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

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  • 03/09/13--06:58: A pair of 70 year olds
  • I'm in Taipei for an early celebration of mom's 70th birthday.  It's a big one, and I was lucky enough to pick up a very special bottle of wine at auction for this occasion.  I've been waiting patiently ever since…

    I had briefly considered booking Paris 1930 for this dinner, as the restaurant - under a different chef at the time - was able to create a few dishes on the fly to match a very specific bottle of wine on another occasion.  Alas, when I called the restaurant to try to book a table, I was told that the manager/sommelier Rolf was no longer there.  I hung up almost immediately.  Rolf and Jack have been the reasons I have gone back to the restaurant for more than 10 years.  My last two visits - with the new chef in the kitchen - have seen the place fall in my rankings, and Rolf knew that he need to get the chef in shape or risk losing the regulars permanently.  I'm not sure what happened, but with Rolf's departure the restaurant has lost me as a customer for good.

    So Robuchon it is, again.  I can rest assured that Benoit would know how to take care of this special bottle.  And I was eager to try out what the new chef is doing.  Mom was embarrassed on her last visit, when she took some people out for lunch and the fish was apparently overcooked and tough.  How would things turn out tonight?

    I arrived at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon a few minutes early, and asked Benoît to take care of the wine for me.  I asked if he could work with the chef and recommend a few dishes that would work well with the 1943 Yquem, and the response was typical of him: "Nothing!"  Other than the classic pairing with foie gras, Benoît felt (very strongly, apparently!) that Sauternes is a wine best drunk after dinner, on its own, with your best friend in front of a fireplace.  Oh well…

    I had asked Pineapple over instant messaging about decanting this wine, and he suggested that I decant the bottle just before serving in order to remove the sediment.  Yes, there was some sediment, and it was very fine.  When Benoît chose not to decant, I asked him about it and told him Pineapple's recommendation.  His response: "You tell him to come over so I can *kick his @#$*"  Ah… nothing ever changes.

    I decided we should just order à la carte instead of taking a tasting menu, as I wanted mom to have her favorite foie and wanted some for myself, too…

    The amuse bouche was hairy gourd mash with sun-dried tomato and deep-fried shallots.

    Le foie gras: des Landes confit sel et poivre, dattes aux citrons confits et aux noix fraiches - it's been a while since I've had good foie torchon like this.  The texture was very, very smooth and creamy.  The salt and pepper bring out the flavor very nicely, and that yellow duck fat sure looks nice…

    The date confit has finely chopped lemon rind as well as black truffles mixed in.

    Le porc: la joue confite dans un jus épicé aux légumes croquants - the pork cheek was slow-cooked and reasonably tender, but a few pieces had muscle fibers which were chewy, depending on how they are cut.  Not getting why tofu cubes are used here.  The thin strands of Arabic rice vermicelli (not sure what it's called) are nice and fine.

    Le cochon de lait: laqué de miel aux épicés, choux vert éfumé au lard fumé - the suckling pig was not bad, and definitely tasted very young  with strong flavors (very "porky").  The pork rinds were just slightly soggy by the time the dish arrived at the table.

    Last night while I was at Caprice in Hong Kong, Chef Vincent had asked me to give his regards to Chef Xavier Boyer, as they had worked together at the Four Seasons George V in Paris.  I asked Benoît to introduce me to Chef Xavier, and I delivered the greetings from Hong Kong.  I also asked Benoît to pour him some of the wine.  Chef Xavier kindly offered to arrange dessert...

    And now for something sweet… and the complimentary birthday dessert arrived first.  We ended up not eating this pretty concoction made with hazelnuts.

    To clean our palates, we were offered some basil sorbet, wild strawberries, grapefruit granité and mint jelly.  Very refreshing.

    What arrived next was a glass with banana and passion fruit mousse, rum sorbet and coconut mousse on top.  A little bit of lime rind shavings added a little extra fragrance, and the candy stick made with passion fruit was interesting, too.  VERY nice.

    La Poire: moelleuse et confite au vin cuit, sur un léger pana cotta à la vanille et un sorbet aux cassis - this was very good, too. Wine-poached pear, cassis sorbet, raspberry crisps… lots of different fruity flavors here.

    Caramel and pear has always been something that Robuchon does well, and this little ball of vanilla panna cotta was truly yum.  Tahitian vanilla, bien sûr!

    I finished with a macaron.  Couldn't tell exactly what the flavor was from the cookie, but it had almond ganache with a mango center.  Pretty good.

    But the center of attention tonight - other than mom, of course - was the bottle of Yquem.  It was one of the treasures from my cellar, and anticipation was high.

    1943 Yquem - nose of raisins, nutty, honey, caramel, orange marmalade, definitely vanilla, honeydew.  Soooo sweet and concentrated, very unctuous.  The fragrance lingered in the glass for a long time, and the finish was also pretty long.  Very top shoulder.

    The color of the wine was soooo deep and dark, and resembled an old Madeira or Tawny Port.

    Yes, there was a little bit of sediment here… tartaric acid crystals?

    Mom was very, very happy with the wine.  I had opened a bottle of 1943 Doisy-Daëne with her two years ago, and told her that this was the same type of wine.  Mom may not be an expert on wine, but her palate is very, very sharp from years of being in the kitchen.  She knew that this was much, much better than the Doisy-Daëne, and indeed it was!

    What a wonderful evening!  Many thanks to Chef Xavier who ended up comping us 6 different desserts…

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    Two years on, a bunch of foodies gathered in Hong Kong again for a meal.  For a select few this has been a tradition going back to 2008 (or was it 2007...), over a meal which I was unable to attend at the time.  We had two good mealsin 2009, another twoin 2010, and I was able to make it to one in 2011.  I'm glad to be able to make it to one of the gatherings this year.

    Each year the group keeps growing, with a few core members returning while new friends manage to join us.  In addition to those of us in Hong Kong, this year we had people flying in from Toronto, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore - a total of 14 of us.  Not too shabby for a little gathering...  I guess some poeple will fly a long way just to go eat!  I know I would.

    The organizer had read my posts on Above and Beyond (天外天), and after some discussion the other candidates for the venue were tossed out in favor of this one.  It would be my first experience with dinner here (both previous visits were during lunch), and I was looking forward to the menu put together by Susan and David.

    Chinese specialty platter (江南四小碟):

    Barbecued suckling pig (化皮乳豬件) - oh this was very, very good !  Crispy skin with just a nice layer of fat underneath.  Totally not happy about only getting two small squares of this!

    Crispy five spice sliced angus beef brisket (五香脆安格斯腩片) - not as good as I remembered from my first visit.  Today this was a little dry and cold by the time I got to it.

    Smoked egg with Oolong tea leaves and black truffles (黑松露茶薰蛋) - oh this was real good… I expected the smoky flavors but didn't count on the acidity that came with the little bit of black truffles on top.

    Suckling pig knuckles in abalone sauce (鮑汁豬仔腳) - not sure I picked up the abalone sauce, but never mind… Oink, oink!

    Wok-fried crystal king prawn with honey-glazed Yunnan ham (蜜汁雲腿伴玻璃蝦球) - ho-hum.  Yes, the prawn was big… and yes, the chef had scored it so that it resembled a flower - like a peony or a rose.  But it tasted kinda bland.  This was a dish that I stopped ordering at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), and this isn't better than the one at Tim's Kitchen.

    The Yunnan ham here also didn't really do it for me.

    Double-boiled chicken soup with fish maw and coconut (椰皇花膠燉土雞湯) - this was some delicious chicken soup!  Love the unexpected layer of coconut flavor.  However, the fish maw was VERY fishy… in fact I've never ever had it so strong.

    Wok-fried Canadian scallops with black truffles and sea urchins (黑松露海膽帶子皇) - the execution of the scallops themselves were absolutely flawless - leading to a texture soft and tender.  Was there sea urchin in this?  I had no idea… since I couldn't pick up the taste.  Obviously there was some crab meat, and the strong flavors from the ginger, spring onions as well as the pea sprouts overwhelmed everything else.

    Wok-fried spotted garoupa fillet with Yunnan ham and spring onion (腿茸薑蔥爆東星斑球) - I'm biased here because I don't think good fish should be prepared as fillet… but in all honesty this was not bad, and I found myself eating up all the spring onions.

    Crispy-fried chicken with Oolong tea leaves (脆皮茶薰雞) - the skin was crispy and yummy, but the underside - where the bones are - was very, very salty.

    Steamed coral crab with glutinous rice (紅蟳米糕) - this had gotten cold by the time it was plated for us, so I didn't like it as much as last time.

    It just didn't pack the same amount of flavor… and it was just cold and mushy.

    Caramel brûlée (焦糖燉蛋) - actually nice with vanilla, but just too sweet… even for a guy with a sweet tooth.  I think most others felt the same way.  And the portion was way too big for something this rich and sweet.

    Baked egg custard tartlet (酥皮蛋撻仔) - this was too small, and I felt the crust was too thick and threw the custard/crust ratio out of whack.

    Chilled jelly with wolfberry and osmanthus (杞子桂花糕) - interesting that you get the flavor of osmanthus but the flowers themselves have been filtered out.  That single wolfberry was looking awfully lonely there…

    I had offered to bring wine for everyone, and listed out what I could bring for the party in the email chain.  One by one, people raised their hands and said that they weren't gonna drink, so I shouldn't bring too much wine.  Reluctantly, I cut down on the wines I planned to bring… until finally I only brought the equivalent of 3 bottles…

    1993 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Auslese 83 - nose of polyurethane, minerals, white flowers, and plastic.  Still got acidity here despite the sweetness.

    1985 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendages Tardives en magnum - what would normally have been a beautiful wine was… bouchonné!!!  Initially there was a whiff of white grapes and lychee.  Then the nose faded quickly.  There was some sweetness on the palate, but it was mostly bitter, and had no length.  Another diner and I quickly agreed that the wine was gone.  It wasn't as undrinkable as it could have been, but it gave me no pleasure to drink the wine.  I apologized to the crowd for the unfortunate occurrence.

    Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 39% (獺祭「純米大吟醸」磨き三割九分) - nose of bananas, tropical fruits and sticky rice.

    1983 Delamaine Grande Champagne Cognac - lots of caramel in the nose.

    The food was pretty good in general, although there were a few things that perhaps needed tweaking.  The important thing was that it gave us all an opportunity to dine together, to celebrate old and new friendships.  I look forward to more gatherings in the next year and beyond.

