm, and various speakers started to get up on the makeshift platform to talk about their own experiences of facing violence yesterday.  It was then that I noticed something... while the city has faced the turmoil brought about by the Umbrella Movement, the brain-dead owners of buildings in Central - including Cheung Kong Center, the Bank of China Building, AIA Central and naturally the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Building - all continued to participate in the Symphony of Lights.  Multi-colored lights still flashed around these buildings as if it were just another ordinary evening.  Admittedly, the angle of the video didn't really show how ludicrous this was, but you get the drift.

    I left the main protest area not long after the rally started, but as I made my way towards Exit A of the Admiralty MTR Station, I decided to get myself some dinner at the Spaghetti House.  What did I choose to have for dinner?  Why, spaghetti carbonara, of course!  No, it ain't gonna be the most authentic carbonara I'll ever have (the best version in town used to be found at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana), but I love it anyway.

    On the way out, I thanked one of the staff for keeping the restaurant open during the week-long protests.  I knew it would have been management's decision, but the staff still had to work hard and put themselves in potential harm's way.  He mentioned that it hasn't been easy, and much of the supply had to be manually pushed over from Wanchai since the main roads leading to the restaurant remain closed.  But "people gotta eat, and they can't survive on dry rations [like biscuits and crackers] alone".  Notwithstanding that restaurants in Admiralty Centre are probably doing brisk business, I still applaud the staff for their dedication and doing their bit to help Hong Kong.

    By the time I left around 9:30pm, people were still streaming out of the MTR station.  I dunno what the attendance numbers were tonight, but I'm proud of those who took a stand against violence tonight.  I truly hope that there is a resolution soon, and that there will be no more violence and bloodshed.  I hope my prayers are answered.

    My collection of pictures from tonight can be seen here.

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  • 10/05/14--08:15: Leaf day wine tasting
  • Gayliao was in town for a few days, and took the opportunity to host his MNSC tasting tonight.  We kinda debated about where we would have dinner given all this Occupy business going on around town, and eventually settled on Seventh Son (家全七福).

    Deep-fried chicken barbecued kidney in egg custard (雞子戈炸) - chicken "kidney"?!  Really?!  I always thought this was made with chicken testicles, if people were still using that as an ingredient at all...  I should probably ask the kitchen next time.  Anyway, the chicken flavor was certainly very prominent tonight... and tasted like chicken soup.

    Deep-fried tofu cubes (椒鹽豆腐粒) - not bad.  Thankfully not too much chili and deep-fried garlic to mess with our palates.

    Roast gold coin chicken (燒金錢雞) - I am still moaning the loss of my beloved Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤海鮮酒家) and the gold coin chicken there.  The thin slices of chicken liver, pork fat (think lardo or bacon without any red bits) and char siu (叉燒) is a heavenly combination, and the char siu was pretty charred around the edges.  This wasn't bad at all, but at half or even a third of the size of what I used to get at Manor, it just isn't nearly as satisfying.  If anyone is friendly with the owners behind the West Villa (西苑) group, please ping me because I have a proposition for them...

    Double-boiled sea whelk broth with sliced dried yam and chicken feet (淮杞杏圓鳳爪燉螺頭湯) - pretty nice, with tiny longans, Chinese yam, goji (枸杞) berries and apricot kernels that have been cooked until slightly mushy.

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - yum yum yum... Couldn't resist grabbing more pieces of the crispy crackling...

    Tiger grouper two ways (老虎斑二味):
    Stir-fried filet with black bean and green pepper (豉椒炒斑球) - not bad at all... one of the better preparations that doesn't involve steaming.

    Steamed head and belly with jujube and black olive (紅棗欖角蒸頭腩) - a more interesting alternative to the standard Cantonese steamed fish, with Chinese black olive (欖角) instead of black beans.

    Stir-fried wagyu cubes with kailan (蘭度炒和牛粒) - oh this was very, very good.  The wagyu was nice and fatty, while the kailan was just sweet, crunchy and delicious.

    Traditional baked chicken in rock salt (正宗連雜鹽焗雞) - very good stuff, but the liver was pretty salty... while the gizzard was slightly better.

    Fried rice with chicken and Indian almonds (油雞欖仁粒粒炒飯) - this was soooooo good!  With black fungus, carrots, corn, kailan, shiitake (椎茸) mushrooms, Indian almonds (欖仁) and spicy Chinese black olive.  I was full but just couldn't resist getting myself another bowl.  INHALED.

    Walnut cookie (合桃餅) - the fragrance was irresistible.

    Sesame sachima (芝麻沙琪馬)

    As good as the food was tonight, our attention was squarely focused on the wines because, after all, it's an MNSC dinner!  Gayliao had served the wines to us slightly chilled - which was the right thing to do on hot summer days - but this meant that the nose for the wines was initially a little muted.

    We were all wondering why there was a pattern of the wines seemingly not performing at their best, when our resident expert professional asked to check the biodynamic calendar.  As it turned out today was a leaf day, which was then taken to explain why the wines all did so poorly...  Pineapple then proceeded to rattle off a list of the best producers in Burgundy who are big believers in biodynamic viticulture, saying that they wouldn't even hold important tastings on a leaf or a root day.  Oooookay....

    Anyway, just about all the wines drank well tonight, although looking back I suppose some of them could have performed even better than they had.

    First pair: opened and poured 30 minutes before serving.
    1970 Mouton-Rothschild - a little green with animal notes.  Some ripe fruit here.  Flat on the palate with relatively high acidity and short finish.  90 points.

    1983 Mouton-Rothschild - nice ripe fruit, very farmy with lots of animal notes, smoky and minty.  93 points.

    Second pair: opened and poured 30 minutes before serving.
    1985 Jaboulet La Chapelle - good, ripe fruit with leather notes, smoky nose.  Really lovely and smooth.  A little lean and not too sweet on the palate.  94 points.

    1985 Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze - sweet on the nose like candy.  A little tropical fruit.  Pretty light on the palate.  93 points.

    Third pair: decanted almost two hours prior to serving.
    1995 Petrus - really smoky, pencil lead.  A very big wine with animal notes, almost a little exotic.  Pretty tannic.  95 points.

    1995 Rayas - really sweet, candy-like, alcoholic.  A little forest pine and very fragrant nose.  96 points.

    Fourth pair:  Decanted about 1½ hours prior to serving.
    1999 Rousseau Chambertin - toasted corn with ripe fruit.  Kinda tannic.  95 points.

    1999 DRC Grands Échézeaux - really ripe and sweet, more metallic, forest notes.  96 points

    Many thanks for Gayliao's generosity, and I'm a little disappointed with myself for not picking out the Faiveley...

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    Last month I had the good fortune of visiting a very exclusive private kitchen, and during that dinner the same gang pinned down a date when we could gather again for a different menu.  So once again I found myself casually strolling out of the office and simply walk cross the street to get to dinner.

    Before dinner started we were informed that, sadly, a few of the dishes we had been looking forward to were not available - including the famous snake soup.  That's a shame, because I would have liked to hear what Dashijie thought of this particular version...

    Like last time, our organizer had recommended pairing up certain wines with each dish, but I was surprised we started with a bottle of Pomerol as the apéritif...

    2003 Gazin - smoky nose with some fruit, with meaty and savory, mineral notes.

    Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - dare I say tonight's batch was even better than last time?  The lean meat was a little chewy, but the fatty bits were awesome... and nicely caramelized at the edges.

    1998 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Spätlese-trocken - nose kinda pungent, stinky, almost rubber, with lemon citrus and flinty notes.  Definitely drier and more acidic but still kinda round on the palate.

    Stir-fried bird's nest with milk (官燕炒鮮奶) - this was one of the best dishes of the evening.

    A combination of bird's nest, crab meat, deep-fried rice noodles and milk, topped with a generous sprinkle of what seemed to be deep-fried minced garlic.  Amazing wok hei (鑊氣).

    1999 René Geoffroy Brut - very ripe on the palate.  A little caramelized on the nose, and a little savory but not quite salty plum.

    Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - a whole plate of crab claws was certainly an impressive sight, and it's always a treat to be able to eat crab claws without having to work to remove the shell yourself. Very, very, very yummy.

    2012 Kamoshibito Kuheiji Human (醸し人九平次 純米大吟醸 Human) - made with Yamada Nishiki (山田錦) at a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 45%.  The nose was rich with lots of fermented rice notes.  Alcoholic both on the nose and the palate.  Very dry mid-palate and on the finish.  Definitely karakuchi (辛口).

    Braised pomelo skin with abalone sauce (鮑炆柚皮)

    The goose web was pretty good, but the braised pomelo skin was just incredible.  Very tasty and just melt-in-your-mouth.  In fact, it was difficult to pick up with chopsticks without the pieces falling apart.  The abalone sauce was so good that we just had to order some steamed rice to soak it up...

