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

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  • 07/12/15--08:46: The journey of your life
  • I've been a very big fan of Chef Hideaki Sato (佐藤秀明)'s over the last 3 years, paying a few visits each year to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) during his tenure as chef de cuisine.  The Tiggers and I were sad to hear that he was leaving our beloved restaurant, so I made sure to pay him one last visit just days before his departure.

    I was, of course, looking forward to see what he would create with his new venture.  Ta Vie 旅 replaces the much-ballyhooed but totally underachieving Holytan - which is totally awesome for me, since it's just right across the street from my office.  I tried as hard as I could to stick to my policy of not visiting a new restaurant in its early days, but finally succumbed tonight - some two months after the place opened.

    The restaurant usually doesn't open on Sundays, but since Sato-san was in Bangkok for a couple of days this week, they decided to make up by staying open tonight.  The reservation was in the name of a friend, so Takano-san was very surprised when I showed up at the door... and even more surprised when the Man in White Tee Shirt showed up for dinner, too.

    Sweet corn puffed mousse with "aburi" lightly torched botan shrimp in shrimp broth jelly - I know the chef's love of sweet corn, so I had high expectations for this.  Digging in with a spoon, one finds barely torched botan shrimp (牡丹海老) from Hokkaido marinated with olive oil and finely diced chives.  Surrounded by sweet corn mousse embedded with corn kernels, and topped with shrimp gelée.

    This was an awesome way to start our dinner, since it was cool and refreshing.  There was a combination of textures from the crunchy corn to the still-largely-raw shrimp, and finally the light and fluffy mousse as well as gelée.  Flavor-wise, you've got a good balance between the sweetness of the corn, the sweetness from the raw shrimp, and the savory/umami of the shrimp gelée... all accented by the very fragrant olive oil from the south of France.  Wow!

    "Surrealism": poached oyster wrapped in wagyu beef with grated celeriac ponzu jelly - this is instantly recognizable for anyone who has patronized Tenku RyuGin over the last year or so.  The Japanese oyster is just the right size for a mouthful when cut in two, and it's enveloped in a blanket of A4 beef from Miyazaki (宮崎), which was just lightly cooked shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)-style.  The ponzu (ポン酢) gelée on top made everything just perfect.

    Pan seared abalone and green asparagus, curry spiced asparagus puree and onsen egg - I'm not such a fan of the Japanese way of pan-frying thin strips of abalone, but I really dug the onsen egg with the sauce made with asparagus and Japanese curry - which means it wasn't too spicy.

    This cute little loaf of homemade bread was made with nukazuke (糠漬け) - vegetables fermented in rice bran.  In this case I believe turnip (蕪) and red carrots were used.  Very, very delish, and perfect for scooping up the runny egg and curry sauce.

    Millefeuille of eggplant and snow crab with homemade fresh cheese - this was an extra course not on the menu.  Japanese snow crab (ずわい蟹) meat was mixed with some soft, fresh cheese and diced tomatoes, then sandwiched  between two pieces of Japanese mizunasu (水ナス) eggplant.  Once again, very clean flavors.

    Chicken consommé - part one of our chicken course.  Made with bell peppers, and one could see the ground black pepper at the bottom of the cup.

    Charcoal grilled chicken with yuzu-pepper dressing and roasted bell pepper - of course we know that Chef Seiji Yamamoto (山本征治) thinks that Lung Kong (龍崗) chicken is "the best in the world", so no surprise that the same chicken is used here.

    Just look at that paper-thin, crispy skin!  The meat itself was incredibly succulent, and juices were still oozing out when I bit into it.  We asked Sato-san how he was able to make the skin dry and crispy, and apparently he exposes the skin to the dry air inside the fridge for about a day or so.  This was really delicious, and all of us would have wanted a second serving...

    Stout beer battered Taiwanese bambou and dragon beard grilled scallop, shitake mushroom paste - the Japanese scallop was perfectly grilled.  The chayote shoots (龍鬚菜) - commonly referred to as dragon's beard - and bamboo were covered with batter made with stout, and I definitely tasted the deeper flavors.  The paste made with shiitake mushrooms (椎茸) was kinda interesting.

    Fresh uni and risoni "alla carbonara" with cauliflower - this was simply amazing.  This little pile of sea urchin-flavored orzo, topped with sea urchin and accompanied by the incredibly smooth cauliflower purée on the side, was just a little slice of heaven.  Instead of using other top-end Japanese sea urchin like Hadate (羽立), which comes in wooden boxes, Sato-san prefers ones from Yoichi (余市) because they are shipped in plastic containers suspended in sea water.  And I gotta say... I would have loved another bowl of this, too!

    Almond tofu with peach compote fresh lychee and "monkey picked" oolong tea jelly scent of rose flower - O-M-G.  THIS was da shit.  The perfect dessert for a summer day.  Initially we snickered to ourselves at the mention of almond tofu (杏仁豆腐), as the Japanese have a particular fondness for this childhood favorite of mine.  But I found myself staring wide-eyed at the contents of the bowl.  The quenelle of peach sorbet was smooth and refreshingly delicious.  The chunks of Japanese peaches were ripe and sweet.  The fresh and seasonal lychees (荔枝) were bursting with incredible sweetness, and among the best I have tasted this season. The almond tofu at the bottom was, of course, great, but it was the jelly made with Monkey Picked Oolong tea (馬騮搣) that added something really special to the mix.  Such delicate fragrance.  Throw in some rose petals and a roselle (洛神花) petal to add some color and additional fragrance and flavors.

    To underscore the awesomeness of this dessert, someone - not yours truly - wondered out loud whether the chef could send us an additional bowl of it.  All of us were pretty much loving this, so said person grew some pretty thick skin and made the request with Takano-san.  Minutes later, 5 more bowls appeared in front of us.  A second helping of heaven, it was.

    Vanilla ice cream and banana wrapped with passion fruit gel - after having 2 amazing bowls of the last dessert, whatever follows was bound to under-perform...  Here we have chunks of Filipino banana served with some vanilla ice cream, topped with a layer of gel made with passion fruit.  The banana definitely overpowered the passion fruit here.

    I know it's gotta be the fact that I was just at Langham Place hours ago looking at the exhibit, but I definitely see Gudetama (ぐでたま) here...

    Another "extra"... this time this was Japanese apricot, apricot consommé gelée, and homemade cheese.  Sato-san loves apricot since it comes from his hometown of Nagano City (長野市).

    Knowing my Taiwanese heritage, Sato-san asked if I wanted to have a cup of their organic coffee - sourced by a Japanese retailer who is nuts about Taiwanese coffee.  After experimenting with different ways of brewing, they decided the best way was go with a French press.  The aromas were very delicate, and the palate was pretty soft.  In fact, I had to move to the different table to be able to smell my coffee properly, since the rest of the boys all chose to have the house herbal tea - which was made with fresh mint and pandan leaves, among others - and the aromas of this tea was too overpowering.

    While I enjoyed having this cup of Taiwanese coffee, the environmentally-conscious side of me was feeling a little guilty.  You see, the coffee is grown on the hills of Alishan (阿里山), and is actually covered by a canopy of betel palms (檳榔樹).  This means that the coffee grower chopped down the trees originally grown on site and planted betel palms and coffee trees - the very same type of behavior highlighted in the famous documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (看見台灣) which contributes to the destruction of the environment.  So yes, I sipped my coffee with mixed feelings, but stayed silent.

    Chocolate and kaffir lime pudding - Sato-san tells us that he serves different petits fours depending on whether the diner orders tea or coffee, and with coffee comes this chocolate pudding.  But this ain't just any chocolate pudding... as the fragrance of the kaffir lime leaves was incredibly alluring.  Someone noticed the look on my face as I spooned one mouthful after another, and I wished that my tongue was long enough to reach inside the jar and lick it clean.  Yes, it was THAT good...

    Walnut meringue - the other petit four served to those having herbal tea.  Not too sweet due to halving the amount of sugar, but no skimming on the walnut flavors.

    It's no surprise that this gang brought plenty of wines for dinner, and there were also backup bottles we ended up not opening...

    2002 Agrapart Vénus - a blanc de blancs brut nature, so there's no dosage.  From old vines planted in 1959, and the vineyard was plowed by a mare called Vénus.  A little yeasty, with some sweet caramelizes sugar... especially evident after extended aeration.  Toasty nose.  Ripe on the palate but still got the acidity, with a tart and long finish.  Drinking very nicely now.

    1998 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne Collection - late-release.  Ripe on the nose and palate, with red fruits like raspberries and also minerals.  Not showing as well as the Agrapart.

    1988 Cheval Blanc - drinking very nicely now, with good red fruits, mint, a little pencil lead, and a little smoky and earthy.  Smooth and silky on the palate.  Very, very nice.

    2007 Suduiraut - lovely nose of honey and orange blossom.  Classic botrytis nose of polyurethane and acetone, along with ripe honeydew melon.  Pretty sweet on the palate.

    Michel Couvreur Pale Single Single - a Scotch Whisky matured in Burgundy.  Took it with a cone-shaped cube of ice.  Pretty nice and not too peaty.  I guess it was indeed "floral"...

