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

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  • 11/02/14--23:52: Lunch on the rocks
  • I have been remiss.  It's been months since I last paid Chef Uwe Opocensky a visit, and every once in a while he'll drop hints which, over time, became increasingly less subtle.  When it became painfully obvious that Uwe was feeling neglected and unloved, I roped a friend into doing lunch with me at the Mandarin Grill + Bar, then pinged Uwe and told him I was coming.  After all, we both love Uwe's food, and really should take time to visit our friends more regularly...

    After sitting down at our table by the window - which, by the way, has plenty of lighting for pictures - Uwe came over to check on us.  Now, when a chef asks you to go visit him so you could try out some new dishes, it is best to leave things up to the chef.  So we dispensed with ordering, but I pleaded with Uwe "not to kill me" with too much food - like the time when I almost exploded in the restaurant...  He promised to go easy on me.  Uh-huh.

    We were offered a glass of "R" de Ruinart to start.  I hadn't planned on drinking at lunch, but decided it would be poor form to turn down the Champagne.  Nicely balanced and very easy to drink.

    When the waitstaff comes over, and asks you to remove the glassware from the table so that he can lay silicone mats on the table top, you know you're in trouble.  Usually the silicone mat comes out at the end of the meal... for the grand dessert presentation that's kinda OTT... so what did this all mean?

    Our "starter" was in fact a whole series of seafood, and Uwe simply called it "a taste of the seaside".

    First Uwe came and sprinkled a bunch of fermented beer soil around.  Then the staff came over and laid down a bowl containing pebbles and seaweed, and liquid was poured into the bowl so that the dry ice could release the scent of the sea.  This was by now a familiar sight, and Uwe said he works with someone in Spain for the scent - which makes sense considering Azurmendi has a presentation like this.  Then someone brought a big rock and set it in the middle of the bowl, and the staff proceeded to bring out more rocks, progressively - each bearing a different type of seafood on top.

    Oysters - coming in two different flavors.  My friend had the one with sake granita while I took the one with lemon foam.

    I really liked this.  There was plenty of acidity, but also sweetness so it wasn't all one-way - kinda like having lemon sorbet.  There was also caviar here.

    By the way the fermented beer soil didn't taste like beer to us, even though Uwe mentioned something about Oktoberfest... If anything it may have tasted a little like malt, and was savory in general.  Scooping the occasional spoonful into the mouth together with some of the seafood seemed to provide interesting results.

    Pebbles - we were told some were real but others merely looked like pebbles.  We were able to distinguish them by poking a couple with our forks.

    It turns out these were blocks of tuna, wrapped in layers of gelatin.  The gelatin was made with capers and gherkins, which provided the acidity to balance out the flavors from the tuna.  When I ate the gelatin together with the tuna, I had real trouble distinguishing any flavors from the gelatin.  It was only when I deliberately separate the gelatin and tasted it on its own that the acidity really came through.  Pretty interesting...

    King crab -  these were sections of Alaskan king crab legs where meat from the two ends had been removed and replaced with mayonnaise.  Gotta say that the crab meat tasted incredible - so full of flavors of the sea.  And little wonder that mayo went beautifully with crab meat...

    Razor clams - diced razor clams were served on a bed of soil, along with fennel, dill and dill flowers.  Lovely both in terms of presentation as well as flavors.

    Lobster tartare - After the first round of rocks, Uwe brought us a new one, and this came with a layer of lobster tartare smeared on one side, sprinkled with powdered seaweed.

    We were to grab one of the paper-thin chips made from scallops, and scrape the lobster off the rock.  That way we could have both lobster and scallops in the same mouthful.  Definitely very interesting... and once again we're playing with our food.

    Cured salmon - Uwe described this as a cross between gravlax and smoked salmon, where the salmon is first cured, then cooked, and finally smoked.  Served with salmon roe, caviar, spinach, and sprinkled with freeze-dried seaweed powder.

    Langoustine - fresh and tasty, and perfectly done.  Interestingly served with a dab of sauce that seemed to be made of the langoustine tomalley.  Yum.

    Clam chowder - we were presented with these two-layer contraptions and the chowder was poured into the top layer.

    The liquid slowly drained through holes into the bottom cup, while the tiny vegetable balls remained.  Curiously, there were no clams in the clam chowder... but it was tasty nevertheless.

    With that, our trip to the seaside was finally over.  It was time to move on to a seasonal ingredient - white truffles from Alba.

    Macaroni: handmade, mushroom, cream, white truffle - Uwe brought out a bowl of mushroom macaroni, then mixed two duck egg yolks into the bowl - creating that golden hue.  Then came the white truffle shavings.  Uwe said the quality of his current shipment is the best so far, and it really showed.  The fragrance was simply incredible.  Together with chanterelles and ceps, I felt like I was in mushroom heaven.

    And that duck egg yolk... you really gotta have yolk to make that thick, sticky sauce.  So damn good I had to wipe the plate clean.  Of course, I ain't no I Love Lubutin so I ain't got no skillz with my index finger, but I have fork use, and I think I did a pretty decent job cleaning my plate with it...

    Thankfully that was the last of it.  Both of us were really full, and there was only room for some madeleines.  We each got a "regular" as well as a chocolate madeleine, and both were delicious.  We even got one to take back to the office.

    This was certainly beyond our expectations, but I should have known better than to think that I could have a "normal" lunch when Uwe knows I'm around.  Both of us left the restaurant satiated, and wishing that we could spend the next hour strolling to digest our lunch instead of going back to our desks...

    We really are overdue for another visit to the Krug Room...

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  • 11/04/14--07:57: 19 grams
  • A couple of weeks ago, my friend David Lai announced that he was running a white truffle promotion at his restaurants "at cost" to celebrate the opening of his new joint Neighborhood.  I had missed out on some great value truffles at a dinner last week due to a missing shipment, but I was determined to get some, so I roped in My Favorite Cousin - who's always up for a good meal - and another friend and headed back to Neighborhood.

    I saw a few familiar faces as soon as I walked through the door.  The boss lady was in the house, and there was also Dashijie and her hubby at the table next to ours.  I later found that another friend had been at the restaurant for the first seating.  Looks like many of us simply couldn't pass up this great deal!

    First order of business, before we get to anything else, was to go pick out our truffle.  Diners get to pick out their very own whole truffle, have it weighed on a scale to figure out the cost, then brought to the table with a shaver... so that YOU could DIY and decide how much to shave over which dish.  Being a greedy bastard, I naturally picked the biggest piece on offer.  This little baby weighed in at just under 57 grams, which worked out to about 19 grams for each of us.  That seemed like a pretty decent amount...

    Even though a bunch of us had "swept the menu" on my first visit, David is now changing the menu weekly, and also introduced a bunch of "white truffle friendly" items.  I was given the task of ordering for the three of us, which didn't work out so well... since I ended up ordering way too much food...

    Whipped lardo bruschetta - is there a universe in which I wouldn't order lardo, in any form?  I suppose not.  This was wonderful... with the richness from the fat together with the saltiness from curing, and the fragrance and extra kick from the piment d'espelette.  Oh, and some shaved white truffle on top to boot!

    Frog legs fritter provencal - a different preparation of frog legs compared to my last visit.  Loved the acidity from the tomatoes.  Very provençal, indeed.  No truffle on this one.

    Fried egg / spinach cream / pomme puree - eggs and truffles are just like peas in a pod, but I was surprised to see a plain fried egg here instead of the usual scrambled version.  But oh, man... egg plus the spinach and the truffle...  Muah!

    Tripe gratin - loved this the last time, so I gotta have it again.  Reasonably tender and still got that little kick of the tomato sauce at the end.  No truffle on this, either.

    Bone marrow risotto - the only fail of the night.  The flavors were absolutely wonderful even without the white truffle.. with chunks of rich bone marrow, and pearl onions providing some sweetness.  But the rice itself was all wrong.  Yes, it wasn't fully cooked or soft, but it wasn't al dente the way it was meant to be... where the exterior would start to disintegrate and the starch would start getting into the stock, and the rice would start to stick to your teeth.  No, this was more like soupy rice to me.

    Spaghetti alla bottarga - I was advised against ordering this because it wouldn't go with the truffle, but there is no universe in which I wouldn't.

    In the end I shaved some truffle on top anyway.  I don't think they particularly clashed, but it wasn't an amazing combination.  I still wish the noodles were covered in a bit more oil instead of being so dry.

    Ricotta agnolotti - it's not the first time I've had agnolotti with white truffle, but it was the first time they were filled with ricotta.  So full of creamy goodness, and what a beautiful combination!

    Pigsfeet / veal sweetbread / chanterelle ragout - David Lai sure knows how to push my buttons... lardo, bottarga, bone marrow, pig's feet...  This was a wonderful hodgepodge that included celery, wood ear, carrots, pearl onions, and croûtons, in addition to the main ingredients.  Of course there was also a soft-boiled egg to add even more richness to the dish.  I didn't shave any truffles on top, but supposedly they went well together.

    Porcini - this wasn't originally part of our order, but we were told about this "special" off-menu item as we were finishing up the savory dishes... and of course we said yes.  Nice, big shrooms cooked in a cast iron cocotte, along with strips of pancetta and herbs like thyme.

    Did we shave some fungus on top of a fungus dish?  Mais, bien sûr!

    Finally, it was time for dessert!  And we saved up some truffle for this, too...

    Vanilla ice cream - incredibly, the restaurant ran out of their salted caramel ice cream... which My Favorite Cousin and I had been looking forward to since we got here.  We should have ordered it right from the start!  I was actually tempted to run out to the nearest 7-11 and grab a tub of the Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel ice cream...  In the end we took their vanilla ice cream, which was still home made... because I know vanilla works with truffle, too.

    As I prepared to shave the truffle over the ice cream, boss lady came over and said "Let it snow!" So I did.  And it was sooooooo damn good!

    Chocolate palette - this was good the last time, so let's try it with some white truffle, shall we?  As it turns out, chocolate is waaaay too strong for white truffle.  However, if you take only a smidgen of chocolate with some white truffle, that ratio would then create a magical combination that transcends both.  One plus one would truly become greater than the sum of its parts.  Thanks to My Favorite Cousin for figuring out the golden ratio.

    Finally, we were offered a few canelés to finish off the evening.  I saw this mountain placed next to the white truffles when I first came in, but by the time we finished they were down to the last few...

    ...which may explain why we got the leaning canelés of NoHo... Still pretty perfect in taste and texture, just not in form.

    Since we were having white truffles, it was only right that we drank something from the same neighborhood... so I brought a bottle that I knew to be over-the-hill but would still complement the flavors.

    1970 Gaja Barbaresco - no longer any fresh and vibrant sweet fruit here, but it's smooth on the palate, with noticeable acidity, a bit smoky and leather notes.

    I was stuffed beyond belief... and I didn't think that would happen tonight.  We all had a great time, though, and we went home with the fragrance of white truffle still lingering around us.  I've already made reservations for my next visit...

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  • 11/05/14--23:29: Not exactly Chinatown
  • One of the most talked about hyped up openings this year has to have been Mott 32.  Named after a historic address in New York's Chinatown, it would be easy to assume that this is another gweilo-friendly place to have bastardized Chinese food in an expensively decked out setting.  I have been told that it isn't, but I never had the opportunity to check it out for myself.  I had missed out on attending the opening party, and then had to cancel another dinner I had planned there.

    So when my friendly neighborhood prime broker sent out an invitation for a roundtable lunch here, I wasted no time in accepting that invitation.

    This was a work lunch and the menu was preset.  The bunch of us squeezed into the smaller of the private rooms, and I was more than a little embarrassed when my host kept asking if the food was up to my standards... Am I that much of a food snob??  No need to answer that question...

    Pork belly salad rolls, garlic and chilli dressing (蒜泥白玉) - not bad.

    Dry fried squid, sweet chilli and lime zest sauce (香檸甜辣鮮魷) - I was wondering why the batter was a pretty dry and hard, since the texture was very different from the deep-fried squid I normally enjoy.  I guess this was done in one of those "air fryers", albeit a "professional" version?  The garlic powder must have gone though the same process, as it was much more "powdery" than usual.  The garlic flavor actually wasn't so in-your-face, although it was still strong.  Definitely the "healthy" version as it wasn't nearly as greasy.

    Mott32 dim sum delights (點心薈萃) - there were four items here:
    King prawn har gau (水晶蝦餃皇) - not bad, but the skin was a little bit on the delicate side, and as it was sticking to chopsticks and whatnot, there was always a danger of puncturing as one picked it up and moved it around...

    Spot prawn, pork and crab roe siu mai (黑豬肉鮮蝦蟹子燒賣)

    Kurobuta pork, crab and caviar Shanghainese soup dumplings (蟹肉魚子醬小籠包) - this was OK but not sure why they bothered to put a tiny bit of caviar on top.  Oh and RED VINEGAR?!  Tsk, tsk tsk...

    Wild mushroom, water chestnut dumplings (野菌馬蹄餃) - this was pretty tasty.

