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

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  • 04/25/15--08:26: Rockin' the hood
  • It's been a while since H-man was last seen in Hong Kong, and even though I've been able to meet up with him in Tokyo for the last couple of years, it certainly been a long time since he, Rice, and I last sat at the same table.  Three winos getting together was cause for celebration, and I decided we should open our bottles at Neighborhood.

    At our dinner together earlier this week, I made sure that David would be in the restaurant tonight, so that I could share our wines with him - especially given he is on very friendly terms with one of the winemakers whose wine we would be drinking.  And sitting at the bar would be the perfect setup.

    Charcuterie - always good to start with something like this... Neither of my friends knew what the white stuff was, so my answer?  "FAT!" No, I don't think I will ever get tired of lardo, even if it did come seasoned with the rosemary that I don't like.

    Sea urchin / flounder ceviche - I enjoyed this so much last week that I absolutely had to have it again tonight.  The wonderful mélange of sea urchin, flounder, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, avocado, radish, and peppercorns soak in a bowl of acidic citrus solution.  Absolutely beautiful and delicious.

    Wagyu tartare / oyster - always something interesting and enjoyable from David.  Nice chunks of wagyu means a little more bite and texture, and of course the oysters bring something completely different to the flavor profile.  Nice tomato wedges and zucchini flowers add a nice touch, and simply finished with olive oil and ground pepper.

    Baby razor clams / pork belly / red chili - I saw pictures of baby razor clams on social media over the last week as friends visited the place.  I've never had them this small, so I was definitely curious.  Our Japanese friend had never come across razor clams at all, so this was a totally new experience for him.  The crispy slices of pork belly were, of course, very welcome in my book.  I gotta say that I really loved this dish... The sweetness of the razor clams, drenched in what seemed to be a buttery sauce where lemon juice provided the acidity to cut the richness... and accented with some kaffir lime leaves and chili flakes.

    Firefly squid / borlotti beans - this was the "upgraded" version of the dish I had earlier this month... now made with firefly squid (蛍烏賊) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県).  Soooo yummy... and that rich sauce made with squid ink... Loooooved the peppers and the acidity they bring to the dish, and in fact the flavors matched the reds pretty well.

    Grilled fish head - one of two "daily specials" that David had reserved for us.  This was half of the head of a fourfinger threadfin (馬友), which is a fish that I'm very fond of these days.  There is a little bit more fat underneath the skin, and the flesh is very fine and tender.  Instead of serving it fresh, they decided to salt it for half a day in the tradition of 咸鮮 - where the salt brings out the flavors of the fish.

    What this meant, though, was that the fish was a little more salty than we were expecting - especially on the parts with skin.  H-man and I shared the collar - with me taking the parts with the skin - and I saved him the chunk of meat from the cheek.

    Nicely done with garlic cloves and fennel branches.  Thankfully no one objected to my garlic breath... probably because the alcoholic fumes were much more overpowering at the end of the evening.

    Roasted Pyrénées lamb shoulder - oh yes, more garlic!  These 3-week old milk-fed lamb come from the same source that supplies Amber, and I just had the most delicious lamb shoulder a few days ago.  While the lamb was very tender tonight, I thought it was a tad overdone.  Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the potatoes... and of course the smoked garlic on the side.

    36 months Comté "Bernard Anthony" - always beautiful.

    Brie de Meaux "Alléosse" / black truffle - what's not to like?!

    Canelés - comme d'habitude...

    This gathering was about wine, not food, so both Rice and I fished out bottles from our cellars to drink with our old friend and colleague.  While we decided to pick out red Burgs from the same appellation, I knew what a big Selosse fan H-man was and chose to bring out a big gun - one that he did not taste a few days earlier at his all-Selosse dinner in Tokyo...

    1998 Jacques Selosse Brut, dégorgée à 7 Fevrier 2007 - what a beautiful wine!  Interestingly, not a lot of carbonation here... just some very fine bubbles... almost like a still wine!  Nose was not surprisingly very much like salty plum (話梅), savory, with minerals, and also sweet and caramelized, with some honey.  Really opened up well after more than an hour.

    2001 Dujac Clos de la Roche - we decided not to decant this even though a friend had made the suggestion.  Nose was a little fragrant, with nice fruit and a little bit of toast as well as a hint of minty notes.  Later on it showed a little animal and leather notes.  Nice acidity balance here.

    2004 Ponsot Clos de la Roche - we put this in a decanter per a friend's suggestion, and even past the two-hour mark the wine was not revealing too much.  Yes, there was some fruit here, and some animal notes, and even a little metallic.  I thought the 2004s would be pretty ready to drink now, but this was just not ready.  At all.

    1995 Chapoutier Hermitage Vin de Paille, en demi-bouteille - always one of my favorite sweet wines, now at 20 years of age.  Yeasty, with orange marmalade, a little nutty, certainly straw and slightly vegetal, with some toasty corn, too.  Sweet on the attack but actually not too sweet mid-palate.  Nice acidity here.

    A really, really fun evening for a group of friends who've known each other for close to 2 decades.  Hopefully, we will meet each other in 6 months as planned - in Macau!

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    I was looking for a lunch spot near the office, and suddenly realized that I haven't had dim sum on a weekend in a long time.  The Boss (波士廳) is one of the places nearby with pretty good food, so I poked my head in to see if we could get ourselves a table...

    Curiously, after we were seated and asked what kind of tea we preferred, no one was in a hurry to see what we wanted.  No one bothered to bring us the menu, even though there was a set sitting on the empty table right next to us.  I pressed the button on my chronograph and proceeded to twiddle my thumbs while we waited... and waited...  After about 5 minutes, someone probably overheard our discussion and finally brought us the menu.

    We ordered a couple of dim sum items, plus one of my favorite dishes at the restaurant.  Unfortunately, the poor service continued...

    Baked egg tarts (牛油蛋撻仔) - WTF?!  In what universe is it kosher to bring out the dessert first?!  Especially when the menu specifically highlights that it takes 20 minutes, and yet these arrived at our table around 2 minutes after we placed our order?!

    Baked crispy barbecued pork buns (雪山叉燒包) - these char siu baos were pretty decent.

    Steamed spicy shrimp and pork dumplings (螞蟻上樹餃) - always a favorite item here.  I do love the mix of textures inside the wrapper, and that kick from Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) is real nice.  I don't normally enjoy going for anything mala (麻辣) which completely numbs one's tongue, but when there is just a little bit of it, I can see how that slightly tingling/numbing sensation can be addictive...

    Deep-fried chicken pieces with home-made shrimps sauce (大澳蝦膏炸碎雞) - yeah, baby!  Gimme some of this any day!  The shrimp paste covering the pieces of fried chicken is so deliciously addictive, I really couldn't care less about the chicken they used...  Definitely a very greasy dish, so the raw cucumber sticks on the side provided the necessary relief and refreshed the palate.

    Steamed rice flour rolls with spring roll (金包銀絲腸) - this is something that their neighbor Sun Tung Lok (新同樂) does really well, and the version here fell a little short.  But it was still really satisfying to bite into these and feel the crunch from the crispy bits of spring rolls.  The strips of radish provided some juicy softness in contrast to the crunch.  Yummy when drizzled with soy sauce.

    We were satisfied with the delicious food, and it was time to get the check and go.  I looked for a waitstaff and raised my hand.  No one saw me.  There were 8 or 9 of the restaurant's staff within view, and this wasn't exactly a basketball court or a football pitch.  From the manager down to the bus boy, they congregated together but somehow no one looked in my direction.  Finally, it took the most junior staff coming out from the kitchen to see that I had my hand raised.  No tip today, then...

    If it were up to me, this kind of crap service would get their little macaron struck off.  How lucky for them, then...

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  • 04/26/15--07:58: Korean with a twist
  • Hello Kitty and I were visiting My Favorite Cousin and Wolfie after an kiddie birthday party, and figured we should go out for a bite to eat.  Since there wasn't much that was interesting in her neck of the woods, we figured we'd venture out to the up-and-coming hoods around the western end of the island.  I had seen a post on U-Hang on Gourmet KC's blog just a week ago, and then overheard The Great One talking about the place a couple of days ago.  This piqued my curiosity, and I figured we should probably check this place out - even though I hadn't heard anything about the place before.

    The menu was pretty simple and short, which was just fine for a casual eatery.  We decided to just order a couple of items and check out their "east meets west" style...

    Bulgogi beef taco - kinda interesting, with chives added to give it an "Asian" feel. Taste-wise this wasn't bad, but the beef/sauce was just too wet, so it dripped down and splattered all over the plate.  That's a pet peeve of mine...

    KFC - I was never really enamored with Korean fried chicken and never understood why it's so popular, but hey, any type of fried chicken can't be that bad, right?  There were complaints around the table about the sauce being too salty, which I suppose was true.  Still not bad, though.

    Korean porchetta - the minute I saw the word "porchetta", I knew we had to order this.  This, in effect, is an updated version of bossam (보쌈) - where the soft, boiled pork belly is replaced by the crispy Italian variant made with Berkshire pork.  Gotta say that this was really, really yummy... but then again, why wouldn't it be?!  Take some red leaf lettuce, add a piece of porchetta, some chives, a slice of eringi mushroom, and spread some sauce on top before closing the wrap.  Yum.