    1986 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Spätlese - lemon, almost cream soda nose, with petrol and flinty notes.  Not too sweet on the palate with good acidity.

    Double-boiled soup with black chicken soup with fish maw and cordyceps mushrooms (花膠蟲草花燉烏雞) - very yum... you can taste the sweetness coming from the Chinese yam (淮山).

    The dregs...

    Braised garoupa fin with garlic and ham (蒜子火腩炆斑翅) - pretty good, actually.  Very tender garoupa, and I can't get enough of the garlic.

    2008 Michel Gros Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Clos des Réas - nice blackcurrant, black cherries with a bit of forest in the nose.

    Tea-smoked chicken (茶皇烟燻雞) - very, very good.  The smoky scent of the tea leaves permeated the room.  The chicken was very tender, and the soy-based marinade had plenty of spices.  I'll give you one guess who ended up finishing this dish...

    1995 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - leather, animal, and a little bacon fat.  Not bad at all.

    Chinese lettuce in claypot (啫啫唐生菜) - sizzling in pungent shrimp sauce.  Yum.

    Pan-fried salted fish (煎咸魚) - at our last dinner, I had asked Dashijie to recommend a source for some salted fish... because mom wanted some.  Tonight she brought us two pieces of salted slender white herring (鰽白), and the chef pan-fried them until golden.  Once we took our first bites of the fish, we realized how amazing a good piece of salted fish could be.  I was a little surprised, though, that one particular bite filled my mouth with pretty intense flavors of ammonia - mere seconds after Dashijie commented how fish like this does not taste of ammonia...

    The best way to enjoy this?  With a bowl of plain congee, although this bowl with some tofu skin (腐竹) would also work.  Later on we asked the kitchen to bring out the oil that was used to pan-fry the fish - which by now was infused with the wonderful flavors of the fish.  In addition to pouring it on top of the fish, I also added a few drops of it into my bowl of congee.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - how happy I was to be able to eat this again, as it's normally only available during the colder months.  Maybe we had waited a few minutes too long before eating this, but I was a wee bit disappointed to find the rice sticking together a little too much.

    2006 Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore - coconut, vanilla, minty, and a little smoky.  Still kinda tannic.

    Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - the lotus seeds were surprising good.  A great way to finish the meal.

    1975 Coutet - really big polyurethane nose, very rich on the palate, with apricot and nutty flavors.  Yum.

    Not surprisingly I started to yawn towards the end of dinner, but thankfully didn't fall asleep tonight.  Even though there was a very nice bottle of old and rare Scotch on the table, I just knew it would be a bad idea if I just took even a little sip...  

    Many thanks to our gracious organizer for another delicious meal, and I'm so glad I finally got to have some good salted fish.  Now I'm definitely looking forward to my next meal here in a couple of weeks' time!

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  • 10/11/14--01:06: (not so) Happy sushi
  • For the last few years, I found myself eating less and less sushi in Hong Kong.  Unlike many of my friends, I rarely develop a craving for it.  Since I can find good sushi in Taipei that is just as good or better - and at a significant discount to the prices in Hong Kong - I've kinda been getting my sushi fix there instead.

    As a result, I no longer know where to get good sushi in Hong Kong.  Realizing that there's a gaping hole in the dining experiences documented here, I decided it was time for me to check out a few places in town.  A friend suggested that we do lunch at Kishoku (楽) - one of the places often mentioned when it comes to sushi, and a winner of the Top 10 Restaurant Award from WOM guide in the category of Japanese (Sushi).

    I didn't want to have a real heavy lunch, so I opted for the deluxe sushi platter (寿司盛り合わせ).  I also specified - as usual - that I didn't want any cut of tuna.

    The bowl of appetizer contained chopped mixed seafood - different cuts of fish and shellfish - in a sesame and horseradish sauce.  Not bad, but I was a little surprised by the kick from the horseradish.

    The salad was about as expected.

    Then came the first part of the platter:
    Thread-sail filefish (皮剥) - served with a sauce made with steamed filefish liver.  Pretty good.

    Halibut (鰈) - also served with its own liver, but this was fully cooked and now has a grainy texture... and also with heavier flavors.

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - this was OK.

    Yellowtail amberjack (平政) - with some grated radish in ponzu (ポン酢) on top.

    Pacific saury (秋刀魚) - with minced ginger on top.  This was fatty and very soft. Very delicious.  I wonder how long this has been aged.

    Scallop (帆立貝) - nice and thick, with a sprinkle of grated yuzu (柚子) zest that leaves a nice fragrance in the mouth.

    The second batch arrived, and there was an immediate problem.  I had specifically asked not to have any tuna, but there it was - a piece of fatty tuna nigiri (トロ握り) and 6 pieces of scallion and fatty tuna roll (ネギトロ巻き).  I informed the staff once again of my preference, and they promised to replace the offending items with substitutes.

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - from Canada.  Yes, it was very creamy.  Yes, there was a lot of it.  But why were there grains of sand (or tiny pieces of the shell) in my mouthful?!  In all my years of eating sea urchin, this has to be a first...

    Seared mackerel (炙り鯖) - served with chiffonade of perilla (紫蘇) leaves and a thin layer of marinated kelp (昆布).  Well, I like all the individual ingredients, but I kinda wish they hadn't torched the mackerel... or maybe left it a little bit more raw.

    Seared halibut wing (炙り縁側) - nice that the wing was folded back on itself over the rice... pretty yummy.  An acceptable substitute for the piece of fatty tuna (中トロ) I turned away.

    Pickled radish roll (お新香巻き) - WTF?!  So... instead of my scallion and fatty tuna roll (ネギトロ巻き), this is what I get instead?!  Not exactly a good trade for me, no?!  I wasn't exactly expecting something of equal value, but you gotta admit this was a little far off the mark...  And why was there so much wasabi (山葵) used here that it cleared my sinuses?  Who the hell uses wasabi with pickles, anyway?!

    Egg (卵) - my friend wasn't impressed that they used the plain, old-style egg for the lunch set - because they make the sponge cake-like version for dinner.  I guess since we're paying for a cheaper lunch set, we don't get the higher-quality version which takes more effort to make.

    Steamed egg custard (茶碗蒸し) - with fish, crab leg, ginkgo nut, and a mushroom that was just really fragrant.

    Miso soup - came with a single clam (蛤) which, unfortunately, had sand inside.  Yuck.  It seriously bothers me when restaurants can't take the time to let all their bivalves spit out the sand that's in their guts.  The saving grace here was also an interesting twist - they put strips of yuzu zest in the miso soup... which I don't remember ever having before.

    Sea salt ice cream - this was OK, but the texture wasn't so creamy... and getting close to a sorbet.

    Not exactly a happy meal.  The sand in the sea urchin killed it for me, and the sand in the clam didn't help either.  The nail in the coffin was the roll switch, which left me feeling more than a little cheated.

    Not feeling quite satiated, we adjourned to the Coffee Academïcs next door for a cuppa.  I've kinda been getting into ice drip lately, so I ordered one up.

    Ice drip Ethiopian Yirgacheffe - served in a tall wine glass, this was perfect for a wino like me!  The 8-hour extraction process meant very pronounced flavors that appeared to be very clean and pure.  The nose was clearly pretty smoky from the roasting process, which came through thanks to the wine glass.  A little fruity on the palate, with flavors of toasted nuts and then a sweet aftertaste.  Kinda medium-bodied.  For a coffee novice, I gotta say that I'm really like the Yirgacheffe...

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    Almost a month had passed since my first review meal for the South China Morning Post's First Served column, so it was time for me to pick out a new victim to skewer venue to try.  The hot new opening of the moment seemed to be The Continental, which took over the space previously occupied by Domani.  Swire not only brought in famed Rowley Leigh of Le Café Anglais as chef consultant, they also brought in the design team behind the Wolseley.  And Da Jam from WOM even punched out an interview with Chef Leigh last week... So definitely worthy of attention, then...

    ...except... the restaurant was due to be officially open on the 13th, and my column was due in the morning on the 13th.  I called the restaurant to make a reservation, only to be told that they are in their "soft opening" period and everything was "by invitation only".  Having turned down an invitation to join a group of fellow winos for a preview last week, an invitation was something I was clearly lacking.

    What was one to do? It was suggested that I simply try to walk in.  Well, I suppose that could work, but I'd need a backup just in case I was refused entry.  So I made a booking somewhere else, trekked over to Pacific Place and hoped for the best.