    Crispy roasted pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔) - pretty decent, but... I still haven't had that char siu (叉燒) that EVERYONE talked about.  I guess I'll have to come back another day on my own dime...

    Aged black vinegar sweet and sour pork (陳年黑醋咕嚕肉) - batter here was pretty crunchy and reminded me a little of the batter for the squid.  Black vinegar isn't traditional for the dish, but it works.  Served with cubes of dragon fruit, yellow capsicum and spring onions.

    Black cod, potato, chilli, garlic, spring onion (宮廷雪魚堡) - with a layer of batter and corn starch coating.  Very soft, to the point that it broke apart when people tried to pick the pieces up with chopsticks.  Pretty decent flavor-wise.

    Stir-fried prawns, pumpkin, salty egg (南瓜金沙蝦球) - a different take on the "traditional", with a very puffy batter enveloping the prawn.  The salty egg yolk didn't coat the entire prawn, but was applied in lumps to each prawn.  Downside is that depending on how big your mouth is, you could have bites of this without any yolk.  Upside is that some mouthfuls could be full of yolk.  Pretty tasty, regardless.

    Braised eggplant, minced meat, chilli (魚香茄子煲) - this was OK.

    Sautéed asparagus, water chestnut, gingko nuts (銀杏馬蹄炒蘆筍) - also with some wood ear fungus (黑木耳).

    Fried rice, pork belly, preserved vegetables, egg (客家炒飯) - nice and crunchy preserved radish (蘿蔔干), along with some sweet sugar snaps.

    The two desserts came together.  Mott's amber - osmanthus flower, wolfberry (杞子桂花糕) was pretty good, with the usual fragrance from the osmanthus.

    Sugar coated baked custard bun (脆皮奶皇飽) - this was OK.

    Overall I thought the food was pretty decent, but not much "wow" factor.  Of course I didn't pay for the food today, but I seem to remember quite a number of people getting sticker shock after dining here.  I'll have to dig out the menu and check the prices again...  But in any case, many thanks to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for feeding me today!

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  • 11/07/14--00:54: Game preview
  • It's been a few months since my last awesome meal at Amber, and I was looking forward to returning with a couple of out of town guests next week.  While discussing my upcoming visit at a dinner last week, Chef David Lai mentioned that he'd like to come along and see Chef Richard Ekkebus... especially after Richard was snubbed by that stupid red book yet again recently.  It was time to show him some love, so I pinged a few people and rounded up a quartet for lunch today.

    It's game season, so I checked with Richard about what was on offer, then chose both partridge and wild hare after consulting the gang.  I understand that Richard does a different version of lièvre à la royale every year, so we were definitely looking forward to that!

    About an hour before lunch, I Love Lubutin pinged me to tell me that a big deal's come up and she had to work through lunch.  That's obviously a real bummer for all of us, as we would miss her company - and another opportunity to watch the famous finger at work.

    I took a look at our menu upon arrival, and I knew that I was in trouble.  There were 5 courses - plus the amuses bouches and petits fours.  This was gonna be no short lunch, and I would have to carry my stomach outta here...

    First we started with a drink... a little bit of ice-cold Silver Needle (白毫銀針) tea, with a piece of cucumber, a bit of Granny Smith apple sauce, and a tiny sliver of lemon zest.  The tea was certainly fragrant, but so delicate and elegant... not at all in-your-face.  A wonderful start to our lunch.

    Then the nibbles started coming our way...

    The wooden masu (枡) had a layer of pumpkin seeds, on top of which sat a squid ink pita bread filled with celeriac purée, topped with a slice of autumn truffle.  Very nice.  Beside it was a crispy rice cracker, with dots of apple and pumpkin purée.  Not bad, either.

    The signature foie gras lollipops, with beetroot jelly on the outside, a beetroot chip and a brioche wafer on top.  One bite.

    Finally we had a chestnut ravioli with yellow wine (vin jaune?) and trompette de la mort, with a dab of apple purée on top.

    Our amuse bouche was diced Jerusalem artichoke, cep foam and cep chips on top.  Our waiter told us the chips were artichoke, but Sebastien told us they were ceps.  So who do you think I was gonna listen to?  Anyway this was beautiful... with the crunch of the sunchokes combined with the crispiness from the ceps - all combined with the rich, earthy flavors from the cep foam.

    Fukuoka 'hobo' fish: confit in extra virgin olive oil with fennel, tomato and black winter truffle compote - wow!  This was simply a gorgeous-looking dish!  It's beautifully presented without being OTT.  I know Richard has just returned from a "shopping trip" in Fukuoka so this must have been one of his "catches"...  Hidden underneath the fish was a beautiful compote of tomato, black truffle and fennel (did I hear celery?)  There were tiny round discs of crispy fish skin on top, along with fleur de sel and some perilla flowers.  That saffron bouillon was just... incredible.  And it was surprisingly viscous - to the point I thought I was drinking syrup.  Very, very nice.

    Cuttlefish: à la carbonara with quail egg yolk, pearl onion petals and smoked Alsatian bacon - now this was a dish I had been wanting to try for a while, having seen pictures come across on social media.  Very long, thin strips of cuttle fish, presented as if they were fettuccine or pappardelle...

    Of course, Sebastien came over with a rather large white truffle from Alba, and proceeded to shave enough of it on top so that we could no longer see what was underneath...

    What a beautiful dish!  The texture of the cuttlefish was just so delicate, and I loooooove carbonara!  Here we've got the crispy pearl onions and really thin strips of bacon - both of which added nice touches.  And what more could be said about the most amazingly fragrant white truffles?  As Richard said, he only uses white truffles which have been certified to have come from Alba.  Thank you, sir, can I have another?

    With our game dishes coming up, I decided to get a glass of red... and left it to Sebastien to choose something for us.

    2003 Dominio de Atatua - very ripe, maybe over-ripe, fruit on both the nose and the palate.  A little sharp alcohol.  A very big wine even at over 10 years of age, with tannins still very noticeable.

    Wild partridge: roasted and hay smoked, topped with Jerusalem artichoke and belotta lardo with cep mushrooms and poached Japanese grapes - here we go... the first of the two game dishes we asked for.  This was brought out in a cast iron cocotte, and the smoke hit us as soon as the lid was taken off.  Amazing!

    Then it was plated with pearl onions, half of a cep mushroom that has been beautifully grilled, little bits of autumn truffle, poached Japanese grapes and artichoke purée.  The partridge itself was beautiful - with a ton of smoky flavors that kinda overpowered the gamey flavors of the bird itself.  Beyond the series of sunchoke medallions, it was the rather sizable piece of bellota lardo that really moved me... naturally!  Oh and the beautiful jus...

    On the side we have the leg of the partridge, confit and served with mashed potatoes and topped with a layer of ceps.  Very, very delish.  I was getting kinda full but I still finished this whole thing...

    Wild hare: 'à la royale' pie, caramelized persimmon, Brussel sprouts, and black trumpet mushrooms - Richard brought out this very impressive "pie" with a nice little "pie hole" in the middle.  Basically a "Wellington" that was then divided into 5 tranches...

    ...then plated with some grilled Brussel sprouts, chanterelles, caramelized persimmon.  I wonder if the little black dots were made from trompette de la mort...  Looking at the pie, the loin of the hare is at the center, wrapped with a layer of celeriac.  It is then surrounded by a layer of "duxelles" made with black truffle, liver...etc. - all enclosed inside the pastry.  Last but not least, you gotta have the sauce that makes it a "royale"... real thick and rich from all that liver and blood.

    Ever since I was first introduced to lièvre à la royale 6 years ago, I've had it a bunch of times in different places... ranging from the very rustic version from Michel Troisgros'La Colline du Colombier, to the very nouvelle and refined version I first tasted at Philippe Rochat's Le Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville, to the classic version from Anne-Sophie Pic at Pic... and even David's made me one at On Lot 10.  But this one definitely takes the cake for being the most impressive and special...  Just look at how perfectly tender that loin was!

    But one needs sometime to balance out this very heavy dish, and we were served an autumn salad on the side - which consisted of butter lettuce, truffles and a very light vinaigrette.

    The Great One was surprised that both David and I managed to finish our tranches... and I surprised myself, too, since I was pretty full after the partridge!

    Before we even get to dessert, there's pre-dessert... the familiar coconut ice cream coated with chocolate and rice crispies.

    A.O.P. 'Solliès' figs: over olive oil sablée with brocciu fresco A.O.P., organic lemon, fig blossom honey and shiraz wine sorbet - made with Solliès figs that even Grégoire Michaud raves about.  Fresh almonds, olive oil caviar, brocciu fresco cheese... etc.  Pretty busy here!

    Plus a whole fig poached in wine.  Just beautiful!

    What an absolutely fantastic meal!  I was completely stuffed.  I needed to run around Central for 3 hours just to digest this lunch... and there was no way I was eating dinner anytime soon... IF I was gonna eat dinner at all tonight.  Very grateful to Richard for generously sending out all the extra dishes beyond what we had asked for.

    Lo and behold, our petits fours!  How strange that they should just appear without any one of us asking... and no, we did not have to pop the "golden question / 董太金句" that a certain Scumbag (now) famously asked... because they absolutely know all three of us.  Very well.

    Anyway, I left most of it untouched, but couldn't resist the calissons.

    Now, I've promised a few years ago (and have been reminded recently of that promise) not to deliver any more WTFs when it comes to the stupid Guide Michelin in Hong Kong, but... HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT AMBER IS NOT GIVEN A THIRD STAR?! If you look at the quality of the ingredients, the creativity behind the dishes, the level of execution, the attention to detail both in terms of the flavors as well as the presentation... Richard Ekkebus and his team are certainly at the top of the game here in Hong Kong, and I would be hard-pressed to pick out another restaurant that can edge out these guys easily.  So yeah, Michelin, you got it wrong again... bitch!

    P.S.  A few hours after lunch ended, someone received a delivery which consisted of what was left of the pie... along with the sauce, salad and vinaigrette.  How's that for service, huh?!

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  • 11/11/14--07:33: Macau tour 2014: 76 at Eight
  • I'm back in Macau on a 2-day eating trip, this time tagging along with a couple of guys from QLI.  They're here at the invitation of a couple of hotels, and were kind enough to ask me to join them.

    Their day actually started with lunch at the Tasting Room.  As much as I liked my dinner there early this year, I decided it would be a bad idea to join them for that particular meal given my full feeding schedule for the week.  I will just have to go back another day on my own dime.

    So I would start this trip with dinner at The Eight, which is my book is the only 3-macaron Chinese restaurant around.  The friendly PR team from the Hotel Lisboa set us up in a private room, made the introductions, and left us in the good hands of the appropriate people.

    The amuses bouches, as usual, came as a pair - but one was hot while the other one cold.  The little abalone sat on top of a layer of pomelo jelly.  The sautéed pork neck with bell peppers came in a little bird's nest.

    Steamed cristal blue shrimp dumplings in goldfish shape (藍天使蝦金魚餃) - I've always loved their shrimp dumplings here, but now this is even better with the blue shrimp from New Zealand.  Definitely tastier.

    Puff pastry with river shrimp in purse shape (河蝦肉鬆手袋酥) - very fine puff pastry with many layered rings, which was a little too large and too delicate to pick up with chopsticks.  Not bad.

    Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) and roast pork belly (燒腩仔) - the thick cut barbecued pork was as awesome as I remembered... sooo tender, with marbled fat in the middle.  The roast pork belly, however, was too lean and tough for my liking.

    It's snake season and I heard from some friends that they are now offering snake bisque (蛇羹), so I made a special request to add this to our lineup.  This was one of the best snake soups I have ever come across.  The level of knife work is clearly evident, and the flavors of the ingredients plus the stock were absolutely delicious.  The only issue I had - and this comes down to pure personal preference - was that the chef had put in too much shredded ginger.  This changed the balance of flavors and kept it from being purely elegant and delicate.  The spicy kick at the end was a little too much for me.

    The kaffir lime leaf chiffonade was also very fine here.

    I think the boys from Amsterdam were very happy with their first bowl of snake bisque...

    Crab claw, steamed egg white with ginger and vintage Chinese wine (薑米酒蒸鮮蟹拑) - very nice.  The texture of the crab meat was perfect, and the flavors of the wine were infused into the egg white.

    Deep-fried duck fillet with cristal blue shrimp mousse (藍天使蝦水晶香酥鴨) - probably the only dish I didn't like.  This is a variation on 香酥鴨 but they added a layer of shrimp paste, and the end result was that there was hardly any duck.  I also didn't really like the texture of the mash in the middle, as it was just too wet and sticky.  Served with a "lemon sauce" that seemed to have been made with preserved (and salty) lemon rind.

    Supreme de-boned spare ribs with homemade sweet and sour sauce (至尊京都肉排) -wow!  This was pretty impressive.  Very tasty both in terms of the pork and the sauce.  Served with a pile of shredded onions on the side.