    This was a fantastic evening.  The food absolutely matched the high expectations I had for Sato-san, and when we were the only table left in the house, Sato-san came and spent a long time chatting with us.  I ain't no Michelin inspector, nor do I claim to know how one of them thinks (that much is obvious), but I'd be surprised if this place doesn't nab a star or two come December...

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  • 07/13/15--07:34: Plagiarism and social media
  • One of my friends pinged me this morning, with news that someone on Instagram had posted my pictures as her own.  I took a look at the screenshots that I received, and sure enough, these were pictures from my blog.

    Over the years I have debated about marking my pictures, but as there seemed to have been few instances of plagiarism, I decided not to ruin the aesthetics of the images.  I'm not exactly the world's most popular and widely-followed blogger, so I hardly expect tons of people to swipe my pictures and use them as their own, but it has happened a couple of times before.

    The most recent case involved a magazine in India using my picture of Gaggan Anand's pani puri.  I discovered it and cried foul over Twitter, but as it turned out, it was the PR team from Gaggan who had supplied them with my picture.  Both the magazine and Gaggan apologized quickly, and I was given photo credit in the article as well as a three month free subscription to the magazine.

    So now it's happened again.  I don't know Jo Soo-Tang, but she seems to like these pictures from my dinner at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) 2 years ago.  For whatever reason, she copied them, posted them on her own Instagram, and treated them as her own - even creating a strange hashtag called #tangvacations.  What these pictures have anything to do with her vacation is anyone's guess.

    I was unamused.  I decided to confront her and left comments on her Instagram, asking her why she had used my pictures without permission or given me credit - both of which she could have easily done.

    When I checked a few hours later, she had taken down these offending pictures.  No apologies given.  Now I'm pissed.

    So who, exactly, is this person?  Her LinkedIn profile proudly declares that she has "15 years of experience from three communication agencies and also from several in-house Marcom positions", followed by a rather distinguished list of global clients.  So she's a professional, then... and in the PR/communications field.  And supposedly very experienced with senior positions under her belt.

    Which begs the question: why the hell would a person like that engage in plagiarism?  Yes, she plagiarized.  She took artwork (if I may call my photos that) that were not her own, used them on social media and claimed them as her own creations.  That is plagiarism, plain and simple.  That she removed them from her Instagram account quickly after seeing my comments only suggests that she knew what she did was wrong.  She clearly knew better, so why did she still do it?

    In this age where many of us cannot seem to live without the internet or social media, we have gotten accustomed to sharing and receiving information through the various social media platforms.  Pictures, videos, and tweets can go viral when viewers like what they see and choose to share them with friends.  I have a habit of doing that, too, but I always make sure I give credit to the source.  On the rare occasion when I use an image other than my own work for my blog, I always credit my source.  When I share something on Facebook, I always use the "Share" function so that the person who first posted it gets the credit.  But I know that not everyone thinks the way I do.  Many people just copy/paste without giving any thought about whether they are infringing on anyone's copyright.

    Last year a friend's pictures at a particular restaurant were published by an American news website, and they properly credited her for them.  As the story went viral, a leading newspaper in Hong Kong picked up the story and reprinted the photos without giving due credit - using the familiar catch-all "reposted from internet" instead, if I recall correctly.  This was absolutely shameful for a media organization.

    Look, I spend way too much time on this here blog, choosing to share my personal experiences with anyone who cares to read about them.  I don't make a dime from it, since I refuse to put any advertising on it... nor do I entertain any offers for sponsored posts.  In fact, the catalog of more than 1,000 posts is the result of me spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (yes, that's U.S. Dollars) on food, wine, and travel over the last 8 years or so - plus the thousands of hours in front of the computer.  I don't ask for nothin' in return, just that whoever comes across my blog (or my Facebook Page, Twitter, or Instagram) show me some fucking appreciation and respect.

    But I guess that's just too much to ask for some people.

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  • 07/16/15--08:12: A dark and noisy tapas bar
  • It's been a month since I last met up with a friend, and this afternoon her hubby pinged me and asked if I had dinner plans.  As I just found out that my wine dinner wasn't happening, and my friends wanted to drop by Catalunya - which I last visited more than 2 years ago - I decided to join them.

    I've forgotten how dark this place is.  As there was no spotlight above my seat, I had real trouble reading the menu, and resorted to turning on the torch of my cell phone to provide adequate lighting.  As I get older and presbyopia sets in, reading in low light has become increasingly difficult.  So I guess restaurants like Catalunya are sending me a message... that people over the age of 40 are not their target customers...

    I was ever so glad not to have the responsibility of ordering, leaving it instead to my friend with dietary restrictions...

    Spherical olives - this was OK, but I'm just a tad over these...

    Cantabrian anchovies - love these, but I really should just get tins of them and eat them at home...

    Pa amb tomàquet - ... and of course we had the anchovies with the pan con tomate.

    Green asparagus with black truffle - a little bit of Parmesan cheese on top of the asparagus, and chunks of hazelnuts in the truffled sauce.

    Marinated seabass - this seemed like lightly-cooked seabass more than raw fish cured in lemon juice.  Nicely paired with sweet red onions.  Very light and yummy.

    Ham, cheese and truffle "bikini" - the old favorite.  Still pretty delicious, but somehow not quite as satisfying as before.

    Estrellados con paletilla - this was pretty nice.  Scrambled eggs on a bed of potato cubes, with diced cubes as well as slices of jamón.

    Arroz negre with calamares - originally made with scampi but that is on my friend's list of restricted ingredients, so this was changed to calamari.  Gotta say that the rice had a lot of flavor, and loved the garlic in it, and especially the alioli on the side.  Very yum.

    Stuffed chicken Catalan style - a grilled chicken on a bed of cabbage, topped with shaved black truffles.

    It is then quartered to reveal the stuffing inside, which was a blend of minced lamb, pork, and veal.  This was very, very, very delish.  It was so good, and the stuffing so moist, that none of us remembered to drizzle on the sauce that was served on the side...

    "Padron" peppers - always nice to have, and this time none of us picked up a spicy one.

    "Pijama" - a piece of flan served with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate gelado on top.  Pretty old school.

    "Crema Catalana" crunch - I've always loved crema Catalana, and now it's been cut into small chunks, wrapped with filo pastry, and deep-fried.  What's not to like?

    2012 Terras Gauda O Rosal - nice but not as refresh as I expected.  A little flinty, with some tropical fruits like peaches.  A little ripe on the palate.

    The food here remains pretty decent, even after Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa's departure.  But tonight the atmosphere was just a little too loud.  For some reason we were not seated in other, quieter parts of the restaurant despite the availability of empty tables... but instead were seated right next to a big party of 25.  No surprise that these guys - out to celebrate some corporate achievement or whatever - got very rowdy very quickly.  The three of us had to raise our volumes just to carry on a conversation, and when the restaurant started blasting Macarena on request... we knew it was time to go.

    I guess I'm getting too old for this shit.

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  • 07/18/15--08:17: Big ol' hunk of beef
  • Due to poor planning on my part, Hello Kitty didn't get her steak fix last week.  I was determined to make it up to her, so we made the trip down to the Steak House Winebar + Grill at the InterContinental Hong Kong.  There are a number of steakhouses around town - both "homegrown" as well as branches of well-known international operators - but this was the only established deemed worthy of a macaron by the Rubberman.  Now the world ain't exactly overflowing with macaron-encrusted steakhouses - even in cities like New York - so I figured I owed it to myself to check out how things are.  After all, it's been a good 4 years since my last visit.

    The first surprise came when I called to reserve a table and the hotels' central restaurant reservations desk picked up the phone.  The use of caller ID, plus what I'm sure is a world-class CRM system, meant that the person at the other end soon addressed me by name without the need for me to tell them who I am.  That was a real pleasant surprise.  As I've said, my last visit to the restaurant was 4 years ago, and to have hotel staff speak to me as if I were a long-time regular does kinda give me that warm-and-fuzzy feelin'.

    The second surprise came after we were seated.  The restaurant's menu was rather large, and when we opened it up, it turns out these were simply two large tablets with backlit LCD screens.  For someone who really hates not being able to read a menu in dimly-lit restaurants - and the lighting was definitely on the dim side here - this was the high-tech yet elegant solution.

    Besides the very nice bread basket, we also got some tortilla chips and deep-fried onions.  Pretty decent.

    Crab cake "New Orleans" style, tartar sauce - this was pretty good, with plenty of delicious crab meat.  But then again, at the price I'm paying... they'd damn well better deliver!

    50 / 50: summer capsicum soup and lobster bisque - not wanting to choose between the two soups on offer, I decided to have both.  I was a little surprised at the summer capsicum soup, because I thought it'd come cold like a gazpacho.  Pretty nice flavors, though... with lumps of crab meat.  The lobster bisque was pretty good, too... especially with those fatty croûtons.

    The thing with these high-end, fancy schmancy steakhouses is that they always play a few of the same gimmicks.  First one would be a choice of salts to go with the steaks, and here we've got a choice of eight.

    Then, of course, one gets a choice of steak knives from all over the world.  I'm usually pretty happy with the trusty Lagouile, but tonight I picked up an Italian named Berti with simple and elegant curves...

    Finally, there's also an array of mustards... but I don't eat my steak with any mustard.

