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

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  • 12/25/15--07:52: Christmas salmon
  • It's Christmas Day, and once again one of our MNSC boys chose to host a dinner on his birthday - his last as a thirtysomething.  With no other halves present this year, the bunch of us took a smaller function room at the I Hate the Handover Club.

    The menu this year was very, very simple - which was fine because, naturally, the focus tonight was on the wines.

    Caesar salad, shaved Grana Padano, focaccia croûtons - I think there was only one gigantic croûton...

    Whole poached Scottish salmon, coriander, chilli, spring onions, soy sauce, white rice, steamed baby pak choy - last year we were awed by the 5-kg Australian ocean trout our host served us, so we were really looking forward to the fish this year.  I didn't ask how large the salmon was, but from the looks of it I don't think it weighs in any less than last year's catch...

    As requested, this was steamed Cantonese-style with the soy sauce dressing, coriander, spring onions, and chili.  Served with steamed rice, of course!

    If you wanna talk skillz... check out the color of the salmon.  Just. Perfect.  Sooooo tender.  Soooo silky smooth.  Just wonderful with the soy sauce.

    Yes, I had a second serving.  Why the hell not?!

    Grand Marnier Soufflé - it's been a while since I last had a good soufflé, and this one wins it by a mile.  Classic. Perfection.  Fluffy.  And it didn't collapse like it was full of hot air.

    I remembered that the cheese selection at the club was nothing to write home about, so I passed on the cheese plate.  Instead, I focused on the plate of accompanying crackers which, besides having McVitie's Digestive Cookies and Nabisco Wheat Thins, also featured my favorite Pop-Pan Spring Onion Crackers from Garden.  Once I started on these, it seems that I just couldn't stop...

    But the wines!  Our host, once again, was more than generous...

    Pol Roger Réserve Brut, disgorged at least 15 years ago - yes, this was the "White Foil", but one that has been cellared for 15 years.  Good acidity but nice and ripe on the palate, with lemon and caramelized sugarcane notes.

    First flight: decanted for 45 minutes prior to serving.
    1985 Groth Reserve - smoky, green pepper, pain grillé, nice and wood cedar notes.  Very smooth on the palate.  Later on very nice and fragrant, with a little piment d'espelette notes. 92 points.

    1985 Lafleur - a little riper on the nose, with some shoe polish.  Nice fruit with smoky notes.  92 points.

    Second flight:
    1975 La Tour Haut-Brion - lots of hospital disinfectant and brett on the nose, with smoky notes.  92 points.

    1975 L'Evangile - sweet grass notes, very nice and elegant.  96 points.

    Third flight: popped and poured after 20 minutes from bottle.
    1945 Seguin-Manuel Charmes-Chambertin - really fragrant nose, with toasty oak, and a little caramelized on the nose.  Lovely cherries.  94 points.

    1945 Ducru-Beaucaillou - really smoky, really meaty, minty, with pencil lead, toast, and a hint of grass.  Nice acidity here, and very smooth on the palate.  An awesome wine.  100 points!

    Fourth flight: decanted and served after 25 minutes.
    1985 Vega Sicilia Unico - ripe and sweet fruit on the nose, almost Ribena-like.  A bit smoky, a little exotic, but a little farmy later.  With the second pour an hour later, a bit alcoholic, with a little coffee in the nose.  93 points.

    1985 Petrus - a little smoky and not very open at first.  A little grassy.  Opened up later to reveal a little soy sauce as well as some ripe fruit.  94 points.

    I was criticized by the host for being stingy on scoring some of the wines tonight, but I can't believe that I gave a 100-point score to one of the wines - a very, very rare occurrence.  In retrospect, it's not too surprising that I gave it to Ducru, since it was the first château I fell in love with.  Very thankful to our generous host!

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  • 12/26/15--22:19: Another import from Ginza
  • Someone wanted sushi today.  On Sunday.  When the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo won't open because the fish market isn't open.  Sigh.  But when a suggestion was made to eat somewhere in Harbour City, I remembered that Sushi Tokami (鮨とかみ), with a Michelin star in Ginza - had opened up a branch there not long ago.  So we called and got ourselves seats.

    The restaurant is hidden away in a "back alley" within Ocean Centre, just behind Louis Vuitton.  We had to consult a map to pinpoint its location.  And like a traditional sushiya, the entrance is pretty discreet and low key.

    Once inside, we were seated at the larger of the two L-shaped counters - which seat 10 and 8, respectively.  There didn't seem to be much lunch business on this particular Sunday.  We chose 12 pieces (12貫), the smallest of the three set lunch options.  And we made sure to tell Chef Taga Satoshi (多賀智史) that we didn't want any kind of tuna whatsoever - even the roll (巻き) at the end.  He seemed a little taken aback, but accommodated our wishes.

    Octopus (蛸) - simmered in soy sauce, the texture is very, very tender.  Served cold so that there was a ring of jello of the soy-based sauce still attached.  Served with a chunk of konjak (蒟蒻).  Very nice.

    Halibut (鰈) - the texture was pretty firm and springy, with plenty of bite.

    Golden cuttlefish (すみいか) - texture was very firm, and served with a dab of lime juice and a sprinkle of bamboo charcoal salt (竹炭塩).

    Mackerel (鯖) - always one of my favorites.  This was simple and straightforward.

    Halfbeak (さより) - served with a dab of ginger and a dab of asatsuki (浅葱).

    Baby seabream (春子鯛) - this was very, very nice.  Very tender and succulent.  Would have loved to have a few more pieces of this.

    Japanese tiger prawn (くるまえび) - this was nice and warm, very soft and tender.

    Thread-sail filefish (皮剥) - shredded and served with a sauce made from filefish liver, which was nice and creamy.  Absolutely delicious.

    Salmon roe (イクラ) - very lightly-seasoned.

    Surf clam (北寄貝) - lightly cooked and very tender.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - it's winter time and yellowtails are fatter, much more delicious.  Very soft and silky in the mouth.

    Clam (はまぐり) - slightly overdone and chewy.

    Conger eel (穴子)

    Rosy seabass roll (喉黒巻き) - happy to have gotten this in place of the usual tuna.  Much more interesting and delicious.

    Egg (卵) - kinda midway between the cheap version and the very fine, castella (カステラ)-like versions found at my favorite sushi restaurants.  This was OK.

    I normally wouldn't bother to take note of the miso soup, or even drink it.  But this was different.  They've made an egg drop version, and both the presence of the egg and the use of milder miso made this something I was happy to drink down.

    I thought this was a very good meal.  Ever since my first trip to visit Grandpa Jiro, I have grown accustomed to sushi made with a bigger dose of vinegar - with a sharper, more acidic flavor profile.  I also liked the fact that the rice was still warm, and the grains were a little hard.  Basically, this was kinda similar to what you'd get at Jiro... and I really dig that.

    This wouldn't be the cheapest sushi lunch set you'll find in town, since it's located in a shopping mall with high rental costs, but I wouldn't deem it expensive, either.  One does get one's money's worth - both in terms of quantity and quality.  Probably worthwhile to come back and check out what they can do for dinner.

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  • 12/28/15--04:31: Last goose of the year
  • It's been a month since I last went to Yat Lok (一樂食館), and I figured I'd drop in for a quick dinner.  It is, after all, only a couple of minutes from the office and one of my go-to restaurants.

    I decided to take the rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose (馳名脆皮燒鵝瀨粉) - without the drumstick this time.  I greedily munched on the tender, flavorful meat, and loved the delicious fat underneath the crispy skin.

    I also filled my veggie quota with some blanched choy sum (菜心, 全走).

    As usual, the restaurant is full of tourists who have come for a taste of their famous goose.  No doubt some of them are here because they heard that the place has a Michelin star.  These people are then surprised by the tightly-packed seats and the classic Hong Kong service... which is to have servers barking at you to order something and food dropped off in front of you without a smile. Not exactly an experience one has traditionally received from establishments with coveted Michelin stars...

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  • 12/29/15--07:26: A warm homecoming
  • A friend was coming back to Hong Kong after another long period of wandering around the globe in search of good eats, and her first request was to be taken to my favorite private dining space.  Our organizer very kindly rounded up a group of us and worked out the menu to welcome our friend back with some old school Cantonese fare.

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - one of my old favorites, made with egg white, crab meat, and birds' nest.

    We joked that they looked like madeleines, and that we should probably bring some madeleine molds to the chef so that he could make them in the same shape...  Love the bouncy texture and the savory flavors of the crab meat, enhanced by the bits of finely diced ham.

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - this is hands down the best version I have tasted in town, and the largest in terms of size.

    Love the texture of this, too.  There's no nasty flavor coming from baking soda here, like you'll find at some other places in town.

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - one of my favorite dishes here.  Tonight we didn't let the dish get cold with our incessant picture-snapping, so the wok hei (鑊氣) was still pretty much in full force by the time I had my first mouthful.  Someone commented that the dish tasted a little sweet tonight - which was the same comment I heard from another friend on my last visit - but I don't have an issue with this.  The best thing, though, was that the chef remembered our request for more Indian almonds (欖仁) from prior visits, and provided an extra bowl of it.  These were so fragrant and delicious after frying.

    Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - we were supposed to get the braised turtle but, alas, the turtle didn't get itself a visa... so we had to make do with this instead...  which I would have preferred, anyway.

    Ah!  The familiar plate with all the braised goodies... I made sure to scoop out from the pot anything I felt was missing, since the waiters usually don't bother to make sure everyone has pork belly or bamboo shoots.  The one disappointment today was the sea cucumber.  Instead of getting the spiny version, we had small pieces of the "regular" ones.  While everyone was busy slurping things up from the plate, I patiently waited until the waiters brought us bowls of steamed rice... so I could make sure that all the amazingly delicious, collagen-filled sauce could be soaked up.

    If you don't know what "lip-smacking good" means, you will after having tasted this dish.

    When your waiters start putting these on the table, we all know what is coming next.  Someone (who shall remain nameless) suggested that we ask the kitchen to send us three more plates - when there were already three on the table...

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - yes, I get to have another two bowls of the best snake soup I've ever had.  Sooooo flavorful, but not because it's over-seasoned.  Besides the five types of snake meat, you've got the wood ear fungus, fish maw, and wonderful aged tangerine peel delivering that distinctive fragrance.  Oh yes, this was lip-smacking good, too...

    Steamed humpback grouper (清蒸海老鼠斑) - very, very good... and a nice change from the sole that we always seem to get here.

    Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿古老肉) - also very, very good.  The batter is still very crisp.