    Stone pot rice with fish roe and beef - I misread the menu and didn't realize that when you ask for beef, the rice comes with both fish roe and beef... which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I was tasked with mixing all the ingredients together - something I accomplished clumsily.  I gotta say that the flavors were pretty good, especially with the addition of flying fish roe.  The alfalfa sprouts and baby pea shoots added a nice, green side to the flavor profile.

    The staff had forgotten to tell the kitchen about our order of the cheese rice cake - made with Gorgonzola - but we already had more than enough food at this point.  I guess we'll have to check it out next time... and hopefully we'll also come a little earlier, since last order seems to be at 9 p.m.

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  • 04/27/15--08:32: Vegetarian wine dinner
  • After being treated to a fantastic lineup of 100-point wines last month, it was now time for the second MNSC tasting of the year.  This year we are doing things slightly out of order, and Curry was kind enough to act as host for tonight.  Knowing that some of us are increasingly concerned about our health, our gracious host asked the kitchen at Seventh Son Restaurant (家全七福) to come up with a special vegetarian menu for us.

    I was told that the vegetarian food here was good enough to meet the standards of strict Buddhists, but I did have my doubts.  It is a Chinese kitchen, after all... and these days I don't trust many Chinese kitchens to cook without meat stock - not after what I went through last year.

    Deep-fried vegetarian custard with wild mushrooms (野菌素戈炸) - this is supposedly the vegetarian version of the chicken custard, although a couple of us thought we tasted chicken... At least there were chopped bits of mushrooms here.

    Stir-fried vegetarian shark's fin with bean sprouts (銀牙炒素桂花翅) - I really liked the glass vermicelli, since this was stir-fried at high heat.  The yellowed chives (韭黃) were definitely tasty.

    Bird's nest soup with winter mushrooms (冬茸官燕羹) - pretty thick and viscous, no doubt with plenty of corn starch added on top of lots of winter melon purée.  A little bit of egg drop here, and a few Tonkin jasmine (夜香花) buds on top.  Very nice.

    Pan-fried twin vegetarian treasures (煎釀素孖寶) - pieces of green bell peppers and eggplant were stuffed with paste that included finely diced water chestnut and mushrooms.  This is normally done with minced pork, and the vegetarian version came with a rather sticky texture.

    Deep-fried taro cake (荔茸香酥餅) - very, very nice.  Basically it's my favorite taro duck without the layer of duck, but I still get to have the top layer of crispy taro mash.  Awesome.

    Sweet and sour bearded tooth mushroom with pineapple (菠蘿咕嚕猴頭菇) - the vegetarian version of that classic dish... The bearded tooth mushrooms (猴頭菇) were surprisingly chewy.

    Eggplant with Japanese tofu and vermicelli casserole (薑蔥茄子日本腐件粉絲煲) - awesome dish.   Plenty of spring onions and garlic here to accompany the tofu and eggplant.  Surprisingly the vermicelli tasted of crab... or at least it was sweet like the crab vermicelli that I love so much.

    Fried rice with termite mushroom (油頭瑽粒粒炒飯) - another dish that was excellent because it was stir-fried at high heat.  Couldn't resist having a second serving.

    Black sesame rolls (芝麻卷) - my favorite dessert here.

    We also had a fruit plate to finish, and I took the opportunity to fill up - and probably exceed - my quota for that food group.

    We weren't the least bit surprised by the wines our host had in store for us this evening.  After all, we don't call him Curry Jayer for nothin'...

    1989 Krug Collection - opened 3 hours prior to serving.  Absolutely beautiful nose.  Oxidized nose with savory minerals, marmalade, a little bit toasty, flinty, yeasty.  Not much bubbles here.  The palate was a little weird, and the acidity was mild.

    First flight: opened 70 minutes prior to serving.
    1980 Henri Jayer Echezeaux - very clean, nice nose with animal, a little toast, a little stinky, slightly grassy, and almost a little floral.  93 points

    1981 Henri Jayer Echezeaux - a little fruitier, a little richer, a little sweet and exotic.  94 points

    Second flight: opened 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to serving.
    1990 Rouget Echezeaux - younger than the first flight.  Slightly sharper nose, with nice fruit and toasty notes.  93 points

    1993 Rouget Echezeaux - much richer and riper, with forest notes.  Beautiful.  95 points

    Third flight: opened 3 hours prior to serving.
    1988 Méo-Camuzet Richebourg - animal, sweet fruit, and leather notes.  94 points

    1993 Méo-Camuzet Richebourg - bigger, with more toast on the nose.  95 points

    Fourth flight: opened and decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.
    2004 DRC Echezeaux - tons of floral notes, violet, forest, leather, and bacon fat.  Pretty sweet on the nose.  High acidity on the palate.  Beautiful... just fucking awesome.  97 points

    2002 DRC Echezeaux - really sweet nose, very floral, violet, with bacon fat and leather.  Really beautiful.  98 points

    Wow!  Another evening of amazing wines with this gang, and once again our host moved us with his generosity.  As a wine merchant friend remarked later, I guess we're just doing our bit to reduce the supply side of the equation for all those Jayer bottles...

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  • 05/04/15--22:57: VIP goose
  • I was supposed to be a good boy at lunch today, grabbing something filling yet low on the calorie count - like a vegetarian pasta or something.  But my staff seemed to want to have lunch with me, and they wanted something more satisfying.  Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) seemed to be a good idea, so we dutifully waited in line for it.  When it was finally our turn to be seated, I was surprised to find the three of us seated in a "private room" which seats exactly three.  After all these years of coming here, I'm finally getting the VIP treatment!

    Since there were three of us, and getting just a quarter seemed a little weak, I decided to order half a roast goose (馳名脆皮燒鵝) for us.  As it turns out, this was just a liiiittle bit much for us, but we did manage to finish it all.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of that crispy skin, infused with the flavors of five spice, along with that layer of juicy fat underneath.  Just heavenly.

    Instead of the usual rice flour noodles (瀨粉), I got myself a bowl of rice vermicelli (米粉) in soup.  Still lovin' that MSG-laden soup...

    A very yummy lunch, but I probably used up my fat quota for the day by lunchtime.  Which left precious little room for what's about to come during dinner...

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  • 05/05/15--06:29: No mas Paloma
  • Dinner with No Fish always involve finding a place which neither of us have been to.  For the last few months that job was made easy thanks to the South China Morning Post, as I was a guest contributor for their First Served column and visited a brand new restaurant once a month.  Now that I'm no longer skewering newbies on their dime, it's back to passing the buck back and forth between No Fish and I...

    ...and we finally settled on La Paloma, which we had discussed a little while ago.  Since it's run by the same people behind El Willy, I figured the food would be pretty decent.  And I wouldn't be wrong.

    We looked over the menu and began to place our order.  Both of us were disappointed when we were told that la paloma - the roasted pigeon which also happens to be the namesake of the restaurant - was sold out.  WTF?!  Before 8 p.m.?!  So we had to make do with something else less appealing...

    Bacon con queso - this arrived way too quickly after we placed our order.  Biting into the "explosive baguette" released the liquid cheese sauce inside, but unfortunately it was only lukewarm.  Flavors were not bad, though.

    Sardinillas - delicious baby sardines from a tin, on a bed of salmorejo and served with melba toasts.  This was delicious, but there was one problem.  The proportion of sardines and melba toasts was completely out of whack.  There should have been double the amount of toasts, so that we could scoop up more of the salmorejo.

    Callos - how could one resist the temptation of tripe, chorizo, and morcilla?!  Any one of those would have been delish, but to combine them in a stew was just heavenly.  Very hearty, and something I just love to have.

    Churrasco de buey - the beef short rib was our consolation prize... and while it was reasonably tasty, I can only imagine what the pigeon would have tasted like.

    Cochinillo - Spanish restaurant are usually able to deliver when it comes to suckling pig, and I'm happy to report that this dish did not disappoint.  Crispy, paper-thin crackling with a layer of milky, buttery fat underneath.  Meat that was oh-so-tender.  Heavenly.  Underneath was a layer of potato "pancake" made with layers of wafer-thin slices of potato stacked together, with wafer-thin slices of tomato.  Very nice. The only issue I had was over-seasoning, and I was ever so grateful that I asked for that big bottle of mineral water.

    I was actually a little stuffed, thanks to the suckling pig, so I was a little relieved to see that No Fish had no interest in any of the desserts.  I certainly didn't need the extra calories tonight...

    While I thought the food was pretty good, we didn't have a good dining experience overall.  The two of us were seated by the window, but there were several large tables nearby who were very, very loud.  The acoustics of the place was terrible, and the whole evening I had to lean forward in order the hear what my dining companion was saying to me.  When two people sitting directly across each other have trouble carrying on a conversation, it starts to feel like a nightclub or a bar instead of a restaurant.  So, yeah, we got out of there as quickly as we finished the food.

    But maybe I should have known better because, after all, the place calls itself a "sexy chiringuitotapas bar".  So yeah, it's a bar... without a liquor license to serve alcohol.  But what exactly, may I ask, was supposed to be "sexy" about it?

