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

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  • 01/02/15--07:53: David Lai x2
  • My beloved On Lot 10 is closing, so a bunch of us are trying to go as often as possible in the little time we have left.  The Specialist has complained on more than one occasion that she never had a great meal at On Lot 10, even when she went with me - which was absolutely BS since she chose to only remember one particular meal that didn't work for her.  In any case, she insisted that I organize one last dinner there for her, so we rounded up a few accomplices and settled on the first Friday (and also the first working day) of the year.

    While we waited for a few late arrivals, the kitchen was kind enough to send us some iberico ham to nibble on.

    With the main courses already set up for us by David, we decided to order a few starters...

    Wild game paté - I suspect I enjoyed this rustic dish more than the others...

    Boudin Basque "Christian Parra", pimente d'Espelette - originally the menu carried a "black pudding risotto", but the kitchen decided that the "old version" was better, so that's what they sent us.  Well, I would never say "No" to this boudin basque... not with all that richness. Loved it.

    Hokkaido scallops: iberico ham/sunchoke/truffle - slices of black truffle were wedged inside scallops like pork bellies in a guabao...  Scallops were perfect - slightly golden exterior and done mi-cuit.  I'm growing more and more fond of sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, and I do like it lightly pan-fried.

    Beef tartare "battuta": capers/anchoiiade - hmmm... I don't see any anchoïade, just anchovies.  Pretty decent, though... since it's hand-beaten.

    Lot 10 fish soup - just a small cup that the kitchen sent out before the main courses, but all the familiar flavors are there - with a ton of "sediment" at the bottom.  Beautiful.  Our friend with prawn allergy was smart not to take a risk with this one...

    We were told there were three dishes for main course, but very few of us were enthusiastic about truffled fish milt (read: sperm), so that was passed over...

    We started with the collar and back of another wild giant grouper (龍躉).  I had the good fortune of being served half the head of a big one a few months ago, and tonight was just as amazing.  Once again he's done it with capers, lemon juice, croûtons and potatoes.  David was in his other kitchen tonight, so I didn't get a chance to ask him how big the fish was...

    I am normally not a fan of acidic sauces, but this fish has so much collagen and fat that you need the acidity here.  I got the "little" pectoral fin, which was bigger than the tail fin on most fish we normally come across.  Simply awesome.  I wish I had more stomach space...

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - I begged David for the ribeye instead of the striploin, and thankfully he obliged me.  What more can I say about this beef that I haven't blabbed in numerous posts over the last year?  Simply incredible.  None of my friends could believe that this came from a 12-year old animal, and even the "end cuts" were rare and tender.  I guess it's because of the extended aging for more than 120 days... which produces that wonderful blue cheese flavor that I love.  Thankfully the cheesy flavor wasn't too much for anyone.  And yes, EVERYONE loved the taters... and some wanted seconds.

    I was surprised that at this table, all the ladies wanted the rare pieces in the middle - which were certainly the largest pieces.  So by the time I served the guys, all they had were the end cuts - meaning they ate less beef than the ladies.  And which piece did I take?  Why, the bone, of course!

    We were all pretty full but at least one of us had a sweet tooth, and the tarte bourdaloue was just too good to pass up.  We had asked for this "with ice cream" but it was obvious that the staff misunderstood us... when it arrived with quenelles of whipped cream.

    The night was still young, and we still had a bottle that we hadn't opened, so I called up Neighborhood and asked them to save us a table.  We were going over to get ourselves some ice cream and have a few more drinks...

    First order of business upon arrival was to pick out a black truffle.  David very kindly dug into his stash and fished out a few good ones...

    ...and we just foolishly picked out the biggest.  Bigger isn't always better, but what the heck!

    But before we get to anything else, let's have ourselves some cat anus pastrycanelés!  Very delish, as always, although the shapes were slightly uneven today.

    First up, scoops of vanilla ice cream.  We shaved liberally, of course...

    Then someone complained about not wanting any sweets... and wanted something savories instead.  So David very kindly went back into the kitchen to whip up some scrambled eggs for us.

    Seconds later, it turned into this... Of course this was just the most delicious scrambled eggs I've ever had!

    I sensed that someone would appreciate a little chocolate, so I asked for the chocolate palette and shaved some black truffle on top, too!

    But there's more!  The Specialist had brought along a box of Pierre Hermé's truffe blanche et noisette macarons...

    As delicious as these were - and they're my favorite from Pierre Hermé - I couldn't resist the temptation to try out something I call black and white... white truffle macarons with black truffle shavings.  Now THAT was awesome!

    On top of all this food, of course we had plenty of wine to go around.

    2000 Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill - very smooth and lovely.

    2000 Krug - nose of lemon citrus, a little yeasty.

    2009 Peter Michael Ma Belle-Fille - really ripe, really sweet, oaky, vanilla, and sooooo buttery.  Very ripe on palate, too.

    2003 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard - nose was leaner than expected, a little flinty, pretty big toasty corn notes, oaky, buttery.  Nice acidity balance here.

    2002 Anne Gros Clos-Vougeot - ripe nose with nice fruit, a little sharp and alcoholic on the nose.

    2008 Flor de Pingus - after 2 hours in the decanter, a little smoky, alcoholic, kinda tannic due to its young age.  Some sweet coconut butter came out after 3 hours.  Needs lots of decanting time to open up.

    1994 Dominus - really beautiful.  Smoky nose with grilled meats, animal, leather, pencil lead, minty, and slightly stinky.

    2004 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - very toasty nose, ripe on the palate.

    Yes, another wonderful evening featuring the cuisine of my favorite chef in town.  I'll be going back to On Lot 10 a couple of more times this month and... let's see what the future holds!

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  • 01/04/15--07:18: Taste-off dinner
  • In the 11 years or so that MNSC has been running our blind-tasting format, we've had a couple of instances with two people tied for last place - necessitating a "taste-off" - but we've never had a tie for first place... until 2014.  As Dr. Poon and Lord Rayas ended the year with exactly the same score, we needed to hold a tasting to determine the ultimate winner.  We took the opportunity to kick off the year with a "spot tasting" where each of us would bring a bottle according to a theme - going back to the original format of our gatherings.

    As I've never had the opportunity to have dinner at Duddell's, I suggested that we do our dinner there.  I figured that going there with the boss certainly couldn't hurt!

    We kicked off the evening with a pair of young Bordeaux which had garnered perfect scores from wine critics.  It was a tough tasting, as the wines were simply too young to extract much information which could differentiate them - even after being in decanters for more than 2 hours.  We were initially accused of serving the champions-to-be supermarket wines...

    2010 Pontet-Canet en demi-bouteille - very young, alcoholic, ripe, jammy, with a little leather.  Very tannic, naturally.

    2010 Vieux-Château-Certan en demi-bouteille - nose was more open than the Pontet, with cedar notes and a softer palate.  Tasted even better with the second pour, and was definitely sweeter on palate.

    After the taste-off was done and the winner determined, it was finally time to get some food in our bellies!

    Fried fish maw with egg and fresh crab meat (鮮蟹肉桂花炒魚肚) - I'm glad to see that this dish was made with fish maw in lieu of shark's fin, although given the restaurant's clientele I suspect having shark's fin on the menu would have drawn some flak.

    This was pretty good, but could have done with a little more wok hei (鑊氣)...

    Wok-fried fresh prawn with fish sauce (香露乾煎海中蝦) - it's been a while since I last had prawns done this way, and I loved them.  However, I did wonder why the tip of my tongue was tingling - usually a sign that I've taken in MSG - until I looked at the menu again and saw that this was done with fish sauce instead of soy sauce.  I guess it's the umami in the sauce...

    Steamed star garoupa (清蒸海東星) - just over 2 catties.  Perfect execution.  Wonderfully soft, and one can taste the freshness.  The only problem was that there was a slight hint of muddiness...

    Pan fried Iberico pork loin with scallion (香蔥煎西班牙黑豚肉) - my least favorite dish of the evening.  The pork was a little on the lean and tough side, although the seasoning was good.  It may be "Iberico pork", but I wasn't able to taste any difference...

    Roasted baby pigeon (紅燒BB乳鴿) - oh this was just too damn good!  The baby pigeon had wonderfully crispy skin, and as I gnawed on the pieces between my fingers, I could taste the glistening fat between the skin and the flesh.  I could have had another couple of these... if only I had the stomach space.  Curiously, the pigeon was flavored with ginger - which I certainly didn't expect.

    Poached pea shoot with garlic in supreme soup (上湯蒜子浸豆苗) - very nice, and I enjoyed drinking the superior soup.

    Casserole rice with air-dried meat (臘味煲仔飯) - old fashioned table-side service, with our captain heating up a claypot to make sure we get a nice, lightly charred layer of rice crispies.  Of course you gotta have the preserved meats, and these looked wonderful.

    Loved the rice crispies.  Add a little bit of viscous sweet soy sauce, and voila!

    Baked sago pudding with lotus seed paste (蓮蓉西米焗布甸) - pretty interesting, and I found myself inhaling this even though my stomach was on the verge of bursting...  There was also a sesame paste bun (蔴蓉包) in the middle, as well as a yummy coconut and pumpkin pudding (椰汁南瓜布甸) on the right.

    The theme for tonight's tasting was mature Burgundies (pre-2000) under a certain budget.  The wines were given to the sommelier, who organized them into flights and served to us blind.

    First flight:
    2000 Méo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Au Cros Parantoux - very nice, cleaner on palate but a little more stinky on the nose, with a little orange.  Opened 1½ prior to serving.

    1996 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts - really ripe and sweet, beautiful, more voluptuous, more floral.  A little more tannic.

    Second flight:
    1988 DRC Échézeaux - a little leaner than the 1996.

    1996 DRC Grands Échézeaux - rich with sweet fruit, floral notes, really lovely.

    Third flight:
    1971 Maison Leroy Echezeaux - a little smoky with some sweet fruit, nice and light on the palate.

    1971 Bouchard Musigny - nose of Chinese medicine, animal, and leather.  Nice and richer than the Echezeaux.

    1983 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze - sooooo sweet on the nose, with honeydew melon, a little banana that reminds me of paint thinner like banana oil (香蕉水).  Was this really a Pinot?!

    This was a very good evening... the food was pretty good overall, and we had a great lineup of wines.  I'm very much looking forward to our next gathering... at a local claypot rice restaurant!

    P.S. Our outgoing secretary proposed that starting from this year, instead of having the last four finishers foot the bill for our annual dinner, we donate our dinner budget (a not-inconsiderable-sum for a meal) to a charity chosen by that year's champion.  The losers will still be penalized, but they will instead be donating to charity while the cost of the annual dinner will be shared by everyone.

    That was a fantastic proposal, and everyone readily agreed.   In the fifteenth year of its existence, MNSC will no longer be just be a bunch of boys indulging in expensive wines and fine dining... We will collectively give back to society, in addition to whatever efforts we are already making as individuals.