    Choy sum in superior stock (上湯菜心) - even the veg here is better.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - yeah, baby!  It's winter and the fried glutinous rice is available.  Wonderful, deep flavors with all the preserved sausages.  And that amazing wok hei (鑊氣) again... We really do need to tell the chef not to be so stingy with the rice next time...  Someone next to me had a third helping... Ahem!

    Red bean purée with aged mandarin peel (陳皮紅豆沙) - beautiful and rich, but I still have problems handling the sandy texture as it scrapes my tongue.

    With lots of winos around the table, it wasn't surprising that we had a pretty nice lineup...

    2000 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne Collection - nice and caramelized nose, yeasty, toasty.  Rich on the palate, too.

    Jacques Selosse Les Carelles, dégorgée à 10 Avril 2013 - fragrant nose, floral and almost perfume-like.  This was more elegant.  Initially flatter on the palate compared to the Giraud.  Dry on the palate with a little ripeness.

    2001 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet en magnum - nose was initially a little toasty, then with time became buttery, with marmalade notes.  Palate was ripe at first but remained dry.  Much later on the nose showed plenty of lemon and toasty corn.

    1970 Torres Gran Coronas Reserva - a little minty with nice fruit.  A little acidic.

    1970 L'Evangile - a little medicinal, smoky, still some fruit here, with a little forest notes and minty.

    1982 Vieux Château Certan - cedar and woody notes, some sweet fruit, smoky with pencil lead.  Later on nose turned medicinal.

    1983 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill - a bit medicinal and bretty, minty, a little farmy and smoky.  Acidity was surprisingly high.

    Marco Sara Mùfe di Piculit - very grapey and raisiny, honey, grass jelly (仙草), nutty, and a little acetone.  Alcohol was a little sharp here.

    This was another excellent meal executed by the chef, and there were smiles all around.  I hope our friend enjoyed this homecoming.

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  • 12/30/15--07:36: The visiting dragon
  • A few traveling foodies are in town for a few days, and they very kindly invited me to join them for a few meals.  Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) is somewhere I'm happy to return to on any given day, so I didn't blink before saying 'yes' to this one.

    The staff were a little surprised to see me tonight, since the reservation wasn't under my name.  But they know my special requirements well, and immediately go about taking care of my needs.  Tonight they would find out about another ingredient that's on my forbidden list, besides tuna...

    Deep-fried scallop with kabu soup (帆立 おかきあげ 聖護院蕪のすり流し) - this was originally meant to come with deep-fried cod milt, but since it's one of the very few things in this world that I refuse to eat, I asked for a change in ingredients.

    The scallop came with a crunchy crust, but was cooked mi cuit.  Very beautifully done.

    The soup was interesting, but the turnip from Kyoto's Shogoin (聖護院) had plenty of fibers, so it was more of something to chew on rather than something one drinks down...

    Premium monkfish liver from Hokkaido with variation of vegetables in special miso sauce (アオリイカに包まれたあん肝) - I love monkfish liver, and tonight it was accompanied by some radish, slices of yuzu (柚子) rind, and leeks.

    Scallop and yuba dumpling in ichibandashi soup (帆立とゆばの真丈椀) - I always love the light, clear ichibandashi (一番出汁), and I made sure to start with a sip.  The dumpling (団子) was made with chunks of scallop along with tofu skin (ゆば) and white fish.  Interesting that the chef chose to use the white snow fungus (雪耳).  All very clean and delicate flavors.

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛り合わせ) - no tuna here, per my instructions...

    Flounder (鮃) - from Hokkaido.  Very tender.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - interesting that the chef chose to give us two different cuts.  The more marbled belly was, naturally, more fatty so incredibly soft and tender.  The leaner part was also very tender.  Served with minced ginger.

    Geoduck (海松貝)

    Charcoal grilled and simmered sea perch (炭焼き赤鯥の白煮付け) - apparently other customers were served golden alfonsino (金目鯛) while we were given rosy seabass (赤鯥).  I happen to love both.  The white miso broth had a surprising spicy kick to it, and came with some bok choy (白菜).  Interestingly garnished with some dehydrated cabbage on top.

    Cold kegani crab egg custard with grated fresh apple vinegar (毛蟹の冷製茶碗蒸し すりおろし林檎の赤酢と共に) - the only savory dish I've had before, on my last visit.  Always love Japanese horse hair crab, and the apple added some sweetness to the dish.

    Charcoal grilled pure breed Iberico pork "Premium Pluma" ("準血のイベリコ豚"貴重な "プルーマ"だけを使った 蜂蜜醤油焼き) - I was kinda surprised to see how dark the slices of feather loin (pluma) were, but they were sooooo tasty!  Such beautiful execution in terms of grilling.  Instead of salt, the chef has chosen to use on the side a mushy mix of shiokoji (塩麹), onions, and turnip to season the dish, and that was pretty interesting.  Garnished with daikoku shimeji (大黒しめじ) mushroom.

    Simmered anago sea eel with Arima sanshou flavored steam rice ("煮穴子"と "有馬山椒"風味の御飯) - the simmered conger eel was incredibly soft... almost but not quite to the point of being mushy.  Very yum.  The sansh(山椒) pepper flavors were mild but still present.

    The pickles were topped with plum jelly.

    RyuGin specialty -196°C peach candy and +99°C pear jam (-196°Cの桃飴 と +99°Cの飴炊き洋梨) - I can't get enough of this dessert, and thankfully the seasonal fruit is now pear.

    RyuGin truffled Roppongi pudding (黒トリュフのプリン) - pretty cool to have a dessert made with black truffle.  Perfectly seasonal, and leaves a lovely fragrance in the mouth.

    I brought along two bottles to share with the visitors:

    2013 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard - nose of green apple, mineral, flint, pipi de chat, and muscat grapes.  Full-bodied here.

    1990 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune - lots of plastic, polyurethane, petrol, flint, and minerals.  Very smooth.  Absolutely beautiful.

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    Another New Year's Eve.  This year, though, I was resolved not to dine out.  I figured there was no point fighting the crowds or paying for an expensive menu, so I wanted to do some simple home cooking.  Thankfully there was another couple agreeable to the idea of spending it at home, so we ended up spending the last evening of the year with them.

    Since the idea is to cook at home, we all agreed to contribute so that each of the four of us would play chef for at least one course.  This turned out to be a totally kick-ass dinner...

    We decided to start things off in style... with Champagne and caviar.  We had two types of caviar for comparison.  First up was the En-K de Caviar oscietra from Kaviari.  This nicely packaged tin contained 15g of farmed oscietra caviar, which one can scoop from the groove with the spoon in the package.

    Our hostess got us some mini blinis to go with the caviar.  The caviar was alright, although when we removed the foil cover, we found that two out of the four tins had a good amount of popped eggs... which was really disappointing.

    But we came prepared!  I also went back to my Russian caviar supplier for another tin of the delicious golden oscietra caviar.

    Just look at those beautiful eggs!

    This was, of course, something much nicer... and naturally more pricey.  But so, so, so worth it!  The flavors are much more intense, and I don't mean the higher salt content.  It's that beautiful fish oil flavor, plus a little bit of kelp/seaweed.  So decadent.

    We moved eastward to have some Cantonese double-boiled soup - in this case whelk with coconut soup (椰子螺頭湯).  Very nice.

    Then it was time for me to step into the kitchen.  My last two attempts at mushroom risotto had been fairly successful - even managing to keep it somewhat al dente a couple of weeks ago.  tonight this was much harder, as I was cutting up the onion with a pretty dull knife, and my eyes burned so much that I can't remember the last time I cried this much... I had to escape from the kitchen in the middle.

    In the end my mushroom risotto didn't fail too badly.  Hello Kitty had gotten me some low-sodium chicken stock, so at the very end I needed to add some salt into the pot.  The rehydrated mushrooms contained some chewy stems of what may have been trumpets, so the texture could have been a little bit nicer... and the rice was slightly softer than I preferred.

    But with about 10g of white truffle shaved on top of each plate, I didn't care...

    While waiting for our next course, my host suggested that I put a few caviar eggs together with a slice of white truffle.  Not bad...

    Next up was our hostess, who made us a salt-baked sea bass.

    The fish was very nicely done.  Very tender, and the salt brought out the flavors of the fish itself.

    Our hostess with the mostess also served us a smoked soya chicken (煙燻雞).  This was absolutely delicious... full of flavor from the soy sauce, plus a lovely smoky aroma that wasn't overpowering.  Very, very yum.

    We also had a mixed vegetable salad, which was a nice and healthy break.

    Our host was up next with a hunk of dry-aged T-bone steak.

    This was nicely charred on the outside and still pink and rare on the inside.

    It was finally Hello Kitty's turn, and she had baked a caramel and apple tart earlier in the day.  Thankfully it was pretty thin, and there wasn't a lot of caramel here.  Although it wasn't fresh out of the oven, it was still pretty tasty.

    We also had a few white strawberries to fulfill our fruit quota...

    ...and finished the evening snacking on some preserved kelp and scallops from Japan.

    In addition to all the delicious food, there was also a pretty spectacular lineup of wines...

    1999 Jacques Selosse, dégorgée à 19 Janvier 2009 - nice and ripe on the nose, but still fresh and lively on the palate.  Plenty of marmalade, preserved mandarin peel (陳皮), mineral, and yeasty notes.  Pretty toasty, too.  Very long finish here.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Omachi 43 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 雄町43) - very rounded and sweet on the palate, with banana and rich, rice notes.

    1997 Haut-Brion Blanc - exotic nose with Chinese licorice (甘草) and vanilla notes.  Ripe on the nose and a little alcoholic.  A little caramelized.

    With white truffle the nose became even more exotic, showing coconut and white chocolate notes.

    Everyday White - this was the supermarket wine that I chose to cook with, but given my experience with Everyday Reda few years ago while pairing it with an MRE, I decided to pour myself a glass and take a few sips.  Very fruity, and a little sweet on the palate.  Not a complex wine at all but pleasurable to drink nonetheless.

    1989 Le Pin - decanted for a little while.  Nice and smoky, a little earthy, with sweet grass, ripe and sweet fruit.  Lovely and fragrant, with a little cedar wood.  So smooth on silky on the palate.

    2000 Rayas - so floral, lots of lavender, dried herbs, violet, and pine needles.  Very exotic.  The nose was so open tonight that it was just stunning.  My wine of the evening.

    1990 Pignan - more meaty, with animal and a hint of floral notes.  Needed a little more time to open up.

    2010 DRC Corton - nose of toasty corn and a little grilled meat.  So fragrant and beautiful, with lots of sweet caramel notes, along with some toffee.

    This was a very, very enjoyable evening. Just a few friends spending a quiet evening together, ringing in the new year while celebrating our friendship.  Looking forward to our 2016 together!