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  • 05/07/15--08:07: Summer menu
  • L was in town again, and made another request to go visit the private dining facility I've been very fond of.  Unlike her previous visits, this time there was enough advance notice so that we could gather the troops together for this assault.  I also made a request to the chef for new dishes, since I've been cycling through a selection of the same dishes over the last 9 months.  So I was really looking forward to some new stuff.

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - something I've had multiple times, and really do enjoy.  Love the flavors from the crab meat, and the bouncy texture from the egg white and birds' nest.  But tonight I thought it was just a tad over-seasoned.

    Sautéed shredded prawn with assorted vegetables (鳳城炒蝦絲) - the chef has taken the classic dish from Scholar Jiang (江太史)'s kitchen and adapted it to a new ingredient.  Instead of the usual soft-shell turtle, the main ingredient is now prawn.  This is yet another dish showcasing the chef's knife skills, and the shredded prawn delivered a pretty bouncy texture to the bite.

    Sautéed quail with asparagus (蘆筍炒鵪鶉甫) - I love quail for their gamey flavors, but this was honestly a little underwhelming.  It's a classic, and the flavors were all there, but it just seemed a little simple.  Plus I do love my pigeon and quail somewhat on the raw side, so this would seem a little "overcooked" by comparison.

    Double-boiled winter melon soup with shrimps, Yunnan ham, fresh crab meat and lotus seeds (百寶燉冬瓜盅) - I haven't had this since my first visit, and I was especially happy that this was once again on the menu.  The weather has gotten pretty warm, and the winter melon would help "cool" my constitution down a little.  Looking impressive in the big winter melon...

    In the bowl we have a chunk of soft winter melon, plus crab meat, duck, baby lotus seeds, loofah...etc.

    Braised garoupa fin in traditional style (古法炆斑翅) - always one of my favorite dishes when it's done well.

    The accompanying garlic was delicious, and I could smell it as soon as the dish hit the table.  The shredded lettuce is another display of knife skill and care taken in the presentation of the dish.  The fin itself was wonderful - the skin having been fried in oil before braising.

    Tea-smoked chicken (茶皇烟燻雞) - my favorite dish of the evening.  It's been a while since I last had this chicken, and I really do miss it.  Incredibly flavorful from the soy sauce, and smoking with tea leaves made it that much more amazing.  The meat was very, very tender, but still has the bite.  Usually by this point, the gang would be pretty full and we'd have plenty of chicken leftover.  Not tonight.  I think there were 2 small pieces leftover, and one of them was the tip of the wing...

    Kailan in superior stock (上湯蘭度花) - instead of the four treasures we usually get, tonight we only had the kailan (芥藍).  The chef has, of course, only served us the stems.  But he took care to split the ends so that they would curve out and look like flowers in bloom.  The superior stock was still really delicious with ham flavor, but kailan didn't absorb as much of it as radish and other veggies.

    Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) - I've never had the lotus leaf rice here, and it sure was good!  I ended up scraping some of the leftovers into my bowl...

    Double-boiled pear with white fungus (雪耳燉雪梨) - another classic dessert, and perfect for this weather.  I love both the taste and the texture of pear, and there was plenty of rock sugar to make things sweet.

    This wasn't a die-hard wine crowd, so we took it easy tonight...

    2004 Bollinger Grande Annee - nice and a little toasty.

    2008 Barmès-Buecher Riesling Hengst - ripe and a little sweet on the palate, with good acidity.  Full-bodied.  Very big and plasticky nose, with nice marmalade notes.

    1999 Ceretto Barolo Prapò from magnum - decanted for an hour before drinking.  Nice notes of dried fruits.   Very lovely.

    2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles - nice and buttery.  Wonderful on the palate.  Ripe but not over-ripe so it wasn't bitter.

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  • 05/12/15--08:30: Seven at six
  • It's been a year, and the Locusts are back in town.  As usual we had a discussion about which new restaurant they would like to check out, and not surprisingly Neighborhood was the choice was seemed most appealing to Mr. Locust.  So I got ourselves a table during the first seating, figuring that we can always adjourn to somewhere else for drinks afterwards...

    I insisted that I would have nothing to do with ordering tonight.  I wanted my friends to be able to pick what they wanted to eat, and I know that Mr. Locust would have picked up a few ideas from my numerous posts about this place, anyway...

    Hanger steak tartare / capers / orange / fennel - we squeezed a little juice from the orange wedge, and it did add a nice touch to the flavors. I do like tartare from hanger steak, since it's got more texture and flavor.  Very interesting to find the capers were dried.

    Sea urchin / flounder / octopus ceviche - ahhhhh... no surprise that this was chosen.  Tonight, though, I thought the acidity was even a little stronger than usual.  I liked the addition of octopus into the mix.

    Toyama firefly squid / borlotti beans - no complaints about having this again, either... I'd take these firefly squid (螢烏賊) anyday... Loooove the richness of flavor, especially with the squid ink.

    Black Forest white asparagus / morel / egg - apparently someone can't resist things that are long and white... Anyway, I liked the asparagus a lot.  And of course the morels are always nice.  The slow-cooked egg yolk worked as a "dipping sauce", which was nice.

    Baby razor clams / pork belly / red chili - no surprise, again, that this was ordered.  I do love these baby razor clams, but tonight I felt a few more grains of sand... which kinda detracted from the overall experience.  But this was still delish... the pork belly, the chili flakes, and of course that sauce!  That fatty, buttery sauce tempered with what I can only guess to be lemon juice.

    Handmade tagliatelle / octopus ragu / bone marrow - just wonderful.  The tagliatelle had this beautiful bite to it.  The ragu was hearty and rich.  So easy to just inhale a whole bowl of this if you're not careful.

    Boudin basque "Christian Parra" / grilled pepper - I'm glad this was also ordered, because it's something that I won't get tired of any time soon.  This was the dish that first won me over at On Lot 10 on my first visit, and I'm still in love with it.  I'll take blood sausage of any kind, any day...

    We were kinda full, so we just nibbled on the canelés and passed on cheese and dessert.  After all, we did have another stop to make...

    I did bring along a bottle tonight, and the 1985 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde drank as well as I expected from this wine.  Classic nose of leather, bacon fat, smoke, and some prunes.  Acidity was a little high at first, but the palate softened up later.  Yum.

    We ended up Ozone in the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.  This was clearly a touristy place, given its panoramic views and the existence of an "outdoor" deck.  I ended up enjoying a couple of glasses of something called Hong Kong Rooftop - a cocktail with salted caramel, strawberries, kumquat, and grapefruit juice.  Nice and sweet.

    It was good to catch up with the Locusts after such a long time, but I was a little sad because I wouldn't be going with them on a trip to an exotic country.  We discussed the trip last year, but unfortunately I'm so busy at work that I've cancelled all my non-work travel plans since February... Sigh...

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    I'm back in Singapore for an annual conference, and of course I took the opportunity to spend a little more time and hang with my friends.  Oh, and to eat, of course...

    At the top of my list is, of course, Candlenut.  I've promised myself that I would hit this place on every trip to Singapore, and I just had to keep to that.  Fortunately Mr. and Mrs. Ho live a short walk from the restaurant, and they are more than happy to go back.

    My friends left the ordering up to me, and I was pretty set on trying out dishes I haven't had before, so this worked out pretty well for me...

    Omelette chincalok - the omelette looked pretty thin, but had an incredibly fluffy texture.  The flavors were very rich, thanks to the chincalok - a type of fermented shrimp sauce.  Simple but yummy.

    Wild caught baby squid salad - pretty nice.  Flavors were almost a little like those Thai pomelo salads, with peanuts, fried shallots, lemongrass, and some acidity from calamansi.

    Grilled pork cheek - hmmm... I don't think this is pork "cheek" but rather, what is commonly referred to as "neck" or "collar"...  Anyway, this was good thanks to all the marbled fat.  And I'm a sucker for things flavored with kecap manis (Indomie, anyone?).  The thin slices of green apple on the side added a nice touch of acidity to balance things out.

    Sambal "choking" sotong - yes, we JUST HAD TO order this dish again.  I did almost choke on it while savoring its deliciously spicy and stinging flavors, and I did have a couple of hiccups in response to the spice, as usual...  Meanwhile, both Mr. and Mrs. Ho added additional sambal on top... Anyway, this was still voted the favorite dish by Mrs. Ho.

    Sambal kacang petai - I'm not really sure why petai beans are called "stinky", because I didn't find the smell or flavors offensive.  There was a hint of bitterness, and the texture was slightly elastic and sort of gives in to the force applied by one's teeth.  Pretty nice with the sambal and the acidic tamarind.

    Rendang with Australian lamb shank - Mr. Ho requested the lamb shank over the "beef gold coin shin" (whatever that is...), and I certainly had no objections.  This was beautifully presented, and the flavors were just amazing.  While most of us are just used to traditional beef rendang, Candlenut loves playing with alternative proteins.  We had a decent version with French duck breast last year, but this one takes the cake for me.  And for Mr. Ho.  The lamb fat with all the lamby flavors just blended so harmoniously with the complex flavors of the rendang.  Let's put it this way... Mr. Ho was tempted to order a second shank even though we were already pretty full...