    Dry aged prime bone-in sirloin, 24-oz - we were told that once the bone is taken out, the remaining beef would be about 14 ounces or so.  Definitely enough for the two of us to share.  In reality, though, there wasn't much bone here... so I wouldn't be surprised if we got 18 ounces or more of meat.

    These days if I bother to get myself a piece of steak, it's just gotta be dry aged.  Nothing else can deliver the same depth of flavors... especially the bits near the bone.  And medium-rare was just right.

    Roasted root vegetables - neither of us are fans of beets, but at least we got some carrots and celeriac.

    Garlic French beans - yum.

    A big hunk of meat needs a big wine to go with it, so I fished out a bottle of Bordeaux from my cellar...

    1988 Clinet - nice, sweet fruit, a little grassy, a little earthy.  A little sweet on the palate, with smooth and velvety tannins.

    A pretty satisfying meal.  Well, at least Hello Kitty was happy to her steak, and her crab cake.  I gotta admit that the steak was pretty tasty, although I still miss that dry aged Rubia Galega chuleta...

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    After my birthday feast last month, Hello Kitty got herself some Russian caviar and wanted to share it with me.  So on the last Sunday that I was spending at my "summer vacation home", we decided to crack open the jar and also pop the cork on some bubbly.

    We had some discussion about how best to go about consuming this precious ingredient, as we're both novices when it comes to caviar.  The original suggestion from the supplier was to do it "the Russian way" which, presumably, involved blinis, sour cream, chopped onions, hard boiled egg yolks and whites...etc.  Let's face it, that's a lot of work just to have a little fish roe!

    I was advocating the "purist" method, which would just be spooning the eggs straight into my mouth, or at most having it on some white toast.  In the end we got ourselves some white "milk toast" from Little Mermaid Bakery and spread some unsalted butter or crème fraîche on top.

    Now that we got the condiments fixed, the serving utensil was also an issue.  It's well-known that one should not use utensils made of metal, for fear of imparting any metallic tastes and spoiling the original flavors of the eggs.  Unfortunately I didn't have any mother-of-pearl spoons lying around, and after contemplating everything from clear plastic spoons from Cafe de Coral (大家樂) to the tiny "Tweetie" spoon I found lying around in the kitchen, Hello Kitty managed to pick up a few flamingo-topped glass spoons at Zara Home.

    I cracked the jar open and scooped out a spoonful of the oscietra caviar, which wasn't completely black in color.  Taking the first mouthful "as is" without any condiments, I found it to be delicate in flavor, with a hint of smokiness.  The big surprise was the level of salt, since quite a few of my earlier memories of sturgeon caviar involved highly salted eggs.  Well, the lid of the jar did say "malossol", which meant there was a minimum of salt being used to preserve the eggs.  I used my tongue to push the eggs up against the roof of my mouth, trying my damnedest to pop them.  The membranes seemed thicker than I had expected, and it took considerably more effort to get the job done.  The contents were nice and creamy, and... dare I say... tasted like smoked sturgeon...?

    I took more of the caviar, sometimes with butter or crème fraîche on toast, but in the end I decided that I prefer the eggs on their own, with bites of toast afterwards to cleanse my palate.

    2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature, dégorgée à 18 mars 2014 - nose of green apples and a little bit of toast.  Made with 2/3 pinot noir, this wasn't as acidic on the palate as I had expected, even though there is no dosage.  Not quite rounded on the palate, but it's very well-balanced and well-made.  Sipping it with bits of caviar in the mouth really brought out the smokiness.

    A very decadent way to spend Sunday afternoon... sitting by the pool and indulging in Champagne and caviar. Now that we have a friendly supplier, I'll have to get a few more varieties and do a proper comparison... after I've saved up more money.

    P.S.  We were told by the supplier that the farmers have come up with a method to extract the caviar from the female sturgeon without killing them, so I'm very happy that this is now sustainable.

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  • 07/21/15--08:08: Not getting the memo
  • A friend is back in town for a few days and decided to round up a few people for dinner and open a few bottles.  I found out earlier today that we would be dining at Hong Kong Cuisine 1983 (壹镹捌叁), a place in Happy Valley that I'm not familiar with.  After moving out of the valley 3 years ago, there are few reasons to draw me back...

    The place was mostly empty tonight, and together with the fact that my friend is a regular customer, meant that we got very attentive service.  I was also very relieved to not have the responsibility for ordering the food...

    Marinated jellyfish (香蔥油海蜇花) - pretty crunchy, and marinated in sesame oil.

    Deep-fried tofu with bonito (木魚椒鹽脆豆腐) - pretty forgettable and nothing really special, other than the bonito flakes on top.

    Crystal pork terrine (水晶餚肉) - classic Shanghainese dish of shredded cured pork, aspic, and pork skin.  Not too bad.

    Braised giant grouper fin (生炆龍躉撥水翅) - loved this.  I picked up the tail which, like all the other pieces, were battered and fried before being braised in the casserole.  And all that garlic and stuff didn't hurt.

    Tea-smoked duck (樟茶鴨) - pretty good, actually.  A dish I always love for the smoky flavors.

    Barbecued pork in honey marinade (蜜餞叉燒) - some of these pieces were clearly very fatty, and I love fatty char siu.  Yum.

    This dish of stir-fried beef with mixed vegetables was OK.

    Steamed tofu with sautéed termite mushrooms (油雞樅野菌千頁豆腐) - this was OK. The sautéed termite mushrooms were pretty tasty, but I just don't see the point of the tofu... other than to show up some knife skills.

    Cabbage and ham in superior broth (上湯雲腿浸娃娃菜)

    Maitake mushroom and mixed vegetables with glass vermicelli in casserole (蝦乾舞茸粉絲雜菜煲) - thankfully not as much MSG here as the versions I'm used to.  The maitake mushrooms were a nice touch.

    Pork ribs with salty egg yolk (金沙肉排) - nice to see that this came in a bird's nest... which I started to dismantle and devour at the end of the evening.  I was kinda surprised at how fatty and tender the pork was, and of course being covered in that golden, salty egg yolk only made it even better.  Cholesterol city is what this was...

    Beef fried rice with shrimp paste (蝦醬生炒牛崧飯) - very tasty thanks to the shrimp paste, as well as tenderized bits of beef and crunchy lettuce.

    The organizer asked us to bring a bottle, and wrap it up in foil so that we can taste them blind.  No theme or price range was announced, so it would be totally random and also double-blind.  Once the wines were revealed, it was obvious that a memo had been circulated, and yours truly was not among the recipients of that memo...

    2003 Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada - a little lean, some toasty oak, a little beeswax, somewhat floral like orange blossom.  Nice ripeness on the palate.  With a little age to this wine, no longer as fresh and tropical.

    2002 Faiveley Latricières-Chambertin - minty, still tannic.  Too closed down.

    2006 Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets - very open and showy.  Really fruity, and showing cool fruit, with a little forest and certainly leather notes.  Drinking very nicely.

    2003 DRC Romanée-St-Vivant - opened 5 hours before serving.  Very metallic nose, but also really floral and perfumed, with a little leather and plenty of eucalyptus.  Absolutely stunning and beautiful.

    2006 Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château - another wine that's drinking well after decanting for 2 hours.  Sweet and fruity with notes of cherries, and fragrant like cedar.

    2008 Joseph Voillot Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens - really sweet and ripe, with plum and forest pine notes.  What a nice surprise!

    A nice and casual evening, with lots of wines drinking very well.  Next time, though, I'll make sure I get the memo and don't end up bringing something out of line...

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  • 07/22/15--07:35: Foamy, pretty, and tasty
  • Sick Note No Fish and I enjoy exploring restaurants together, and it was time for us to visit a place neither of us have been before.  Tate Dining Room and Bar isn't new, and has been on my "to tick off" list for a long time, but somehow I've never found the right people to go with.  So I was particularly happy when No Fish agreed to accompany me tonight.

    We decided to choose the smaller of the two tasting menus, entitled Sensualist Menu.  A lighter load would be good for me after a heavy eating schedule over the last week.

    First up was a quintet of nibbles, which are arranged in order of the 5 Chinese elements (五行):

    Metal - slow-cooked quail egg topped with chicken and ginseng jam.  The egg itself was pretty bland, and I didn't taste none of that ginseng...

    Wood - smoked eel roll.  Not bad.  It's "wood" because it was smoked.

    Water - dashi (出汁) ravioli.  Spherification.

    Fire - sweet corn panna cotta with crispy bacon.  Loved the sweet corn flavors, and apparently the corn kernel inside was grilled... hence it's "fire".

    Earth - mushroom panna cotta.  Yup, definitely tasted the earthy flavors of shrooms.

    Ode to tomatoes : five types of tomatoes tartare / strawberry tomato gazpacho / smoked sardine / Marrakech lemon skin confit / 5 herbs - a refreshing and delicious dish.  I loooove gazpacho in the summer, and this one was very, very nice - with some fraises des bois blended in.  Slowly mix in some of the quenelle of Pommery mustard ice cream, the tomato tartare, the fraises des bois, as well as the tiny chunks of smoked sardines... and you have one delicious mouthful of chilled goodness.  I could eat this all day.

    After we finished our first piece of bread, this cubic brioche showed up.  This totally reminded me of Dominique Ansel's Magic Soufflé... and was very, very delish.  I resisted the temptation to finish it, because I wanted to make sure I didn't fill my stomach space with bread tonight.