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  • 01/02/16--23:56: Once in a Spring Moon
  • Dining in hotel restaurants is a fact of life in Hong Kong.  For the first 10 years that I lived in this town, the number of quality restaurants outside of hotels was pretty small.  Even as the dining scene developed and matured in the last 10 years, I still found myself dining in hotels pretty frequently.  If there is one top hotel in town whose restaurants get no love from me - and, coincidentally, get no love from Michelin - it's the Peninsula Hong Kong.  I can probably count my trips to said hotel's restaurants in the last 10 years on one hand...

    The visiting foodies are eating their way around Hong Kong and Macau, and wanted to have dim sum at Spring Moon (嘉麟樓).  My memories of this place are very hazy, and probably come from a wedding banquet some 15 years ago.   I had never had to urge to return in all these years.  So I figured it would be a good opportunity to check it out again.

    I left the ordering to our visitors and simply sat back and watch as the food showed up at our table...

    Spring rolls with mixed fungus and mushrooms (羅漢齋春卷) - these were OK, but I wonder why the restaurant chose not to cut these in half, as is normally done at other restaurants?

    Steamed shrimp dumplings with bamboo shoots (筍尖鮮蝦餃) - the lighting was a little dim and the folds weren't clear enough for me to discern them, but Hello Kitty counted 11 folds.

    Deep-fried dumplings with minced pork and dried shrimps (安蝦咸水角) - OK lah...

    Steamed pork and scallops dumplings with matsutake mushrooms (松茸帶子燒賣) - this definitely tasted a little off somehow.  I was trying to figure out the little brown bits on top, so I picked them out and nibbled on them.  Thought the texture was like mushroom.  After looking at the menu later, I found out they were supposed to be matsutake (松茸) mushrooms...

    And this is what pisses me off about this place.  What was the point of putting tiny, chopped up bits of matsutake that had neither flavor nor fragrance?  The only reason would be to "upgrade" the siu mai and make it seem more "premium" - the same reason why some other restaurant puts 5 fucking little lumpfish caviar on top of a siu mai so that people can say: "Ooooh!  Caviar!  So grand!!!" It adds ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    Steamed turnip cake with preserved meat (砵仔蘿蔔糕) - our visitors seemed to like this.  Frankly, it's probably rare to see the steamed version outside Hong Kong.  Not bad.

    Pan-fried glutinous dumplings filled with dried shrimps, black mushrooms and preserved vegetables (家鄉煎茶果) - OK lah...

    Golden mashed taro with diced abalone, chicken and black mushrooms (鮑魚雞粒芋角) - something definitely tasted off here... like a bad reaction of abalone to the baking soda.

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with homemade XO sauce (XO醬炒蝦米腸) - I ordered this because I figured our visitors probably haven't had it before... although some of them are getting exposed to XO sauce as an ingredient.  Pretty decent.

    Two of our visitors very generously brought a rare and beautiful bottle of bubbly to share with us.  I initially apologized for showing up empty-handed today, explaining that I was recovering from a hangover after a night drinking with my Russian caviar supplier... and wasn't planning on drinking at lunch today.  Someone was definitely twisting my arm by bringing this baby...

    1996 Jacques Selosse, dégorgée à 2 Fevrier 2005 - honey, Chinese licorice (甘草), acidity a little high on the first sip.  Nose of salted plum (話梅), hay, savory and mineral.  Soooooo beautiful!  Especially after airing in glass for about an hour.  Naturally the acidity level went up as it warmed up further in glass.  What a privilege to have drunk this wine!

    Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé - smells like carbonated orange blossom water... Could almost taste the strawberries on the palate.

    So... I know this is the Sunday after New Year's Day, and maybe the dim sum chef was off on vacation... but the food was honestly below my expectations.  If I were working for the Rubberman and came to inspect this place for dim sum, they'd get absolutely zero stars.

    So the question is: do I even bother coming back to try out dishes for dinner?

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  • 01/03/16--07:38: Peking duck for visitors
  • After going back for a little nap after lunch, it was time to meet up with the visiting foodies for one last meal.  A change of heart a couple of weeks ago saw us seated at a window-side table in Yan Toh Heen (欣圖軒) in the InterContinental Hong Kong, with gorgeous views of Victoria Harbour.  This was once my favorite restaurant to take visitors, and I was pretty excited about coming back after a few years' absence.

    Unlike at lunch today, I was tasked with putting the menu together for dinner, so I tried to have a combination of Cantonese classics along with dishes I felt would be more interesting to visitors without access to good Cantonese/Chinese food.

    The amuse bouche tonight was a prawn on a bed of steamed egg custard, with starch glaze flavored with celery and chives.  I was rather disappointed that nobody bothered to tell us what it was after setting it down.  I had expected better.

    Braised whole abalone and seafood on a crispy taro net (原隻鮑魚海鮮脆芋盒) - one of our visitors loved this so much on her last visit that she wanted to have it again, even though dim sum items usually aren't available for dinner.  Placing a special order in advance meant the price was raised from HKD 110 to HKD 150 per piece, which was starting to feel like highway robbery to me...

    Well... I didn't get it.  But then again I don't really get many of the abalone dim sum items, anyway...  Yes, you get a decent sized abalone, but it's not the type of dried abalone that's been braised for hours to perfection.  Neither is it the live abalone with the springy, bouncy texture and fresh flavors.  Instead you get something that's neither here nor there... with a flabby texture and boring flavors.  And at almost USD 20 for this... the price was just wrong.  Yes, there's shredded crabmeat in the middle.  Yes, there was that familiar crispy taro shell surrounding a layer of taro mash.  But something just seemed a little off here, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

    Peking duck (香烤片皮鴨) - our visitors requested this, to no one's surprise...  Foodie Girl and I admitted to the visitors that we mostly eat Peking duck when entertaining visitors...  Honestly, I can get roast goose and roast duck anywhere that serves Cantonese roast meats, including my beloved Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).  So what's the big deal about Peking duck?!  Besides, if I wanted to have a whole roasted animal, I'll take a good roast suckling pig any day.

    The first serving is always the skin, and here they've served us only the skin, with barely any fat underneath and no meat here.  I suppose this is seen as more upscale and refined, but me?  I like my duck fatty, and crispy skin without any fat underneath just isn't as satisfying to me.

    They brought out so many condiments that it took up most of the Lazy Susan on our table.  There were three different types of sauces, each paired with two different toppings.  The classic hoisin sauce (海鮮醬) with spring onion is a no-brainer.  The plum also works, but the accompanying green papaya added too much acidity.  The worst was the gochujang (고추장), and thankfully I didn't add the pomelo pulp as suggested.  So... it would seem that the classic is still the best.

    Steamed leopard coral trout (清蒸東星斑) - you can't come to a high-end Cantonese restaurant without having steamed fish, and this place has been doing a good job with their steamed fish for the last 20 years.  What's even better is that they can bone the fish and steam it on banana leaves - which is a pretty option to exercise when you have visitors from overseas who may not be used to eating a whole fish.  Steaming the fish in pieces would naturally overcook the fish a little, but in this case it was just about perfect.

    Minced duck in lettuce wrap (鴨崧生菜包) - the second serving from our Peking duck.  Well, this was disappointing.  The minced duck was completely overcooked.  FAIL.

    Stir-fried pea shoots with bamboo piths (竹笙炒豆苗) - pea shoots are in season, so it's not surprising that they're very young and tender.  The bamboo piths were fine, too.  But what's with all that thick starch?!  Absolutely unnecessary, and just make the dish feel cheap.

    Oh and the other thing I'm a little miffed about?  They served us the veg dish when there was another dish coming.  This should have been served right before, or with, the rice or noodle.  A restaurant like this should know better.

    Wok-fried lobster with crabmeat roe and fresh milk (龍皇炒鮮奶) - well, this didn't turn out to be what I had expected.  I've been pretty spoiled by my favorite private kitchen, and I thought the fried milk would come out a lot fluffier.  I also thought it would come with crab meat, but reading the Japanese translation would have told me that it's actually crab roe, sans meat.  And the roe actually didn't have much flavor.  Oh well.  This was OK, but not very special.

    Steamed rice with mixed air-dried meat (臘味煲仔飯) - this is a homey winter favorite for many of us, so I wanted to show it to our visitors.  Unfortunately, though, I don't think it went down very well.  The preserved pork sausage, liver sausage, preserved pork belly, and preserved duck were all a little on the salty side - especially the duck.  We would normally take it with a good amount of rice that has the duck fat mixed in, but the claypot was on the small side tonight - yielding only 6 bowls of rice, supposedly... So the ratio of meat to rice was all wrong.   I saw some of the visitors eating the rice on its own, after drizzling some soy sauce on top.

    The other disappointment here was that the waiter didn't serve us any rice crispies.  It seemed incredible that there would be no rice sticking to the claypot after the extended cooking period, so where were the chunks of rice crispies?!  That would have provided a little more pleasure to this dish... even if the waiter had to cook it tableside for a little longer.

    We didn't have room for dessert, and just nibbled on the mignardises.  I hope the almond cookies tasted good to the others, because the roll of jelly I picked up tasted of absolutely nothing.

    I brought along a couple of bottles to share.

    1996 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis - very floral with violet notes, along with leather and animal notes.  Acidity was a little higher than expected, which was a shame.

    1994 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese 45 - classic nose of white pepper and petrol, with a little polyurethane.  Somewhat on the sweet side.

    Dinner tonight was alright, but below my expectations for this 2-star establishment, especially given the pricing being charged.  Oh well...

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  • 01/10/16--00:26: A very Bau lunch
  • While having lunch together last month, The Man in the White T-Shirt mentioned that the next guest chef that Hong Kong Jockey Club had invited to town was Christian Bau, and asked whether I was interested in joining for a lunch.  I know that Victor's Fine Dining - the restaurant run by the chef - is well-regarded and has earned 3 macarons from the Rubberman.  I had also heard a few European friends talk about the chef as someone they respect very highly.  So I didn't hesitate to sign up for this.

    Amuse bouche, cold - apparently we were to be served with not one, but two amuses bouches.  This was salmon from the Faroe Islands, with a mix of green as well as toasted quinoa, in a sauce made of citrus and Mexican peppers.  The sauce had a lovely citrus flavor along with some kick from the peppers, and came with little bits of what seemed to be fresh almonds to provide some crunch.  The white dots tasted a little like white miso.  There was also pickled pearl onions.  Very nice balance of flavors, along with an interesting variety of textures.  A great start to our lunch.

    Amuse bouche, hot - the hot follow-up seemed a little boring, hidden underneath a layer of foam...

