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

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  • 11/26/15--04:37: Thanksgiving for one
  • It's Thanksgiving and I don't have any plans to do anything special, so after finishing up some work in the office, I decided to head to Yat Lok (一樂食舘) to have some of my favorite roast goose.  No, I'm not a fan of turkey... and I avoid it whenever I can.

    Whole roast goose drumstick (原隻燒鵝脾) - I wanted to make sure I got a drumstick tonight, so I asked for a "whole" drumstick.  The difference between this and the one that comes with noodles or rice is you still get the very top part of the drumstick, so this is quite a bit more expensive.  Delicious as always with that paper-thin crispy skin.

    Rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉) - as I was feeling a little under the weather today, I didn't mind gulping down some of this warm soup... MSG be damned.

    Simple and happy meal, and I was done in less than 20 minutes.

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  • 11/27/15--07:51: Snoopy's birthday
  • We were looking to do a belated bday celebration for Birdie Golf, and asked him to pick the venue.  Much to our surprise, he chose Ta Vie 旅 - my favorite new restaurant of 2015.  So I got in touch with Chef Sato and got ourselves a table.  And having had some advance warning about some of the dishes currently being served, I made sure to tell Sato-san to keep a particular item off my menu...

    Simmered abalone with vegetables salad tossed with wakame seaweed - oh yes, I'll be happy to have the abalone here any day.  The disc abalone (黒鮑) comes from Nagasaki (長崎).  As usual Sato-san scored it in a crisscross pattern, and it was soooo tender.  Tonight it came with a "crispy" salad of different vegetables.  A very good start to our meal.

    Homemade butter - very happy to have this homemade butter again, which is made with French milk.  Very light and airy in terms of texture, and light in terms of flavors, but with a very fragrant finish in the mouth.

    Homemade bread - I don't think I'll ever get tired of this wonderful nukazuke (糠漬け) bread.  So crispy on the outside.

    Takano-san brought us this bottle of olive oil from Shodo Island (小豆島) in Kagawa Prefecture (香川県) as an alternative to butter.  The oil was so light and very fragrant - almost with lemon notes - and with a light sweetness on the palate.

    Pan seared scallop "a la meunière" with crispy wing - while the others at the table enjoyed their cod milt (白子), I was presented with the scallop.  Nicely done as meunière so the acidity helps to perk up the appetite.  Love the ethereal cauliflower mash as always, and the sautéed cauliflower chunks were good, too.

    Whenever someone asks me why, as a "foodie", I don't eat cod or blowfish milt, nowadays my simple response is "I don't swallow fish cum"...

    Onion and chicory gratin soup topped with winter black truffle - I really wasn't expecting French onion soup here, but I gotta say that I really enjoyed this.  Of course the shavings of black truffle on top didn't hurt, either...

    Pan seared oyster and miru clam with mushroom purée - the oyster from Akeshi (明石) seemed barely cooked, and was paired up with the crunchy geoduck (海松貝).  The mushroom sauce was very, very delicious, and it was finished with a sprinkle of Taiwanese wild pepper - which I believe was the 馬告 that my friend Cathy had given to Chef Sato.  The kitchen also generously gave us some white truffle shavings on top.  Yum.

    Wagyu "minute" steak with burnt onion and onsen egg, Japanese whisky sauce - I had the pleasure of enjoying this dish a few months ago.  The Japanese A4 beef from Kyushu was very, very tender... and the marbling didn't seem excessive.  The soft-boiled egg underneath the beef - along with the sauce made with a very special mirin (味醂) and Japanese whisky - meant that we needed something to mop up the plate.  So I asked for more of the nukazuke bread...

    House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - hands down my favorite dish of the evening.  The sea urchin in sea water (海水雲丹) from Yoichi (余市) always delivers that wonderful sweetness.  But tonight the star was the aonori (青海苔)... just so, so, so tasty!  I think all of us would have wanted the chef to triple (or at least double) the portion...

    Lemongrass and ginger tea - always a cold and refreshing palate-cleanser.

    Nashi pear, "Shine" muscat and aloe, Calpis soda foam with fragrance of shiso flowers - a cold and refreshing dessert.  Surprisingly the Shine muscat was rather bland and not nearly as sweet as the ones we've been buying ourselves.  The pear was also somewhat underwhelming in terms of flavor, but perhaps it was simply overpowered by the foam.  And that foam... yes, I love Calpis soda, and this was just perfect.  Lovely acidity - and I normally don't like too much acidity - with that fizzy sensation on the tongue.  Highlighted with the fragrance of perilla (紫蘇) flowers.

    Chestnut mont-blanc with 2008 aged Pu'er tea ice cream - the Mont Blanc came with delicious chestnut purée that wasn't overly sweet, sitting on a piece of meringue.  The ice cream was made with vintage Pu'er tea, and it certainly was something special.

    Herbal tea - I always love this combination of pandan, lemongrass, and mint.  So lovely and elegant.

    Loquat compote - I don't eat loquat (枇杷) often nowadays, although it was one of my childhood favorites.  Nicely done.

    2006 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - very toasty and oaky nose.  Lovely.  Wonderful ripeness and acidity balance here, and so smooth on the palate.

    2006 Kistler Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen - nose was overripe, too sweet and sugary, with too much Chinese licorice (甘草) and marzipan, with some oak here.  Spicy on the finish.  Disappointing.

    2008 Palmer - pretty smoky, a little earthy.  Alcohol was pretty sharp on the nose.  Got a little better with more time in the decanter.


    A very satisfying meal, and there were three more fans of Sato-san's cuisine tonight.  Looking forward to coming back soon.

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    Clockenflap was never something that I was interested in.  In previous years my impression of this music festival was kinda like Lollapalooza - and I went to the very first one - but with smaller and local acts that I didn't really care for.  This year, though, things were a little different.  I got curious and checked the lineup, and immediately saw a couple of bands that I really, really like... So I decided to get myself a ticket for the last day.

    We arrived at the entrance around 5pm, and slowly strolled towards the Harbourflap stage at the far end of the grounds.  All of the acts I wanted to catch were playing on this particular stage, so we found a spot not too far from the stage and waited for the first one.


    It's been a few years since I first saw Nouvelle Vague play in Hong Kong, and I still love their style of covers.  The set list today was:
    • The Cure: A Forest
    • Depeche Mode: Master and Servant
    • Billy Idol: Dancing with Myself
    • Buzzcocks: Ever Fallen in Love
    • XTC: Making Plans for Nigel
    • The Clash: Guns of Brixton
    • New Order: Blue Monday
    • Lords of the New Church: Dance with Me
    • The Cramps: Human Fly
    • The Undertones: Teenage Kicks

    • Tuxedomoon: In a Manner of Speaking
    • Depeche Mode: Just Can't Get Enough
    • Violent Femmes: Blister in the Sun
    • Joy Division: Love Will Tear Us Apart
    I gotta say I really loved the band's performance today.  While the ladies were getting pretty into their act the last time I saw them, I thought I felt a lot more energy today... perhaps because they were performing on a big stage outdoors, as opposed to a more intimate setting last time.  I've always loved the way they dance around while performing, and most of the time these were in-sync and very well rehearsed.  Also loved the way the ladies dressed for the stage.

    After a break of about an hour - during which we skipped the performance of a group called Unsung Heroes (more later) - we were back in front of the stage for Chic featuring Nile Rodgers.  Nile is an incredible musician with a very long history of accomplishments, and as I grew up during the height of the disco era, I know some of Chic's best hits very well since childhood.  I also knew about Nile's collaborations with other musicians, having first heard his name mentioned with Duran Duran back in the mid-80s.  But I didn't know the extent of his reach and influence - until tonight.

    The set list tonight included the following songs, with a few missing because I lost track:
    • Chic: Everybody Dance
    • Chic: Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)
    • Chic: I Want Your Love
    • Diana Ross: I'm Coming Out
    • Diana Ross: Upside Down
    • Sister Sledge: He's the Greatest Dancer
    • Sister Sledge: We Are Family
    • Madonna: Like A Virgin
    • Duran Duran: Notorious
    • Chic: I'll Be There
    • David Bowie: Let's Dance

    • Daft Punk: Get Lucky

    • Chic: Le Freak
    • Chic: Good Times
    During the set Nile had to tell the audience that they weren't a "cover band", for fear that the younger members of the audience wouldn't understand why the band is singing songs famously sung by others.  All the songs were hits, either written, sung, or produced by Nile.  The two vocalists of the band along with Nile - Folani and especially Kim Davis - were great entertainers.

    In the middle of the set, Nile told the story of his cancer diagnosis a few years ago, which led him to embark on a new wave of collaborations... and songs like Get Lucky were a direct result of this move.

    For the last song, Nile brought out the singers from Unsung Heroes, who were a choir made up of Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers separated from their children.  We had missed their short performance earlier, but now they were dancing on stage to Good Times, and (hopefully) having a good time.

    This was a lot of fun, and set us up for the final act of the festival.  This time we didn't leave our spot, as people immediately rushed up towards the stage when the Chic set ended - trying to secure the best vantage point for the biggest act.

    New Order has been one of my favorite bands since college.  In fact, True Faith is just about my favorite song of all time, and never fails to perk me up whenever I hear it.  In all these years I had never seen these guys play live, so you can imagine my excitement.

    But doubts lingered in the back of my mind.  I had bought Lost Sirens, the band's 2013 album, and found it entirely forgettable after a couple of listens.  So I hadn't bothered with checking out any of the tracks on Music Complete, the new album released just a couple of months ago.  I didn't know any of the materials that the band was sure to be promoting tonight.