    The sea : scallop espuma / taraba crab meat / yuzu gelée / marinated jelly fish - the scallop espuma was very nice, as was the red king crab (鱈場蟹).  The yuzu (柚子) gelée wasn't immediately apparent, and neither was the jellyfish.  But hey, the combination of ingredients tasted good.  The fish consommé rice paper on the side was definitely interesting... and aesthetically pleasing.

    Hokkigai clam : root vegetable mille feuille / summer black truffle / cauliflower black garlic espuma / fresh water clam sauce - the Japanese surf clam (北寄貝) was actually pretty tender while retaining enough of the springy texture.  The espuma was interesting... as the flavors were a little heavier here.  The "mille feuille" featured Japanese turnip (蕪菁), potato, and carrots... and accented with a couple of chunks of Japanese kelp (昆布).  Pretty nice.

    Sakura ebi : lobster broth / fregola pasta / mentaiko / vin jaune foam / kombu / crispy sakura ebi - sakura shrimp (桜海老) is one of my favorite ingredients, and I can have that any day of the week.  That pile of crispy shrimp on top?  Manna from heaven.  Another item I would always order when I find it on a menu - much like the automatic reflex of Pavlov's dog - is fregola.  I love the flavors here, although I would have preferred for the fregola to be cooked perhaps a minute more.  But I didn't quite taste or find the pollock roe (明太子)...

    Rosé Bresse pigeon : slow cooked breast of pigeon / filo pastry wrapped fermented mustard green thigh of pigeon / roasted baby beetroot / pigeon jus - OMG.  The breast of Bresse pigeon was no doubt cooked sous vide... and it was sooooooo tender.  Yielded to my Laguiole knife like buttah...  I would eat another serving of this, right now, without any hesitation.

    The shredded thigh meat was interesting, and it was mixed with diced celeriac which provided a little crunch.  I did taste some fermented flavors.

    Honey, milk and chamomile : home made Wing Ho Hong Kong Bee Farm honey ice cream / chamomile white chocolate mousse / dacquoise / yogurt meringue / Williams pear cream - undoubtedly the weakest dish tonight.  The honey ice cream was pretty nice, as was the camomile and white chocolate mousse hidden underneath the yogurt meringue and dacquoise.  But the honey gelée was pretty bland... and there wasn't much of the Williams pear cream to make a difference.  Very pretty presentation here, but flavors weren't outstanding.

    Zen garden - finally, the mignardises I had seen in pictures so many times.  Passion fruit "marshmellow" (sic), dark chocolate with coconut ganache, matcha opera cake, and jasmine macaron.  On a bed of sugar and arranged to look like a Japanese zen garden.  When we had eaten all the pieces, No Fish picked up the little rake and played with the sugar.  She found it very therapeutic...

    I must say... that I was happy to have finally made it here.  Chef Vicky Lau - who didn't seem to be in the house tonight - was awarded the title of Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2015 earlier this year, and while I have no opinion on whether she is deserving of that award, I can certainly say that I enjoyed my dinner tonight.  Overall it was pretty tasty, and also visually very pretty.  Most importantly, the price is right.  So this one gets filed in the "can go back and revisit" category...

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  • 08/04/15--08:34: A sweet evening
  • It's been a while since I last saw the Great One for dinner, and she suggested that we go back to ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge - one of our favorite places in town.  It was obvious that she had only one thing on her mind... the pigeon!

    We knew that Jeremy wasn't gonna be around, as he's busy training up the staff at Épure this week.  It turns out that Philippe wasn't in the kitchen tonight, either.  But fear not, Nicolas was around to take good care of us.

    Parmesan crackers - the usual snack.  Always nice to start with this.

    Tourteau crab, lobster, oyster dressing, chilled potato sauce - a dish I loved on my very first visit, and this being the middle of summer, I really wanted to have it again.  Such a refreshing and delicious dish!  Loved the sweetness of both the crab and the lobster.  The combination of chilled potato soup and finely diced chives just conjured up memories of Vichyssoises in my mind...

    Roasted pigeon, artichokes, baby spinach and lemon chutney - no, I did not order the pigeon again... because I wanted to try something different for once.  But I did get to have 2 bites of Hello Kitty's pigeon, and it was as good as it's ever been.

    Milk fed veal sweetbreads, artichoke macaroni, natural jus - it's been a while since I last had some sweetbreads, and I thought I'd give this a try.  Gotta admit, though, that I was surprised by the size of this... since it was one whole piece.  Topped with finely diced mix of spring vegetables.  The real treat, though, was the baked macaroni filled with artichoke purée.

    Jeremy's cheese selection - just because he isn't here tonight, it doesn't mean that we're not gonna have "Jeremy's cheese selection", right....?

    Brillat-Savarin - can I ever get tired of this triple-cream, melt-in-your-mouth thing of wonder?  I think so...

    Pic de Bigorre - rich and creamy, with a bit of acidity as well as a ripe and bitter finish.  Slightly skanky, but that's not exactly a bad thing when it comes to cheese...

    (Lassan Sandaire?) - a little bitter.

    (Crosseur?) - with pine.

    Saint-Félicien - who doesn't love a runny cheese?  Very, very ripe and spicy.

    Petit Fiancé

    Comté, aged 4 years


    Fourme d'Ambert

    2004 Ponsot Morey Saint Denis Cuvée des Grives - a little leather, fruits like cherries and plums.  Nice acidity here, and drinking well now.

    A pretty good evening, and a reminder that I need to come back for that pigeon more often!

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    After my trip to the Hello Kitty restaurant a couple of months ago, a friend who is a real Kitty fan tried to organize a dinner there... but failed to secure a table on the desired date.  As a consolation prize, I suggested that we go back to Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) so that some of us can give it another chance...

    My friend wanted to order a few dishes which are also available at her preferred venue - Seventh Son (家全七福) - so that she can do a "head-to-head" comparison.  I tried as much as possible to oblige...

    Barbecued suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - we were short by a couple of people, so we only took half a pig.  Nothing at all to complain about here...  Yum.

    Deep fried frog legs with garlic and chili (椒鹽田雞腿) - there shouldn't have been much difference, but I thought these were slightly below the level of the ones at both Seventh Son and Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  Still decent, though.

    Deep-fried custard (雞子戈渣) - these had deeper flavors than the ones at Seventh Son.

    And I do love the texture...

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - I simply have to be resigned to the fact that these will never be like the ones I had on my very first visit...  They've drastically cut down the amount of lotus root they used, but they're still pretty tasty.  At least these were better than what I'd get at Fook Lam Moon...

    Braised garoupa fins with tofu skin (腐竹炆斑翅) - I always love the fins and the tails of a fish... and here they've been braised with garlic, tofu, and tofu skin.

    Long braised beef brisket and tendon in curry sauce in casserole (燜咖喱牛筋腩煲) - apparently my friend had curry beef brisket at Seventh Son very recently and was dying to compare the two versions.  A strange choice as accompaniment to nice wines, but I understand my friend's current preference for food with heavier flavors.  Well, as a matter of fact, I don't see this as "curry"... but more like the "Portuguese sauce (葡汁)" that one finds in Macanese cuisine.  Well, whatever sauce they claim it was, it was pretty damn yummy.  And of course the brisket and tendon were really tender.

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯莧菜)

    Steamed leaf wrapped glutinous rice cake (豆沙蘋葉角) -

    Love the red bean paste filling.

    Steamed creamy custard bun (流沙奶皇包)

    Nice and runny filling...

    Deep-fried sesame balls (燈影煎堆) - these golden, puffy globes are de rigeur here...  I wouldn't dream of leaving without having a taste.

    There were naturally a few bottles of wine tonight...

    1959 Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Spätlese Cabinet Naturrein - a little petrol, polyurethane, a little white flowers, and some orange blossom in the nose.  Ripe but fairly dry on the palate.  More soft and elegant after 55 years.

    2012 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese - much bigger nose here, with plastic, white pepper notes.  Sweeter on the palate but also with nice acidity on the finish.  More complex and bigger palate.  Lovely.

    2000 Coche-Dury Meursault - nose was pretty muted and disappointing - with none of that classic huge toasty nose of a Coche-Dury.  I've had a number of bottles from the same case, and this must have been just bottle variation.  Nice on the palate, though, with a long finish, good ripeness as well as crisp acidity.

    So... overall the food was pretty good, as it should be.  But I don't think I'll be coming back for a while...

    It's my first visit in almost exactly a year, and once again the restaurant was almost completely empty - with the exception of 2 other tables in the main dining room and perhaps 2 private rooms.  Last year I joked about "swatting flies (拍烏蠅)" here - in reference to the empty room... and tonight, there really were a bunch of (fruit?) flies buzzing around our food!

    But that wasn't the real problem.  Thanks to the empty dining room - and Hong Kong's penchant for keeping air conditioning on at full blast - my sinuses got swollen tonight.  My nose hasn't fully recovered from my recent sinusitis, and the one thing that is sure to trigger a reaction would be blasting aircon.  Halfway through dinner I realized I could no longer smell very well, and as we were the only table in the main dining room, I asked the staff to turn down the aircon so that it wouldn't be so cold.  I knew she had gone to do something, but it didn't make much difference.  The aircon was still blasting, and I continued to be miserable.