    Underneath the Parmesan foam was a layer of Port wine, with a layer of black truffle, and steamed foie gras custard at the bottom.  A beautiful dish.  Warm foie gras custard with black truffle isn't new, but adding Port to the mix gave it a new dimension, as the acidity cuts the richness of the fat.

    Goose liver, langoustine, apple, smoked almond - WOW!  Truly an incredible dish!  A second foie gras dish in a row, but this time it's served cold.  A ring of foie gras terrine sits on a thin ring of green apple, and is topped with a layer of raw langoustine.  Garnished with julienned green apple and gel that tasted of salted lemon.  This was so smooth and beautiful... and the langoustine just worked so well with the foie.  Served with little beads of foie gras ice cream, as well as some apple gel with smoked almonds.  Undoubtedly my favorite dish today.

    Turbot, kohlrabi, chives, dashi - it's always interesting to see that European chefs' penchant for using kohlrabi, and to me it's a crunchier version of radish or turnip.  Here we've got a pan-fried turbot - which was, unfortunately, just a tad overcooked - served with a white wine butter sauce infused with dashi (出汁) and chives.  You've got several different textures of kohlrabi, ranging from raw to cooked to mash.  While I thought the dish was pretty tasty, it did seem a little over-seasoned.

    Lamb, artichoke, salted lemon, coriander - a beautiful piece of Australian lamb rack that was still red in the middle, with a salted lemon lamb jus.  Served with a medallion of lamb sweetbread that, surprisingly, tasted rather mild.  Below the sweetbread was a square of lamb belly that had been slow cooked before being finished in the pan.  Several forms of artichokes were on the plate: roasted, puréed, and deep-fried.  Finger-licking good.

    'Souvenir from Asia': pandan, nashi pear, ginger - the "bau stone" was made with chocolate, pandan, and almond (?).  Served with ginger ice cream, along with meringue and pickled pear.

    This time around, some of us decided to bring our own bottles of red.  I was initially going to take the suggested wine pairing, but in the end Fergie and I decided to order the two rieslings from the pairing as bottles and shared them with the table.

    1996 Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Rouge, en magnum - very fruity, with strawberries and leather notes.  Opened up very well later.

    2011 Joh.Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett - petrol, polyurethane, white flowers, and a little flinty.  Actually pretty sweet on the palate for a kabinett.  Originally meant to be paired with the goose liver and langoustine.

    1966 Trotanoy - very smoky, with lots of tea, a little savory, minerals, almost soy sauce, and earthy notes.

    1982 Trotanoy - sweeter than the '66, with lots of coffee, smoke, cigar box nose.  A beautiful wine that's drinking very well at this moment.

    2013 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - white flowers, white pepper, petrol, and flint.  Acidity was actually quite high on the palate.  Originally meant to be paired with the dessert, but we thought the high acidity here didn't really work well with the dessert, and thought the JJ Prüm would have been a better pairing.

    This was an awesome lunch. Almost faultless in terms of execution and flavors.  My friends weren't kidding when they said that Christian Bau is one of the most under-appreciated chefs - despite his 3 macarons.  Now I just need to find an excuse to visit Schloß Berg... maybe on my next trip to Champagne or Alsace!

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  • 01/12/16--07:20: Casual and comforting pasta
  • The evening started out on a very sour note.

    After sampling The Frenchie - the hot dog created by Chef Richard Ekkebus for the month-long pop-up from New York's Please Don't Tell at the MO Bar - I had been longing to try the other three hot dogs created by three other local chefs for the pop-up.  So I made plans to drop in after work with Hello Kitty.

    I wasn't sure whether we would need reservations, since the pop-up occupies a subsection of MO Bar.  So Hello Kitty called them up, and was told that the earliest booking available tonight was from 11pm onwards... but that we could come by earlier.  We didn't understand why we couldn't book an earlier slot, but figured we'd show up anyway...

    When we showed up at the entrance to MO Bar shortly after 6pm, I saw a sign displayed indicating that there was a private event at PDT.  So I asked, and was told that there was indeed a private event... and that the earliest we could get into PDT would be 10pm.

    I was pissed.  It's one thing to be disappointed about not having those hot dogs, but what pissed me off was that we tried to make sure we would not make the trek to MO Bar in vain by calling in advance to check.  If the place was closed for a private event, the staff should have told us on the phone.  We would have known not to show up before 10pm, and chosen to go somewhere else.  It was a vital piece of information that the staff failed to deliver, and I can't understand why we simply weren't told.

    For a few minutes I was just royally pissed, and couldn't think rationally about an alternative.  After a few minutes spent trying to calm myself down, Hello Kitty suggested we go upstairs to CIAK in the Kitchen.  There was plenty of seating there, and we settled in and ordered some simple food and drinks.

    I needed some comfort food, so I took the trenette, clams with garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper.  The pasta itself still had plenty of bite, and came with a generous amount of clams.  The sauce was simple and familiar.  Delicious.

    Hello Kitty had her eye on the baked classic lasagna, wagyu beef bolognese.  The flavors are also familiar here, and very satisfying.

    Well... the evening ended up OK.  I could always count on Chef Umberto Bombana's team at CIAK.

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  • 01/12/16--23:47: A light surf and turf lunch
  • It's the beginning of the year, and one of my friendly neighborhood prime brokers was kind enough to take me out to lunch so we could catch up.  As Amber was unfortunately unavailable, we ended up lunching at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  As I haven't been back for a few years, it gave me a good opportunity to look into Chef David Alves' cooking.

    The amuse bouche came in two parts:

    Foie gras royale with cheese foam - a pretty good way to start, as this warms the stomach and preps it for what's to come.  The cup contained brunoise of a crunchy root, which had an interesting fragrance that was somewhat overpowered by the foie and the cheese... although I thought it might have been celeriac.

    Cromesqui - made with a type of carrot, with a liquid center containing chorizo.

    Le homard: façon "tsukune" dans un bouillon relevé au gingembre et cèleri - the weather is getting a little chillier, so a bowl of warm soup was just perfect.  Clear chicken bouillon was made less ordinary with some kick from ginger and ground pepper (piment d'espelette, perhaps?), along with the fragrance of celery.  Along with small chunks of lobster - homard bleu, no doubt - there were little "meatballs" made from lobster meat, with flying fish roe (とびこ) inside..  Simple and comforting.

    Le cochon iberique: «la plume» rôti rosé, choux de Bruxelle et racine de cerfeuil au jus - having just had my first taste of iberico plumatwo weeks ago, I decided to give this a try.  Our waiter suggested medium-rare, and I left it up to the kitchen to decide what's best.  What I had in my mouth was very, very delicious.  The meat was indeed done rosé, with a smooth and slippery texture in the middle.  The exterior was nicely browned and delivered nice and smoky flavors, well-seasoned by black pepper.  Loved the Brussels sprouts.

    La fraise: Japonaise dans son jus, crème glacée au kirch et sa tuile croustillante aux amandes - it's Japanese strawberry season, so naturally I chose this dessert.  Besides the sweet strawberries, the quenelle of kirsch ice cream was very, very delish...  My only issue was that our waiter didn't know what kind of strawberries were being used, and simply responded "Japanese" when I inquired.  No shit, Sherlock!  Pâtissiers at restaurants like this are particular about the ingredients they use, and no doubt would have chosen a particular cultivar.  I was disappointed that he didn't know, and didn't bother to ask.  When I pressed further, he simply answered something like "ishiko"... and I'll assume he wanted to say "ichigo (いちご)", or Japanese for "strawberries"...

    A relatively light and satisfying lunch, finished with a shot of espresso accompanied by some caramel sauce.  I did have a taste of that caramel sauce on its own, and it was pretty tasty alright... but nowhere as thick and heavenly as the one in Macau.

    Many thanks to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for the treat.

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    Senpai is back in town, and I found myself having dinner at Heichinrou (聘珍樓) in Central again with a group of old friends.  We all used to work together for the same firm many years ago - well, all except ILove Lubutin - and we were supporting Senpai's efforts to support Kamaishi (釜石市).  I had previously attended a dinner here focused on the swimming scallops from the area, and I was happy to come back again for some more.

    Once again we were shown the swimming scallops from Kamaishi, supplied by Yamakiichi Shouten (ヤマキイチ商店) and air-flown in saltwater.

    Japanese scallop sashimi (岩手縣鮮活元貝) - having the scallops raw really brings out the natural sweetness.  Absolutely delicious.  Thankfully they have chosen to serve it in thicker slices compared to my first visit, and it was indeed a lot more satisfying.

    Pan-fried Japanese scallop with black truffle lemon sauce (岩手鮮活元貝香煎配黑松露香檸汁) - this, however, is the more interesting preparation.  Plenty of black truffle paste, and the acidity from the lemon sauce stimulated the appetite further.  Wonderful dish.

    Cooked mi cuit.

    Double-boiled fish maw clear soup with whelk and black mushrooms (花膠北菰燉螺頭雞湯) - I always love a chicken soup cooked with ingredients like whelk, but I really didn't care for the fish maw today... as they were a little fishy and pungent.

    Pan-fried king prawn with soya sauce (頭抽煎大花蝦) - such a beautiful prawn, simply pan-fried in premium soy sauce with a little diced spring onion.  Classic and perfect.

    Steamed whole fresh spotted garoupa (清蒸東星斑) - the steamed fish was also nicely done.  Delicious on its own, but I should have asked for a little bit of steamed rice...

    Deep-fried crispy Heichinrou chicken (手吊脆皮雞) - the chicken was pretty good.

    Poached organic vegetables with supreme soup (上湯高山有機時蔬) - I like the fact that the restaurant sources organic vegetables grown on a mountain farm, and they really do taste delicious.

    Yeung Chow fried rice (楊州炒飯) - this was actually very delicious, and I couldn't believe how quickly I inhaled this bowl.

    We had some fresh fruit, and also the mango pudding (芒果布甸).  ILove Lubutin and I couldn't help reminiscing reliving the nightmare about that time we were given mango dessert at a restaurant with a chef named Mango...

    As the owner of the restaurant is an alumnus of the same school Senpai and I attended, the corkage was very kindly waived for our dinner.  So I figured I'd grab a few moderately-priced bottles from my cellar to clear some inventory...

    Chartogne-Taillet Brut Rosé - nose of strawberries, a little caramelized.  Medium to full-bodied.

    2003 Françoise Bedel L'Âme de la Terre - caramelized nose.  Nice and ripe on the palate.

    2004 Léoville Poyferré - nose of forest, herbs, a little oaky, sweet fruit, with a little smoke and almost a hint of shoe polish.

