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

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    I used to really like going to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  There was a time when I kept returning for wine dinners there, as I fell in love with some of the dishes that Chef Bomabana offered there and the corkage policy was pretty reasonable and fair.  I would also pop by for a casual lunch sometimes, especially after a friend told me about the off-menu carbonara.

    Then the restaurant was given three macarons by the Rubberman.  I'm happy that the chef has gained that level of recognition, even though many of us privately (OK, sometimes publicly, too) disagreed with the Rubberman.  Well, reservations became much harder to come by, and one would often need to book weeks in advance.  After a few unsuccessful attempts of trying to book even 2 and sometimes weeks in advance, I gradually gave up altogether.  I simply chose to dine elsewhere.

    It's white truffle season, and many in town have traditionally come to Chef Bombana to get their fix.  While I've been lucky to get my truffle at a multitude of places this year - including David Lai's Neighborhood - I still needed to come back here at least once.  So I rounded up a few of the most discerning palates in town, and booked for lunch 4 weeks in advance.

    While nobody at the restaurant knows who I am, Chef Bombana certain knows my dining companions well.  He came over to greet us, and asked whether we would prefer to order à la carte or whether we'd prefer he put something together for us.

    When a chef of this caliber puts something like that on the table, who in their right mind would say "No"?!

    Fergie is a celebratory mood and wanted to drink some wine.  The ladies didn't want to drink at lunch, and I was going back to the office... so Fergie felt a little lonely drinking by himself.  Being the selfless friend that I am, I decided to join Fergie so he wouldn't look like the wino drinking alone...  although I insisted that the sommelier only give me a very small pour for each glass...

    Seared red tuna, fennel pollen, tomato and citrus emulsion, Calvisius Elite caviar - WOW!  I have stopped eating tuna at high end restaurants because I'm avoiding blue fin tuna, but since I didn't tell the chef about my preferences, I decided I'll take it anyway.  My friends, of course, were generously offering to sacrifice themselves for my sake...

    This was an incredible dish to start our lunch with.  The marbling in the tuna belly is easy to see, so naturally the gorgeous thing just melted in the mouth... and then you've got the farmed caviar from Lombardy on top.  That tomato and citrus emulsion at the bottom?  Inhaled.  If I didn't think we had a lot more food coming, I'd pick up some focaccia and wipe my bowl clean.

    2011 Tua Rita Lodano - an interesting equal blend of Traminer, Riesling and Chardonnay, with annual production of 3,000 bottles.  Very light with some oaky notes and lemon citrus.  Nice acidity here.

    Then Chef Bombana brought out his truffles, which looked absolutely beautiful.

    You'll find that the chef tends to shave from several different pieces of white truffles onto a single plate.  This is because each piece of truffle is different in terms of fragrance, texture and flavor, so he "blends" them all together to minimize the variation between plates.  I guess this is kinda like winemakers blending different barrels and tanks to create a more uniform vintage.

    I did ask Chef Bombana about the reddish patches seen in some of the truffles, and he said that the patches come from truffles growing near a specific type of tree.

    Scrambled egg, mushroom jus and Alba white truffle - there is no better companion to white truffle than the humble scrambled egg, although a little mushroom jus can't hurt...

    Then we got our truffle shavings... and this was inhaled.

    2009 La Spinetta Chardonnay Lidia - ripe nose with toasty oak, caramelized around the edges, very fragrant and beautiful.

    Homemade tagliolini, butter, Parmesan and Alba white truffle - the other good companion to white truffle is a simple pasta cooked in butter, and one would be hard pressed to find pasta that is much finer than can be had here.

    And of course there was more truffle.  Love the pasta.  Such wonderful bite.

    1998 Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric from magnum - a really beautiful wine.  Nose of dried herbs, forest pine, very ripe and fruity.  Nice acidity here with some tannins.

    Lobster risotto, Taggiasca olive, citrus and oregano - beautifully cooked with capers and the jus of the lobster.  The centers of the rice grains were still a little hard, giving that interesting bite.

    Ca' del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Rosé, vintage unknown - nose of raspberries, kinda ripe, a little toasty and yeasty.

    Roe deer loin - this beautiful off-menu piece of deer came with a little piece of pan-fried foie gras, some chestnuts, potatoes, both diced and sliced porcini, asparagus, and some sorrel leaves on top.

    The deer itself was very tender and perfectly executed, with wonderful flavors and texture to match.

    2007 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva "Bombana" - very toasty nose with forest notes, ripe on the nose but lean on the palate, with some tannins here.  A very beautiful wine.

    White truffle ice cream, chestnut, panettone and Alba white truffle - is there a more beautiful sight than shredded white truffle draped over ice cream?  I think not.  Served with chantilly cream, meringue, and panetonne.  The fragrance of the truffle was simply incredible - even better than having it in slices.  I didn't want to put anything in my mouth after this, because it would ruin the wonderful flavors that were still lingering.

    2011 Capofaro Malvasia di Salina - pineapple, honey, glycerin, bitter orange, and a little nutty.

    This was an incredible meal.  In all the times that I've been to this restaurant, this was the very first meal where I thought I was in the middle of a three-star experience.  Every single dish delivered the "wow factor", and the food was certainly more refined than before.  The Great One concurred, as did the Wommers.  Three star, hands down.

    Many thanks to Chef Bombana for preparing such an incredible meal for us, for the beautiful white truffles, and for the little sips of wine to go along.  We made sure to leave a generous tip to make up for all the extras we received.  And I will be back.  Soon.

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    I'm back home this weekend to exercise my constitutional rights and fulfill my civic duties.  Yes, I flew back to Taiwan to vote in the elections today.  While mom was initially not hot on the idea of me making the trip back, I insisted that I would not give up on my rights.  My vote is just as important as anyone else's and I wouldn't dream of giving up my right to vote.

    For a change, I asked the parental units to come and hang out at my place, since I wanted to cook dinner in my kitchen.  After last year's rather unsuccessful attempt to cook a decent dinner for mom, I was determined to try again.  Since it's white truffle season, again, I dropped by Neighborhood and asked David to sell me a little tuber that I could take home to mom.

    This year I decided to do risotto instead.  Gary had just posted a mushroom risotto recipe on his blog recently, so I figured I'd try it out.  I knew I didn't have time to shop for ingredients in Taipei, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to find everything I needed, anyway... so I brought a bunch of key ingredients with me from Hong Kong.

    It's been a few years since I cooked my last risotto, and that attempt didn't end well.  So this year I decided to take things a little slower... making sure it was medium to medium low heat, and adding my stock in one ladle at a time per Gary's instructions.  I probably could have prepped a little better, and didn't exactly get my mis en place all done before firing up the stove, but it went fairly smoothly. Although I did scramble a little while trying to sauté my shimeji mushrooms (しめじ茸) and stir the risotto at the same time.  And mom helped by dicing the rehydrated porcini for me.

    Shimeji and porcini mushroom risotto - this was one of the better risottos I have ever cooked, despite being woefully out of practice.  I think it was partly because I used a large frying pan instead of a stock pot as I used to, and partly because I was really adding stock very slowly over medium low heat.  Texture-wise it wasn't perfectly al dente, because I didn't turn off the heat quickly enough, but there was still some firmness in the middle, and the rice was far from mushy.  If only I added a little more stock before serving... since it was clearly not wet enough.

    I do have to say that this was pretty tasty.  Of course the chicken stock and the onions provided the backbone, but the liquid from rehydrating the porcini didn't hurt, and it's nice to have the mushrooms, too.  The only regret I have is that I forgot to sauté the rehydrated porcini to really bring out the flavors... and just mixed them into the rice.  I think mom would have been happy to make the chicken stock for me, but she was thankful that the bouillon cubes I used were at least made by "lao wai" and didn't have any MSG...

    But I couldn't just serve the risotto on its own!  We had to have white truffle, and I wrapped the paper towel around this 91-gram tuber and showed mom.  A 40-gram piece had broken off before I bought it, and I decided that we didn't need the whole 130 grams for the three of us.

    There was plenty of truffle to go around, so I wasn't exactly stingy when shaving it.  The idiotic rookie mistake I made?  Not cleaning the truffle with a brush before serving.  Mom took a bite and realized there was still sand on the exterior, so I stopped shaving and went back to the kitchen sink to clean the truffle.  Much less sand on the plates afterwards...  Sorry, mom!

    Mom always demands lots of veggies for her meals, so she prepared these sautéed vegetables for us.

    For dessert, I grabbed a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream from 7-11 next door, and then just shaved the rest of the white truffle on top - like I've been doing at Neighborhood a lot lately.  Mom thought it was decadent when there was more truffle than ice cream in her bowl which, of course, was an exaggeration.  Dad, on the other hand, ended up having more ice cream than I've ever seen him eat, as he kept spooning it to balance out the truffle in his bowl.  We also ended up grating the last bits of truffle for a completely different texture, and mom preferred it this way with ice cream.

    I wasn't planning on drinking a bottle of white with dinner, but since I had to opened up a bottle to cook the risotto - which I swiped from the parental units - we might as well drink some from that bottle.

    2005 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Napa Valley - ripe on the palate as expected, with classic lemon citrus.

    A pretty happy dinner... not least of all because I didn't fuck up the risotto.  Hooray!  I'm glad I got to deliver a much better white truffle this year, and hopefully I can do a bit better next year.

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    Ever since the reptile night I organized over a month ago - when I tasted the best snake soup I've had in memory - I have been wanting to pay Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) a return visit.  It's been years since I last had the famous snake soup here, and I needed to refresh my memory.  I was also curious to see how the two different snake soups would compare.

    I called up the restaurant and specifically requested that they put together a menu consisting of Chef Lee Yuk-lam (李煜霖)'s specialties.  Years ago I was told that if you wanted to make sure that Chef Lee personally took care of your food from his separate kitchen, you booked yourself a private room.  This time around the restaurant staff who spoke to me over the phone told me that it wasn't necessary to book a room, that I could still enjoy Chef Lee's dishes even out in the main dining room.  Whether this was really true or not, I don't know.  But I did spend a little time going back and forth to work out our menu, and hoped that Chef Lee was around.