    And so I felt rather emotion-less and let down for the first couple of songs of the set.  I didn't know them, and found them uninteresting as I heard them for the first time - with the exception of perhaps one song...  The playlist below isn't exactly in chronological order, because I didn't mark down the songs that I didn't immediately recognize.
    • Singularity 
    • Plastic
    • Tutti Fruitti (I think...)
    • The Game (I think...)
    I think the majority of the crowd was also less familiar with the new material, and didn't really get into it until some of the older material came on.
    • Your Silent Face

    • Bizarre Love Triangle
    • True Faith
    • Perfect Kiss
    • Temptation
    For me personally, True Faith was nothing short of anticlimactic.  In fact the whole concert was bitterly disappointing.  Years ago the guy who introduced me to New Order complained about Bernard Sumner's lack of any singing ability, and kinda said that he only sounded OK on some of the records because of post-recording work in the studios.  And I did kinda know that he can't sing, but it became glaringly obvious when you hear the band play live.  Listening to his sucky vocals on my favorite song of all time kinda killed it for me.  I also wasn't the least bit surprised that his stage persona didn't exactly bubble with enthusiasm.

    At the end of the scheduled 90-minute set, Bernard and the band declared "that's all the time we have" and walked off the stage.  They did return a couple of minutes later for an encore, which kicked off with Love Will Tear Us Apart.  This sent the crowd wild and everyone around me was screaming the lyrics to the chorus.  Finally the show ended with Blue Monday, which was probably the only time during the entire set that I really felt happy and kinda getting into the groove.

    In reality, though, my mood was killed by more than just Bernard's sucky vocals.  It had a lot to do with assholes in the audience around me.  Besides the people - Mainlanders and Caucasians alike - who think they can squeeze past us to "find their friends up front", I started to sense something different as soon as New Order started playing.  I may not be the biggest concert goer in town, but I have been to a few in my time... and tonight was the first time I heard chants of "Oi, oi, oi, oi!!!" during a show.  I was left wondering whether I was at a footie match in England and standing among a bunch of hooligans...


    Then at various points during the show we were shoved around by different groups of Brits, who may or may not have been drunk.  Or maybe they were just assholes.  They seemed to love the concept of being in a mosh pit, and when we got pissed off and shoved back, publicly wondered whether some of us have ever been to a rock concert. (Answer: Of course we have.  I've probably jumped higher and shouted louder at concerts than you ever have - and all without being an asshole to anyone else around me.)  The grey hairs on some of these guys apparently belie their true maturity.  I was pretty pissed off about these assholes putting a dent on my ability to enjoy the show, and ultimately it was a downer on the whole experience.

    Let's hope this experience doesn't get repeated...

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  • 11/30/15--07:20: Central in Central
  • I had a pretty busy feeding schedule this past January, going out for 13 big dinners during the month in the days leading up to a gourmet trip to Tokyo - including being out 5 nights in a row during a particular week.  So when I found out about the pop-up dinner at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental with Chef Diego Muñoz from Astrid y Gastón in Lima, I really struggled between wanting to try something totally new and foreign to me, and my strong desire to keep my calorie intake in check.  In the end I passed up the opportunity, and looking back I kinda wish I hadn't.

    So when the announcement came about another pop-up with a Peruvian chef, this time featuring Virgilio Martinez from Central - currently No. 1 on Latin America's 50 Best and No. 4 on World's 50 Best - I didn't hesitate for a moment.  I immediately rounded up a couple of my reliable eating partners, and ultimately ended up with a table of 8.

    As usual, we gathered at the Amber Bar for cocktails and canapés.  Virgilio was on hand to prepare one of the canapés while the rest would come out from the kitchen in rounds.

    Tonight's dishes are taken from two of Central's tasting menus: Mater Elevations, featuring ingredients found at specific altitudes; and Mater Ecosystems, featuring ingredients coming from a specific regional ecosystem within Peru.  One must admit that the concepts are very interesting.

    According to Virgilio, there are 7 people at Central who don't do any cooking, whose jobs are to travel to different parts of Peru - up the mountains, for example - in search of ingredients.  He gives us a couple of statistics to illustrate the biodiversity of his homeland: there are over 4,000 different kinds of potatoes and over 170 different types of corn.  He stresses that they don't do "seasonal cuisine" because of the wide variation in climates across different regions of Peru.  Their cuisine also isn't "local" as they come from all corners of the country, although each dish is contained within a specific ecosystem.

    River scales (180 m): river snails, gamitana, sangre de grado - thin slices of raw tambaqui (gamitana) are served on top of chia crackers.  The orange paste is made with the sap of the sangre de grado tree, which is purported to have medicinal benefits.  Interesting but kinda bland.

    High altitude rainforest (860 m): yacón, smoked duck, zapote, nasturtium - there was supposed to be duck wrapped in the nasturtium leaf together with the yacón, although I couldn't for the life of me taste any... The yacón had a similar texture to yamaimo (山芋) or jicama, and thanks to the nasturtium and other leaves I tasted green flavors that reminded me a little of freshly-ground wasabi, but without the kick.  I'm guessing the dab of yellow coulis is made with zapote.

    Spiders on a rock (-5 m): sargassum, limpet, crab, sea snail - this looked very pretty with what looked like perilla flowers.  The crab and limpet snail were served on a cracker lined with some kind of kelp (which didn't look like sargassum), and topped with some sour cream.  Tasty.

    Corn diversity (120 m): corn, honey, pacae, tumbo passion fruit - this came in essentially three parts.  First there were toasted corn kernels which were crunchy and yummy.  Then there was the "ceviche" of corn, which was kinda sour as I poured it into my mouth.  I wonder if the acidity comes from the tumbo.  Nibbling on the crunchy ring afterwards provided a nice little sweetness for balance.

    Third part were these "tablets" on yet another crisp, topped with corn silk.

    I also tried out two cocktails...

    Chilcano - made with pisco and ginger ale.  Surprisingly sweet, and somehow reminding me of grenadine...

    Pisco sour - funnily enough, this wasn't the least bit sour.  Pretty tasty, actually.

    We then took our seats at the table, and the "main dishes" were served...

    Scallops and black corn: scallops, black corn, sprouts - the raw chunks of scallops came with an acidic sauce - I suppose like a ceviche... There were denser wedges on top made with black corn, as well as a crispy wafer on top.  Garnished with a few sorrel leaves on the side.  Pretty good.

    2012 Ulrich Langguth Riesling '3 Terraces' Trocken - mineral and toasty on the nose.  Full-bodied, ripe on the palate and dry on the finish.

    Marine soil (-20 m): razor clams, sweet cucumber, lime - certainly one of the highlights of the evening for a few of us.  One can taste the sweetness of the razor clams with just a hint of brine, which again came with an acidic sauce - this time made with lime.  The chunks of clam were enveloped in a "shell" made of thin slices of honeydew melon.  Very yum.

    2010 Tement Gelber Muskateller Steirische Klassik - completely muscat grape... pretty ripe and sweet.  Love it.  Very well paired with the dish.

    Amazonia colors (400 m): doncella, bahuaja nut, pijuayo, huito - originally meant to be made with doncella, but there were issues with importing the fish, so I was told that French sea bass was used... and dyed red with airampo seeds.  Served raw and slightly chewy, this came with a green sauce made with a mixture of herbs, a purple sauce made with huito, and some garlic mash.  On the left side you've got foam made with bahuaja nut, topped with a crispy lattice made with peach palm (pijuayo).

    2011 Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault -a little oaky, ripe on the nose, and also ripe mid-palate with a dry finish.

    Valley between Andes (2190 m): avocado, tree tomato, kiwicha - I'm usually not a fan of avocado, but I didn't mind having this warm dish made with them.  The acidic sauce was jus made with tomatillo and shrimp.  The thin wafers were made with seaweed, and there was a generous sprinkle of kiwicha.  I really liked the flavors and texture of the kiwicha.

    2009 Aristos Baron d'A - very fruity and sweet, jammy, fragrant and woody.  A little alcoholic on the nose.  Still kinda tannic here but there's enough acidity for balance.

    Low Andes mountains (1800 m): quinoa, veal, airampo - apparently the dish was inspired by the colors that people paint themselves with.  The cubes of veal were honestly too well-done and therefore a little on the dry side for my taste, so it was best taken with the milk infusion.  The cows eat the quinoa leaves, so Virgilio dyed some of the quinoa green with the leaves.

    The milk was infused with herbs which were collected from an altitude of more than 4,000 meters, and left for at least an hour to deliver a slightly nutty flavor.  There was also a piece of dried milk crisp along with some amaranth.

    The Great One said that this was the most delicious quinoa she's ever had.  I would have to agree with her.

    2011 Château des Fines Roches Rouge - very fruity with nice leather notes.

    Amazonian rainforest (650 m): rose apple, pitahaya, lemon grass, sweet pepper - just looking at this dessert makes me happy... All the bright red (from pomarosa) and yellow hues just perk me up.  And the sweet (but not too sweet) flavors were really refreshing.

    2011 Joh.Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese - classic nose of petrol and plastic.  Surprisingly not too sweet on the palate.

    Green highlands (1050 m): lùcuma, cacao, chaco clay - we've got blobs of chocolate at the bottom (which honestly looks either like mud, or worse, a little like poo...), along with some wafers made with lùcuma, and topped with shavings of white chocolate that's been mixed with edible chaco clay.  Pretty good, too.

    Demonio de los Andes Pisco - some tropical and banana notes reminiscent of some sake.

    Pisco sour jelly with lemongrass - pretty tasty.  I got a dirty look from Hello Kitty when I played around with one by squeezing it like a little silicone ball...

    Cacao with herbs, tubers, and wild potatoes

    This was undoubtedly one of the most interesting meals I've had this year.  Most of the ingredients were completely foreign to me, and as someone else wrote about his meal at Central, I had to look up the majority of the ingredients since I'd never even heard of them.  I also like the entire philosophy behind the way dishes are constructed, and this was a real revelation for me.

    However, as I reflected on the meal later, I could just as easily level the same type of criticism I used for my meal at Noma Tokyo: most of the dishes were cold (only two out of seven dishes were served above room temperature), and there was plenty of acidity in my food (three of the seven dishes had very noticeable acidity).  So I was a little torn about how much I really enjoyed the taste of the food.  In the end, though, I was still a happy camper for having had my eyes opened.