    Underneath the crisp batter - which was lathered with a sweet and sour sauce made with Italian tomatoes - was a millefeuille of pork.  There were at least 3 layers of thinly-sliced pork in this combination.

    Braised beef ribs in The 8 style (8餐廳特色炆原條牛肋骨) - braised for 5 hours.  This was OK, but not particularly special.  Served with chestnuts, ginkgo nuts, mushrooms, goji (枸杞) berries... etc. on the side.

    This was not tough, but also could be a little more tender and juicy.

    Steamed Japanese bean curd pocket stuffed with imperial fungus and sea mosses (羅漢布袋) - I had this on my very first visit, and the texture of the pocket is always interesting.

    Fried rice with wagyu beef (生炒和牛崧飯) - surprising to find that this was cooked with some butter, but then again, they could have just used the fat that's been trimmed off the wagyu.  I remarked to the boys that "you can smell the fat"... and you really could!  Flavors were very heavy here, but oh-so-delicious.  If I had room in my stomach I would have asked for seconds... but there is never room in one's stomach towards the end at this restaurant...

    Bird's nest with egg custard and red bean in snowman shape (燕液雪人包) - I've had this cute little snowman before, so I passed this time and let the boys bite his head off...

    Baked Alaska with red bean sorbet (火焰椰子紅豆蛋糕) - interesting that this is often the cake served to guests celebrating their birthdays at the restaurant.  I actually did like this a lot... as it's been a while since I last had a baked Alaska.

    The flavors from the red bean weren't overpowering, and worked well with the coconut.

    Last, but not least... the Portuguese egg tart (葡撻) and that amazing lil' cup of milk tea.  The tarts today no longer look scrawny, so they were more satisfying.  I gotta say... this is still the best cup of milk tea that I've tasted anywhere.  I dunno what it is, but the Lisboa is justifiably proud of it.

    Whenever I dine within the Lisboa complex, what I look forward to the most is actually the wines I drink with my food.  They really do have the best cellar in Asia, and I make it a habit to browse through it before I even get to Macau.  This time I picked out a few bottles that I wanted to drink, and asked the PR team to arrange for the restaurant to set the bottles out for us ahead of time.

    1976 von Hövel Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese - initially nose of plastic, honey, orange marmalade.  Tasted really nice with the prawn dumplings.  Elegant and beautiful, fresh but a little more mature than the last bottle earlier this year.  More minerality here with white flowers after breathing.

    1976 Jos. Christoffel jr. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese ** in half bottle - initially more muted on the nose and lighter on the palate.  A little bitter on the palate at first, with marmalade.  After breathing this showed much better, with a little spices like nutmeg... like a spiced orange marmalade.  Definitely my favorite of the evening.

    1976 Jos. Christoffel jr. Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese *** in half bottle - bigger on the palate initially, and pretty nice.  Palate turned a little more bitter later.  Least favorite bottle of the evening.

    What a meal!  I'm glad I got the chance to try out a range of dishes that I've never had - several of which are new on the menu.  In my mind, this is still the best Cantonese restaurant in the region.  Their pursuit of excellent is clearly evident when you look at the care with which ingredients are chosen, the attention to detail in terms of the knife skills of the chefs, the presentation... etc.  So the only question I have is: why am I not coming back here every month, or at least every other month?!

    P.S.  This was the third time that I traveled to Macau at the invitation of Hotel Lisboa, where I was provided with a room and invited to taste through some of their best restaurants.  But I'm probably the only idiot they invite who, in trying to show gratitude to his hosts, actually ends up spending more of his own money on wine during the meals than the value of the free food and room being comped...

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    Three years ago I was lucky enough to have visited what I believe to be the best wine cellar in Asia, which belongs to Hotel Lisboa.  The boys at QLI remembered my post, and during dinner last night they asked if a visit could be arranged.  Thankfully the hotel was extremely accommodating, and promptly arranged a tour for us this morning.

    Initially I was rather less interested in another visit to the cellar, as I had already seen the scope and some of the gems before, but I tagged along anyway.  I would quickly realize what a good decision that was.

    The collection has gotten bigger since my last visit, and now encompass more than half a million bottles with over 14,000 labels - which probably puts it among the top 3 restaurant cellars in the world and probably the largest in Asia.  They now have around 22 cellars of varying sizes spread throughout the complex - in addition to the racks placed at each of their fine dining restaurants - although only 6 of them are of considerable size.  They've built new ones and reorganized their collections, and the result was stunning.

    We started with the first cellar I visited last time, but things have been moved around.  You've got some top Italians, Australians and Champagnes here, like this nice pile of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay and Clos de Mesnil.

    Then we enter the inner sanctum - where the most treasured bottles are kept.  The first thing one notices is a section of old and rare Petrus and Lafite-Rothschild...  This is also where the oldest and rarest of German Trockenbeerenauslese are kept - some of which list for over USD 15,000.

    This bottle of 1921 Staatlichen Weinbaudomäne Niederhäusen-Schloßböckelheim Schloßböckelheimer Kupfergrube TBA - with a nice little swaztika on the label - lists for MOP 65,000 or over USD 8,000.

    They still got a not-inconsiderable collection of Henri Jayer - including the 1959 and 1962 Richebourg... and the '59 has now gone up from MOP 200,000 to 280,000 a pop.

    The other treasures I saw from last time were still here - bottles like 1921 Yquem, 1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle, 1959 Romanée-Conti... Stuff that's one most wine geeks'"bucket list".

    We moved on to one of the new cellars - which was seriously eye-opening in a different way.  There's a large round table in the middle of the room, which seem to be the perfect place to hold a wine tasting.  Radiating outwards are rows and rows of wine racks, and some of those racks consist entirely of wines from a single château or a domaine.  A few of these racks are easily identifiable by pictures of the architectural wine cabinets made by Viscount Linley which corresponds to the châteaux (the actual cabinets are on display at Robuchon au Dôme).

    Here is the Latour and Lafite rack...

    ...and this rack of Yquem has a picture of the Yquem cabinet on the side.

    No guesses for what's on this rack.

    Finally, we were shown a third cellar which held only the Germans and US collections.  Hotel Lisboa quite possibly owns the most impressive collection of German wines anywhere on the planet - especially when it comes to high end wines like BAs and TBAs.  The listing for TBAs take up almost 50 pages of the wine list.

    This led to a situation where, as one of the boys remarked, magnums of 2005 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA Goldkapsel - which list for MOP 158,000 or USD 20,000 - are relegated to the "cheap section" instead of being in the room with all the treasures...

    and yeah, every single box you see here holds Screagles.

    That was some tour!  The people at the Lisboa probably figured they're dealing with a couple of guys who know something about wine, so we ended up with 3 people from the hotel (there were four on my last visit) following us the whole time.  No backpacks are allowed in the cellars, we were told... and if there were any bottles missing after our visit... IT WASN'T ME!

    Many thanks to Mr. Lo for taking time out to show a couple of nobodies like us around...

    P.S.  Later in the day we would spot these four bottles of Yquem - 1825, 1847, 1893 and 1921 - outside Robuchon au Dôme.  Three of those bottles list for a total of around MOP 419,000 or USD 52,000, while the 1847 was so valuable that no price was listed...

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    After the cellar tour, our day continued with lunch at Robuchon au Dôme - one of the finest restaurants in the region.  I didn't have any breakfast this morning so that I could save some stomach space for what was bound to happen at lunch...

    The boys decided that they didn't want to share their food with me.  No half- or third-portions of anything.  So I decided to just order the 4-course lunch - one fewer than usual, and also one fewer than the boys.  For once I wanted to be able to eat dinner after surviving lunch at this place, without feeling like I've swallowed a giant boulder...

    First things first.  Buttah.  The first trolley - and there is a whole series of them in this place - to show up is the butter.  Not just any butter, but from Bordier.  We all asked for the salted version, and watched as our waiter carved it out from the mound with a dinner spoon.

    That's a real pretty sight.  Funny how something so simple can manage to make one so happy.

    The next trolley to show up is, naturally, the bread trolley.  They have already placed a section of them on our table, but wanted to see if there was anything else we wanted...

    I know how much food will be coming our way, so I am pretty disciplined about bread intake today.  But I couldn't resist sharing this beautiful chestnut bread with one of the boys.  The chestnut paste was just delicious...

    I have traditionally chosen a Champagne to go with lunch at this restaurant, and today I went back to an old favorite that is tough to find elsewhere...

    2006 Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Le Creux d'Enfer, dégorgée a 12 avril 2010 - my favorite rosé Champagne.  Lots of fruit here, especially strawberries, and a little yeasty.  Loads of deep, rich flavors here.

    Absolutely love that beautiful color from saignée.

    Our amuse bouche turned out to be delicate prawn royale with fennel foam, crispy prawn with citrus dot.  Pretty good, and the fennel foam worked very well here.

    Le saumon d'écosse, en symphonie de tartare au pousses de shiso relevé d'un caviar maraîcher - a nice Scottish salmon tartare with a layer of Puy lentils on top, and decorated with perilla flowers and the ubiquitous gold foil...  Served with country bread, saffron bread, and carta di musica on the side.

    L'oseille, en velouté avec une mousseline de saumon et aux peluches d'aneth - the salmon mousse came with some gorgeous salmon caviar that I love to pop in my mouth...

    ...and the sorrel velouté was then added to the bowl.  This was a beautiful dish.  The flavors of the salmon mousse were nice and delicate, accented by a little dill.  The seasoning of the velouté was a wonderful balance between the acidity of the sorrel and the savory side.  The lightness of the velouté showed the maturity and experience of a chef who has adapted his recipes to both the modern and the local palates.

    Le homard du Maine, escalopé tiédi au beurre d'algues sur un risotto de fregolas avec une sauce coralline - I was going for something completely different, but then I saw the word "fregola"... and like Pavlov's dog, I instinctively responded and began salivating.  It's one of my "buttons" and over the last few years, I've ordered a dish every time the description contains the word "fregola"...

    The lobster, the seafood emulsion and the seaweed butter (from Bordier, no doubt) came together perfectly.  The fregola, though, was a little hard and undercooked today... and didn't show that slightly springy texture I usually get when chewing on it with the slightest pressure from my teeth.

    Ah... the famous Robuchon potato mash!  When the boys saw that only I had a serving, they asked for it, too...  It's the only mashed potato in the world that I religiously lap up.

    Our waitress came over to ask us whether we wanted some cheese or dessert - because the menu did say this course was cheese OR dessert - and was a little taken aback when we said we wanted BOTH...  Thankfully she did indulge our group of three greedy little pigs.

    So the third "chariot" was wheeled over to our table, where I picked out a selection of four: Comté, Mimolette, Charolais that was a tad on the dry side, and a very, very ripe Époisses that was just beautiful.

    Nigel the sommelier came over with a glass of dessert wine for us to try... and wanted us to guess the identity...

    1929 Pla del Fount Maury - like a Late Bottled Vintage Port because of the light tannins and body.  I guessed it was a Rivesaltes... which was close because they are both vin doux naturel from the south of France made with Grenache Blanc.

    Our pre-dessert was passion fruit with rum, coconut mousse, and mango purée.  This combination of tropical flavors was totally up my alley.

    Next up was trolley #4... the dessert trolley.  I picked out just two items:

    Coffee tart - must be the most intensely flavored and delicious coffee dessert I have tasted in recent memory...

    Paris-Brest - with a beautiful praline cream.

    There was also an ice cream trolley, but I chose not to take any.  Instead I did enjoy picking out a few things from trolley #6 - the mignardises trolley.  I chose canelé, chouquette, gingerbread, pear jelly, blackcurrant jelly, vanilla candy and a lollipop.

    Last but not least, coffee.  But I never get the coffee for the sake of drinking coffee... No, the real star of the show here is the caramel sauce.  That's because on my first invitation here, KC and I asked what went into the sauce, and were told that the alcohol was Louis Treize.  Both of our jaws dropped.  Yes, Louis XIII de Remy Martin.  Look up the street price of this cognac.  This goes into the sauce that goes into your coffee.

    Since that day I have decided to drink the sauce straight by pouring it into my spoon.  I don't know if they still use Louis Treize in the sauce today, but the sauce was still pretty awesome.

    An incredibly delightful lunch.  I chose to only have seafood today, and everything was light and well-balanced.  I am thankful to have taken less on the savory side so I could enjoy a little more on the sweet side.  For me this is undoubtedly one of the very best restaurants in the Hong Kong / Macau region - which is in no small part due to its location within the Grand Lisboa.  Once again I am kicking myself for not making quarterly return visits here...

    Many thanks to the Hotel Lisboa for spoiling us.  I will be back soon, with friends, and we will come raid your cellar!

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    My last dinner on this short trip to Macau took place at Golden Flower (金花軒) in the Wynn Macau.  The QLI boys had checked into their rooms at the Wynn, and we were shown to the restaurant by the hotel's PR.  Golden Flower showcases a mixture of Tan (譚家菜), Shandong, and Sichuan cuisines, and honestly I have never had any experience with Tan cuisine - given its relatively short history (just over 100 years) and the fact that it is hardly ever found outside Beijing.  Given that the Rubberman has decided to give this place two macarons, I was naturally curious to see what the hubbub was all about.