    We were politely shown into the reception area, only to be told that they were still in their soft opening... and we were welcome to call them for reservations starting next week.  I paused for a split-second, and my friend took it as her cue.  She promptly launched into a little act about how we had traveled all the way there, enduring an extremely cramped and uncomfortable subway ride in the process... and it would have been totally disappointing to have to go somewhere else...  It was always gonna be easier for a girl to get away with pleading, and it worked!  We got ourselves a table.  I didn't even have to try to pull out my non-existent Food Writer's Card...

    We were told as we were handed the menu that it was still a work in progress and not yet final.  We were also informed that since this was their soft opening period, we would only be charged half price for tonight's dinner.  BRAVO!  This is EXACTLY what most restaurants should be doing, and has been the subject of numerous debates and discussions among the journo/blogger community - my most recent discussion on this topic was with the big boss Harlan G.

    Restaurants are almost never fully ready when they first open, therefore it's neither fair for them to charge their customers full price, nor is it fair for people to review or judge the restaurants based on their performance during the initial period.  Charging half price during the soft opening period is therefore the fairest arrangement.  But I digress...

    Griddled scallops with chestnut purée, shiso and lemon - this was the starter that both of us wanted, and for good reason.

    The mi-cuit scallops showed perfect execution from the kitchen.  The rich flavors of the butter and chestnut purée were balanced by the tartness of lemon, while both the lemon zest chiffonade and perilla leaves added their distinctive fragrances to the mix.  Very, very nice.

    Roast spiny lobster with garlic butter - absolutely no surprises here, but pretty well done.  The lobster meat was truly melt-in-your-mouth, although the texture of my lone mouthful did lead me to raise one eyebrow...

    Rib of grass fed Scotch beef, chimmichurri sauce - this was meant to be shared among two or three people, and we chose the chimmichurri over Béarnaise sauce, which was definitely the right call.  Oh and I love that they serve grass-fed beef, which is so much more environmentally conscious than grain-fed beef...

    We asked for medium-rare, but I think what we got was more like medium... One of the waitstaff did offer to have the kitchen "get that done right" for us, but we decided not to waste a perfectly good piece of meat as it was still very edible.  Other than that the meat itself was pretty tender, with nice strips of fat providing the satisfaction factor.  While one would expect the two ends to be more "done" than the center, the surprise was that the tips were actually pretty tender.  There was enough charring on the surface to add a bit of smoky flavors without being overpowering.  Finally, the acidity and the herbs from the chimmichurri provided a welcome respite from what was in reality a pretty heavy hunk of meat...

    Baked quince with frangipane - fall is here and that means quince season.  The spiced flavors here were nice, and exactly what I wanted out of this dessert.

    But this was a pretty sizable hunk and pretty filling - especially as the frangipane starts to absorb water!  It's basically a bread pudding with fruit...

    Rice pudding with apricots - I only had a spoonful, but this was not bad at all.  The top layer was slightly charred to give it more oomph, and the apricots were a nice touch.

    Finally, in the category of "spared no expense", how about getting Hildon to come up with a special bottling just for you?

    I think we mostly picked pretty classic dishes tonight, and in reality I would have liked to have the opportunity to taste the more interesting and creative options.  Having said that, all the dishes came out as pretty solid and were certainly enjoyable.  And the slight mishap of the overcooked beef is easily forgiven considering the 50% discount on food (full service charge was still levied).  Next time I'll be going for more of the French and Italian offerings on the menu.

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

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  • 10/15/14--08:10: Sweeping the Neighborhood
  • Tonight was a real exciting evening for us, as we were paying our first visit to a brand-new restaurant during its very short soft-opening period.  It's no secret that David Lai from On Lot 10 is my favorite chef in town, and we've become friends over the last few years.  So when his long-awaited new project was finally ready to receive customers, we waited no time in getting ourselves a table.

    Much like the other restaurant I visited last week during their soft-opening period, Neighborhood also charges only 50% of normal food prices during its very short soft-opening.  It's a practice we whole-heartedly agree with, and we can only hope that it's adopted by more restos in town in the future.

    The Worm Supplier had scoped out the menu, and it was already decided that we would "sweep the menu (掃餐牌)" - the local expression of ordering every single item on a menu (or a page of the menu).  Given that there were at least 6 of us and only about 20 dishes on the entire menu, this wasn't really a challenge.  And we called ahead to let the restaurant know that we would be ordering every single dish, so that we wouldn't be faced with the unpleasant surprise of having them run out of something.  Unfortunately, there was still one item on the menu which wasn't available...

    So here goes...

    Rocket salad / fresh cheese - pretty simple... just arugula, slices of goat cheese and olives with a sprinkle of finely chopped chives.

    Charcuterie - prosciutto, salami and lardo di colonnata.  The lardo was a little more salty than I expected, and also flavored with rosemary and paprika (?)  I was the last to dig in, and when I expressed my dismay that there was no more lardo left for me, two of my generous friends offered up part of their lardo to me.  And the phrase "and I don't give lardo to just anyone" was uttered in the process.  My eyes instantly became a little moist...

    Marinated amberjack / ginger - with cucumber chunks and dill.  Definitely tasted the ginger.

    Artichoke "barigoule" - with carrots, mushrooms and other goodies.  Very nice and classic.

    Frog legs fritter - certainly one of the best dishes on the menu, if not the single best dish. With a nice, soil-boiled egg to dip into.

    Quail "escabeche" - very nice, tender and succulent.  Served on a bed of puy lentils and carrot mash.  The mash was more acidic with spices.

    Chicken broth / egg / chanterelle - nice fragrance and subtle flavors, but could use a little more oomph in the seasoning.

    Tripe gratin - well, there was no gratin here but... we forgive them.  Tripe is one of my favorite things to eat, and I love this spicy tomato sauce...

    Grilled baby squid / coco beans - the baby squid was incredibly flavorful... and I absolutely loved this.  The Coco de Paimpol beans were a little too crunchy and could have been cooked a little bit more.

    Beef daube ravioli - very nice shredded stewed beef inside, although it was a little bit dry for my taste and could have been a bit more tender.  The sauce/glaze on the outside was very delish.  Interesting use of Tonkin jasmine (夜香花).

    Spicy tomato garganelli - very nice and simple.  Perfectly al dente.

    Ragu tagliarini - this had a nice fragrance, but honestly pretty bland.  More seasoning in the chicken and pork, please...

    Spaghetti alla bottarga - normally this would easily be my favorite dish, given how much I just looooooove bottarga.  I did love the wonderful flavors, but I always wish for a little bit more of the bottarga and more oil.  I make this pasta at home and I've kinda gotten used adding a ton of it into my bowl.

    Daily fish in "bouillabaisse" - tonight we had mullet, which I found a little muddy.  Still loved the flavors of the bouillabaisse, though...

    Daily meat / roast - ah yes, the chicken that everyone raved about.  Very good indeed, and I was fortunate enough to have gotten the drumstick.  Served with potato mash, cabbage, spinach and petits pois.

    Housemade sorbet / icecream - today's selections were raspberry and pear.  Both were very nice, but the pear sorbet was simply out of this world!  Soooo intense.

    Chocolate palette - something else that other people raved about. This palet d'or was pretty good, but we ended up ordering only one of these instead of the original plan to get two (or three)...

    Cheese selection "alleosse" - a selection from Alléosse in Paris.  Comté, Brie de Meaux and a blue cheese I didn't feel like nibbling on...

    Canelés - a special treat.  Kung Fu Panda asked David for something off-menu, and this was what we got.  Very, very well done.

    These were crunchy on the outside and perfect on the bottom, which was amazing considering that these came out of silicone and not copper molds...

    This wasn't a drinking crowd, so I only brought along two bottles of easy-drinking wine...

    1998 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Spätlese-trocken - big nose of petrol and polyurethane.  Acidity quite high, especially on the finish.

    2006 Il Pino di Biserno - still pretty tannic.  A little bit of forest on the nose at first, then more mint and more sweet fruit later once it opened up more.

    A pretty happy evening.  One never expects to like every single dish on a restaurant's menu, but there were clearly no "FAIL"s tonight and the hit rate was pretty high.  As the menu is meant to change monthly, I look forward to coming back for casual meals.  Maybe I'll even drop by for a quick lunch...

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  • 10/18/14--02:01: Food blogger scum
  • So... almost exactly a year after my last rant about food blogger(s), here I am writing another rant piece.  And this time I'm naming names.  Last year I made vague references to a certain person I called scumbag 人渣 because I find his behavior reprehensible.  You would have thought he'd learned his lesson, but no, apparently Daniel Ho - who is the "super-duper mega popular 超級宇宙無敵人氣 blogger" behind siuyeahdragon 為食龍少爺 - has done it again.  So now the gloves come off, and FLAME mode is ON!! (apologies for using this near-obsolete internet speak... it's what we used when I first got on the internet before the so-called World Wide Web even existed...)