    2003 Arietta Variation One - very sweet and ripe on the nose, almost grapey.  Very minty.  Full-bodied.

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  • 01/15/16--07:38: The reunion
  • My first job out of college was in New York City, with a financial institution famous (or infamous, depending on how one sees it) for its trading prowess and its innovation in financial products.  I joined the bank right when its reputation was at its peak, and witnessed the first of the derivatives scandals to emerge - with lawsuits coming in left and right.

    As a fresh grad, I saw investments get wiped out as a result of leverage (up to 40x, and sneakily hidden from clients), saw the havoc wreaked by the sudden devaluation of a major regional currency (3 years before the start of the Asian Financial Crisis), and went on a wild ride of the markets after a political assassination.  That was a lot to take in during the first two years of my career.

    After those first two years, I transferred with Bankers Trust to Hong Kong, where I met up with old friends from school and made new friends.  After a little more than three and a half years, I left Bankers Trust and followed some colleagues to my second financial institution.  Months later the Asian Financial Crisis happened, and the following year the Russian Debt Crisis.  After that, BT was basically toast, and had to be taken over by Deutsche Bank.

    The group of friends I worked with at BT, though, were a close-knit bunch, and we kept in touch after more than 20 years.  But the strong ties among the BT people aren't just limited to the small group of us.  Back in 2002, a reunion was organized for the people who worked for BT in Hong Kong, and more than 120 of us showed up at the American Club.  I'd say that's a testament to the cohesiveness of the organization.

    Tonight, more than a decade and a half after the demise of Bankers Trust, around 120 of us gathered at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  There was a buffet dinner at the Happy Valley Race Course, but we didn't really come for the food or the drinks.  We came to see old friends.

    It's natural to expect that people have scattered after all these years, and tonight we had people flying in from Taipei, Manila, Singapore, Tokyo, and even as far away as Abu Dhabi.  Some of us have left the financial industry, while others have retired.  The world of finance has changed so much since our time together at BT, but we still remember the old days very fondly.  BT was a very entrepreneurial organization, and the camaraderie I saw back then is nowhere to be found in most large financial institutions today.  People were a lot nicer to each other, and as I repeated a few times tonight, there were just "fewer assholes" around...

    Many of us haven't seen each other in years, and there were plenty of selfies and other pics being snapped all through the night.  Towards the end of the evening, people took turns to take group pictures on the stage - gathering with their team members to preserve their memories.  A bunch of us really didn't want to leave the gathering and stayed till the end of our allotted time...

    One image from the slideshow of old pics stuck in my mind, and it's something we always said many, many years ago.  What makes an organization great... it really IS the people!  And I hope to see more of these people in the coming years... and hopefully more than once every 10 years!

    P.S.  Since I didn't write about the buffet food, here are some notes on the bottles of wine I brought to share with my table...

    2000 Smith-Haut-Lafitte Rouge, en magnum - smoky, minty, and mineral.  Very nice.

    2003 Fisher Vineyards Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard, from magnum - very ripe and sweet, exotic, oaky and vanilla.

    2006 Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon The Maitre D' - still a little sharp and rough around the edges, slightly pungent with the sulfur.  Sweet and punchy.

    P.P.S: I just found out that one of the young kids I worked with a little more than 10 years ago at another financial institution is actually the son of a colleague I used to work with at Bankers Trust Hong Kong 20 years ago!  What an incredibly small world!

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  • 01/18/16--23:36: C'est dans l'air
  • I'm back in Taipei for a few days, voting in the presidential election and spending a few days with the Parental Units.  While I either ate very simple meals outside or mom's cooking at home over the last few days, I decided to have lunch at some place I've always wanted to check out.  I managed to drag my friend Cathy from HaoKouFu to L'Air café néo-bistro (風.流.小.館.).  I've passed by this place many times while walking between grandma's and Yongkang Street (永康街), but never had a chance to walk through its doors... until now.

    The first part of the amuse bouche was a little cube of pork terrine with pickled cucumber.

    These cheese sticks seemed a little bit stale.

    Crispy fried prawns with grilled Napa cabbage, sliced pear, and orange vinaigrette (酥炸花色紅蝦搭烤白菜與西洋梨薄片佐柑橘油醋) - the battered and deep-fried prawns were pretty good, with crispy batter that wasn't greasy.  Interesting to pair it with cooked Napa cabbage and what seemed to be slices of poached Anjou pear, along with a few arugula leaves.  The orange vinaigrette was nice.

    Radish bisque with stewed radish and pan-fried scallop (白蘿蔔濃湯搭清甜燉蘿蔔與煎干貝) - this was very nice, especially on a slightly chilly and rainy day.  The bisque was creamy but still light enough in terms of texture, and the sweet flavors of radish come through - enhanced with a little bit of piment d'espelette and grated yuzu rind.  The chunk of stewed radish was very nice, too.

    The pan-fried scallop was done mi-cuit.  Very delicious.

    Pan-fried chicken confit with sautéed mushrooms, potatoes, and quinoa in thyme chicken jus (煎脆皮油封雞腿搭藜麥洋芋炒菇佐百里香雞汁) - not bad at all.  The sautéed mix was seasoned with what seemed to be cumin or curry powder - which made it a little more exotic.

    Pink guava sorbet (沁涼冰沙) - not bad, and served with a slightly acidic foam - which my friend thought was made with Calpis (カルピス).

    Crêpe with salted butter caramel (焦糖海鹽奶油風味可麗餅) - the salted butter caramel was nice, but the crêpe itself was too wet and fluffy.  It should have been thinner and crispier.  But hey, we're just two nitpicking people who have eaten their fair shares of authentic French crêpes...

    This pâté de fruit was made with pink guava.  Pretty nice.

    Honestly, this was a pretty decent lunch.  Classic stuff.  Nothing wow'd me or blew my mind, but then again... this was a casual lunch at a bistro, after all.  All that mattered was that the food tasted good and I enjoyed my meal.

    I guess I can come back here for more casual gatherings with friends, when fine dining isn't the order of the day.

    P.S.  one interesting thing about this place is that while it's headed by Chef Dana, it seemed the whole kitchen was female - at least when we looked in today.  That's gotta be pretty rare...

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    Tonight I paid my very first visit to the newest fine dining restaurant operated by the Lai Sun Group, and had a fantastic dinner.  But this was also my last visit, since I won't be going back there.

    Why? You ask.  In a word: service.  I don't go back to restaurants where the service is shit, no matter how good the food is.

    I had heard about Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡) opening up in Hong Kong quite a few months ago.  News of its imminent opening buzzed around town, and a few of my friends were talking about it.  Although I was initially tempted to dismiss the place as another nouveau riche Chinese restaurant serving expensive ingredients for the sake of pumping up the bill, a couple of my friends had had good meals at the restaurant in Guangzhou, so the food seemed to be legit.  Then I found out that the local partner is the Lai Sun Group, and for me, that is as good of a quality guarantee as one can get in Hong Kong.

    But I wasn't in a hurry to pay them a visit.  Word was that the price of dinner ranged from HKD 2,500 to 4,000 a head, depending on how many of the premium ingredients were included.  Since I'm never eager to pay for things like whelk, bird's nest, abalone, and shark's fin - the latter is on my forbidden list for environmental reasons - this place wasn't high on my priority list.

    We were getting together to celebrate a couple of birthdays with some old friends, and some of them wanted to try the place out, so I went along with the group decision.  Dinner service was in private rooms only, with a minimum of HKD 16,000 per table, so the seven of us ponied up tonight.  The restaurant was told about my dietary restriction - the fact that I refuse to eat shark's fin - and had prepared a substitution.

    I was poured some bottled water the minute I sat down.  I had never had Krystal before, but the bottle clearly screamed "premium and expensive water"... and when your tagline is "The pinnacle of luxury and health in a bottle", I just know these guys are selling pure bullshit to people who just have more money than taste or sense.

    Having said that, the water tasted mildly alkaline, and the texture seemed very soft and rounded on the palate.

    Tonight's menu: (N.B. the English descriptions are the result of my poor translation skills)

    Amuse bouche (前菜):
    Specialty soup for stomach-warming (特色暖胃湯) - a decent pumpkin soup.

    Seasonal duo of small bites (時令兩小碟) - pickled radish on the left, and dried cuttlefish (乾墨魚) on the right that was pretty chewy and spicy.

    Starters (頭盤):
    Savory bites (一口鮮) - these were actually battered and deep-fried Bombay duck (九肚魚), commonly found in Cantonese restaurants.  This version seemed to employ a lighter batter, and was very delicious on its own.  Also nice with the kumquat sauce provided.

    Protagonists (主角):
    Crispy sea cucumber (脆皮婆參) - I believe these are white teatfish (豬婆參) from Australia.  The sea cucumber was first rehydrated in a mix of mineral water and dried shrimp water (蝦米水).  Then it was braised in a pressure cooker, in a stock made with pork chop and old hen.  Finally, the exterior was seared with a torch.

    I'm not an expert on sea cucumber dishes beyond those that mom makes at home, and don't usually order it in restaurants.  I gotta admit that this was one of the best sea cucumbers I've had.  Ever.  The braising had made the texture gelatinous, as expected, and the collagen was soon coating the inside of my mouth.  But the torch had made the exterior a little more crispy, so that the sea cucumber held its shape well... while delivering a slight smoky flavor.

    The sauce in the bowl was, naturally, full of sticky collagen.  Since there was no rice or bread around to soak it up, I actually copied ILove Lubutin by dipping my index finger into the bowl to deliver the sauce to my tongue... before finally using a spoon.  Yes, it was that good.

    Sliced whelk in consommé (清湯螺片) - another ingredient normally not on my menu is whelk.  High end restaurants in town can sometimes charge up to HKD 1,000 per slice (yes, that's one slice and not a whole whelk...), and I just don't feel that I am able to appreciate this ingredient enough to justify shelling out that kind of mulla.

    But this... is something entirely different from what I've had before.  The slices tonight are relatively small compared to what is normally served in other restaurants, even though they come from whelks weighing two catties or more found in the waters between Kaoshiung (高雄) and Chaozhou (潮州) / Shantou (汕頭).  But size isn't everything, is it?!  The whelk had what I thought was the perfect texture - just the right balance between tenderness and crunchiness.  Flavors were sweet.  The chicken consommé was beautiful and pure.  Those long ribbons of celtuce stem (萵苣) were nice and crunchy, and they also added a beautiful hue to green to the bowl.

    This dish changed my mind about whelk.  I might well be willing to pay for this bowl again.  And we were told that they also serve "whelk steak (螺扒)", where each one of these large whelks yield only two such slices...

    Braised hasma (紅燒雪蛤) - I normally don't care for the fatty issue around the frog's fallopian tubes, but as I had chosen not to have shark's fin, this was served in lieu of it.  Nice, gelatinous chunks that melts in the mouth.  Not bad.