    Suckling pig with foie gras and crispy rice (乳豬鵝肝醬窩巴) - this was an interesting dish.  A crispy suckling pig crackling and a piece of crispy rice cracker sandwich a slice of soft and smooth foie gras pâté.  What could be better than three layers of fatty goodness?  Having it with a perilla leaf adds the distinctive fragrance to the mix.  The only thing that stopped it from being pure perfection was the fact that this was served kinda cold.

    Sautéed crystal king prawn (水晶大蝦球) - beautifully scored as expected.  The texture was much softer than I expected - one might argue it borders on being mushy - but somehow I didn't really miss the crunchiness.  I thought it was pretty tasty, with a certain level of delicacy I hadn't tasted in a while.

    Sautéed diced pig stomach with bamboo soot and celery (七彩炒肚尖) - I love this dish, and while this was tasty, it was a far cry from what we had at the private kitchen.  There was very little wok hei (鑊氣) tonight... and that, boys and girls, is how you turn a good dish into one that is magical.

    Traditional braised assorted snake soup (正宗太史五蛇羹) - this was the pièce de résistance - the reason why we came tonight.

    The snake meat was shredded by hand, which may explain why the shreds weren't as fine as what we tasted at the private kitchen.

    No complaints about the knife work on the kaffir lime leaf chiffonade, though...

    In terms of overall flavor, it was even lighter and more delicate compared to the private kitchen.  It was also less thick and viscous in terms of texture, although I wouldn't call it "watery".  It was very delicious and fine, although most of us agreed that the version from the private kitchen was a shade better.

    Sautéed water turtle fillet with assorted vegetables (鳳城水魚絲) - another classic dish, and reptile #2 for the night.  I absolutely loved this dish.  The knife work was incredibly fine, and the meat was shredded thinly so thinly.  The gelatinous "skirt" was also shredded and I love the texture.  Stir-fried with spring onions, celery, green capsicums, red chili peppers, carrots, sweet pickled mustard and Indian almonds (欖仁).

    Sautéed giant garoupa fillet with vegetables (碧絲炒龍躉球) - so disappointing.  Not that the dish tasted horrible, or the execution was off.  In fact it was neither.  The dish was as expected, but let's be honest, this was a total waste of a good and expensive fish.  Yes, they scored the fish fillets nicely, but this was ordinary to the extreme.  The best parts of a giant garoupa are its fins and the thick, chewy skin with that nice layer of fat underneath.  Getting rid of the skin robs it of its true flavors.  I should have rejected this dish when it was proposed.

    Baked chicken with rock salt in ancient method (古法鹽焗雞) - this was one delicious chicken.  The meat was moist - even the breast - but chewy.  Chewy because this wasn't just some battery farm chicken that's been chilled or, worse, frozen.  I didn't ask the staff, but I'll bet this was probably Long Kong chicken (龍崗雞).  It had flavor, and I don't mean salt.  Speaking of salt, this was probably the least salty salt-baked chicken I remember having.  That, I like.

    Pea shoots in superior soup (上湯豆苗) - it's amazing how something simple could surprise you when you least expect it.  Nothing more than a dish of blanched young pea shoots, or is it?  The magic was in the superior broth, which was much more complex in terms of flavor than usual... and noticeably thicker and rounder in texture.  So elegant and beautiful.

    Stir-fried glutinous rice with assorted preserved meat (生炒糯米飯) - another dish we all looked forward to very much.  A little soft and wet, and certainly not as much wok hei as we had hoped for.  Tasty nonetheless, but here the private kitchen won another round.

    Sweetened almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - decent but nothing spectacular.

    The chocolate fairy had recently returned from ChocolateLand, and brought with her a box of Sprüngli Cru Sauvage that I love so much.

    I wasn't greedy and only took one truffle, but I was happy just to have had a bite of this precious cargo at all.

    We decided to take it easy on wine, so the bottle count was a little light...

    1971 Cantine Lanzavecchia Barolo Riserva Speciale - clearly over the hill, like a few other Barolos from similar vintages I had lately.  Definitely very sour plum drink (酸梅湯), fragrant, like drinking Huadiao after a salty plum (話梅) has been dunked it in for a while.  Savory and a little smoky on the nose.

    1986 von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese - lovely nose, a little pungent, with a little marmalade.  Palate was drier than I expected, with crisp acidity here, but as it opened up it became smoother and rounder.  The plastic and polyurethane notes were a little more obvious later.

    1990 Pignan - nice and sweet fruit here, surprisingly fragrant nose, with a little animal.  Drinking beautifully now.

    2006 Guiraud - really fragrant, floral like a perfume.  Really sweet like honeydew, with notes of marmalade.  Very young and fresh, and less acetone.  Surprisingly nice.

    I think we ate very well tonight.  There were certainly no fails, and we were treated to a few magical moments.  The surprise for everyone, though, was that the food tonight underperformed that of the private kitchen.  I can't be sure that Chef Lee cooked our food or was even in the kitchen tonight, since it's not customary for chefs at Chinese restaurants to come out and greet guests... and we were certainly no VIPs.  But our expectations were certainly a little higher.

    Speaking of which... now I'm really looking forward to dinner on Friday, as I head back to the private kitchen to have a number of the same dishes.  A real head-to-head!

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  • 12/05/14--07:47: My new favorite snake soup
  • Ever since my last dinner at the private entertainment next door, I have been wanting to introduce this place to the Tiggers - and in particular Babu.  They are lovers of snake soup, and having tasted a few different versions from top restaurants in my recent quest for the best snake soup around, I am convinced that there is no better version (for me, anyway) than this private kitchen.

    I had originally made the booking for tomorrow night, but a few days ago I was contacted by the chef, and a request was made for me to move the dinner to a day earlier or a day later.  Well, it wasn't exactly a "request", but given that this is someone's private playground that he has graciously allowed others to use when he's not here, I certainly know my place and when to dutifully toe the line.  I checked with the Tiggers and moved the dinner tonight - depriving a couple of people of the chance to try this place, but making a hangry woman very, very happy as a result.

    Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - one of the few dishes tonight that I haven't tried before.  Shredded crab meat is piled on top of a crab shell, and baked with a layer of what looked like Japanese panko (パン粉) - bread crumbs - on top.

    As I started to dig into the pile of crabmeat, I realized that there wasn't much of anything else here.  I like the version at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) with the shredded onions providing a little sweetness, but it appears I'm in the minority.  There was also no trace of any annoying curry powder or even a thick layer of cheese and cream - just the purity of the sweet crab meat.  With the very first, course, the chef has already won Babu over.

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃蝦球) - this impressed me on my very first visit, and it did so once again tonight.

    The texture was just the right balance between tenderness and being firm and slightly crunchy.  Again, no trace of baking soda that I could taste - just the natural flavors of the prawn.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the main event.  Oh this was reaaaaaal good... The ingredients were so fine and delicate... thanks to the chef's knife skills.  The soup base isn't superior broth (上湯) - which is made with ham - but actually made with snake bones.  You've got very full yet balanced flavors, and the fragrance of the aged mandarin peel (陳皮) really shines through.  There was also enough fish maw here that you can feel the collagen adding to the viscosity... and I could certainly feel my lips getting a little sticky from it.  Babu was very happy, and we both had seconds.

    Yes, this is now my favorite snake soup.  The version at Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) was also delicious, but the flavors were slightly on the light side, and the hand-shredded snake meat meant some strands were a little thicker than others.  The version at The Eight in Macau just had too much unnecessary ginger, which was too spicy and threw it out of balance.

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - this was served out of sequence to accommodate the hangry woman, who arrived a little late.  Hands down the best I've had in Hong Kong, and I've now had it three times here.  The crunchy pig's stomach, the sweet and crunchy water chestnuts, the slightly sour pickles, and the beautiful Indian almonds which had been pan-roasted before being added into the mix... and yes, the incredible wok hei which left a wonderful fragrance in my mouth.  It was difficult to stop myself from spooning more of this onto my plate.

    Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - it seems that the chef worried that we might not have enough... so he gave us two?!  The big one was pretty damn big!

    As expected, the wing was very, very soft and delish.  Unfortunately, it's easy to overcook the rest of the fish, and tonight the chef did it again.

    Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - we had just been discussing the case involving an editor of a local food magazine who couldn't tell a pigeon from a chicken or a duck by sight... and our chicken arrived without its head.  Ohmigosh, is this a chicken??!!  How do I know??

    Anyway, this was definitely one of the best salt-baked chickens in town.  The flesh was moist and tender, and thankfully the skin wasn't salty at all.  The best part is that they served us the liver and the gizzard - which Cuisine Cuisine did not do.  Very yum, but we were all too full to make a meaningful dent.

    Pea shoots stir-fried in chicken fat (雞油炒豆苗) - I was surprised to see pea shoots at a high-end place in Hong Kong which weren't the young tips. These were a little more "mature", but I like them nonetheless.  Instead of being blanched in superior stock like at other places, these were stir-fried in chicken fat.  No wonder they were so greasy and delicious!

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - the hangry woman I Love Lubutin tried to dissuade me from eating my share... but to no avail.  Tonight the execution was a little off, as we found clumps of rice that had stuck together, instead of having it all loose.  However, this was still very, very delicious.

    As usual, we had a nice cup of puer tea (普洱茶) as palate cleanser before dessert was served.

    Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - very good as usual, especially the lotus seeds which had been cooked through.

    I also brought my own desserts... as I'd done some shopping earlier in the day at Pierre Hermé.  Églantine, figue et foie gras is a combination I love, and I'm glad they have introduced it in Hong Kong this season.  I love the crunchy fig seeds, and someone commented that it's like eating Fig Newtons... Truffe blanche et noisette was pretty, good, but again I find this to be less fragrant than I remembered from previous seasons.

    This wasn't a real drinking crowd, so I randomly pulled a couple of bottles from what I had in the office...

    2006 Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese* - a little plastic, honey, orange blossom water.  Very sweet, and probably more suited as a dessert wine.

    2009 Quinta do Noval Douro - ripe and sweet on the nose, jammy black fruits, with pine forest, and a little smokiness underneath the sweet fruit.