    Time for dessert, and Mrs. Ho announced that she'd like to have the durian soup all by herself.  Well, since I, too, wanted durian soup... I ordered one for myself, too!

    Textures of Coconut - Mr. Ho's dessert.  He doesn't approve of durian, so he decided to try the new item on the menu.  A combination of coconut sorbet, espouma, jelly, grated, and flesh... this was an amazing dessert!  Incredibly refreshing with pure and clean flavors of coconut.  Actually, this was the perfect way to cap of a meal with heavy dishes.

    Durian soup - soooo good!  Love the durian purée surrounding the scoop of durian ice cream, and the texture provided by feuilletine.  Hours later, I would be happily burping up this dessert...

    Chendol cream - my other favorite dessert, which I also ordered to have on my own.  Well, the last time I was here, I did say that I wasn't gonna share this the next time I came... I made the mistake of taking the durian soup first, so despite rinsing my palate in between, the flavors tonight just seemed a little weaker than usual.  Still love my gula melaka, though...

    No wine at dinner tonight, and I took a glass of lemongrass and ginger.  Very, very refreshing and nice.

    Once again, there were three very happy little piggies at the end of dinner.  The food still delivered a very high level of happiness for us, and I can't imagine a day when I'll get tired of this stuff.  So yeah, I think I'll be coming back on my next trip, too...

    ...but one thing that annoyed me was the service.  The staff were very nice, and our waitress was a very cheerful young girl still with rubber bands attached to her braces, and she was incredibly helpful with suggestions and honest opinions.  However, the fact that all 6 of our savory dishes arrived within 5 minutes of each other is just not something I find acceptable.  How does the kitchen expect 3 people to finish all that food before it gets cold?  It's one of my biggest pet peeves when dining at Chinese restaurants, and I guess the kitchen here is run the same way... without regard for the diners' experience.  Sigh...

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    Picking out where to eat on short trips is a real pain in the ass.  There are simply too many things I wanna eat, with limited time and stomach space.  So it is with planning for my breakfasts.  Thankfully this is usually a solo activity, so I can focus on what *I* wanna do.  That said, logistics can still be tricky.  The choice of where to eat often involve accomodating for different establishments' opening hours.

    After trying to decide between bak kut teh (肉骨茶) and roti prata for breakfast this morning, the choice eventually went to bak kut teh since I woke up pretty early, which gave me a chance to hit my favorite establishment before the crowds start arriving.

    I first went to Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House (黃亞細肉骨茶餐室) more than 15 years ago and immediately fell in love with the peppery soup.  It was one of two bak kut teh places I frequented, on occasions when I could drag myself out of bed early enough on weekends.  During my 6-month stay the last time I moved back to Singapore, I actually lived close enough to walk there.

    Of course, this place's claim to fame - in the eyes of the Hong Kong people, at least - was for turning away a certain bowtie-wearing big shot when he asked to visit after the establishment's regular opening hours.  It would seem there is shortage of people who love to ask the question "Do you know who I am?" And there is equally no shortage of people who would answer "I don't give a flying fuck"...

    This has got to be the earliest I've been here... arriving around 8 a.m.  The place was mostly empty, so I had my choice of tables.  As I was eating alone, the number of items I could order was very limited.

    Signature pork and spare ribs soup (招牌混合肉骨湯) - mmmm..... Looooove the garlicky, peppery broth of Singapore-style bak kut teh.  The color of the soup here is a darker brown compared to what's on offer at my other favorite Ya Hua.  When it looked like I was running a little low on soup, one of the staff came over and gave me a refill.  Yum.

    As I usually do, I ordered a bowl of steamed rice and spooned it into the soup, letting it absorb the peppery goodness.  I also ordered a bowl of fried you tiao (炸油條) - Chinese crullers.  These are left in the soup for a little longer so that they can soak up the soup and infuse the flavors.

    On my first visit to Ng Ah Sio all those years ago, I finally realized why the word 'teh (茶)' was included in the name of the dish.  People actually drink tea with this stuff!  I had an epiphany on that visit when I ordered the cheapest tea on the list - a pack of xiao ye gan (小葉甘) for what was then SGD 0.50 - and found it to have an amazingly sweet aftertaste.

    So I just had to do it again today... although a smaller pack of the same tea now cost SGD 3.  But I dutifully packed the leaves in the small clay teapot, and slowly sipped small cupfuls of this simple brew.  I do think, though, that the aftertaste is even sweeter when you drink it after a mouthful of that peppery soup.

    With my belly full, it was time to go in search for... a second breakfast??  Since I'm staying in the Tiong Bahru area, and this has now become pretty hip in the last few years, I decided I would be remiss if I didn't go exploring a little.

    I can't remember the last time I went to Tiong Bahru Market, so I made it my first stop.  Most of the hawker stalls were selling different local Chinese fare, but one in particular caught my eye - HarriAnn's Delights.  I remembered seeing pictures of their nonya kueh from ieatishootipost's Instagram account, and I loooove nonya kueh!  So I quickly went up to the stall and picked up a few things.

    I walked around the area a little, and did manage to check out the famous Tiong Bahru Bakery - from the outside.  A number of people have raved about this place, apparently with some of the best croissants in town.  But I can get top-notch croissants pretty easily from Le Salon de The de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong, so I really wasn't gonna waste precious stomach space on that...

    Instead I chose to sample the nonya kueh I picked up at the market.  As I was due to have lunch in a couple of hours, I had to limit my intake...

    The thing I remembered most was the rainbow-colored lapis sagu.  Lapis sagu is usually made with many colorful layers, but this was the first time I've seen one made in the colors of the rainbow - and in the correct order, too!  Very perrrty...

    The other picture I remembered seeing was ondeh-ondeh, so I picked up a box of these.  Biting into one of these released the pool of liquid gula melaka that just squirted out into my mouth.  Totally awesome!  But then again, I can't resist anything made with gula melaka...

    Dadar is another delish favorite.  Pandan flavored crêpes rolled up with a filling of gula melaka-flavored shredded coconut.  Hello?!  What's not to love?!

    Talam hijau is something I always buy, even though the green (pandan) half can be a little hard in texture.  The brown half is flavored with - you guessed it - gula melaka... so how can I not love it?!

    A very happy morning... and looking forward to dinner!

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    I'm having dinner with L again just a week after seeing her in Hong Kong.  We had discussed going to a local crab restaurant we both used to like, but that would require a few more mouths and we would need to bring the rest of her family out.  When I told her that I was staying at Marina Bay Sands - and that I had never been to any of the "celebrity chef" restaurants in the complex, she was very accommodative and agreed to accompany me while I checked out one of them.

    I was most curious about Osteria Mozza, so that was where we ended up.  Well, I was more curious about Waku Ghin, but I wasn't really ready to gamble with the price of SGD 400-500 a head... at least not tonight.  So Batali it is.  I hoped that this place would fare better than his restaurants in Hong Kong, because those are (were) not all that impressive.  Then again, maybe that's because of Dining Concepts...

    This didn't feel like the type of place where I would want to go with a "tasting menu", so we decided to order à la carte.

    First came an amuse bouche, which was homemade ricotta with tapenade, basil, and olive on top.  Interestingly with a hint of lemon flavor.

    Steamed mussels with tomato, chilies and herbs - normally it's not my thing, but I was sharing this with L.  Pretty good, actually... and only 1 or two of them had a tiny grain of sand.  Nice kick from the chili, and plenty of herbs.

    I took 2 half portions of pasta.  I actually wanted to order a small portion of quail, too, but our waiter advised against it.  It would be too much food, he said...

    Agnolotti with butter and sage - what a simple but beautiful dish!  The little agnolotti were served with sage butter, and I just looooved the fragrance and flavor of the sage as it touched my tastebuds.  Heavy?  Yes, a little.  But so enjoyable!  And the texture was just right.

    L was not such a happy camper, though... The staff had decided to bring us only forks, so while the two of us "have fork use (有叉用)" - and I was perfectly fine with just a fork - L was deprived the use of a spoon while having her tagliatelle.  She didn't say anything at first, because she wanted to see how long it would take the staff to realize that she's missing a spoon.  But as I discussed with her, I don't think the Filipino staff (I am told that MBS stands for "Manila Bay Sands"...) know that people eat pasta with a fork and spoon... because they were never taught to eat it that way.  Well, the spoon never came.  (N.B.  This idiot has since been informed that Italians consider it impolite to eat pasta with a spoon...)

    Maltagliati with duck ragù - these rhombus-shaped flat pasta came with a hearty, delicious duck ragù... which is something that always tickles my fancy.  Very satisfying.

    L actually ordered the small portion of quail that I originally wanted to add.  When it arrived, we almost sent it back because we had assumed that a small portion would mean half a quail or something.  Nope.  It was a whole quail.  No wonder the waiter told me not to order it when I've already got two pasta dishes.  I shudder to think what the size of the "full" portion would be...

    Sautéed cavalo nero with crisp garlic - I love cavalo nero but it's not something I see often, so I ordered this on the side.  Surprised at the acidity here, but those crispy garlic flakes?  Yum.