    Black preserved sausage with cheese (芝士黑臘腸) - I dunno why this starter was served out of place, after all three "protagonist" dishes... but whatever.  The appearance, honestly, was a little WTF... with squiggly lines from a squeeze bottle on top that had been lightly torched.  It reminded me of some Taiwanese restaurant's penchant for baking seafood with mayonnaise on top...

    Anyway, our waitress told us that the sausage looked black because it had been dyed with squid ink.  And pork was added to the sausage.  Really?!  Chinese preserved sausage (臘腸) was made from pork?!  I did not know that...

    When I inquired about the squiggly lines on top, I was told that it was cheese.
    Me: What kind of cheese?  
    Waitress: French soft cheese.

    Well, that certainly cleared it up... because there was only one type of soft cheese made in France, riiiiiight?!

    Thanks to the appearance of this dish, and given the crowd tonight, one should not be surprised that inappropriate jokes about bbc made an appearance... especially given the soft, white stuff on top.  Although to be honest, the size doesn't exactly fit the description of a bbc...

    Supporting cast (配角):
    Stir-fried beef with preserved leafy mustard (咸菜炒牛肉) - the beef was fully cooked but still tender.  The preserved leafy mustard comes from Chaozhou (潮州).

    Shredded fish in black fungus sauce (木耳汁魚絲) - instead of shreds of fresh fish as I had expected, the bowl contained strips of fish cake.

    The sauce was made from blended black wood ear fungus (黑木耳), and had an abundance of black pepper to deliver a pretty strong kick.

    Simmered pea shoots (香燉大豆苗) - I've had a lot of pea shoots, and this bowl has to rank near the top.  Just incredibly soft and tender... as if it were about to melt in my mouth.

    Staple dish (主食):
    Braised pig trotter with rice cake (豬手炆年糕) - we finally get to the carb dish - usually served just before dessert, and tonight it came with one of my favorite ingredients - pig trotters!

    Our waitress began introducing the dish, telling us that:
    "Spain has Parma ham.  Since they discard the trotters after slicing the ham, we take these trotters and cook with them."


    How the hell did it take me till the mid-forties - just when I started wearing bifocals for the very first time tonight - to find out that Parma ham is actually from Spain?!  And all this time I always thought that Parma ham or prosciutto di Parma was from Italy.  Silly me.

    Well, whatever the case, this was absolutely delicious.  The trotter was very, very tender... with lots of collagen.  The thin slices of glutinous rice cake were right up the alley for this quarter-Shanghainese...

    Dessert (甜品):
    Bird's nest with pink guava sorbet (胭脂紅官燕) - ah... bird's nest.  Another ingredient that I'm too cheap to pay for.  To me it's just a bunch of colorless and flavorless jelly - easily replaceable with agar agar - although my parents (along with millions of Chinese people) swear by its health benefits.

    There was a scoop of sorbet underneath, made with a cultivar of pink guava called 胭脂紅.

    A cup of tea was the final act.  This fragrant cup of Oolong tea (烏龍茶) comes from a mountain near Chaozhou (潮州) called 雙髻娘山, and is grown at an altitude of 1,036 meters.

    I dunno nothin' about tea, but even I knew that this was good shit...

    Finally, it was time for our two birthday boys to blow out the candle and cut the cake.  Our organizer once again arranged for something from Lady M, and tonight it was their Gâteau Nuage.

    I normally only like the thick, dense New York cheesecake... and totally pooh-pooh those fake, fluffy, and tasteless things that the Japanese love to churn out.  But this... this I am happy to eat any day.  It was thick and rich enough in terms of flavor, but at the same time slightly more fluffy and airy.  Yum.

    Besides bringing our own cake, I also brought along a few bottles to help celebrate the birthdays...

    1988 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese - unfortunately a little corked, showing some wet cardboard in the nose.  Some aeration helped and it was less noticeable.  A little petrol and white pepper on the nose, and later on some white flower notes.  Good acidity on the palate for an auslese.

    1970 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - drier and leaner on the palate.  Not quite steely, with white flower notes.  Later on the texture was quite rounded on the tongue.

    1997 Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir - nose of sweet fruit, with black cherry notes.  Alcohol was a little sharp on the nose.  Fragrant and a little floral, with some hawthorne notes.

    So... as I said at the beginning, the food was fantastic.  A few of the dishes were incredibly memorable, and some even changed how I perceived certain ingredients.

    But our waitress completely failed, and totally pissed me off.  She also managed to piss off our organizer, which is not a position one wants to find oneself in...

    I'm very picky about service, and my expectations for good service increases along with the price of the meal.  Tonight was a disaster.

    First: our waitress knew dick all about ingredients.  She was given a simple script by the restaurant, and kept extolling the greatness of "Master Cai".  Meanwhile, she couldn't tell me the type of cheese that was being used on the sausage, and confidently told us that Parma ham comes from Spain.  Absolutely unacceptable for a restaurant charging this level of pricing, supposedly catering to discerning diners.  Maybe they just assume that their clientele are Mainland Chinese 土豪 who know nothing about food, but are nevertheless willing to blow lots of money to impress their guests.  Well, that doesn't work in Hong Kong.  People who are willing to spend this kind of money on a meal often really know their shit when it comes to food.

    Second: she repeatedly ignored my instructions on wine service.  When I tell you that I needed a certain bottle of wine opened and/or decanted, I want it done NOW.  Not 10 minutes later, after you've cleared a round of plates from the table and then served the next dish.  My wines need sufficient time to air so that they drink well, and that means they need to be opened as I instructed - not at the waitstaff's leisure.

    Third: I fucking hate it when people hard sell.  It is the very reason why I don't willingly go back to Chiu Tang (潮廳) - another of Lai Sun Group's restaurants.  When I run out of wine, I don't need you to put two bottles of whisky on the table and try to get me to buy one.  And please check your facts before you start telling me that Master Cai bought the Scotch distillery.  It's more likely that he bought a few barrels and put his own label on them.

    And what is totally unacceptable is that, even after we told you that we didn't want the whisky, you bring the whiskies back out AGAIN at the end of the dinner - right before we settle the bill - to push us into buying them.  We already told you "No" once.

    Finally: I did not witness this first hand - this was described to me by the person who settled the bill - but it is also completely unacceptable that the waitress makes a face showing her displeasure at being given what she considers to be a small tip - on top of the 10% service charge as well as the HKD 400 per bottle corkage.  Make no mistake: I am under no obligation to pay you any extra tips, and anything I give you on top is at my pleasure, not yours.

    So... NO, I had a fantastic meal here, but I won't be going back anytime soon.

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  • 01/22/16--07:16: Down for the count, finally
  • I've been receiving complaints.  I haven't been to see one of my favorite chefs in a while, and he's not shy about letting me know that he hasn't been gettin' the love from me.  After attempts at a December visit fell through, I waited until Uwe Opocensky returned from his trip to the US to book myself a table at the Mandarin Grill + Bar.

    As usual, I didn't bother ordering.  I just let Uwe know in advance that I was coming, and he knew that he would have carte blanche to throw at me whatever he felt like.  The only comment I made to Uwe before dinner started were that "I don't do fish sperm" and "we're not as hungry as you think we are".  After all, just about every single visit I've paid Uwe in the last 3 years has resulted in my stomach almost bursting while still in the restaurant.

    First came the little nibbles.  We were told to start with mushroom sabayon.  Very nice and warms the stomach to prep it for the coming onslaught.

    Fermented sourdough sticks with pickled onions and flowers - crunchy and pretty.

    Spherical olives

    Truffle toast - when you get a black plate with a load of black truffles on it, it's hard not to get excited.  Of course Uwe had to tell us that there's more truffle coming.

    The toast was soaked in truffle jus, with egg yolk, a ton of black truffle shavings on top, a spray of dashi (出汁) and a sprinkle of salt.  Really fragrant and tasty.  The only issue I had with it was that the toast itself was too wet and soggy, and I didn't like the sensation of grabbing it with my fingers.

    Next Uwe brings out the works for the sturgeon caviar, again sourced from Lake Qiandao (千島湖) in China.  Tonight we had three different types:

    Sevruga - a little more "fishy" than expected.

    Golden Oscietra - surprisingly this was the mildest of the three.

    Beluga - lots of delicious fishy flavors here.

    I was a little surprised that the only utensils on the table were knifes and forks, so I asked for some caviar spoons.  We were given three mother-of-pearl spoons so I tasted each type of caviar on its own.

    There were also plenty of condiments to go with the caviar, but a little different from the "traditional" way they are served:

    Charcoal grilled leeks - cut open and into sections so we'd eat the juicy interior.

    Slow-cooked duck egg yolk - beautiful to use as a "dip".

    Parker House roll - charcoal grilled.

    So I added some runny yolk onto the Parker House roll along with some diced chives, put the caviar on top, and had it together with a bite of the grilled leeks.  Delicious and satisfying.

    Tartare: Japanese, Miyazaki, baguette, mushroom, bone marrow - raw Japanese beef from Miyazaki Prefecture.

    Lifting up the top sheet of beef reveals the tartare underneath.  The sheet of raw beef was nice and fatty, and tasted clean and beautiful.  The tartare came in reasonably big chunks, which were a little chewy.  Very tasty, too... and the seasoning was seemingly a little on the sweet side as well as being a little spicy.

    The baguette was charcoal grilled, with bone marrow mayonnaise, pickled mushrooms (trompette de la mort?), herbs, flowers, and deep-fried shallots with fermented mustard seeds on top.  There's a lot of stuff on this here baguette, but the combination worked to balance out the fatty beef.

    Langoustine: Faroe Island, grilled, kombu - Uwe said that as a result of a dinner collaboration last year with René Redzepi from Noma, they are now using the same supplier for langoustines from the Faroe Islands.

    Seeing that there were no utensils on the table, I wasted no time in posted a picture online with the caption "no fork use"... When I finally got around to asking the staff, though, I was told there we were meant to use our hands to grab the vines in order to lift the langoustine off the plate.

    The langoustines - which arrive live - are seared and sprayed with a sake (酒) dashi (出汁) vinegar and sprinkled with dark roasted kombu (昆布) powder.  Served with langoustine reduction on the side.  Absolutely beautiful.  The flavors of that langoustine... just WOW!  So fresh, so sweet, and so full of the flavors of the sea.

    Scallop: Japanese, Hokkaido, diver caught, truffle - Uwe said there were more truffles coming, and here they were!

    The scallops were cooked in its own stock on the grill, with a little bit of butter, and not so little bit of black truffles.  Yum.