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    I've been back in Hong Kong for almost 6 months now, and thanks to the generosity of Tigger's family, I've been holed up in the boonies while I took my sweet ol' time thinking about what to do about my housing situation.  Because I work in Central and still spend lots of time on the Island and all, I don't end up spending all that much time in my 'hood… and when I'm here I'm usually holed up in the apartment.

    After a quick lunch today, I decided to take a stroll and speed up the digestion a little.  There is a park whose entrance is about 100 meters from my building, and in all the months that I've been here, I've never bothered to see what it's like.

    Once through the entrance, I can see that the park has a collection of sporting facilities, such as a full football (soccer for Americans) pitch, tennis courts, hard courts for football/basket ball…etc.  There is also a jogging trail and some equipment for the elderly to do some exercise.  Scattered throughout the area are flowerbeds, shrubs and trees, which one would expect to see in a park.

    As I strolled through the space, I became amazed at the diversity of the flora within the park.  The Leisure and Cultural Services Department had clearly put some effort into making sure that there were different species of shrubs, trees…etc planted within this space.  There was ficus, juniper, the ubiquitous bauhinia (it being Hong Kong's "national" flower and all)… There were also lots of shrubs that I'd never seen before, such as this red poofy thing that the butterfly decided to perch on...

    Morning glories were in bloom, as were impatiens and hibiscus.  Osmanthus has been in bloom for the last few months around this area, perking me up with their lovely fragrance every time I walk past.

    Thanks to the diversity of the flora, I found different species of butterflies and birds around the park, which was a pretty nice change from the normal slog in our vast concrete jungle.  All this within 100 meters of where I live.

    I'm sure there are a number of similar parks around Hong Kong, and there's bound to be one near you.  We (OK, I know I did) often take these parks for granted, and don't think much about what's in them.  If you just take some time out of your busy routine, and peek around the corner, perhaps you, too, will find that there's beauty just around the corner.

    I guess Hong Kong's not so bad after all.

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  • 03/18/13--07:35: Monkey see, monkey do
  • It's been a while since I last had some kushiyaki (串焼き).  In fact I can't remember the last time I had some decent stuff on skewers.  I was getting together with a friend who wanted to try out Three Monkeys.  As I had never been, I happily agreed to the suggestion.

    I didn't know much about the place, other than that it was Japanese.  A quick search online led to me a review written by my fellow blogger (and occasional drinking friend) R of Birdie Golf.  I knew I was in safe hands if I just followed what he ordered…

    I decided that we should order in rounds, keeping to 3-4 items per round.  We also ordered some cocktails to start…

    Yuzu julep - FAIL.  It wasn't a bad drink, but I couldn't for the life of me taste any hint of yuzu (柚子).

    GYU-Tongue: thick cut ox tongue, sea salt, black pepper, whole grain mustard - probably the first thing I'd order at any kushiyaki joint.  Thick cut really is the best.  Kinda interesting with a dab of mustard, but I still prefer it with just salt and pepper.

    I didn't have any of the foie gras tofu toast, because it came in one piece and the mesh scoop that came with it looked a little flimsy for us to use it to cut up the tofu…  Apparently it was very good.

    Tomato bacon: sea salt and black pepper - not bad.

    Kurobuta belly: shiso leaves, sea salt - not mind-blowing, but decent.  Interesting touch with the perilla (紫蘇) leaves.

    Kalbi: rib, spring onion, garlic, chili - again this was decent, but fell short of my (perhaps unreasonably high) expectations.

    Tsukune: chicken and egg, handmade - normally this is my go-to item at any yakitori joint, but I passed this up in favor of something else tonight.  However the waitstaff got my order wrong, and the manager decided that we should have it anyway…  Always love the chopped bits of cartilage inside, and the raw egg yolk, too.

    Portobello: katsuo flakes and soy - not bad, actually, but where were the bonito (鰹) flakes?  We had grated radish (大根おろし) and perilla flowers on top…

    Tsukune Piiman: green peppers, chicken stuffing, katsuo flakes - this was what I actually ordered instead of the ordinary tsukune (つくね).  Kinda interesting.

    Obaasan's wagyu stew: slow cooked wagyu brisket topped with foie gras - HUH? Where's the brisket?!  I think my friend had two little bits, but all I got was tendon… and one piece of foie.   My friend commented that this was pretty much Chinese… although Japanese do eat beef tendon stew.

    I finished with this cocktail, which I think was called the Japanese Monk.  Yes, I like girlie drinks… but actually I'll drink anything with lychee in it because it's one of my favorite fruits since childhood.  Nice and refreshing.

    Not a bad way to spend a Monday night...

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  • 03/19/13--00:33: Will work for food
  • After a particular long and stressful day, I Love Lubutin sent out a distressed call.  Apparently she was craving for the fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) from Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), and promised to clean the apartment of whoever would deliver it to her - for a whole week!

    The bat signal was quickly picked up by Tigger, who decided to organize an impromptu lunch for the very next day.  I was strong-armed into canceling my lunch appointment so that I could join this gathering.  Despite the fact that the requested dish was no longer being served as it is out of season, Tigger felt confident that he could somehow arrange it with the restaurant.

    I arrived to find that a whole host of dim sum items had been ordered.  For reasons unknown to be, no one had remembered the golden rule of ordering dim sum here: do it in batches, so that you don't get hit with 10 items within 2 minutes.  For other reasons unknown to me, the restaurant was blasting its air conditioning, threatening to chill any dish that failed to be consumed within seconds of arrival.  Oh well.

    Crispy pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔) - not bad.  At least it wasn't cold when it arrived, which was what happened to me not long ago.

    Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - no prizes for guessing who ordered this.  It WAS very yummy, I have to say…

    Steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce (豉汁蒸鳳爪) 

    Steamed prawn dumplings with bamboo shoots (har gau, 筍尖鮮蝦餃) - yummy, but for some reason I picked up a little more white pepper in the filling than usual.

    Leafy amaranth with garlic in superior broth (蒜子上湯浸莧菜) - pretty yummy, but I tried not to have too many cloves of garlic...

    Deep fried prawn and chicken spring rolls (雞絲蝦春卷) - my favorite spring rolls in Hong Kong.  Can't go wrong.

    Deep-fried salt water dumplings (家鄉咸水角) - one of ILL's favorite - and mine.

    Deep fried bean curd skin roll with fresh shrimps (鮮蝦腐皮卷) - very good. Crispy tofu skin and springy, slightly crunchy shrimps.

    Steamed rice rolls with beef (爽滑牛肉腸)

    Steamed rice rolls with prawns (爽滑鮮蝦腸)

    In spite of his efforts, Tigger failed in his quest.  The restaurant would not make him a special order of the glutinous fried rice.  In appreciation of his efforts, ILL still promised to clean three out of the four floors at the Tigger residence.  I'm sure Tigger's domestic helpers are celebrating the prospect of having a week off…with pay!

    We had to settle for steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮荷葉飯).  I wasn't in the mood, though, so I passed on this.

    Well, we might as well have been a swarm of locusts, because the food disappeared from the table as quickly as it came.  Didn't have time for the food to get cold.  And amazingly, I wasn't stuffed!  Hurray!!!

    P.S.  As we left the restaurant, I decided to take the two-block trek to Kung Lee (公利真料竹蔗水) for a cup of their very sweet and delicious sugarcane juice.  Slurp!

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    Tonight the world celebrated the annual Earth Hour, an hour-long period during which many people and organizations turned out the lights around the world.  I've been taking part annually since 2009, and there was never ever any question that I would make sure that my schedule doesn't conflict with this important event.

    A few days ago I came across this piece where someone wrote about how Earth Hour was all wrong and "a waste of time".  This bozo clearly doesn't get it.  No one is advocating going back to the Middle Ages and not use electricity.  He's exactly the type of guy who is helping to ensure that we continue to ruin our environment for generations to come.  Apparently someone else also thinks this guy's a bit of a tool...

    No, Earth Hour isn't about how much electricity you can save in an hour.  It's true that the energy we save by turning out a few lights for just one hour out of an entire year isn't all that significant.  The real importance of this event is that we are raising awareness around the world.  More people are aware that we need to do something about our environment, and we need to try to remember that message as we go about our lives on a daily basis.

    A lot of the electricity that we consume is wasted.  Every major metropolis wastes a lot of energy lighting up its buildings at night, even when people aren't in the buildings.  Recently Hong Kong was cited as having the worst "light pollution", and the famous skylight is really built on the massive amount of electricity that is wasted nightly.  The Hong Kong University set up a monitoring network to monitor  the brightness of our skies, and is doing a "roadshow" to educate the public in support of Earth Hour.

    More than just lights, Hong Kong and other cities around the world waste energy in other ways, too.  According to Hong Kong's Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, some 30% to 50% of Hong Kong's energy consumption goes to air conditioning (the figure was 44% in a 2006 survey).  For some reason restaurants, movie theaters, office buildings…etc. in Hong Kong insists on blasting air conditioning all year round, even when it's not hot indoors.  When you go to a restaurant and feel you need to put on more layers of clothing compared to when you were out on the street, there's something seriously wrong.  A survey showed that 65% of Hong Kong schools have their air conditioning turned on when the ambient temperature is 25°C or below, and some schools have them on even when temperature is below 20°C.  That just strikes me as ludicrous.

    In this respect I'm glad that Japan and Taiwan are both making strides, advocating that air conditioning thermostat settings are set at no lower than 25°C.  I myself find that 26° or even 27°C would be comfortable enough, and often forgo the use of air conditioning altogether in favor of fans, which consume a lot less energy.  Outside a major department store in Taipei, a giant poster of a polar bear unplugging an power cord from a socket reminds people to conserve energy.  (Yes, an appliance still consumes electricity when it's on "standby" or plugged in)

    Ever since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, there has been a wave of anti-nuclear sentiment around the world, particularly here in Asia.  Currently there's a big debate in Taiwan about whether to proceed with the construction of the latest nuclear power plant - a project which has been delayed for years due to flip-flopping government policy.  Yes, I understand that if it's not handled properly, nuclear disasters can be devastating, and pollute the environment for generations.  But what are our current alternatives to produce electricity?