    Bombolini with huckleberry marmellata and vanilla gelato - although I was full, I was still curious about desserts here... so I ordered these.  No, I definitely didn't need to have these fried doughnuts sit in my stomach.  The huckleberry marmalade and lemon cream provided the acidity to balance out the vanilla gelato.

    Well... this was a pretty enjoyable dinner, at least for me.  At most Italian places I tend to stick with pasta, and in my experience that has generally been the safe option.  The carni offerings often look similar to what one can get from other types of cuisine, which means they are less interesting to me.  Anyway, L wasn't very happy with the quail tonight, so once again I'm glad I didn't order it.

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    Lunchtime at the day of the conference, and the boss and I had no interest to sit through a 2-hour long lunch while listening to some guy drone on about the economy.  So we decided to stroll along the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and see what strikes his fancy.  There was a line of people waiting to get into Pizzeria Mozza, so we walked into db Bistro and Oyster Bar next door.

    We didn't want to eat too much, so a two-course set lunch seemed to be the way to go.  Maybe.

    Pâté "de campagne" - simple country pork terrine, served with slices of toasted baguette on the side.  I expected the cornichons but the pickled radish was a surprise.

    The original db burger - yes, I'm a country bumpkin.  I have been away from New York City for a long, long time... and haven't been back much since Daniel Boulud first invented his burger with foie gras, even thought that was created ages ago.  Since I'm here, I figured I owed it to myself to check out this crowd favorite.

    I asked for medium-rare, and it was pretty much done that way.  Gotta say this was pretty good, with a chunk of foie as well as short rib encased in minced sirloin.  The only problem was the amount of grease here.  After I finished the first half, the grease in the patty had dripped down and soaked through the bottom half of the bun.  That makes for some greasy fingers, but they sure smelled nice afterwards!

    The fries were pretty good, but I decided that since the burger itself was so big, I'd better take it easy on the fries...

    Pretty good for a simple lunch, and probably more enjoyable than the default lunch option.  The burger did sit in my stomach for a while, though...

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    Our time at the conference over, it was now time to eat.  I have a wonderful boss who knows of my passion for food and wine, and he very kindly asked me to book dinner "somewhere nice" tonight.  With that kind of go-ahead, I wasted no time in firing off an email to JAAN.

    Like Restaurant André, JAAN has been an itch I've wanted to scratch - only longer, starting from the time when André Chiang arrived at the restaurant.  Lately there have been plenty of good feedback on Julien Royer's cuisine, and the restaurant was recently elevated to No. 11 on the list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  So yeah, I really wanted to come see for myself what all the hubbub's about.

    We arrived early, and were led to a table by the window with views of Marina Bay Sands and the financial district - even though my email confirmation had indicated that we would not get a table with a view.  This was a nice surprise, and I think the boss enjoyed the view.

    There was a choice of 5-, 7-, or 10-course tasting menus.  I figured the boss wouldn't want to sit through 10 courses, and 5 courses did seem a tad meager, so I pre-selected the 7-course menu.  At some point the boss would wonder if he'd leave the restaurant hungry, but thankfully that would not be the case.

    Lentil hummus, cereals tuiles - wafer-thin tuiles, with grains such as sunflower seeds, sesame, and cumin.  Leaves a very lovely fragrance in the mouth.

    Black sesame sponge, smoked eel - nice flavors, with some salmon caviar and dill on top.

    Cantal and walnut crackers

    Pig trotter samosa, grain mustard - yum! Pig trotter... Mmmm...

    Mushroom tea, cep sabayon - the mushroom tea in a French press was poured on top of the acidic sabayon.  Loved the hearty mushroom flavors.

    Nice anchovy toast on the side.
    Hokkaido uni: obsiblue prawn, cauliflower, 'Oscietra' caviar - gee... this looks familiar... We've got a layer of obsiblue prawn gelée at the bottom.  Now, why anyone would take a precious ingredient like obsiblue and make it into a jelly is completely beyond me.  Anyway, there's a familiar layer of cauliflower foam on top, with sea urchin tongues and Oscietra caviar on top.  We've also got diced apple and daikon (大根) radish.  Nice, but I prefer what I get from Amber.

    By the way, I was a little annoyed with the service.  This course was served to us before I had even finished the tea/sabayon, a sign that there was no coordination between the front-of-house and kitchen.

    Beetroot collection: 'burrata artigiana', honeycomb - I'm not a fan of beetroot, but this dish was well-executed.  You've got a thin slice of radish from Hokkaido, and some olive oil caviar.  The little dollops of burrata come with honeycomb on top.  Then there were the red, white, and yellow beetroot, plus some pomegranate seeds and beetroot meringue.  Finally, you've got the quenelle of beetroot sorbet.  Very nice balance between the richness of the burrata and the acidity of pomegranate.  Refreshing, too!

    55' rosemary smoked organic egg: ratte potato, chorizo iberico, buckwheat - the eggs were cooked at 63-64°C for 55 minutes, then smoked with rosemary.  These arrived in their shells, with dry ice adding to the drama of the presentation.

    Then the organic egg with orange yolk is transferred into our little glass bowl, filled with espouma of ratte potatoes, chorizoiberico, and toasted buckwheat.  Very nice.

    'Saint Vincent' asparagus: morels, pancetta, wild garlic, Vin Jaune sabayon - it's asparagus season, and this was pretty delish.  The dish was accompanied by nice morels, fava beans, thin strips of crispy pancetta, and some wonderful slices of lardo.  The acidity in the sabayon was a little surprising.  Beautiful dish.

    Crispy skin amadai: kabocha, Thai veloute, obsiblue prawn - ah yes, the amadai with the crispy scales on top.  The boss was wondering why the chef hadn't bothered to remove the scales.  The amadai itself was nice, and came with Japanese pumpkin, some cooked obsiblue prawn, Swiss char, an interesting Thai velouté, and chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves.  Very Southeast Asian in flavor.

    Hay-roasted pigeon: white corn, foie gras, cabbages, cumin - before I even started digging into my amadai, the waitstaff brought this over to show us.  I was a little annoyed at first, because I thought they were already serving the next course before the diners had even touched the previous dish.

    When the pigeon finally came out again, I found the presentation beautiful.  The breast was more than just a little pink, but I was fine with this. Came with a small chunk of poached foie gras.  The "white corn risotto" at the bottom was basically corn kernels, mushrooms, and little chunks of liver.  The corn blini on the side was really delish, as was the potato tuile on top.

    The confit pigeon leg was very, very nice... and of course, it was giving out the middle finger...

    The pre-dessert was a panna cotta with coconut meringue and coconut foam on top.  The sorbet underneath delivered tropical flavors, with diced mango, papaya, and passion fruit seeds.  Nice.

    Choconuts 'grand cru': tastes and textures - I don't know exactly what all the grand crus and origins were in the dessert, but needless to say this ranged from the semi-sweet to bitter, and a combination of textures.  There was even some hazelnut in the mix.  Pretty good.

    The final act with mignardises arrived with more dry ice...

    Mushroom macarons

    Banana and passion fruit marshmallows

    Canelés - pretty good, as the shell was crunchy and almost a little too hard.

    Rosemary smoked lollipops - it's not one of my favorite herbs, but I can appreciate the effort and creativity that went into this.

    The boss doesn't drink much - at least not on a school night in front of me - so we just took a glass each.  As we're in Singapore and it's pretty warm, I figured a cold, refreshing glass with tropical notes would be perfect...

    2012 Paco and Lola Albariño Rías Baixas - very floral, with tropical fruits, a hint of flinty notes.  Nice acidity here but not too sharp.  A refreshing glass.

    Contrary to the boss' worries, he did leave the restaurant with a full stomach.  The cuisine was very well-executed, and generally very tasty.  Certainly one of the best restaurants in Singapore that I have visited.  Interesting that the snacks at the beginning remind me of André Chiang, years after he left the restaurant, since I would probably rank this place just a notch below Restaurant André...

    I really do need to get around a little more...

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    With another auction coming up, Sotheby's has once again very kindly extended an invitation for me to attend a dinner - this time featuring the wines from Maison Camille Giroud.  There is a consignment direct from the maison, and winemaker David Croix was here to introduce the wines.

    To be honest, many of us don't come across Camille Giroud much.  The two main reasons I myself have had some exposure is because I picked up a few bottles of their 1971 Clos Vougeot at auction a few years ago, which drank pretty well.  Then a few years ago I found out that Ann Colgin and Joe Wender became part owners of the maison.  Since Ann is one of my favorite winemakers around, I figured things could only be looking up.

    What I didn't realize was that Camille Giroud is a negociant, and they don't have any vineyard holdings of their own.  So the wines they make would change over time, depending on the grapes they buy.  Some of the wines from their 30-odd offerings are only made in as little as 3 barrels or so.

    Because this was a more "intimate" gathering, Sotheby's chose to host it at China Tang (唐人館).  I've only been to China Tang once, so this was a nice opportunity to revisit the cuisine here.

    China Tang signature barbecued pork (唐人館叉燒) - very curious.  Instead of the usual honey-glazed version, which includes one of my all-time favorite versions at Island Tang (港島廰), this actually came with a hint of black pepper.  While there was some fat here, the lean part was a little too dry and tough for my liking.