    I don't think I'll make a trek all the way to Lima just to dine at Central any time soon, but maybe it's time to plan that long-awaited trip to Machu Picchu... and drop in to visit Virgilio along the way...

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  • 12/02/15--22:43: When in doubt, pasta
  • Another year's gone by, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker has very kindly invited me to lunch again.  As usual I left the choice of restaurant up to them, and they've decided to take me back to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.

    I debated for a few minutes about whether I wanted to order a single bowl of pasta I love, or take the set lunch on offer.  The last time I came here and took the set lunch, I was distinctly unimpressed by my amberjack.  So I took the set lunch but chose the pasta option, since pasta is always a safe choice here.

    Marinated scallop, fresh mix tomato salad, fresh herbs - pretty simple and decent.  Love the different types of tomatoes.  Nice and clean flavors.

    Homemade tagliatelle, osso buco ragout, porcini mushroom - I was a little surprised by the osso buco ragout, as the meat came in nice and uniform cubes instead of being shredded.  Then again, this IS a restaurant with 3 stars... so I suppose things needed to be a tad more refined here.  Anyway, it's hard to find fault with the pasta here... from the homemade noodles themselves to the delicious sauces.  The porcini don't hurt, either...

    Once again I decided to pass on dessert, and just nibbled on a little piece of biscotti.

    Yeah, I'll just keep coming back for their pasta... especially since they took my favorite lamb chops off the menu.  Boo...

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    It's been over a year since I last met up with a few of my friends, and we finally got our act together to meet up for lunch.  No surprise that the task of picking a restaurant fell on my shoulders... and after a couple of rounds of back-and-forth - during which we established that *I* was not the picky eater - we ended up at Yè Shanghai (夜上海) in the Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel.

    The bunch of us used to frequent the Yè Shanghai in Pacific Place all those years ago.  We stopped going after they starting putting on entertainment at night, having some woman come on after 9pm to sing nostalgic, old-school Chinese songs.  Well... we didn't appreciate that and would always try to leave the restaurant before 9pm... Eventually we simply stopped going.

    So today was my first return to Yé Shanghai in more than half a decade.  In fact, I had never been to this particular branch of the restaurant - which, curiously, has been awarded a Michelin star for the last few years.  I had never had to urge to come, but the location kinda fit our selection criteria today... so here we are.


    As soon as we sat down, the staff brought over a little stool for Hello Kitty to rest her handbag.  It was actually a miniature of the chairs we were sitting on, and just looked incredibly cute.  Brownies points right from the start.

    We decided to order a bunch of Shanghainese dian xin (點心) items, plus a few extra dishes that we liked.  Rikachu was initially worried that we had ordered too much food, but as it turned out, it was just about right...

    Tea leaf smoked egg (燻蛋) - the smoky flavors were there, but the egg white was a little overcooked.

    Minced bean curd with Shanghainese wild vegetables (拌馬蘭頭) - this was not bad.  I've always been partial to Indian aster (馬蘭頭) for its particular fragrance... something I picked up from mom.

    Pork dumpling in chili sauce (紅油抄手) - there were only 5 of these, so I guess I was the one getting short-changed... and didn't get to have one.

    Noodles with spring onions and soy (蔥油開洋拌麵) - when this arrived, I started at it in utter amazement and said "WHAT THE FUCK..." First of all, this came in a regular-sized rice bowl... which is waaaay too small of a vessel to serve noodles in.  Then they decided to only fill up HALF of this small bowl with noodles.  And they have the gall to charge HKD 50 for this.  To add insult to injury, they didn't even bother to turn the spring onions into chiffonade, and also didn't bother to wilt and char them... when I could go to any branch of Crystal Jade La Mian Xiaolongbao (翡翠拉麵小籠包) and gotten a more delicious bowl that is at least 3 times the size...   I think calling it "highway robbery" would be an understatement!

    When we started digging into this bowl of noodles, we were jokingly rationing it strand by strand, for fear that some of us wouldn't be able to get any...

    Sautéed minced chicken with pine nuts served with sesame pastry pockets (崧子雞米配叉子燒餅) - an old favorite of the gang.  Not as delicious as it used to be, but still pretty decent.  I tried not to overstuff the pockets...


    Crispy turnip cake (蘿蔔絲酥餅) - well... not exactly a "cake" but more like a puff.  The strands of turnip weren't as tasty as they could be.

    "Xiao long bao" steamed pork dumpling (鮮肉小籠包) - these were pretty decent.  The wrappers were thin enough, but strong enough not to tear when we pick them up.  The pork stuffing was pretty decent and juicy.

    Spring onion pancake (蔥油餅) - while I prefer the flat version of these pancakes, these were just OK.  The problem here is that they've been made into small and dainty lumps, which means the ratio of dough to spring onion was wrong... and there wasn't enough spring onion stuffed inside.

    Baked "huang qiao" cake (黃橋燒餅) - 蟹殼黃 has been a childhood favorite of mine, so I'll always order this when I see it.  I probably shouldn't have today.  When the dish came, I once again involuntarily blurted out the words "WTF"... While I appreciate that these are handmade and variations are the norm, I had a hard time accepting the fact that one of these is at least 20% smaller than the others.  Not something that should happen at a place with Michelin stars. (Have they not heard about the quality control at Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)?!)  In any case the filling wasn't all that tasty.

    Camphor tea leaf smoked duck (樟茶鴨) - we took half a duck for Rikachu.  This was pretty decent, although I was expecting the flavors to be a little stronger.

    Sautéed pea sprouts with fresh water crabmeat (蟹份豆苗) - it's hairy crab (大閘蟹) season, so I felt obliged to order something with crab roe.  The pea sprouts are in season so they're pretty tasty, and the topping of crab roe with crab meat was pretty good, too.

    BTW this cost HKD 300, and I'll take a plate of this over 6 bowls of that ridiculous noodle any day...

    Fried meringue filled with banana and red bean paste (香蕉高力豆沙) - these were OK.

    Honestly, this was a pretty average meal.  Maybe we didn't order some of the restaurants signature or high-end dishes, but I felt what we ordered were pretty classic and should have been well-executed.  There were no "wow"s today, and more often than not a dish fell a little short.  Michelin star my ass...

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  • 12/06/15--16:12: Not your usual Thai
  • I had turned down an invitation to join a lunch featuring a guest chef from a 3-star restaurant, and was gonna take it pretty easy for lunch today.  So I was a little taken aback when Hello Kitty suggested that we check out Issaya Siamese Club.  The Hong Kong branch of the Thai fine dining restaurant - currently at No. 39 of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants - has been on my hit list for a little while, so I was only too happy to oblige.

    We were hit with the delicious smell coming from the open kitchen as soon as the doors of the elevators opened, and I eagerly flipped through the menu to look for dishes to try.  In the end we decided to pick a few starters followed by some desserts.  We were, after all, trying to keep things light...

    Kradook moo aob sauce : Spice rubbed pork baby back ribs glazed with Issaya house-blended chili paste - well, I wasn't expecting an appetizer to be this big... but I wasn't gonna complain.  These baby back ribs were sooo tender the meat really did fall off the bone.  There was a ton of the chili paste, and it was a little too salty for my taste.  There was tamarind and kaffir lime in the paste, giving a slight tangy flavor followed by a hint of a kick from the chili.  A good way to start our lunch.

    Yum hua plee : Banana blossom and heart of palm salad, crispy shallots and roasted peanuts in a chili jam dressing - banana flower salad is a pretty famous Thai dish, and I was curious to see how it would be done here.  The presentation was certainly very pretty.  I could taste the banana flower as well as chunks and flakes of the heart of palm.  There was also the distinct flavors of coconut, which I thought came from the desiccated coconut.  The crispy shallots on top were nice and crunchy.  Overall there was a good mix of textures and flavors.

    Kanom burng : Crispy rice pancake stuffed with pulled turmeric chicken, bean sprouts and coconut - these looked like tacos to us.  The shells carried pulled chicken flavored with turmeric, plus bean sprouts, chives, and strands of dried coconut.  Pretty tasty without the sweet chili sauce on the side.  Hello Kitty said that this reminded her of Singapore fried noodles (星洲炒米粉), and I could definitely see that.  Very delicious and enjoyable.

    Kluay-kaek : Grilled banana éclair - this was supposed to be the restaurant's take on the banana fritters found as street food.

    Inside the sesame-encrusted crispy shell was banana-flavored cream.  This was pretty good.  The coconut ice cream on the side was pretty tasty, as well the sesame tuile.

    Kanom dok mali : Jasmine flower panna cotta served with jasmine rice ice cream and jasmine rice tuile - the panna cotta delivered the intense fragrance of jasmine flowers, and my eyes lit up immediately.  I love the clean and refreshing fragrance of jasmine, so I happily gobbled up the panna cotta.  The little dollops of ice cream were pretty interesting, too, as they contained grains of jasmine rice inside.

    We had just the right amount of food for a lazy Sunday lunch, and both of us were surprised by the creativity of the menu as well as the flavors.  I've been looking for a place that serves up Thai food beyond the usual curries and grilled chicken that we seem to always end up with, and it looks like I've found just the place.  Now I'll need to come back and do those tasting menus...

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  • 12/06/15--05:08: Sunday School
  • The Tiggers are big fans of The Man in the White T-Shirt, and Babu has been waiting for me to take her to Fish School.  Her fondest memories from On Lot 10 - besides those giant steamed artichokes - were the fish that we always got.  So when she finally got the chance to try the place out tonight, expectations were high.

    I had pinged The Man in the White T-Shirt ahead of time, and asked him to "save us some good stuff".  After all, there's gotta be some benefits to knowing the chef... right?  I asked the staff upon arrival, and sure enough, two dishes had been reserved for us.