    Lemme backtrack to more than a year ago.  In June 2013, Scumbag had lunch at Amber - with two Michelin stars and currently ranked No. 24 on San Pellegrino's The World's 50 Best Restaurants - for the first time.  At the end of his meal, he realized that the staff had neglected to bring him the customary mignardises - the little nibbles like chocolates, mini macarons and the like.  He apparently got upset, called the staff over, and demanded that they bring him his mignardises... all the while threatening them with something like "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! I HAVE A FOOD BLOG AND I WILL WRITE YOU UP!!"  The staff at Amber - who are naturally savvy and wishing to avoid any bad PR - apologized, offered to pack said mignardises, presented a box of macarons instead and offered a 10% discount on the next meal.

    I know this was what happened, not because I was there myself or I had heard it from someone at Amber, but because this Scumbag had written about this on his blog.  Not only did he have the gall to pull a stupid, immature stunt like that, but he had the gall to brag about it on his blog!  Oh BTW if you try to look for it now, he has since covered up his tracks and deleted the part about "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" from that particular blog entry.

    But a number of us saw it and we remember that it happened.  It prompted I Love Lubutin to write her last published blog entry, and it's one of the main reasons behind my post last year.  I wanted it on the record that Scumbag is not like the rest of us.  Most of us have the good sense not to pull stunts like that.

    So now, a year later, something similar happened.  Only this time it got more serious and the police got involved.  This afternoon there was a flurry of activity on some Facebook pages.  The following is a summary I put together after reading several posts and numerous replies on different pages, coming from both sides.

    Apparently Scumbag had gone to Giando with a few people to celebrate a birthday.  The restaurant offered free-flow Prosecco for a two-hour period.  Nearing (or over, depending on who you ask) the end of said period, a request for an additional glass was turned down - whether politely or not I don't know.  Scumbag and his friends then proceeded to have a fit, refused to pay their bill, and somewhere along the line that old familiar phrase of "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!  I AM A BLOGGER AND I WILL MAKE YOUR ESTABLISHMENT FAIL!" came out.  Scumbag even allegedly threw the name of his employer around - as if that had anything to do with anything!  BTW I hear he works for HSBC... for now.

    So what happens when you have customers who refuse to pay their bills, appear to be drunk and disorderly, throw a fit and insult your staff?  You call the police, naturally.  Any restaurant owner/manager would do that when people are thinking of having 霸王餐 - refusing to pay after eating.  Eventually the restaurant did charge someone's credit card for the bill, and the police didn't take anyone into custody... although I really wished they had.

    Lemme point out a few things here:

    First of all, don't ever over-estimate your own importance.  If people don't recognize you by sight, that means YOU ARE A NOBODY.  Unless your name is Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Tom Cruise...etc. you wield a lot less influence than you think you do.  NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT YOU WRITE ON YOUR BLOG.  If people really cared about what you think, you'd be raking it in like Martha-fucking-Stewart with millions (of US Dollars, not HK Dollars) sitting in your bank account, and you wouldn't be working your menial job at HSBC.

    Second, never throw the name of your employer around.  This has NOTHING to do with your work, and it's really poor form to pretend that you are somebody from HSBC.  In some of the financial institutions that I've worked for over the years, pulling a stunt like that will at least get you reprimanded or worse - get you fired.  Your employer doesn't appreciate their name being used as leverage in something that is purely personal, especially when it involves negative PR and the police.

    Third, stop being such a fucking cheapskate.  First you threw a hissy fit over some MIGNARDISES that staff at Amber forgot to serve you... Yes, it was a mistake they shouldn't have made, but doing all that over some bite-sized petit fours?!  If they had skipped a starter or main course and still charged you for it, I could at least understand that... but over something they throw in FOR FREE?!  Now you get upset at Giando over not having an extra glass of PROSECCO?!  If it were a glass or a bottle of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay I'd be pretty upset myself, but PROSECCO that's used to serve as "free-flow"?!  Dude, if you're gonna do something like this, at least do it in style, man!

    But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you throw fits over little things like this, because I'm friends with some people who used to work with you, and they all don't wanna hang out with you no mo' because of how cheap you are... and your attitude of thinking that you're such a stud, such a media darling and that you know it all, when they all can see that you don't know jack shit...

    Hey all you media and PR types out there, take a good look at this guy.  This is the kind of so-called "super-duper mega popular 超級宇宙無敵人氣 blogger" that y'all keep wanting to invite to your clients' restaurants for those freebie tastings.  For the few of you who've been sending me invitations and wondering why I've been ignoring you and turning you down, here is the reason why.  It's because I don't wanna sit at the same table as guys like Daniel Ho.  I don't even wanna be within a 100 feet of him.  The people I choose to hang around in my free time have class, and he ain't got none.

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  • 10/18/14--07:34: Holy mother of fish head
  • A friend is entertaining a group of Taiwanese foodies, and my services were once again called upon to ensure that a good time was had by all.  Would it surprise anyone that my go-to restaurant for such an occasion turned out to be On Lot 10?  I think not...  We chose not to book out the entire section upstairs, and as it turned out there was another party of equal size sharing the space.  I was initially a little apprehensive, knowing how loud a group of 12 can get after a little alcohol.  Guess what?  The youngsters at the next table weren't exactly quiet, either...

    After a little wine tasting at a friendly wine merchant in Central, the gang casually strolled over to the restaurant, almost a full hour before we were expected.  The kitchen probably had to scramble a little to come up with some food while we started sipping on bubbly...  As usual I discussed the menu with David but made only one request for the beef.  Everything else was carte blanche per SOP...

    David decided to hit us with a series of heavy main courses, so we got off a little easy on the starters... like this simple salad with just frisée, radish, endive and herbs.  A little green (OK, this wasn't that green...) never hurt nobody.

    Whole steamed Breton artichoke, anchoaïde - and more green!  Before On Lot 10, I had also never had eaten artichokes whole, either... so it was natural for the guests to be surprised at the sight of these large spheres.  So nice with the tart anchoaïde.

    Boudin Basque "Christian Parra", pimente d'Espelette - the question was raised regarding the difference between a boudin Basque and a regular boudin noir, and David said that with the former, there was higher fat and collagen content coming from the pork cheeks and skin, and also spices used (such as garlic and piment d'Espelette).  One more difference that I can see in this would be that the pork was shredded, not ground.  In any case, I looooove this.  It's what made me fall in love with this restaurant on my very first visit.

    From here on the heavy hitters arrived one by one...

    We were told there was to be a fish head, and it turned out to be this holy-mother-of-all-fish-heads!  It's a giant grouper (龍躉) fish head from a fish that was caught today - not farmed - which weighed around 70 catties... and what we had was only HALF a head!  If you wanna get a feel for the size of this thing, just look at the green capers on top... or use the fork for reference.  No, none of us have had eaten a fish head like that in our lives... and probably only tuna heads can measure up to this.

    We asked the staff to take it back to the kitchen so that they can break it up into pieces for us, and what I got was this...  There were chunks of crispy, collagen-filled skin, which seemed to have been deep-fried and/or baked.  This was very, very salty... probably because it was the only way to get enough seasoning into the meat in the rest of the head.  There wasn't much meat attached but plenty of chewy, yummy collagen.  The potatoes were really nice and still a little crunchy.  The capers provided a lot of sharp acidity to the sauce, which were well-absorbed by the croûtons.  I'm normally not a fan of high acidity, but in this case it really was necessary to have something cut down the fattiness...

    Angel hair "paella-style" with Palamós prawns and buchot mussels - one of the reasons we love David is his willingness to experiment and create new dishes.  Having had his delicious paella numerous times with different toppings, he's decided to show us something different - taking out the rice and replacing it with angel hair pasta.  This was pure genius.

    Besides the layer of pasta which had absorbed all the incredible flavors - and parts of which had also formed a crust like the socarrat or rice crispies - there was plenty of chorizo, pimentos, onions...etc.  You also had buchot mussels and those amazing Palamós prawns.  The prawn heads were still incredible and I wasted no time in sucking out whatever I could, but the real beauty lie in the fact that the tails were done mi-cuit!  Incroyable!

    Lomo de Rubia Galega - ah, the 12-year old beef, dry-aged for 120-days or more.  With our gang split up into two separate but adjacent tables, we got two pieces of strip loin instead of one big ribeye.

    It's natural to expect that an old ox would produce meat that was tougher and more chewy, hence the extended dry-aging period.  The stirploin was also a tougher cut of meat compared to the ribeye, but overall this was still a very juicy piece of beef.  The flavors, of course, were out of this world.  I can't get enough of that cheesy taste.  Needless to say, the taters were also very, very popular.