    Venison: Welsh, Rhug Estate, organic, choclate, parsnip - venison loin came with a chocolate leaf on top, along with freeze-dried blueberries.  Then venison ragoût was ladled on top of it all, melting the chocolate leaf so that it mixed with the sauce.

    Initially we were told that there would be a vegetarian pasta course.  As it turns out, there was a mound of celeriac "pasta" underneath, which were ribbons of celeriac.

    The venison was very gamey, and my friend had a little trouble stomaching it.  I, on the other hand, love gamey meats... and the chocolate really worked well to soften the blow of rare game.  But there was no doubt that this was a heavy dish, and certainly not "vegetarian" and light!

    Stuffed shiitake mushroom with duck confit, foie gras, and chicken mousse in honey soya duck jus - these were giant shiitake mushrooms, and there was a lot going on here.

    You can kinda see the chunks of smoky duck confit and foie gras beneath the top layer of chicken mousse.  Very tasty, and the duck jus came with coriander seeds and coriander pesto.

    After all that, we have finally come to the last of the savory dishes.  When we first arrived, Uwe brought something to our table that was wrapped in brown paper... much in the way that a kid was showing off his new toy.  It turned out to be a hunk of pork from an old sow, which he had sourced from a French butcher.  This was to be our "main course"...

    And it looked very, very beautiful when it was done!

    Uwe cut two not-so-small slices for me, bearing in mind that I prefer my pork with plenty of fat.  Served with apple purée, Savoy cabbage sautéed in pork fat, fermented mustard seeds, Savoy cabbage and sauerkraut purée.

    The pork was absolutely fantastic.  Cooked just about perfectly, with parts still pink, soft, and incredibly tender - like a rare piece of steak.  Biting down on the chunks of fat was pure nirvana.  What an amazing hunk of meat!

    Unfortunately, here is where I hit a wall... I have had soooo much food by this point that I found myself unable to take any more.  For someone who never says "No" to pork fat, I found myself feeling a tiny bit nauseated at the taste of it.  I just had to stop before disaster strikes, so I left part of the pork on my plate.  I didn't even touch the "light mashed potatoes" served on the side.

    After complaining to Uwe that his efforts to "do me in" was on the cusp of success, he quickly changed tact and sent out only one dessert instead of two...

    What arrived was an array of Japanese citrus fruits, with blood orange, yuzu (柚子), dekopon (デコポン), mikan (蜜柑), and grapefruit.  Frozen pulp was spooned into the middle of the plate and covered with crème Anglaise.  Garnished with basil and mint.  Thankfully, this was a pretty light and refreshing finish.

    But we weren't gonna get away without the mignardises... which were presented on a chocolate log.  A mix of white, milk, and dark chocolate covering hazelnuts and raspberries.

    The two of us each brought along a bottle for the evening:

    1995 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Œnothèque - nose was so fragrant and floral, with toasty notes initially, then nice and caramelized.  What a beautiful wine!

    2004 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée - decanted for about an hour prior to serving.  Nose was soooo floral and fragrant, with violet notes.  A little toasty, and incredibly sweet with red fruits.

    An incredibly satisfying evening for the pair of us.  Uwe's cooking may not look as fancy as that of other chefs in town - his dishes certainly look a lot more "simple" - but the ingredients are top-notch and the flavors are more "pure" and straightforward.  And I love the theatrical flair of some of the dishes, as every dining experience here is simply a lot of fun.  So why do I not come back here more often?!

    P.S. At the end of the evening, as I was seconds from leaving the restaurant with a big smile on my face, my phone rang with the news that grandma passed away at the grand old age of 101 (and a half).  It was not a complete surprise as her condition had deteriorated pretty sharply in the last few months, but I am thankful that her departure was not the result of some long and painful illness.  She had lived a long and good life, and continues to live on in my memories.  I'm a little sad that I did not get to see her while I was back in Taipei just a few days ago, but at least I got to celebrate her life at her 100th birthday a couple of years ago.

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  • 01/27/16--04:51: Four dog night
  • I'm not in the habit of throwing fits of tantrum.  At least, I'm not in the habit of doing it in public, in the hopes of getting my way.  I'm also the last person you'll hear using the phrase "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!", no matter how pissed off I might be at someone or a certain situation.  I very, very rarely throw my weight around, because I try not to overestimate my own importance.

    But I was pretty pissed off at the staff from MO Bar two weeks ago, and I decided to publicly vent on social media - as I do once in a while about things that piss me off.  A couple of days later, I received an unexpected call from Chef Richard Ekkebus.  He found out about my rant and wanted to know what happened.  Of course he was very nice and apologetic about what had happened, and arranged to connect me with the manager of MO Bar - so that I could be assured of getting a reservation for the pop-up event.  I was ever so grateful for this kind arrangement.

    We showed up at the MO Bar at 6pm tonight, and we led to the upstairs area in the back.  The Landmark Mandarin Oriental had made a serious effort to transform this part of MO Bar so that it resembles the original PDT (Please Don't Tell) in New York City - replete with the telephone book which acts as the hidden entrance to the speakeasy.

    We were seated at one of three booths inside, which was VIP treatment indeed.  I had heard from a friend that there was a minimum spending requirement for booking a booth, and although we had not been advised of such requirement by the staff - and therefore assumed that we were not subject to this requirement - the two of us made an effort to get close to it.

    In addition to the hotdogs that are normally served in New York City, four chefs around town were invited to create their special hotdogs specifically for this event.  I had already tried out one of them at lunch a couple of weeks ago, but we figured we'd go through all four of these tonight anyway.

    Yarddog Hotbird, created by Matt Abergel from Yardbird - this was Hello Kitty's least favorite, but I liked the familiarity of the flavors.  The chicken hotdog franks were butterflied, coated in panko (パン粉) and deep-fried, then served with cooked cabbage, tonkatsu (とんかつ) sauce, and Japanese mayo.

    I grew up loving tonkatsu in Tokyo, and so I liked the balancing act between the acidity of the tonkatsu sauce cutting into the creaminess of Kewpie mayo and the fatty and oily panko.  Very satisfying.

    Demon Dog, created by Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation - of course anything Alvin does these days have to have the word "demon" in the name...  The pork frank was grilled and served on a youtiao (油條), then topped with pork chili con carne spiced with Sichuan peppers, smothered in melted Gouda.  Definitely very creative and not unexpected coming from Alvin.

    I had read comments about the youtiao becoming soggy, but it wasn't all that bad.  I would have been even better had the youtiao been freshly made, but that's a pretty tall order...  However, the damn thing did fall apart pretty easily as I tried to take a bite, so it made things a little messy.

    But I did like the flavors a lot, and enjoyed the spicy kick in the chili topping.

    Banh Mi Trap Dog, created by Jowett Yu from Holy FuckHo Lee Fook - the beef frank was grilled, then served with chicken liver pâté, pickles, coriander, Sriracha mayo, and chopped chili.

    Definitely reminiscent of a Vietnamese bánh mi, with the pickles, coriander, and those deadly chopped bird's eye chili peppers.  I didn't seem to taste any liver pâté, though...

    The Frenchie, created by Richard Ekkebus of Landmark Mandarin Oriental - this was the one I had a couple of weeks ago.  Deep-fried chicken frank resting on shredded cabbage in a black squid ink bun, with smoked bacon, onion, melted Ossau Iraty, and a generous sprinkle of black winter truffle on top.

    I think melted cheese and black truffle is a sure fire way to success, and it certainly became Hello Kitty's favorite.

    For many, the real attraction of the pop-up, though, were the cocktails.  The barmen / mixologists were pretty heavy-handed here, so I ended up getting a nice buzz...

    Top Toddy - I couldn't for the life of me taste any genmaicha (玄米茶), because the alcohol from the Ketel One and the strong flavors from the Talisker 10 year simply managed to overpower anything else.

    Lucky Plum - I really loved this drink, because it was extremely citrusy and fragrant, but didn't taste as sweet as the name suggested - thanks to the Campari.  Loved the little kumquat.

    Togarashi and Tonic - definitely reminded me of a (not frozen) margarita, but the shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子) powder and salt - along with some cilantro - on the rim made it really exotic and interesting.

    A very enjoyable evening, and I'm glad we had the opportunity to come and check this out.  Many thanks to Richard and Nick for the arrangement, and thanks to Richard for comping us three of the hotdogs.  I made sure that I left a fat tip to make up for the difference.

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    My friend from Taipei is back in town, again, and we decided to get together with a couple of old friends of mine.  Many, many moons ago, Rice was the one who first told me about a Taiwanese lady living in Paris who is very knowledgeable about wine, and it took a pretty long time for the three of us to finally sit down at the same table.

    The request was for a bistro.  Unfortunately it was a little late to book a table at ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge, so I got ourselves a table at sister restaurant Upper Modern Bistro instead.  It's been a while since I last showed this place some love (since I've been spending my time at ON), and it's always good to revisit and check up on the place.

    I arrived a little late thanks to a work emergency, and my friends had already opened the bottles of wine they had brought.  Suddenly I realized that I brought along a couple of cheapies... but I guess I'll have other chances to make up for it.

    I left the ordering up to the others, and we ended up going through a lot of starters.

    Lentil hummus, croûtons - this was pretty nice and smooth, almost airy.  Loved it with the salmon roe.

    Foie gras crème brûlée, poppy seed - what's not to love about foie gras that's made into a crème brûlée, which is like two kinds of awesome in one?!  So smooth and creamy.

    Sea urchins, lobster, cauliflower, fennel - I only got a little bit of this.  The lobster was OK, but I loved the orange citrus sauce.

    Crispy squid, black sesame and lime dip - deep-fried squid coated in crunchy batter?  Yes, please!

    Cold cuts, tomato salsa, toast - the platter came with cooked jamón serrano, chorizo, prosciutto, jamón ibérico, and cecina.

    Mini veal burgers, mushroom purée - the mushroom purée was pretty nice.

    A pretty big mouthful, but pretty satisfying.

    Caramelized octopus, white miso, mixed herbs - nice texture, somewhere between chewy and soft.  The miso was tasty, and interestingly the dish came with a brunoise of potatoes.

    Prime beef tartare, Avruga, oyster dressing, raifort and herb granité - not bad at all, especially the mix with oysters and Avruga.  Pretty AND tasty.

    Confit Iberico pork cheek, tandoori and orange, spätzle and baby carrots - there is probably no universe in which I would not enjoy pork cheek, especially when it comes with a tandoori and orange jus.

    The spätzle was OK, but I think I was the only one who touched it.