    We started with a cup of flower tea, which was a blend of chrysanthemum, osmanthus, magnolia and Oolong.  Served traditionally with the smelling cup (聞香杯) and tasting cup (品茗杯) combination.  Very light and elegant, naturally.

    The amuse bouche was a poached abalone with oyster sauce.  The flavors were rich but not too heavy.

    First up were the assorted appetizers:
    Pork hock terrine (水晶肘子) - basically the same as 肴肉 in Shanghainese cuisine.

    Spiced roasted yellow croaker (五香魚) - this was not bad, and again like the Shanghainese smoked fish (熏魚).

    Sweet and sour cabbage with chili vinaigrette (珊瑚白菜卷) - with a chunk of mango in the middle.

    Tossed jellyfish head with vinegar and garlic (老陳醋拌海蜇頭) - the best of the quartet.  The crunchy texture of the jellyfish head became more manageable once it's been shredded, and the sharp acidity of the aged vinegar really served to sharpen one's appetite.

    Fresh clam and jasmine in chicken soup (茉莉海蚌清雞湯) - if one just casually sipped this soup, one could easily dismiss it as ordinary or even bland.  But this soup - simmered for 8 hours with old free-range chicken, old duck (老母鴨), Jinhua ham (金華火腿) and conpoy (干貝) and strained so it is served clear - is stylistically the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese ichiban dashi (一番出汁).  The flavors are so delicate here, except for a kick from ginger that was stronger than I expected.  I compared this soup to consommé, although consommé can be richer in terms of flavor.  A few jasmine buds floated on top.

    Stewed fish maw with crab claw in supreme chicken broth (蟹肉黃燒魚肚) - the polar opposite of the last soup.  Intensely rich in terms of flavor, thick and viscous thanks to the collagen coming from cooking the fish maw for up to 12 hours.  The crab meat naturally paired well here.  The pieces tonight were pretty big chunks, and they've been deep-fried at low heat as part of the re-hydrating process.

    Broiled beef sliced served with sesame puffs (京蔥爆牛肉配燒餅) - classic Pekinese cuisine... and a very homey dish, too.  Flavors were all there.

    And I love stuffing this into crispy sesame pockets.

    Stir fried bok choi (清炒小白菜) - so young. So tender.

    Imperial dessert (宮廷甜點) - four lil' traditional sweets:
    Traditional sweetened yellow pea cake (豌豆黃) - not too sweet.

    Traditional white kidney bean cake (雲豆卷) - so named because it looks like a cloud.

    Glutinous rice roll with red bean paste (驢打滾) - so named because the soya bean powder on the exterior looks like the yellow earth stirred up by donkeys rolling around on the ground.

    Sticky rice ball, 'Beijing style' (艾窩窩)

    Chocolate mousse - eh?

    Thankfully this was not a huge dinner like the one we had last night.  The only dish that I thought was way, way too much was the fish maw - which was also the most expensive item we had.  But I am grateful to have gotten a little taste of Tan cuisine.  Many thanks to Wynn Macau for the treat, and I'll look for more opportunities to come back to dig a little deeper.

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  • 11/13/14--07:07: Eleventh at 10
  • I'm back in Hong Kong but the eating continues.  Tonight I'm back at On Lot 10 for the 11th time in as many months, meeting a bunch of knowledgeable "foodies".  The Great One was kind enough to invite me along, and despite the calories I had already accumulated this week, I was only too happy to go for another round at my favorite restaurant in town.

    Once again David decided to send out way too much food for our party... He must think that our stomachs are actually twice their actual size! A couple of us had discussed before dinner to coordinate the wines we were bringing tonight, and I think it worked out OK...

    Salted cod, truffle potato / "taoyoran" egg / truffle sauce - I really liked this the last time, and it was very simple yet enjoyable tonight.  I normally don't eat much potato, but I found myself unable to resist the acidity in them tonight, which worked wonders with the salted cod.

    1998 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune - nice minerality here with flinty notes, along with some wite flowers.  Kinda lean on the palate.  There's ripeness but the finish is still acidic.  With the salted cod and potatoes, the wine turned very metallic with salty minerals... which was not so pleasant.

    Beef tongue salad, foie gras / leek / hazelnut / white truffle - tonight this was even better, thanks to all that white truffle David shaved on top.  The thin slices of beef tongue were almost melt-in-your-mouth, while the foie gras shaving actually did melt in the mouth.  And the truffle...

    Then came this totally uncessary salad, with dandelion, chicory, lardons, croûtons...

    The cocotte with David's signature bouillabaisse was brought to our table, and you can just see all the goodies inside that are contributing to the wonderful flavors of this soup...

    Then our bowls came - each with half a lobster - and the rich, thick soup was slowly ladled on top.  The lobster was very, very good... and the bouillabaisse itself was as good as I've ever had it from David.  Tonight the rouille seemed thicker than I remembered, and with a pretty strong kick from the pepper.  I couldn't stop myself from lathering a second and a third slice of bread with it!

    Aged Acquerello risotto, rice birds - the texture of the risotto tonight could have been better, but never mind that.  What lay on top of the risotto were two little rice birds (禾花雀), wrapped in pancetta and speared with a twig of rosemary.  The Great One was happy.  There were also chunks of bone marrow in the risotto, and now I was happy...

    ...then David once again came over and shaved enough white truffle on top so that we could no longer see anything else.  Now EVERYONE was happy.

    2004 Ponsot Morey Saint Denis Cuvée des Grives - nose was very open and lovely, with leather, bacon, farmy, and floral notes like violet.  Also a little smoked meat later.  A beautiful wine to drink now.

    Chicken in salt crust "demi deuil" with truffle under skin

    David uses local farmed chicken, and it was delicious served with autumn vegetable casserole.  Initially just wanted a little wing, but it was incredibly salty thanks to the crust... so I took a slice of the breast that turned out to be very tender.

    2003 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - more alcoholic, sweeter both on the nose and the palate.  Honestly a little disappointing tonight.

    Lomo de Rubia Galega - ah yes... so this is my 8th time having Rubia Galega since I was introduced to it earlier this year, and I still find it totally awesome.  Most of the table hadn't had it before, and I once again introduced it as something along the lines of: "this may not be the best beef you've ever had, but you've probably never had something like it before".  A 12-year old Galician ox, slaughtered after having lived a pretty long life, and dry aged for 120 days or more for that unique flavor and tenderness.  Simply amazing.  And the best taters and lettuce to go along with it!

    2004 CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva - decanted for more than an hour before serving.  Minty nose, still a little closed, with some grilled meat.  Still pretty big tannins here so it stood up to the beef, but at least there's some acidity here and went along with the sauce for the lettuce.

    I was dying.  I'd been full since the risotto, and with every other bite I kept adjusting my pants under the table while secretly hoping that no one - especially the guest of honor - would notice.  I had deliberately paused for a few minutes before taking my one slice of the beef, and now I was in pain.

    I told the staff sternly that we could take no cheese or dessert, but David insisted on sending up some fruit.  The persimmon were incredibly sweet and crunchy, and each quarter seemed the size of a small fist.  The atemoya was pretty ripe and sweet.

    A wonderful evening with delicious food and wine. Many thanks to our guest of honor for the treat.

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  • 11/14/14--07:32: 3 Dutchies in Hong Kong
  • A week after my fantastic long lunch with game meats, I'm back at Amber for dinner tonight.  Once again I'm tagging along with the boys from QLI, which means I was with not one but three Dutchies tonight.  If you thought Chef Richard Ekkebus was tall, lemme tell ya... I felt like I was in a show called "My Life as a Midget" tonight!

    Our welcome drink tonight: Silver Needle (白毫銀針) tea, with cucumber marinated in soda water, a dollop of Granny Smith apple sauce, and a sliver of lemon zest.  Nice and refreshing.

    Richard also started us with a glass of Champagne...

    Alfred Gratien Cuvée Brut Classique - very ripe on the nose, ripe mid-palate but the acidity comes out on the finish.  Lots of toasty oak, with minerals and sweetness on the nose.

    The menu was set by Richard, who just flew in this morning from Singapore.  First came the usual canapés:

    Signature foie gras lollipops

    Squid ink pita bread - filled with celeriac purée, topped with autumn truffle

    Chestnut ravioli - with yellow wine and trompette de la mort, with apple purée on top

    Our amuse bouche was the same one I had last week: diced Jerusalem artichoke, cep foam and cep chips on top.  Loved the earthy flavors brought out by the warmth of the dish, as well as the acidity whetting my appetite.

    Ebisu winter oyster : with seaweed, potato and raw shallots slaw, in tomato water cloud with chipolata 'crumble' - the oyster was steamed, and served with strands of nori seaweed.  The tomato water "cloud" provided the nice acidity to go along with the saltiness here.  Those little bits of bacon... mmmm...

    Langoustine : served raw with cauliflower couscous and purée, aka sea urchin and beef consomé jelly - with oyster leaves, chervil and croutons on top.

    At the start of dinner, Sebastien came to show us the white truffle from Alba which we would be enjoying tonight, which chef de cuisine Maxime had called a "potato" on his Instagram account...

    Now it was shaved over the dish.  Amazing balance here.  The strips of langoustine, sea urchin tongues, slightly savory beef consommé jelly, the mildly sweet cauliflower mousse... and then the incredibly fragrant white truffles.  Each has its own distinctive flavor, but nothing felt overpowering or out of whack.  That's not easy to achieve.

    'Cèpes' mushrooms : autumn fruits and fresh 'wet' walnut salad, mushroom tea and mushroom 'duxelles' cigar with mushroom caramel - 'tis the season for mushrooms, and we got some nice ceps here.  There were also mushroom flavored caramels made to look like brown button mushrooms, until you cut into them and realize they're filled with cream.  This whole mélange also had slices of red and green apples, elderberries, golden raspberries, hazelnut chocolate wafers and walnuts.  The mushroom tea on the side is just one of my favorite drinks here - so warm and comforting with the earthy flavors of autumn.

    The duxelles cigar was very, very nice.

    Cuttlefish : a la carbonara with quail egg yolk, pearl onion petals and smoked Alsatian bacon - I looooved this dish last week, and I'm so glad I got to have it again tonight.  Carbonara is arguably my favorite way to have pasta, and here the quail egg yolk just made it so rich and tasty.  The tiny strips of smoked bacon made it real yummy, too.  Finally, I just can't get over the joys of biting into the cuttlefish "noodles" and feeling that slightly springy texture between my teeth.

    Of course, just about everything gets better when you shave white truffle on top...

    2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba - decanted around 8 hours before serving.  Ripe, very soft on the palate, very delicate, with a long finish that comes with a bit of acidity.  The boys had carried it all the way from Europe, so there was probably a little bit of bottle shock here...

    Australian abalone : black pepper and vinegar seasoned tomato compote, braised then crisped oxtail and its jus - I had this earlier in the year and loved it.  The tender Tasmanian abalone is well-complemented by the chunks of oxtail which are tender on the inside but crispy on the outside.  Rich flavors from both the oxtail as well as the diablo sauce with a light kick.  The Dutchies, of course, found the kick to be stronger.

    Red amadai : with konasu aubergine and rice vinegared daikon, cockles prepared with 5 seaweed in a 'umami' broth with Manni olive oil and yuzu - Richard's not called "Mr. Amadai" for nothing.  The fish came with Richard's signature layer of crispy scales, and this was just incredibly tasty.  On the side was a little "sandwich" with a thin slice of eggplant at the bottom, a thinner slice of vinegar-marinated radish on top, and a mix of wakame (若布) and nori (海苔) seaweed as well as herbs and flowers in the middle.  Interesting to see a "swoosh" of sweet white miso (味噌) here.  Finally, the broth was incredibly delicate, and reminds me of the Japanese "ichiban dashi (一番出汁)" that one finds at top restaurants like RyuGin (龍吟).

    'Patis' poularde : breast poached with sauce albufera and crispy cereal, kabocha and chicken jus with virgin hazelnut oil - I love the crunch of the crispy cereal on top of the chicken breast, which also included pine nuts.

    And of course everything looks prettier with shaved white truffle on top, no?

    1998 Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque - decanted about 3 hours before serving.  More alcoholic than expected.  Tannins are still here.  Nose was initially muted, with only a hint of floral notes.  Ripe and sweet fruit emerged, and eventually the floral notes became more obvious.

    French unpasturized cheese : matured by Bernard Antony - I would never pass up cheese from Bernard Antony... and I ended up picking all soft ones.

    There was this very, very ripe Saint-Marcellin that was trying to make a run for it... showing very nutty flavors and that classic sharp bitterness.

    Selles-sur-Cher - another goat's milk cheese I love,  rich and dense with nutty flavors, a little saltiness and an acidic finish.