    Salted garoupa / clams / potato brandade - one of my go-to dishes here.  I love the texture and bite of the chunks of salted garoupa, and the potato brandade works so well with it.  Of course the crispy, deep-fried garoupa skin is simply addictive...

    Marinated raw crab / sea urchin / oyster / rice - I'm not a fan, but the Shanghainese women can never resist something like a drunken crab, so we took the dish.  I didn't mix the contents of the crab shell into the glutinous rice, but served it up like a topping.  Not bad, and the ladies seemed happy with it, but no "wow" for me.

    Grilled water bamboo / cashew praline / chestnut / apple - loved this from last time so I ordered it again, especially when I have fellow Shanghainese with me.  Unfortunately tonight the praline sauce was too rich and overpowering, and kinda covered up the natural sweetness of the water bamboo somewhat.

    Charred cabbage / raw scallop / sea urchin - the Chinese cabbage was surprisingly a little bitter.  The slices of raw scallop and the raw sea urchin were nice, but the most interesting part of the dish were the crispy wafers made from purple cabbage.

    The first special dish tonight was this knifejaw.  Unfortunately, none of us liked the fish.  Whether it was due to the freshness of the fish, or the natural flavors of the fish itself, the lemon butter sauce simply didn't work here.  I like oily fish with strong flavors, but even I found myself losing interest after a couple of bites.  The saving grace of the dish?  These "potatoes" made from potato mash and encased with chunks of Cantonese sausage (臘腸).

    Steamed flower crab / sea urchin / cauliflower / white truffle - after the fish disaster, the following dish was practically a life-saver.  The shell of the flower crab was stuffed full of goodies... First there was plenty of fresh and sweet crab meat - including two whole crab claws without their shells.  Mrs. Tigger announced how satisfying it was to feast on a whole claw.  Sea urchin and crab go well together, so this was a natural combination.  I'm a big cauliflower fan, but I didn't think the crunchy chunks here delivered the right texture... and the cauliflower may be better after a bit of stir-frying so that the sweetness comes through.  Nevertheless, this made happy campers out of the four of us... especially with the white truffle shavings on top!

    Lemon marigold sorbet / apple / roselle - the staff knows I've had this before, and seemed excited to tell me that they switched out one of the ingredients.  Maybe it was a miscommunication with the kitchen, but those chunks weren't "pineapples"... but green apples.  Anyway, still refreshing and nice.
    Pumpkin ice cream / persimmon / melon - Babu loves persimmon, so I made sure we got this dessert for her.

    Well, this wasn't quite the introduction I had hoped for... but there were certainly highlights tonight.  I think we each wanted the steamed flower crab for ourselves, without sharing with anyone else.  I think if we could arrange for a simple dinner with just one starter and one crab for each of us, we probably wouldn't even need anything else... and life would be pretty damn good!

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    It's been just about 6 months since my friends and I experienced some disastrous service at (my formerly beloved) Caprice, and I had pretty much written the place off until who-knows-when.  None of my regular crew were going back any time soon, so it ceased to be on my list of dining choices.

    But I got a ping from The Man in the White T-Shirt last week, asking me whether I'd wanna go to Caprice to have lièvre à la royale.  I have a special place in my heart for this dish, and we had shared a spectacular version of it at Amberlast year.  So the three of us showed up for lunch today to see what the kitchen can do.

    When I first sat down and looked around the room, at first I was amazed that I did not see a single familiar face.  Thankfully that changed when Timothy came over to greet me... and soon Sebastien Alleno - as thin as always - also came by.  A little bit of that warm and fuzzy feeling came back.

    Sebastien was kind enough to offer us some Champagne to start, and poured us some of my favorite Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru.  This bottle was disgorged in July 2015 after 48 months on lees.  Nice and crisp on the palate, still very young and vibrant, and a little yeasty.  A little on the lean side at first, but the finish displayed more ripeness with a little time.  After the temperature warmed up more, and after mouthfuls of oyster and caviar, this became much more full-bodied.  Delicious.

    L'huître Gillardeau, les coquillages - poached Gillardeau oyster on a bed of oyster and shellfish tartare, with a layer of sea water jelly and Kristal caviar.  A beautiful dish to start our lunch with.  Gillardeau is undoubtedly my favorite oyster, and the sea water jelly complemented out its flavors perfectly.  The Granny Smith apple - in julienne as well as in diced form mixed into the tartare - added the right amount of sweetness and a hint of acidity, together with the crème fraîche.  All the different ingredients just seemed to come together harmoniously in one mouthful.

    L'oursin, le cœur de saumon fumé d'ecosse - a layer of smoked Scottish salmon, plus a layer of fennel jelly with sea urchin, topped with a thick layer of fennel mousse.  Garnished with sea urchin, caviar, croûtons, and crème fraîche with a few sprigs of dill.

    Almost ethereal on its own, but even more satisfying on blinis.  While not exactly Café Anglais'Blinis Demidoff from Babette's Feast, I'm sure this was no less enjoyable.  I simply shoved the whole blini into my mouth... and somehow, a smile just appeared on my face.

    This soup came with chestnut purée, raw and cooked chestnuts, quenelles of pheasant, foie gras cubes, and black truffle.  Love the soft, truffled quenelles, and of course the chestnuts whose sweetness helped temper the slightly-heavily seasoned soup.

    I was getting a little full, and was hoping that the next course would be our main event but, alas, it was not to be...

    In the middle of the bowl was a custard made with pike perch, monkfish, and egg which had been pan-fried (with a very thin layer of bread?) until crispy on one side.  The accompanying onion consommé was made with Château-Chalon.  Garnished with some sautéed mushrooms.

    Then these beautiful white truffles from Alba magically appeared...

    It's no surprise the dish with white truffle on top smelled heavenly.  But even without the truffles, the alluring fragrance of vin jaune in the consommé came through.  The consommé itself tasted simultaneously sweet, acidic, and a little alcoholic.  As for the custard?  Silky and fluffy, but ever-so-slightly crispy on one side.  Just gorgeous.

    Enfin!  Il est arrivé!  La pièce de résistance!

    Lièvre à la royale - this was what we came for, but I didn't have much room in my stomach anymore... And this, of course, would be the heaviest dish of all.  It came with the classic sauce that gleamed in the sunlight - made with hare blood, pork blood, offal, Sherry, and Cognac.  Apparently a Thermomix was involved...  Sooo rich.  So heavy...

    2007 François Villard Saint Joseph Reflet - served chilled so it's more refreshing.  Nice acidity here with sharp precision.  A little smoke, a little mineral and metallic.  A great wine to go with a heavy, gamey dish selected by Sebastien.

    The hare was wrapped in caul fat, and stuffed with a block of foie gras surrounded by a ring of blended hare offal and black truffles.  Classic textures and flavors.  The chefs said that they made the roll shorter in diameter and cut thicker slices to make the experience more satisfying.
    Tagliolini with black truffle - this was a "side dish" to the heavy main course, and... surprise, surprise... it was actually heavier than the main course!  I don't think I've ever had a pasta course that used more rich cream and butter... this was bordering on the ridiculous.  So rich, in fact, that it almost put me over the edge.  The only reason I persevered and ate all of the pasta?  All those little bits of black truffle in the sauce, and there was a lot of it.  Oh and those shavings of black truffles didn't hurt, either...  The fragrance from the truffles was just incredible.

    I knew the kitchen wouldn't let us off so easily, given that they've recently gotten themselves a brand new pastry chef.  Sure enough, Chef Nicolas Lambert delivered three deserts to our table.

    Baba au rhum, mandarine Corse - the baba is soaked in mandarin juice and vanilla, then it's hollowed and stuffed with mandarin segments, Corsican mandarin sorbet, and topped with chestnut cream with mandarin tuiles.  I love citrusy desserts because they're so refreshing, and this was no exception.  The chestnut cream was so light that it went perfectly with the mandarin.

    Le chocolat Tanariva - chocolate meringue at the bottom with white truffle ice cream, Tanariva chantilly, and white truffle cream.  Plus white truffle shavings, of course!  What's not to like?!

    La tarte au choclat - ganache made from Macaé chocolate sandwiched between two layers of chocolate feuillantine, with chantilly made from Guanaja (dark chocolate) and Tanariva (milk chocolate), and cocoa tuiles on top.  A chocolate lover's dream.

    Mignardises came, and yes, we finished these, too...  We've got cream puffs filled with confit pear and cream, chocolates with vanilla ganache, and citrus macarons with lemon, lime, and orange ganache.  The macarons even look like oranges.  Cute.

    Even though we started to complain about having too much food when the pike custard arrived, we nevertheless managed to power through and took down each and every subsequent dish.  It's amazing how much one's stomach is able to expand...

    This was a fantastic meal.  In my two previous visits after Chef Fabrice Vullin's arrival, I had been impressed by the quality level of his cuisine.  Today the kitchen took it up to another level, and we gave our compliments to Chef Fabrice and Sous Chef Jonas Noël.  As for the desserts, I do agree with what The Man in the White T-Shirt said: in all these years, the desserts at Caprice had never looked as pretty as they do now.

    (Un)fortunately for me, it seems there is now another chef in town besides Uwe Opocensky who has tried to kill me with too much food...

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    I'm back home in Taipei for a few days, spending time with the parental units since I won't be with them this Christmas.  But I also haven't seen some of my friends from Taipei for a while, so I decided to meet up with a few tonight just after we landed.

    The restaurant scene in Taipei has had a few relatively exciting "imports" over the last two years, and one of them is Family Li Imperial Cuisine (厲家菜), whose original restaurant in Beijing had been voted No. 46 on the 2014 list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  Not having been to the original, I figured I'd give the branch a try while I'm in Taipei.  After all, it's been open for more than a year, and they should have been able to work out all the kinks by now.