    This was a really good dinner... and all the more interesting because of the amount of dishes that overlapped with Mondays' dinner - and this place came out on top on every single one.  I'm ever so grateful that I was introduced to this place... and for the fact that it's so easy to get to for me.  Now I gotta come back a few more times before snake season ends...

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  • 12/07/14--00:32: An Italian in Hong Kong
  • One of my favorite winemakers is back in town, and once again I had the good fortune to enjoy his company.  My friends invited me to lunch at Gradini, a relatively newcomer that is just literally a stone's throw from my office.  I was initially scratching my head at the decision to take an Italian to have Italian food in Hong Kong, but... whatever.  I was just happy to tag along!

    Although it wasn't 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Marchese Lodovico Antinori seemed pleased with the venue.  He remarked that the decor seemed to be that of popular Roman restaurants in the 1950s or 60s, and seeing waiters dressed in white jackets seemed to reinforce the look this place was going for.

    We took the brunch menu, which had us start with antipasto e panetterie.  I decided to be a good boy and only grabbed a small selection...

    The asparagus was sprinkled with black pepper and pretty decent.  Nothing out of the ordinary for the salumi.  The mushrooms were OK.  The baby octopus salad was so-so, as was the prawn.

    Lombo di agnello gratinato alle erbe - my friend didn't want to eat too much, and for some reason I ended up getting half her order of lamb chops.  Execution-wise these were pretty good, as the lamb was still pink inside - although I was a little surprised by the puddle of pink liquid collecting on my plate as I left the chops untouched for a while.  The herb crust was reasonably tasty, but most importantly, there was plenty of lamby fat.  I greedily picked up the bones with my hands and attempted to strip them clean of any remaining fat and tendons...

    Linguini alla pescatora - I love a good seafood pasta, so this was a no-brainer.  Interestingly this came with clams (no shells), what seemed to be bouchot mussels (with shells), and prawns.  A couple of the prawns tasted a little off, which was a shame, because the sauce and everything else was certainly very delicious.

    For dessert I got greedy as I wanted to taste through the small selection of cakes.  The custard of the lemon tart was nothing to write home about, but it tasted fine.  The coffee mousse cake was a little mild, but also tasted fine.  The chocolate fudge cake tasted fine, but was much too dry.

    I was a total scatterbrain today and forgot to bring the key to my office, so I wasn't able to fish out a bottle I wanted drink with Lodovico.  Instead we had just the one bottle that my friend brought...

    1983 Cristal - nose was slightly mature and oxidized, but still very vibrant for its age.  Initially pretty acidic on the palate, but this improved as temperature went down.  Ripe on the palate with orange marmalade, later on salty plum (話梅).  Beautiful.

    It's always good to see Lodovico.  I may never understand why he's taken a liking to me, but I'm not gonna complain too much!  I look forward to our next meeting, and hope that it will be in Europe for a change.

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  • 12/09/14--06:38: The noisy winter dragon
  • Babu pinged me out of the blue yesterday, asking me when we would be going back to the "Japanese restaurant".  She was due to fly out in a couple of days, so I wasted no time in rounding up the troops and quickly made a reservation at Tenkyu RyuGin (天空龍吟) tonight.

    Takano-san was off tonight, but I was pretty sure we would be well taken care of.  I was very much looking forward to having their winter menu for the first time.

    Monkfish liver from Hokkaido and "aka" clam with spring onion in mustard miso sauce ("スペシャリテ"北海道 "極上あん肝"と "赤貝"のからし酢味噌和え) - an interesting start, with cubes of rich and smooth monkfish liver paired with beautifully scored slices of ark shell.  Served with slices of radish, spring onions, a sauce made with white miso and egg yolk, and julienne of yuzu (柚子) zest.

    Simmered abalone with winter vegetables served with grated radish sauce ("煮鮑"と "冬野菜"おろしチリ酢とともに) - the dish arrived covered in a rather large and colorful abalone shell, which served to whet our appetites...

    Underneath the shell, there were two relatively thin slices of abalone.  As usual they were finely scored, which helped to soften them up... and they were just one step from melt-in-your-mouth.  These were served with slices of lightly grilled eringi mushrooms (エリンギ), mizuna (水菜), and topped with grated radish in spicy vinegar along with finely diced spring onions.  Soooo yummy, and we all wanted an extra order (or two) of this...

    Shiitake mushroom egg custard topped with matsubagani crab ("冬の味覚"山陰 "タグ付き松葉蟹"と "炭火焼椎茸"の茶碗蒸し 酢橘の香り) - as Mrs. Tigger said, this was pure comfort food.  The warmth of steamed egg custard, the earthy flavors of autumn mushrooms, and the sweetness of the Matsuba crab meat from Sanin (山陰).  The mushrooms were grilled over charcoal, then puréed before being mixed into the egg.  The nice little dab of crab tomalley (蟹味噌) on top provided something a little more intense, while the citrus fragrance of sudachi (酢橘) lime relaxed my senses.

    Poached oyster and mashed turnip soup in winter style (北海道 "牡蠣"と "蕪"みぞれ椀仕立て) - this was very interesting... Gone was the usual meat/shrimp/crab ball in ichibandashi (一番出汁), and in its place we've got a Hokkaido oyster, sitting in a bowl of purée of turnip from Kyoto.  The chrysanthemum petals and yuzu made things not only colorful but also fragrant.

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - thankfully, no tuna to substitute for tonight.
    Olive flounder (鮃) - very fresh and crunchy.
    Horse clam (黒海松貝) - wow, really nice and flavorful, and of course nice crunch here.  This was the real horse clam (ミルガイ), not the geoduck (アメリカナミガイ) that people mislabel at cheaper sushi restaurants.
    Bonito (鰹) and striped bonito (歯鰹) - I don't think I've ever had the paler striped bonito before, and it was interesting to pair it with the "regular" bonito.  The little strip of fish skin on the side was pact with incredibly intense smokiness... very nice!

    Charcoal grilled alfonsino served with crispy scales (炭火で焼き上げた "金目鯛"のサクサク鱗焼) - I love it when they bring out the splendid alfonsino here, because it's so juicy and succulent... even after grilling.  This time, though, it wasn't served with a layer of rice crispies, but the scales were left on and grilled to a crisp.  I love fish scales... especially when they've been meticulously fried, twice, first at 160°C and then again at 200°C.  The alfonsino is then grilled over Binchotan (備長炭) charcoal.  Delicious.  Served with a little pile of grated radish mixed with ginger and spring onions.

    Wagyu ribeye sukiyaki with onsen tamago (九州 "のざき牛"の 温泉たまごを絡めてすき焼き) - the beef course here is always spectacular, not least because the meat always melted in one's mouth.  Once again we find ourselves with very thin slices of buttery, fatty Japanese beef - from Nozaki Farm in Kagoshima (鹿児島).  Done as a sukiyaki (すき焼き) with a wonderfully wobbly soft-boiled egg, along with red onion that was lightly fried, yellow and red carrots from Kyoto, chrysanthemum greens (春菊), and a piece of tofu at the bottom.  Beautiful.  Inhaled.

    Premium sea urchin on steamed rice with simmered fresh seaweed (浜中 "海水雲丹"と "海苔の佃煮"昆布出汁御飯) - so simple, yet so beautiful.  Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) with delicate flavors, with soft equally-soft wakame (若布) seaweed, over rice cooked with konbu dashi (昆布出汁).  Served with pickles made with white and green Kyoto turnip, along with some bonito flakes.

    RyuGin specialty -196°C pear candy and +99°C pear jam (-196°Cの洋梨飴 +99°Cの飴炊き洋梨) - I'm glad I got to have the signature dessert made with pear for the first time.  This was just beautiful!

    After breaking the shell open, we were served with the hot jam for the complete hot-and-cold experience.  This time the filling was made without any yogurt, just sugar and some pear vodka.

    Deep fried spring roll, sweet red beans, strawberry, "shiratama" mochi (苺ぜんざい春巻き 苺 白玉 小豆 バニラアイスクリーム) - I wasn't expecting this for sure... The vanilla ice cream was different but interesting.

    Inside the very hot spring roll, a mix of red beans, small round mochi (餅) and strawberries were used as filling.

    We were pretty full, but Chef Sato decided to send us an extra dessert.  The Venezuelan figs were poached in Kyoho (巨峰) grape vinegar, and they were pretty yummy.  The fig sorbet on the side, though, was way, way too thick and sticky.  Too rich for me.

    Matcha (抹茶) to finish, as always.

    One of the pleasures in life is to enjoy a meal of fine and delicious food, and being with people whose company one enjoys.  Japanese cuisine such as kaiseki, with its refined elements, demands to be enjoyed in a tranquil environment so that the diner can focus on the food.

    One of the unfortunate realities about dining at this establishment is that they seem to get their fair share of clientele who are inconsiderate and noisy - something which I had experienced the first time I sat in the main dining room.  Tonight a group of four local women threatened to ruin our evening.  I couldn't care less what they were talking about, but apparently Tigger got fed up listening to them complaining about men.  As he excused himself the table, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he wasn't going to confront them.

    What he ended up doing, though, was to speak to the staff about making moving us elsewhere in the restaurant.  Thankfully the small private room wasn't occupied, and soon we found ourselves enveloped in the privacy and tranquility of it.  Our dinner was much, much more enjoyable from that point onwards.  Sato-san came to apologize, but it really wasn't his fault.  The staff had no way of screening out rude and noisy customers, and I'm just glad that there was a way for us to escape that situation.

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    It's coming up to year-end, and I was going through the list of restaurants that I haven't been back to for a long time, when the name Lung King Heen (龍景軒) popped into my head.  It's the one restaurants most frequented by affluent tourists looking for Chinese food in town, yet I've never really been a fan.  Given that my last visit was more than 3 years ago, I figured it was time to pay a return visit, and see if my opinion of the place merits changing.

    When I called to make a reservation, I wasn't the least bit surprised - albeit still disappointed - to be told that the restaurant was fully booked for the next month.  Given that I had already rounded up a couple of friends for lunch, the only solution was to find an alternate venue.  Fortunately we all like the food at The Boss (波士廳), so I quickly grabbed a table for us.