    Mont d'Or - how could I ever say no when it's nice and ripe?  So salty but showing acidity at the same time.  Nice and STINKY.

    Époisses de Bourgogne - from Gaugry, which means it's still made au lait cru.  Wonderful.  It looked still kinda solid, but in reality it was very ripe and tasty.

    Langres - very ripe and salty.

    Dulcey chocolate : spheres coated in Manjari 64% chocolate, with salted and caramelized macadamia nuts and cocoa sorbet - I had this a few months ago, and I still love it tonight.  The creamy centers of the spheres were just so tasty... and that cocoa sorbet - so intense and rich!  I don't order many chocolate desserts these days, but I'd do this one every time.

    Petits fours - yes, they know who we are.  Still love the calissons and pâtés des fruits.

    Another wonderful meal at Amber... and now I've had quite a few over the last 2 years.  Let's just say that the experience of being surrounded by Dutchies was... interesting...  I've raved about Richard Ekkebus and Amber often enough so I won't go on any further, but yeah, I wish I could come back every week... or even every other week.  Many thanks to Richard for this wonderful treat.

    This was my last meal with the boys from QLI, as they head off to another food paradise tomorrow.  It's been pretty fun over the last few days, and hopefully I can catch up with them soon.

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  • 11/14/14--23:39: A much better sushi lunch
  • I'm meeting up with the Specialist for lunch today, even though I hadn't planned on eating out much this weekend.  The original suggestion of going to Upper Modern Bistro - which both of us really like - was flatly rejected by yours truly.  Why?  Because I really didn't want to eat a lot today, and I feared that if Jeremy saw me there, there was no way I could escape without having a ton of cheese... So I needed to go to a place where they don't know me, so that I could eat as little as I wanted to.

    The solution turned out to be Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬).  Long considered one of the best places in town for sushi, I have very fond memories of my only visit a few years ago.  I was only too happy to check it out for lunch.

    I settled for the traditional sushi set (織部 握り), which comes with 10 pieces of nigiri (寿司10貫) and a roll (巻物).  When I told our chef that I did not wish to have any type of tuna, he informed me that normally the roll is a fatty tuna and scallion roll (葱トロ巻き), but he would try to substitute that for me.

    We started with a chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).

    Halibut (鰈) - slightly crunchy.

    Salmon (鮭) - wild, from Hokkaido.  This was very tender, and with deeper flavor than your average salmon.  Wonder how long they aged it.  Served with a relish made with leeks (葱), bonito (鰹) flakes, and horseradish.

    Horsehair crab (毛蟹) - from Hokkaido.  Very tasty, with plenty of flavors from the sea.

    Squid (烏賊) - scored and then torched.  Sprinkled with sesame.  I could definitely taste the smoky flavors from the torching.  Love it.

    Taking a little break with some red miso soup.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - wild.  Marinated in soy sauce, scored and lightly torched on the skin side.  Very, very yummy.

    Scallop (帆立貝) - very tender.

    Mackerel (鯖) - with a dab of sauce that the chef called 三星醬 in Chinese, which was made with chili.  Very, very tasty.

    Salmon roe (イクラ) - if I had to nitpick, I would take issue with the fact that the strip of seaweed was not sticking to the rice correctly.  Otherwise this was good.

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - the chef offered two pieces of nigiri as replacement for the fatty tuna and scallion roll I turned down.  This was the first one.  Served with the same relish as the salmon.

    Egg (卵) - this is where I had a problem.  They served it out of order for us because the customers next to us asked for a special batch to be made piping hot, but that's not my objection.  At a high-end sushi joint, why are we still being served this crappy egg?  It should be the sponge cake type.  Not acceptable.

    Red snapper (鯛) - the second substitute piece.

    Conger eel (穴子) - tasted fine, but seemingly a little more bony than I expected.

    Tanuki udon (たぬきうどん) - I wasn't expecting this after the sushi, but this definitely filled me up.

    Pretty good lunch.  There were more than a few surprises, and the only thing I really had to complain about was the egg being the wrong style.  Even though my sushi wasn't made by Chef Sase himself, what I got was of high quality.  Oh and they didn't downgrade me from a roll with fatty tuna to a roll with just pickles, so that's gotta count for something, right?

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  • 11/10/14--06:28: Another salty evening
  • Another month, another gem to unearth victim to skewer.  It's been a challenge trying to find the right restaurant that has just opened so that it's pretty much brand-new, yet interesting enough both to me and the general public.  It was harder this month than the last two, as timing changes meant I couldn't try a couple of the really interesting spots.  In the end I settled on Chez Didier Bistro - a reincarnation that has sprouted up in an alley in North Point just a stone's throw away from the MTR station.

    There were only two tables occupied when I arrived at the door.  And I stood in the doorway for perhaps up to a minute, wondering if anyone would bother to come up to greet me, while the chef's wife decided that she would much rather keep chatting with the customers at one of the tables.  Eventually a waitress emerged from the kitchen and led me to a table.

    It's pretty obvious from the menu that the chef comes from Provence, since Provençal specialties dotted the menu in addition to the "French classics".  Had I done a little more research on the background of the chef, I probably would have ordered a little differently and chosen.  Years ago a friend had introduced me to the chef at Cafe des Artistes, but I had never had the good fortune to taste his bouillabaisse before the restaurant's demise.  And I decided not to order it tonight.  Oh well...

    Escargot persillade - my dining companion went for the "safe" choice, and this was pretty decent.  Lots of garlic, parsley and butter.

    Tapenade, anchoïade, poivrons marinés - classic Provençal fare which, let's be honest, doesn't show up a lot here in Hong Kong.  Both the tapenade and anchoïade taste pretty authentic, but there's only one problem - they're both way, waaaaay too salty.  And there's simply too much of both - the chef's wife admitted that normally the chef only send out half of what I was given - to be taken with the three melba toasts.  I asked for more bread, which turned out to be the wrong thing to do... as the bread expanded after soaking up all the water I was drinking.  The marinated bell peppers, though, were really delish.

    Bavette, beurre d'anchois, pommes sautées, moelle - OK, so flank isn't exactly the most tender cut of beef, therefore I'm not gonna fault the texture too much for being a little chewy.  My dining companion regretted her choice of meat, since she was likely thinking of steak from an American steakhouse...  She also probably didn't dip the meat in the anchovy butter, which would explain her comment about it "needing some A1"...  The piece I tasted certainly seemed to be on the bland side.

    Brandade de morue, ratatouille, tartine a l'ail confit - once again I picked something Provençal, as I love a good brandade.  Unfortunately for my tongue, this was even more salty than the tapenade and anchoïade.  I absolutely love the flavors here... and the creamy mashed potatoes mixed in with flakes of salted cod and topped with a thin layer of gratin.  I love bacalhau, but even I couldn't take it with this much salt.  The quenelle of ratatouille on the side tasted fine but didn't do much to help.  The tartine, however, had the wonderfully tasty and fragrant garlic confit on top.  Yum!

    Pommes sautées - I don't understand why the kitchen sent out a side dish of potatoes in duck fat when the main dish itself was made of lots of potatoes...  I tasted one little piece, which was decent.

    I was pretty stuffed by now.  In fact, I was feeling kinda full after the tapenade... but there were still desserts to try!

    Crème brûlée au pollen de lavande - this lavender crème brûlée just tasted off.  Maybe neither of us felt that lavender was good in a custard, but there was just something not quite right with this... besides the fact that it should have been served a little hotter.  The meringue on the side was OK.

    Mousse de chataignes, compote de fruits - once again I picked the better dish.  The chestnut mousse was just right - with enough of the richness of chestnuts, but not sickening sweet like a Mont Blanc could be.  There were also diced pear embedded inside which added a little texture.  The layer of compote on top even included a few Sichuan peppercorns, which I thought was pretty interesting.

    One minor annoyance tonight: the dishes were so salty that I kept drinking water, and had to keep asking our waitress to refill my glass.  They seemed a little reluctant to refill our glass with tap water.  Maybe they wished we would just crack open the bottle of Perrier that's placed on every table?  I was left with a very dry mouth towards the end of dinner, as our request for more water was simply forgotten... or ignored.

    Well, to be honest, the dishes I ordered weren't FAILs.  The savory dishes would taste absolutely fine - if the chef could just cut down the salt by about 50%.  Chef Didier isn't new to Hong Kong, and I thought he would have known that he needs to tweak his dishes slightly to better suit people's palates here - without adulterating the flavors themselves.  Pure speculation here, but maybe after two years back home in Provence, he's forgotten the difference in tastes between the two areas.  I hope things don't stay this way.

    P.S.  This has nothing to do with the food, but... When I opened the door to the men's toilet stall, I was confronted with what seemed like the most claustrophobic space ever designed for this purpose.  Sure enough, after I stepped in and let my arms fall freely to the sides, they ended up touching both walls.  I'm not the skinniest guy around, but neither am I a giant.  I wonder how many people would have a hard time fitting in here...

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

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  • 11/19/14--07:54: Let it snow
  • White truffle season is in full swing, and I'm back at Neighborhood to take advantage of their incredible promotion.  Just like last time, my first order of business was to pick out our very own white truffle.  This time, though, I didn't pick based on size.  We actually sniffed each truffle and picked the most fragrant.

    There were only two of us tonight, and we weren't too greedy... so we picked one that was just over 34 grams.  The aroma was simply incredible, and this enveloped us throughout our dinner as the truffle sat on the table for the next couple of hours.

    Whipped lardo bruschetta - I loved this so much last time that I just had to order it again.  Love the piment d'espelette on top for the kick, and for somewhat neutralizing the strong flavors of rosemary in the lardo.

    And of course we have to shave some truffle on top!

    Frog legs - this was supposed to come on top of some watercress risotto, but we already had a ton of carbs coming, so we asked for just the frog legs.  They were absolutely delicious.  And guess what?  We ended up scooping all the parsley-accented mash into our mouths, anyway... and that beurre noisette was just incredibly tasty!

    Handmade tagliolini - one of the best things to have with white truffles is a simple bowl of handmade noodles with butter.  These looked incredible when they arrived in front of us, with a little cheese shaved on top.

    But that's nothing compared to how the dish looked when we were done shaving white truffle on top!  And this was just perfect.  Wonderfully soft noodles, in a rich, buttery sauce, and the beautiful fragrance of white truffle.  Heaven.

    Bone marrow risotto - OK, so I didn't like the way it was executed last time, but I still couldn't resist ordering it tonight.  David explained that he felt many restaurants nowadays have gone a little too far with the al dente thing... and he didn't understand why we are getting risotto where the center of the rice grains remain uncooked.  For him the texture of the rice in a risotto should be similar to what you'd get with sushi - where the rice grains still maintained their individual integrity.  I guess things were a little better tonight, but it was interesting to find a chunk of marrow whose texture resembled that of beef tendon.  Still very tasty, and of course we shaved white truffle on top...

    Shellfish spaghetti - this was the dish I most wanted tonight... after seeing a picture David has posted some time last week.  Tonight they didn't have any sea urchin shells, so instead of serving us the spaghetti inside the shell, we got it in bowls instead.  I was a little bummed about not being able to take a prettier picture, but the taste was still gonna be the same.

    If the sauce tasted incredibly familiar, it was because that was basically David's bouillabaisse.  He takes his bouillabaisse, removes the fish and mashes it up, and then puts the paste back in - thereby creating the viscosity.  Add some shrimp, sea urchin and sprinkle with lots of piment d'espelette powder... Voila!  Incroyable!

    We were more than happy to pause here for a while and move on to dessert, but David had other ideas.  He sent out the dish that put me over the edge... which was baked oyster / autumn truffle / lardo.  The oyster really wasn't small... and it was covered with a sheet of lardo.  The whole thing sat on a bed of Puy lentils, with chunks of potato, carrots, and slices of autumn truffle.

    Of course, we shaved white truffle on top, too...

    We paused for some time before dessert, and went back to two tried-and-true options when it comes to white truffles:

    Chocolate palette - not really the correct ratio between chocolate and white truffle, but I don't think I could afford the right amount of white truffle, even at the super low promotional price!

    Vanilla ice cream - during my last dinner here, this was the point where the Boss Lady came over and said "let it snow!" Well, that's exactly what I did today.  And this was MY scoop... Didn't even have to share it with anyone...

    Canelés - a perfect ending.

    This would turn out to be a long evening in terms of wines.  First up there were two "leftover" bottles along with a "fresh" bottle we popped open...

    2011 Robert Sirugue Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Petits Monts - opened days earlier.  Acidity slightly higher than expected.  A little bit of forest and mint.

    2008 Damilano Barolo Cannubi - opened days earlier.  Some fruit here and the tannins were softer.

    1964 Borgogno Barolo - nose was very savory like soy sauce or tapenade.  Stewed prunes, smoky, and a little medicinal.  After chilling in ice bucket and further aeration, nose opened up well to show orange peel, almost honeydew melon, and some leather.

    After dinner we strolled over to Upper Modern Bistro, where some friends were tasting a range of wines from The Hilt in California.  More drinking ensued...