    Well, hydropower is considered clean, but the number of hydropower plants a country can build is constrained by its geography.  Wind power isn't widespread enough, and not commercially viable in enough areas.  Solar power is still a long way from being commercially viable.  If we don't want nuclear power as a solution, what are we left with?  Fossil fuels?  Oh yeah, we all know THAT is the cleanest source of energy around…

    I recently saw this picture being posted on Facebook, and just had to repost it on my profile.  Over the last 10 years, my fellow Taiwanese have managed to protest against every form of power generation proposed by the government utility, whether it was based on fossil fuel, hydro, wind, solar or nuclear.  My immediate reaction was: "WTF?!  If you're gonna be against every form of electricity generation, what are you gonna do to generate the power you consume?  Are you gonna use "human power" and generate it by riding a stationary bicycle?!"

    The best solution to helping our environment and reduce our carbon footprint, of course, is to reduce our energy consumption.  THAT is the true message behind Earth Hour.

    So… back to tonight.  I parked myself by the waterfront near Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, and waited as the lights started going out just before 8:30 p.m.  I was heartened to hear an announcement along the waterfront that the nightly Symphony of Lights - a silly laser and light show - was cancelled tonight because of Earth Hour.  As 8:30 p.m. hit, MOST of the buildings in my field of vision went dark.  Well, kinda… Most of the external lights, LEDs and neon advertising were turned off, and while the harbor didn't go completely dark, it was a damned sight better than what it looked like just minutes ago.

    As I scanned around the harbor towards the Hong Kong side, I could see that the only building remaining stubbornly lit was the Agricultural Bank of China.  It never occurred to anyone there to do anything for Earth Hour, and for that they stood out among their neighbors. After a delay of 15 minutes, the red Toshiba neon light finally went out, and a few minutes later a neighboring neon sign went dark.  The Garden and WeChat neon signs near Victoria Park never budged, and remained lit all evening.

    A few of the neon lights started coming back on around 9:15 p.m., and by 9:35 p.m. we were pretty much back to normal.  It took me a couple of minutes to get used to the lights again, and the big LED sign from Samsung directly across from me seemed particularly blinding.  I'd put it as one of the biggest contributors to light pollution here.

    I'm so happy to see the increased level of participation around Hong Kong, raising awareness among the general public.  My office building was a participant, and hell, even the apartment building I'm staying in - which is in the boonies, posted notices about the extent of their participation in Earth Hour. If buildings so far away from Victoria Harbour are doing it, there is hope after all!

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  • 03/24/13--07:31: An American in Hong Kong
  • In a casual conversation a couple of months ago, a friend and I discussed the idea of going to American Restuarant (美利堅餐廳) for some old-fashioned Pekinese food.  It's an institution in Hong Kong that has been around for years, but somehow I have never gone out of my way to pay them a visit in all these years.  The subject came up again a couple of weeks ago, as news surfaced that a neighboring restaurant was due to close.  So I made a reservation and rounded up a couple of people for dinner tonight.

    I had done a little homework online, and figured out the dishes which I wanted to avoid.  One doesn't often get the chance to have Pekinese or northern Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong, so I'm looking for a few old favorites tonight.  My friends very kindly let me do the ordering, which is something that would come back to bite me at the end of the evening…

    Monk goose (素鵝) - simple and decent.

    Stir-fried beef with scallions (蔥爆牛肉) - a classic dish, and not bad at all.  Very hearty with the big slices of beef.

    Stir-fried vegetables with egg crêpe (合菜戴帽) - I've missed this dish a lot, so I was pretty happy having this.  A mix of bean sprouts, carrots, dried tofu, bamboo shoots, vermicelli…etc.  This is often used as filling for a pancake - much like the way one eats Peking duck - but we didn't do that tonight.

    Crispy lamb ribs (京燒羊排) - steamed and then fried for that crispy exterior.  I love lamb and anytime you gimme lamb fat, plus something crispy and fried… you've got me in your corner.  Yummy on its own, but even better with the astringent sauce and its accompanying spices.

    Deep-fried scallion pancakes (蔥油餅) - seriously thick, which inevitably means that the center is still kinda mushy.  If only I had the capacity to have another quarter…

    Steamed vegetarian dumplings (蒸素餃) - very nicely done, although in more of a rustic way.  The skin wasn't as thin as you'd find in more refined restaurants, but this retained its elasticity and bite.  Everyone had a quota of two dumplings, but poor C had to take four of them because his wife didn't contribute…

    Roast Peking duck (北京填鴨) - finally, the main event.  Pretty traditional, and the duck was actually fairly lean.  It was sliced up away from us, so I didn't see if there was a river of oil coming off the duck… but I suspect not.  The pancake was a little on the dry side, but never mind…  Happy.

    Stir-fried duck rack (醬爆鴨架) - for a little more money, you can get them to chop up the carcass and stir-fry it with green bell peppers, chili and "brown sauce".  Not bad.  If we weren't drinking wine, I would have asked for them to make soup out of the rack…

    Done with the savories, it was now time to move on to dessert.  First up was the pan-fried pancakes with red bean paste (豆沙鍋餅).  Not exactly earth shattering…

    Egg puffs with red bean paste (高立豆沙) - kinda medium-grade in terms of puffiness, so this was OK.

    Walnut cream (核桃露) - well, kinda watery and not exactly "creamy".  But it was nice to see that they used nice chunks of roasted walnuts, and the flavors were definitely there.

    OK, not that the clientele would be vastly different on any other given Sunday, but it IS Sevens Sunday.  I would guess that 80% of the patrons tonight were gweilos, and many were strolling in after the  Cup final match had ended.  As the evening went on, my friends realized that there was almost no overlap between what they were having and what we had…

    First of all, everyone else had the kung pao prawns (宮保蝦球) on the sizzling plate.  Every few minutes we would hear the sizzle from another table, followed by the smell of garlic, onions and ketchup floating in…  My friends were (jokingly) getting upset with me, as I've obviously missed out on one of the signature dishes of this place!

    There were also a number of other dishes which were popular, and it seemed that every table were having the same few dishes… leading us to believe that there was a set dinner menu that we weren't aware of.  Looks like we need to come back another day…

    This crowd can't get together for a meal without a few bottles of wine, and everyone contributed something tonight.  It was tough to get much of a nose out of the small glasses you often see at very local Chinese restaurants, but oh well…

    2007 Château de Puligny-Montrachet Puligny-Montrachet - the first pour seemed pretty bland, but improved to show a little oak and lemon.  Etienne de Montille usually makes pretty good wines.

    2011 George Pinot Noir Leras Family Vineyard - I do love George's wines, and this was drinking very well despite its young age.  Lots of sweet fruit, eucalyptus, and kinda oaky.  Lots of sweet fruit, eucalyptus, and kinda oaky.

    2003 Château Fortia Cuvée du Baron - nose of forest, a little farmy, a little sweet and grapey.  Still reasonably concentrated on the palate.  My contribution.

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  • 03/27/13--08:51: Love and dishonor
  • A year after my first (and second and third) meeting with them, I had the pleasure of seeing Ann Colgin and Joe Wender again.  They were back in Hong Kong for a few days, and hosted a tasting of their wines at Hong Kong Wine Vault tonight.

    I was glad for another chance to catch up with Ann and Joe - who was beaming as usual - and took the chance to introduce them to Chef David from On Lot 10 - my date for the evening.  Maybe on a future visit to Hong Kong, we can organize a dinner with this group…

    The wines we had were a little on the young side, but surprisingly some of them were already showing well.

    As she did last year over dinner, Ann explained the significance of the "IX", which was the parcel number of the vineyard.  The number 9 also featured prominently at the couple's wedding.  The 2003 vintage of this wine was the first wines allocated to me when I got on to Colgin's mailing list.

    2009 Colgin IX Estate Red - alcoholic, very fruity, sweet, tangerine with coffee notes.

    2008 Colgin IX Estate Red - seemingly more concentrated, with forest, mint, eucalyptus, vanilla, oak and coffee notes.

    Cariad is Welsh for "love".  The fruit comes from David Abreu, and is mostly from Madrona Ranch.

    2009 Colgin Cariad - more metallic, mineral, forest and pine.  A little tannic.

    2008 Colgin Cariad - pungent, farmy, animal, and a little medicinal.

    I love that they make a Syrah.  Why do I not have more of this wine in my cellar?!

    2009 Colgin IX Estate Syrah - Wow!  I was really liking the bacon and leather notes.  Fruity with blackberries, a little floral, smoky.  Still alcoholic.  What a beautiful wine!  Ann did whisper to me that she thinks this is the best vintage they've ever made...

    2008 Colgin IX Estate Syrah - tangerine, sweeter, tropical fruits, banana.  Seemingly more alcoholic.

    I very much look forward to cracking open some of these wines in… oh… another 10 years or so…

    After bidding farewell to Ann and Joe, David and I headed off to grab some food.  We decided to stop in at Ronin to try our luck.  Well, I figured I was in good hands since David and Matt are pals, and Ronin is just a stone's throw from On Lot 10.

    They were able to squeeze us in, and we stood in the back of the room and David ordered just a few things for us to nibble on…

    Our amuse bouche was bamboo shoots in olive oil and sansho (山椒).

    Tai sea bream sashimi. Karasumi. Yuzu - apparently this was done as a kobujime (昆布締め).  There was the slightest hint of yuzu (柚子), and that worked really well with the bottarga (カラスミ).

    Ebisu rock oysters. Ponzu ice. Wakame - the oysters were nice and briny at first, but actually sweet and creamy inside.  Nice with a little citrus.

    Market chips. Black sugar. Kyoto shichimi - we were told that they used sweet potato and "whatever they pickup"… there was definitely lotus root and what looked like purple sweet potato.  The sauce was interesting in that the combination reminded me of what's used in grilled eel.

    Sardines. Pickled eggplant, Tomato. Cauliflower - so yummy.

    Whitebait. Shiso tempura - interesting to dip the tempura into the shiso (紫蘇) salt on the side.

    Tokyo turnips. Chorizo. Clams. Miso - this was an excellent warm salad.  Loved the acidity and spiciness here, along with turnip sprouts and garlic.

    Fried quail. Orange. Sansho - absolutely loved the sansho on quail.  Funnily enough the combination of orange and sansho almost made me think of lemongrass…

    Kagoshima beef. Maitake. Egg yolk - YUM!  This was like a sukiyaki (すき焼き), and the beef was barely cooked… and incredibly soft and velvety.  The maitake (舞茸) had absorbed a little much of the sauce and was just a little salty for me, but still very yummy.  Nor surprisingly the deep fried garlic chips really added a few extra points to this dish.