    Wok-fried crystal king prawn (水晶蝦球) - a Cantonese classic and a premium item.  This was OK.

    Roasted suckling pig (乳豬件) - this was also OK.

    Pan fried cod fillets with premium soy sauce (煎封鱈魚球) - pretty good.  I like cod for its soft and succulent texture.  When you pan-fry so that the exterior becomes crispy and seal in the juices, the result can be pretty damn good.

    Roasted crispy chicken (龍崗炸子雞) - very tender, with classic, paper-thin skin.

    Steamed layered bean curd sheet with black truffle (黑松露千層腐皮) - pretty nice millefeuille.

    Wok-fried sliced wagyu beef with wild mushroom and Chinese yam (野山菌炒和牛片) - my least favorite dish of the evening.  Totally boring in terms of flavor when you overcook beef, and I didn't even think the beef was that good to begin with.

    Steamed rice with pork gravy and whole abalone (原隻鮑魚滷肉飯) - this was kinda interesting. Rice with pork gravy (滷肉飯) is a well-known Taiwanese staple, and a bowl at my favorite restaurant chain will cost less than 1 USD.  Here they've decided to make a premium version by adding abalone in addition to the finely diced pork fat and skin.  Well, delicious it may be, but in my experience abalone always clashes horribly with red wine - as the latter can't help but bring out the intense "fishy" flavors of the shellfish - making the combination a little unpleasant for me.

    Two little bites of petits fours: mini fried sesame ball (煎堆) with sweet filling.

    Steamed dark sugar cane honey sponge cake (蜂蜜黑糖糕) is a perennial favorite of mine, and I can never have enough of this.

    David told us that Camille Giroud has always made wines which were meant to age for a long time, and he very kindly brought along a very nice lineup of wines spanning 4 decades to show us how the wines would evolve.  This would prove to be a pretty education tasting.

    2010 Camille Giroud Corton-Charlemagne en magnum - nice but still a little closed.  A little smoke, some lemon notes, fragrant, and a little ripe.  This sees very little new oak.  Opened up after an hour and was nice and buttery.

    First flight: David wanted to show us two different vintages of the same wine, and these were pretty different.  Popped and poured.

    2007 Camille Giroud Chapelle-Chambertin - very lovely fruit, with black cherries and almost a little bit of strawberries.  A little leather on the nose, and eucalyptus, and lots of forest pine.  Ripe and concentrated, with good tannins, but pretty forward and accessible.

    2006 Camille Giroud Chapelle-Chambertin - could this be only one year younger than the 2007?  Seemed much softer with very nice red fruits.  Nice and open nose full of bacon fat, and a whiff of savory notes.

    Second flight: double-decanted for more than 2 hours prior to serving.  Definitely necessary for a big vintage like this.

    2005 Camille Giroud Latricières-Chambertin - very exotic nose, lots of sweetness like candy, cherries, and the nose was almost like cough syrup...

    2005 Camille Giroud Chambertin - the nose was still a little closed at first, and there were still plenty of tannins.  Just too young.

    Third flight: two decades older, and much more ready and enjoyable.

    1993 Camille Giroud Volnay 1er Cru Les Santenots - some green grass on the nose, with leather, farmy notes.  A slight hint of stinkiness...  Nice acidity here.

    1993 Camille Giroud Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges - nice and ripe, with sweet fruit.  Ready to drink now but there are still noticeable tannins here.  More enjoyable than the Volnay.

    Fourth flight: almost four decades-old.  Definitely ready and very much enjoyable now.

    1978 Camille Giroud Charmes-Chambertin - a little more concentrated on the palate, with sweeter fruit.  Very lovely and unquestionably the wine of the evening.

    1976 Camille Giroud Volnay 1er Cru Champans - very smooth on the palace, with a nice balance.  A hint of sweet grass in the nose on top of the fruit.

    A very enjoyable evening.  Many thanks to Sotheby's for the kind invitation.  Let's see if I manage to win a few lots at Saturday's auction...

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  • 05/20/15--22:29: More starry goose
  • I got a call out of the blue from Fergie the Wommer, asking me if I was free for lunch.  After vetoing his choice of burger joint, we decided to hit Ya Lok (一樂燒鵝) for a quick one.

    The two of us decided to get a lower quarter roast goose (燒鵝下庄) so that we could get a leg.  As tasty as it always is... Just look at that wonderful crispy skin!  And I do like their seasoning, which I think is just right for me.

    I took a bowl of vermicelli soup (湯米粉), but today the soup base was incredibly salty and full of MSG.  Blegh!

    We also had a small plate of blanched morning glory (通菜) which, admittedly, wasn't really enough for the two of us.  Oh well.

    A quick in-and-out that satisfies, time and again.

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  • 05/21/15--23:00: Eating Hello Kitty
  • Believe it or not, lunch today was the most highly-anticipated meal in the entire last month.  No, that honor did not belong to my dinner at JAAN, ranked #11 in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for 2015, nor was it a return visit to my favorite Cantonese private dining space.

    The most anticipated meal was, in fact, my first visit to the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine (Hello Kitty中菜軒), and it had all the potential to turn into a complete disaster.

    Ever since we first heard the news last month, Hello Kitty and I have been talking about checking this place out.  When I shared news of the opening on FB, it seemed that I have quite a few friends who want to go, too!  I even have a friend who wanted me to take his kids so that he wouldn't have to go himself.  I soon found myself with what a friend jokingly referred to as "my harem"...

    Lemme pause a second and clarify something.  I AM NOT a Hello Kitty fan.  I do not own a single item bearing Hello Kitty's image.  I find it a little disturbing (and mild amusing) that there are probably tens of millions of women of all ages who adore this mouthless little girl.  That's right.  HELLO KITTY IS NOT A CAT.  Hello Kitty is a little British girl named Kitty White.  She may look like a cat, but she isn't one.  So when I saw an image of Hello Kitty raising her non-existent middle finger, I adopted it as my profile picture on FB.  That is it.  And periodically, I check out a blog called Hello Kitty Hell - where someone documents the crazy obsession this world seems to have with this character - and shake my head in wonder at the kind of authorized/unauthorized products people can churn out.

    But I digress.  I decided to organize an outing to check out the restaurant, and figured the waiting times (they don't take reservations) could be minimized by going to lunch on a weekday.  So here we are, on a Friday, and my friend who arrived first shortly after 12pm waited for about 5 minutes - only because we needed one of the bigger tables.  By the time Hello Kitty and I arrived around 12:15, we already had a table and got seated immediately.

    As has been widely reported, the whole place was full of Hello Kitty.  Anywhere one looks, there is simply no way to escape having Hello Kitty within one's field of vision.  The furniture is custom made so there's a giant Hello Kitty head at the center of every table.  Each chair is emblazoned with the custom logo of a bow with a Chinese design.  All the tableware featured the logo of the restaurant - down to the chopstick rests.  As expected, the moment we sat down, the group of us began taking pictures of anything and everything.

    And this is something one should expect here.  One does not come here for the food, but for the experience... for the cuteness.  (Although, according to a number of reports earlier, the food actually is supposed to be decent.)  We spotted a lone gong nui (港女) at a neighboring table, who apparently spent 15 minutes taking selfies...

    There was never any question in my mind that the 5 of us would "sweep the menu" and order up all 6 specialty Hello Kitty dim sum items.  They came in sets of 3 so we would have to share, but that's never an issue with us...

    Hello Kitty barbecued pork puffs (叉燒酥) - not such a good start.  These were supposed to be shaped like Hello Kitty's head, but the poor girl was barely recognizable.  They tried to fix this by using canape picks in the shape of Hello Kitty's head (only 1) or Hello Kitty's bow (the other 2).  The filling was also starting to ooze out a little, which showed poor execution.  Taste-wise this was OK.

    Hello Kitty bow puffs (蝴蝶角) - once again, these didn't look like what we saw in pictures.  They don't look anything like the bow on Hello Kitty's head, although taste-wise these were what one would expect from deep-fried minced pork dumplings (醎水角).

    Hello Kitty custard buns with egg yolk (流沙包) - aren't these cute?!  According to this CNN article, Hello Kitty's red bow is dyed with beetroot, nose is dyed with carrots, and eyes/whiskers black with squid ink.

    Now that I've had enough cuteness, it's time to poke Hello Kitty's eyes out...

    ...and then split her head in two.  The custard and yolk filling was pretty good, I gotta admit.

    Hello Kitty steamed prawn dumpling (蝦餃皇) - although all four dumplings feature the red bow, only one had a drawn face.  Taste-wise there isn't much difference between these and other prawn dumplings around town.

    FYI, the paper stopping the dumplings from sticking to the bamboo steamer?  That's in the shape of Hello Kitty's head, too...

    Hello Kitty steamed brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕) - these were fine.  Of course, they're not as good and fluffy as what I'd get at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), but I ain't complainin'...

    Hello Kitty stir-fried beef noodles (干炒牛河) - I had read that this was one of the best-tasting dishes, and the reports were right.  This was by far the best, and about as enjoyable as some of the better versions around town.  Yup, they took the egg and made it into a bow.