    2011 The Hilt The Old Guard Chardonnay - nose full of minerals, ripe, lemon citrus, and green apples.  Still fresh with higher-than-expected acidity.

    2011 The Hilt The Vanguard Chardonnay - fresher and more vibrant than The Old Guard, with surprisingly high level of acidity.  Nose became a little buttery later.

    2012 The Hilt The Vanguard Chardonnay - very big nose, heavy, toasty oak here, very buttery and also roasted corn, showing a little more of the pungent sulfur.  Most surprising wine and probably my favorite of the bunch.

    2010 The Hilt The Vanguard Pinot Noir - really ripe and sweet on the nose, very minty, with black fruits and blueberries.

    2011 The Hilt The Vanguard Pinot Noir - a little metallic on the nose, with forest, dried herbs, and a little bit of pungent sulfur.

    2011 The Hilt The Old Guard Pinot Noir - very ripe, almost jammy nose, with forest, potpourri notes.  Slightly pungent and green, with some mint.

    2008 Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château- very big nose, with farmy, leather, animal, and floral notes like violet.  Also plenty of sweet fruit.  Drinking beautifully.

    A very long evening... but very enjoyable.

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    A couple of days after an unexpected big night out, here I am seeing some of the same people again... for a big birthday bash.  This was always gonna be a highlight on my wine calendar, as my generous friend brings out a string of big and interesting wines to share with us.  I fell asleep at the table last year, and was trying to make sure that the same wouldn't happen tonight...

    We're back at Seventh Son (家全七福) - not just because our host is friendly with the owners, but because the food here rarely disappoints.  I saw the lineup of dishes before I came to dinner, and it just looked like a full onslaught of deliciousness - so I tried to have some discipline about having seconds.

    We started with four appetizers:

    Deep-fried chicken barbecued kidney in egg custard (雞子戈渣) - definitely tasted the chicken broth.

    Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - about as good as usual, but I didn't get as much chopped chili on top as usual.

    Pig's ear terrine (千層峰) - very crunchy, and coated with a layer of sesame seed oil.  Yum.

    Honey-glazed chicken liver (蜜汁燒鳳肝) - a little drier than I would have liked.

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - I was very good tonight... only took 3 pieces of the thin crackling... and no meat.  Paper-thin and delicious as usual.

    Double-boiled soup with moray eel head, gastrodia, Szechuan lovage and Chinese Angelica (天麻川芎白芷燉鱔皇頭湯) - our host chose this instead of the seasonal snake bisque, because it was indeed something very special.  The moray eel apparently weighed 22 catties (!), and only the head was used in making the soup.  The mouth and right eye are evident in the picture...

    The skin clearly has a lot of collagen... so the ladies were encouraged to indulge.  It did taste kinda muddy, though... But the soup was nice with all the flavors and fragrances of the medicinal herbs.

    But here's where we (or at least I) ran into trouble.  With a string of (relatively) high-priced fine wines we were tasting through, this was running some serious interference with my olfactory senses.  More so than many people who enjoy wine, the joy I get out of tasting wine comes mostly from the wine's nose and less from the palate.  So when you have something that's flooding my nose with "foreign" scents - like when some bitch wears strong perfume to a wine dinner, or when the kitchen continuously pumps out smoke from the grill - you're killing my experience.

    Tonight the scent of the medicinal herbs - Chinese angelica in particular - was very strong.  And I had the misfortune of sitting closest to the bowls of soup.  Eventually I had to ask the staff to move the leftover soup away, remove the "dregs (湯渣)" from the table, and go across to the opposite side of the room - just so I could enjoy what was emanating from my wine glass.

    Stir-fried shredded soft-shelled turtle with Chinese pickles (味菜炒山瑞絲) - 'tis the season for exotic game like turtle, and the host and I enjoyed another turtle dish some weeks ago.  Tonight our turtle was "only" five catties.

    The scent from the Chinese pickles filled the air, and they added shredded green bell peppers, red chilis and celery, along with very fine chiffonade of ginger and kaffir lime leaves.  The soft gelatin of the "skirt" of the turtle shell was finely shredded and had a nice texture, and I also enjoyed the shredded meat along with crispy deep-fried noodles.  A nice mélange both in terms of flavors and textures.

    Braised moray eel with Chinese lettuce (炆鱔皇拌唐生菜) - since we only used up the head of the moray eel in our soup, there was obviously still a lot of it left!  So some of it was braised for a heartier dish.

    We also have a little pork belly (火腩) in addition to the eel and lettuce.

    Pigeon and bamboo pith with pea shoots (鴿蛋竹笙扒豆苗) - I love pigeon eggs, especially when they've been coated with a starchy batter and deep-fried.  The bamboo pith (竹笙) and pea shoots were both pretty good.

    Traditional baked chicken in rock salt (正宗鹽焗雞) - very nicely done - even though it's not my preferred chicken preparation - and I liked the liver and gizzard, too.

    Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (油鴨臘味煲仔飯) - it's finally the season for claypot rice, and I'm so excited!  Just look at the plate of preserved meats!

    We each got a bowl of rice, and I laid out the range of preserved meats on top, and drizzled some soy sauce on top.  This was sooooo good!  I especially loved the liver sausage (膶腸)... the flavors were just amazing.  But, hey, who am I kidding?  I loved everything on that plate.

    After we each had our bowl of rice, I asked the staff to turn the remaining rice into rice crispies (飯焦).  This was done tableside.

    Then they poured superior broth (上湯) in and added some coriander.  What an awesome way to have the rice!  I wish I had more stomach space...

    Jujube millefeuille (千層紅棗糕) - this was really good... and I ended up having two of these.  Tasty with jujube (紅棗) flavors, but not sweet at all.  Now imagine how awesome these would be if they had just added a wee bit more sugar...

    Crystal cakes with egg custard (奶黃水晶餅) - OK but kinda bland.

    Mini century egg puffs (迷你皮蛋酥) - always interesting to have this.

    On top of the sweetness from the bean paste filling, there's savory flavors from the century eggs (皮蛋), as well as both acidity and a little spicy kick from the pickled ginger (酸薑).

    Walnut cream (生磨合桃露) - one of the best walnut creams I remember ever having.  Definitely ground from walnuts and not made from "instant powder", with that telltale grainy texture.  So full of flavor.

    But let's not kid ourselves... tonight was all about wine.  Our birthday boy was incredibly generous - as always.  And the wines were tasted blind, as is customary with this crowd.

    A pair of rosé Champagne:
    1982 Dom Pérignon Rosé - color looked light brown so it was definitely an aged rosé.  Nose showed this was clearly aged, with savory minerals, a whiff of yeastiness, and also sweetness like sugar gane.  A little nutty, too.  Not a lot of bubbles here, and showing good length in finish.

    1980 Dom Pérignon Rosé - more lively than the 1982, with some minerals in the nose.  More body here and also a longer finish.

    A pair of white Burgundy:
    2001 d'Auvenay Meursault Les Narvaux - nice toasty nose with lemon, but also exotic coconut butter and pineapple.  Rather elegant, actually.  With further aeration the toasty notes became even more powerful.

    2001 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - a little sinky sulfur at first.  Less toasty notes here, but the toasty notes also became more prominent later.

    A trio of red Burgundy from 1980:
    1980 Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - the bottle was not in good condition, since the cork was loose and fell into the wine during opening.  Nose of mushroom and wet cardboard, green and grassy.  Pretty light body.  The second pour was a lot better, but the nose was still grassy.

    1980 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze - a little smoky, ripe, and a little animal, minty and some mushrooms.

    1980 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux - bigger nose here compared to the other two, with more animal, smoky, a little savory soy sauce.  More body yet also more acidity on the palate.  My favorite of the trio even as we tasted blind.

    A quartet of 1980s from around the world:
    1980 Petrus - really fragrant, almost floral nose, with very sweet fruit, and some mint, a little leather.  with a hint of sweet grass, and later on a little bit savory on the nose.  What a beautiful and elegant wine.

    1980 Sassicaia - very exotic nose, with coconut butter, vanilla, sweet fruit, and mint.  Still quite a lot of body here but the acidity was a little higher on the palate.  If this were a Bordeaux it would have been something like a Le Pin or 1990 Montrose.  Could have guessed it was Grange, but there was not enough body here.  A wine with an awesome nose.  My kind of shit.

    1980 Penfolds Grange - nose was more metallic, exotic, sweet, coconut butter, a little forest pine.  More body here and definitely a Grange.

    1980 Vega Sicilia Unico - a little funky nose, slightly metallic, a little bit animal, some sweet grass, and also exotic tropical fruits.  Light-bodied in comparison.

    1995 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese - nose of polyurethane, honey, apricot, and marmalade.  Nice acidity balance here.
    I was happy with everything I had already imbibed so I saw no need to taste the rare Whiskies which were also available...  Many thanks to our host for the wonderful food and incredible wines.  

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    I had a couple of visitors from out of town this weekend, but unfortunately my schedule was too busy to take them out properly... so in the end we settled for "morning tea (早茶)" at a Hong Kong institution - Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓).

    We arrived just after 10:30 a.m. on this particular Saturday, and not surprisingly there was not an empty seat in sight.  The reason why this was only my third visit to said establishment in almost 20 years of being in Hong Kong - never mind that my office has been within walking distance for quite a few of those years - is I never wanted to spend time waiting for a table.  My last visit was with Sheets, and since his family owns the place, there was naturally no need to wait for a table...

    Well it took the three of us a while, including me trying to not get into an argument with some locals - but we did eventually manage to find 3 empty chairs to settle our butts into.  After rinsing our tea cups, bowls, chopsticks and spoons in the bowl of hot water provided, I grabbed our stamp card and went to look for our food.

    As I would remark later to a couple of Caucasians at the same table, you gotta fight for your table and also fight for your food here.  Depending on where you find your seat, it may be unlikely for the dim sum carts to ever reach you... so you just gotta go find the ladies with the carts and bring the food back to the table.  And on most days like today, there's gonna be a mob surrounding the cart as soon as it comes out of the kitchen.  In fact, a bunch of people and I were kinda standing around waiting for the cart to emerge, and would pounce on the poor cart lady within seconds - almost like a feeding frenzy of piranhas or sharks...

    Siu mai (燒賣) - this was OK, but I was disappointed that they weren't serving the ones with quail eggs that I had on my very first visit.

    Steamed rice with chicken feet and pork ribs (鳳爪排骨盅飯) - on my first "outing" I was a little frustrated by the mob surrounding the first cart, so on my way back I decided to grab this from the other cart with fewer surrounding "sharks"... The rice would prove filling for all of us, but in any case this was a classic dish that would be interesting to my visiting friends.

    Squid in curry sauce (咖喱魷魚) - with pork rind, too.  Unfortunately this was absolutely bland, which was really surprising.

    I think this was some kind of rice flour rolls (粉卷)... there was some minced pork and prawn wrapped inside.  Anyway this was OK.

    Steamed pig's tripe siu mai (豬肚燒賣) - very old school way of serving large pieces of pig's tripe on a bed of minced pork.

    Steamed prawn dumplings (蝦餃) - not bad.  This time the chopped bamboo shoots were tender.

    I think these were duck feet rolls (鴨腳扎), a piece of taro and a chunk of minced pork wrapped with some tofu skin (腐皮).  Kinda interesting.

    This was a lot of food for us, so we decided to take a stroll around town for the next hour to help us with digestion... but not before grabbing my favorite egg tarts (蛋撻) from Honolulu Coffee Shop (檀島咖啡餅店).

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    After bidding farewell to my visitors, I hopped on the train and slowly made by way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong.  One of my friends - who is an indigenous inhabitant (原居民) - is throwing a wedding banquet in her ancestral village in the New Territories.  This was a rare opportunity for me to see a part of Hong Kong that many of us don't get much exposure to.

    A couple of years ago, I had asked my friend about the opportunity to visit her village so that I could have the opportunity to sample the famous poon choi (盆菜) offered in the New Territories during the festive season.  Well, I'm glad I finally got that invitation, and even happier that it's for her wedding banquet!

    After a short bus ride from the nearest train station, I followed the signs in the direction of my friend's village in Ha Tsuen (夏村).  I soon started seeing various signs and posters they put up to guide us in the right direction, so it turned out to be pretty easy for me to find my way... whereas a bunch of people who drove had a lot more trouble than I did.

    When enough people have arrived, the bride (the groom did show up, eventually...) led us on a tour of the village.  First stop was this landmark which announced that one is now in Ha Tsuen.

    There was also a temporary gate built over the main road leading into the villages, which is part of the once-in-a-decade celebration to pay tribute to the ancestors.

    We next headed to the Tang Ancestral Hall (鄧氏宗祠).  This one in Ha Tsuen is apparently neither the only nor the oldest ancestral hall for the extended clan, but still dates back to 1750 - during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆) in the Qing Dynasty.

    Inside the hall were various plaques on display, essentially documenting and showcasing the glorious history of the clan.  If I'm not mistaken these red wooden boards are used to announce the official titles of dignitaries.