    Udon. Mentaiko. Shiso - I'm not sure I got the shiso, but the burnt Korean chili was definitely front and center!  For some reason it instantly reminded me of the jar of homemade gochujang (고추장) still sitting in my fridge from 3½ years ago…  A nice way to wrap up the meal.

    I washed down my food with a couple of glasses of Hitachino Nest White Ale (常陸野ネストホワイトエール), which was excellent and my type of beer - done in the style of Hoegaarden witbier.

    This was a great evening - starting with some of my favorite wines and ending with some casual and good eats.  I had never been to Yardbird because it always seemed impossible to grab a seat, and naturally that perception carried over to Ronin when it opened.  Looks like I need to make more of an effort to come back for Matt's food…

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  • 04/01/13--08:21: Dinner with Ferran
  • How do I even begin to describe this evening?!  If my birthday dinner at elBulli was not the apex of my culinary experience, then tonight certainly would have been.  What exactly am I raving about?!  Well, tonight I had the rare pleasure of dining at the same table at Ferran Adrià - sitting 2 seats away from the man himself!!

    The Specialist had informed me months ago that they were getting a consignment from the cellars of elBulli, and that there would be some special events held around the auction.  I was really looking forward to the auctions, especially the "lifestyle" lots which comprise of the utensils actually used at the restaurant.  I was already pretty psyched to have received an invitation to the cocktail reception before the auction.

    Last week I received even more exciting news.  Apparently there were some last-minute openings at an exclusive dinner with Ferran himself, and would I be available on this particular evening?  Hello??!!  Who do I have to kill for this?!  Isn't that a no-brainer?  I promptly changed my flight back from Taipei so that I would not miss this momentous occasion.  I do have to thank Apple Daily for interviewing me about the upcoming auction of the elBullicellar through Sotheby's, as that was the real reason for me receiving this invitation...

    The venue tonight was Catalunya, a branch of the Singaporean operation headed by Alain Devahive Tolosa, who has spent a decade in the kitchen at elBulli.  The restaurant still hasn't formally opened, but  it was the natural choice for tonight.

    We had a bunch of aperitivo upon arrival…

    Iberian ham "Joselito Gran Reserva"

    Cured pork loin "Joselito" - actually didn't have the lomo

    Anchovies "00" - served on pan con tomate.  Very yummy, even if the anchovies were slightly too salty for me.

    Spherical olives homage elBulli - ah… brings back memories!

    Creamy ham croquettes - how can one have tapas without croquetas?!

    Iberico ham, Mozzarella and truffle bikini - such simplicity, such awesome goodness...

    Codfish fritters with pil-pil - looooove croquetas with bacalao, but didn't see any sauce on the side…

    The other Spanish tortilla - wonderful caramelized onions on the bottom, with olive oil, potato and egg foam.

    La Cena:
    Las Tapas:
    Tomato tartar - sooooo flavorful!  With tomato foam… and served on thin toast, which made it a different style of pan con tomate.

    King prawn "suquet" - interesting as I've never had suquet before…   The prawns were soooo tender that I mistook them for langoustines!

    Foie and truffle canelón - I was amazed to find that this was actually a classic dish in Spain!  Very rich, very fragrant, and totally awesome!

    El Show:
    Suckling pig Segovian style - O-M-G!!!  This little piggy was just soooo incredibly tender and yummy!!! Succulent!

    The pig was cut into pieces with ceramic plates, as is traditional, and the plates were then thrown onto the floor and broken.

    Carbon grilled pineapple - very yummy… with lovely flavors of cinnamon.

    Piquillo peppers "cristal" - also very yummy…

    Grilled lettuce with "ajada" - never had the ajada sauce before…

    Catalunya fruit salad - very pretty, and very yummy.  Chunks of watermelon, pineapple, rock melon, star fruit, pear…  Some of the pieces were flavored with cloves.

    "Torrija" with apricot sorbet - this was oh-so-delicious!  How appropriate that we should be served with torijja during Holy Week.  The acidity of the apricot sorbet was wonderful, and the marinated orange slices were very yummy, too!

    I know that the restaurant hasn't officially opened, but judging from what I've had tonight, it would be as Ferran said - Catalunya will be the best Spanish restaurant in Hong Kong.  By a mile.

    Conversation with Ferran was nothing short of enlightening and inspiring.  He told the audience tonight: "Good food heals the soul."  I could not agree more.  He then threw out the question to our table: "What is cooking?", asked us to write down what we thought it should be, and then proceeded to do a total analysis of what he thought… Apparently he spent a year pondering this question.  What was most interesting was that he retraced mankind's steps in this area all the way to the Big Bang!  How very interesting!  I was incredibly jealous of my fellow diners, as they were presented with the 2 pages of notes/diagrams which Ferran had scribbled!

    Last but not least, the rundown of tonight's wines… which - except for the Champagne brought by Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon - were all from the elBullicellar up for auction:

    2002 Dom Pérignon Rosé - red berries and mineral.  More intense in the pinot noir glass.

    1973 Dom Pérignon Œnotheque en magnum - wow!  Loads of toasty oak.  So powerful!  Sweetness a little later.  Ripe on the palate, and great acidity balance.

    2001 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc - totally Cantonese sugarcane and water chestnut juice (竹蔗茅根水)!!!  Very sweet on the nose, and slightly bitter on the palate.  With the king prawns, the alcohol really came out!

    2009 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Vergennes Cuvée Paul Chanson elevé et mis en bouteille par Lucien Le Moine pour Juli Soler, El Bulli, Roses - very ripe, with minerals, metallic and lots of toast.

    2009 Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru Cuvée Jehan de Massol elevé et mis en bouteille par Lucien Le Moine pour El Bulli - lots of fruit, sweet like cotton candy.

    2000 Grange des Pères - a little raisiny, still alcoholic, concentrated and medium-bodied.  A little hint of paint-thinner, par hasard?

    2007 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Clos du Roi Cuvée Baronne du Bay elevé et mis en bouteille par Lucien Le Moine pour Juli Soler, El Bulli, Roses - much more intense, eucalyptus, a little spicy pepper?  A bit of smoke and cotton candy.

    1997 Shafer Hillside Select - smoky and concentrated on the palate.  Nice, ripe fruit with vanilla.  Just had this wine last month

    2000 Alvaro Palacios L'Ermita - smoke and concentrated fruit.

    2003 Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi - black olives and smoke.

    What an amazing evening!!!  As I posted on Facebook earlier, I can die a happy man…  I could not possibly thank Sotheby's enough for their generosity for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  Very much looking forward to bidding on some wines as well as the "lifestyle" items at the upcoming auction!

    BTW, does anyone want to join me to bid on an evening with Ferran at his brother Albert's restaurant Tickets?  Ferran will show the winners around Barcelona, including a visit to his Atelier…  And word has it that he's a big football fan and pretty tight with the president of Barca, so there might be some football-watching involved when you visit…  This might be the ticket to joining the elBullifoundation, which could have a membership as limited as 100…or so I've heard...

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  • 04/03/13--03:10: The elBullicellar
  • A bunch of friends have been poking fun at me for the last few days, saying that I've become a stalker of Ferran Adrià…  Yes, I was most fortunate to have dined with him and his business manager Ernest Laporte 2 days ago… and yes, I also attended the presentation he gave at Sotheby's in advance of the auction, where he spoke about his vision for the elBullifoundation and its projects, including Bullipedia… and yes, my post about the dinner with Ferran made me sound like a teenage school girl gushing and going ga-ga at the sight of her idol… but I don't care.  I've been on a high for the last 2 days, and no one's gonna rain on my parade!

    And so it was that, for the very first time, I took time off from work to attend a wine auction.  Not just any auction, but the first half of the sale of the elBullicellar.  As it's a mid-week auction (as opposed to Fri-Sun, which is normally the case) I had thought about bidding online from the office.  On second thought, I figured that I would be spending too little time focused on work as I stared at my browser during the auction, so I might as well be physically present in the room.  This turned out to be the right choice.

    Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
    When the auction finally got under way, it was clear that there were few bargains to be had today.  The first part of the auction comprised of wines from DRC and Leroy, and not surprisingly a few Chinese bidders were out to grab these.  A friend sitting next to me joked that we'd both be leaving very early, as we just weren't prepared to pay that kind of prices for the wines…

    This auction was all about star power.  Every bottle of wine sold at this auction would carry a little sticker indicating that the wine came from elBulli.  Some of the bottles were signed by both Ferran and his business partner Juli Soler, who was responsible for putting together the cellar in the first place.  These drew the most interest from bidders, and created some anomalies which left us scratching our heads.  When signed bottles of 2000 Romanée-Conti sells for more than 80% of the price of the famed 1990 vintage of the same wine (without signatures), or when bottles of 1993 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée - a wine I had the pleasure of drinking at Troisgrosa couple of years ago for not more than a few hundred Euros - go for HKD 46,000 each, you know something's out of whack…

    But of course this was all about raising money for the foundation, so while I was feeling the pain of paying more for the wines than I had hoped to, I was glad that this was money that would be put to good use, rather than simply lining some rich dude's pockets…

    I focused on bidding for the Hospices de Beaune wines, which were made by Lucien Le Moine specifically for Juli and elBulli.  I have been a fan of Mounir Saouma ever since I first visited his cellar in Beaune, and after having tasted a few of these wines on Monday I had little doubt that I would enjoy them.  The only problem was that, like most of the lots sold today, they went for significantly more than the high end of the pre-sale estimates…  Ouch.

    Oh, and going back to the theme of "stalking Ferran", let it be known that I chose my seat in the auction room first.  A couple of minutes after I sat down, Ferran and his team decided to sit in the row in front of me.  I was close enough to talk to him and Ernest, but of course chose to leave them alone for most of the auction.

    The most interesting part of this auction for me was at the end, with the selection of "lifestyle" lots comprising of various elBulli memorabilia.  For my interview with Apple Daily, I had already said that I would be bidding on some of the items that I had used during my dinner at elBulli, for sentimental reasons.