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  • 01/05/15--06:39: (Girls are) Back in Town
  • An old friend is back in town for a few days and demanded asked that I have dinner with her.  I tried to think of a non-fine dining, non-Michelin star type of place for a casual meal, and for some reason Town popped into my head.  After my quick review of the restaurant for the South China Morning Post a few months ago, the Great One had eaten there and raved about Bryan Nagao's pasta.  So I figured I'd go back and check it out...

    I've been putting on the pounds in the last two weeks, so I'm doing my damnedest to limit my intake this week whenever I can.  I debated between having a chowder and a salad to start, but in the end I decided that some veg couldn't hurt...

    Hawaiian hearts of palm, red quinoa, endive, figs, pumpkin, black garlic - creative presentation, but on second look it was a little messy and sloppy.  Lots of different ingredients, but I struggled to see how they were supposed to work together.  There was the sweetness of the figs, the acidity of black garlic, and the lack of bitterness from endives was a little surprising.  It wasn't that the elements clashed with each other, but I guess it wasn't a case of 1+1=3...  Oh and it was also a very, very small portion..

    Spaghettini, uni, pata negra, lardo - this was why we were here.  For this dish.  The Great One had raved about it so much that I came in with pretty high expectations.  Well, it was pretty good, but didn't blow me away.  I love anything with lardo, and there was enough of it to make me happy.  Strips of pata negra jamón?  I'll take that any day, and a perfect match with lardo.  But putting sea urchin on top?  Should have been a no-brainer, but I was struggling to ensure that I could get all the elements in one mouthful.  Maybe I should have just mashed up the sea urchin tongues instead of trying to keep them intact.

    I was done with my two courses, but I was still hungry, so I took an extra piece of bread to try to fill up my stomach space.  I figured it was a lower-calorie alternative to having dessert.

    It was good to catch up with my friend, and good to come back to Town to check out Bryan's famous pasta dish.  I guess I'll order something a little more filling next time...

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  • 01/06/15--06:51: Birthday Season
  • It's the first week of the year, and that means time to get together with a certain group of friends to celebrate a couple of birthdays.  Our regular organizer suggested that we check out Seasons by Olivier E., whose chef Olivier Elzer was in the headlines recently (or rather, on the front page...)  I had been biding my time for the right opportunity to visit, having heard very mixed feedback over the last few months, but I guess it was finally time to do it...

    Olivier doesn't remember me from a hole in the wall, but we were dining with a VIP, so we were very well taken care of.  While the rest of the group asked Olivier to do as he saw fit, I had to be the troublemaker and pick out my own dishes... and I ordered 3 from the à la carte menu, but chose dégustation portions.

    I made the mistake of kinda starving myself during the day, so the minute I saw the bread baskets I grabbed the fattiest thing I could find - the buttery, layered roll with rosemary.  And then I inhaled a second one.  Before the first course even showed up.

    French pink radish, Guérande salt and homemade butter - the tips of these radishes are dipped in butter before being placed on ice.  I didn't dip them into the salt but chose to eat them "as is".  Unfortunately for me - and this was possibly an issue with my own palate tonight - I thought the radishes were extremely bitter.  In fact I had to drink water and eat some bread to get rid of the bitter tastes left on my tongue.

    Pork cromesqui, "Sotchu" style - pretty nice with that hot and liquid salpicon made with trotter... and herbs.  Of course it's always nice when something's deep-fried, innit?!

    Grilled tuna with 5 spices, avocado crush and crispy shallot - this was what the others were getting as their first course, and the kitchen decided to send me a portion, too... Merci!  This was very, very good.  The tuna was grilled just enough to cook the outer ring, and that sauce!  Made with soy sauce, ponzu, and maybe a bit of lime juice... wonderful acidity that was tempered by the rich and creamy avocado.  Liberally sprinkled with finely diced chives, red onions, (green?) peppercorns, and deep-fried shallots.  A beautiful way to start.

    Grilled langoustine, risotto venere and masala butter - I was debating between this and something else I love, but decided to order this since it was labeled as a "signature".  Well, I guess I overlooked the word "venere" so I wasn't expecting no black rice...  The langoustines were faultless, and I have to admit that 3 seemed a lot for a tasting portion - but I wasn't gonna complain when they tasted this good!  The risotto venere was pretty interesting, with a bit of curry that added the kick, along with some Chinese chives on top.

    Red prawn carabineros, chioggia and beetroot chutney - yes, more shellfish!  It's been a while since my last carabinero, so I wasn't gonna let this one slip by.  I wasn't disappointed.  The tail was, of course, really full of umami... but the main event was the head.  That wonderful, big head that somehow is never big enough...  Oh, I picked up the two split halves with my fingers and greedily sucked everything clean.  The radish on the side was OK, but the winning garnish was the diced beetroot and quince chutney sandwiched between two thin wafers of radish.

    As if I didn't have enough bread already tonight, I just had to take some and wipe my plate clean of that incredible prawn sauce.

    French wild deer, quince and red wine sauce - this was wonderfully tender.  In fact, I can't remember the last time I had deer that was this soft and tender.  These were wrapped in Parma ham (or so I was told) which, naturally, provided wonderful flavors.  Lots of different veggie garnish here, including a very nice piece of quince.  Very rich and hearty, perfect for the season.  Not a fan of the earthy flavors of the red sorrel leaves, though...

    Pigeon pastilla - I took a little piece of this from my neighbor to taste.  This wasn't on the à la carte menu but I guess it's one of the specials.  I've always looooved pastilla, especially ones made with pigeon.  Here it's made with pigeon breast, foie gras, pine nuts and then some.  I wish I had taken another bite, but I was just way too full.

    As I had already stuffed myself with four courses and plenty of bread, I didn't think I needed extra calories from dessert.  Maybe next time.

    I was a little lazy to go back to my cellar to fish out a few more magnums for tonight, so I just brought two single bottles to share among us.  It was probably not enough wine for the 7 of us...

    2007 Cloudy Bay Te Koko - the usual green apple and muscat grape notes, a little flinty.  Still love it.

    1988 Clinet - smoky, earthy, minty, with some fruit.

    I'm glad I finally made it here some 6 months after opening.  The food was very good - actually better than I had expected.  It wasn't a cheap meal by any means, but I thought the pricing was fair.  I'd love to come back on another occasion soon and get that pastilla...

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  • 12/22/14--06:17: The best pigeon in Hong Kong
  • Now that the powers that be have decided that they'd like to see me continue skewering reviewing restaurants for them, it was time to pick another one.  Fortunately for me, one of the new places which has just opened up around here happens to be ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge - where two of the partners are people I've known and admired for a long time.

    This being a review and all, I didn't want to alert anyone to my presence, so I had my dining companion make the reservation.  As we rounded the corner on the lounge level just before slipping quietly down the staircase, I caught a glimpse of my good friend Jeremy Evrard... and kinda hoped that he didn't see me.  Truth be told, any attempt to be incognito here was always bound to fail miserably, because before I even sat down at our table, Chef Philippe Orrico saw me and came over.  Ahhhh well, I tried...

    Soon Jeremy came over to greet us, and wondered why he hadn't seen my name on the reservations list...  I'm glad to see my old friend, looking very chic and relaxed without his trademark suits.  The place is buzzing and I have no doubt they will be even more successful here than at Upper Modern Bistro.

    We each got something to drink to start us off.  While my friend asked the sommelier to recommend a glass of red, I decided to try out the ONegroni that I've been reading about.  How many places have you been to where the barman (or shall we use the more chichi term of "mixologist"?) serves you a drink made from his own liquor (vermouth in this case)?  This was made with Mancino Vermouth, and left in clay pot to sit for a day.  This is said to allow the different elements to mesh together, and I gotta say... the result was stunning.  It really was much, much smoother than your average negroni - which could be aggressively bitter.  I didn't want to get buzzed quickly, so I nursed this over the course of dinner.  Very satisfying...

    A little Parmesan wafer to start us off... which wasn't bad.

    My friend and I have similar tastes and usually end up wanting to order the same dishes... so tonight we agreed that I would choose my dishes first.

    63° eggs, sautéed mushrooms, bisque and yuzu - even though this was one of Philippe's signature dishes, I decided to leave this for my friend instead of ordering it myself.  Needless to say... this was beautiful.  The wobbly egg, with the hearty flavors of mushrooms and the wonderful fragrance of winter truffle... the crunch of croûtons, and the citrus perfume of yuzu.  The lobster bisque was rich but there was also a good amount of acidity for balance.  The perfect choice for a winter evening.

    Tourteau crab, lobster, vegetables, chilled potato sauce - I had originally ordered something similar from the dinner menu, but Jeremy suggested that I take the variation that was on offer for lunch.  There was a bed of finely diced vegetables at the bottom, on top of which was a layer of tourteau crab meat, followed by lobster carpaccio at the top and garnished with frisée.  Finally, some chilled potato sauce and finely diced leeks - somewhat reminiscent of Vichyssoise - complete the dish.

    I had just had something similar earlier this month, and I love this variation, too!  Very, very refreshing, and just wonderful flavors.

    Quails and lobster pie, bisque sauce with piquillos - my friend took the pie stuffed with quail, lobster and foie gras.  Very hearty and rich, but it works.  The lobster bisque sauce was flavored with piquillos for a tiny bit of kick.

    There was also a lobster salad on the side...

    Roasted pigeon, artichokes, lemon chutney - O-M-G... I don't think I've tasted a better pigeon since... maybe this pop-up dinner earlier this year.  Or maybe even all the way back to Burgundy in 2010!  Jeremy asked me how I wanted my pigeon done, and I told him I'll take it the way Philippe himself would take it - rosé.

    Yup, it's pink inside alright... and I was in heaven the second I put the first chunk of the Racan pigeon into my mouth.  This was so soft, so tender, silky smooth almost to the point of slippery.  Was this cooked sous vide?  I forgot to ask, but I honestly don't remember the last time the texture turned out as fine as this... Served with a fricassée of artichokes, greens, and a mix of pigeon jus, mustard seeds, and lemon chutney.

    Oh yeah, I grabbed all the pieces by the bone with my hands and stripped them of as much of the meat as I could.  It was THAT good.

    Warm madeleines, apple chantilly, cinnamon - the madeleines were a little dry...

    ...and I only had a tiny dab of the chantilly, which was OK.

    Fresh mandarin, sorbet and tuile biscuit - a wonderfully refreshing dessert.  I've always had a soft spot for mandarin oranges, and this was just perfect.

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

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  • 01/08/15--07:08: The enchanted forest
  • A couple of months after playing the 'plus one' to my A-lister friend, I was invited back to the Mandarin Oriental for another dinner with my friend - this time at the Krug Room.  Since dinner at the Krug Room is meant to accommodate a large group, we were encouraged to invite a few friends along.  So we each invited a friend or two and I roped in My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin.  I was happily looking forward to another feast.

    I arrived very early to meet my friend for a drink, and happened to run into Chef Uwe Opocensky downstairs while he was having a quick dinner with his family.  Once again I asked him once again "not to kill me" (with too much food), as he was fond of doing.  He promised that tonight will be "light", but somehow I never believe him when he tells me that...