    When we arrived for our 7:30 dinner, the restaurant was practically empty.  We were one of two or three tables in the main dining room, although I believe there were guests in some of the private rooms.  More than a year after opening, it seems business ain't so good for them...

    Only set menus are available here, with food delivered in single portions, and I decided to take the cheapest one available - interestingly named Lily of the Valley (鈴蘭).  The more expensive options all have either shark's fin, abalone, or both.  Since I don't eat shark's fin, and I wasn't about to ask my friends to splurge for a restaurant none of us have ever tried before, the cheapest option seemed the most rational choice.

    A few plates of candied walnuts greet us, surprisingly without any sesame seeds.

    Our meal begins with 10 different starters - a few of which are literally bite-sized.

    Shredded duck meat with cabbages (涼拌火鴨絲) - the shreds of smoked duck meat, though fine, were able to deliver enough flavor and fragrance.  The shredded cabbage helped make this into a light and refreshing first bite.

    Mashed green soy beans with minced scallops (翡翠豆腐) - I thought this was kinda interesting in terms of flavor, and definitely tasted the seafood.  Hello Kitty found the taste a little weird, and wondered if the scallops were fresh.

    Beijing smoked pork (北京燻肉) - a very thin slice of flavorful pork, served on top of a thin wafer of crispy fried dough.

    Deep fried spring roll (炸春捲) - the tiny spring roll was OK, but the thin sliver of yuzu (柚子) rind on top of the pickled radish made things a little more interesting.

    Vegetarian’s special (羅漢齋) - an interesting version with lotus root, lily bulb, walnut, black wood ear fungus, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu skin.

    Boiled chicken with spicy sauce (椒麻雞) - the local free-range chicken was pretty tender and tasty, even without the spicy chili sauce on top.

    Mixed vegetables with mushroom and bamboo shoots (什錦菜) - another cold and refreshing bite with finely shredded vegetables.  Not as good as mom's version, of course...

    Shredded pheasant with rice vermicelli in sesame dressing (野雞絲拌粉皮) - this had obviously been sitting in the bowl for a while, so the noodles (not exactly "vermicelli") all stuck together and hardened a little.  Taste-wise this was OK, although I did wonder whether this really was "pheasant"...

    Stewed pork rib in sweet and sour sauce (糖醋排骨) - the parts surrounding the bone were pretty tender thanks to the fat, but the lean meat was slightly on the dry and tough side.

    Deep fried beef with spicy sauce (麻辣牛肉) - interesting with that slightly spicy kick.  Served with thin shreds of spring onion whites.

    Sour plum juice (酸梅湯) was served as a palate-cleanser before the hot dishes arrive.  I loved the strong flavors here.

    Deep fried scallops (青松鮮貝) - curious to see scallops battered and fried, especially when the batter was a little soft - perhaps from sitting around a little too long.  Cooked with a little Shaoxing wine (紹興酒).  This was OK, but Hello Kitty thought that the scallops could have been a little more fresh.  The leaves of Shanghainese cabbage (青江菜) were shredded then deep-fried.

    Braised sea cucumber with scallion oil sauce (蔥燒刺參) - FAIL.  The sea cucumbers were completely tasteless, which meant they didn't bother braising them in any kind of sauce for a meaningful amount of time.  The accompanying sauce had plenty of flavor, and plenty of collagen or something else that made our lips stick together... but whatever it was, it sure didn't come from the sea cucumber!

    Stir fried lobster with chicken stock (炸烹龍蝦) - while the lobster was pretty tasty, it would have been better without the light coat of batter.

    Deep fried fish with soya oil (焌油鮮魚) - the painted coral trout (紅石斑) was lightly battered and deep-fried.  This was pretty good.

    One has a choice of noodles or rice, so Hello Kitty and I each took one so we could taste both.

    Stir fried eggplants with minced pork and shrimps, served with rice (小炒茄子配米飯) - this was very, very good.  The eggplant and the minced pork and dried shrimp had plenty of flavor thanks to being well seasoned, and one could easily devour the accompanying bowl of steamed rice.  Mom's version would probably still have a slight edge, but this was pretty close.

    Handmade noodle with minced pork and Chinese pickled vegetable (肉末榨菜配手工麵條) - Hello Kitty remarked that this tasted a little like the steamed pork patty with preserved leafy mustard (梅菜蒸肉餅) found in Cantonese cuisine, and I kinda have to agree.  The noodles were a little mushy thanks to sitting around in the bowl of broth a little too long.  The eggplant with rice is a far better choice.

    Steamed chicken soup with minced prawns (冬瓜蝦丸子湯) - nice and clear soup with balls of winter gourd, and little balls made with minced prawns.

    The dessert came in four parts:

    Fresh milk yogurt (奶酪) - supposedly made with Chinese baijiu (白酒), although I didn't taste any.

    Sweetened Chinese yam (蜜汁山藥) - not bad.

    Seasonal fruits (水果)

    Fried egg custard (三不沾) - the Chinese name literally translates as "three non-sticks", which is to stay that this blob of glutinous custard doesn't stick to one's teeth, nor the plate, nor the wok it was fried in.  Not bad.

    1997 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese-trocken - nose was a little pungent, with polyurethane notes.  Palate definitely on the dry side.

    For the not-inexpensive amount of money we were paying, we were certainly fed enough food - I was pretty stuffed at the end.  Most of the food turned out to be reasonably tasty, so there wasn't much to complain about on that front.  However, there are a couple of points to think about:

    Hello Kitty noticed that the restaurant was falling short on detail, especially for a restaurant charging this kind of money.  There were a couple of instances where we found holes in our veggies.  While one can argue that this shows the veggies are "organic" since insects are eating them, I do agree that this kind of thing would never be allowed to happen at a high-end Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong.

    My bowl of sea cucumber also came with the sauce smudged on the side of the bowl, and once again this is a detail that would not be overlooked at a nice establishment in Hong Kong.  After all, it doesn't take much to take a towel and wipe it clean.  Another service detail was that when one of the guests left the table, the server thought nothing of removing the cloche covering the plate.  It seemed obvious that common sense would dictate that the cloche not be removed lest the food turned cold... but that's just lack of training...

    We discussed about the lack of customers and whether local Taiwanese would take to the restaurant.  First of all, nobody I know has been here.  Few had even heard of the place.  While pricing isn't outrageous, it isn't exactly cheap, either... And for a lot of Chinese people - especially in Taiwan - the mindset is that they are happy to pay for premium ingredients, but are reluctant to pay for creativity, skill, and execution of the chef/kitchen.  So... let's see whether this place will survive another year.

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    It was time to feed Hello Kitty again, and when I asked her where she wanted to go, not surprisingly the response was Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐).  I guess there's something to be said about going to the "original"... so we headed to the original shop and duly lined up with all the tourists.  This being a weekday and all, and on account of us not gettin' there too late, we ended up lining outside for less than 15 minutes.

    We decided to take it easy and not over order, but of course the focus was squarely on the xiaolongbaos (小籠包) that the place is famous for.

    We took a small appetizer, which was a mix of bean sprouts, dried bean curd, kelp, glass vermicelli.  Pretty tasty.

    Xiaolongbao with crab roe (蟹粉小籠包) - just gotta do this when you're here... and they make a little crab out of dough to mark the steamer.

    Gotta say... still love that filling with rich and yummy crab roe.  Slurp!

    Xiaolongbao with black truffle (松露小籠包) - just had to do this...

    ...even though the ones in Hong Kong are better since - according to memory - they use shavings instead of grounds.  Still very fragrant, though.

    Xiaolongbao with shrimp and loofah (絲瓜蝦仁小籠包) - always one of my favorites.  I love the green taste of loofah, and it works well with the shrimp.  Much cleaner flavors after the crab roe and black truffle.

    Chicken soup in a pot (元盅雞湯) - simple but good.

    I still love coming to Din Tai Fung.  The thin wrappers of the dumplings are still unbeatable, and I do like coming back to the original restaurant, so I don't mind fighting with the tourists once in a while.  After all, I'm hanging with a tourist myself today...

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    Another day, another feeding session for Hello Kitty.  Today she requested for beef noodles, and after a quick discussion, we jumped into a cab and headed for one of my old standbys.  Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵) was within walking distance from office while I was working in Taipei, and it just happens to be one of the more popular ones in town.  After lining up for a pretty short while, we were seated in the largest (and the only air-conditioned) shop.

    Braised beef tripe (切牛肚) - delicious flavors after braising, simply dressed with a little drizzle of sesame oil and spring onions.  Always love the texture, too.

    Tofu puffs (花干) - honestly, I was never very impressed with this supposed famous item, and haven't ordered it after the first time.  I hesitated but ordered it so that Hello Kitty could try... and she wasn't impressed, either...

    Noodles with beef and beef tendon (半筋半肉麵) - although I really love braised beef noodles, with the intensely rich soup, the clear broth here also makes me happy with the Chinese herbs thrown in - giving off a unique fragrance.  The thick slices of beef shank are very tender, and so are the chunks of beef tendon.  As for the thick noodles themselves, there's enough bite here, too.

    In all my previous visits I have never ordered the big bowl, but I did for some reason today.  Definitely too big for me, and I was pretty stuffed afterwards... especially after drinking most of the delicious soup.  Of course there was some MSG added to the soup, but it wasn't too bad... and rinsing my tongue with some soda did help a little.

    A pretty satisfying meal for the both of us.

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    One of the mission I set for myself on this trip home was to do my annual home cooked dinner with the parental units.  After all, I didn't get to fly home for dad's birthday, and once again we're in white truffle season, so I made sure to bring one of those gems home for mom.

    I did a reasonable job last year making risotto according to g4gary's recipe, so I figured there was no need to tamper with success and follow another recipe.  Instead of using rehydrated porcini, I rehydrated some morels that My Favorite Cousin gave me, and added some maitake (舞茸) and nameko (滑子) to the mix.  I even managed to use up some of the 1997 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese-trocken leftover from dinner two nights ago...