    We ordered a couple of dim sum items, then some carbs and veg - surely enough for the three of us...

    Steamed barbecued buns (黑豚叉燒包) - pretty good stuff...

    As expected, the filling here ain't the cheap, leftover bits of fat, but proper slices of pork.

    Steamed spicy shrimp and pork dumplings (螞蟻上樹餃) - I loooove the taste of these dumplings, since that little spicy kick is usually unexpected for anyone tasting them for the first time.  But today it was obvious from the first glance that the dumplings were over-steamed, and sure enough, the wrapper was too sticky and mushy.  Pretty disappointing.

    Deep-fried minced pork dumplings (家鄉鹹水餃) - very well done.

    A shot of the interior...

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with XO sauce (XO醬煎腸粉) - this was very, very good.  The rolls were not small in terms of size, and pretty filling.  The interior was soft as expected, while the outer layer had been pan-fried till crispy and crunchy.  I love XO sauce, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the presence of thin slices of scallops.  I'd do this again in a heartbeat.

    Fried noodles with Shanghai crab roe (蟹粉炒麵) - well... not so good.  I still don't understand why they use these Cantonese egg noodles to make fried noodles, because it's totally wrong.  Why is it wrong, you ask?  Because of all the freakin' alkali in the noodles.  They don't work with the hairy crab roe, and pretty much killed the taste.

    Seasonal vegetables and bean curd sheet in home-made fish soup (魚湯千層浸時疏) - really good comfort food.  The pea shoots and soft tofu sheets are always good, but even better when they're soaked in some warm fish soup.

    This was a pretty good meal overall, other than a couple of imperfections.  The quality of the food here continues to be high, and certainly worthy of their little macaron.  Given the proximity to my office, I should look at coming back a little more often...

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    It's been way, way too long.  Up until a little more than a year ago, Caprice had been my favorite fine dining restaurant in town - a position it has steadfastly held for about seven years. But after the departure of Chef Vincent Thierry (who went to the Land of Fake Smiles in search of new adventures) followed by the departure of maître d'Jeremy Evrard (who joined Philippe Orrico at Upper Modern Bistro), the place had lost its mojo.  Both the food and the service had gone downhill in the second half of last year, and after yet another less-than-impressive lunch on the day before new chef Fabrice Vulin landed in Hong Kong, I stopped going altogether.

    Early feedback on the new chef's cuisine was mixed, which made me hesitate about a quick return.  Nearly a year later, I finally began getting some more positive reports, and figured it was probably time to go and check things out for myself.  So once again I rounded up some of the most discerning palates in town, and booked a table for lunch just two days shy of the anniversary of my last meal here.  The amazing thing is that, despite all of us having been huge fans of the restaurant, not a single one of us have been back at Caprice since the new chef arrived.

    The receptionists no longer recognize me by sight, but as I made my way to our table I saw a familiar face from afar.  One of the Sebastien twins - Sommelier Sebastien Alleno - came over to greet me.  It was good to see an old friend.  The other twin - Sebastien Boudon - has now taken over as maître d' after Jeremy's departure, and is also a familiar face... well, at least he knows who I am.  And I was also glad to see Timothy, who came over to say hello.  It was kinda heart-warming...

    Things have certainly changed in the last year - even the bread selection.  Gone was my old favorite sesame roll - replaced by a couple of new and rather tasty options.  What hasn't changed is the Bordier butter.  It's been so long since we were last here that the new staff had no clue about the particular preferences of this crowd... and it took them a while to realize that there's no point in putting unsalted butter on the table, since nobody touches it...  They eventually caught on.

    I had certainly been having my fair share of rich meals in the past month, so I was more than happy to take it easy by having the two-course set lunch.  À la carte can wait.  At least that was the plan.  But as I have remarked to friends before, if you wanna control your intake, you shouldn't visit restaurants where they know you...

    Our first amuse bouche came quickly.  Beetroot custard, with some Chilean sea bass, mayonnaise (and truffle?), along with diced Granny Smith apple, pine nuts, and topped with slices of beetroot.  Pretty interesting melange of flavors and textures here.  The richness of the mayo was countered by the acidity of the apple, and the earthy flavors of beetroot balanced out by the ocean flavors from the sea bass.  So far, so good...

    L'artichaut violet, la truffe blanche d'Alba - our second amuse - which was really an appetizer - was a (violet?) artichoke salad and a raviolo with Colonnata pork.

    Artichoke cream is then poured into the bowl, and Sebastien came over to shave some white truffle for us...  Loved this dish.  The raviolo was a little too small, so it was a little underwhelming.  But the artichoke cream had that nice acidity to cut the richness and get you going, although it almost overpowered the white truffle, if you could believe it...

    French tourteau crab jelly, potato leek salad and Vichysoisse - what a beautiful dish!  I always love the flavors that tourteau crabs offer, and here the shredded crab meat is encased in gelée.  Since this was surrounded by Vichysoisse - which is something I really love - it was only fitting that it came with a potato and leek salad on top.  Very, very delish.  The quenelles of tarragon cream coated the inside of one's mouth with a lovely fragrance, naturally...

    La langoustine royale - this was an unexpected treat that the kitchen sent out.  The langoustine tail, cooked à la plancha, was curled up into a not-so-little ball, and there was a langoustineraviolo with caviar on top

    There was also a nice selection of mushrooms - including chanterelles, trompettes de la mort, and shimeji.  The watercress coulis came with shreds of lemon zest, and also what I thought was a lemon citrus cream which provided both acidity and fragrance.

    Canadian lobster, king prawns, squid, fregola sarda in a shellfish bouillon and Avruga - OK, so I did it again... I'm a stupid, salivating Pavlov's dog.  The words "fregola" appeared before my eyes and I ignored every other dish on the menu.

    The lobster, squid and king prawns were pretty decent.  Somehow I wasn't quite happy with the texture of the fragola, but the shellfish bouillon was something I could have drunk 3 bowls of.  Slurp.

    Stuffed cabbage with wild boar, duck foie gras and autumn truffle - Fergie was kind enough to share a little bit of this with me, knowing how much I - like the rest of the table - liked wild boar.  Or was his kindness really stemming from his desire to pass on some excess calories to me?  Anyway, not surprisingly this was pretty rich, and although I could see the strands of gamey wild boar in every mouthful, the taste was dominated by the foie gras and truffle...  The one little slip-up was that the rich jus wasn't brought over until most of us had dug into this dish, and by that time I had decided it'd be too much for me to take.  As yummy as this was, I'm sure if I had ordered this as my main course, it would end up sitting like a rock in my stomach for the next 8 hours...

    In a move that shocked my dining companions, I took neither cheese nor dessert.  I was sure that I had consumed more than enough calories today, and actually sat around and watched the rest of the table try to make a dent in the massive amount of cheese that Sebastien sent our way.  I stood unmoved while the Great One dug into the Cabri Ariégeois that she asked for... as Fergie kept spooning Mont d'Or... as people made excuses for why they kept using their knives or fingers to trim off bits of Coulommiers fermier or Brillat-Savarin fermier.  Another day.

    I did nibble on the mignardises...

    So... thumbs up or thumbs down?  Well, it was a resounding YES!  ...and I'm not trying to mimic a certain monosyllabic food blog.  The dishes certainly seemed well thought out, the flavors were all there, and no real fault with execution.  Notwithstanding that big lump of stuffed cabbage, we felt that Chef Fabrice Vulin seemed to lean more towards "fine dining" compared with Vincent.  Not that Vincent's food wasn't top-notch, but despite his years spent in restaurants with Michelin stars, we all thought that deep down he wanted to do something a little simpler.  The presentation of the dishes today showed that Caprice is now making a move towards the top end of the spectrum, and perhaps looking to narrow the gap between itself and Amber - my current favorite for fine dining in Hong Kong.  I look forward to more visits next year and see how things develop.

    Some final words of apology to Sommelier Sebastien Alleno... Despite having had a crap morning at work, and this being Friday and all, I still had client calls in the afternoon... so I turned down his kind offer of wine.  He did complain about "feeling useless" around me, so I'd better make it up to him next time!

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    It's nearing the end of the year, and that means we get a series of MNSC dinners bunched together.  Tonight it was Juli's turn, and we are back at Chiu Tang (潮廳) - arguably the most exclusive Chiuchow restaurant in town.  The karaoke session of our neighbors next door was already in full swing, and over the course of the evening we would be treated to some pretty off-key tunes every time the door to our private room opened...

    There was a lot of food tonight, which was ruining my week of weight loss... Oh well, first world problems!

    Chiu Tang appetizer platter (潮廳四彩盤)

    Sautéed string beans with minced pork and preserved olive (欖菜肉碎四季豆) - love the strong flavors of the preserved vegetables here.
    Deep-fried home made mashed shrimp ball (炸蝦棗) - deep-fried is always good...

    Loved the finely diced bits of water chestnuts, which added a little crunch.
    Marinated jelly fish with sesame oil (麻香海蜇)
    Deep-fried oyster roll (炸蠔卷) - pretty good, too...

    Lots of spring onions in addition to the little oysters.

    Chilled giant flower crab Chiuchow-style (潮式大凍蟹) - always one of the highlights at a Chiuchow restaurant.  This time I made sure that I had more than just one measly piece of the body... Very, very good... so much so that I didn't bother with the vinegar, because I wanted to taste the purity of the crabmeat.

    Soy-marinated duck liver platter (鹵水鴨肝拼盤) - always another highlight here.  We've got strips of pig's ear, duck web, duck intestine, duck meat, tofu, and of course... thick cuts of duck liver that melts in your mouth.  Yum.

    Double-boiled wild bamboo pith with shrimp ball in soup (野生竹笙蝦丸湯) - this was meant to be shark's fin soup, but since I refuse to eat shark's fin, I chose a more environmental friendly substitute.  Loved this clear soup with bamboo pith, mushrooms, and shrimp balls with Chinese celery stems.

    Pan-fried vegetable cake with duck's egg and sweet potato powder (香煎水瓜酪) - this was very interesting as I've never had it before.  The pancake was made with strips of loofah, peanuts, and preserved radish.  Could not resist picking up an extra half slice...