    The inner chamber housed plaques representing the ancestors from numerous generations of the clan.  This is where one would come offer incense and pay one's respects on special occasions.

    As I walked around admiring the sights, I kinda got to thinking about my own family.  Do we have something like this?  I'm not 100% sure but I don't think so.  I always joked that my dad's side of the family were poor farmers from rural China, and it's true that nothing was absolutely nothing spectacular that came out of our part of the province.  Mom also mentioned that dad's side of the family had moved once upon a time, so it's unlikely that anything similar still remains.  Given that both my paternal grandparents had passed on, I've never visited my ancestral home, and almost no one from this small branch of the family has kept in touch with other branches on Mainland China... chances are I'll never find out.

    Mom's side of the family still had relatives living in the ancestral areas, but still, nothing like this exists for them.  Mom's grandpa was kicked out of his home by his own kids during the Cultural Revolution and reduced to sweeping the streets.  So... thanks to the Red Guards and their campaign against the "Four Olds", it's unlikely anything resembling an ancestral hall would have survived that era.

    So there it is.  I would certainly consider myself Chinese - both ethnically and culturally speaking - but for some of us who grew up in Taiwan, and whose ancestors did not migrate to Taiwan generations ago, our roots have kinda been destroyed.  That's a little sad, when you think about it...

    The tour actually took a little longer than I expected, and also included the new buildings which the family is building.  The "indigenous villagers" - male members of the clan aged 18 or above - can apply for a Small House Grant.  They can then build houses which cover no more than 700 square feet per floor, and rise no more than 3 floors.  My friend's younger brother got one, but of course she gets nothing because she's not a boy...

    Well, it was time for the banquet to begin, so we all settled down at a table that was laid out in the courtyard, and one by one the big bowls were brought out.  Poon choi (盆菜) feasts consist of only one course - since everything is throw into the big metal bowl.  The bowl is then covered with aluminum foil, and reheated on top of butane stoves at the table.

    It took a while for the food to heat up, since the bowl was filled to above the brim, but we were all excited when we finally decided to remove the foil and dig in.

    So what's in the bowl?  Let's see... prawns, steamed chicken, pork belly, pork rind, fish balls, dace fish balls (鯪魚球), shiitake mushrooms, squid, taro, and radish.  We were also given different veggies that we could add into the bowl ourselves.

    The happy couple went honeymooning in Tuscany earlier this year, and picked out some wines for this banquet...

    Sacchetto Prosecco Spumante Brut - a little floral and pretty easy to drink.

    2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - still very young.  Tannins are there but soft enough to drink.

    We sat under the stars as we indulged, trying our damnedest to make a dent to the pile of food in front of us.  I think eventually we managed to clear out about half of it between the 9 of us, and even took a box of it home.

    This was quite an eye-opening experience for me.  I'm glad I finally got to have poon choi, and even happier that this was at my friend's wedding.  Here's wishing the happy couple years and years of happiness...

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  • 11/23/14--07:36: Getting drunk at The Porn
  • Another month has gone by, and now it was Lord Rayas' turn to host his dinner for MNSC.  No one was surprised when The Porn Pawn was announced as the venue this year.  After all, the place had just re-opened weeks ago to much fanfare after 3 months' of renovations, and now they've got Tom Aikens on board.  True to form, I've deliberately stayed away during the initial opening period - not wanting to pass judgement on the new operation.  Tonight I finally got my chance for a first nibble.

    I had seen pictures of the interior posted online by others, and it seems the renovation has met with mixed reactions.  They did manage to rip up the interiors again, and this time the look is decidedly updated and modern.  We naturally found ourselves in the the private room, and with its black marble walls and tables, the mirrored entrance arch, and the newfangled lighting, I think it's only fitting that we now call it The PORN...

    While we're on the subject of decor, I had seen some comments on social media where people complained about it, saying things like the historical space has now been robbed of its soul, that the traditional heritage feel of the building has been wiped out... etc.  I can kinda see where people who made those comments are coming from, so I took the opportunity to ask two of the bosses at the table about the reason behind the change.

    I was told that the Pawn had gone with the rustic feel of the interior since it opened, and with a chef like Tom Aikens coming onboard, they needed to give it a more contemporary feel.  They had done some major renovation work in terms of the kitchen and the bar area, and took the opportunity to give the whole place a makeover.  To be fair, the exterior of the structure remains unchanged.

    But enough of that...  Bring on the food!

    Charcuterie board: Ibérico shoulder, chorizo, pork rillettes, pickle, grape chutney, duck liver parfait - pretty tasty, especially the liver parfait.  The rillettes weren't bad, either.

    House-made ricotta, olive oil, dried herbs, aged balsamic - the ricotta was incredibly smooth, and the balsamic delicious.  While the rosemary worked well here, I did not appreciate its presence as it interfered with my palate for wine.

    Scallop, celeriac purée, black pudding crumb - pretty interestingly actually.  The scallops were tasty, and the black pudding crumbs on top worked really well.  Loved the red wine reduction and the onions, and I certainly wouldn't complain about having lardo on the side...

    Juniper-marinated venison, beetroot snow, smoked beetroot - I'm conflicted about this dish.  On the one hand there was absolutely nothing wrong with it - in fact everything seemed perfect.  The venison was tender.  The beetroot that I normally don't care for worked perfectly with the venison, and even came in two different textures and temperatures.  This was so easy to eat that I inhaled it in just a few bites without a second thought.

    But upon reflection, there was something about this dish that nagged at me in the background.  I love venison, but while this dish was undoubtedly delicious, it didn't give me the satisfaction that I normally get when eating venison.  Venison is a game meat with full-on, hearty flavors, but here it's been transformed into something else that's easier for most people to swallow.  It's a beautiful and delicate dish, but almost too light and ethereal for me.  No doubt most people would not feel the way I do, but I felt somewhat deprived of the experience of having a hearty game dish in the winter.

    Anyway... I should probably stop thinking too much, just shut up and eat my food...  It was delicious anyway so what do I have to complain about?

    1.4kg Kobe tomahawk - a very nice and big piece of steak.

    This was slightly overcooked, but still delicious.  Wonderful smoky flavors from the charring.  Needless to say the fatty bits were wonderful.

    We were served a wide variety of sides together with the steak:
    Big chips in beef dripping - I am normally not a fan of large fries, but these were pretty decent and not overly mushy.

    Macaroni cheese with truffle - this was a real winner.  Yes, I loved the fragrance from the black truffle sauce, but the surprise here was the acidity.  It worked wonders and I kept spooning this onto my plate.

    Mushroom ragout - pretty yummy.

    Extra fine beans

    Marmite salt and sour onions - pretty tasty, actually.

    We were very full so I'll have to wait till my next visit to try out some of their desserts.

    Lord Rayas had painstakingly put together a very interesting and, as he described, "complete" tasting for us.

    First pair: decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving
    1993 DRC Échézeaux - a little alcoholic, ripe, almost a little Port-like, with a hint of smokiness.  The palate, though, was lean and showing acidity, almost a little metallic.  A little grassy with some chili pepper.  Second pour was much riper.  94 points.

    1993 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche - nice and smoky, animal, leather, and a little minty and a hint of earthiness.   Much rounder on the palate.  A beautiful wine!  98 points.

    Second pair: decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving
    1978 Clos des Papes - ripe on the nose, almost jammy and blackberries, but kinda dry and a bit lean on the palate.  95 points.

    1978 Rayas - more animal, metallic, slightly savory like tapenade, and a little more tannins here than the Clos des Papes.  94 points.

    Third pair:
    1982 Mouton-Rothschild - clearly a claret, smoky, slightly green pepper, grassy, and sweet.  There is nice acidity here.  A lovely wine.  96 points.

    1982 Léoville-Las Cases - a little more ripe than the Mouton, slightly more alcoholic and funky.  93 points.

    Fourth pair: decanted for 3 hours before serving.
    2003 Ausone - nose was green but sweet and minty.  Definitely corked.

    2003 Lafite-Rothschild - very ripe on the nose.  Sweet on the palate with good acidity.  A little metallic on the nose, kinda sweet and a little smoky around the edges.  98 points.

    We adjourned to the new bar downstairs for a nightcap, and Pineapple asked the bartender to bring out this lil' gem:

    Douglas Laing's Glencadam 34 Years Cask Strength - nose really sweet and caramel, slightly medicinal and savory, potpourri.  Cask strength really shows...

    Many thanks to Lord Rayas for his incredible generosity and such a fun evening.  Looking to returning to The Porn...

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    I'm back in Macau today for a board meeting with the boss.  Given that we were staying at the Venetian, had limited time for dinner, and there were only two of us, the choices were woefully limited.  We had casually strolled into one of the Chinese eateries and sat down, but after noticing a certain look on the boss' face, I suggested that we could go somewhere else if the food wasn't to his liking.

    As soon as we walked out the door, the boss surprised me by saying: "Let's try the Indian food (with Michelin stars)".

    Really?!  That was the last thing I thought would happen tonight.

    Well, Golden Peacock was pretty close by, and within a couple of minutes we were seated and flipping through the menu.  The good thing about tonight was that I didn't have to do the ordering, and the boss ended up picking a bunch of more interesting dishes than I would have myself.

    First came some traditional snacks like papadum and what looked like murukku and namak para, served with dips and chutney.

    Scallop ambot tik - apparently a Goan specialty, these Scottish scallops were very good.  Cooked mi-cuit, the spicy tomato jam provided both a nice acidity and the spicy kick.  Little puris were served on the side with garnish.  Interestingly, the fine, colorful curls which at first glance looked like rubber bands turned out to be capsicums...

    Jahangir bhutta and khumb kebab - Portobello mushrooms were blended with corn, pine nuts and cardamom and then grilled.  I thought this tasted OK, but seriously, someone needs to teach the chef about presentation...  These either looked like 3 stogies or... something that comes out of the rear end of your digestive tract.  When a friend, after seeing this picture, asked me "was it good?"... I had to tell her that it was "some good shit"...

    Ganth gobhi aloo - normally you'd find cauliflower in aloo gobi, but here they used Romanesco broccoli.  Very different from the Punjabi aloo gobi I'm used to having since it's not dominated by turmeric, but very nice.

    Crab xec xec - flower crab cooked with a traditional Goan curry.  This was really good.  The chili was spicy enough to pack a punch, but not overpowering.  The other spices like cloves, cumin and cardamom made for very fragrant mouthfuls.

    We didn't take any rice, but did have an order of butter naan to go with our curries.  This was very thin and crispy, and I found my finger tips covered with butter... and didn't hesitate to lick them clean.

    Boss wanted to drink some wine, which is something I typically don't mix with spicy food.  Scouring the wine list looking for something suitable, I settled for something that was the closest I could come to an ideal solution...

    2011 Hugel Gewurztraminer - very fresh and floral, with a little lychee.  Very ripe and sweet on the palate, a little alcoholic with bitter finish.

    Did I enjoy my meal?  For sure.  Was it the best Indian meal I've ever had?  Hardly, but it was a little more refined than that first Michelin-starred "Indian" meal I had a few years ago.  Did I think it was worthy of a Michelin star?  Well... WTF do I know about Indian food anyway?

    One thing I do know is that I'd much rather pay more and eat at Gaggan any day... if only I could make it to Bangkok.

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    I'm back in Hong Kong today and looking for a quick dinner near the office before heading home with my luggage.  So I decided to walk to my favorite place for Cantonese roast goose - Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).

    I've been coming to Yat Lok for my roast goose since 2006 when a former colleague introduced me to the place.  I've long thought that they offered one of the best Cantonese roast goose in town, and a few years ago I even did a face-off between Yat Lok and the much lauded goose from Yung Kee (鏞記酒家).  Needless to say Yat Lok won that round.

    They've been included in the Rubberman's guide for the last few years and chosen as part of their Bib Gourmand section, which is basically good eats and reasonable prices - something I wholeheartedly agree with.  For the 2015 guide, though, some idiot (maybe the same idiot who decided to give a star to Din Tai Feng (鼎泰豐) and Tim Ho Wan (添好運) starting from the 2010 edition) decided to give these guys a star.  Now, I'm one of the biggest fans of this place, but a freakin' Michelin star?!  Dude, this is a place where just about everyone spits their goose and chicken bones onto the table, and there's about maybe 10 cm between me and my neighbor.  WTF are these Michelin people thinking?!

    OK, enough ranting... or e_ting will remind me again of my promise a few years ago to stop saying WTF when the annual list comes out...

    I walked through the door and found myself a seat.  I asked for my usual favorite item - the goose drumstick - and the typical reply from one of the waitresses is that it's sold out.  Well, they're not really sold out, but given that it's a popular item and they have only a limited supply, they ration it throughout the day.  I'm lucky that as a regular, both the Boss Man and the Boss Lady know me by sight, and would usually give it to me when I ask.  Someone immediately overruled my waitress, and within a couple of minutes my dish of choice arrived before me.