    The final course tonight came in a large, oval cocotte.  The rice bird baked rice takes its inspiration from the Portuguese arroz de pato -with long-grained rice baked with shredded meat from duck leg confit.  Add to this chunks of yummy foie gras, ceps, rice birds and thin slices of ham... and you have one incredible dish.

    I found some grainy stuff around the ceps, and wondered if they were mushroom spores or some foreign material.  Loved the bird brains, but the one bird I bit into had pretty bitter innards.  Otherwise this was just completely and utterly yummy.  The guest sitting next to me told me that he has diabetes, and the amount of rice that he's had tonight was about 10 times his normal intake, but it was so delicious and he didn't care.  I'd take that as a real compliment if I were David...

    Most of us were so full - and left staring at the amount of leftovers - that we didn't want any dessert.  Some people did ask for some... and got the usual tarte citron and tarte Bourdaloue.

    Given that the gang had already tasted 2 bottles of wine earlier, we ended up opening only four magnums tonight...

    2002 Louis Roederer Cristal en magnum - nice and ripe, sweet on the palate, with good acidity on the finish.  Pretty toasty with lemon and almost marmalade on the nose.

    1995 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet en magnum - nice nose with notes of straw, butter and a little marmalade.  Nose was oxidized but in a good way.  Color was starting to turn golden.

    2004 Mommessin Clos de Tart en magnum - very nice and fruity, with strawberry notes.  More elegant than I expected, but maybe that's a sign of the lighter vintage.

    1999 Ceretto Barolo Prapò from magnum - clearly more tannic here.  Nose of ripe fruit, forest, cedar and a little smoky.  Very, very nice actually.

    Well, I think I discharged my duties reasonably well tonight.  A lot of full bellies and smiling faces all around.  But maybe that's from the wine... Hopefully I've made some new friends today, and increased the David Lai Fan Club to include a few more fans from Taiwan.

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  • 10/19/14--08:23: A quiet Sunday dinner
  • It's been a while since I last had a meal with the Tiggers, and tonight was an opportunity to catch up with them.  I can't remember the last time I was at Wan Wah (文華廳) for dinner, but it was kinda nice to try out different dishes than what I'd been having at lunch on the weekends.

    Marinated fresh abalone with jellyfish (海蜇鹵水鮮鮑魚) - the abalone had very nice flavors from the marinade.  The jellyfish heads were excellent - perfectly crunchy without being too much.

    Deep fried air dried beef, tangerine peel, sweet and sour sauce (陳皮香脆薄牛肉) - this was interesting... very thin slices of air-fried beef, deep-fried until it's crunchy.  Definitely tasted the sweet and sour glaze, plus the distinctive flavors of the aged tangerine peel.

    Roast suckling pig (化皮乳豬) - not bad.  Not Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) level, but pretty decent nonetheless.  The advantage here is that the ribs have been removed, making it a lot easier to eat.

    Double-boiled soup with arrowroot and mud carp (粉葛鯪魚赤小豆瘦肉湯) - very good for drawing out the accumulated moisture.

    Live prawns, baked, soya sauce (豉油皇海中蝦) - very tender, but slightly on the salty side thanks to the soy sauce.

    Steamed spotted garoupa (清蒸東星斑) - a very delicious fish, and well-executed.  It's too bad that at high-end Cantonese restaurants, you always end up eating some type of coral fish that's on the "Avoid" list of World Wildlife Fund's Sustainable Seafood Guide...  But hey, at least they no longer serve shark's fin!

    Braised beef ribs, gravy (醬燒牛肋骨) - this thing reminded me of the rib I had at Ho Lee Fook.  Unfortunately, this was overcooked and dry.  It also wasn't as tasty in terms of flavors.  Pretty disappointing.

    Kale, ginger, Chinese wine (薑糖酒炒芥藍) - we ended up ordering two plates of this.  The first place was OK, but slightly softer.  The second plate was clearly a lot more crunchy, and we could taste more of the ginger and Chinese wine.

    The petit fours consisted of coconut and black sesame jelly (椰汁芝麻糕), almond tarts and a deep-fried dumpling filled with red bean paste that surprised us by being spicy.

    1995 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Auslese 91 - very nicely balanced on the palate, with reasonable acidity here.  Nice marmalade notes along with the usual flinty and petrol nose.

    Perhaps thanks to the traffic arrangements resulting from the Occupy movement, we were pretty much the only locals dining here tonight - every other table looked like hotel guests unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine.  I hope they enjoyed the food like we did.  Finally, many thanks to Babu for the treat tonight.

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  • 10/20/14--00:05: Truffled boar
  • Last week Harlan G posted a picture on Facebook, reminding people that as the weather gets cooler, it might be a good idea to keep warm with a bowl of his wild boar ragout pasta.  Well, it's been a while since my last bowl, so I quickly called up Gold by Harlan Goldstein and got myself a reservation.  I also grabbed a couple of the Alcoholics along, since they are my usual partners in crime when it comes to this joint.

    While the ladies seemed hungry and dug into some focaccia and their crab cake, I sat silently while they indulged... preferring to save my stomach space exclusively for the dish that I had come for.

    Hand-crafted tagliatelle, Italian wild boar ragout, melting organic egg and shaved Pecorino cheese - white truffle season has started, and the ever-generous (at least towards me) Harlan came over to shave us some of this white gold on top, which was a nice surprise.  The wonderful fragrance immediately filled the air above our table.  The pasta itself delivered flavors which had long ago become familiar to me, although the chunks of ragout were perhaps a little bigger and harder today.  As someone used to say to me, this was comfort food.  And judging by the fact that it was still sitting in my stomach shortly before dinner time... certainly hearty and filling.

    No, I don't come back nearly often enough for this.  I think I need to venture out for lunch a little more...

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  • 10/25/14--03:16: Starry day in Kwun Tong
  • The original plan for today was to putz around at home until after lunch, then make my way to the island side for a kiddie birthday party followed by dinner.  As a result of an invitation to Kwun Tong, I decided to make it a real excursion and ended up making 3 stops around this area that's normally off my map...

    I dragged my ass out of bed to catch the early show of McDull: Me and My Mum (麥兜 我和我媽媽).  I've always loved McMug (麥嘜) and McDull (麥兜) ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago - yes, I love juvenile, "low B (低B)" humor - but I've kinda missed out on the movies that came after the first two.  So I went to Kwun Tong to watch this early show before it disappeared off the screens.

    I gotta say that I wasn't expecting tears to roll down my cheeks while watching animation... although I suppose there were moments while watching My Life as McDull (麥兜故事) when my eyes were a little moist.  This movie focused on McDull's relationship with his mother, and showed a mother's unwavering and unconditional love for her son.  As someone who has always had a close relationship with his mom - although not always fully appreciative of her love and sacrifices - this certainly touched a nerve with me.  Yes, I love my mom.  And I think they should have timed the release with Mother's Day...

    After walking around exploring the mall to kill time, I strolled over to meet a friend for lunch at MIC Kitchen.  The first (and only) time I came was about a year and a half ago at the restaurant's invitation, and I enjoyed both the food as well as our conversations with Alvin Leung.  Since that visit the restaurant has gotten themselves a macaron, and was also forced to change its name... apparently due to a certain global fast-food chain I no longer patronize since I'm no longer "lovin' it".  I took this opportunity to do an update visit on my own dime - after turning down yet another kind invitation from the restaurant a few weeks ago.

    Alvin likes to serve a dip involving local flavors with his bread.  I didn't quite catch what our waiter was saying, but for some reason the dip reminded me of preserved leafy mustard (梅菜).  I found myself unable to stop scooping more of it onto the warm bread.

    Mushroom: mushroom soup, bakkutteh - the base was certainly a cream of mushroom soup, but I guess the chef was trying to infuse elements from the Southeast Asian pork rib soup.  If it's meant to taste like bak kut teh (肉骨茶), then I suppose it would be the Malaysian kind and not the Singaporean kind, since it tasted strongly of star anise and five-spice (五香).  There was a little bit of spiciness here, too.

    Beef: tartar, preserved kumquat, fried "nam yu mantou" - I had a taste of my friend's starter.  I ate the beef tartar on its own to try to taste the flavors, and it wasn't easy to get the kumquat (金桔) as it was simply overwhelmed.  The nam yu (南乳) tofu paste on the mantou (饅頭) was delicious.  Too bad I didn't have enough to see how the flavors would have combined in the same mouthful...

    The arrival of our main courses also brought with them a couple of issues I had with the service.  My friend and I ordered essentially the same dish but with different types of prawns.  Our waiter came over with the two bowls and set them down without checking with us which one of us was having which dish, then simply walked away.  Unfortunately, he got it wrong.  I think the manager noticed the look of incredulity on my face, and quickly corrected the waiter's mistake.