    Even though my friends very kindly treated me to dinner, I see no point in patronizing a restaurant whose environment makes me miserable.  After all, I can get pretty much the same food at two other restaurants nearby...

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  • 08/08/15--08:25: A very good follow-up
  • While having a drink at ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge last month, Jeremy told me that he had taken on a consulting assignment with the people before Épure, and that he would be spending a few days in the first week of August at the restaurant.  While I enjoyed my first meal at Épure very much, I did think there were areas which could use some improvement.  I was very curious to see what changes Jeremy would make, so I made a reservation for tonight.

    One of the changes Jeremy had mentioned was a shorter menu in addition to the 6- or 8-courses options previously available.  This was certainly a good thing, since not everyone wants to spend 2-3 years at dinner.  However, they continued with the "for her" and "for him" menus... which are just really stupid.  Who the hell decides which dishes are "feminine" and which are "masculine"?!

    Anyway, once again I chose the menu "for him", and took 8 courses.

    We were served some snacks, but this time around no one bothered to tell us what they were.  Maybe they thought we'd had them before, so there was no need to explain.  Well, I can see that we had the foie gras bon bon again, with the cherry coating providing nice acidity.  Likewise there was the cheese croquette, although we thought there might have been a hint of truffle in the liquid center.  The tart, though, was different from my last visit.  I thought this might have been carrot purée, but there was a little bit of acidity here.  The little mint leaf on top was nice.

    Amuse bouche tonight was cauliflower velouté with hazelnut foam on top.  I love cauliflower, and also love the flavors of the toasted hazelnuts, but I was a little surprised by the sharp acidity of the hazelnut foam.

    Le saumon sauvage de l'Adour et melon de Cavaillon - what a pretty dish!  Two small blocks of hay-smoked salmon from the Adour River in the Pyrénées are wrapped in thin layers of gel made from Cavaillon melon - looking like candies in wrappers.  The salmon was delicious, and I love the sweetness of the melon gel.  Served with a little bit of finger lime caviar on top, as well as cubes of Cavaillon melon and sour cream on the side.  Yum!

    Le foie gras de canard - pan-fried foie that was nicely executed.  Served with a wedge of pink Corsican pomelo, some pomelo sauce, aubergine purée, as well as chiffonade of sorrel.  Gotta love the flavors and acidity of that Corsican pomelo...

    Fricassée de girolles et escargots gros gris - a royale of girolles is hidden underneath a thin layer of milk skin.  Love the flavors of the mushrooms.  Garnished with girolles, romanesco, and what I was told were "petit Suisse" escargots.  I do enjoy my escargot now and then, and I've come across ones named "petit gris" but never "petit Suisse"...

    Le homard de nos côtes - I was a little confused at first... since the menu says "de nos côtes" but the dish featured homard bleu from France.  Anyway... One piece of the lobster was served "cannelloni-style" wrapped in celeriac and poached in butter.  Another piece of lobster was deep-fried as a dumpling, with a basil leaf inside.  Served with celeriac purée and lobster consommé.  Gotta say the fragrance of the consommé was very alluring.

    Le canard de la Maison Bergaud - a nice little sliver of Challans duck, perfectly executed.  Unfortunately, the sliver was so thin (I'm inclined to use the Chinese expression of "不夠塞牙縫" - literally "not enough to fill the gap between one's teeth") that it left me woefully unsatiated.  Loved the blackberries from Provence, and the pearl onion, and even the "pommes dauphine" on the side.

    Quelques fromages de saison - the restaurant gets their cheese from Xavier, and tonight they've chosen to serve me Cathare (pretty ripe and spicy on the finish), 24-month Comté, Cabrioulet, Tomme de Soulor, and Fourme d'Ambert.  Served with a dollop of quince preserve.  Alas, most of the slivers of cheese had started to sweat by the time the plate got to me...

    La pêche - WOW!  An absolutely beautiful dessert!  Poached peach encased in verbena gelée, topped with peach sorbet and verbena emulsion.  Wonderful flavors with ripe peaches and the delicate fragrance of verbena.  Incredibly refreshing and perfect for summer.  One of the best dessert I've had recently... and surpassed only by the amazing peach/lychee/almond tofu/Oolong jelly combination at Ta Vie 旅.

    Chocolat grand cru 62% Bresil - I haven't voluntarily ordered a chocolate dessert in a while, but I'll happily eat one...  No surprise that this was one of those thingies where hot chocolate sauce was poured on top of a chocolate shell, revealing a "surprise" inside.  My friends and I were joking that this was the high-end version of Kinder Surprise...

    ...and you've got a sorbet made with banana and pecan, along with some caramel.  Pretty good, but I was a little full by this point...

    Petits fours - featuring orange blossom water macarons, pistachio and jasmine cakes with white chocolate, and chocolate tarts.

    I was balking at the exorbitant corkage charge of HKD 700 per bottle on my last visit, but seeing Hello Kitty really enjoyed the Champagne from Françoise Bedel last time, I decided to bring along one of my own bottles.  The staff who recognized me on both visits remembered that I had ordered a bottle of Bedel on my last visit... which is commendable.  In the end we were charged HKD 500 for corkage... not sure if this was one of those changes that Jeremy made?

    2003 Françoise Bedel L'Âme de la Terre Extra Brut - nice and caramelized on the nose, a little toasty.  Ripe on the palate.  Such a delicious wine.

    Gotta say that the quality of food has remained high for this second visit.  Still some room for improvement on the service front, but there were three happy campers leaving the restaurant tonight...

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  • 08/10/15--23:25: Good but not great
  • There was an impromptu meet-up at lunch today, and since it was just a stone's throw from my office, I decided to join a couple of friends at Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂魚翅海鮮酒家).  I haven't been to the Central branch in about a year, so I took the opportunity to refresh my memory on their dim sum items.

    Deep-fried taro dumpling with diced chicken (蜂巢五香雞粒竽角) - one of my favorite dim sum items, and the shell here was nice and flaky.  I thought the filling wasn't bad, although there were critics at the table...

    Baked ham and spring onion cake (金華火腿焗燒餅) - usually among my favorites, but today the filling seemed to be noticeably milder in terms of flavor.

    Steamed scallop, shrimp, and kale dumpling (玉蘭帶子餃) - loved the prawn filling, as well as the slice of scallop on top, but completely missed the kailan (芥藍)...

    Steamed preserved vegetable and pork bun (梅菜皇扣肉包) - something I didn't get to order on my last visit.  These weren't exactly small, so they ended up to be pretty filling.

    Actually these were slightly disappointing.  Pork belly with preserved leafy mustard (梅菜扣肉) is one of my favorite dishes, but this somehow missed the mark a little.  Not fatty enough.

    Baked abalone puff (特色鮑魚酥) - not bad, but maybe I was asking too much when I was hoping for a little more abalone and a little less mushroom...

    I always have high expectations for Sun Tung Lok, but I gotta say that I was a little underwhelmed today.  Nothing FAILED, but nothing also WOWed...

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  • 08/11/15--06:29: A quick pick me up
  • I'm watching the opening film of the Cine Fan Summer International Film Festival 2015 - Hou Hsiao-Hsien (侯孝賢)'s The Assassin (刺客 聶隱娘) - tonight.  Since the movie theater is in the Elements mall, I decided to use this opportunity to check out a restaurant for the first time.

    I've never been to Tosca at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.  When the restaurant first opened, the feedback I heard was mostly negative, so I pretty much wrote off the restaurant.  I watched as the restaurant garnered a macaron from the Rubberman, but still I was unmoved.  None of my regular eating accomplices talk about going there for a meal, so I stayed away.

    But I needed a venue for the pre-movie dinner, which ruled out places like Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) with their 10-course menu.  Chinese food was also not a viable option as there were only two of us, so Tosca seemed to fit my requirements...

    I had thought about maybe taking four courses from their Estate Menu, but they didn't seem to appeal to Hello Kitty.  So à la carte it was, then...

    We started with our amuse bouche, which was an arancino along with a ball of couscous, as well as a couple of salmon roe on the side.

    Tiramisù di mare: barretta di cereali su gamberi rossi, capasanta e cremino soffice di prezzemolo - the idea of a "sea tiramisù" sounded interesting, so we both decided to try it out.  The actual "tiramisù" - which looked like a piece of white fish at first glance - was made from Mascarpone with squid ink-flavored puffed cereal at the bottom, sitting on a bed of red prawn carpaccio. The fluffy, creamy cheese worked well with raw prawn and the scallop.  The ring of parsley and basil cream, however, was completely bland.  The best part, though, was the piece of flattened, dehydrated prawn "cracker".  It was kinda like one of them Japanese prawn senbei (煎餅), and I loved the intense, concentrated flavors.

    Riso acquerello in bianco, pancetta caramellata e pesto ligure - this was recommended as it is "unusual"... a risotto with "white tomatoes" (which are not white but yellow), in a pale color due to burrata cheese.  The flavors here were a little unusual, as the tomatoes added a good amount of acidity.  I was a little surprised to find crunchy bits here, which I took to be diced onions that were not cooked until they melted.  Of course, those cubes of pancetta were just so sinful... but oh-so-good!