    I think the team was kinda disappointed when nobody picked up the collection of cutlery - comprising of 27 pieces of spoons, forks, tins…etc.  I honestly felt that they were priced unreasonably high, and apparently everyone else thought the same.  However, the set of 10 Laguiole knives - engraved with the words "El Bulli" - saw furious bidding into the stratosphere.  I was never gonna bid for these, as there were only 2 sets up for grabs - one for each of the Hong Kong and New York auctions - and I knew bidding would be fierce.  The Hong Kong set ended up going for HKD 73,500, which was waaaay beyond the pre-sale estimate of HKD 8,000.  The team was excited in the lead up to the hammer falling, and as an event staff had just brought them a fresh round of 2003 Dom Pérignon, Ferran and his team clinked their glasses in celebration.

    I did end up picking up 2 sets of trays - paying above the pre-sale estimate - and even managed to pick up one of only 11 chocolate boxes in existence for a friend.  Close to the end of the auction, when the petit fours servingware were failing to draw bids, I heard someone calling my name.  Ferran and Ernesto were telling me that I should bid on these, as Ferran thought they were really unique and special.  I dutifully raised my paddle for one of the lots, but as my bid was still below the reserve and I wasn't really willing to go much higher, I failed to do what was suggested of me…  Sorry, Ferran!

    The final lot of the auction was also the most special.  It was billed as "an evening with Ferran Adrià for 4 people in Barcelona".  However, as Ferran mentioned during our dinner as well as during his presentation yesterday, it wouldn't be right to only spend a few hours with people who have flown all the way to Barcelona.  This would be a weekend around Barcelona with him, possibly involving watching a home match of Barca…etc.  Surely this was a great opportunity for people to get "in" with him…  As with the knives, bidding was fierce on this lot, and the final price came to HKD 220,500.  Not exactly a cheap weekend, for sure, but certainly well-affordable for the rich and famous.

    I was happy to have gotten my hands on a little bit of the elBulli history, and grateful to have spent some time with one of the greatest chefs in the world.  And yes, I did gush to my friends about the fact that Ferran remembered my name on the day after our dinner… as I am neither rich nor famous.  To someone like Ferran, I could totally be a nobody - just one of thousands of people he comes across.  But I will cherish these last few days for a long, long time to come.

    P.S. we were served the following wines during the auction, which came from the elBullicellar:

    2004 Pintia - alcoholic, with a hint of rubber?  Kinda flat on the palate.

    1998 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° - more acidity on the palate here, with smoky notes and lots of sediment in the glass.  Second glass was more tannic on the palate.

    1995 Beaucastel Rouge - classic Beaucastel nose of farmyard, manure, leather, smoke, with tenapade and soy sauce, and almost violet and floral.

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  • 04/03/13--08:39: The Demon's new lair
  • A few days ago I received an invitation for dinner tonight, extended by a restaurant PR through a mutual friend.  The thoughtful friend had double-checked with the PR to make sure that they really wanted to invite me, and reminded them that I could be "very frank".  The invitation was not withdrawn, and I agreed to go with the gang across the harbor to check out the new joint.

    Our destination was MC Kitchen, the new Kowloon outpost of Alvin Leung, who has stylized himself as the "Demon Chef".  I have been a fan of Alvin's for quite a number of years now, going back to the early days of Bo Innoseki when he was still at his location in Gilman's Bazaar.  Back in 2004 I'd never heard of elBulli or Fat Duck, and that first meal from Alvin was my first introduction to deconstruction, and I still remember the laap mei faan (腊味飯) vividly.

    MC Kitchen (the "MC" stands for "modern comfort") represents a new direction for Alvin.  He says that it's kinda like the opposite of what he does with Bo, and with its out-of-the-way location, it certainly is a very different target market and price point.  I like the fact that he keeps experimenting with ingredients to get the right flavors out of them.  At various points during the evening, he explained that he was taking a classically Chinese ingredient, treating it differently so that he could "take the pungent-ness out and keep the fragrance".

    We were treated to a good selection of dishes from the relatively small menu, and Alvin asked for our honest feedback afterwards.

    Pat Chun vinegar foam dip - a very interesting alternative to butter or olive oil to accompany the bread, made with local black vinegar from Pat Chun (八珍).

    Foie gras, lettuce wrap, Abby's sauce - this was really good.  Being the food Neanderthal that I am (or maybe because I was sitting in close proximity to a Neanderthal), I picked up the thing and shoved it into my waiting mouth, taking it in one bite.  Very yummy foie.  If I weren't trying to cut down and pace myself, I wouldn't have hesitated to inhale the extra piece on the plate.

    Aromatic beef broth, truffled tendon, wagyu wonton, daikon pearl - the bowl arrived with the deep-fried wonton with wagyu (和牛) filling, the beef tendon with black truffle paste on top, and the piece of Japanese daikon (大根).  Then the consommé was poured into the bowl to complete the dish.  The consommé was delicious, as were the tender tendon and the wonton.  Interesting use of yellowed chives (韭黃).

    Carabinero red prawn, "har mi" oil, handmade pasta, mushrooms - how could I possibly not like a dish made with carabineros?!  This is another variation of Alvin's popular prawn noodle, and as he told us that MC is supposed to be the "graveyard" of old Bo dishes, I wonder what the latest incarnation would be…

    Anyway, the prawn was incredibly delicious, and someone generously made sure that I got one of the heads.  Yes, the head really was finger-licking good, and once again I had that coating of yummy goodness on my lips, on my tongue and inside my mouth.  The noodles are hand-rolled and hand-cut in the restaurant, and mixed with tobiko (とびこ).  There was also a bed of sliced shiitake mushrooms.  I made sure that I poured a good amount of Alvin's har mi (蝦米) oil on the noodles…

    Cod, black bean, honey, fennel, mandarin salad - this was very yummy.  Cod is easily one of my favorite fish, and here Alvin's done it in a black bean honey glaze, on a bed of fennel, with black bean powder and (canned?) mikan (蜜柑) slices on the side.  Not sure what, if anything, fennel brings to this dish…

    Sea bass, "yunnan" ham sauce, salsify - the weakest of the seafood selections.  At the end of the evening, we would brainstorm with Alvin about the best fish to use for this while keeping the cost down.

    Iberico pork, hawthorn, plum sauce - this is Alvin's take on "sweet and sour pork".  The pork neck roulade was cooked sous vide, and I loved both the tenderness as well as the flavors.  Instead of being battered and fried, they used a combination of flour and breadcrumbs to create the deep-fried crunchy bits.  The sweet and sour part came from the hawthorn sauce, as well as the lychee jelly cubes on the side.  Pretty good.

    Pigeon, shiitake mushroom cake - very nice and tender.  The sugar snaps were delicious, too.  The most interesting bit has got to be the cubes made with shiitake mushrooms, as the flavors were pretty intense.

    Lamb skewer, kaffir lime leaf, ginger pumpkin, "fu yu" - personally I prefer lamb that has a lot of fat for that strong "lamby" flavor, so I found this a little bland.  Interesting to find 3 different pools of purée/foam on the side: kaffir lime, fermented tofu (腐乳) and ginger/pumpkin.  There was also piment d'espelette and kaffir lime powder on the side.  The best part of the dish?  All those caramelized water chestnut chunks at the bottom.  I couldn't stop eating those!

    MC classic chicken rice - Alvin says he uses "aged" risotto, with chicken broth made with Longgang (龍崗) chicken.  This was very yummy, and I could eat a lot of this…  Chicken and shiitake mushrooms - NOW you're talkin' comfort food!

    Mash potato, Chinese salty fish - pretty interesting to have grated salty fish with the mash.

    Purple glutinous rice, mousse, mango ice-cream, coconut pearl - a deconstruction.  Yes, the sponge-like mousse did taste like purple stick rice.  The little white balls were made from coconut milk using spherification, but the ingredient was simply too bland, and the "skin" was a little thick for my liking.

    Mei Kuei Lu baba - my least favorite dessert tonight.  The texture of the baba was too rough, and tasted more like a brioche rather than a sponge cake.  There was also ginger sorbet, lychee jelly and a lemon honey foam on top.  The Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) substituting for rum also meant it was a little too strong in terms of alcohol, as it burned a little too much.

    Coconut sugar crème brûlée, pineapple chili ice cream - texture-wise a little too liquid as they didn't have enough time to cool it, but this didn't matter.  Taste-wise this was very yummy, as I love coconut sugar.  The ice cream was incredibly interesting, as you think it's just pineapple… until all of a sudden the heat from the chili hits you on the back end.  There was also some chocolate and sour cherries.

    Initially I didn't want to drink tonight, but the minute I saw one of the bottle of wine, I changed my mind.

    2004 Thierry Massin Demon Brut - made with 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.  Yeasty, slightly mineral and a little sweet on the nose.  Not too acidic and slightly richer on the palate.

    2010 Diel Riesling Kabinett Demon Riesling - nose of plastic and petrol.  Sweeter on the palate than I expected.

    I was surprised that Alvin got the Diels to do this for him, and he did say that Armin took some convincing.  I had the opportunity to meet Victor Diel last year, and he didn't mention anything about this…

    This was a pretty good evening, even though I was getting pretty tired towards the end.  I think I'm overdue for a visit back to Bo...

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  • 04/06/13--02:11: A doughy and jammy afternoon
  • My friend Susan the Great hosted a "cooking party" at her residence today, and there was a small gathering of those who of us who are perennially hungry.  Fortunately for our hostess, she didn't do all the cooking this time as it was shared by several chefs.  As I am widely known to be "not a very good cook", I volunteered to bring wine as well as some of the ingredients…

    The theme today was pizza and jam.  I had missed out on the pizza party a couple of weeks ago, and I was pretty glad to be able to try them out today.  There were 3 batches of dough prepared by 3 different chefs, so it was interesting to see how they would turn out…

    My first nibble was a piece with margherita with cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil and mozzarella.  Yummy.

    The pizzas came in individual portions so what came next were all made-to-order with custom toppings.  My first pizza was made with Susan's dough, topped with béchamel sauce and thin slices of guanciale.  I just loooove how slices of cured pork fat curl up under heat and release all the oil…

    When my next turn came up, I wanted something a little more complex than the last one.  This one was made with dough from Legolas Jr. and topped with very fatty pancetta, shallots, white button mushrooms, garlic, black pepper…etc.  VERY yummy.

    For the next round, I asked for "everything", and the chefs joked that this was the Super Supreme

    Very nice bubbles… so the nerd does know what he's doing…

    With the mention of Super Supreme, the conversation turned to Pizza Hut, and Susan brought out the bottle of Eau de Pizza Hut that she received in advance of White Day…  I like Pizza Hut as much as the next guy, but why the hell do I want to smell like oregano?!