    While some may disagree, the rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose drumstick (馳名脆皮燒鵝脾瀨粉) is my favorite meal here.  The skin of the goose is crispy, with nice, smoky flavors.  The layer of fat underneath the skin is just soooo tasty... and the oil oozes out once some pressure is applied.  The meat itself is very tender, with a depth of flavor that is head and shoulders above many others.  But why have it over these noodles?  Well, these aren't soft and flabby noodles... there's a certain amount of hardness and "crunch" to them - making them a pleasure to bite into.  You also need that MSG-laden stock garnished with chopped spring onions.  This is one of the few occasions when I would actively look for some MSG in my food.  Oh and of course the oil from the goose just drips into the soup...  Slurp!

    I also got some blanched choy sum (菜心) to fulfill my veg quota.

    The "cheapest Michelin star in the world" this is not, but that kind of nonsense doesn't matter to me.  This was one satisfying meal, and if I want to, it would be easy for me to come here multiple times a week and "collect" a hundred Michelin stars or more a year without so much as thinking about it...

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    I've been a long-time fan of Alvin Leung's cuisine, having first visited his place at Gilman's Bazaar back around 2004.  It's also one of the restaurants I often recommend to visitors.  But for someone who's supposedly a fan, I certainly haven't been there much lately.  In fact, my last visit was more than 4 years ago, so a return visit is certainly long overdue.

    The PR for the restaurant has been kind enough to extend me invitations for visits, repeatedly over the last few months both for Bo Innovation as well as MIC Kitchen.  Unfortunately timing has never worked out for me, and in any case I am more than happy to go on my own dime.  After such a long absence, I kinda wanted to go in under the radar... and check things out as a "regular" diner.

    But with this restaurant, it's not always easy finding a dining companion.  People either love or hate the food, and people also either love or hate Alvin.  And with the pricing of the various set menus, it's a little expensive for someone to bet on.  Fortunately My Favorite Cousin is always up for some good food, so I had no difficulty in roping in my accomplice for this mission.

    I was running late and arrived a few minutes after my cousin, who was seated but hidden from view.  The staff at the entrance didn't seem too keen on the idea of me going around the place looking for my cousin, so they asked for the name of the reservation.  I told them my last name and also spelled it out.  They can't find it.  Was I sure about the name? Then they repeat my name back to me, with the wrong vowel.  I repeat my name again.  Eventually they managed to find my name on their clipboard, and lead me to the right table.  When a restaurant with Michelin stars can't find your reservation - even after someone else from the same party has already arrived - you kinda get the feeling that there's more trouble ahead.

    I had checked out the menus on the website, and while I preferred the Tasting Menu myself for some of the items listed there, I wanted to see if my cousin could order the Chef's Menu, so that we could swap dishes and taste a greater variety.  Well, apparently that is simply too difficult for this 3-star kitchen to handle.  If we wanted to take different menus, we would have to take the Chef's Menu and the Chef's Tasting Menu - the more expensive two out of the three - because there was more overlap between those two.

    Well, I didn't feel like paying an extra USD 100 for a more expensive menu simply because the kitchen couldn't be bothered to time themselves better, so I decided that we'd both take the cheapest Tasting Menu, without any extra dishes requiring supplements.

    Our amuse bouche came in a paper bag, and we ripped it open to reveal Alvin's version of one of Hong Kong's beloved street foods - gai daan jai (雞蛋仔).  These egg waffles were slightly sweet, but with bits of Yunnan ham (雲腿) and spring onions inside.  These were a little greasy and pretty finger-licking good.  The only issue we had with it was that the two "halves" didn't stick together and separated.

    Scallop : Shanghainese "jolo", avocado, woba, sugar snap peas, lemon - Hokkaido scallop slices served raw, on a bed of sugar snaps and Shanghainese rice crispies (鍋巴), drizzled with Shanghainese zaolu (糟鹵) sauce and served with avocado dots.  The scallops were fresh and sweet, and I liked the contrasting textures here between the soft scallop and the crunchy rice crispies.  The flavors from the sauce naturally paired well with the rice crispies, too.

    Foie gras : "mui choy", green apple, ginger bread - the piece of pan-seared foie was pretty good, and I liked the ice cream with preserved leafy mustard along with the ginger biscuit.  The Granny Smith foam worked well with the foie, as it provided the necessary acidity to balance the fatty richness.  There was also a ring of preserved leafy mustard powder.

    Umami : black truffle, langoustine, har mi oil, vermicelli, rice noodle - I told the staff that I didn't want to eat tuna, so they replaced the toro (トロ) with langoustines for me.  The little chunks of langoustines were absolutely perfect.  In between them was a pile of glass vermicelli, which were nice and crunchy.  It was also very tasty, thanks to little bits of black truffle and also from being soaked in Alvin's har mi (蝦米) oil.  I just can't get enough of the intense flavors of the dried shrimp, so I greedily poured a little more on top, relishing in its slight spiciness.  And the deep-fried rice noodles on top were nice and crunchy.

    Then we ran into a little trouble again.  The way I read the menu online, only the dishes which had "($xxx supplement)" written underneath were optional, so I was fully expecting to get the next dish on the list - which would have been hairy crab.  But molecular arrived instead.

    What I didn't realize - because nobody bothered to explain to us, and just expected us to understand from the different color of the font (which wasn't displayed on the website) - is that hairy crab was also a supplement, whereas we thought only nitro was and hairy crab came standard.  I guess My Birdbrain Favorite Cousin and I were just dumb...

    There was no way I was gonna miss out on Alvin's hairy crab soufflé, so of course we added the supplement.  But since molecular was already here, we decided we'd take the dishes out of sequence while the kitchen tried to whip up the soufflé.

    Molecular : "xiao long bao" - one of Alvin's signature dishes.   I gotta say that this tasted less like the contents of a traditional xiaolongbao (小籠包) than I remembered.  The thin sliver of marinated ginger provided the acidity normally added.  But the texture wasn't perfect.  Even my cousin noticed that the "skin" was too thick and crunchy, and she immediately remembered what Gaggan Anand told her - that the skin would be too thick if the liquid was left in the calcium bath for too long.

    Tomato : "Pat Chun" Chinese vinegar, fermented Chinese olives "lam kok", marshmallow with green onion oil - so... tomato done three ways.

    The first cherry tomato was peeled and marinated in Pat Chun (八珍) brand vinegar.  This was essentially the same dish I had on my last visit, and I do like the flavor combination.

    The second, yellow cherry tomato came with ginger powder and Chinese black olive (欖角) powder, plus some black olive foam.

    Finally there was the tomato foam - which looked like a tubular marshmallow - with green onion oil inside.

    Hairy crab : aged Chinkiang vinegar - finally, the dish I was waiting for!  An older variant of this was one of the dishes that first blew me away on my first visit to Bo Innoseki, and this has evolved somewhat.  The hairy crab roe and meat were mostly at the bottom of the mini clay pot, and we drizzled some aged Zhenjiang vinegar (陳年鎮江醋) on top.  It's similar to balsamic in that the consistency becomes more viscous with aging, and also it's a little sweeter than regular vinegar.  So yum.  I drizzle more vinegar.

    Nitro : ginger tea - OK, so I'm REALLY dumb.  I thought we were only ordering the hairy crab as an extra with the supplement, but I guess the ginger tea comes with it... which I suppose is only correct.  You do need to drink some ginger tea after eating your hairy crab, as the "heat" from the ginger neutralizes the "cool" from the crab.  Anyway, this is the gimmicky part of the meal.  Meringue is made by spooning it into a bowl of liquid nitrogen, so you get the chilly, crunchy puff that sticks to your tongue.

    Red fish : Yunnan ham, mandarin peel, wild mushroom, Jerusalem artichoke, pickled pearl onion - I can't remember exactly what fish this was, but it was pretty decent.  Many of the other flavors here are familiar with Chinese preparations of fish: the aged mandarin peel (陳皮) powder, the Yunnan ham powder and Yunnan ham sauce, mushrooms like chanterelles and the deep-fried shiitake chip.  Not sure what the chunk of Jerusalem artichoke is doing there, but the pearl onion pickled in vinegar was pretty tasty.  I thought overall this was a very good dish as the flavors meshed together pretty well.

    Mao Tai : hawthorne, lemongrass, passion fruit - instead of a sorbet as palate cleanser, we get a fruity cocktail.  I have an intense dislike for Chinese baijiu (白酒), and I'm certainly no fan of Maotai (茅台).  Besides the liquor, I tasted mostly passion fruit and a little bit of the hawthorne, but had a difficult time picking out the lemongrass.

    One thing... honestly I think the jue (爵) is one of the most impractical drinking vessels one can use.  When you're serving only a small amount of a viscous liquid, one either needs to tilt one's head back by 90 degrees, or tilt the vessel so that the opening covers up the nose.  I'm glad the Chinese haven't used this for the last two millennia...

    Sweetbread : oyster sauce, mountain yam, spring onion, ginger, kale - a wonderful dish.  The sweetbread is deep-fried and served on a bed of chanterelles with oyster sauce.  There are chunks of roasted Chinese yam (山藥), plus a deep-fried piece of kale, as well as some ginger and spring onion purée.  Curiously, there is an oyster leaf.  I thought the hearty flavors of the oyster sauce worked really well with the sweetbread, and of course with the chanterelles, too.

    When it came to "plats", the menu didn't specify for us to choose one, so I originally thought I was gonna get both the suckling pig and the langoustine.  Well, if I had to choose one, there was never any doubt about which one I would pick...

    Suckling pig : roasted Sichuan pineapple, Port jus - the Vietnamese pork had pretty strong pork flavors.  The pork was, of course, pretty tender.  And the crackling was pretty good.  The sauce was made with caramel and Port, with Sichuan peppercorns to spice it up.

    Langoustine : English mustard, salty egg, cauliflower, black truffle - fortunately, My Favorite Cousin ordered the langoustine and shared it with me.  This is a dish I've had before.  The langoustines were delicious, and I love the way that there's a layer of salty duck egg yolk and yolk foam on top - just like the way it's done in Chinese dishes.  The cauliflower purée is delicious, as is the black truffle purée.  And the finely chopped cauliflower and black truffle bits pays homage to one of the earliest dishes I had from Alvin - the cauliflower and black truffle "risotto".  And they even pickled the purple cauliflower.  Yum.

    Coconut : palm sugar, coconut water, chocolate, pina colada, cherry, pandan - a lot of different ingredients here, and just as I was snapping a picture of the dish...

    ...our waiter came and sprinkled the frozen pina colada powder on top, without checking with me that I was done taking my pictures.  Gula melaka and coconut is one of my favorite combinations in the world, and here you've got some young coconut water meringue with gula melaka ice cream together with lime and pandan dots - which kinda makes a nice chendol.  Then you've got Brandy cherry jelly, little chunks of chocolate and cherry candy at the bottom.    Absolutely delicious.

    The mignardises came and we were presented with eight treasures.

    Chrysanthemum milk candy - had a tough time picking out the chrysanthemum.

    Wolfberry, wild honey, jelly

    Dragon eye, sesame roll

    Dried mandarin peel chocolate truffle - love that salty flavor.

    Osmanthus steamed sponge cake - definitely taste the saltiness of the osmanthus paste.

    Rose, hazelnut chocolate, sticky rice dumpling - definitely could taste the rose...

    Chinese red date marshmallow - the jujube flavor was kinda faint, but that's not surprising for a marshmallow.

    Walnut cookies, maple syrup

    There was also a cup of eight treasure tea, brewed with brown sugar as well as the eight ingredients of the mignardises above and served chilled.  This was a very nice ending to our meal, although we wondered why we only got one lousy little cup when there was a whole pot.

    I think I made a poor choice of wine selection and grabbed the wrong bottle from my office fridge...

    2010 Roulot Meursault Luchets - very big nose of toast, but initially a little closed and slightly pungent.  More buttery notes when opened up later.

    I do have to take issue with the front of house here.  For a restaurant of this stature - and at 3 Michelin stars, you should expect a reasonable amount of traffic of expats and tourists - why is the staff's English so poor?  The irony here is that I had an easier time understanding the French staff than some of the local staff, and My Favorite Cousin almost couldn't understand a word that came out of a particular waiter's mouth.

    Some of these guys have clearly been around, but they still have difficulty explaining the ingredients in English, and it's clear that they only know the names in Chinese and translated literally into English when faced with English-speaking customers.  Instead of chanterelles, we were told they were "chicken oil mushroom (雞油菌)".  We also got "oyster oil sauce (蠔油醬)" and not oyster sauce.  If I didn't know the names of the ingredients in Chinese, I would be pretty confused.

    Well... this was a very enjoyable meal, and there were a few dishes I thought were standouts.  I still maintain that Alvin is doing something that no one else is doing - creating a unique blend of Western dishes with Chinese elements that actually works really well... unlike some world-famous restaurants which just don't get it.  So yes, it's certainly worth a detour, and perhaps even a special journey.

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