    Pan-fried pomfret steak in soy sauce (豉油皇煎䱽魚扒) - this was alright... and almost reminds me of the miso cod found at Robuchon...  Served with sweet potato fries.

    Stir-fried beef cubes in Sichuan pepper (川椒牛肉粒) - FAIL.  The beef was simply too tough and chewy.  The deep-fried leaves were a type of loosestrife called "pearl leaves (珍珠葉)".

    Stir-fried pea shoots with diced preserved meats (臘味崧扒豆苗) - wow! This was really good... Stir-fried pea shoots may seem simple, but once you add in the diced preserved sausage and liver sausage, it became nothing short of divine.  I could have had another serving of this.

    Pan-fried noodle with Chinese chive accompany sugar and vinegar (糖醋乾燒伊麵) - one cannot dine here without having these incredibly tasty noodles.  Pan-fried until golden and crispy on one side, and this time it seems the flip side was almost as crispy.  As usual I sprinkled sugar and drizzled black vinegar on top.  And yeah, I took a second slice...

    Pan-fried dumplings (煎潮州粉粿) - for some reason Juli was still very hungry and ordered these as extra... I didn't need more food, but then again, no point in turning down these delicious pan-fried dumplings!

    Dessert duo (美點薈萃) - as usual the steamed dark sugar cane honey sponge cake (蜂蜜黑糖糕) was delicious, and even the deep-fried taro with the sugar batter was light and airy.

    Not surprisingly, Juli was even more generous with the wines than he was with food, and we were stunned by the very first flight he served... not to mention to bottle of white we had as an aperitif...

    1988 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - beautiful and toasty, with a little ripe lemon and a little honey.  Acidic on the palate at first, followed by ripeness.  Very nicely balanced.

    First pair: opened 1½ hours prior to serving, served from bottle.
    1971 Cheval Blanc - sweet grass, a little dusty, ripe fruit, animal, and leather.  A little leaner than the Trotanoy.  95 points.

    1971 Trotanoy - riper with more sweet fruit here, with leather and beautiful floral notes, also a little bit of grass, as well as smoke.  Turned a little leaner towards the end.  96 points.

    Second pair:
    1978 DRC Romanée-Saint-Vivant - very distinctive and strong Chinese medicine notes in the nose, which never dissipated.  There was fruit underneath, and actually rather pure.  No points scored.

    1978 Petrus - leather and grassy notes.  A little lean.  93 points.

    Third pair:
    1978 Roumier Bonnes-Mares - very farmy with bacon fat.  Very fragrant and open nose with a little mint, along with ripe, sweet fruit.  95 points.

    1978 Chave Hermitage - very prominent animal and leather notes, a little bit green with herbs, a little stinky with burnt rubber, and peppery.  Acidic on the palate.  95 points.

    Fourth pair:
    1983 Mommesin Clos de Tart - nice and ripe with sweet fruit, and a little smoky.  93 points.

    1983 Ausone - peppery nose with a little leather.  93 points.

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  • 12/17/14--22:38: My favorite golden pasta
  • It's the end of the year, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker decided to shower me with some love by taking me out to lunch.  It's no secret that 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana is a popular spot for business lunches, so I wasn't the least bit surprised when it was chosen as today's venue.  I would, of course, not complain too much about coming back here...

    Having had a sinful breakfast hours ago at my favorite daipaidong near my office, I wanted to keep things simple - and not appear to take advantage of someone else's entertainment budget.  I do love going back to basics when I come here...

    I took a green salad at the staff's suggestion, since I wanted a "light" lunch and this would avoid the awkwardness of watching the others eat while twiddling my thumbs.  I'm glad I got some more greens in at lunch.

    It's been too long since I last had the spaghetti carbonara here, so I asked for it today.  I just loooooooooooooooooooove the thick and rich sauce, looking so golden (and not the least bit white today) from the orange egg yolk.  Just a touch of grated pancetta and onions on top.  Beautiful and so satisfying.  I took a piece of bread and wiped the bowl clean...

    I was pretty happy and satisfied, and there was no need for dessert... beyond the usual selection of petits fours of fruit jelly, chocolate and cookies.

    I did have a glass of wine, though... and my host chose the 2009 La Spinetta Chardonnay Lidia which I had on my last visit.  Ripe on the nose with marmalade notes, and also ripe and sweet on the palate.  Unfortunately, this meant I was looking a little red for my meeting after lunch...

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    Tonight I met up with a friend from college on his first trip to Hong Kong.  I haven't seen Mike since our days back in Spittsbush, and not surprisingly, I was antisocial enough to have never met his wife on campus.  It was a rare opportunity to catch up with people I knew from yesteryear...

    I picked them up at their hotel, hopped into a cab, and headed for the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.  It's been a while since I was last at Tin Lung Heen (天龍軒), and I figured it would be a nice place to take my visitors.  The views from just the hotel entrance - never mind that from the 102nd floor - were spectacular.  I did tell my visitors that the place would be bling, and so I was a little disappointed that no one showed up in gold lamé or sequins as promised...

    Dinner was little more challenging than usual.  I was told in advance that my friend's wife's dietary restrictions included "no creatures of the forest or meadows" and no shellfish, but that fish, vegetables and carbs were fine.  After further inquiries, I was told that even meat stocks - which are sometimes used even in vegetable dishes in Cantonese cuisine - would be no-no.  I initially told Mike that it would be a "piece of cake", since many Chinese are vegetarians - especially the devout Buddhists among us.  But I decided to be very careful while ordering, and was very specific about these restrictions to the staff who took my order.  Thankfully we were at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a 5-star hotel!

    Our amuse bouche came in a little bowl, and contained deep-fried anchovies with pumpkin in black vinegar.  The fish tasted very familiar, and I found that they were actually Osbeck's grenadier anchovy (鳳尾魚) - little fishies that I grew up eating out of tins.

    Char-grilled barbecued Iberian pork (蜜燒西班牙黑豚肉叉燒) - the one meat dish I ordered for Mike and myself, because you can't come to Hong Kong and not eat good char siu.  Our waiter helpfully suggested that we take just a half-portion, since only two of us were eating pork.  Very fatty and tender, and very sinful.

    Stir-fried pea shoots (清炒豆苗) - pea shoots are in season and can be deliciously tender.  Often this is served after blanching in superior stock - which is simply ham broth.  Of course that's not kosher for this table, so I asked for it to be simply stir-fried.  During dinner though, I was constantly wondering whether the kitchen had forgotten our instructions and had added some chicken bouillon powder, because it sure tasted a little more than just simply pea shoots, salt, and oil...

    Steamed Hakata eggplant with dried tomato and red dates - this was surprisingly good.  We loved the flavors of the eggplant itself, but this was made even better by adding the tanginess of the sun-dried tomatoes and contrasting it with the sweetness and richness of the jujubes.

    Stir-fried noodles in soy sauce (豉油皇炒麵) - definitely safe with neither meat nor shellfish... Pretty decent, and I definitely tasted the wok hei.

    Steamed spotted garoupa (清蒸東星斑) - OK, not the most environmentally-friendly choice, but there really is a dearth of choices at high-end Canto restaurants when it comes to fish... pretty much everything is on the WWF's "Avoid" list.  We took one that was just about 1 catty, and our helpful waiter spared my friends the chore of getting the meat of the bones.  A good chunk of the fish was divvied up into three bowls, with all the bony parts coming to me... And the waiter wasn't kidding when he told me that he made sure that my American friends didn't get any bones, because they were all in MY bowl!

    The head, neck, tail and fins were moved to a small plate and left on the table, with the head facing me.  I ended up nibbling on the tail and took the meat off the neck, but I did offer the cheeks to my friend's wife.

    We shared a bottle of wine over dinner, and given the distinct lack of meat in our diet, I naturally chose a German Riesling.

    2012 Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Kabinett Rotlack - nice and floral on the nose.  Palate just a little off-dry with a touch of sweetness.

    The food was delicious tonight, and I have to thank the staff at the restaurant - both the front of house as well as the kitchen - for their outstanding service in their effort to accommodate our very specific dietary restrictions.  While it's fairly easy to avoid dishes with shellfish, meat (which my friend's wife does not eat for ethical reasons) is much more difficult than one thinks due to the potential presence of meat stock in dishes.  The kitchen took every care to ensure that every offending ingredient was removed from our food.  However, what I found out while discussing this with our waiter left me more than a little shocked...

    I always thought that some the dishes in the "vegetarian" section of the menu - especially ones which were "braised" - were not strictly vegetarian.  The waiter explained to me which ones from the menu needed to have their sauces made from scratch for us, but when he apologized to us for the steamed fish taking a little longer because the marinade needed to be specially made for us, I was dumbfounded.  Huh?  Isn't the marinade for Cantonese steamed fish just soy sauce and cooking oil, which is why it's sometimes referred to as 豉油蒸?  Well, apparently not only does the kitchen make liberal use of chicken bouillon powder in its cooking, this apparently extends to the classic steamed fish as well!

    Now, I've been told long ago that Cantonese chefs in town think nothing of using MSG or chicken bouillon powder in their cooking (some claim they don't use MSG, but conveniently ignore the fact that many brands of chicken bouillon powder contain MSG as an ingredient), but I would have thought that high-end Cantonese restaurants - especially one such as this, in a 5-star hotel, with two Michelin stars to boot, would make their own stock instead of relying on factory-made powder.  How naive I was!

    I still remember more than a decade ago, on my first tour of the Gaddi's kitchen as part of their Chef's Table program, I was shown the three gigantic pots in which the restaurant made their own stock.  I would imagine that no self-respecting chef at a top French restaurant would be caught dead using bouillon powder, just like no self-respecting chef at an Italian restaurant with Michelin stars would be caught using tomato sauce from a can.  So why do chefs at a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant think it's OK to use chicken bouillon to steam fish, never mind to cook other dishes?!  And now my fish tastes like chicken...

    I must admit that I was overcome with a certain sadness... like a young child who was told for the very first that that Santa Claus doesn't actually exist.  This was a rude awakening, and now I may have to re-evaluate my opinion of some top chefs at Chinese restaurants in town...  Sigh.