    Minestrone di frutta estiva con gelato al mascarpone e basilico - I chose this because I wanted a refreshing dessert, even though the staff had recommended the tiramisù.  When I placed my order to the staff, the guy must have thought he was being helpful by reminding me that this "is not salty"... as if I couldn't work that out while holding a dessert menu.  Anyway, this was exactly what I needed.  Diced mango, pineapple, apricot, and wild strawberries.  Very tropical.  Served with a quenelle of gelato, although I couldn't taste the basil in the gelato.  I did taste the basil in the soup, though... along with cinnamon.  I was a happy camper.

    Finally, a trio of petits fours to finish.  The orange sponge cake was covered with limoncello icing.  The cube of chocolate was supposedly made with 100% cocoa... but there was sugar here to make it pretty sweet.  Finally, the chocolate-covered cherry was filled with chocolate inside, and the chocolate/cherry mixture ended up staining the front of my shirt.  Sigh...

    I thought the food I had was pretty tasty, although I was surprised at the very limited choices on offer.  The only real complaint I have?  Service.  In this case, OVER-attentive service.  I was just trying to have a simple and nice dinner... and while it is nice that you come over and ask me how things are, I really didn't need you to do that after every dish...  I also didn't need you to come over and check on me just because I decided to turn around and look at the fountain behind me (and the open kitchen in the distance)...  Finally, when I'm deep in conversation and you decide to come over and barge in by starting off with "Sorry to disturb"... well, have you considered NOT disturbing/barging in? Or wait until there's a pause in our conversation?

    But the evening was generally a success, and I went to the movie screening with a satiated palate.  Let's see when I'm next in the hood...

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    It's been about 6 months since I've been banished from Taipei, and it was finally time to go home and visit the Parental Units.  This time, though, I wasn't flying home solo... as Hello Kitty had decided to come along and see a little more of Taipei.

    Thanks to flight delays (which has become increasingly frequent in my life thanks to the weather) we were running a little late for the early seating at MUME.  This is a little place that has been getting a lot of attention over the last few months, as they have breathed a little bit of life into the local dining scene.  Definitely worth checking out for a number of reasons...

    I was under the impression that this place was offering set menus, and was surprised to find ourselves with à la carte menus instead.  This suits us better, as we can pick and choose the dishes we want.

    Kanpachi crudo, calamansi vinaigrette, cucumber, Chinese celery - pretty good, and the acidic citrus sauce lightly cured the slices of raw amberjack.  Our waitress introduced the citrus as 金桔 in Mandarin, which I initially took to be kumquat... but it turned out to be calamansi.  I liked the crunchy texture of the cucumber, as well as the clean and cool taste.  I also liked the chopped bits of Chinese celery for added flavor, as well as the piment d'espelette powder.  All in all, a very good dish to whet one's appetite with...

    Squid, prawn head broth, smoked engawa, taro - we quickly realized that the portions here are pretty small, so we weren't in any danger of stuffing ourselves with the dishes that we'd ordered.  This is the thinly-sliced squid "noodles" that I am familiar with by now, having seen similar dishes at Amber and Noma's pop-up in Tokyo.  These were barely blanched, and served with flounder wings which had nice, smoky flavors (perhaps lightly torched?), garnished with crispy taro chips and bean sprouts.  Served with a prawn head broth accented with some chili oil.  There's a picture floating around somewhere with me holding the bowl up to my face so I could drink this stuff...

    Crispy amadai, roasted pepper, toasted almond, tomato raisin - of course, we're no stranger to the tilefish with crispy skin and scales, either... but that doesn't diminish the enjoyment factor.  Nicely done.  With bell pepper sauce, and garnished with roasted pepper, toasted almond, raisin made from cherry tomatoes, and some crispy bacon bits.

    Chicken, cauliflower, lily bulb stem, Pedro Ximenez jus - we had seen a picture of this dish taken by my friend Chef David Lai, who had visited the restaurant just a few days earlier. This was definitely the upside surprise of the evening.  The breast was so tender and moist that it almost melted in the mouth... although I would have taken marks off for not having the crispy skin on.  The crispy skin, of course, ended up on the outside of the roulade that was made with dark meat.  Needless to say this was also very tender, and much tastier than the white meat.  For someone who normally doesn't eat chicken (because battery farm chickens are so bland), Hello Kitty was very impressed.  So was I.

    Beef shortrib, slow roasted carrots, burnt onion puree, pickle pearl onion - of course there will be beef tonight, but while the short rib was very tender and tasty, it paled in comparison to the chicken.  What was exceptional, however, was that burnt onion purée.  We could spread that on toast and eat it everyday.

    Scallop, lemon verbena and dill, watermelon radish, betel nut flower - we decided to add a starter before the chicken arrived.  The scalloped was lightly seared and mi-cuit, with slices of radish wedged in between thunks.  I didn't care for the pickled watermelon nor the tapioca pearls, but dill and verbena sauce definitely had shadows of Noma.  Very, very nice.

    Peaches and basil, pistachio crumble, crème fraiche ice cream, osmanthus - the peaches are from Mount Lala (拉拉山) and seem to have been soaked in syrup.  The crème fraiche ice cream was light and airy, but I didn't care for the frozen chunk of osmanthus cream - the texture just wasn't appealing.

    This was a pretty good meal, and the only thing I have to complain about was the fact that one of the staff who brought us some of the dishes didn't bother explaining them to us.  Minor service issue, but the other waitstaff provided us with good service and switched her descriptions from Mandarin to English when she noticed that the two of us were conversing in English.

    After I paid the bill, I asked to speak with Richie Lin - one of the founding chefs who happens to be the brother of a friend from Hong Kong.  We talked a little about how they are filling a gap in the dining options in Taipei, and offered my compliments.  This is definitely somewhere I can come back to time and again for a casual yet delicious meal, and if it weren't for the type of music in the house, I'd probably bring my parents here, too...

    P.S.  We deliberate left some space in our stomachs so that we could walk over to the night market in the Tonghua/Linjiang Street area... although we didn't end up picking up much street food.  Instead, I ended up back at my favorite Eastern Ice Store (東區粉圓) for a bowl of shaved ice...  Slurp!

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    One of the things I promised Hello Kitty in this trip was to take her to my favorite beef noodle joint.  Beef Father Beef Noodles (牛爸爸牛肉麵) has been my favorite since I was first introduced to it more than 10 years ago.  Having stayed away for the last few years since they relocated from the center of town to the boonies, it was time to scratch that itch.

    This is just about the most expensive beef noodle restaurant in town, and well-known for serving bowls of noodles at seemingly exorbitant prices. On my last visit about 5 years ago, I splurged and got myself a bowl of noodles for USD 100.  I knew that they hiked prices across the board a few years ago, with prices of most bowls (in fact, all except their most expensive offering which cost more than USD 300) going up about 50%.  I had briefly contemplating splurging again and paying TWD 5,000 for what I thought used to be the TWD 3,000 (USD 100) bowl, but as we were unexpectedly joined by the Parental Units, I thought better of it.

    But first we would start with a few appetizers.  First and foremost would be the peanuts - which are cooked and marinated over three days in the sauce for pig trotters.  Mom didn't seem particularly impressed as lots of people used to cook their peanuts in this type of sauce, although that's no longer done today.  I also got ourselves a couple of plates of veggies and marinated kelp.

    VIP beef noodles (貴賓牛肉麵) - this used to cost TWD 1,000 but today costs TWD 1,500.  Comes with a classic, slow-braised beef broth full of beefy goodness.  I suggested that Hello Kitty take this since it is the signature of the restaurant.  Five very tender cubes of beef, with different cuts coming from several countries.

    Beef noodles with clear broth (清燉牛肉麵) - I've never had this on all my visits, so I decided to try it out for once.  Also TWD 1,500 a bowl.  The first thing I noticed was that there was no beef in my bowl, only the clear beef broth and the noodles!  The noodles are noticeably thinner than the ones used in the VIP beef noodles.  The broth was clear, but I gotta say that it was a little too mild and delicate (read: bland).  I love beef broth whether it's heavy or a clear consommé, but it's gotta have more oooomph than this!

    The beef came on the side, with a little bit of the braised broth.  Six cubes in three different cuts.  All very, very tender and tasty.

    At first glance I thought I was given a couple of beef meatballs, but they're actually beef shank cut into spherical shape.  Yum.

    We also got some almond jelly, which turned out to be so-so.  They decided to use gelatin instead of agar-agar, so the consistency was a little too rubbery.

    Mom finally had a chance to try these noodles, even though she only had a couple of nibbles from dad's and my bowls.  Verdict from mom?  Quality was definitely high, both in terms of the raw materials as well as the execution.  But there was no way that she would willingly pay for the noodles at these prices...

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    Besides spending time with the Parental Units this weekend, I also made time to visit grandma - who just turned 101 a couple of weeks ago.  After hanging out with her for a little - and trying to remind her who I am - it was time for dinner with Last Minute Uncle.  True to his moniker, he made a last minute decision for us to have dinner at a different restaurant than the Taiwanese restaurant he originally had in mind...  Some things never change.