    Pigeon and foie gras pie, lentil sauce - this is a dish that I'm familiar with, having had it at ON Dining Kitchen.  It's pretty heavy, so I'm glad we shared it among us.  Just looove the rich mix of foie and diced pigeon.  I guess it kinda makes up for the lack of any grilled pigeon on the menu.

    Salad with shaved black truffle

    I knew that instead of dessert, my friend would appreciate the selection of French cheese that Jeremy brings in much, much more.  So I invited her to go over to the cheese station, where Giancarlo patiently showed us just about each and every item in their collection.  We ended up just choosing a few of our favorite things...


    Brillat-Savarin fermier - still as creamy and melt-in-your-mouth as ever.

    Croix Cathare


    Comté, 4 years

    Vacheron Mont d'Or - we asked for a "fresh" one, and it was nice and ripe.



    Époisses de Bourgogneau lait cru - not many of these producers left.

    Besides good food and fantastic French cheese, we also had some good wines tonight.  As it turns out, we went through 5 different regions in France, with a Cali thrown in...  Even though he wasn't here and I never told him that I was coming, somehow Jeremy managed to leave instructions to waive the corkage for us.

    2005 Ostertag Pinot Gris Muenchberg A360P - a little mineral, a little fruity, with stone fruit notes.  A little ripe and sweet on the palate, but more dry than I expected.

    2000 Rayas - first pour was disappointingly dirty and chalky.  Turns out it was a dirty glass.  Second pour into a new glass showed more animal notes.  After 2½ hours it finally opened up, showing good fruit and a little violet, along with a little sharp alcohol.  Pretty good, but not nearly as stunning as the ex-domaine bottle I drank 4 weeks ago.

    2004 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée - opened for more than 2 hours without decanting.  A little leather, nice and sweet, ripe fruit, with plenty of toast in the nose.  Soooo fragrant.  A little acidity comes out at the end.  Just about as good as the bottle I had last week.

    2000 Barnett Cabernet Sauvignon Rattlesnake Hill - very vanilla, oaky, minty, lots of coconut butter, along with some pencil lead.  Drinking very nicely now.

    1990 Yquem, en demi-bouteille - a little wax, marzipan, a little marmalade, acetone.  Obviously very sweet. Viscous. Beautiful.

    2006 Rolet Arbois Vin Jaune - a little waxy.  Nice and oxidized.  Naturally this was a perfect accompaniment to the Comté...  Many thanks to Giancarlo for the treat.

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  • 01/29/16--23:18: Lunch at the new three star
  • We were catching up with a fellow bloggueur friend over lunch, and kinda throwing a few names around to find something we all could try together.  My one and only visit to T'ang Court (唐閣) had been over a weekend lunch years ago, and since it had been promoted to its new 3-star status only a couple of months ago, I figured it might be worthwhile to revisit...

    I chose to leave the ordering up to my friends, although I did pick out a special seasonal item that I wanted to try.

    Baked barbecued pork buns (酥皮叉燒餐包) - these were pretty good.

    Golden-fried spring rolls stuffed with crab meat, avocado, and onions (牛油果蟹肉春卷) - pretty interesting choice of filling, as avocado isn't normally an ingredient used in traditional Chinese cuisine...  Nice and creamy inside.

    Pan-fried green pepper filled with shrimp paste (煎釀虎皮尖椒)

    Steamed shrimp, pork and bamboo shoot dumplings (筍尖鮮蝦餃) - I wasn't wearing my bifocals today, so I had a hard time looking at this up close to count the folds.  I thought I counted 11...  Nothing to complain about here in terms of the flavors or texture.

    Baked stuffed crab shell with crab meat and onion (釀焗鮮蟹蓋) - this place is supposedly famous for the dish, so Hello Kitty wanted to try it.  Beneath the breaded crispy shell was a pile of shredded crab meat mixed with shredded onions.  The crab meat was deliciously sweet, and the onion was crunchier than the versions from other places around town.  Not bad at all, and somewhat of a bargain, relatively speaking...

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with home-made spicy sauce (XO醬煎腸粉) - this was the place that I first tasted the crunchy rice flour rolls all those years ago, and Chef Siu Hin Chi (蕭顯志) took with him to Duddell's.  Very delish, both due to the satisfying crunchy texture and the spicy kick.

    There was a little fuck up with the next item.  I had seen a waiter carry what seemed to be a bowl of snake soup out from the kitchen, then somehow, before he reached me, he turned and set it down on the next table.  I was a little disappointed.

    The Mainland Chinese guy at the next table didn't even blink, and started sprinkling powdered white pepper into the bowl.  Before he had a chance to dig his spoon in, though, a more senior waiter realized that something was wrong.  He grabbed the other waiter, double-checked the order in their system, and confirmed that... yep, they had delivered the bowl to the wrong table.

    So the stupid waiter went back to the Chinese guy, told him that the bowl of snake soup wasn't his, and took it back to the kitchen.  As we were watching all this happen, all Hello Kitty and I were thinking was "They'd better not fucking give me that same bowl of soup with the white pepper!"

    No one ever came over to apologize to ME for their fuck up.  Instead, I just had to sit around and wait for another bowl to be delivered to me.  One eventually showed up...

    Braised snake soup with chicken julienne (太史五蛇羹) - first impression wasn't great.  It just looked like they added corn starch or something to thicken it.

    The ingredients weren't sliced as finely as my favorite private kitchen.  They were maybe a little bit closer to what I had at Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒), where they are hand-shredded.

    Since there was only one bowl, the condiments that came with it seemed kinda meagre.

    To be honest, this was kinda disappointing.  The flavors weren't that deep, and there was definitely some white pepper and ginger in here.  (Did I actually get the bowl that was sent back to the kitchen?) There's no need to put ginger and white pepper in the bowl.  At all.  Unless I choose to do it.  That kick was totally unnecessary, and masked the real flavors of the soup.  For a whopping HKD 320 a bowl, it definitely wasn't worth it for me.

    Steamed shrimp, pork, mushrooms and conpoy dumplings (瑤柱滑燒賣) - pretty decent.

    Barbecued pork (蜜汁餞叉燒) - oh man, this just looked absolutely beautiful.  Clearly leaner at one end and fattier at the other.

    I made sure to take pieces from the opposite ends to see the difference.  Sooooo yum!  Even the end that supposedly wasn't fatty was actually marbled.  Just incredibly tender in terms of texture, and really tasty.  For me, this was one of the best char siu in town.

    Double boiled sweet osmanthus, dried longan and Chinese herbal tea (茨實圓肉桂花茶) - this wasn't what I expected at all.  I thought the soup would be much sweeter, and I had hoped there would be more osmanthus.  The foxnut seeds were kinda interesting.  Overall, though, this was decent and a relatively light end to the meal.

    Other than the snake soup, I thought the quality of the rest of the dishes was pretty high.  Was it worthy of three stars?  I dunno.  One dim sum lunch wasn't enough to judge, and I'll just have to come back for dinner and check out the other stuff.  But I am hopeful...

    0 0
  • 01/31/16--07:09: Deep-fried Burgundy
  • It's the start of the year (well, it's still January!) and time for the MNSC boys' first gathering.  Due to scheduling conflicts Gayliao did not manage to host a dinner last year, so he offered to host the very first tasting of 2016.

    We haven't been back in Megan's Kitchen (美味廚) with the gang in a while, and the food is always good there... although not exactly complementary with red wines.  We started with a series of 10 appetizers:

    Deep-fried Bombay duck (炸九肚魚) -  deep-fried fish fillets that melt in your mouth?  With deep-fried garlic on top?  Yes, please!

    Deep-fried cuttlefish (椒鹽鮮魷) - more deep-fried seafood with more garlic?  Bring it on!

    Pan-fried eggplant (醬燒茄子) - pretty nice.

    Sliced pork with garlic and cucumber (蒜泥白玉) - one of my favorite things to eat, with just thin slices of steamed pork wrapped around cucumber sticks, with some soy sauce and a pile of garlic.  Yum.

    Pan-fried pork patties with lotus (煎蓮藕片) - the patties were surprisingly soft and fatty, with a slice of lotus root underneath.

    Marinated jellyfish (蔥花海蜇)

    Braised beef shank (鹵水牛腱)

    Deep-fried tofu cubes (黃金豆腐)

    Century eggs (溏心皮蛋) - not exactly wine friendly...

    Cucumber with chili sauce (手拍青瓜)

    Deep-fried taro and duck croquettes (芋蓉香鴨酥) - this is a variation on one of my favorite dishes, only there's less duck and more taro mash.

    But I'm not gonna complain too much.  Deep-fried food rules!

    Pan-fried prime ribeye steak (香煎頂級肉眼扒) - actually this was pretty decent, and came with plenty of salad for balance.

    Stir-fried mushrooms and pea shoots in abalone sauce (鮑汁北菇扒荳苗) - this was very, very tasty... The pea shoots were pretty tender even though they weren't only the tip (豆杯).

    Crispy chicken (當紅脆皮黃油雞) - pretty good, but I couldn't stop munching on the deep-fried prawn crackers.

    Pan-fried rice vermicelli with minced beef in satay sauce (沙爹免治牛肉煎米粉) - pure awesomeness.  Crispy, crunchy vermicelli pan-fried in loads of oil... soaking up all of that fatty goodness... then you've got the beef in that really tasty satay sauce, with diced pineapple, onions, and green peppers.

    On top of the delicious food, our host served up a pretty awesome lineup of red Burgundies - with a ringer thrown in.

    1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires - pretty fresh, slightly ripe on the palate but with a short finish.

    First flight: decanted 1½ hours prior to serving.
    1996 Latour - very young and alcoholic, a little sharp.  Nose was a little exotic, with vanilla notes and sweet, ripe fruit, along with earthy, smoky, and lead pencil notes.  96 points.

    1996 Dujac Clos Saint-Denis - really sweet fruit, with strawberries, a little forest.  A little bitter on the palate, but otherwise just a a really beautiful and stunning wine.  97 points.

    1996 Comte de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - pretty fruity, a little muted at first, and kinda like cherry-flavored cough syrup.  A little chalky, and a little bubble gum.  92 points.

    Second flight: opened 45 minutes prior to serving without decanting.
    1993 DRC La Tâche - showing cool fruit, a little minty, slowly opened up, with nice sweet fruit.  93 points.

    1993 Mugnier Musigny - nose was a little weird and a little dirty.  92 points.

    Third flight: opened three hours prior to serving without decanting.
    1991 Mugnier Musigny - rich, ripe, a little sweet, and some minty notes.  95 points.

    1991 Comte de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - a little sharp on the nose, pretty ripe, a little sweet, and a little toasty.  93 points.

    1991 Dujac Echezeaux - really open and absolutely beautiful.  Very clean with floral notes.  97 points.

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