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  • 12/18/14--23:23: Year-end team lunch
  • 'Twas the last Friday before Christmas, and the guys wanted to do a team lunch together.  As usual I let them pick what they wanted to eat, and someone decided it was a good idea to go to Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬)... OK, so I know these guys wouldn't want to be taken out to Tsui Wah (翠華) or Kau Kee (九記)...

    Once again I took the traditional sushi set (織部 握り), and asked them to change out any tuna in the set.  They do use domestic Japanese tuna (本マグロ) caught around Hokkaido, so I'm glad I insist on not having any...

    As usual, a steamed egg custard (茶碗蒸し) to start us off...

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - with a little relish made of horseradish, leeks, and bonito flakes.

    Sweet shrimp (甘蝦) - gotta say these were some of the fattiest sweet shrimps I've ever been served...

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - very yummy, with some ginger, spring onion, and that sauce called 三星醬 again.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - wild, and surprisingly not crunchy at all as I had expected during this season.  Nice smoky flavors from the skin.

    We get a bowl of miso soup right about now...

    Surf clam (北寄貝) - with a little soy sauce and a drizzle of sudachi lime (酢橘) juice.

    Salmon (鮭) - Hokkaido king salmon (大介), with nice, deep flavors and a wonderfully soft texture that could only have come from aging.

    Mackerel (鯖) - I love it when they use these wafer-thin slices of kelp on top of the neta (ネタ)... Mackerel is one of my favorite kinds of fish, both for the flavors as well as texture.  While I expected the smoky flavors here, I was surprised at the sweetness that probably came from the tare (タレ) or the kelp marinade...

    Salmon roe (イクラ) - I would never complain about one of my favorite things...

    Horsehair crab (毛蟹) - served with crab tomalley (蟹味噌) on top, and the flavors here were so strong and wonderful.  One of the two pieces I received in lieu of the chopped toro and pickle roll (お新香トロ巻き).

    Octopus (蛸) - the other substitute piece, where the chef got out this big tentacle and cut out a slice...

    The octupus was very, very tender, but retains a degree of chewiness.  Yum.

    Conger eel (穴子) - pretty decent.

    Egg (卵) - well, I guess I've gotten used to the idea of having the "lower end" egg with set lunch... but I do have to say that somehow I absolutely loved this today.  Instead of just being sweet, the umami flavors of mirin (味醂) dominated.

    Tanuki udon (たぬきうどん) - as if lots of rice expanding in the stomach with the miso soup and tea wasn't enough, we get a bowl of udon at the very end, just in case you were still hungry.  Unfortunately the soup today was much too salty and full of MSG...

    A pretty good lunch, and I think the others enjoyed theirs, too.

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  • 12/19/14--07:23: Little Serge
  • I was getting together with a friend for dinner, and thanks to my incompetence, our original choice of venue became fully booked.  I didn't want to beg Harlan G for a table, so after scrambling for alternatives, we somehow ended up at Serge et le Phoque.

    The menu has changed somewhat, and there were no longer à la carte courses listed.  Instead, diners now have a choice between "Petit Serge" (5 courses) and "Grand Phoque" (7 courses).  We decided to go the "little" route...

    First the nibbles came.  Focaccia that I dipped into some nice olive oil.  Gougères made with Cantal and poppy seeds.  Dried fugu skin, undoubtedly marinated with mirin (味醂).  But the best part was the little bit of wasabi-flavored miso... which had such a wonderful kick on top of both sweet and savory flavors.

    Our amuse bouche came in two parts: first was coconut ceviche with avocado.  I'm not sure how one makes a ceviche out of coconut, but this was basically a blob of coconut sorbet with plenty of acidity, topped with a sprinkle of crispy rice, sesame and coriander.

    Soba with sea urchin - this was pretty nice.

    Tuna tataki, ginkgo nuts, and vinegar jelly - pretty nice, actually.   Tuna was nicely torched on the outside, and the ponzu (ポン酢) jelly was definitely very sharp.  There was also some pickled lemon rind here which added a little fragrance in the mouth.

    Red mullet with bellota soup - this was absolutely beautiful.  The red mullet was tender and melt-in-your-mouth.  There was a good contrast between the slightly strong flavors coming from the cockles and those coming from the bellota ham - both in the broth and the crispy chunks.  Interesting to find a slice of kumquat, but even more interesting that I should find a thin slice of lardo.  The tiny little tomatoes were nice, too.  But the one fail here?  The cockles were full of sand.  If there's one thing I REALLY hate, it's sandy bivalves.

    Partridge with eringi, blackberry and choy sum - this was a low after the highs of the last dish.  The partridge was simply overcooked and tough, especially the thin filet of breast.  The dark meat of the leg was crispy and seasoned with pepper, and curiously with a thin piece of smoked eel on top.  The jus was seasoned with rosemary, which was OK.

    Brie de Meaux - this seems to be the only cheese around... ever.  A tasty morsel, to be sure... but I wish there was something else available.  Curiously I tasted lots of cauliflower in the cheese...

    Before dessert, we had some more nibbles - including this mangosteen.

    But the surprise were these raisins au Sauternes - raisins soaked in Sauternes and covered in chocolate.  These were so incredibly fragrant and floral, and we wondered which grapes were used to make the raisins.  Was it Muscat, Muscadelle, or something else?  I loved them so much I ended up buying a couple of bags from the restaurant.

    Chocolate tart with Japanese dried plums - pretty much the same as my last visit, but there's nothing to complain about here.  Very rich and delicious.

    Dacquoise - this calls to mind the macaron, although the almond biscuits here were just OK.  The chilled vanilla ganache was very refreshing and delicious, and the crunchy nougatine in the middle was a delight.

    We brought along a couple of bottles of wine which we knew we couldn't finish, so we offered some to Jeremy the sommelier, to co-owner Charles, the chefs...etc.  Naturally this led to the guys coming over and spending some time hanging out with us... and eventually just charging us corkage for one bottle instead of two...

    1983 Jaboulet La Chapelle - nose was very muted at first and the wine seems to be a little over the hill, after double-decanting for an hour.  Some stewed fruits, and evolved later to reveal green pepper.  Later still some burnt rubber showed up, with leather notes.  After 5 hours finally some more fruit emerged.  Ex-domaine stock with a curious plastic capsule inside the tin capsule.

    1999 Mascarello Barolo - savory black olives, pretty minty, smoky and earthy.  Lots of tannins here but starting to soften up.

    2014 Lucy Margaux Wildman Rouge - Charles brought this over, poured us a glass and asked us to taste it blind.  Nose was a little bit pungent, showing a little sulfur.  Seemingly from cool fruit, showing sweetness on the edges of the nose, but surprisingly dry on the palate.  Also minty, dried herbs and potpourri in the nose.  Turned out to be a Merlot-blend natural wine.

    This was a pretty fun evening, and food was pretty good for the most part.  This isn't a place that will jump out at me whenever I'm thinking of places to eat at, but I would certainly be happy to return from time to time...

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    It's Christmas Eve, and I'm happy to find myself with dinner plans with my adopted family.  We are apparently having a turkey feast, with delivery from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  I'm not usually a big fan of turkey, so let's see what happens...

    For lunch, though, I met up with a couple of ladies at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).  It is Christmas Eve, after all, and I'm gonna have myself some tasty bird instead of turkey!

    Needless to say, the response from the staff when we asked for the roast goose drumstick (燒鵝脾) was that they're out - which is just their way of rationing this popular item.  Since there were three of us, the staff suggested that we either take a bottom quarter (下庄) or half a roast goose in order to have yourselves one drumstick... so we took half a goose, and each of us took a bowl of rice flour noodles in soup (瀨粉).

    I was a happy camper... having my favorite roast goose on this day.  But the seating situation left much to be desired.  Of all the times that I've been here - and I've been coming for the last 8 years - this has got to be the most uncomfortable I've been.  I was shoved up against the wall, and really didn't have enough room to move my arms to even carry out the motions of feeding myself.  I resorted to playing contortionist, and ended up sitting at an angle so that my left shoulder didn't rub up against my friend's right shoulder...

    So this is what a Michelin star experience is all about...

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  • 12/25/14--07:45: Christmas Day feast
  • It's Christmas Day, and that means one of the MNSC boys is celebrating his birthday.  This year he's decided to host his dinner on his birthday, and extended the invitation to the other halves.  It's almost become tradition that we gather at the I Hate the HandoverHong Kong Club for this last feast, where the menu is simple but Cheetah more than makes up for it by the amazing wines he serves us.

    I was a little surprised to find everyone seated at the same table instead of the usual arrangement of separate tables.  What hasn't changed, though, is that the ladies were still being served different wines than the boys... and although some of the ladies complained about the different treatment, I'd be pretty happy drinking their FX Pichler and 1971 Palmer any day...

    French pigeon confit and ravioli, puréed parsley, sous vide poached egg, pinot noir reduction - wow!  Am I getting this right?  Sous vide comes to the Hong Kong Club?!  Are we gonna see spherification next?  Anyway... the pigeon was very, very good... and it went very well with the pinot noir reduction, naturally.  The pigeon ravioli was not bad, and of course the sous vide egg just made everything a little better...

    Whole steamed ocean trout, chilli, coriander, spring onions, soy sauce, steamed rice - our eyes opened real wide when this was brought out... and I quickly grabbed a fish knife and laid it next to the dish for scale... An Australian ocean trout that weighs 5 kg... very impressive, indeed!

    The fish was done Cantonese-style... steamed with "soy sauce"... No, I didn't ask if they used chicken bouillon powder here.  Anyway the fish was absolutely stunning, and I'm so glad they served us white rice.  I honestly really wanted a second serving, but I knew what was coming next...

    Whole roasted American Prime beef rib, herb butter, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables - yup, there's always a whole roasted Prime rib which, I gotta admit, is a beautiful hunk of protein...

    It's been a while since I last asked for the end cut, so I decided to get it tonight.  I do love the charring on the edges...

    ... but it meant the center of the beef wasn't very pink and tender.  It wasn't bad, I just usually prefer my beef to be more rare...

    Grand Marnier soufflé - pretty decent.