    With our pastas, we were also brought a little pot of "har mi" (蝦米) oil which we could pour onto the noodles.  Naturally I poured a good amount as I know how yummy this is, and I wanted to make sure the noodles were well-coated.  The bartender must have seen me indulging greedily, because he came over and "cautioned" us not to pour too much, "because it was oil, after all"...  Mmmm... thank you for your concern regarding my health, as I no doubt look like a fat tub of goo in your eyes.  Or was it perhaps because I had used up more of this precious oil than what you would like to allocate to your average customer?

    Carabinero red prawn: handmade noodles, "har mi" - oh how I love these prawns!  After dealing with the heads of my friend's Australian blue prawns, I made sure to polish off the wonderful noodles first, covered in the deliciously fragrant har mi oil and their dried shrimp flavors.  The tails of the prawns were packed with such intense flavors of the seas, although they were a little smaller than I had expected.  Saving the best for last, I greedily sucked on the oversized heads of these prawns.  I then pried the flattened heads open and used my knife to scoop out anything that remained.  I just loooove that sensation of having your tongue and the insides of your mouth stick together as a result of eating a good prawn head...  Worth every penny of the supplement I ponied up.

    Taro ice cream - served in a mini claypot with a sprinkle of powdered raspberry and chocolate.

    With our bellies full, we strolled over a few blocks to attend the opening party of my friend KC's kitchen studio 名廚教室 by Fancook.  I have a lot of respect for KC, who has transformed himself from a part-time blogger and banquet organizer to a full-time professional food critic and much, much more.  He and his people have managed to build a brand around themselves, culminating in this kitchen studio which has enlisted the sponsorship of global brands.

    The hospitable KC offered us drinks, but instead of Champagne or wine, I asked if he had any Prosecco... After digging around the various fridges, he did manage to scrounge up a bottle to quench my thirst...

    Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene PARTICELLA 68 - very floral nose, with white flowers, tropical fruits and flint.

    Naturally there was a TON of food, from savory nibbles to cakes, cookies and what not.  The pièces de resistance were without a doubt the two roast pigs.  The smaller pig was a roast suckling pig from 3-star Sun Tung Lok (新同樂), while the much larger pig came from Tak Lung (德龍大飯店).

    KC's pretty well-connected with the local F and B community, so it wasn't surprising to see a number of chefs from starred restaurants come and join the festivities.  There were a few I didn't recognize, but the ones I could pick out from the star-studded lineup included Joe Chan from Sun Tung Lok, Leung Fai Hung from Hoi King Heen (海景軒), and Cheng Kam-fu from Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊).

    I wasn't the least bit hungry, but I couldn't resist nibbling on pieces of that famous castella from Hyatt Regency Shatin.  Of course I had to try the roast pig from Tak Lung, and I waited patiently until Chef Chan chopped up the suckling pig from Sun Tung Lok so I could have a piece...

    With that last piece of suckling pig, my excursion to Kwun Tong came to an end.  I bid farewell to KC and headed to Stanley Beach on the island for a kiddie birthday party.  But before I left, KC remembered that he had promised me a copy of his Singapore dining guide 新加坡美食天書.  Many thanks for this precious gift, and I look forward to visiting the studio for some good meals!

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  • 10/25/14--08:15: Reptile night
  • A few weeks ago I received an email from a group of friends, trying to fix a date for our next gathering.  After a round of discussions, it was decided that we would go for some Chinese food.  I suggested we try the private entertainment facility next to my office - IF I could manage to book it.

    When I called the number for reservations, the lady at the other end of the line asked me whether I had ever been there - as they are not open to "public".  When I told her that I had been there at the invitation of the organizer of my first dinner - and specifically mentioned the date - it was apparent to me that she checked the booking history to verify my claims.  After she was satisfied that I was kosher, only then was I allowed to make a booking.

    A few days ago, I received a copy of the menu from the chef.  I was happy to the point of giddiness.  Listed among the other items was the snake soup that I had been longing to try - especially given the pedigree of the chef.  There was also the mountain turtle which I didn't get to have at the last two dinners, plus a host of other stuff.  When My Favorite Cousin saw the menu, her response was simply: "reptile night is it?"

    Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - once again dinner started with a plate of this.  Some people complained that the char siu wasn't fatty enough, although they admitted that even the lean meat was tender and not tough.  In the end there wasn't very much left on the plate, so I guess people did enjoy the caramelized and charred edges...

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - I really enjoyed these the first time, and glad they were on the menu again tonight.  The blend of crab meat, egg white and birds' nest were nicely pan-fried at high heat.  I even tried to dab a little chili sauce on one of them just to see if it would work, and it wasn't bad!

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - tonight this dish was just as good as when I had it the last time.  Finely diced ingredients stir-fried at very high heat, and you could definitely taste that.  Yeah, definitely better than my old favorite at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源).

    Braised mountain turtle (紅燒大山瑞) - so the first of the "exotics" tonight... I've had mountain turtle at high-end Cantonese restaurants before, butt not like this...  This was an 8-catty turtle that was about 7 to 8 years old.  Pretty damn big if you asked me... And the dish came with pieces of the "skirt" on top.

    The skirt was reasonably thick, and it was so full of collagen that we jokingly called it "turtle jelly"... but of course it wasn't quite like the Chinese herbal jelly 龜苓膏.  I also had some of the meat, and it was a little dry and fibrous, not unlike lean pork.  There was a ton of ginger which, together with cooking via braising with soy sauce, covered up most of the gamey flavors of the turtle.  The pea shoots and bamboo shoots that came on the side were absolutely delicious.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - this is it.  I'm told by people with first-hand knowledge that the chef used to work with Chef Lee Yuk-lam (李煜霖) at Hang Seng Bank's Penthouse banquet hall (博愛堂) during snake soup season.  Chef Lee Yuk-lam had learned his trade under the legendary Chef Lee Choi (李才) - the last chef who had worked in the kitchen of the imperial scholar Jiang Kongyin (江孔殷).  Anyway, to cut a long story short, if there were still authentic versions of the famous snake soup around, I would expect this to be one of the very few.  Expectations were very high...

    ...and not only met, but exceeded.  I don't remember much about the snake soup I had in the private room at Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒)in IFC, which was supposedly cooked by Chef Lee Yuk-lam himself, but this could very well be the best snake soup I have ever eaten in my life.  It certainly blows Tim's Kitchen out of the water with ease.  First of all, there were actually five different types of snakes used - but don't ask me to name them all...  All the ingredients were shredded to such a fine degree.  Unlike at Tim's Kitchen the seasoning here was nicely balanced, which allowed the delicate flavors of all the ingredients to come through - including the aged tangerine peel.

    The usual condiments of crispy deep-fried dough (薄脆), white chrysanthemum petals, coriander and kaffir lime leaves arrived, and we were all amazed at the incredibly fine chiffonade of the lime leaves.  This was some of the finest knife work I have seen and incredible attention to detail.

    Yes, I had a second bowl.  And took away a third bowl for another day.

    Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - this was a premium item indeed.  A fresh-caught sole that was easily 3-catties.  Each of us had a piece of the back as well as the fins.  The fins were incredibly tender thanks to the collagen.  The actual meat of the fish, though, was a little over-steamed.

    Braised hundred-treasure duck (百寶炆大鴨) - another classic, and one which require advanced order at most restaurants.

    The recipes for eight-treasure duck varies but tonight we had shiitake mushrooms, egg yolk, barley, lotus seeds, chestnuts, ham...  The leafy mustard stems on the side were lovely, too.

    Stir-fried Chinese lettuce (清炒唐生菜) - the chef once again showed his knife skills.  This was a simple dish of stir-fried veggies, but the amount of effort put into this dish isn't something you would find in even some of the high-end restaurants in town.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - ah yes, another winter favorite!  This was just seriously good.  While the individual rice grains weren't as chewy on the inside as I perhaps would have liked, the flavors were simply intense and rich.  Without a doubt this was stir-fried at very high heat to generate that wok hei (鑊氣) we expect, nay, demand from this dish.  It almost seemed to me that some of the duck liver sausage (膶腸) used in the dish had been pulverized so that the rice grains themselves were covered in tiny little bits of sausage.  Sooooo freakin' good!

    I saw a smile come across on I Love Lubutin's face - a rare occurrence at Chinese meals.  We also had someone break down and have the first mouthful of carbs in several weeks - who then proceeded to have seconds (and thirds)...  Before the dish arrived, I was confident that there would have enough leftovers for someone to take home.  There was none left, at least not after I Love Lubutin cleaned off both the spoon and the plate...

    The dessert of jujube soup with longan apricot kernals (南北杏龍眼紅棗湯) was simple, but double-boiled so ensure maximum flavor.

    We didn't do too much coordination in terms of wine tonight, and despite our best efforts, we consumed less alcohol than I had hoped...