    Hello Kitty steamed rice with prawns and emerald egg white (翡翠蝦球蛋白飯) - this certainly looked cute, with moulded rice sitting on a bed of green steamed egg white.  But the flavors were a little mild, especially coming after the noodles.  Not very popular with this crowd...

    Hello Kitty diet stir-fried glutinous rice (健怡生炒糯米飯) - I thought this might fare better than the steamed rice, but I was wrong.  I conveniently ignored the term "healthy" in the description, and this turned out to be pretty bland.  All the ingredients - such as chopped spring onions, XO sauce, mushrooms...etc. were placed on the edges of the steamer, and I guess we were supposed to mix them up with the rice before serving.

    Oh well, should have ordered the rice with apple and shredded chicken, since Hello Kitty's favorite food is her mom's baked apple pie...

    Hello Kitty lotus seed paste bun (蓮蓉包) - these, too, were pretty good.  There's a video someone of me slowly ripping Hello Kitty's head in two...

    We were certainly full after all this food, and for the cost of around USD 20 per head, I'm certainly not gonna complain too much about the quality of the food at this price.  The cute dim sum items certainly didn't disappoint!

    A final word:  While there is officially a no-reservation policy and tables are on a first come, first served basis, the restaurant does have a private room - appropriately named 林檎閣.  They do take reservations for a table of 12, with a minimum spending amount of HKD 5,000.  Initially, we were wondering how it would be possible to spend that much money even with 12 people, when a whole chicken costs only HKD 238.  But then we noticed that the daily seafood is charged at market price, and one can always order up a few bottles of the Hello Kitty wines - still wine charged at HKD 398 per bottle, sparkling wine at HKD 498 per bottle.  Hell, I can even bring my own wines and pay HKD 150 for corkage.

    I know what I'm gonna do on my next visit...

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  • 05/23/15--07:42: The big ass from Paris
  • I was pretty ecstatic about a year ago when I heard about Dalloyau opening in Hong Kong.  Dalloyau has been my tea salon of choice in Paris for 20 years, and when I first moved to Hong Kong 20 years ago, I would satisfy my cravings by buying their chocolates from their outlet in Ginza for 200 yen a bite, when USD/JPY was trading at 80.  Ever since my first visit, I've tried to stop at a Dalloyau salon on each subsequent trip to Paris.

    What got me scratching my head, though, was news that there was an adjoining fine dining restaurant.  Dalloyau has always been a tea salon.  Yes, they serve savory food, but nothing like a multi-course affair.  I guess their local partner had his heart set on running a fine dining restaurant... Anyway, the location was never convenient for me, so it never came up as an obvious choice when I looked for places to eat.   Well, after waiting almost a year, I finally decided to visit Épure tonight.

    I had reasonably high expectations for this place, given the pedigrees of the chefs.  Unlike some other guys who made claims about their past history, I know these two guys put in some real time at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental and Amber, as I remember Chef Richard Ekkebus had mentioned on social media that he was coming here to visit his old colleagues.  So yeah, let's see if they deliver...

    I had looked at the menu online and found it... interesting.  While there was a seasonal menu for Le French May - which didn't look very interesting - the two regular tasting menus were curiously entitled "For her" and "For him".  When our waiter took our order, he seemed to think that there was a possibility that I might choose "For her"... Well, when you have this kind of naming convention, did you really think I'll happily announce that I'm going with the "For her" menu?!

    Anyway, we were soon presented with a small selection of snacks, some of which look vaguely familiar...

    Celeriac tart - pretty nice.

    Cheese croquette - nice and molten center.

    Foie gras bon bon - with a cherry coating.  Very smooth both on the outside and on the inside.

    The amuse bouche was fava bean espouma, with cheese sauce and a sprinkle of hazelnuts.

    Huitres de Bourcefranc - this arrived and the waiter poured some water over the dry ice below for a rather theatrical presentation...

    Speciale Ancelin N°4 from Bourcefranc-le-Chapus in the Marenne Oléron, wrapped in a thin layer of agar flavored with cucumber or French melon, and served on small, round discs of cucumber or French melon, respectively.  Topped with a quenelle of French melon sorbet, and some crunchy peanuts.

    This was such a beautiful dish.  Both the cucumber and the melon delivered refreshing and clean sensations in the mouth, and the sweetness from the melon sorbet somewhat neutralized the mineral flavors of the seas from the oysters.  This reminded me of another oyster dish at Restaurant André, which blew me away.

    Le foie gras de canard - this is a dish that I no longer order at restaurants, because it has become so mainstream and common.  This came with some poached rhubarb for the acidity, a piece of rice crispy on top, and a puddle of delicious tonka bean butter foam on the side.

    Needless to say, the execution was flawless.  I may not have ordered it, but I'll always enjoy it when it's done well.

    There was also a little cup of rhubarb sauce topped with rhubarb granité to cleanse the palate afterwards.

    L'asperge de Jérome Galis - incredible.  Proof that a simple dish with the freshest ingredients can be just as amazing.  These asparagus spears were simply amazing.  Simply drizzled with some olive oil, garnished with a single garlic flower, and served with a light and airy hollandaise sauce (menu indicates mousseline).

    Le Saint Pierre - slow-cooked John Dory, covered with a thin sheet of zucchini purée (menu says lardo), served with salicornia, a salicornia fish sauce, and avocado purée on the side.

    I find John Dory boring in general, but salicornia is always interesting - especially that sauce!  The avocado purée was surprisingly a little acidic.

    Le pigeon - OF COURSE I would choose the pigeon over some Kagoshima wagyu... No-brainer here.

    Cooked "medium-rare" as is standard here, this was just beautiful.  Very, very succulent.  Served with some delicious pigeon sausage full of gamey flavors, along with some spring onions and spring onion mash.  I didn't really taste the Vin Jaune from the sauce...

    Quelques fromages de saison - I guess they don't exactly have a cheese cart to wheel in front of us, so they just automatically picked a few for me...

    Ossau - not too hard, actually, and a little salty.

    Couronne Lochoise - pretty mild for a goat cheese, simply creamy with just a little salt and a slight acidic finish.

    Saint-Felix - with ash in between the layers.  Harder in texture, with more salt and acidity here.

    Munster - definitely pretty strong, and a little stinky.  Bitter on the palate.

    Roquefort - as expected this was simply too salty for me on its own, so I had to take it with the fig jam.

    Le citron de Menton - a very refreshing lemon mousse, with delicious and crunchy pineapple confit, rice crispies, and faissellesorbet.

    La forêt noire - a new take on the Black Forest cake, served with a sauce made with cherries and cherry liqueur.

    Inside the white chocolate shell was the classic chocolate cake with cherries.

    A quenelle of cherry sorbet on the side makes it complete.

    At the end of the meal, tea and coffee are served.  To ensure that diners give the tea enough time in the pot, they've provided a little hourglass which runs out in 3 minutes.  Very thoughtful.

    The mignardises arrived to bring our meal to a close.

    Lemon raspberry

    Pistachio and jasmine cake with white chocolate - happy to have actually tasted the jasmine.

    Truffle and chocolate macaron - I definitely tasted truffle oil in here.

    Against my better judgement, I decided to order a bottle of Champagne.  I inquired about the corkage charge when I called to make a reservation, and was informed that it would be HKD 700.  W-T-F?!  Paying HKD 500 in the city's 5-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants is something I am more than happy to do, but this just felt like highway robbery.  I was very tempted to give the restaurant the finger by not letting them earn a dime on wine.

    But I did take a look at the wine list, and ended up picking a bottle of grower Champagne that I liked, at a fairy "reasonable" price.  So I gave in and did something I almost never do - order a bottle off a restaurant's wine list.

    Françoise Bedel Dis, "Vin Secret" - ripe and caramelized nose, plummy notes.  A little more fragrant later, and almost cane sugar, a little mineral and savory.  Higher acidity on the palate, but ripe and smooth.  Delicious.

    I gotta say that dinner tonight was immensely enjoyable.  I came in with reasonably high expectations, and by the large the restaurant delivered.  It is certainly one of the better fine dining venues in town, and I felt the quality delivered by the kitchen was commensurate with the price charged.  Looking forward to coming back.

    P.S. One small gripe to make... We wanted to pick up a couple of items from Dalloyau, and I felt that since they all belonged to the same group, they could make things easier for customers by letting us put the Dalloyau desserts/chocolates on the restaurant tab and just settle one bill.  No such luck...

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  • 05/24/15--23:50: Dark side of the Moon
  • I have never found occasion to visit the Kowloon branch of Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), choosing always to patronize the "main branch" in Wanchai.  However, I found myself on the Dark Side today when Hello Kitty suggested that we go for some dim sum, and my immediate thought was to take this opportunity to check this off my to-do list...

    We walked in casually with no reservations, and were greeted very politely by the hostess at the entrance.  I know it's been a little humid lately thanks to all the rain we've been getting, but I wasn't expected the moldy carpet smell from the elevator.  Not a great first impression...

    It's been a while since I last had dim sum at Fook Lam Moon in Wanchai, but the dim sum selection at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch seemed to be a little more compact than what's on offer on the island.  But as there were only two of us, and we (unfortunately) don't have bottomless stomachs, there was still enough variety for us to choose from.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake with shrimp paste (椒鹽百花蓮藕夾) - a classic.  The two slices of lotus root are held together by a layer of minced prawn (蝦膠).  Loved the crunchiness of the lotus root, and the springy texture of the minced prawn.  I was a little overwhelmed by the layer of salt coating at first, but gradually got used to it.