    It's been at least 3 years since I last dined at Tainan Tantsumien Seafood Restaurant (台南担仔麵) with the family.  No, boys and girls... in spite of the Chinese name, this ain't your run-of-the-mill noodle shop.  It's all about seafood here, and you do get some of the freshest and the best.  Not wanting to stick with a boring set menu, Last Minute Uncle went to look at the seafood and picked out what he wanted.

    Sashimi platter (生魚片拼盤) - the lightly torched scallop was nice, as were the great amberjack (間八) and striped jack (縞鰺).  I didn't take the salmon, naturally...

    These clams are called diphos sanguine (西施舌), which were pretty decent.  No surprise to find them stir-fried with spring onions, garlic, Taiwanese basil (九層塔), and chili.

    Baby abalone - steamed with a sweet and spicy sauce on top, mixed with diced spring onions and garlic.

    Steamed leopard coral trout (清蒸七星斑) - commonly referred to as eastern star garoupa (東星斑) in Hong Kong.  Pretty yummy.

    French style prawn (cream baked) (法式焗明蝦) - a huge tiger prawn baked underneath a layer of what Hello Kitty believes to be Miracle Whip... Well, it certainly ain't cheese!  Like my last experience, the prawn was baked for a little too long.  But there was a lot of meat here, even in the head.

    Steamed virgin mud crabs (清蒸處女蟳) - the pièce de résistance tonight, and mom's favorite.  The two crabs were filled with roe, and their consistencies were pretty different.

    A friend asked me how one can tell that these crabs were actually "virgin".  Well, I'm no expert, but after doing some digging on the great-and-reliable resource called the Interweb (I probably should have just asked mom!), I think it comes down to 1) season, 2) hair on the female's apron, and 3) color/consistency of the roe.  Mom thinks it is a little late in the season, but I guess there are always some "late bloomers"?  In terms of hair, well, I wasn't paying attention... and I think the aprons have been removed, anyway...

    But looking at the roe it's obvious that it's soft and yellow, which I believe shows that the female has yet to mate.  If the Interweb is to be believed, the roe turns reddish and hard after mating - eventually forming into individual eggs.  So yeah, I think we were indeed feasting on virgins, and boy, did their flesh taste sweet!

    Stir-fried asparagus with conpoy (干貝炒蘆筍)

    We were served complimentary fruit, which included a couple of pieces of very ripe and sweet papaya.  Finally there was a nice, big piece of flan.  Needless to say I gobbled this up in a heartbeat...

    Totally stuffed after all this fresh seafood, to the point that I didn't even want the signature and namesake tantsumian (担仔麵), but I was happy to have come back here with the family.  Definitely gotta save some room for the noodles next time!

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    The Parental Units wanted to do lunch and asked what I would like to eat.  I hadn't really shown Hello Kitty what real Taiwanese food tastes like on this short trip, so I suggested that we hit Lvsang Canteen (呂桑食堂) for some Yilan (宜蘭) specialties.

    I was tasked with ordering, and as she wasn't familiar with Taiwanese cuisine - and never mind local specialties from Yilan - Hello Kitty seemed a little bewildered by the choices on offer.  So most of it was left up to me...

    Chayote shoots (龍鬚菜) - marinated with dashi (出汁) and topped with bonito flakes.  Clearly Japanese in preparation...

    Steamed chicken (白斬雞) - they've never failed me here when it comes to steamed chicken, so of course we had to order it.  How I love the flavor of Taiwanese chicken!  With a nice layer of chicken stock jelly between the skin and the meat.  Of course, a little sesame oil doesn't hurt, either.

    Sliced pig's liver (粉肝) - ordered this for mom, but the quality of the liver today wasn't up to par.  Instead of being light gray in color and very fluffy in texture, this was more brownish and a little harder.  Mom did explain that this was all down to the liver itself, and nothing to do with the restaurant's execution.

    Deep-fried liver flower (宜蘭肝花) - the updated version of this now uses minced pork instead of liver, mixed in with water chestnuts, spring onions...etc. and wrapped in tofu skin instead of caul fat. Very tasty after deep-frying...

    Yilan gaozha (宜蘭高渣) - this will always be my favorite dish here.  Take the stock that comes from steaming your chicken, mix with corn starch, then deep-fry it.  Pretty much the same as what one finds at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) / Seventh Son (家全七福) / Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) in Hong Kong, but simpler and cheaper.  If you like chicken soup, then deep-fried chicken soup is even better.

    Glutinous rice with sakura shrimp (櫻花蝦米糕) - this is the traditional steamed glutinous rice with dried shrimp, shallots...etc. but with the added sprinkle of deep-fried sakura shrimp.  Yum.

    Deep-fried glutinous rice with dried longan (桂圓長秈糯米糕) - glutinous rice mixed with diced dried longan and muscovado, battered and then deep-fried.

    Actually this was surprisingly not too sweet, with a nice chewy texture inside.

    Pretty stuffed after the rice dishes at the end, but with a satisfying smile on my face.  It's been too long since I was last here...

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  • 08/18/15--00:14: Simple pizza and pasta
  • I was trying to figure out where to grab lunch with my new office neighbor when she suggested CIAK - In the Kitchen.  It's been a while since I was last there, and somehow the place has gotten themselves a little macaron... So we decided to try our luck and showed up without a reservation.  Luckily for us there were still seats available at the counter facing the open kitchen.

    Both of us just wanted a real simple lunch, so we agreed to share a pizza and a bowl of pasta.  Since they allow diners to order 2 different types of pizza on one pie, we were able to have a little more variety.

    Tagliolini carbonara - one of my favorite dishes to order for lunch at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana is the off-menu spaghetti carbonara, since it comes in a viscous sauce made with egg yolk rather than being drenched in runny cream.  I was curious to see how the CIAK version measured up.

    Well, it wasn't the same as what I would get at Otto e Mezzo, but it certainly beats most other versions in town.  The fresh, home made pasta had a nice bite to it, and the sauce was indeed yolk-based, even if it were a little more runny and cheesy than I'd prefer.

    Marinara / Margherita pizza - this was good.  The pizza crust was thin but still strong enough to support the sauce and toppings... without being soaked and going limp.  The anchovies on the marinara were delicious, and the garlic really made the difference.  Yum.

    Simple stuff yet very satisfying.

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  • 08/20/15--08:20: Uncles' Valentine's Day
  • A friend is in town from Taipei, and it's been a while since the three of us got together for some good food and wine.  These days, though, some of my favorite restaurants have become so popular that it's impossible to get a reservation on short notice.  This meant that we had to look for a place towards the higher end of the price range.  While my friend suggested that we go back to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), I thought I should bring the boys to Sato-san's Ta Vie 旅.

    As this was a last-minute reservation, once again both Takano-san and Sato-san were surprised to see me in the dining room.  But I was the one who was more surprised, as I ran into three different sets of friends at the restaurant... While I knew that one of my friends was celebrating his birthday, it seemed the others were having a "date night" since it was "Chinese Valentine's Day" - 七夕.

    A quick glance at the menu tonight showed 3 of the same dishes from my last visit, and thankfully two of them happened to be among my favorites.

    Sweet corn puffed mousse with "aburi" lightly torched botan shrimp in shrimp broth jelly - ah yes.... So glad we started off with this dish again! That fluffy, ethereal, chilled sweet corn mousse... with corn kernels and diced bell peppers at the bottom.  The shrimp broth jelly on top was savory and full of umami as I remembered.  The only surprise was the nearly-raw botan shrimp (牡丹海老), which were cut into much bigger chunks than memory serves.  The flavors were still delicious, but the texture had changed... and not for the better, in my book.

    Our visitor commented that this dish seemed remarkably Chinese... referring to it as "scrambled eggs with prawns (蝦仁炒蛋)".  Come to think of it, both the look and the textures are pretty similar... especially when you consider the sprinkle of diced spring onion on top!

    Stout beer battered Taiwanese bambou and dragon beard, grilled scallop, shitake mushroom paste - this was one the weaker dishes from the last visit, and on this second visit it fared slightly better.  I do love the flavors from the stout batter, and was surprised to find a little bit of ground pepper here, but the Taiwanese bamboo shoots were slightly on the bitter side.  The scallop was perfect, although it needed the shiitake mushroom paste for flavoring.

    Abalone with Japanese eggplant - just like my last visit, Sato-san sent us an extra dish from the kitchen featuring Japanese mizunasu (水ナス) eggplant.  The eggplant was a little sweeter than expected.  The abalone from Nagasaki (長崎県) was perfect, and the preparation very Japanese.  The whole thing was topped with sea grapes (海ぶどう) and a salsa verde made with cucumber and other vegetables, marinated in olive oil.  Yum.

    Flower crab bisque flavoured with aged Shaoxing wine, ravioli stuffed with crab and fresh house made cheese - this was damn good!  Three triangular ravioli, each filled with shredded flower crab meat and cheese.  These were pretty tasty in and of themselves... but they came in a bowl of beautiful flower crab bisque, which was flavored the classic Cantonese way with aged Huadiao (花雕) wine.  Slurp!

    Once again we were served bread made with nukazuke (糠漬け), and used it to soak up the crab bisque.  In the end I couldn't resist the temptation, and lifted the bowl up to my face so I could drink the last few drops.