    We gathered in the bar section of the Mandarin Grill + Bar and sipped on some Krug Grande Cuvée while we waited to assemble the troops.  Once we were ready, we made the usual trek through The Chinnery, but were led on a detour first...

    Each of us picked up a candle lantern before we entered a dark room.  I immediately recognized the decor - it was similar to the way Uwe and the team decked out one of the function rooms for the hotel's media Christmas party.  We were in an ENCHANTED FOREST, and this is where we would find our first nibbles.

    Slices of beef jerk were hung on tree branches, made from A7 wagyu.  There were two types and mine was made with the addition of black pepper.  Really yummy, and I wish I had the stomach for a few more of these...

    There was also beef tartare, together with reindeer moss.  These were spread on different surfaces - some vertically on tree trunks...

    ...which we were supposed to scrape off using these chips.  I couldn't figure out what these were made of, but maybe these were Jerusalem artichoke chips.  I do have to say... trying to scrape the beef off and catching it with the small chips isn't as easy as it seems!

    You've also got these leaves coated with tempura batter and deep-fried.  Who doesn't like deep-fried food?!

    These "pebbles" sitting on top of the larger stones were actually potatoes coated with edible clay.  The accompanying anchovy butter was really amazing.

    Forest walk: first part included branches, which were breadsticks made to look like branches, we had to look for them since they were actually hung on the tree branches.

    We also had these little things on tree branches, which were little lumps of mushroom-flavored bread that were also tasty.

    Now that we were done with our walk through the enchanted forest, we took our lanterns with us and entered the proper dining room in total darkness.  We took in the decor once the lights came on...

    TREE: the table was already set for the next course, with multiple elements.

    Venison and pine - actually part of the enchanted forest.  Venison meatball, coated and fried.  So yummy.

    Nestled among the branches was this venison tartare tart and diced French pear.  There was also some pan-fried maitake mushrooms, as well as slices of black truffle sandwiching a dab of mushroom purée.

    A mushroom cookie with thin strips of chicken neck, which were chewy and flavorful.

    Mushroom leaves - this translucent leaf was made with mushroom consommé and simply melted away in the mouth.

    This piece of bark was made by adding cep powder to the milk skin formed when heating milk.

    What looked like chanterelles were made with foie gras mousse.

    mushroom actually had two parts: the cap was made of foie gras mousse, and the stem was made of chicken liver mousse encased in a white chocolate shell.

    I attempted to spread the mousse onto these wafers, but they were too fragile and broke apart...

    Finally, this came out from the kitchen... The shiitake mushrooms were grown on this very block of compressed wood, which was brought in from Japan as is, and roasted with all the shrooms still attached.

    Once we've all had the chance to smell the mushrooms, they were separated from the block and placed in front of us.  Very, very good.

    PICNIC: the next part of the meal also brought along various items, which were brought to us in a picnic basket...

    Thousand year egg - yes, Uwe made us 皮蛋, but while the yolk was actually made with duck egg yolk, the "white" was made with oxtail jelly.  In lieu of pickled ginger, we had pickled Roscoff onions.

    Krug lobster - lobster carpaccio, gelée, and caviar served in the dimple of Krug Champagne bottle bottoms...

    ...with a layer of yuzu mayo at the bottom.  Absolutely delicious!  The sweetness of the lobster, the savory flavors from the gelée and the caviar, citrus fragrance from the yuzu; and texture-wise, the crunch of the lobster versus the creaminess of the mayo.  I should have hogged this and not shared it with anyone, not even My Favorite Cousin...

    King crab - we also had these delicious sections of Alaskan King crab legs, which I chose to eat on its own and not dip into yuzu mayo.


    Onion bread - this incredible loaf was baked with a whole Roscoff onion inside.  As incredible as it was, I was pretty full already and only took in 1/8th... Should have asked to take away the rest!

    And we spread this onto our onion bread... Onion juice reduction on the bottom, and Parmesan shavings on top.  Very, very awesome on the onion bread.

    Salad in a jar - a Waldorf salad with all the ingredients in a jar.  You shake the jar (violently) to spread the mayo around.

    Ham and salami - we each got one of these packets, wrapped very nicely and tied with a string...

    Opening up revealed slices of ham and salami.  These were soooo delicious, I tried to stop after a couple of slices... but couldn't.

    Hunters' stew - this was something that Uwe used to serve the Prince of Wales while out on a hunt.  A bread dumpling, vegetable cubes, shredded beef cheek (which were a little stringy and surprisingly tough), with a Scotch broth - all in a big enamel mug.  I can see how this would have been warm and comforting on a hunt in the country, especially on a cold and wet day.

    Parker House roll - this was simply awesome.  Hot from the oven, with a brown and slightly crunchy exterior while soft and almost milky in the middle.  I allowed myself one little piece.  Something else I should have remembered to take home!

    With our picnic over - and our bellies pretty full by now - we moved onto the rest of the meal.  We were told that the second half was going to be "light", but let's see...

    Liquid omelette with white truffle - the very last of the white truffle, shaved on top of a glass with... is that a Riedel Single Malt glass? Anyway, it's got ham broth jelly at the bottom, a layer of spinach and parsley purée above, a layer of egg above that, and finally a layer of potato foam.  Instant comfort.

    Celeriac and truffle - these celeriac balls were placed in the cellophane bag with celeriac juice and black truffles, then baked at 200°C for 45 minutes.  Beautiful and warm, served with mashed potatoes.

    Sea Bass - butter-poached Welsh sea bass, topped with pickled beets, pickled kohlrabi, wood sorrel and caviar.  Very, very tender and delish.

    Amazingly, that was the end of the savory part of our meal.  Next up were just two desserts, but before we switched gears, Uwe offered us a palate cleanser.  He asked us to guess what he held in his hand...

    Turns out these were wild passion fruit, foraged right here in Hong Kong!  They looked a little like the passion fruit I love from Bali, but those have shells with a deeper, orange tinge.  Once we get past the shell, the seeds looked similar to those from Balinese passion fruit, but with a much stronger, floral fragrance.  Pretty cool!

    Cinnamon caramel - we were presented with a bunch of cinnamon sticks and asked to "choose our weapons".  And so we did.

    Then Uwe brought out trays of crushed ice, and laid down a long train of warm, liquid caramel on top.

    We were then supposed to take our cinnamon sticks and stick them into the caramel, twisting them before the mass completely solidifies.  Then?  Just lick it off the stick...

    A little earlier in the evening, Uwe asked each of us to choose between yuzu and sesame.  We didn't know what it was about, but most of us chose yuzu... and he walked away a little dejected...

    Our final dessert came as the staff brought in these trays bearing terracotta warriors.  We were trying to figure out the significance of having 11 warriors per tray, but I guess there really wasn't any.  This was a sneak preview of one of the items in the upcoming ArtBasel menu that the Mandarin Grill + Bar will present to diners.  There were two types of warriors - ones which were made of solid chocolate, and another with filling inside the chocolate shells.

    So my warrior was filled with yuzu ice cream.  How should I eat him?

    While someone else suggested "sucking his bottom", I decided the easiest way was to bite his head off...

    We're in the Krug Room, so of course one would expect lots of bubbly... but we got a lot more than that.  Too bad I was too busy with the food to drink my fair share of vino...

    Krug Grande Cuvée

    1998 Krug - nice and mature on the palate, and a little bit yeasty.

    Krug Rosé - nose of strawberries, and very ripe on the palate.  More enjoyable than the last couple of times I've had this.

    2010 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ-Canet - very big nose of toasty corn, with a pretty ripe palate and a little bit of acidity on the finish.  Later on the nose opened up to reveal a little butter.  Very nice.

    2006 A.F. Gros Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas - a little forest, lovely nose of sweet fruit, a little smoky.  Still some tannins here.

    2003 Doisy-Védrines - nose of honey, marmalade, dates, a little nutty.  Very rich.  Finish was a little bitter.

    This was another wonderfully fun evening!  As I've said in previous posts - and to Uwe himself - I seldom have as much fun during a meal as when Uwe's in the kitchen.  I'm gonna have to come back to see him a little more often this year!  Many thanks to the Mandarin Oriental for the generous treat.

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    The weather has turned chilly in Hong Kong this week, which makes it the perfect weather to enjoy some snake bisque.  Ever since my first taste of it at the private entertainment facility near my office, I have been determined to come back to this place as often as I could before snake season ends.  So I've rounded up different groups of friends and made not one, not two, but three bookings within the space of a month.  Tonight would be the first...

    Besides shuffling various groups of the usual suspects together tonight, I also decided to invite a special guest.  After our very enjoyable date night (well, at least I enjoyed it...), I figured it would be interesting for someone in Uwe Opocensky's position to be introduced to what a few of us feel is Cantonese cuisine done at a very high level.  I felt a little bad about taking him away from his family on a rare night off, but I hoped he would enjoy it...

    Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - somehow, being the host meant that I got myself the smallest claw... but no matter.

    What I did get, despite being the midget cousin of the others, was a delicious, moist claw that was nice and a little crispy outside.  Love the natural flavors of the crab, accented slightly by the salt and chili peppers.

    Stir-fried lobster with black beans (豉椒龍蝦球) - I substituted this in lieu of shark's fin.  The immediate comparison would be with the version at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), and they were pretty different.  Tonight's dish had big chunks of lobster, which were more satisfying to bite into yet took a little more effort to chew on.  The texture was softer, and less crunchy than FLM's version.  Flavors seemed deeper here, and I remember the FLM lobster being lighter and sweeter.  As the peppers and celery came in bigger chunks here, they're not in every mouthful... so they contribute less to the flavors of each bite.

    Interestingly, Uwe expressed his frustration with how Chinese cooks choose to wash lobster meat (presumably in cold or ice water), in favor of delivering a crunchy texture while losing flavor in the process.  I joked that not everyone can wash their lobster in Krug Champagne like he does...

    Braised mountain turtle (紅燒大山瑞) - well, this certainly wasn't as impressive as the one we had last time, but I'm glad we got the braised turtle and not the stir-fried shredded version.  This way we could still get big chunks of the skirt, which is much more satisfying than if they were shredded.  Pretty heavy in terms of flavor, with plenty of ginger to try to rid the dish of its strong, gamey flavors.

    This dish brought about a discussion about how turtles are killed before cooking.  While someone mentioned boiling in hot water, Uwe recounted the tale of watching someone chopping the head off.  At the end of the evening, we were curious enough to ask the chef... who told us that usually they make a cut in the turtle's neck to let out the blood.  Simply chopping the head off would shock the turtle and, apparently, some of the blood would stay in the body.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - I can't rave enough about this snake soup, which many of us rate as the best we've had in Hong Kong - or at least, the best one we have access to.  Tonight the flavors from the aged mandarin peel weren't as obvious as the last few times, but the flavors were just as delicately balanced as always.  It amazes me how the flavors can be so rich without being overly seasoned and salty.  While some people may claim to use snake bone stock as their base, I definitely believe this chef when he tells me so...