    I brought a couple of bottles of wine, but since a couple of the chefs were driving, very little ended up getting drunk.  Oh well…

    2004 Hugel Riesling "Jubilee" - lots of plastic and polyurethane in the nose, with minerals and a little honey.

    1996 Les Pagodes de Cos - nose was pretty intense, very much like a St. Estephe, with smoke, brett, black pepper, leather, mint, and earthy.

    A couple of more nibbles, later, and it was time to take a break from pizza… My sleep deprivation over the last few days caught up with me, and after a few glasses of wine I finally surrendered and hit the carpet.

    When I woke up, the others had already started on the jam tasting portion of the day.  The leftover pizza dough was baked into bread, and was meant to be consumed with our selection of jam.  I was pretty full and was heading off to an early dinner, so I told myself (and everyone else) that I wasn't gonna touch the bread.  In the end, though, I still couldn't resist…  There was a huge selection of jams which a few of us had put together, from Christine Ferber to homemade ones.

    Passion fruit, strawberry and rhubarb (by Susan the Great, in the style of Pierre Hermé's Céleste) - sooooo delicious.  I could pick out all three distinct fruits.  It's been a while since I was last in Paris to pick up some jams from Pierre Hermé made by Christine Ferber…

    Red plum (by Wilson the Jam) - classic red plum flavors.

    Grapefruit and cranberry (by Wilson the Jam) - wow!  This was really yummy!  I normally wouldn't pick up grapefruit jam, but in this version the cranberry softened the bitter flavors of the grapefruit sufficiently, and I loved the end result.

    Mandarin orange (by Wilson the Jam) - again, this was just wonderful.  The intensity of the citrus flavors… yum!

    Apricot, 2 years' old (by Susan the Great) - aging the jam for 2 years definitely gave the flavor profile a lot more depth.

    Abricots bergeron au thé Oriental black beauty (par Christine Ferber) - this is one of two limited edition jams by Christine Ferber made for Pekoe in Taiwan.  Pekoe selected the tea leaves from Taiwan (Oriental black beauty 東方美人 in this case) and sent them to Alsace to be infused into the jam.  Lovely flavors like the other Bergeron apricot jam she makes, and I could definitely taste the tea here, although the tea flavors were pretty subtle.

    Mangues au thé Wen-Shan Paschong (par Christine Ferber) - the second limited edition for Pekoe, which has now sadly sold out.  The mango flavors were incredibly intense, which meant that the flavors from Wenshan Paochong tea (文山包種茶) were almost undetectable.

    Framboises d'Alsace et violette (par Christine Ferber) - yummy and intense as always, and the violet was definitely there.

    It was now less than 1½ hours to dinner, and I wasn't the least bit hungry.  I am so screwed…

    P.S. This phone obviously looks like it had a rough time today in the kitchen… as did I!  Let it be known that today was the day that I got my ass kicked (quite literally) by a 6-year-old with a green belt in taekwondo.  Ouch!

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  • 04/06/13--07:44: A belated introduction
  • I was discussing dinner venues yesterday with Mrs. Tigger when she suddenly wondered why I haven't  ever brought them to On Lot 10, especially given that it's one of my favorite restaurants in town.  Well… the truth is that I didn't think Tigger would go for some of the more interesting ingredients served up by David whenever I show up, hence I've always let the Tiggers pick the venue and avoided this place.  That changed tonight.  Because this was such a last-minute decision, I shamelessly begged David for a table.  Thankfully I can get away with it…

    I showed up at the restaurant with very little appetite, having eaten a lot of pizza dough over the last few hours… and was also still kinda inebriated from drinking wine during the day.  This was really not the state I wanted to be in when I go to On Lot 10…

    As usual I left it up to David to figure out what he wanted to serve us, although we were advised to choose our own starters.

    Locally grown seasonal organic vegetables 'crudités' - the kitchen sent this out for us to start the evening.  David is big on local produce, and we really loved this!  Bitter melon, radish, squash, purple carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomato…etc.  Mrs. Tigger really enjoyed the dip.

    Serrano ham 'Raimond Le Coq', half wild pigs from Extramadura region - this also came with compliments of the chef.  A very nice change from all the 45-month Joselito jamón ibérico I've been having lately…

    Spaghetti with bottarga and clams - had to get my bottarga fix in, since I didn't get to have any bottarga pizza earlier in the day.  Soooo yummy with the intense flavors from the two ingredients coming together.  At that point I was ever-so-slightly annoyed at Tigger for taking my ration of mini baguette, since I wanted some bread to soak up the leftover sauce…

    Spring pea soup, morel, cured egg yolk and bacon - this arrived with just the (egg yolk?) foam on top of the different ingredients, and I was a little stunned at first…

    …until the actual soup was poured into the bowl.  Very, very delicious.  The peas were still crunchy and very sweet.  The soup itself was just like the peas, with a surprising level of sweetness.  Of course the morels were delish, and what's not to like about bacon?

    Whole steamed extra large artichoke, truffle vinaigrette - Baboo has a real fondness for artichokes, so we ordered one up for her.  This baby was HUGE… and I think there were a couple of happy faces around the table.

    Pan-fried fourfinger threadfin - WOW!  This was one big threadfin (馬友)!!  This is a delicious fish that is in season, but I never expected to get something this size!  As it happened my old friend Cha Xiu Bao was dining a couple of tables away, and we each had half of the head…  Our plate also included a cross section from the body.  The fish was very soft and succulent.  Pan-fried with lots of butter, clams, strips of ham, potatoes and greens.  Very different from how the Cantonese would do the fish, but no less delicious.  The Tiggers were very, very happy, and packed away the leftovers.

    Roast Bresse chicken AOP 'Mieral', green pea 'a la française' - WOW!  It's been a while since I last had Bresse chicken (OK, I admit… it was only a month ago but seemed like forever), and I've really missed it.  The chicken was delicious despite the absence of fat underneath the skin, and even the breast was really tender.  Done served over a bed of really sweet sugar naps, carrots, pearl onions and sprinkled with lots of herbs.  Soooo yummy… if only I had Doraemon's pouch for a stomach…

    There was no room for dessert, but David sent us the usual pear tart and chocolate tart anyway.  Miraculously these disappeared in no time…

    2007 Jos. Joh. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - classic mineral and petrol on the nose.  Palate was a little sweeter than I expected, after drinking so many bottles of this wine.

    What a great evening!  The Tiggers absolutely LOVED the food at On Lot 10, and I was chastised for not bringing them there sooner…  Oh well… waddaya know?!  One of my favorite restaurants just gained a few more fans.

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  • 04/08/13--08:55: Nom nom nahm
  • If there's one thing glaringly missing from my normal diet (and this blog), it's spicy food.  I grew up with ZERO tolerance to spicy food, since there was never any at home, and it took me a long, long time even to just be able to grow accustomed to the spicy side of Southeast Asian cuisine.  Over the last 10 years, as wine became a bigger part of my dining experience, I ate out even less at Thai, Malay and other similar establishments.

    I first heard about David Thompson a couple of years ago, as he started to gain fame for his London restaurant.  His fame only grew when nahm opened in Bangkok, and he started showing up on lists like the Miele Guide and that 50-something-thingymajig.  I never did have the opportunity to sample his food, as it's been a while since I was last in London, and I have been boycotting Thailand ever since I found out how they mistreated the Rohinya.

    So when my friend David from On Lot 10 asked me to join him for dinner during David Thompson's visit to Hong Kong at the Landmark Mandarin, I didn't really hesitate to say yes.  Truth be told I had been very curious about high-end Thai, especially from a farang…  There must be something in his cooking to make all the other farangs rave about his food…

    I arrived during cocktail hour, and was immediately presented with a drink in a martini glass.  This ain't your regular vodka lime… there was vodka, lime juice, lemon grass and chili.  The vodka itself packed a pretty good punch, and the chili made sure that your tongue singed every time you took a sip.

    So you can imagine that this drink, even though it seemed cold and refreshing to the touch, wasn't exactly the best way to douse the flames dancing on your tongue after having tasted the lettuce wrap.  Chef David was whipping up the filling for the wraps in front of everyone, mixing deep-fried shallots, fish sauce, sugar, minced meat, basil and lots of chili powder.  I was transformed instantly to a fire-breathing dragon.  Yowza!

    There were also some pineapple slices topped with minced pork in a sweet and spicy sauce; smoked mussels with marinated cucumber slices; mandarin orange slices topped with minced meat in sweet and spicy sauce… Quite a few different nibbles before dinner formally started.

    We were ushered to our tables so that dinner could be served, and two appetizers showed up in front of us:

    Crispy noodles with prawns, pickled garlic and bean sprouts - this was essentially mee grob, but fancier.  The sheet of yellow wrapper was apparently made of fish, although I couldn't really taste much... I think there was a little peanut in the sauce.  A pretty good start.

    Cloudy Bay Pelorus - yeasty, a little mineral, somewhat ripe on the palate.  Not very interesting...

    Grilled salted fish with ginger, shallots and green mango - while I liked the taste in general, especially the acidity of the mango balancing out the saltiness of the fish, in the end the salt was still a little overpowering.

    2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc - floral, sweet, honey, peach, slightly oak at first but then turned really oaky as temperature warmed up.  Ripe on the palate at 13.5% alcohol.

    Salad of lobster with pork and Asian pennywort - we didn't know what Asian pennywort was, but it is actually 崩大碗, whose leaves are commonly used to brew tea in Asia for cooling down the body.  The lobster was cut in cross sections, and lemme tell ya, them was some huge slices… so the lobsters must have been huge!

    Hot sour fish soup with turmeric and chilies - served with red snapper.  I had innocently allowed a little red chili to float on top of my spoon, and thereby enter my waiting mouth.  A few seconds of contact with the taste buds on my tongue, however, made me quickly realize my mistake.  This baby was HOT!  And there were also little bird's eye chilis, too...  Normally I am not a fan of these hot and sour soups in Thai cuisine, but tonight the acidity was somewhat tempered by the salty flavors.

    Coconut and turmeric curry of crab - this was really, really good.  Very smooth and velvety.  A little bit of kaffir lime leaves here with the shredded crab meat, and I avoided those big, green bird's eye chilis...