    Kikuhime Kukurihime from isshobin (菊姫 菊理姫 一升瓶) - the top-of-the-line Kikuhime I carried back from Tokyo.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Sweet with strong rice flavors at first, but became very dry and spicy (辛口) after warming up a little, with a long finish.  Unfortunately, we did not finish this bottle...

    Kaiun Daiginjo Den Hase Shohiki (開運大吟醸 伝 波瀬正吉) - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Sweeter on the attack, softer on the palate and not so dry.

    2007 Hospices de Beaune Clos de la Roche Cuvée Georges Kritter mis en bouteille par Domaine Ponsot - nice and fruity, with a very fragrant nose.  A little animal and forest notes, too.

    1996 François Lamarche La Grande Rue en magnum - higher acidity, more astringent on the palate.

    2011 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese - slightly sweet on the palate, with classic nose of polyurethane and plastic, along with floral notes.

    What an incredible evening!  Needless to say I was completely stuffed, but really, really happy.  The only dish I wish could have been done a little better was the steamed sole, but that was more than made up by the highlights like the rice and, of course, the snake soup that I finally got to have.  The one downside tonight was that the cost shot up significantly compared to my previous visits, thanks mainly to the exotic reptiles tonight, but also because the 9 of us were paying for a 10-person dinner.

    I think I need to come back at least one more time while snake soup is still on offer this season... and definitely think it's time for me to revisit Cuisine Cuisine at IFC, so I could refresh my memory on their snake soup.

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  • 10/28/14--08:46: Three little birds
  • So here I am.  Again.  At what I nowadays refer to as My Favorite Restaurant.  Yes, boys and girls... I'm back at On Lot 10 for another dinner.  Afu was coming into town for a few days, and demanded that I take him here.  I took the opportunity to introduce him to the Great One and invited her along.  I was also originally supposed to dine with Mr. Ho tonight at a venue I haven't tried before, and since it's always better to have one more mouth at the table - and he originally wanted to come to On Lot 10, anyway - I roped him in so that we could be a table of four.  Now we have the bare minimum number of mouths to feed properly...

    As usual I only pre-ordered two ingredients with David and left the rest up to him.  Upon hearing the series of dishes he had in store for us after my arrival, I tried in vain to convince him to cut down on the amount of food - knowing the beef at the end will deliver the knock-out punch.  Initially he agreed to send us fewer starters, but in the end I think he didn't listen to me at all, which was just typical...

    Salted cod, truffle potato / "taoyoran" egg / espelette pepper - pretty interesting, and I'm always a big fan of salted cod.  The potatoes were surprisingly a little acidic, but I loved the black truffle and piment d'espelette used to flavor the dish.  Needless to say the Japanese egg was superb.

    Beef tongue salad, foie gras / leek / hazelnut - love beef tongue any day, and the addition of foie gras mousse made it seem like a deconstructed Lucullus.  The leeks were nice, and there was plenty of black pepper.  The tongue was slightly on the salty side, though.

    Hairy crab omelette - now this was a surprise... and it's been a while since I last had any hair crab dishes.  A fluffy omelette with cheese that's smothered in crab meat and roe.

    Beef tartare "battuta", cantabrian anchovy / autumn truffle - another smothered dish, this time in white truffle shavings.  The anchovies were nice, but they came in pieces that were too big so they ended up overpowering both the beef and the truffle...  Very nice texture, though, since the beef is hand-beaten.

    Aged Acquerello risotto, rice birds / matsutake mushroom - the Great One requested rice birds, and rice birds she shall have.  Two slightly crispy birds sit on a bed of very al dente risotto, with a rich sauce providing lots of flavor.  The matsutake (松茸) mushrooms had a nice and delicate fragrance, but they were somewhat overwhelmed...

    Rice bird pot-au-feu - we love David's pot-au-feu, which used to be these monstrous pans carrying enough food for 15 people each.  This time we got served individual bowls with bite-sized portions, but instead of various cuts of beef and other goodies, we had a single rice bird, a thick slice of foie gras, and of course the veggies.

    David wanted to serve us a bird that was prepared differently, and this way one could have an easier time tasting the true flavors of the bird itself.  The poached foie was perfect - so tender and fluffy that I'd almost call it mi-cuit...  The soup definitely had a lot of different spices... I wanted to say "five spice" but I don't think it was.  The surprise was black pepper, which none of us felt was necessary and kinda threw the delicate balance a little out of whack.

    Napoleon wrasse collar - I tried to get David to cut out the "fish head" course, but he flatly refused... because he said this was something special.  Well, it is indeed very special... because not only does it belong to the "Avoid" category in the World Wildlife Fund's Sustainable Seafood List, it's also classified as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List... But thankfully it's only the collar and not the entire head like last time!

    I know how much Mr. Ho loooves fish collars... going back to the old days when we used to visit San San Trois together.  There was plenty of chewy collagen here in addition to the meat.  And the usual caper sauce once again provided the acidity necessary to balance it all.  And those potatoes!

    Lomo de Rubia Galega - we're a small party of four, so we get the striploin instead of the ribeye.  Still a formidable hunk of beef, though... It's the first time that Mr. Ho and Afu have tried this beef, and I know they are both big fans of (dry aged) beef.  As I have said to some people, this may not be the best beef you have ever had (although it is for me), but I guarantee you've never tasted beef quite like this one!  I just love that blue cheese-like taste that comes from aging the beef for a whopping 120 days... While some would prefer to have the beef on its own with just fleur de sel, I do love the rich sauce that's all over it.  Of course the taters were simply incredible, too.

    We were definitely too full to have cheese or dessert, and this time I put my foot down and told the staff not to send us any.

    There was, of course, wine... but we took it easy tonight.

    Kikuhime Kukurihime from isshobin (菊姫 菊理姫 一升瓶) - yup, I made my friends drink the leftovers from 3 nights ago... Initially the sake tasted kinda flat on the palate, but it gradually got better with aeration, and even went from smooth and sweet (甘口) to being more dry (辛口).  Still drinkable, and actually I prefer it less dry.

    1995 Joseph Phelps Insignia - initially a little alcoholic and sharp, but turned out pretty nice and fragrant, a little smoky on top of some cedar, woodsy notes.  Definitely sweet on the palate since it's from a ripe vintage, and full-bodied.  Tannins are still very much there after almost 20 years.

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    Like my fellow blogger Gary, I will preface this post by saying out loud (for the hundredth time) that I've never been a fan of Dining Concepts' restaurants.  I've been to a handful of their numerous outlets over the years, and so far I have had the overwhelming urge to go back to... just about none of them.  It's not that they serve bad food, but mediocrity runs through their veins, and there's no pull factor for return visits.

    Then came a string of so-called 'celebrity chef' outlets - which started years ago with Olive - probably the lone outlet of the group I have fond memories of.  Then it was Michael White's Brainless Al Molo followed by Mario Batali's widely-panned Lupa and the now-defunct Carnevino.  The latest gweilo big name to plant his flag in these territories is Gordon Ramsay, who opened the doors to Bread Street Kitchen a few weeks ago.  All of these guys inexplicably chose Dining Concepts as their partner.  Why?  Well, I'm told that when posed with the question, Mario Batali said something along the lines of "Because my good friend Michael White told me to."  Orz x10...

    Anyway, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked about my experiences with the two new "celebrity chef restaurants" which opened up recently (the other one being Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian), and my standard response has been that I have little or no desire to pay either a visit.   I wasn't about to pay out of my own pocket to go there, and since the restaurants themselves would never have invited me (and I probably would have turned down those invitations anyway), I was pretty much destined to not dine at either...

    ...until I was asked to join a review of Bread Street Kitchen.  Being slightly higher-end than the other - and with slightly better feedback from the community - I decided to join a small roundtable for lunch.

    The organizer was unable to book by phone, so some of us arrived early and got seated in the bar area.  We wanted to sit at a high table for four instead of at the big communal table that seats about ten, but the request was turned down.  Later on another group of four came in, and while they were initially seated at the other end of our communal table, they were soon relocated to the table which we had requested to sit at.  So... did we not look respectable enough?!  Anyway, we ordered up a storm to share...

    First came our starters:

    Seared scallops with carrot puree, treacle bacon, celery cress - the scallops were mi-cuit and pretty decent.  Adding a little bit of bacon with molasses made it a little more interesting than usual.

    Tamarind spiced chicken wings, spring onions, coriander - this was surprisingly tangy, and pretty decent.

    Flat bread, caramelized onions, taleggio cheese, cured pigs cheek, basil pesto - all the toppings were pretty tasty... from the onions to the guanciale (of course!), and even the basil pesto worked well with the rest.  The only issue we had was that the flat bread was... too flat.  There just wasn't enough of it, and we thought Harlan's version at Gold by Harlan Goldstein was better because the bread was a little thicker, which resulted in a better balance.