    Poached oyster in fresh green juice gel, "wasabi, sudachi, green mango, shiso, green apple" - the Hokkaido oyster was hidden at the bottom of the pile, and delivered very strong, briny flavors of the ocean.  These were tempered by the jelly on top, made with green fruit juice and green herbs.  Also on top were granita made from green mangoes and green apples.  Very nice.

    Wagyu "minte" steak, with burnt onion and onsen egg, peated sweet soy sauce - another take of the Japanese sukiyaki (すき焼き), and slightly different from what Sato-san used to do at Tenku Ryugin.  Tonight the thin slices of beef were cooked a little more than what I'm used to seeing at RyuGin, for not quite a "minute" I suppose...

    Just love the egg underneath, as well as the lightly charred onions and chunks of potatoes.  Curiously came with spinach on the side... But the highlight was the sukiyaki sauce.  I was wondering how the sauce was "peated" when Takano-san came out with two bottles to show me...

    The peat came from this peated Japanese whisky, 2015 Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated Cask Strength.  Unfortunately my nose was acting up a little by now, so my sense of smell wasn't as acute as usual... so I didn't quite get the peaty scent.

    Of course the sauce was also made with mirin (味醂), and I was given a small pour to taste.  Now, I don't normally drink mirin... in fact I don't think I've ever really "drunk" it straight, but this was something very different.  It was the most viscous mirin I had ever seen, and much sweeter than your average specimen.  The nose seemed much more fermented, with a lot more depth, and almost a little plastic and smoky.

    Fresh uni and risoni "alla carbonara" with cauliflower - I was so glad this was still on the menu, because it was among my top 2 dishes from last time.  That light, airy, ethereal cauliflower purée was still beautiful.  The orzo still provided a small degree of bounce as it yielded to the teeth.  And of course the sea urchin was nothing short of wonderful.  Definitely a crowd favorite tonight.  A little surprised, though, by the presence of ground pepper in the risoni which added a very slight kick.

    Lemongrass ginger tea - this was a very nice palate cleanser.  Wouldn't mind drinking a lot more of this.

    "Poached ginger ale", peach compote, peach sorbet, new ginger jelly, rice vinegar soda - how do I not love something made with ripe Japanese peaches?  The chunks of peach compôte were really sweet and delicious, and the sorbet was pretty good, too.  The ginger jelly really added a fair bit of kick here, and the soda did add a good amount of fizziness.  Very, very good.

    "Crown" melon soup and jasmine flower blanc-manger - chunks of Japanese musk melon from a group of growers in Shizuoka (静岡県) who branded their product as "Crown melon".  The blanc-manger was very fluffy, or as the Japanese would call it - "ふわふわ".  My poor nose couldn't pick out the jasmine, though...

    Mint and pandan tea - what I missed out having on my last visit... so I had to order it tonight.  Unfortunately my nose wasn't 100%, so it didn't smell as amazing to me as it did last month.  Added some lychee honey from a local bee farm in Hong Kong.

    Poached Japanese plum - Sato-san always serves different petits fours to diners who order tea or coffee, and tonight those of us having the herbal tea got these delicious plums.  So yummy.

    We brought along a couple of bottles and took it easy...

    2001 Kistler Occidental Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth - lots of nice, sweet fruit right off the bat, plenty of cherries, a little bit of wood and a bit of leather.  Just about what I wanted out of a top Kistler pinot.

    1966 Palmer - opened for an hour but not decanted prior to serving. A little ripe both on the nose and the palate, and still has some fruit here.  Rounded and mature on the palate.  A little medicinal, slightly minty and earthy.  Pretty decent condition.

    Another delicious dinner, and three of us left as happy campers.  I hope my other friends enjoyed their dinner, too... since some of them came based on my recommendation!

    I don't claim to know what the Michelin inspectors think or how they do things, but a few of us were discussing after our meals... and we joked that if this place doesn't get two macarons in the next edition, some of us will end up "flipping the table (反枱)"...  I was only half-joking...

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  • 08/21/15--06:26: Diva in the hood
  • After spending 3 years in exile in the other financial hub of Asia, Diva finally managed to escape and moved back to Hong Kong.  Hello Kitty decided to help him celebrate the joyous occasion, so the three of us ended up at Neighborhood for the early seating.

    Yellowfin tuna belly confit "ventresca" - apparently we didn't look at the menu carefully enough and didn't realize this was gonna be more cooked (well, it did say "confit", after all... and not "crudo").  It was very tender and delicious, and the mix of bell peppers, pickled guindilla de Ibarra, piment d'espelette powder and the garnish of lemon zest made for a pretty tasty dish.

    Matsutake mushroom / egg brouille - loved these matsutake (松茸) mushrooms, and naturally they paired well with œufs brouille.  The trout caviar on the side was nice, too.

    Roast lobster / girolle / sweet corn - this was pretty good!  I especially loved the sweet corn.

    Yellow croaker bottarga spaghetti - how do I ever say "no" to bottarga?  The answer is that I can't.  I HAD to order this.  Never had bottarga from yellow croaker, but it sure was tasty!  The thin slices of garlic mixed in didn't hurt, either.  Yup, I could have a bowl of this (or three) all by myself.

    Baked macaroni / truffle beef shank ragu - this was very, very good.  The macaroni became a little hard and chewy after baking, which I really liked.  The truffled beef shank ragu was so, so, so good... Very tender and melt-in-your-mouth.  The quenelle of crème fraîche on top completed the dish.

    Roast pigeon - if ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge serves what I think is the best pigeon in Hong Kong, then this pigeon I had tonight came pretty damn close.  I honestly don't think I've ever had a better pigeon coming out of David Lai's kitchen...

    We told the staff we wanted the pigeon raw, and raw was what we got.  It was a little too much for the Diva, who apparently "eats like a white boy"...

    Angelfish - we didn't think about ordering the daily fish, but while I was chatting with some friends at the bar, David mentioned that these angelfish / butterfly fish (荷包魚) were on offer, and that one doesn't see them everyday.  When David drops a big hint like that, you take his suggestion and order the damn thing.

    The fish was really, really good.  The flesh was incredibly tender, and the flavors from the skin (and the oil underneath) were particularly tasty - although I didn't get the sea urchin flavor that David claims they had.  For this reason a few tongues of sea urchin came with the fish, although I must say I didn't really are for them.  The 荷包魚 was served with a 荷包蛋... sunny-side-up egg... and I asked for extra bread to mop up the yolk.  Loved the piment d'espelette powder on everything.

    Canelés - we were too full for dessert, but enjoyed our canelés.  Apparently these are now made with proper copper molds from a certain ex-blogger... Crunchy on the outside and custardy on the inside.  Parfait!

    2011 Inflorescence La Parcelle Côte de Béchalin - 100% pinot noir.  Yeasty, caramelized, ripe on the palate, with a little bit of acidity to balance it out.


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    After dipping into our first jar of Russian caviar last month, I was curious to try out the other offerings from my Russian supplier.  When I had the idea of bringing a nice tin of premium caviar to Last Minute Uncle as a gift on my trip back home last weekend, I decided to get some for myself, too.  I wanted to do a side-by-side tasting and see what the difference was... besides the price, that is.

    I was due to visit my godson Bear today, and as I know Babu is a big fan of caviar - and had in fact ordered a bunch of it from my Russian supplier - I figured I'd bring the good stuff over along with a bottle of bubbly.  After all, weekend afternoons are the best time to enjoy this!

    Russian malossol oscietra caviar - the control sample, the same type we had last month.  Unfortunately some of the eggs had burst, maybe due to temperature changes during transport.

    Russian golden oscietra caviar - the luxurious harvest, and certainly the most I've ever paid for caviar.  A rare treat that came at about 3 times the price of the regular, low-salt oscietra.

    Right off the bat there seemed to be a world of difference between the two.  The "golden"oscietra was indeed a lighter color, not quite "golden" but definitely greenish brown, more translucent and reflecting more light.  The eggs were noticeably smaller.  They just looked more luxurious.

    The regular oscietra was much as it was last time... less salted, showing more of the smoky flavors.  The membranes were still thicker and tougher, making it harder to pop them by squishing them against the roof of my mouth with my tongue.  Nice creamy flavors once they were popped, though.

    The golden oscietra was a completely different animal.  First of all the membranes were much, much thinner - and in that sense a lot more like most of the sturgeon caviar I had tried.  They were very delicate and easy to pop in the mouth, yielding with little force from my tongue.  The level of salt was much higher, and again this was similar to the other caviar I have had.  But more than just the salt, the flavors were also more complex, with some "fishiness" as well as some green, almost kelp-like flavors.  There was no question which was the finer product.

    We brought along some Japanese milk toast, which we lighted toasted, and spread some unsalted Beurre d'Isigny on top to go along with the caviar.

    Tradition dictates that one washes down sturgeon caviar with Champagne, and as the caviar was much better today, so the bubbly also needed to be upgraded compared to the last session.  But on second thought, maybe I should have popped open a bottle of Cristal to hark back to the days of Imperial Russia...

    1996 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - this has always been a vintage that drank well, even at a young age.  Now almost 20 years old, this tasted a lot more mature than I remembered.  Very well-balanced between the ripeness and the acidity on the palate.  Wonderful.

    A decadent "afternoon tea", for sure, but it was my way of showing Babu and Mrs. Tigger how much I missed them.

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