    I had wanted Uwe to taste this, and I watched as he took one spoonful, paused for a long while as he tried to figure out all the flavors in that mouthful.  I think he liked it...  While I greedily slurped my bowl down very quickly, he and a few others took their sweet time.  I took a second bowl, and there was no question that my circulation improved and I felt warm all over... and I felt heat emanating from the palms of my hands.  So that thing about snake soup warming your body is true...

    Braised garoupa fin with garlic and ham (蒜子火腩炆斑翅) - I don't remember so much garlic from last time, but I'm not gonna complain too much...

    Yes, I love eating fish fins and the whole area around it.  So yummy when it's been deep-fried and then braised.  Of course, before I even got to the fin, I decided to attack the pieces of pork belly...

    Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - well, this was really good chicken, done the traditional way of ladling hot oil over it repeatedly.  The meat was certainly tender and moist.  It's too bad the Chicken Fiend couldn't make it to dinner tonight.

    Four treasure vegetables with superior broth  (上湯四寶蔬) - it's pretty amazing how a simple of dish of vegetables could bring so much pleasure, and we were all in agreement about this.  Radish, mushrooms, broccoli (peeled), and choy sum (菜心).  Delicate flavors from the superior broth - tasty yet not overpowering.  Just like the rest of the food here.

    Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - the only real disappointment tonight.  Not that the rice rolls weren't delicious, nor did the satay sauce lack its usual punchy flavors, but... there was just simply an imbalance between the two.   There should have been 50% more sauce, but the reality was that the rice rolls ended up tasting a little bland.

    Jujube soup with longan and apricot kernels (南北杏龍眼紅棗湯) - there seemed to be a last-minute change in dessert, but I didn't mind at all.  In fact, this is my preferred dessert soup here.

    There were a few winos tonight, but as it was a school night, I asked to scale down the number of bottles.  Thankfully we didn't go overboard on alcohol...

    Ruinart Brut Rosé - nice nose of strawberries.

    Kikuhime Tsurunosato (菊姫 鶴乃里), BY24 - a junmaishu (純米酒) with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 65%. this was served at room temperature and not chilled.  Pretty sweet on the palate, but a little spicy on the finish thanks to the temperature.  Pretty ripe, fermented rice notes, along with some banana.

    1986 Vieux Château Certan - drinking very nicely.  Smoky, a little minty, with some leather notes.

    1987 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Spätlese - not too sweet on the palate, with a nice acidity balance.  A little flinty.  Pretty nice.

    2011 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve - pretty sweet on the nose, with some caramel and also some forest notes.  Pretty typical of US Pinot, and certainly my type of wine.

    1995 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - love the sweetness on the palate.  This is always so smooth and delicious.

    Once again, this was a wonderful dinner.  All the dishes were well-executed, with a wonderful, delicate balance of flavors.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to come as often as I am able, and look forward to another dinner in two weeks...

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  • 01/16/15--07:32: The Season for French wines
  • So... a little more than a week after my very first visit, I'm back at Seasons by Olivier E.  This time I came with not only VIPs, but also a former colleague of Olivier's.  Yes, we would get extra attention tonight, again.  Given that three of us are in the wine trade, we brought with us a ton of wine, too...

    The rest of the party had the good sense to give carte blanche to Olivier, and they were richly rewarded.  Me, on the other hand, once again decided to be a party pooper and ordered à la carte.  I did it for two reasons - I didn't want to have repeats of what I had last week, and I also needed to limit my food intake after the huge dinner last night.  So I ended up ordering only dégustation portions of two courses, plus dessert.

    French pink radish, Guérande salt and homemade butter - this time I decided to dip the butter-tipped radishes in salt, and my first one tasted much better than last time - free of the bitterness I experienced last time.  I did detect a little bitterness with my third radish, though...

    Pork cromesqui, "Sotchu" style - actually better than I remembered from last week.  Very rich, very creamy, while nicely balanced by the acidity.

    I wasn't really sure what this was, but it could have been the Saint Marcelin from La Mère Richard and baguette.  La Mère Richard in Lyon is known far and wide for their Saint-Marcellin, and this nibble - though tasty - certainly wasn't enough to satisfy me.  Je prends un demi, s'il vous plaît!

    Amadai crispy, turnip velouté and salicornia - I wanted to try Olivier's version of amadai, and started with this course first to go with the whites.  Yup, the fish was very tender and succulent, and indeed sweet to the taste.  The scales are left on the skin and made crispy according to the current trend.  Nice flavors from the turnips and velouté, while the salty flavors of the salicornia provided a nice accent to the dish.

    This seemed to be an off-menu daily special, which Olivier called abalone with "choucroutte".  Sliced abalone with fennel and bacon.  I pinched a spoonful from a friend, and it was pretty damn good.

    Black pudding from Pays Basque, roasted apple and cider sauce - any sort of blood sausage is irresistible to me, and I've already passed this up last week in favor of something else... so this was just an itch I had to scratch.  Yup, this was pretty good... and also with a nice, spicy kick that I had come to expect from boudin basque.  Thankfully the rich flavors were balanced by the sweetness from the apple, as well as the acidity from the dressing of the greens.

    Of course Olivier knows how to make the Robuchon mash, but this herbed mash offers a subtle twist while keeping the same richness.

    Yellow chicken, thyme and garlic butter - Olivier prepared two roast chickens for the rest of the gang, and we were shown the whole chickens before they were taken back to be carved up.

    I couldn't resist nicking a piece or two.  Gotta say that even the breast meat was pretty moist and tender.  I checked with Olivier, who tells me that he doesn't brine these Challans chickens.  The only thing is that the breast meat I took was slightly under-seasoned, so one does need the sauce that was provided on the side.

    Calisson a la clementine and blood orange sorbet - I love calissons for their blend of almond and fruity flavors, and this was very refreshing.  Can't say no to citrus fruits, especially blood orange.

    Soooo... let's look at all the wines we popped open tonight!

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru - ripe on the palate, with a little acidity and astringent at the same time.  Nice and a little flinty.

    1998 Roulot Meursault Les Vireuils - pretty ripe nose, a little oxidized, sweet and carmaelized.

    2011 Alain Voge Saint-Péray Fleur de Crussol - huge nose of toast, which I love.  Nice and mineral, but also soft and smooth on the palate.  Pretty sweet and ripe, and later on even a little buttery.

    2002 August Clape Cornas - a little sweet fruit, earthy, pretty light and soft on the palate.

    2005 Alain Voge Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes - a little stinky and dirty at first, and still closed.  Took a while to open up.

    1985 Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze - I was so glad that this bottle drank very nicely.  Really clean and elegant, floral, fragrant, plenty of sweet fruit like black cherries.  Everyone was surprised that this level of quality from Faiveley.

    1983 Jaboulet La Chapelle - a little minty and animal.

    Olivier spent a bit of time with us, and even talked about the attention he's been getting in the local press lately... As the restaurant was packed on this Friday night, I asked him whether he's gotten more business from the ladies since he got on the cover of a certain gossip magazine...  And the answer was unequivocally "Yes"!  Apparently the day after the magazine came out, the L-shaped counter facing the open kitchen was filled with local ladies wanting a peek at the chef...  Just as I had expected.

    We had a good time tonight, and the food seemed to get a lot of praise from this crowd.  This was now the second time in a row when I've come with VIPs and chosen to eat different dishes - thereby missing out on the generous black truffle shavings...  Anyway, we hope to regroup in a few months in Shanghai and try out something very different.  Looking forward to that!

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    The boss is in town for a quick stop, and we met up with an investor for lunch.  The client asked for a "quiet place where we can talk", so I figured that L'aLtro would be perfect.  It's usually half-empty, and I always thought the food they serve during lunch was pretty decent.  Today, however, there were less than a handful of tables occupied when I arrived, so the place was really quiet...

    Salmone, arance, yogurt e cetrioli - cubes of cured salmon, which was slightly on the salty side.  But texture and flavor-wise very solid - pun intended.  I especially liked the thin sliver of candied orange peel, where the sweetness and fragrance really accented the dish.  The thin strips of cucumber were covered in olive oil - very cool and refreshing.  The yogurt naturally complemented the cucumber, and the milkiness and acidity helped neutralize the saltiness of the salmon.  Overall a very well-thought out dish.

    But here's where things went wrong.  It's a business lunch, and the boss was doing a lot of talking - and neglecting his food.  While the rest of us finished our starter, the boss had only had time to nibble on his.  The waitstaff took the rest of our plates away while leaving the boss' plate... and the boss continued talking to the client.

    Next thing I knew, the waitstaff brought out the main courses - for all of us.  WTF?!  One of the diners is nowhere near finished with his first course, and you decided to send out the main?  So the kitchen is now telling the diners how quickly they should eat?!  And I couldn't believe that this guy just plopped down the plate in front of the boss nonchalantly... as if it were completely normal to do something like that.  Maybe at a Chinese restaurant, but not at a place that used to have a Michelin star.

    A word of advice: in a place that thinks of themselves as a fine dining establishment, the pace at which dishes are served is dictated by the diner.  It's the front-of-house's job to cue the kitchen when it's time for the next course to be fired up.  This is a simple task that even regular places like Dan Ryan's or TGI Friday's can get right.

    Finally, even the client couldn't hold it in any longer, so he told the staff to take the boss' plate back and keep it warm.  The offending plate was removed, and eventually returned when the boss was just about done with his starter.

    Triglia, finocchio e Martini dry - the red mullet fillets were lightly battered on the skin side, then pan-fried.  For some reason, the fish just tasted a little off.  I did like the quenelles of fennel mash, and the Martini dry foam was interesting.

    Decent (but slightly disappointing) food today, and subpar service.  Zero tip given today on top of the customary service charge.

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    Tonight I had the distinct honor of attending the grand opening party of Feeding Hong Kong's brand new facilities.  Tigger had invited a number of his friends to this event, and I certainly wasn't gonna miss it.  So I hopped onto the subway, made my way to Yau Tong, and arrived minutes before the appointed time.

    Back around 2010, I remember Tigger telling me about teaming up with the ladies who had put together the precursor of what is to be Feeding Hong Kong.  They wanted to be a food bank in Hong Kong, but they didn't yet have the right setup.  Hell, when they took over a hotel function room and introduced their concept to a select group of prospective donors for the first time, they didn't even have a name!  But as usual, Tigger got involved and became the glue, the lubricant, the connector...  His greatest asset is his ability to connect people and to help make things happen.

    They got Sino Group on board as their first major sponsor, and I remember making the trek to Yau Tong (just a couple of buildings down from the new location) to attend the opening ceremony of their first warehouse - where representatives from Sino, including Executive Director Daryl Ng - picked up brushes and cans of paint and helped paint the walls of the barren space.  That was a 1,600 sq. ft. space back then.  Then Tigger worked his connections built up over the years as a car nut, and somehow Feeding Hong Kong began collecting and delivering food in Mercedes-Benz vans - including refrigerated ones.

    Then Gabrielle Kirstein, the tireless Executive Director of the group, began putting together different programs to extend their reach.  First came the Bread Run, where groups of volunteers go around town and rescue perfectly good bread that would otherwise have been thrown away.  They do this a couple of times a week, and the collected bread is then redistributed to charities.