    But of course we have to have white truffle... and I picked out a pretty fragrant one weighing around 90g - roughly the same weight as what I took home last year.

    So yeah... white truffle shaved on top of mushroom risotto is pretty damn good...  My only regret is that I was too lazy and cut the onions to bigger chunks compared to last year.

    Mom loves lamb, so we decided to cook a couple of racks of lamb.  This isn't as easy as it seems when you're in Taipei, as shopping for ingredients used in Western cooking can be a challenge in this city.  But we managed to get the lamb rack we needed, and got home early enough to defrost them.

    It's been a long, long time since I last used my SousVide Supreme... and I've been the butt of a few jokes about taking an hour to cook a few soft-boiled eggs with it.  Today Hello Kitty made good use out of it - first defrosting the lamb, then slow-cooking it over 2 hours.

    The result was pretty good.  The lamb was very, very tender.  It has also absorbed a lot of the rosemary, salt, and pepper rub sealed into the vacuum pouch.  Browning it in the pan before resting and serving delivered that nice crust and smoky fragrance.  Oh yeah, we shaved some white truffle over the lamb, too.

    Mom demands veggies at every meal, so we simply put some mixed veggies in the oven.

    As it's a belated birthday celebration, of course I had to break out a special bottle for the occasion.  I took the opportunity to pop the cork on the second of three ex-château bottles I snagged at auction a few years ago.


    1940 Latour, ex-château bottling - opened and served immediately without decanting.  Nose was plummy, smoky, with wood and leather notes, along with a little green pepper.  Definitely layered and complex.  Slightly acidic and the acidity became more prominent after an hour.

    Since dad enjoyed his ice cream so much last year, I decided to just get some Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and shave the rest of the white truffle on top...  Since I didn't get a big pint this year, dad was only allowed about half a scoop...

    Finally we get to the mignardises... and tradition dictates that I bring some Pierre Hermé macarons home.  Even though mom only really likes the the white truffle, I still got us églantine, figue et foie gras as well as the chocolat et foie gras.

    But nothing beats shaving white truffles on top of truffe blanche et noisette macarons!

    I think the parental units were pretty happy tonight.  Whew!

    P.S. We had some bits of white truffle leftover, so I decided to drop a few slices into the very last drops of the 1940 Latour and let it soak for a while.  Honestly I think the combination of the fragrances was pretty nice, as the nose of old Bordeaux could have some earthy notes that would work well with the truffles.  Palate, however, was a different matter... as the acidity of the wine had gone up significantly by now.

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    I made my customary stop at Grandma's today to pay her a visit, but unfortunately she was already sound asleep after taking a bath mid-afternoon.  I guess when you're 101, your schedule can be a little different from the rest of us...

    Instead of waiting for Last Minute Uncle to decide on the dinner venue at the last minute, I suggested to mom last week that we check out Mountain and Sea House (山海樓).  I've been curious about this place ever since I heard about it last year, but the place hasn't exactly been getting rave reviews from my foodie friends.  In fact, most of the opinions seemed to be that it's OK... and that I should lower my expectations a little.

    But I decided that I wanted to go, anyway.  Actually, I needed to go.  For years friends have been asking me for recommendations on restaurants in Taipei serving "local" Taiwanese cuisine, and year after year I end up telling them to go to either Lu Sang (呂桑) - which is pretty casual and has a distinct Yilan (宜蘭) flavor - or to a branch of the popular chain Shin Yeh (欣葉).  But while Shin Yeh delivers tasty Taiwanese food, it's so established that everyone and their dog has heard about it.  For a local and supposed "foodie" like myself to recommend Shin Yeh to a visitor is about as helpful as recommending Yung Kee (鏞記酒家) to visitors going to Hong Kong...

    So I was determined to check this place out, and desperately hoping that it would be a place I could recommend to visitors - both on account of its cuisine as well as the setting.  After all, most Taiwanese restaurants that I enjoy going to pay little or no attention to decor or ambiance...

    Mountain and Sea House is located in a refurbished mansion from the Japanese occupation era - apparently once owned by a wealthy Japanese doctor.  The location was taken over by the daughter of Taiwanese tycoon, who runs a subsidiary of the family empire supplying organic produce.  The restaurant was opened with the trendy "farm to table" philosophy that many restaurants talk about nowadays.  In their case, they do have their own farms... and seem to have established relationships with suppliers all over Taiwan for ingredients they themselves are unable to supply.

    We did not ask for a private room on account of the minimum spend, and were seated at a heavy, solid wood table in the common dining room downstairs.   The beautiful Japanese porcelain apparently is irreplaceable.

    Since I picked the venue tonight, it was only right that I take the whole family out to dinner... which meant that I got to choose the dishes.  I did some homework before coming tonight, and quickly decided not to take up any of the three set menus on offer.  Much better to cherry pick whatever struck my fancy.  Besides, the set menus all come with the restaurant's signature soup that uses shark's fin - which I refuse to eat. (N.B. The restaurant has left a comment below stating that they do not use shark's fin, but one of my friends visited last year and reported that there was shark's fin in one of their soups.  In fact, I can see something that looks a lot like shark's fin in my friend's picture.  I've also found at least 3 blogs which mention shark's fin in that soup, with pictures showing the ingredient.)

    Wild mullet roe (野生烏魚子) - we Taiwanese love our mullet roe, so I figured we should start with this.

    And it's usually lightly grilled.  Here's it's brushed with Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) and put on a grill.

    Classic combination of mullet roe, leek, and radish.  Yeah, the mullet roe sticks to your teeth, but I love it!

    Classic appetizer platter (山海經典拼盤) - four different elements here, surrounding some marinated cherry tomatoes:

    Stuffed cuttlefish with three-colored eggs (三色蛋中卷) - the hollowed cuttlefish was stuffed with bits of egg, salted egg (鹹蛋), and century egg (皮蛋).

    Steamed free range chicken (白斬土雞) - pretty tasty, but not outstanding by Taiwanese standards.  Supposedly an "aborigine" breed of chicken steamed at low temperature.
    Stuffed pig trotter (捆蹄) - the bone was removed and the front trotter was stuffed with pork marinated with red lees (紅糟肉).  Meant to signify how husband and wife are meant to accommodate each other after marriage.  Love this, especially because of the exotic spices.  Too bad there was so little of it.
    Deep-fried prawn roll (炸蝦卷) - a Taiwanese classic.  Too bad I didn't get to have it.


    Deep-fried dumplings with oyster and vegetable (蚵嗲) - a popular dish along coastal areas dotted with oyster farms. The dough is stuffed with diced oysters, shredded vegetables, and shredded pork before being deep-fried to a crisp.  Seemingly slightly under-seasoned but still tasty.


    Gaozha (糕渣) - popular in Yilan County (宜蘭縣), but also found in top Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong.  This is a dish I love and would always order. Made with chicken stock, egg, corn starch, and minced prawns. The addition of minced prawns meant there were little lumps inside, and not as smooth as the other versions I'm used to.

    Stir-fried organic vegetables (清炒有機荷葉白菜) - this particular variant of Chinese cabbage is called "lotus leaf cabbage", and was stir-fried with Tuscan olive oil.

    Spring rolls with flounder (扁魚春卷) - stuffed with fried flounder, minced prawn, and bean sprouts.  Very tasty.

    Salted egg white baked beef (蛋白鹽封牛肉) - similar to dishes like salt-baked chicken () or salt-baked fish, except in this case lots of salt was mixed into the whipped egg white smothering the beef underneath.

    The skirt steak comes from the local Taiwanese breed (黃牛), and was in fact pretty tasty.  It was also pretty chewy in spite of some marbling.  Hello Kitty and I really enjoyed it, but I don't think Last Minute Uncle cared for it...

    Salty pork with Taiwanese wild pepper (馬告鹹豬肉) - I love that they marinated the pork in sea salt, Kinmen Kaoliang wine (金門高粱酒), and Taiwanese wild pepper (馬告).  The latter gives off an interesting mix of fragrances like lemon, ginger, and pepper.

    Pancakes with whitebait and wild seaweed (魩仔魚野生海菜煎餅) - very crispy on the outside, and the stuffing - with seaweed from the Penghu (澎湖) Islands - were delicious.

    Steamed flower crab (清蒸花蟹) - I love flower crabs, and this was very fresh and delicious.  I didn't need to have it steamed or cooked with anything - just wanted the purity of the crab on its own.

    Traditional style stir-fried vermicelli (古早味炒米粉) - whoa!  Suddenly the MSG and pepper hits your tongue front-and-center.  Very tasty, but just need lots of sugary drinks to rinse the tastebuds afterwards!  Love the little chopped pieces of octopus tentacles for their crunch.

    Fried rice with mullet roe (烏魚子炒飯) - they've grated the bottarga and generously sprinkled it on top.  Loooove the flavors, but once again there's so much umami and MSG... and pepper.

    Deep-fried glutinous balls with azuki beans (紅豆煎鎚) - the sticky rice balls are OK, but it's the pretty candy floss on top that attracts attention.

    Glutinous rice balls with Japanese elm pollen (櫸木花粉湯圓) - in addition to the usual osmanthus syrup (桂花醬), the soup was also flavored with pollen from Japanese elm (櫸木), giving it a distinctive fragrance.  Mom actually reminded us that the floor boards under our feet were made with Japanese elm...

    A pretty enjoyable meal, at least for Hello Kitty and I.  I have indeed found a place that I feel is worthy of recommending to visitors.  I found the food to be above average in terms of flavor.  They have obviously done a lot of work in composing the menu, putting together a mix of traditional dishes along with some that are clearly more creative and required more research.  A considerable amount of effort was made to source the right ingredients, with mostly local, organic, and some seasonal produce.  They also care about visual presentation, and plating clearly mattered here.  The traditional three criteria of a good dish: color (色), fragrance (香), and taste (味) were all important to the restaurant.