    And there was even a cake because, after all, it's a birthday party!

    But the boys were here for the wines, and Cheetah was as generous as he has always been...

    Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve en magnum

    First flight: opened 1½ hours prior to serving from bottle.
    1994 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard - very sweet nose, with lots of coconut butter, exotic, tropical notes, minty.  Nice forest and dried herbs on the nose.  Surprisingly dry on the palate and not sweet.  My first instinct was that this was a 94 Colgin, but was thrown off by the dry palate.  I was ready to guess this was a 94 Harlan, but when someone offered a guess of Le Pin, I thought that also made sense... Should have stuck to my guns!  97 points.

    1994 Screaming Eagle - lots of forest pine, a little smoky, grilled meats, very classic Left Bank nose, plus some savory black olive at the end.  Lots of sediment in my glass, and still some smooth and round tannins on the palate.

    Once again this showed me that for a very good vintage of this wine, I could never tell it was Californian at all... and always mistake it for a Left Bank claret!

    Second flight: opened just prior to serving from bottle.

    1984 Henri Jayer Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Meurgers - beautiful, floral nose of Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露)-infused Cantonese duck liver sausage (膶腸), and savory black olive.  Nice acidity here.  Had it been anyone else serving this wine without a label, I would have seriously doubted the authenticity of the bottle... 93 points.

    1984 Mouton-Rothschild - very meaty, a little stinky... nose of pencil lead, and a little savory.  Acidity on the palate here, but could still feel the tannins.  94 points.

    Third flight: opened more than 2 hours prior to serving from bottle.
    1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Vino Monfortino - very savory nose, with animal, blood, iron, and slightly dusty nose.  Acidic on the palate.

    1964 Haut-Brion en magnum - wine was off so we did not taste it.

    Fourth flight: opened 3 hours prior to serving from bottle.
    1947 Vieux Château Certan - really lovely and sweet nose, slightly metallic, some nice fruit, minty.  Later on the sweet fruit disappeared and the nose turned stinky and very peppery.  90 points.

    1947 Canon - big nose of sweet grass, with a good amount of sweet fruit, a little animal, and slightly stinky. 94 points.

    1947 La Conseillante - even more grassy and green than the Canon.  Some sweet fruit here, but a little leaner.  A little bit of savory soy sauce in the nose.  93 points.
    Wow!  What an amazing evening!  Not only was the food incredibly delicious - a big surprise given that I've never been a fan of this club - but the wines were superb!  My favorites of the evening were the first two Californians (no surprise there), but I was also pleasantly surprised by the '84 Mouton - which I've never even seen, let alone drunk...  

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  • 12/26/14--07:33: Cheesy and creamy Boxing Day
  • It's Boxing Day, and after being cooped up at home for a day, the Specialist decided to go out and stretch her legs a little.  It's been a while since we last met up, and I suggested that we check out a place she's been wanting to try - ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge.

    I had turned down her suggestion (as well as other people's suggestion) to try this place earlier, but what I couldn't tell them was that I had scheduled to review the restaurant, and in fact I had already paid them a visit a few days ago.  It is uncharacteristic of me to want to visit a brand new restaurant so early, and even more unusual for me to pay repeat visits in short succession.  However, I've got full confidence in the team behind ON, and after my visit a few days ago, it's clear that there is absolutely no reason to wait...

    We kicked off the evening with an ONegroni in the lounge upstairs.  Having tasted it a few days ago, I definitely wanted more.  This was just sooooo smooth... and packs a big punch, too!

    After getting ourselves a nice buzz from the first drink, we walked down the stairs to our table by the window.  As soon as we were handed the menu, we were stunned to be told that they had already sold out of the roasted pigeon.  WHAT?!  That was hands down the best pigeon I had tasted in Hong Kong, and the bottle of wine we had would have been a perfect match.  This was truly disappointing...

    We expressed our disappointment to my old friend Jeremy after we ordered our dishes, and a couple of minutes later, we were told that they had scrounged up an extra portion of pigeon - from sister restaurant Upper Modern Bistro, I presume?  Of course we told them that we'd take it!  Well, it's good to have friends, innit?!  Since I've already had the pigeon earlier, I let the Specialist take the last portion and ordered something else.

    Once again, we got a little Parmesan cracker to start.

    63° eggs, sautéed mushrooms, bisque and yuzu - I only had a small spoonful of this on my first visit, and I figured I owe it to myself to have the whole dish.  Soooo beautiful... For a somewhat chilly winter evening, I could not have started with a better dish.  The warm, hearty flavors of the mushrooms and the soft-boiled egg, enhanced with winter truffle shavings... and nicely balanced by the acidity and fragrance of yuzu (柚子) in the bisque.  The lobster also makes it a little less heavy.  I could eat this all day.

    Ibérico lamb loin, white beans, garlic jus - I had reservations about ordering the loin, and after discussing with Jeremy, he asked the kitchen to leave a bit more of the fat for me.  The result was some very yummy, lamby, fatty lamb... with pearl onions on top and some nice garlic jus.  The lamb itself was very tender and slightly pink, although I could have taken it even a little more rare.

    There was a side dish with white beans cooked with lamb, which was pretty nice.

    When I first arrived, I told Jeremy that I had been eating well over the last few days, but had no cheese for a while... so of course that was going to be rectified tonight!  I asked him to pick out a few of his (and my) favorites...

    Palet Cendrée - a goat's milk cheese from Poitou-Charentes.  Very thick and rich, with nice acidity.  Surprisingly it was very runny on the edge...

    Claousou - a sheep's milk cheese from Aveyron.  A little bitter on the palate, with a hint of smokiness.

    Coulommiers - very nutty and a little bitter.

    Comté, aged 4 years - salty, creamy and nutty.

    Cabri Ariégeois - O-M-G!!!!  This is one of my favorite cheese and you just can't beat this when it's all ripe and completely liquid... This was simply heavenly.  Very stinky, goaty, salty, with a bitter finish.

    Époisses de Bourgogne - from the last remaining artisan to use lait cru (unpasteurized milk) after Gaugry started using pasteurized milk.  Very salty, rich, a little stinky with that ammonia...  Very, very ripe and runny!

    2004 Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques - very lovely floral nose, with some sweet black cherries, but the acidity here was surprisingly high.

    After finishing dinner, we joined some friends for a drink out on the patio, and I decided to try Kung Fu Panda.  I guess this was basically their variation on White Russian, made with vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso, sambuca, pastis and cream.  There was just too much cream on top, which was much too heavy for someone who's just had a big dinner and lots of cheese at the end.  I also didn't quite care for licorice and star anise in my drink at this point...

    Despite the less-than-perfect finish, this was still an incredibly enjoyable evening.  The food was superb, and we ended up running into friends and familiar faces.  Plans have already been made for a return next month, and I suspect some of us will be coming back pretty often...

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  • 12/28/14--22:00: Mushy dim sum
  • A friend is in town for a short trip and wanted to meet up for lunch.  Dim sum was requested, which made sense given the lack of decent choices in Taipei.  Given my friend was coming in from the airport, I figured I'd pick a place near the Airport Express Station in Central... and I decided to check out The Square (翠玉軒) after being away for a few years.

    We opened up the menu to find only about 8 dim sum items available on weekdays.  This was very much unexpected, and kinda defeats the purpose of coming here.  My friend jokingly (or maybe she was serious?) suggested that we get up and go somewhere else, but I decided to stay put.  What a mistake this turned out to be!

    Baked pastries with spring onion (黃橋焗燒餅) - call me shallow for judging a book by its cover, but after one look at these I knew we were in trouble.  When you get served items where the puff pastry is broken... something is wrong.  Biting into one confirmed my fears.  These were simply just too greasy and mushy inside.  Flavors were OK, but the texture was all wrong.

    Steamed pork, shrimps and crab roe dumplings (蟹籽燒賣皇) - these were OK.

    Steamed vegetables dumplings (娥姐素粉粿) - very finely diced filling of water chestnuts, carrots, radish, shiitake mushrooms, black wood ear fungus, hairy gourd... Vibrant colors, and the taste was delicious.  The wrappers were a little flabby from over-steaming, and the filling had just a little too much starch so that when it got cold, the texture turned a little mushy.

    Why did it get cold, you ask?  Well, it's because they did what so many Chinese restaurants in this town do... they serve you ALL your dishes at the same time, and you simply don't have the time to get to them all before they turn cold.

    Steamed fresh shrimps dumplings (水晶鮮蝦餃) - a little too much mushy starch in the filling.

    Steamed fried rice with assorted meat wrapped in lotus leaf (四季荷葉飯) - this was OK, with a nice, plump shrimp on top.

    Stir-fried choy sum (清炒菜心) - this was OK.

    Well, it was really good to see my friend, but the lunch I arranged for us was a little disappointing.  Am I being harsh?  Maybe a little, but this isn't what I would expect from a restaurant with a Michelin star.  I've heard that it's tough to find good dim sum chefs nowadays, and maybe the à la carte dishes are of higher quality, but honestly... after two visits over the last 4 years, I'm not willing to give them any more of my money.

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  • 12/29/14--23:14: Last star of 2014
  • I admit I've been on a tear lately. Sometime in November I was asked how many (Michelin) stars I have "collected" this year.  Well, I know I do tend to frequent high-end restaurants and many of them do have stars bestowed on them, but I never consciously went out of my way to "collect" them.  It did get me thinking, though... and I decided I should go out and revisit a bunch of places I haven't been to in a while... and see how much I can squeeze in before year end.

    So when it came time to meet up for one last lunch with my friend, I offered him a choice of a sushi restaurant or Upper Modern Bistro - which had just gotten themselves a star.  It's been a few months since I was last here, so I was happy to come back for a relaxing meal...

    63°c egg, cuttlefish, smoked eel, baby corn, mushroom consommé - as tempted as I was to try something else, in the end I simply couldn't resist going back to having the egg... Such comfort food despite the interesting mix of ingredients.  The green and vegetal flavors of the baby corn and sprouts were front-and-center, and once you get past the slightly heavy flavors of the croûtons, what comes through at the end is actually the mushrooms - mostly shiitake and not the enoki - but especially that mushroom consommé.  It is wonderfully fragrant yet surprisingly delicate at the same time.  I could easily have drunk 2 bowls of it, and having a little egg yolk in it didn't hurt, either!