    They also launched their Chefs in the Community project, where chefs and nutritionists around town take time to come up with recipes for simple, nutritious meals where the ingredients cost about HKD 10 per portion.  These are then published in cookbooks - there are now two - to teach underprivileged families how to feed themselves on a tight budget.  With 1 out of 5 people living below the official poverty line in Hong Kong - and surviving on a daily food budget of HKD 30 or less - this is an important aspect of how to get people to properly feed themselves.

    As if those weren't enough, they have embarked on another project to create Edible Gardens in different parts of Hong Kong.  Sustainable urban farming in the concrete jungles of Hong Kong.  I had the pleasure of visiting one of those gardens last year.

    So... tonight we came to celebrate the organization's achievements, and look forward to bigger and better things as they run their operations out of their new, 7,000 sq. ft. digs.  Not only can they afford to have space for their office that's separate from the warehouse...

    ...which is now very neatly organized...

    ...and even have a big, walk-in freezer AND refrigerator!

    A quick look at some of the stats of what Feeding Hong Kong has achieved in 2014 shows that they collected and redistributed over 200 tons of food by partnering with 100 food companies in support of 58 local charities.  Very, very well done, Gabs, Christina and Tigger!

    While distributing 200 tons of food over a year's time may seem like a lot - and it is a lot for a small organization to have achieved - it is a drop in a bucket when you realize that over 3,600 tons of food are sent to the landfills in Hong Kong every single day.

    Please visit Feeding Hong Kong's website and find out how you can help.

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  • 01/24/15--07:50: The lonely island
  • I'm supposed to take things easy this weekend, seeing that I have a hellish week ahead of me in terms of my feeding schedule.  So when a dinner was rescheduled to tonight, I was determined to take it easy and "having something light".  That was perfectly fine for my friend, as long as char siu was on the menu...

    And that's how I came to choose Island Tang (港島廳).  They serve one of my favorite versions of char siu in town, and from what I remembered, they're generally not busy on weekend evenings.  Sure enough, when I showed up at the door tonight, the place was pretty empty.

    It's always tough to go for Chinese food when you've got a small party, and with only two of us, that severely limits the number of dishes we could order.  So we decided to take it easy... kind of.

    Honey glazed signature barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - I gotta be honest... this is tough to beat.  The pork shoulder was as marbled as ever, yielding easily to the bite.  While the center of the pieces were tender, the strands of muscle fibers on the exterior were a little chewy.  The pork flavors were pretty strong.  Not the best place I've ever had here, but still very satisfying.

    Deep-fried de-boned duck coated with taro crust (荔茸香酥鴨) - what a pleasant surprise to see this back on the menu!  I was gonna order it anyway, but thankfully my friend wanted it, too.

    Crispy duck, fatty duck skin, smooth and creamy taro mash... all topped with a layer of deep-fried taro flakes.  What's not to like?!  Sooooo fattening, though...

    Braised bean curd sheet with black fungus and bean curd stick (雲耳豆卜鮮支竹) - it's kinda interesting that in a Chinese restaurant, the diner needs to read the English translation of the dish's name in order to get a better idea about the dish.  We wanted something light so we picked this dish, picturing light, tofu skin sitting in a bowl of light fish broth.  Nooooooo....  If we had bothered to read the English translation - and seen the word "braised" - we would know that this was much heavier than we expected.  Not exactly what we had in mind.

    We were pretty full, but you can't pass up dessert, right?  So we picked out a couple of light ones...

    Traditional steamed sponge cake with olive seeds (欖仁馬孻糕) - pretty light, and not bad at all.

    Chilled layer puddings flavored with papaya and coconut (椰汁萬壽糕) - very refreshing.  The traditional coconut pudding has been enhanced with bits of sweet papaya.  Delish.

    We decided to take it easy on wine tonight, so only opened one bottle between us.

    1992 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier - served right after opening without decanting.  Nose of animal and leather at first, some sweet, black fruits emerged after 20 minutes, with a hint of grilled meats and a whiff of alcohol.  After 90 minutes, some savory notes such as black olive tapenade came out.

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    Today is the start of "hell week", when somehow I've managed - despite my best efforts to space out my feedings - to schedule 6 consecutive days of eating out... 6 dinners out plus a lunch.  I really need to find time to burn off the extra calories!

    Of all the meals this week, dinner tonight was arguably the most interesting experience of the bunch.  The MNSC boys gathered for an "impromptu" dinner - meaning that we all chip in and bring a bottle... and Kwan Kee Clay Pot (坤記煲仔小菜) was suggested as the venue.  Yes, that Kwan Kee.  The Hong Kong institution famous for their clay pot rice, where throngs line up when the weather turns cold.  For a wine dinner.  The idea is even more novel than me wanting to bring fine wine to a burger lunch... But hey, a couple of the boys have apparently done this before, so why the hell not?!  Hours before dinner, I even checked with the boys again to make sure that this would be kosher with the restaurant, since they're not exactly used to customers hogging the table for 2 or 3 hours...  I was assured that we'd be fine as long as we ordered enough food.

    A couple of the guys arrived early and took up half of the table at the corner furthest from the entrance - which is basically Siberia.  Given that it takes up to an hour to cook the clay pot rice, the boys placed the order as soon as they sat down.  We had brought our own glassware, and a couple of bottles were already open and on the table.  The first clay pot dish had arrived, so I dug in as soon as I sat down.

    Clay pot with fatty beef and rice vermicelli in satay sauce (沙爹粉絲肥牛煲) - what's not to like about beef in satay sauce, especially when it's fatty beef?!  And the rice vermicelli makes it even better.

    Clay pot with braised tofu (紅燒豆腐煲) - pretty decent, with shiitake mushrooms and shredded pork.

    Then 5 clay pots arrived bearing the restaurant's famous rice dishes - we had ordered double portions of 3 types of rice, but only 5 of them came this round.  We would find out the reason later.

    I was surprised that no soy sauce of any kind was poured onto the rice while still in the pot.  At some other clay pot rice places, the lids are put back onto the pots after pouring in the soy sauce, enabling the pots to retain heat while the sauce drips to the bottom and hardens.  I guess they don't have that ritual here...

    Clay pot rice with eel (白鱔飯) - not bad, but I'm generally not a fan of this type of eel...  Two of these.

    Clay pot rice with beef and egg (窩蛋牛肉飯) - always a crowd favorite, with tender slices of beef and an egg on top.  Two of these, too.

    Clay pot rice with pork ribs and egg (窩蛋排骨飯) - some more no-nonsense goodness.  Two of these.

    This place takes their time to cook the rice, and the result is an even layer of rice crispies - a beautiful sight to behold.  And delicious.

    Clay pot rice with preserved meats and chicken (臘味滑雞飯) - I'm not sure we ordered this, but somehow it found its way to our table so we took it.

    Clay pot with mutton brisket with tofu skin (支竹羊腩煲) - this is a great dish for cold weather, and of course we had to get this.

    The mutton was good and tender, and worked well with the bamboo shoots and tofu skin.  Besides cooking Chinese lettuce in the bowl to have it soak up the sauce, we also ended up pouring the mutton sauce onto the rice...  Yum!

    Clay pot rice with preserved meats (臘味飯) - can't leave here without having some of this!  Winter means eating preserved meats like pork sausage and liver sausage, plus preserved pork belly (臘肉).

    The theme for tonight was Rhône, and the 6 of us brought 7 bottles - with 5 bottles coming from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    2009 Comte Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes - opened about 5½ hours prior to serving.  Nose of lemon, oak, flinty. Nicely balanced on the palate.

    1985 Beaucastel - opened 2 hours prior to serving.  Some fruit here and pretty nice.

    1986 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - as someone said, this was "101% corked"... and the cork actually was loose and dropped into the bottle.  Nose of sweet grass and cardboard.

    1994 Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin - very farmy, pretty strong animal notes, savory and smoky.  Absolutely perfect with the mutton brisket.

    1998 Rayas - what a beautiful wine!  Really sweet and jammy on the nose, with lots of strawberries and lychee.   Body was much lighter than I remembered from previous bottles, but that nose!  Pure, unabashed decadence.  My favorite wine of the evening, just edging out the Célestins.

    1998 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - double-decanted 2 hours prior to serving.  Good fruit here, but also plenty of concentration.  A little smoky and savory.  A beautiful wine.

    1991 Guigal La Landonne - a little smoky, exotic, plenty of coconut butter, almost seemed a little cooked, and slightly "dirty".  Surprisingly not my favorite wine tonight, but still drinking well.

    Our two favorite wines of the evening were clearly the pair of '98s.  The interesting point is that both wines were made from the same grape - grenache - but they could not be more different stylistically.  At another dinner 5 years ago, we made the analogy between these same two wines (from the 1990 vintage) to two very different types of women.  Tonight the wines were described as the Malicious East and the Venomous West (東邪西毒) - a reference to characters from the novels of Jin Yong (金庸) - although looking back I think the comparison to women still applies...

    Tonight was undoubtedly one of the most unique evenings in the history of MNSC - and we've had plenty of fun over the last 15 years.  This was soooo different from our run-of-the-mill dinner at fine dining establishments, and I think most of us would love to do it again!  Yeah man, we be slummin' it!

    Finally, at the risk of making the MNSC boys look like a bunch of entitled spoiled brats - which, admittedly, we probably are - here are some takeaways from tonight:

    I always worried whether the restaurant would put up with a bunch of guys leisurely drinking bottles of wine over a couple of hours, since this is a very local joint serving moderately priced food for the masses, and these places turn over their tables pretty quickly.  Sure enough, not long after we started bringing out the bottles, someone (who may have been the owners' daughter) came over and scolded us for bringing so many bottles.  She got more upset when more bottles piled up on the table, and kept telling us not to open any more bottles (even though all the corks had been popped already).

    Our resident Canto Clooney tried to discuss this point with her, but she was immune to his charms and would have none of it.  Eventually she came and told us that she didn't want us hanging around just drinking, since they need to turn the table.  This was a fair point, and we fully understand the restaurant's need to bring in revenue.  So we offered to order more dishes to make up for not turning the table quickly enough, and at one point someone even suggested that we pay them a chunk of money as corkage, despite the fact that we had brought our own glasses and there wasn't any wine service.  She rejected this offer.  It seems that just throwing money at them - something we'd do without a second thought, and which would seem to address the revenue issue - wasn't the right solution.

    After the first round of clay pot rice came (we eventually got the 6th pot), we wanted to order some more food, including more rice.  This was our way of making it up to the restaurant.  It was flatly rejected by the boss lady, who complained that she's already allowed us to order 6 pots of rice... and that was a lot for one table, since usually 2 or 3 diners share a pot of rice.

    I was scratching my head in disbelief at first, wondering why there seemed to be limitations on what we could order, until the boss lady explained that the restaurant only has five burners for cooking clay pot rice (which seems like a small number for a place that specializes in clay pots).  She had already allowed us to order 6 pots in the first round - thus monopolizing all five burners for our table during the long cooking process.  Were we to order more pots of rice, their resources would be disproportionately allocated to our table, which would be unfair to other customers.