    Before I came, I had expected that I would be paying for the decor and ambiance as part of my meal... and I'm sure the meal would have been a little cheaper in plainer surroundings.  But the important thing was that the food tasted good to me, and if I'm out entertaining or getting together with friends for a good time, I wouldn't mind paying a little more for comfort.  I don't need to be like many of my fellow Taiwanese who are constantly focused on maximizing the cost-performance (CP值) of a meal...

    If I were to pick faults, my only gripes would be that they served the vegetable out of sequence (it should be at the end of the savory dishes, just before the carbs), and that despite taking pains to tell us about all the organic and farm-to-table produce being used, they still can't seem to get away from liberal use of MSG and pepper in some of the dishes.  (N.B. the restaurant's comment below also claims that they do not use MSG.  Here again I have my doubts, because while lots of Chinese chefs claim that they don't use MSG, they liberally sprinkle chicken powder on their dishes... and depending on which brand of chicken powder/bouillon you use, there's actually MSG in some of them.)

    But... I will definitely come back, and I will bring friends.  Blame it on my laowai (老外) palate...

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  • 12/18/15--05:56: Cousins in the 'hood
  • Ever since Fish School opened, all my friends seemed to want me to take them there... so it's not surprising that I find myself away from Neighborhood for the last couple of months.  When a previously arranged dinner with My Favorite Cousin kinda fell through, she insisteddemanded suggested that we go get some white truffles at Neighborhood.  So off we went.

    And... hours before dinner, I found out that ILove Lubutin had also booked herself a table here.  We greeted each other and, in the middle of dinner, I went to offer her some of our Barolo.  And you what Mini ILL said to me when I went over to say hello?  "You stole my food!" Geeeeez...  IT WAS FREAKIN' EIGHT YEARS AGO!!!  And she's STILL holding a grudge!  When you're a one-and-a-half-year-old baby and you haven't touched any food on the table for the last 30 minutes, me spooning some stir-fried de-shelled shrimp from the half-finished plate in the middle of the table does not constitute me stealing your food!  Ah well, I guess I shouldn't expect her to forgive me in this lifetime...

    Since we're here for white truffle, I asked My Favorite Cousin to pick one out for us.  This was maybe just around 60 grams or so... I wasn't paying too much attention at this point.  As long as the cousin approves...

    Autumn vegetables / spiced chick pea puree - it's been a while since I last had this, and I really do like the "hummus" that came with the veg.  Really, really delish when I put it on the sourdough bread.

    Agnolotti dal plin - made with veal and chicken inside.

    With truffle on top, which is always a perfect match.  Love the sage butter.

    Risotto with crab - an off-menu item that we were suggested to take in lieu of the bone marrow risotto.  Made with zucchini, celery root, crab meat, and garnished with zucchini flowers.

    And of course we had to shave a ton of truffle on top.  Pretty good.

    Puntarelle salad with cheese - something extra that The Man in the White T-Shirt placed on our table.  There was definitely some similarity with chicory

    And good with truffle, too, as was suggested.

    Daily fish "bouillabaisse" - this bouillabaisse looks pretty good, with a thin slice of sourdough bread on top, with some cheese shavings and a sprinkle of piment d'espelette.  The fish below the sourdough?  Surprisingly, it was tilefish.  Or amadai (甘鯛) for those of you in the know.

    And of course the amadai was done with crispy scales.  As for the bouillabaisse itself, it tasted as good as it always had here... although I do miss the old days when I could order a huge cocotte of it at On Lot 10, filled with premium seafood.

    60-day + dry aged "Casina Asturiana" ribeye - I had reserved this earlier today while confirming my reservation.  It's been a long time since I last had some good Spanish beef, and I figured Hello Kitty wouldn't mind some beef tonight.

    This was a different breed from my old favorite Rubia Galega, and at 8 years or older, the animal is a few years younger than the 12-year-olds that I used to love.  But the beef still had that chewy texture to it to show that it wasn't from just any 2- or 3-year old youngster.  There was also a lot of flavor here, although maybe not as much as the Rubia Galega that was aged for 120 days.

    My Favorite Cousin complained about the amount of effort she spent trying to slice the beef, and also told me that her jaws hurt from trying to chew the meat.  Well, yes, this beef did require extra effort, but I loved it.  Oh and the crunchy, cheesy macaroni at the bottom was damn good, too.

    Chocolate palette - of course we had to order this when we have a chocolate fiend in our midst...  Still very rich and sinful.

    Vanilla ice cream with white truffle - yes, we did save some of our white truffle for this.  Simply the best, EVA.

    Canelés

    We brought along two bottles to go with our dinner, figuring that we can pop open the cheap-and-cheerful Aussie while we wait for the Barolo to open up and accompany the white truffle.


    2006 Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon The Maitre D' - a little bit alcoholic, sweet on the palate.  Almost a little oaky on the nose.  Very easy to drink.

    2006 Simone Scaletta Vigneto Chirlet - a little more smoky with higher acidity on the palate.

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  • 12/19/15--00:04: Heavy mouth taste yum cha
  • Late lunch today, and Hello Kitty wanted some dim sum, so we strolled over to The Mira and found ourselves a table at Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒).  It's been 3 years since I last stepped foot in here, and since then they've lost their coveted macaron from the Rubberman.  But that doesn't matter and all we cared about is that it's one of the closest places to us for good Cantonese food.

    Honey-glazed barbecued pork (蜜餞叉燒皇) - pretty good, actually.  A little too much glaze perhaps, which meant it was on the sweet side.  But nice charring here.  One side of it was a little dry at times, although still very tender.

    There was a good amount of fat running down one side.  Slurp.

    Oyster and Chinese chive dumplings in hot chili soup (水煮麻辣金蠔粉果) - I don't usually order anything that is deemed as "mala (麻辣)", but this combination intrigued me.  The kitchen is obviously trying to be a little creative, and I wanted to see if they could pull it off.

    Well, we both really liked this.  I liked the fact that they put dried "golden" oysters in the Chiuchow dumplings, as it's got pretty distinct and intense flavors.  In this case the spicy mala flavors did not actually overwhelm the flavors of the oyster, but rather complemented them.  Definitely something I'd order again.

    Crispy glutinous rice dumplings with diced chicken and lotus root in fermented bean curd sauce (南乳雞粒咸水角) - another item that was a little unusual.  I'm normally not a big fan of fermented tofu sauce (南乳) as it's too strong and stinky for my liking, but once again my curiosity was piqued.

    As it turns out, these were pretty decent.  The deep-fried dumpling skins were crispy on the outside but remained glutinous on the inside.  The flavors were from fermented tofu sauce was enough to make the filling interesting without being overwhelming like a punch in the face.

    Crispy prawns in salted egg yolk (黃金蝦球) - another request from Hello Kitty.  How does one say "no" to salted egg yolk covering the prawns?!  If one had to pick faults, it would be that they used a little too much baking soda to treat the prawns, so that there was a little too much crunch.

    Chilled sesame pudding with Japanese tea (玄米茶芝麻布甸) - we were kinda full, but I still wanted to try dessert.  This was a little disappointing.  The pudding didn't taste like genmaicha (玄米茶) at all, as there was no trace of the fragrance of roasted rice.  Rather it was intense and on the bitter side.  The black sesame ice cream on top was very rich and nice, and one needed to take the pudding together with the ice cream to balance the flavors.  The strips of black sesame jello is conceptually interesting, but didn't add too much in terms of flavor... and in any case they were cut too long and became awkward to eat with a spoon.

    This was a pretty good lunch, and we packed away half the prawns to deliver to a friend nearby... doing a bit of walking to help with digestion.  We later realized that everything we ordered today was pretty intense in terms of flavor...  I guess we were just in the mood for it.

    P.S.  About half an hour later, I realized that the kitchen never delivered the steamed crab meat, bamboo piths and vegetables dumplings (蟹肉竹笙菜苗餃) that we ordered, although we ended up paying for them when I settled the bill.  So I dragged my ass back to the restaurant, told them what happened, and asked for my money back.  They looked up the bill, checked with the kitchen, and refunded me without any hassle.

    It wasn't a lot of money and I could have easily let it go, but I wanted to see whether they'd kick up a fuss.  They didn't, and I was satisfied with their service.  So I left them a little more tip than I already had.

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  • 12/19/15--23:44: A very Grand lunch
  • We're a couple of days away from the Winter Solstice, when Chinese families typically gather and celebrate.  I'm perennially away from the Parental Units on this day, so I only occasionally get to celebrate it when someone else takes me in (kinda like a stray dog...) out of the kindness of their hearts.  This year it would be Hello Kitty's turn, who was celebrating it a little early with her family.

    At the beginning of the year, I was invited by the PR team of the Hotel Lisboa to check out the new The Grand Buffet (自助山) at the top of Hopewell Centre.  They were excited about bringing the brand to Hong Kong and wanted to see what I thought.  Now, this Arrogant Prick normally gives PR teams the cold shoulder, and I normally avoid buffets like the plague, but the team at the Lisboa is one I pay attention to.  Unfortunately it was right before my mega eating trip to Tokyo, which would be followed by more eating during Lunar New Year, so I never got around to accepting that invitation.

    Almost a year later, I finally had the chance to see it for myself.  I was pretty excited about doing lunch there today, especially since Hello Kitty had told me about her earlier, positive experience.

    I knew I was in for a good time the minute we were seated at our table.  Instead of getting a great view of the Hong Kong skyline like most people in the restaurant, we were seated directly in front of the restaurant's signature wine bar.  A total of 60 bottles sit inside the long array of Enomatic machines, with 4 sakes, 8 Champagnes / sparkling wines, 4 dessert wines, and the rest divided between whites and reds.  Why do I need to look out the window when I got the best view of the house?!

    The range is pretty diverse here... starting with Krug Grande Cuvée and 2004 Dom Pérignon on tap.  And they've even got a bottle of 2007 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne.  So I asked for a wine card, and went about trying a bunch of wines.