    Sesame prawn "en papillote" (香麻紙包蝦) - the kitchen delivered the wrong item to us. We had checked off prawn and conpoy "en papillote" (瑤柱紙包蝦) on the order sheet...

    So what we got was prawn wrapped in a very thin and delicate wrapper, and coated with lots of sesame seeds on one side.  This was very, very delicious.  Yes, it was deep-fried with lots of oil, but it didn't feel particularly greasy.  The golden sesame seeds, of course, were very fragrant.

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with XO sauce (XO醬炒腸粉) - I would have preferred the rice flour rolls to be a little more crispy, but these were OK.  They didn't skimp on the XO sauce, so the flavors were pretty strong.

    Steamed dumplings Fungshing-style (鳳城蒸粉果) - certainly different from the common Chiuchow-style steamed dumplings (潮州粉果), as the wrapper here was still opaque and not translucent.  The absence of peanuts was conspicuous, and the fillings included prawns, ground pork, bamboo shoots, chives, carrots, and mushrooms.  Milder in terms of flavors and without the hard crunch of peanuts.

    Deep-fried spring rolls with chicken and prawns (雞絲蝦春卷) - FAIL.  Normally these are my favorite spring roll in town, but today these were simply left in the oil for too long.  One can tell by just looking at the color - which shows a darker brown instead of the usual golden brown - and the amount of grease soaked up also made these less palatable.

    We decided not to have dessert here, and instead walked over to Lab Made Ice Cream.  One of their current flavors is a "cross over" with Tai Hing (太興), and features the restaurant chain's famed milk tea.

    This was pretty good.  I definitely recognized the thick, milky texture of the tea, and they even included a few cubes of unsweetened tea jelly.  For someone like me, who regularly visits Tai Hing and drinks their milk tea, this was definitely worth checking out.

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  • 05/30/15--04:34: Tapas on a terrace
  • I'm watching a movie tonight at a theatre in The One, and figured I'd use the opportunity to check out one of the restaurants here.  In all the years it has been open, I've only eaten in The One once.  In fact, I don't even come here... thanks to the stupid and annoying system of elevators.  And yes, tonight showed definitively, once again, how annoyingly stupid the elevators are.  It was faster for us to take a set of elevators to go down from 18th Floor to Upper Ground Floor 2 - and then take another elevator from Upper Ground Floor 2 up to 6th Floor - than to take another set of elevators from 18th Floor down to 6th Floor...  WTF.

    In any case, I decided we should check out Tapagria.  This was one of the restaurants whose claim to fame was having a famous Hong Kong actress as a shareholder (I have no idea how much of it she owns, nor do I really give a damn...)   Since we only had at most an hour and a half to go through dinner, I figured tapas would work.

    As the sun was setting soon and it was no longer scorching hot, we decided to sit on the outdoor terrace.  Our table had a great view of Victoria Harbour, and the periodic gusts of wind kept things pretty cool.

    Langostinos tigre a la plancha - pretty big tiger prawns, and the flavors were pretty familiar.  These were fine.

    Croquetas de jamón VIC - croquetas with jamón ibérico filling, with a slice of jamón on top.  Heavily seasoned thanks to the jamón, but pretty good.

    Coca catalana con anchoas y pimientos - the flatbread itself was thin and crispy, but there was simply a lot of bell peppers on top... so eventually the flatbread became a little soggy in the center.  Flavors were pretty good, but I thought the proportion of peppers to anchovies was off.

    Mousse de bacalao en aceite de oliva crostini - I love bacalao, and something like this would never escape my attention.  Love the texture of the mousse, and the crostini was pretty crunchy.  Bread soaked in olive oil?  Bring it on!

    Cochinillo asado con manzanas caramelizadas y salsa de mostaza - it's almost obligatory for me to order suckling pig at any establishment serving Spanish fare, but this was probably the most underwhelming piggy I've had in a while.  The meat itself was... and the crackling was not the least bit crispy.

    Tortilla y hamburguesa de cerdo ibérico con pimentón abumado, ensalada verde mixta y patatas fritas con salsa romesco - now THIS was an intriguing idea... Take the classic Spanish tortilla - the pan-fried potato omelette - and use it as the bun on a hamburger.  Pretty cool, huh?

    Well, the reality turned out a little different than imagined.  First of all, it's not so great to be grabbing onto something that's absorbed a good amount of oil during the frying process.  Makes for very greasy fingers.  Second, unlike a burger bun or some other type of bread, the torfilla can fall apart in your hands.  Eating hamburger is inherently a messy act, and this just got a lot worse.  In the end, I had to use a knife and fork to eat my burger.  Not ideal.

    The final nail in the coffin, though, was that the whole thing was just too under-seasoned.  The tortilla was so bland that I had to rub a lot of romesco on it.  Yes, I ordered this to satisfy my curiosity, but it turned out to be a regrettable decision.

    A little word about service...  I was afraid that being seated at the far end of the terrace - what I'd usually refer to as "being in fucking Siberia" - would mean we were totally ignored.  Thankfully that was not the case, especially after 2 other tables were seated next to us.

    We did have a little trouble getting our drinks, though... and when we flagged down a waitress to chase after our order, we were told the drinks would have to take a little longer, because "they had just finished filming inside".  HELLO?!  You are open for business, so your first priority should be to serve your customers, not filming whatever it is that you think is more important.  How does this filming problem justify me not getting my drink?

    Well, eventually the bartender did get around to making my drink.  Unfortunately for me, just when the waitress was about to get it to me, a gust of wind came and topped my drink on her tray.  So the drink had to be re-made... and I stayed thirsty for a little longer.

    Yes, I do seem to have a penchant for ordering "girlie drinks"... Sulu Sea sounded nice with lychee, lime, and Blue Curaçao, and came like a blue frozen daiquiri.  It was pretty refreshing, though, and was just what I needed on a night like this.

    We finished dinner quickly and made it in time for the movie.  Food-wise this place delivered pretty reasonable results, but what made the experience a little more enjoyable was sitting on the terrace and taking in the view.  It was so nice that I momentarily thought about wasting my movie tickets and just sitting there for an hour longer.  Well, maybe next time...

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  • 06/02/15--22:54: Set menu FAIL
  • One of our service providers very kindly took us out for lunch today at The Boss (波士廳) - a restaurant whose food I am rather fond of.  Given that this is a business lunch, it wasn't at all surprising that our generous hosts chose one of the set menus which the restaurant had put together for diners like ourselves.  While I would often prefer tasting menus at fine dining establishments serving "Western" or Japanese food, my past experiences with Chinese restaurants in this area have generally not fared as well.

    We started off with something from The Boss dim sum combination (波士點心拼盤), which features four different items today:

    Deep-fried bean curd sheet rolls (蝦籽腐皮卷) - a little surprised that we started with this, but this tasted fine.

    Braised crab meat and sweet corn soup (蟹肉粟米羹) - ahhh... the clichéd"corn and egg-drop soup" featured on the menus of so many American Chinese restaurants, with corn starch acting as thickening agent.  At least this was made with some real crab meat.

    Sauteed prawn with salty egg yolk (燕麥金沙大蝦球) - yes, this was done in a style that was more modern, with a batter around the prawn, but somehow it seemed a little sloppy... and in fact, that goes for the whole presentation.

    The Boss shrimp dumplings (波士蝦餃皇) and The Boss pork dumplings (波士燒賣皇) - FAIL.  This is why you don't take the set menu, because FAILs like this generally won't happen to regular steamers containing only shrimp dumplings.  It's obvious here that the wrapper for the shrimp dumpling was already broken before it arrived at the table, thanks to over-steaming and a sloppy kitchen.  At least two of us ended up having the filling completely separated from the wrapper.  I can't remember the last time this kind of thing happened to me.

    Deep-fried spring roll with shrimp and garlic (蒜香蝦春卷) - the taste of garlic definitely stood out, and I liked these spring rolls.

    Seasonal vegetables with congee soup (絲苗米湯泡時蔬) - I expected lighter flavors for this soupy veg dish, but being soaked in a thin soup that looks like the leftovers after straining the rice out from congee... yeah, pretty bland.

    Braised e-fu noodles with conpoy and mixed mushrooms (瑤柱雜菌炆伊麵) - we go from a bland veg dish to a bowl of noodles that was heavily seasoned.  These e-fu noodles were always going to be seasoned with soy sauce, but methinks the kitchen went a liiiiittle bit overboard.  I did appreciate the mix of mushrooms, though... as it was more interesting than what one usually gets.

    The sweet soup of the day (每日精選糖水) was sago cream with taro (芋頭西米露).  This was pretty diluted and didn't have a whole lot of "solids".

    Was this lunch worthy of the restaurants one Michelin star?  Absolutely not.  I have always enjoyed the food here, and I would have been able to put together a selection of dim sum items that would have been just as filling, tasted better, and at the same or lower price point.

    Lesson of the day?  Avoid the set menu at Chinese restaurants like the plague.

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