    So that illustrates the way they run their business, it's not about catering to anyone who can throw money around.  It's about making as many customers happy as possible, and building a wide customer base for long-term sustainability versus short-term gains from a few fat cats.  That is a very wise strategy, and certainly makes much more sense than some of the places we often hear about.

    At one point, we wondered whether the current market value of the wines on the table would exceed the restaurant's entire take for the night.  I'm not sure that it would, but it certainly would be more than the revenue from one turn, maybe even two.

    Anyway, the boss lady eventually relented and allowed us one last pot of rice, but were chided and warned not to do this again.  We all had a pretty good time, as the wines were superb and the food matched up pretty well.  On the way out I settled the bill, and decided to leave a tip just shy of 20%.  I'm not sure that it meant anything to the boss lady, but it's my way of showing appreciation.  As to whether you think it's just another case of the entitled crowd throwing money around... I leave that up to you to decide.

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    I've never really cared for Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  While the restaurant has always prided itself in being the first Chinese restaurant to earn the coveted three stars from Michelin, I was never enamored with the place.  My first visit was pretty underwhelming, and the second try yielded a pretty good dim sum tasting.  My final visit - almost 4 years ago - was as part of a dinner where the organizer was perhaps trying to maximize price performance... so it wasn't surprising that I still felt the restaurant was unworthy of its three stars.

    Since then I've never had the desire to revisit, because there are plenty of other places in town delivering better food.  The fact that it's perennially booked out by guests staying at the Four Seasons Hotel as well as visiting foodies gourmands - making it necessary to book weeks in advance for what may be a casual lunch or dinner - meant I no longer thought about this place as an option.  Let others who want it badly enough eat there... since I obviously ain't that desperate.

    But late last year I went through a period when I wanted to revisit some of the places that's dropped off my radar screen, and this was clearly one of them.  So I called up the restaurant and tried to book something for a gathering... only to be told that there was nothing available for the rest of December.  I promptly hung up the phone.

    The itch remained, however... and needed to be scratched.  So in the last days of 2014 I picked up the phone once again, and tried to book two meals here - a lunch and a dinner.  I wanted to see if their dim sum was still as good as I remembered, and I wanted to give them another shot at dinner - but without price constraints this time.  I was told that the first available tables were 4 to 5 weeks out, but this time I didn't hang up on them.  I took those tables and waited patiently.

    My dinner which was originally scheduled for last week had to be scrapped, because Tigger had invited me to the opening of Feeding Hong Kong's new digs.  I am a rather passive but nevertheless fervent supporter of the cause, so anything else that was a scheduling conflict was bound to lose.

    I finally got the chance to walk into Lung King Heen again today.  I had booked for an early slot but my friends were a little late.  No matter.  The sunshine was coming through the windows and I was enjoying my time flipping through the menu.  A sommelier who recognized me came up to chat, bringing with him a bottle of wine from a winery in Beijing - a discovered treasure.  I was still recovering from last night's antics so I politely declined his offer to taste.  Another day, perhaps.

    I ordered five different items of dim sum, and asked them to change the quantity from three to four pieces per dish so that we wouldn't have to fight over anything.  As it turned out, though, one of us was stuck in the office...

    The good thing about this restaurant is the service, but maybe it's because the staff has been tipped off by the sommelier.  Anyway, unlike many other Chinese restaurants, here they time the service of the dishes so that you don't get all of them at once.  It's one of my biggest pet peeves, and I'm glad they're maintaining that high standard of service.

    Steamed shrimp and crab meat dumplings with lettuce (萵苣鮮蝦蟹肉餃) - once the lids were taken off the steamers, I knew these were goners...  Leaving aside that there is clearly a hole in one of the dumplings, these have definitely been over-steamed.  Sure enough, I had real trouble picking mine up with chopsticks... and one end kept getting stuck to the sides, to the point where I tore it open while trying to wiggle it free.

    This is another one of my pet peeves, and I really don't like dumplings that fall apart before I've even taken a bite.  Having said that, I liked the flavors from the crab meat, and the crunch from the lettuce stems.

    Steamed zucchini dumplings with celery and mushroom (荷芹雜菌翠瓜餃) - also over-steamed.  Loved the combination of flavors from this veg dumpling.

    Crispy spring rolls with silverfish and shrimp (銀魚鮮蝦脆春卷) - very, very good.  Crispy wrapper, wonderful flavors coming from both the shrimp and especially the silverfish.  A little pungent but not quite to the level of shrimp sauce.  Nice little unexpected kick.  I'd inhale a few of these...

    Pan-fried pork dumplings with preserved vegetables (泡菜鮮肉煎鍋貼) - very, very delish thanks to the kimchi inside.  Yes, I think we've got a little "lost in translation" going on here... Why couldn't the English version simply said "kimchi" instead of "preserved vegetables"?  I would imagine that most people - especially visiting tourists - know immediately what kimchi is but wouldn't have a clue picturing preserved vegetables.

    Baked barbecued pork buns with pine nuts (崧子叉燒菠蘿包) - a little smaller than I expected, but very delish.  The pine nuts were a nice touch.

    Well, I was gonna order a veg dish or something when everyone got here, but seeing that we ate a little more dim sum than expected, and I've got a hellish feeding schedule and all, we decided to stop here.

    But I did want to try out at least one dessert, so I ordered the chilled coffee jelly (千層咖啡糕).  Pretty good, actually.

    We also got some petit fours - sesame cookies (芝麻餅) and some mung bean and coconut jelly (綠豆椰汁糕).

    OK, it's pretty tough to judge a restaurant based on a handful of dim sum items, especially since dim sum is typically made by different chefs from those who deliver the "regular" dishes, but I gotta say that the flavors of all the items were pretty good.  As is often the case the steamed items suffer from over-steaming, but once this problem is fixed the dim sum here would be pretty hard to beat.  Now I really gotta find time to come back for dinner... but I guess that will have to be a month or two out, at least.

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    It was supposed to be one of my "off" nights, designed to allow my body to recover in between nights of indulgence.  But when a long-time foodie friend comes to town and discovers that everyone else is busy or out of town (including jetting off to Noma in Tokyo), I felt obligated to keep him company.  After all this was the friend who introduced me to Candlenut in Singapore, which has become one of my favorite places.

    As we are counting down the last days of operations at On Lot 10 - quite literally - it seemed only right that I take him there for one last visit.  Thankfully I was also able to round up the Great One, so that it wouldn't just be the two of us having an impossible meal at a restaurant whose best dishes are meant to be shared.  David has very kindly arranged the menu for us, as usual, so all we did was sit back and wait for the food to arrive...

    Frog legs meunière - I never have cause for complaint when it comes to David's frog legs, and tonight it was perfect as a snack to nibble on.  Love the slight kick.

    Boudin Basque "Christian Parra", pimente d'Espelette - is there a universe in which I wouldn't like this?  Probably not.  I would never refuse any type of blood sausage, especially one as rich and this.

    Pan-fried sole in lemon caper sauce - not quite sole meunière, but rather David's signature preparation for fish.  A beautiful specimen, and David's got all the right connections to have the freshest seafood from local waters.

    We've got a chef with us at the table, who expertly boned the sole while the rest of us just stared.  Amazing job.

    Of course, I can't say enough about this preparation.  The crispy skin, the richness of butter, the acidity helping to cut that richness down, the croûtons that have soaked up all the sauce... and even the potatoes that I normally stay away from.  Needless to say, we picked every bit of the fish clean...

    Flower crab paella - WOW!  This is one giant crab!  I definitely wanted David's seafood paella one last time, and tonight he delivered with this local flower crab that was one of the largest I've ever had.  I just had to put one of the large dinner spoons next to one of the claws to provide scale.  Pretty damn big claws...

    The meat of the crab was full of natural flavors of the ocean - at once salty with a sweetness underneath.  It was easy to taste the freshness.  The shell also contained plenty of tomalley, and we greedily scraped it with a spoon.  Just wonderful.  And for the second evening in a row, I had the pleasure of feeling the crunch of burnt, crispy rice between my teeth... as I enjoyed scraping the soccarat off the bottom of the pan.  The flavors here - coming from chopped chorizo, pimento, as well as clams and the crab - are always wonderful.

    We also got a plate of pea shoots, which my friend found a little odd considering we're not in a Chinese restaurant.  But a little green veg never did anyone harm...

    We would have been happy to stop here, but the kitchen sent out a slice of tarte bourdaloue along with a slice of blueberry tart.  So we nibbled on these.  Yum.

    As I was still recovering from last night's overindulgence, we took it easy and just sipped on one bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne... which went well with our seafood.

    It was good to come out tonight and see my friend.  It was also good to have a rare chance to take things easy while dining at On Lot 10 - none of us felt stuffed.  I'll be back in a few days for my final meal... which would be the end of an era for some of us.

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    I'm back at the private entertainment facility tonight, satisfying another craving for my favorite winter warmer.  After introducing the Tiggers to this place last month, it was time to come back with more members of the extended family.  It was also important that we revisit while it was still snake season...

    Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - much, much fattier than what I've had on previous visits.  In fact, dare I say a little too fatty?  Although that hardly sounds like something that could possibly come out of my mouth...  Yes, love those burnt bits on the edges... 肥燶叉 iz da best!

    Bamboo piths stuffed with bird's nest (官燕釀竹笙) - this was such a delicate dish.  Neither bird's nest nor bamboo pith have much flavor on their own, so the flavors actually come from the ham broth.  I could definitely taste the ham fat here, which is something very familiar to me since childhood.  Very, very good.  Even the choy sum (菜心) is top-notch.

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - I normally wouldn't order this at other restaurants, but I wouldn't say no when it's on the menu here.  Very large tiger prawns, and tonight they were a little more salty than usual.  Still delicious.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the pièce de résistance tonight.  The snake soup by which I measure every other version by.  I decided to take it easy tonight and only had one bowl.  This way the others could have the opportunity to take a bowl (or two) home.  I've raved enough about this already - about how fine the ingredients are shredded, how perfectly balanced the flavors are, how the soup packs in the flavors that are deep yet appears light (but not quite ethereal) at the same time... Yeah, I love this.

    Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - another familiar dish, and I'm having fresh caught sole for the second evening in a row.  As usual the wings were incredibly yummy with collagen, and I think the back isn't as overcooked as on previous occasions.

    Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - a very good chicken, and once again this came without the head.  The ladies were all excited about the gizzard and liver - in fact they were more excited about them than the meat itself...  Not surprisingly Tigger - being a gweilo when it comes to Chinese food - kept going for the breast, while I took a mixture of white and dark meat.

    Four treasure vegetables with superior broth (上湯四寶蔬) - yup, as delicious as they were on my last visit a couple of weeks ago.  Yes, I'm talking about a plate of veggies, but flavored with superior broth (上湯) - which is made with ham.   The mustard greens (芥菜) were actually pretty sweet instead of being bitter.  And the radish... sooooo delish!

    Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - something else that's totally up Tigger's alley.  Tonight I think the ratio between the rice rolls and the beef was better, so what I had in my bowl wasn't too bland.  If only I could have taken a second bowl of this... Must.Have.Self.Control.

    Red bean purée with aged mandarin peel (陳皮紅豆沙) - this was probably the thickest, densest red bean purée I have ever had... Seriously, this was almost paste-like.  Unfortunately, this wasn't that enjoyable, even though it was the purest form of red beans, because the texture was just too rough and "sandy".  Seriously, it felt like I was rubbing my tongue on sandpaper, in a way...

    Chartogne-Taillet Rosé - a little caramelized, nice nose of strawberries, and slightly savory.  A good match with the char siu.

    Very, very good meal.  I'm already looking forward to coming back next week...

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    Much like Tuesday, tonight was supposed to be my one free night in between all my nights of eating out this week.  I was already cringing about eating out 5 nights this week when I got a call from the Specialist: would I be free to attend the pre-auction dinner for the upcoming Château Mouton Rothschild ex-château sale?

    Now, my first reaction was pretty similar to the one that Hugh Grant's character had in Four Weddings and a Funeral when Carrie showed up at the church moments before he was to be married - "Bugger!  Bugger!  Bugger!" Why, oh why did this dinner have to be on the one night that I had hoped to be free, when my body would be allowed to take a break from all the excessive eating (and drinking) I was going to do this week?!  I had already turned down an invitation to another wine gathering.

    But one does not turn down an invitation like this one.  It may not be gold dust, but pretty darn close.  It was a privilege to be invited and I was most certainly undeserving, so I gratefully accepted the kind invitation.  I was very much looking forward to a second chance to taste a legendary vintage, only this time the wines would come directly from the château!

    I arrived at the appointed time, and spent a little time chatting with everyone from Sotheby's Wine Department.  The drink of the cocktail session?  Why, Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut, in magnums of course!

    We took our assigned seats at the different tables, and I was assigned to Miguel Barceló - named after the artist whose work adorns the 2012 vintage.  I found myself seated next to Aline Baly, who happens to be one of the co-owners of Château Coutet.  I was eagerly waiting for the food catered by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and of course the wines!

    Trio of Hokkaido scallop with orange beurre blanc - mmmm... when you say "trio of" something, people kinda expect three different versions of something...  Here's it's just three of the same scallops.  Not very impressed.  The scallops were blanched then chilled, and I found the texture to be so-so.  Flavor-wise the scallops were kinda bland, and were only saved by the orange sauce.

    2011 Aile d'Argent - toasty oak on the nose.  Nice balance on the palate at first, slightly ripe but not too sweet.  Long finish with punchiness.

    Porcini mushroom vol au vent with rosemary beurre noisette - I loooove vol au vent!  Just look at all those layers of flaky pastry!  Mushroom, of course, is a natural partner, and this was very, very tasty.  I definitely tasted the rosemary.

    2006 Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.  Nose of coffee, mint, sweet fruit, cedar, and tobacco.  Drinking really well.

    2003 Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.  Smoky, cigar smoke, nice and sweet fruit, a little meaty, a little coconut butter.  More tannic on the palate than the 2006.  Beautiful and opulent.

    Iberico suckling pig, peas, red wine reduction - what's not to love about a cube of fatty, pork belly with a layer of crispy crakling?  Inhaled.  Nice potato mash and pea mash, too...

    2001 Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 3½ hours prior to serving. Very minty, woodsy, some sweet fruit here, and a little exotic.

    1996 Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.  Probably my favorite wine of the evening as it was drinking beautifully.  Heavy nose of tobacco smoke and pencil lead, with some cedar wood.  More powerful than I expected.  Classic Pauillac and exactly what I think a Mouton should be.

    Braised wagyu beef cheek with French winter truffle jus - of course this was very tender, since there was plenty of collagen that has been softened after braising.  Black winter truffle didn't hurt, either... I even ate the fingerling potatoes.

    1986 Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.  This didn't show very well, as a friend and I discussed before dinner started, and I was told that some tables had new pours from different bottles.  Definitely possible that ex-château stock was simply too young.  Nose was a little earthy, smoky, a little meaty, and pretty lean.  The palate was very lovely and smooth, but the nose just wasn't as opulent and showy as I had hoped for.

    1961 Mouton Rothschild - double-decanted 1 hour prior to serving.  Well, for me this wine wasn't showing, either.  Which may be just that I am somehow off tonight... because everyone else I spoke to tonight raved about this wine.  After all, this is ex-château stock of a legendary vintage.  One of my friends remarked that this wine alone was worth putting on a suit and tie for.  Nose showed a little animal, meaty, minty notes.  Very silky and beautifully smooth on the palate, which showed slight savory notes.  A beautiful and elegant wine for sure, but a little too restrained and lacking that sexy opulence.  Of course, this was only the second time I've had this vintage, so what the hell do I know?!

    Classic French apple tart - well... I wouldn't exactly call it "classic", because the top looked like it belonged on a tarte au citron.  I still inhaled it, though...

    1989 La Cuvée Madame de Château Coutet - given the small production, what a privilege it was to be drinking this wine!  Beautiful and stunning, with honey, apricot, marmalade, acetone, and honeydew melon notes.  Soooo rich and unctuous, but with good acidity balance here.

    Liqueur de Cassis de Mouton Rothschild - the upside surprise of the evening.  Lots of ripe berries, a little violet, some herbal notes that reminds me a little of chartreuse, and also displayed the same savory notes as tomato juice.  So alcoholic that it started to singe the hairs in my nostrils...  A very limited production of maximum 1,600 bottles a year, so it's amazing that I got the chance to taste this.  Winemaker Philippe Dhalluin told me that only two bottlings are more rare - both made exclusively for the family - a Cognac (eau-de-vie?) and an eau-de-vie made from prunes.

    It was truly a privilege to have been present at this dinner tonight, as the family came out to show their support - including the late Baroness' husband and her three children.  Their generosity was stunning - evidenced by the fact that they brought a whole case of the '61 with them.  I must also thank Aline Baly for her generosity in bringing the '89 Coutet Cuvée Madame - another rarity.  And of course I can't thank Sotheby's enough...

    P.S.  The following evening saw the auction achieve stellar results - with 93% of lots sold above their high estimates, and a total of USD 4.1 million including premium.  The bulk of the proceeds are to be used to endow the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild Foundation for the Arts, since as a former actress herself, the performing arts are one of the late Baroness' great passions.  In that sense this auction is a little similar to the twin auctions raising funds to help set up the elBullifoundation a couple of years ago.

    I figured prices would be high for this auction so I wasn't expecting to get anything, but fortunately I did manage to win one lot from mom's vintage.  I look forward to drinking that with mom...

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    Tonight we've come to the end of an era, at least for me and some of my friends.  Our beloved On Lot 10 is closing tomorrow, and this is the very last time we would ever walk through its doors.  A few of us first learned of the impending closure when chef patron David Lai spilled the beans at a lunch last year, and my first reaction was to ask him: "SO WHERE ARE WE GONNA EAT?!"

    Some of us have been trying to pack in visits late, and tonight would be my third visit this month.  After all, this may be the last chance to taste some of the dishes we've grown very fond of.

    What was interesting tonight was that a friend and I both booked in advance, and we negotiated with the restaurant so that we would share the entire upper level between our two parties.  That way we would be a little more flexible in terms of the number of people we could invite, and worked out pretty well in the end.  In fact, we even engaged in some "horse trading" as we passed a couple of people between our two groups...

    As usual we left the menu entirely up to David and the kitchen, although I insisted that my favorite dry-aged beef must be on the menu.  There was never any doubt that we would be completely stuffed by the end of the evening.

    Culatello di Zibello - generously shared by Kung Fu Panda at the neighboring table who brought it back from Parma.  I love the cornichons and pickled chili peppers from Spain.

    Steamed flower crab - I just had the most amazingly beautiful flower crab paella here 3 days ago, and here it is on the table again.  As usual left the claws up to the others and just took a section of the body.  Very, very yum.  For a moment, some us thought we had been transported to a Chiuchow restaurant...

    Sea urchin omelette - egg and sea urchin are natural bedfellows, and this disappeared in no time.

    Whole roasted foie gras - David's been wanting to serve this to us, and even though it was completely decadent, I figured... what the hell!  Soooooo soft and melt-in-your-mouth in the middle, with nice charring on the outside.

    Pan-fried fourfinger threadfin in lemon caper sauce - we got a pretty nice and big specimen, which was split amongst the three tables.  I love fourfinger threadfin (馬友), and of course I can't get enough of that lemon caper sauce which also gets soaked up by them croûtons.

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - I've waxed lyrical about this hunk of beef at least a half dozen times over the last year, and tonight was the last chance to introduce it to a few friends who have yet to try.  For some reason we barely had enough to go around, so I just had a small piece for a taste.  I did manage to have myself a tater, and managed to scoop up easily half of the lettuce on that plate.

    Crispy suckling pig - it's been a long time since the last time I had this, and coming after all that food tonight, it was a little tough to take in much more than a little slice.  Love the crispy crackling!

    The kitchen sent out some sides, including this pile of taters... I think I saw someone having her fourth...

    Finally, we got some tarte bourdaloue to finish.

    I finally remembered to bring out the special bags of Jelly Belly that a friend of mine brought back from the US.  The Draft Beer flavor was pretty meh, and you really need to put at least 3 of them in the mouth together to pick out the beer flavor.  The TABASCO flavor, though, was kick ass!  Not only does it pack a real kick in one single little jelly bean, it also tasted like the real sauce out of the bottle.

    We got a big party of 15, which means we needed plenty of vino.  So a few of us just randomly grabbed a few bottles...

    Ruinart Brut

    2012 Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine, dégorgée en Avril 2014 - a little more oaky, mineral, and lively.

    2003 Françoises Bedel L'Âme de la Terre - very caramelized, like cotton candy, really ripe on the palate, almost like marmalade.

    2003 Domaine Leflaive Puligy-Montrachet Les Combettes - nose was very toasty, very ripe, nice and buttery, with a little sweet grass and lemon.

    2002 Oremus Eszencia - nutty and marmalade, honey.  Very rich and viscous, but surprisingly nice acidity to balance it.  Went nicely with the foie gras.

    1989 Cos d'Estournel - smoky, a little closed at first, with some woodsy notes.  More concentration here.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - more animal on the nose, meaty.

    1995 Clinet - nose of coffee and smoke.  Opened up after a little.

    We all had a fun evening, but it was sad that this would be our last at our beloved restaurant.  It's not often that one finds a chef who has the passion and the creativity to keep surprising his customers at every turn.  We give David carte blanche for each and every visit, and I can't even begin to count the number of times he has managed to surprise me over the last 4½ years.

    Therefore it was all the more disappointing that yet another dining establishment has succumbed to the bane that is rising rent.  David has stated publicly that the rent on the space has more than tripled over the last 6 years.  When one of your major cost components experiences such a meteoric rise, how do we expect restaurants to stay in business?!  Would restaurant patrons be willing to fork out 50% more, or double, so that restaurateurs can keep their margins while factoring the higher cost of rent, staff wages and the cost of ingredients?  