    The finely diced squares of cuttlefish - almost the size of brunoise - and the smoked eel didn't seem to have added a lot to the dish.  And the one ingredient I really didn't get were the strands of spaghetti... since there was just enough to make its presence felt but not enough to make the dish into a pasta... But none of these detracted from the dish, since it was still lovely and comforting.

    Veal shank, tagliatelle, Marsala wine sauce - the veal was very soft and yielded easily to the knife.  While it was juicy, the muscle fibers of this cut were a little stringy and chewy.  The tagliatelle had a springy texture, and I loooooooved the sauce!  I didn't verify with the kitchen, but I could have sworn that they used the fat from cured ham... It just tasted like the Shanghainese soups I grew up with - where chunks of cured ham were thrown in for flavor in lieu of salt.  Of course the shrooms were good, too.

    We debated about having dessert or cheese, with the conclusion being that since I was having a rich dinner tonight, I had reached my calorie quota for lunch.  We did have a few second thoughts when the staff opened the wine fridge next to our table, and the smell of delicious, ripe cheese floated in our direction...

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  • 12/30/14--07:06: A date with Uwe
  • Chef Uwe Opocensky has been pretty nice to me over the last couple of years, having orchestrated a number of really fun and memorable dinners for my friends and I.  We've been talking about getting together for a drink for some time, but someone in his position is understandably very busy... Well tonight he finally found some time to chew the fat with me, and I promptly fished out a special bottle from my cellar for him.

    We started the evening on his turf, grabbing a drink and some nibbles at the Mandarin Grill + Bar.  In spite of my protestations about being happy just to drink Krug Grande Cuvée, I was happy to be sipping on 2003 Krug.  The nose was surprisingly floral, although that could have been partly due to the scented candle on the table...  The wine was deep and rich on the palate, young and vibrant while not aggressive.  Acidity balance was just about perfect for me.

    Cured ham - very nice.  Toast had a surprisingly pronounced smoky flavor.

    Cooked ham - apparently this was from the same pig as the cured ham, but with different preparation.  Inhaled in 2 bites.

    After getting a little buzzed from bubbly on an nearly-empty stomach, we moved over to grab dinner at Arcane, the new restaurant headed up by Chef Shane Osborn.  I had originally wanted to wait a little before trying this place, but since Uwe brought me here and introduced me to Shane, I knew I was in good hands...

    CL de la Chapelle Instinct Brut - I only had a sip, but this had higher acidity and was also a little more "clean".

    Our amuse bouche was a grilled cheese sandwich, which black truffle shavings on top.  What's not to like?!

    Sauteed langoustine, pork belly, sweet garlic purée, pine nuts and balsamic jus - I fell in love with the dish as soon as it arrived, before I even raised my fork.  The smell of those langoustines kept coming at me, and my mouth started watering.  Taking my first bite confirmed that these were beautifully done and the texture was perfect.  I loved the fact that baby bok choy was used to impart the tiniest hint of bitterness.  As delicious as the langoustines were, the dish got even better after taking my first bite of the thin pork belly below.  The crispy, crunchy browned piece of heaven worked really well with the langoustine.  Wow!  Just wow!

    Sauteed potato gnocchi, white truffle, cep purée, roasted leek, morel ragout, Parmesan - this was an unexpected gift from the kitchen.  Gnocchi slightly browned on the outside, enveloped by the full seasonal fungus flavors from ceps, morels and the white truffles.  The roasted leeks were very, very tasty, too!  Burp.

    Roast suckling pig with choucroute, purée of root vegetables and star anise, morteau jus - no surprise that I would order the suckling pig... While the crackling was decent and the fat was tasty, I had a little trouble with the meat.  There was nothing wrong with the meat per se... since it was reasonably tender and juicy.  However it just wasn't as nice as I had hoped for.  Uwe's take is that the pig might have been a little old, and the ratio of meat vs. crackling was off.  I could certainly see his point.  The choucroute was very delish, and I did find the addition of star anise interesting...

    Yuzu and lemon posset, poached mandarins, mandarin ice cream, white chocolate and cardamom sugar - another wonderfully refreshing dessert after a heavy meal.  I love citrus fruits, especially mandarin oranges, and here I've got the additional fragrances of yuzu and lemon on top.  Slurp!

    Canelé - I had seen pictures of these on social media, and my advice to the chef is... dude, if you can't make a decent-looking canelé - and I know this is one of the toughest pastries to make - don't bother serving the sorry-ass looking specimens to your guests.  These were seriously fugly...

    Uwe's told me more than once that he loves Colgin, so it was only appropriate that I went to the cellar and fished out a bottle for tonight.

    2002 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard - double-decanted 2 hours prior to serving.  Sweet fruit in the nose but not very explosive, nor was there the usual exotic coconut butter.  Smoky and very minty.  Very tannic, and a little "hot" on the palate from the 15.5% alcohol.  Improved significantly once we chilled it and brought the temperature back down.  3½ hours after opening, the sweet fruit showed a little better, along with some leather and animal notes.  Not bad, but certainly not showing its best.  I guess I needed to stand the bottle up for more than 2 days for the sediment to settle...

    This was a really fun evening for me.  Naturally the conversation focused on food, covering a range of topics from the prevalent use of chicken bouillon powder in Chinese kitchens to our favorite meals and restaurants of all time.  I'm really looking forward to the next time we sit down together at the dinner table... at a top restaurant in Tokyo!

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  • 12/31/14--07:59: Japanese countdown
  • Being single, unattached, and away from family has its downside.  On certainly holidays when one sees families and friends gather to celebrate, the possibility of spending it with Me, Myself, and I will inevitably cross one's mind.  I'm past the age where counting down on NYE is still a big thing, so I normally don't make a fuss about how to spend it.  In fact, there have been a couple of years in the recent past where I did spend it with Me, Myself, and I.

    This year, the Great One took pity on me and invited me to join her family and friends at Sake Bar GINN.  I don't normally frequent wine and sake bars, preferring to imbibe my own collection over dinner.  But I didn't have anything planned for the evening, the prospect of doing it Japanese-style with osechi ryori (おせち料理) intrigued me, and best of all - the price just seemed unbeatable.  There seemed little reason not to say 'Yes'...

    About an hour and a half before the party was due to start, I received word that one of us had arrived "a little early" to beat the crowd that was inevitably going to swarm to Lan Kwai Fong.  Not wanting the poor soul to hang out alone, I decided to head to the bar a little early - only to find myself alone for the next half hour while the bar staff continued to prep for the party.  Ah well... at least it smelled good while I waited!

    These strips of dried kelp (昆布) were pretty nice as a snack.  There's just enough umami without being too salty.

    We were also given the usual bowl of edamame (枝豆) to snack on before the spread was laid out at the bar.

    I looooooooove oden (おでん)!  It's something I enjoyed eating while growing up in Tokyo, and even to this day I'll go to 7-11 outlets in Taiwan and pick up a few to snack on.  Tonight there were quite a few varieties, including konnyaku (蒟蒻), shirataki (白滝), different fish cakes, egg, radish, and tofu pouches with mochi (餅) inside.  Soooo yummy!  I went back to the pot multiple times...

    Chikuzen-ni (筑前煮) - the other big pot that kept being refilled throughout the evening.  Filled with lotus roots, yam, konnyaku, burdock (牛蒡), shiitake mushrooms...etc. - each with its own significance and symbolism.

    Kamaboko (蒲鉾) - you can't have osechi without these red-and-white fish cakes.

    Matsukaze yaki (松風焼) - a pâté based on chicken.

    Kohaku-namasu (紅白なます) - more red-and-white symbolism for new year... with marinated shredded carrots and radish.

    Kazunoko (数の子) - crunchy herring roe with bonito flakes on top, symbolizing fertility.  Not that I am praying with lots of kids or anything...

    Kuromame (黒豆) - I love these black beans...

    Lotus root pizza - this was really awesome!  Shredded lotus root made into a crunchy "pie", with lots of bonito flakes on top.

    Fried fishcake (薩摩揚げ) - very yum.

    There was also deep-fried battered prawns (海老フライ) and plenty of French fries...

    Shortly before midnight, we were served the traditional "year-crossing soba" (年越しそば).  Tonight there was a small piece of deep-fried vegetables (かき揚げ) on top, and this was delicious and satisfying.  I was pretty full before we had the noodle, but I inhaled the bowl anyway...

    There was free-flowing sake tonight, but I was pretty restrained... which meant that I actually didn't get drunk.

    Fukuju Daiginjo (福寿 大吟醸) - very smooth and sweet on the palate, with banana on the nose.  Became dry and spicy (辛口) when it warmed up.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.

    Hakuko Tokubetsu Junmaishu 60 Hattan Yamadanishiki (白鴻 特別純米酒60 “八反・山田錦”) - sweet on the attack and mid-palate, but definitely dry and lean finish.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%.

    Manbow Junmaiginjo (萬坊 純米吟醸) - slightly sweet, muted nose and not much other than alcohol.

    Ozasaya Taketsuru Junmaigenshu Daiwa Omachi (小笹屋竹鶴 純米原酒 大和雄町) - 24BY.  Served warm, so very dry on the palate.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 65%.

    Koshinokanbai Ginjo Tokusen (越乃寒梅 吟醸 特撰) - medium sweet and lean, kinda dry on the palate.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.

    Echizenboyu Junmaishu (越前忘憂 純米酒) - pretty smooth.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%.

    Kaiun Tokubetsu Junmaishu (開運 特別純米酒) - a little spicy on the finish.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.

    Munemasa Junmaiginjo (宗政 純米吟醸) - I didn't believe this kinda stuff existed... since a nihonshudo (日本酒度) of -15 means the sake is very sweet, and these days most "serious" sake are more on the dry side.  It was pretty sweet alright, with a slightly bitter finish.  Pretty smooth on the palate.

    This was a pretty cool way to spend New Year's Eve, with good food and trying out different sake.  Let's see what 2015 brings!

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