    Double steamed pork with bitter melon and dried squid - I didn't take a piece of the squid, but should have in retrospect...  This was pretty nice, with the main flavors came from the shiitake mushrooms.  Unfortunately it was a little too salty, although interestingly the melon wasn't bitter at all.

    Relish of salted duck eggs with sweet pork and vegetables - this was pretty awesome.  The salted eggs were really tasty, and I was fine as long as I steered clear of the green chilis.

    The second part of the dish came in the form of fresh and deep-fried veggies.  Besides slices of cucumber and white turmeric, the bulk of this was climbing wattle (cha om in Thai), a type of acacia.  Not bad as a tempura...

    Finally there was the sweet marinated pork.  Although some of the pieces were a little tough to chew, I didn't mind too much as I loved the sweet taste of it.  Of course the deep-fried shallots were good, too!

    2010 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir - lots of coconut butter in the nose, ripe, sweet fruit, forest, and mint.

    Longans steeped in perfumed syrup sesame seed wafers - this was soooo good... The longans on ice were crunchy in texture and refreshingly sweet.  The syrup was VERY sweet, but perfect for me... and the incredible fragrance of jasmine filled my mouth.  Just nice with a few shreds of coconut flesh.

    This is the fancy and pretty version of what one sees as snacks in Thailand...

    2006 Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling - plastic, botrytis, acetone.  A little sweet on the palate.

    Overall I have to say that this was a pretty good meal.  My tongue didn't burn as much as I expected, which was a good thing.  A couple of dishes were over-seasoned, but not disastrous.  I'm sure Chef David had his own take on how the evening went, given how frazzled he was looking tonight (not to mention a little scruffy...).  The first service is always tough for a guest chef, and he had to source a few ingredients locally on short notice.  All in all, I think the kitchen did an admirable job tonight.

    Maybe one day when I regain interest to visit Thailand, I will get to eat at nahm in Bangkok and see what it's really like...

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  • 04/10/13--08:08: Golden comfort
  • I was supposed to be a good boy tonight.  I was supposed to have a session with my personal trainer, who was gonna kick my ass thoroughly.  Then I would have staggered out of the gym to have a bowl of noodles somewhere, then head home and allow my aching body to recover.

    But my trainer fell ill and cancelled on me.  Not surprisingly he cancelled on My (Favorite) Birdbrain Cousin, too, as our sessions were meant to be back-to-back.  I haven't seen Bird for a while, and decided to see if she wanted to get together for a quick bite.  My original intention was to get something simple, but it seems that she never wants to do "simple" with me, and actually had been suggesting that we go have cheese to "celebrate" my workout sessions.  Sigh...

    So we ended up at Gold by Harlan Goldstein.  Not quite as simple as I was looking for, but it's an easy enough choice for me... and I haven't been back since Harlan got his macaron.  There are a few things on the menu that I count as "comfort food", and I figured I will simply order up one dish.

    But it got slightly more complicated than that... We ended up splitting an arugula and tomato salad, which was at least a good amount of greens and roughage.   The inside of my mouth had been scraped by the baguette from bahn mi at lunch, and the balsamic vinegar seemed extra sharp tonight... ouch.

    Harlan was surprised that I didn't get the pasta with carabineros, knowing how much I absolutely love them.  No, it's been waaaay too long since my last bowl of hand-crafted tagliatelle, Italian wild boar ragout, melting organic egg and shaved Pecorino cheese, and I needed another fix.  This was a BIG bowl of pasta... with tons of ragout and that nice, runny egg on top.  Very yum, and I was very full by the time I got done.  Bird had a taste and said it reminded her of bolognese... No, my dear cousin, this was much, much better...

    2004 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Westside Road Neighbors - red fruits, ripe, dried herbs and eucalyptus on the nose.  Still concentrated and somewhat tannic.  This was OK but not a great wine.

    I realize that I'm an absolute pain-in-the-ass when it comes to wine service, as I can be really particular about serving temperature (especially when it comes to whites) and the size of the pour.  This is why I usually keep the bottle on the table and try to pour the wine myself.  Tonight's wine service happened to hit a nerve...

    I still had what I thought was a reasonable amount of wine in my glass, so I politely turned down a waiter's offer to pour more wine into my glass.  A second waiter came over mere seconds later, trying to pour more wine into what must have seemed like an empty glass to them.  I was annoyed but tried to remain polite while saying "No".  I was already starting the process of posting something on Facebook about this when, not one minute later, a third person came over and asked nicely: "May I pour you some wine?"

    I think he was surprised, shocked, and confused when I replied sternly: "No, you may not!" My blood was boiling by now.  I know each of the three staff meant well, and that they were only trying to do their jobs, but having 3 people coming to ask the same question within a space of two minutes was simply too much for me.

    I did end up posting something on Facebook, and a discussion ensued between my friends and I.  Sometime later in the evening, Harlan picked this up on Facebook and came over to ask me about it.  We ended up having a good laugh about it as I explained the situation.  I understood that many different customers have different preferences when it comes to wine service, so it's always hard for waitstaff to figure out what type of service to deliver.  They weren't being rude, incompetent or doing anything wrong.  It so happens that tonight, like on many other nights, I just wanted the staff to leave my bottle alone.  It was sitting on the table less than a foot away from me, and I can very well pour my own wine...

    In spite of this little episode, I was still really happy being back here, and thoroughly enjoyed my comfort dish.  Now I need to come back for lunch another day to get my carabineros...

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  • 04/11/13--08:08: Gagnaire x Jadot
  • I rarely find myself responding to invitations to wine dinners, since I'm a cheapskate and usually find the cost of those dinners to be too rich for my blood.  Every once in a while, though, I'll spot a "bargain" or find wines that I'm genuinely interested in tasting, and those would be the few organized dinners that I attend.  Tonight it was the wines of Louis Jadot paired with the food from Pierre.

    I arrived during the cocktail hour, and stood around for a while waiting for dinner to start.  We were served little bites with wine, but I only took a bite of these tarragon marshmallows.  Pretty interesting.

    2010 Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé Autour de Fuissé - big nose of toasty oak, heavy smoke, revealing sweet core after the smoke fades.  Almost a little floral.  Acidity strong mid-palate, and almost a little bitter.  Long finish. At 13.5%, definitely felt the alcohol burn going down.  Surprisingly excellent to drink.

    When we finally sat down to dinner, I was greeted by the two little chunks of Bordier butter.  I've run out of them at home, and immediately went about attacking the clump flavored with piment d'espelette.  I would later pay for my sins, as the two pieces of bread I consumed with the butter took up valuable space in my stomach...

    Black olives jelly, foie gras/tune cubes and marinated watermelon with Mirin, shiso leaf - lots of different things going on with 4 different types of cubes, each with its own texture: crunchy croutons, softer but still kinda crunchy watermelon, softer still but slightly chewy tuna, and melt-in-your-mouth foie.  The savory, almost smoky flavors of the black olives pulled in a different direction than the sweet watermelon.  Finally, white sesame seeds and green and purple perilla leaves lend their fragrance and dominate at the end.

    2008 Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle - mineral, a little sweet, tropical coconut.  Served a little too cold initially.  Definitely lots of body weight, and acidity was very prominent.  Later on this grew fatter and more buttery.

    Velvety nettle soup, white and green asparagus, pistachio powder and cubes of burnt onion jelly; scallops and poultry fine mousse - this was soooo good... The nettle soup was almost paste-like, and much thicker than expected.  Pour some shellfish sauce on top, and put together with the lovely flavors of white and green asparagus.  The chicken mousse was a little bland, especially compared to the onion jelly.  The crushed roasted pistachio provided some crunchy texture to it all.  Finally, let's not forget the delicious scallop!  There's a lot going on here, but it all worked together beautifully.

    2008 Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet - a little ripe, with good acidity balance but slightly acidic on the finish. Toasty, buttery and sweet.  Lovely and elegant.

    Warm blue lobster in a ginger butter, stuffed lettuce with black forbidden rice, Dodo bisque - the homard bleu was nicely done... barely cooked.  I dunno what "Dodo bisque" is, but it just tasted like lobster/shellfish bisque to me, although it was very sweet and nutty...  Not quite sure what to make of the ball of black rice inside the lettuce.

     Grey shrimp mayonnaise with combawa/leaves and flower salad/lobster claw - the lobster claw was hidden beneath all the pretty flower petals, with some horseradish in the mayo and kaffir lime.

    2001 Jadot Corton-Charlemagne - nose was a little closed at first, with a hint of cheese.  Toasty, and acidic on the finish.

    Grilled heart of fillet of beef, morel cream with licorice, beetroot syrup - a fairly big chunk of beef , which was done very nicely.  Very pink and tender.  Unfortunately my bread binge earlier meant I couldn't (or didn't want to) finish the beef...  But what a surprise to find that piece of bone marrow on top!  Yum... The sweet onions and tasty morel cream... Mmm...

    2006 Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules - a monopole within the 1er Cru Vignes Franches, which was Jadot's very first vineyard holding.  Really ripe fruit, sweet on the nose with a little eucalyptus and some toasty corn much later.  A bit alcoholic.  Light on the front palate but got slightly grippy at the end.

    2006 Jadot Clos Vougeot en magnum - meaty, animal, a bit smoky.  A little more tannic.

    Brillat Savarin, smooth grapes juice, golden grapes soaked in Burgundy marc brandy and pecan nuts.  Apple «clocharde» ice-cream - this was also triple-cream Brillat-Savarin like the one I've been having at Caprice.  However this was served cold, so the texture was slightly firmer, although it did still melt in my mouth.  The juice and the grapes were definitely alcoholic, thanks to marc de Bourgogne.

    2004 Jadot Chapelle-Chambertin - more animal, leather, forest.  A bit sharp on the nose.  Acidic on palate.

    2001 Jadot Corton-Pougets - a bit more body here.

    Vanilla Napoleon cake - the millefeuille was very tasty, both in terms of the vanilla cream and the caramelized flavor of the pastry.  The little marzipan on top was good, too.  Oh, and it didn't tip over like my last visit...  The red wine and cassis sauce on the side was good.

    Red berries coated with prune syrup, pink champagne granita - really nice to have fraises des bois, strawberries and blackberries in a yummy granita.  Sooo refreshing.

    Omiza gel, crispy iced lemon mousse, lemon Wurtz, candied angelica - I'm not sure that I've ever had omiza (五味子) before, but the dominant flavor here was definitely the acidity.