    And if people aren't willing to pay more, the restaurants either have to shutter, or find ways of cutting costs.  This inevitably leads to poor quality in terms of food - perhaps by using cheaper ingredients - and is one of the major contributing factors to the numerous food scandals going around the region.  Is this what's in the cards for us?

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    I've been talking about my new favorite private dining facility with a friend in Taiwan, and decided to set a date so that a bunch of them can take the opportunity of a business trip to dine there with me.  So it came to pass that on the day I was due to fly to Japan to start a week-long eating tour, I was busy stuffing myself with some good ol' fashioned Cantonese...

    I originally thought the chef would put together a lighter menu because it's lunch, but I guess he wasn't thinking along those lines... In the end I had to ask him to cut out a couple of dishes, which would also help lower the cost of the meal.  It was still a pretty penny to have to pay for lunch, though...

    Deep-fried prawns with salt and pepper (椒鹽鳳尾蝦) - first time having these prawns here.  Pretty good, but a little more greasy than I expected.

    Stir-fried beef cubes (大千禾牛粒) - WOW!  Very, very yummy.  The beef was pretty tender, but it was the accompanying deep-fried garlic, pan-fried garlic, onions, spring onions, and chilis that really made the dish.  All those flavors in one mouthful...

    Stir-fried shredded meats with abalone (鮑魚銀牙炒三絲) - this was also very good, with shredded abalone, chicken and barbecued pork (叉燒).  Very nice with yellow and green peppers, bean sprouts, onions...etc.  Best part of the dish?  Those Indian almonds which had been stir-fried at high heat.  You can just taste all the flavors thanks to the wok hei...

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the main event, once again.  This would be my last time having snake soup this season, and I've been lucky enough to enjoy it on 5 separate occasions here during this season.  More than enough.  Still lovin' it.  Amazingly complex with layers of flavors, yet so delicately balanced.

    The one dumb thing I did today?  I wore fleece to lunch.  And after two bowls of the snake soup, I was sweating a lot inside.

    Stir-fried choy sum with beef fat (肥牛炒菜心) - veg dishes are supposed to be healthy, but when they're stir-fried with the fat that's been trimmed off the beef we had earlier... not so much.  Delicious, though... and absolutely nothing to complain about here.

    Tea-smoked chicken (茶皇烟燻雞) - still love the smoky flavors and the soy sauce.  Still very tender.  But something was off about this chicken today... The skin and/or the fat just tasted weird.

    Pan-fried noodles with garlic and shredded chicken (蒜香雞絲煎生麵) - interesting to see the chef use Cantonese egg noodles for this... and in fact this was pan-fried on both side, instead of just one side as it's done at Chiu Tang (潮廳).

    Besides the traditional condiments of vinegar and sugar, the chef also prepared a bowl of sauce made with shredded chicken and garlic.

    This is how I chose to have my noodles, and it was a very, very good combination...

    Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - very good as usual.

    That was a lot to take in for lunch, but I'm glad I got to introduce some more friends to this place.  Burp!

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    It's my first day in Tokyo, and I'm crashing with my friends Cow and Chicken after foolishly taking the redeye.  Dinner tonight was a get together of four people who've known each other for the better part of 2 decades, and we're trying to rehash some of the gatherings we've had over the years.  The last time all four of us got together over some food and wine was more than 4 years ago, and that's simply too long!

    H-man knows the restaurant scene in town well, especially those that are BYO friendly, so we asked him to pick something casual.  La Ruée vers l'or happened to be fairly close to the Cowfarm, so that was pretty convenient for us.  A menu has also been arranged for us, which would go pretty well with some of the wines we brought.

    The amuse bouche was cod mousse in a filo pastry cone.  Pretty good.

    Marinated snapper with konbu, spinach purée - very, very nice.  The red seabream (真鯛) is marinated the with konbu in the traditional Japanese method known as kobujime (昆布締め), which imparts delicate flavors to the fish.  Topped with broccoli, radish, chrysanthemum petals, cherry tomatoes, carrots, mizuna (水菜) and horseradish.

    Chicken broth flan, root vegetables and mushrooms in a nage fashon - served with shimeji mushrooms (しめじ茸), lotus root, and shiso (紫蘇) flowers.  Very delicate flavors.  This actually tasted like chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し)...

    Braized conger eel and scallop, red wine sauce - very interesting dish.  A thin layer of conger eel (穴子) is wrapped around a scallop, in the same fashion that bacon is sometimes used.  The conger eel has pretty toasty flavors, and this was all topped with thin strips of burdock (牛蒡).  Kinda surprised at the use of red wine sauce here, but it worked.

    Braised pork belly, bacon, navy beans, pistou - wow... This was just... sooooo rich.  Melt-in-your-mouth fatty pork, plus bacon, plus having all the beans absorb the fat from the pork... Add a little charred Brussels sprouts to the mix and serve on top of pistou.

    We got a small cheese platter, which was OK.  They did have little tiny slices of Brillat-Savarin, but I've been too spoiled by Jeremy over the years...

    Pistachio crème brûlée - this was small but very, very good.  Love the ground pistachio powder sprinkled all over.

    I lugged a couple of wines from Hong Kong while H-man provided a pair of old reds.  I think we drank pretty well tonight...

    2006 Roses de Jeanne Le Creux d'Enfer, dégorgée a 12 avril 2010 - deeper flavors here, a little caramelized on the nose, a little mineral, strawberry notes.  Ripe on the palate.  Still such a beautiful wine.

    2000 Coche-Dury Meursault - as expected, nose was big and heavy toast, with roasted corn along with a nice degree of ripeness, and some sweet fruit.  There was some ripeness on the front palate, but the acidity quicly caught up.  Very, very beautiful as always.

    1983 Penfolds Grange - nose of coconut butter, vanilla, sweet, exotic spices, potpourri, a little mineral, almost a little savory, a little animal, and definitely eucalyptus.  Drinking very well.

    1977 Penfolds Grange - more muted nose here at first but opened up quickly.  Sweet on the nose but less coconut butter and vanilla.  A little more meaty here, and still got that eucalyptus.

    This was truly a fun evening, as four of us just hung out and caught up like it was the old days.  Hopefully we can see each other again very soon... maybe even in Hong Kong.

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  • 02/03/15--06:25: The Asian Western
  • Picking out one new restaurant each month to review for the South China Morning Post isn't as easy as it seems.  I'm only doing it 1 out of 4 weeks each month, so most of the heavy lifting is already done by the regular staff.  Trying to find a restaurant that I would be interested enough to eat in (since I'm putting calories into my body, it'd better damn well be worth it!), and which would be just about brand new around the date of my column requires some juggling.  Sometimes you end up with a coveted choice, other times not so much.

    For this month I ended up picking Chef Stage, which is run by local chef Eddy Chu.  I must admit that I was a little confused... because I thought this was run by the same Eddy behind Chef Studio by Eddy.  As it turns out, that place is run by Eddy Leung... so not the same.  Aaaaaaanywaaaaay...

    I stepped into the restaurant and found myself alone (other than the three staff) in the dimly-lit dining room.  We were apparently the only table for the night, and in fact Chef Eddy himself decided to step out for dinner. The staff had reserved the corner table for us - with nice views of Victoria Harbor - but I found the space too dark.  Yes, one of my biggest pet peeve is dark dining spaces - both because it's hard to me to take decent pictures of the food, but also because at my age with my deteriorating eyesight, I can't even freaking read the menu!  I asked the staff to turn the lights up as much as possible, and in the end decided to sit somewhere else with more light.

    The menu was very short and simple, with a total of less than 15 items spread among starters, soups, mains and desserts.  A quick glance told me that the selection was very "Asian" - meaning the dishes were very mainstream and, honestly, looked boring to someone with a jaded palate (yes, that would be moi...)  Well, I knew this was gonna be a little more "local", but let's see how the food tastes!

    Prawn tartar with black truffle - the mottled-looking quenelle may not look like much, but it was surprisingly delicious.  The prawn had been diced and shredded, so there were different textures here.  They've mixed in a little bit of black truffle sauce, which added just enough fragrance to accent and compliment the flavors of the prawn.  Quelle surprise!

    Pan fried duck liver, cherry tomato gazpacho - interesting combination... and the chef suggested that we eat the two together.  I prefer my foie gras to be more on the raw side so that it still retains that wobbly texture, but this one was clearly a little more cooked than I would like.  The gazpacho in the martini glass was really light and refreshing, and I wish it had been my dish so that I could just guzzle it down.  To be honest, though, we didn't get the combination.  I suppose the gazpacho was meant to provide the acidity to cut down the fat of the foie, but it didn't really work.

    The weird thing about our starters is that they arrived separately, with a long delay between them.  My prawn tartar arrived very quickly, and it took some time for the kitchen to send out the foie gras/gazpacho combo.  This was pretty unusual.  I suppose I could have waited until my friend's dish arrived before digging into mine, but we would have both been staring at my dish for a good 10 minutes or so...

    U.S. natural Angus beef rib eye - my friend asked for medium-rare, but what arrived certainly looked more done than that.

    Grilled Australia rack of lamb - curiously, I wasn't asked about how I wanted my lamb done.  I didn't want to kick up a fuss, so I just sat and waited to see whether they would cook my lamb a little more done than the medium-rare I would normally prefer.

    Sure enough, the first piece I cut into was more medium...

    ...but the second piece was actually pretty rare in the middle.  I'm OK with having my lamb rare, but it was just interesting to see the consistency (or lack of).  Well, at least they tasted good with all that lamby goodness from the fat!  I was happily gnawing on the bones and stripping them clean.

    The one problem to both of the mains was the scoop of purple sweet potato mash that came with them.  It was clear that something was off from the very first nibble, because this wasn't sweet at all.  The taste was completely weird... something familiar but at the same time the flavor didn't belong here.  We later found out that the chef had added olive oil to this.  Why, oh why?!  If you've got good quality purple sweet potato, why do you want to fuck with it?!

    I think the restaurant was happy that they had customers tonight - or maybe because they saw my SLR and figured I might generate some publicity for them - so they sent out a little complimentary crème brûlée for us.  This was actually decent, and just the right size for me.

    Warm chocolate brownie with ice-cream - the proportion of brownie to ice cream seemed a little bit off, to be honest.  The brownies were tiny, and had thin, crispy shells on the outside while the interiors were very fluffy and light.  As my friend remarked, these were very "Asian"... and not gonna cut it for anyone who grew up on American brownies...

    Soooo... what did we think of tonight?  Honestly, this isn't someplace where I would naturally think of, since the menu is pretty mainstream and "uninteresting" by my book.  But then again, a guy like me is always looking out for things that are unusual and out of the ordinary, so I'm not the typical consumer.  For people who are just looking for a casual night out, or who aren't too adventurous, I do think that they do a decent job here.  What's more, the price point seemed reasonable for the quality delivered... and that is very important in my book.

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

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