    In terms of food, one would expect a large selection of choices.  But it's a lot more than that.  The selling point of this place was that a lot of stuff was done à la minute at the various stations.  For starters, they've got a couple of guys shucking oysters...

    So I started with with Alaskan king crab legs and some crab...  Pretty satisfying.

    They also have a station for tempura (天ぷら), also done à la minute...

    They also got a guy pan-frying slices of duck foie gras to order.  I'll admit that these weren't the smoothest foie gras I've ever had at them Michelin-starred restaurants, as the veins were a little distracting, but they were still pretty tasty... And for a buffet, I ain't gonna complain too much!


    There were also some crab roe xiaolongbao (蟹粉小籠包) in individual steamers.  Of course there was more pork than crab roe here, but once again, the quality was pretty good and I'm happy to pop a few more of these into my mouth.

    I happened to be standing by when the kitchen brought out a whole steamed garoupa... and I watched as the first girl immediately used the spoon to dig out one of the cheeks - commonly seen as the best part of the fish - before taking a piece of the body.  Then the guy in front of me - who cut in line - proceeded to remove about 2/3 of the fish for himself...  I took only a small part of the collar and the surrounding flesh.  Although I found it to be ever-so-slightly overcooked, the fish was still very delicious, and the execution impressive for a buffet.

    I also grabbed a bowl of laksa from the noodle station, and picked out the ingredients I wanted.  Not bad at all.

    Passing by the dessert area, one can't help but take note of this fountain...

    And this being Christmas season and all, I decided to grab a slice of panettone from Pasticceria Fraccaro.

    I also grabbed a madeleine, but this was a FAIL.  Too dense and dry.  Not worth the calories.

    Since there were 60 selections on offer, I had a good time tasting through a bunch of different wines.  With the exception of the first wine - where I took 2 pours of 25ml each, I decided to get just 25ml of each wine for a taste.

    This turns out to be a good strategy, because I realized that during the 2 hours that I was at the table - OK, I did go around to grab some food, so I wasn't seated at our table for 2 hours non-stop - I did not see a single person get wine from any of the machines.  Zero.  The few people who did drink opted for the more economical, free-flow Champagne option featuring regular Moët et Chandon.

    It's no wonder that I found more than a few wines to be a little off, even though the bottles are supposed to be topped off with gas (I don't know whether they chose nitrogen or argon).  So the wines that drank best today were also the biggest wines, as the big nose can overpower and still come through relatively unscathed.

    2010 Kongsgaard VioRus - I couldn't believe it when I saw this bottle, because so little of this is produced that the winery mailing list sells out quickly.  Nose was a little pungent and metallic, probably from being opened for too long.  Sugary, candy notes.  The palate was a little flat at first, then it was just overripe.

    2008 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann - also pungent nose from the gas interaction.  Overripe on the palate, with a little bit of finty notes on the nose.

    2005 Rieussec - really ripe on the palate, and really sweet, with plastic and honey notes.

    2011 Joh.Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese - palate was sweeter than expected, but there's still good acidity here.  Nose was mineral and flinty.

    2000 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon - again, nose was a little chemical thanks to the gas.  Still full-bodied here but smooth on the palate now.  Some forest notes.

    1999 Yalumba The Octavius - lots of herbs, forest pine, and almost frankincense notes, with tons of vanilla and oak.  Good acidity on the palate.  Best wine of the meal.

    2009 de Myrat - tons of honey, orange blossom, pineapple, and acetone in the nose.

    2007 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance - nose of honey, beeswax, acetone, orange marmalade, and very grapey.  Very sweet on the palate.

    1950 Piétri Géraud Banyuls - very grapey, with sour plum and a little nutty notes.  Wine seems a little cloudy.  Definitely fortified.

    I think we had a couple of happy faces around our table... mine for sure from drinking at lunch.  I don't normally do buffet, but I guess if I HAD to, this is where I would come spend my money.

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  • 12/20/15--06:41: A new Génie in town
  • I don't know why, but it ain't easy to find a good éclair in this town.  We've got ourselves a couple of famous chocolatier imports, and everyone and their dog seems to be selling macarons in every Pantone color.  But I'd be hard pressed to name three places where I can find a good version of the classic cream-filled pastry.

    Suddenly, though, éclairs have become the latest trend fad in town.  We now have our first Parisian import, and a long-time expat chef has also started churning them out.

    I had read about Christophe Adam opening up L'éclair de Génie in town, although I hadn't gone out of my way to get some.  As I was strolling through Pacific Place, though, I unexpectedly came across a pop-up store... so I figured I'd get a few to try.

    I figured since I was gonna eat 'em by myself, I probably can't do more than 4 of them.

    Citron yuzu

    This was very good.  There was plenty of citrus fragrance from the yuzu, and a good balance between sweetness and acidity in the cream.

    Thé matcha bambou

    This was nothing to write home about.  This may work in Paris, but out here in Asia - where we are so used to desserts made with all types of Japanese tea - this was just underwhelming... especially when the tea flavors weren't intense enough.

    Caramel beurre salé

    I love things made with salted butter caramel... or anything caramel, and this was very, very good.  But it was also the only one out of the four that had air pockets inside, so I didn't get as much cream as I could have.  Why, oh why, did it have to be this one?!

    Marron

    If you like chestnut desserts - like I do - you'd love this.  The rich chestnut cream was very satisfying, and then you get the chunks of candied chestnuts on top.  Yum!

    I was a pretty happy camper... and I think I'll get myself some more of these and try out the other flavors.

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    It's two days before Christmas, and Hello Kitty and I are spending a few days this holiday season doing some home cooking.  First up was dinner at a friend's home tonight, with some special guests flown in from the Atlantic coast of Canada.

    Hello Kitty found out from our Russian caviar supplier that we can order live lobsters from Nova Scotia, so we placed an order and made arrangements with Birdie Golf do cook them at home.  The lobsters were delivered this afternoon, and these guys were still alive and kicking.  We rushed over to our friends' place with our dinner...

    We started with a generous pot of moules marinières - along with some clams.  I wasted no time in dipping a yummy piece of bread into the sauce...

    Then it was time for the main event.  We decided to share 6 of these wild-caught lobsters from the Atlantic Ocean. They were still moving around a little... and it was pretty obvious that most of them weren't gonna go without putting up a good fight.  But first we gotta release their urine...

    There was a little debate between Hello Kitty and I as to whether the lobsters should be killed before being dumped into the pot for steaming.  I advocated a quick kill by splitting the heads with a knife - not quite the Japanese ikejime (生け締め) method - so that the lobsters wouldn't struggle as they slowed died while steaming.  It's not a question of being "humane", but simply a matter of less acid released from stress - resulting in a tastier bite.

    So Hello Kitty dutifully took a knife to them... and decided to stop at three.  We figured we'd compare the taste of the lobsters - between the ones steamed alive and the ones that were killed by splitting their heads.

    The first batch of three dead lobsters arrived, and we immediately went to work on them.  The lobster meat seemed a lot more chewy and springy than most of the lobsters I can remember eating... and it ain't because of overcooking.  Very nice.

    One of us doesn't like tomalley, so guess who got to take it all for himself?  There was so much of it... and the taste of it was so awesome... that spooning it into my mouth was just heavenly.

    The second batch was steamed alive, and we all dug in so greedily that we completely forgot to compare if the lobster meat tasted any different...

    But the tomalley was different.  Since these lobsters didn't have their heads split open, the tomalley was more runny.

    We decided to make it a "surf and turf" evening, so our friends marinated and grilled a nice, juicy piece of steak.  Everyone seems to prefer the grain-fed US beef... except me, that is.  But even though I find it less environmentally friendly, I'll still eat it, of course...  And yeah, it was damn tasty!

    We ended the evening with some goodies from Lady M.  I chose the Signature Mille Crêpes, which was pretty nice.

    I brought a couple of bottles of Cali for our hosts to enjoy, while they very generously popped the cork on a bottle of bubbly that I love.

    Jacques Selosse Brut Initial - a little yeasty, a little oxidized.  Smooth and mature on the palate, but obviously still lively.

    2004 Kistler Chardonnay McCrea Vineyard - nose was very toasty, oaky.  Ripe on the palate.  Later on the buttery notes came out.

    2005 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard - a little forest herbs, a little oaky, with sweet fruit.

    A very good evening.  Next time, though, I think we'll just get more lobsters...

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    It's Christmas Eve, and we've decided to have a quiet evening at home instead of paying for an expensive set dinner.  Thankfully Hello Kitty can cook, so we don't have to rely on this 3-trick pony for our feast...

    We started with a spiced butternut squash soup, which was spiked with cayenne and nutmeg, giving it an unexpected kick.  It's nice to warm up the stomach for what's about to come.  There was also a simple salad made with greens and strawberries.

    The main event, though, was this roast Dingley Dell pork rack.  This was one gorgeous hunk of pork!

    Just look at the crackling!  Soooo crunchy.  Soooo satisfying.

    And that layer of fat underneath.  No, I don't cut away the fat.

    To be honest, the eye was a little overcooked.  It was no longer glistening with moisture.  But the cap on top - with the fat and the amazing crackling - more than made up for it.  I was in heaven.

    We paused for a good 40 minutes and tried to digest some of our dinner, and returned to the table for my last-minute purchase of a Christmas log from the Mandarin Cake Shop.  I can't believe I didn't place an order earlier, and had to take my chances at the last minute on Christmas Eve...

    Cinnamon apple toffee bûche de Noël - this was made to look like a series of baubles one hangs on Christmas trees.  Very pretty.

    I was happy with this, because I know that Hello Kitty loves apple desserts.
    The apple with cinnamon was, of course, just classic.  And the toffee provided the sweetness to the apple's acidity, without being deathly rich.  Loved it.

    Surprisingly, we stayed dry during the night... thanks to the excesses of last night...

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