    It's been a long time since I was last at Pierre, and it was good to come back to one of my old favorites.  I've been gone so long that hardly anyone remembers me anymore...

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    Tonight we celebrated a birthday in the sky.  It's been a few months since my first visit to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), and I took this opportunity to treat the Tiggers to this dinner.  I was really looking forward to a return visit, while the Tiggers are getting an advanced taste of what is to come for them in Tokyo…

    Lightly simmered spring vegetables with icefish fried in "Okaki" on a boat of sasa bamboo - interesting how they deep-fried the icefish (白魚) in the style of rice crackers (おかき)…  Served with bamboo shoots, broccolini, and really fine ginger brunoise.

    Hot egg custard topped with yuba and sea urchin - NOT your average chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し)…  The organic egg came from Kyushu (九州), although the flavors paled in comparison to the other ingredients.  The yuba (湯葉) was pretty tasty, and you can really taste the soy flavor.  Needless to say the sea urchin packed the biggest flavors, being pretty sweet and fresh.

    Quickly simmered "Iidako" octopus and refreshing wasabi cucumber salad - the little octopus (飯蛸) was really, really tender… and served with seaweed (海苔), Japanese spikenard (独活), and sansho leaf (木の芽).

    Soup of simmered abalone and scallop dumpling with fragrance of "Fukinoto" - the soup, made with 一番だし was pretty light and sweet.  The abalone was actually really tender, and the "dumpling (団子)" of scallop had some green soy beans (枝豆) inside.  The scallop was pretty sweet, too.  Interesting to have giant butterbur shoots (蕗の薹)…

    Sashimi of "Yokowa" baby tuna, spring onions with fragrance of shiso leaf and lime - I have been staying away from bluefin tuna as much as possible for a while, but every once in a while I will break my habit when there is something truly special… and tonight there definitely was…  The baby Pacific bluefin tuna (黒鮪) is finished this season when it is under 10kg…

    The tuna was sooooo tender… and lovely on its own with slight seasoning, raw onions and shiso (紫蘇) leaves.  This was definitely a special treat!

    "Amadai" tilefish wrapped on kadaif with aroma of binchotan, salad of five green colors - interesting to see kadaif here, as this has just shown up at my Robuchon dinner last month…  So the kadaif is made into a shell around the amadai (甘鯛), and sprinkled with grated yuzu (柚子) rind.  Definitely smelled the aroma of the binchotan (備長炭).

    I have to say… the amadai was soooo tender…

    The salad of five green colors was interesting, as there was green apple mash, mint, radish sprouts…etc.  Very cool and refreshing.

    Sukiyaki "Kuroge Wagyu Beef Sirloin" with white asparagus, morel mushroom, onset tamago - I have always loved the sukiyaki (すき焼き) here, and tonight the Saga Kuroge wagyu (佐賀黒毛和牛) was again barely cooked and oh-so-tender…  The flavors worked so well with the morels, and the white asparagus wasn't bad, either… Of course sukiyaki works best with a raw or soft-boiled egg (温泉卵)… A little bit of scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ) for decoration and light flavor enhancement.

    Rice simmered in "Sakura Tea" with deep fried "Sakura Shrimp" from SURUGAWAN Bay - OMG… this was soooo yummy!  I looove sakura shrimp (桜海老), and deep-frying them just brings out all the awesome flavors.  Suruga Bay (駿河湾) between Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島) and Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県) is famous for these little suckers…  As bad as my palate is, I actually did detect a hint of sakura flavor in the rice…

    With the rice, we were served some pickled veggies and shredded tofu skin.

    Some white miso soup that was a little on the sweet side…

    Fruit tomato poached with "Umeshu" encased in a fragile glass - there was the candied "glass dome" on top with the seemingly obligatory gold foil… The little tomato from Shizuoka (静岡) was delicious, especially with the umeshu (梅酒) flavors.  The lime sorbet underneath worked well.

    Meringue of SAKURA flowers, almond flavored ice cream with fresh strawberries - the texture of the sakura meringue suggests that it was flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen, bringing a little molecular play that Chef Yamamoto is known to like.  The marinated sakura leaf was kinda interesting as it's slightly salty.  The strawberries from Kumamoto (熊本) were really sweet and full of flavor.  In comparison the almond ice cream seemed a little bland.  Not sure what the red beans (小豆) were doing there…

    A nice cup of matcha (抹茶) to finish the evening.

    Mrs. Tigger brought along a very special bottle of sake tonight.  This was made exclusively for Hokuetsu Kishu Paper (北越紀州製紙) by Kondo Brewery (近藤酒造) of Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) and given to business partners of the paper company, so it's not commercially available.

    Etsugosenzan Sugandake Hokuetsunokaze Daiginjo (越後泉山 菅名岳 北越の風) - very refined with a semaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Sweet on the attack and mid-palate, with a slightly dry finish.  Smooth and round, elegant at first but hides the full-bodied flavors, and the Japanese would say "コクがある".  Nose of banana and fermented rice.

    I was pretty stuffed by the end of the evening, and more than a little buzzed as I was drinking the bulk of the sake… Would love to come back in a few weeks' time to try the other spring seasonal menu...

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  • 04/17/13--00:26: Garden pickings
  • For reasons that are completely unknown to me, Mandarin Grill + Bar is one restaurant that doesn't get a lot of love from me.  The food itself is of a very high quality, and Uwe is a very talent chef as well as a really nice guy.  So why is it that my last visit - not counting the time when I was there for a guest chef - was some four years ago?!  I've been meaning to go with Tigger for months, but as he's now holed up on the other side of town these days, it just never happened.

    So I was pretty happy to have occasion to pay them a visit for a business lunch today.  I knew exactly what I wanted to order, and finally was able to scratch an itch…

    Mushroom: organic, custard, pearl barley, chicken, consommé - there was a layer of mushroom custard at the bottom of the bowl, with a bunch of little shrooms "sprouting" out of it.  I found the custard to be rather over-seasoned, but fortunately the delicious consommé was light and delicate, and provided a welcome relief.  Lovely fragrance of the undergrowth, though…

    Flower pot: organic, leaves, vegetable, cress, soil, earl grey - I'd been wanting to have this salad for soooo long… and finally got my wish today.  This was almost too pretty to eat…  delicious radishes and stuff.  I thought I'd need to eat the entire layer of "soil" to be full, but couldn't manage to do it in the end…

    Yes, this was meant to be a light lunch.  I'm still on a salad routine for lunch for as much as I can take, and that meant sticking with this today… Coupled with my session with the personal trainer tonight, this should hopefully nudge me towards a lower weight / fitter body…

    P.S.  Looks like I need to come back for that bacon and eggs thing my dining companion was having...

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  • 04/19/13--00:34: Red, red prawn
  • When I went back to Gold by Harlan Goldsteinlast week, I needed my dose of wild boar ragout tagliatelle, and as a result surprised Harlan by not choosing something else he knows I love.  At the time I told myself that I was gonna come back during lunch for it.

    And so I did today.  While Tigger and his crew were doing their thang with the HG Burger, my focus was squarely on the spinobello pasta, Spanish red prawn in baby shrimp sauce and shaved bottarga di muggine.  This was what I wanted, this was what I came for, and everything else on the menu be damned!

    The bodies of the carabineros today seemed a little smaller than usual, but no matter.  The flesh was still pretty tasty, and after all it was the heads that I love so much.  I also love the wonderful flavors of the sauce, and I made sure to twirl the pasta around in the bowl sufficiently to pick up as much of it as possible.  Yummm... The little bit of sauce that was left over was taken care of with some foccacia.  The bowl was pretty clean by the time I was done, although I still have to defer to the ILoveLubutin for the cleanest bowls/plates around.

    Another craving satiated here.  NEXT!!

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  • 04/23/13--08:21: Poodle kitchen
  • It's been a while since I caught up with a friend over a proper dinner, and I miss opening up some interesting wines with him.  For convenience's (and old time's) sake we ended up at The Legend Concept.  My friend is very friendly with the owners of this private kitchen, and has been playing with the resident poodles for years.  And it really has been years since my last visit...

    We started out with a couple of White Pearl oysters.  These were kinda briny in the middle, but also sweet and creamy at the same time.

    The red pepper soup was not bad.

    We shared two dishes in the middle:
    Baked escargot and portobello mushroom - not bad at all.  The flavors definitely worked well together.

    I can't remember the cut of wagyu, but these cubes were pretty tender and still a little raw inside.  I joked that the flavors reminded me of Chinese-style pan-fried beef (中式牛柳), but it's absolutely true!  Pretty yummy.  The only fault was that I thought the beef was not as fresh as it could have been, and because it was still a little raw, it was pretty obvious to me.

    The lychee sorbet was absolutely delicious, with bits of the fruit inside.  I'd happily inhale 4 scoops of this… maybe more.

    The baked French spring chicken with truffle cream sauce was pretty decent.  How could you not like something made with truffle?!

    The mash and veggie "tart" on the side looked interesting, using an onion ring to hold the mash in...

    I was perfectly content, but my friend was still hungry… and asked for more food.  What showed up in front of us was a plate of angel hair with truffle cream sauce.  I didn't think I was hungry anymore, but in the end I found myself unable to resist the wonderful fragrance which launched wave after wave of assault on my olfactory system…

    At the end of the evening, a little panna cotta that wobbled so beautifully… with delicious mango sauce and berries on the side.  Slurp.

    I gave my friend a choice of what wine he wanted me to bring, and he chose what he thought was the more interesting bottle…

    2003 Pax Syrah Griffin's Lair - this was a gift from Pax Mahle when I visited him back in 2006.  Lots of sweet, ripe fruits, forest, alcoholic (15.5%), a little sharp, vanilla and metallic.  Still pretty full-bodied after almost 10 years.  Not quite grippy, but the tannins are still there.  Drinking fairly nicely now, and pretty classic Cali Syrah.

    1994 Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis from half bottle - my friend and I love this wine when we discovered it years ago, and treasure every bottle we drink together.  Nose of really ripe honeydew melon, manuka honey, pecan, concentrated grape and raisins, apricot, orange blossoms and a little marmalade on the finish.  What an absolutely amazing wine!

    A very enjoyable casual evening… and I got a chance to play with the poodles - well, one of them anyway - after a few years of being away.  Glad to see nothing's changed!

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