    The mains arrived together:

    Bread Street Kitchen short rib burger with Monterey jack cheese, spicy sriracha mayo - this was the one item that everyone wrote about in all the reviews I'd seen.  Didn't spend too much time analyzing this, but decided to just chomp on it while it was still warm.  This was OK, and the kick from the sriracha was definitely noticeable.

    Fish and Chips, crushed peas, hand cut chips - honestly, I didn't like using barramundi for this, as it was a little too mushy and flabby.  I would have wanted more bite and texture in my fish.  The batter was fairly thin and soft.  I'm sure many people would have loved the fat, hand-cut potato wedges but not me...

    Traditional shepherd's pie with braised lamb, potato puree, brioche garlic crumbs - by far the best dish of the meal.  This was seriously good.  The lamb was sooo lamby, which was really right up my alley.  The flavors were also very rich, and definitely very traditional.  I'd definitely give this one full marks.  The only downside is that as one would expect, this was really heavy... which meant I had some difficulty eating more than a few spoonful...

    Dingley Dell pork chops 10oz - the major FAIL of the meal.  I realize that some minutes had passed by the time we got to this, but I was very surprised to see that it wasn't even lukewarm but flat out cold.  The plate obviously didn't help in terms of retaining heat.  The other problem is that the meat was tough.  It didn't seem overcooked, and still had juices when you put pressure on the meat, but it just wasn't tender.

    Macaroni cheese - I actually liked this, as I found the cheese flavor to be more interesting and intense.

    I was getting pretty full after the shepherd's pie, but we couldn't exactly leave without reviewing the desserts!  Turns out that was the best decision we made all day, as the desserts were all pretty good.

    Pineapple carpaccio, passion fruit, coconut sorbet - WOW!  This was really damn good!  The cold slices of pineapple were very refreshing, and the passion fruit provided even more acidity here - not to mention an additional layer of fragrance.  But the best part was the coconut sorbet, which was surprisingly rich and intense in terms of its coconut flavor.  Yum!

    Banana Sticky toffee pudding, Muscovado caramel, clotted cream - what's not to love about toffee and caramel?!  'Nuff said.

    Chocolate tart, salted caramel ice cream - very rich chocolate, and again, what's not to like about caramel?!

    We were very, very stuffed at the end of the meal.  There was just a chunk of stuff sitting in my stomach, and it would be there until well into dinner time...

    Lunch today was OK.  There were only two obvious fails - although both were mains - and there were even a couple of highlights.  But when the desserts clearly outshine the savories at a restaurant, you kinda do have to wonder...

    Last week I had a conversation with a chef who felt that Gary was being a little unfair in saying that diners here were paying a premium for ordinary gastropub food.  Having tasted the food myself, I now feel somewhat qualified to add my own comment on this.  Yes, I do think the food was pretty ordinary, although that wasn't any different from my expectations before the meal.

    Were we paying a premium?  Divided evenly, each of us had the equivalent of a 3-course lunch, and our cost was about HKD 430 or so per head, inclusive of service charge.  Not ridiculously expensive, but not cheap by any means.  Could we have done better elsewhere in town?  Well, the cheapest set lunch L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon offers costs HKD 478 before the 10% service charge.  But you also get an amuse bouche at the beginning and mignardises at the end, plus a cup of coffee or tea.  So when you take all of that into account, suddenly Robuchon doesn't look expensive compared to Gordon Ramsay's gastropub anymore.  And whose food do you think I'd rather be eating on any given day?  Oncle Joël, of course!  Do I choose fine dining or gastropub for the same price?  That's a no-brainer.

    Thanks to the celebrity hype, Bread Street Kitchen is booked flat out for weeks to come, and no doubt it will do brisk business like many other Dining Concepts outlets.  You just won't find me at one of its tables, because there's precious little there that will draw me back.

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  • 10/31/14--05:54: Money CAN buy happiness
  • Butcher's Club Burger has generated a lot of buzz in the months since its opening, with its staple of dry-aged beef burgers along with a bunch of off-menu items on their "Secret Menu".  It's also been running a series of "Burger Takeover" offerings where different chefs around town come in and do their special versions of burgers for a limited time.  I liked the burger (actually, half a burger) I had the only time I went, and even though I was mostly drunk at the time, I remember being impressed.  Unfortunately all I've heard since then was that the lines are simply too long at regular meal times, so I never went back for another bite.

    A few days ago I found out that the latest Burger Takeover features a burger put together by Gregoire Michaud, who also put together some very sinful looking bacon profiteroles that I saw pictures of.  After a few of my friends went and provided positive feedback, I figured it was time to make the trek and grab one for myself.

    So it's Friday night, OF COURSE there was gonna be a hungry crowd!  This would have been a good time to pull out that Food Writer Card and skip the line, but alas, I don't have one...  So I dutifully walked up to the cashier and tried to place my order.

    Me: I'd like to take the special burger.
    Marcin at the cashier: Which one?
    Me: Well, the new one from Gregoire.  I can't remember the name off the top of my head.
    Marcin: Well, I can't give it to you unless you can tell me the name.  That's how it works around here...
    Me: Oh come on!  Don't make me look it up on Facebook!  *takes out phone and starts looking for the name*

    I was getting a little annoyed at having to play this little game, but eventually Marcin relents and let me order without telling him that I wanted the Hamburguesa.  I also get a can of root beer and retreat to a corner and wait for the number to be called.

    A couple of minutes later, Marcin calls me over and gives me the bad news.  They've run out of Manchego for the burger.  The chef comes over and asks me what I'd like for him to do.  They can substitute plain old cheddar and still serve me the burger, although it wouldn't taste exactly the way Gregoire intended; or they could offer me a different burger.  Well, the reason I trekked all the way here was for Gregoire's Hamburguesa, so I decided to stick with it despite the cheese substitution.  I'm a little more annoyed than I had been while ordering, but shit happens and I've already paid for the burger.  I didn't want to leave on an empty stomach and come back another day.

    As I sat at the very end of the counter by myself and waited for my burger, Marcin comes over again to check my order number.  He then opens up the cashier, takes out some cash and puts it down in front of me.  He said he felt bad that I couldn't get the burger exactly as it should be, so he was offering a 50% refund (including the drink).  I thanked him and told him that it wasn't necessary, since it was "just a piece of cheese", but he insisted.

    So in a matter of seconds, all the annoyances I had felt in the last few minutes just magically disappeared.  Poof!  Thanks to this kind of good service - where restaurants offer a little discount as a gesture of goodwill towards a customer who may or may not feel slighted - I was now perfectly happy with my situation.  While HKD 210 for a burger and a can of soda felt like a (perhaps justified) premium, having it at HKD 105 was without a doubt a real bargain!

    So I guess happiness CAN indeed be bought... and in my case for a mere HKD 105.

    After it arrived, I grabbed a knife to cut my burger in half, and started chomping.

    This was definitely a serious burger.  The patty is made with iberico pork, smoked bacon and chorizo.  I could definitely taste the acidity and the spices coming from the chorizo, and of course the smokiness of the bacon.  The cheddar neither added to nor detracted much from the overall package.  The layer of quince paste on top added some sweetness to go with the pork, while the layer of tomato tapenade at the bottom kinda pulled things away from the quince in the opposite direction.  Then there was the pickled chili pepper on top, which I chose to nibble on separately.

    That was a very good burger, and at half price, it was an immensely satisfying burger.

    Halfway through chomping, Marcin came over and wanted to offer me some Bourbon, as he said something about "hate to see you sit there and drink alone"... (I was drinking my root beer from a can, by the way)  I must have looked fucking pitiful... sitting alone in a corner on a Friday night, with nary a friend in sight.  That was a very friendly gesture, and while I very much appreciate this I turned him down.  Happiness level went up again, and this time I didn't even take anything.

    This was a pretty quick in-and-out for me, and on my way out Marcin told me to come back the next time I felt like drinking some Bourbon with him.

    I strolled down the street and headed for the subway station, but stopped at an outlet of Cali-Mex I hadn't seen before.  I wasn't interested in anything savory, but glancing at the menu I noticed that they have churros.  Now THAT is something I haven't had in a while... so I ordered one up.

    These were pretty long sticks, and because they were freshly made the centers were still a little soft.  I definitely tasted a little cinnamon in the dough, and proceeded to soak up as much of that caramel sauce as I possibly could - despite knowing that it wasn't pure caramel but made with some oily, possibly artificial substance.  It didn't matter.  I wanted something sweet, and I'm usually too full after dinner to go out of my way for some churros.  These sticks did their jobs very nicely.

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