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

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  • 04/24/13--01:21: Pink and raw
  • I don't have many occasions to do business lunches these days, as I normally just get something really simple and (often) local for a quick bite.  Actually, these days I'm likely to be found sitting at my desk having salad for lunch... but that's another story.  Well, I didn't want to have the task of choosing the restaurant, so I was quite happy to go along with the choice of Carnevino.

    I hadn't been to Carnevino before.  I haven't been to Mario Batali's other Hong Kong outpost Lupa, either.  Lupa has been panned by every single foodie friend whose opinion I trust - as well as other friends who aren't foodies - and that is no mean feat...  Carnevino fared somewhat better in terms of feedback, but given it's another Dining Concepts restaurant... I was in no real hurry to check it out, at least not on my own dime.

    I decided to check out the menu online before my visit.  I had decided to forgo ordering à la carte in favor of the set lunch, and curiously the first thing that caught my attention was... duck confit!  On second thought, though, I figured I should order something with beef... and the choice was between the flat iron steak or the burger.

    Insalata Romana - on the surface this would be a "healthy" item, and a continuation of the two salad lunches I'd had earlier this week.  But the dressing that was liberally doused on top of the Romaine lettuce and purple endives had a ton of Parmigiano-Reggiano... so not exactly light.  I did like the little strip of anchovy.

    Carnevino burger - as my friend chose the flat iron steak (perhaps she felt that grabbing a burger with her hands during a business lunch was un-ladylike?) it naturally behooved me to choose the burger.  I asked for medium-rare, and figured that this place would know how to get their "doneness" right.  The burger arrived and I was a little surprised to find that grill marks on the bun, but it certainly smelled delicious.

    I took my knife and cut the burger in half, revealing a very pink and moist patty.  In fact it was pretty raw - not that I am complaining.  It was refreshing to see a place in Hong Kong not afraid to serve up beef that was raw.  The pancetta and cheddar helped to make this a very delish burger indeed.

    Wanting to make up for my sinful burger, I opted for - you guessed it - the salad on the side instead of fries.  This was a huge plate of lettuce, radicchio, shallots, chick peas...etc. together with some salumi and cheese, dressed in some vinaigrette that was a little too acidic for my taste.  I think I could only finish half of this... but guess which ingredient I picked out and made sure there was none left?  Heh heh heh...

    Sooo... altogether not a bad lunch, but not quite fair to judge the place based on a simple 2-course set lunch.  Maybe one of these days I'll come back and try some of the more interesting items... but only if I could get others to come with me.  That may yet prove to be the challenge...

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  • 04/26/13--08:33: Fly airplane, New York-style
  • Early this morning I received an invitation to dinner from a couple of friends I haven't seen in a few weeks.  They were having dinner with a certain wine personality from New York, and asked if I was interested in joining them.  Since it would give me a chance to see them and undoubtedly involve some good wines, I didn't hesitate to say "Yes".

    Upon my late arrival at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), I discovered that said wine personality had cancelled on my friends.  I think jet lag may have been used as an excuse but in reality the guy had simply chosen to go hang with some other people.  No matter.  I was more keen on seeing my friends anyway, and we were gonna drink some nice wines with or without this guy.  Not having him around simply meant that we were able to yap away in Canto or Mando at will…

    Deep-fried tofu cubes (椒鹽豆腐粒) - something simple to start us off.  The chopped chili peppers added just enough flavor without destroying my tastebuds for wine.

    Winter melon soup (冬瓜盅) - nice and clear as usual in terms of flavor.  Plenty of ingredients here accompanying the cooling chunks of winter melon.  Great dish to have as the weather warms up.

    I was told the steamed fish was something like "鼠眉".  I have no idea what that is… a cross between humpback grouper (老鼠斑) and humphead wrasse (蘇眉)?!  Does such a species exist?!  In any case the fish was delicious.

    Fresh 'Dai Lin' abalone wok-fried with ginger and spring onions (油泡薑蔥大連鮮鮑) - this was really pretty decent.  I liked the texture and flavor of the fresh abalone, and the spring onions were particularly sweet.  I actually kept scooping up more spring onions as I just wanted to eat them!

    Fook Lam Moon's famous crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - we took half a chicken, and the skin was excellent.

    Fried rice with salted fish and diced chicken (咸魚雞粒炒飯) - I was already kinda full, and said that I wasn't gonna eat any more food… which turned out to be "famous last words"… I couldn't resist the wonderful fragrance of the salted fish or the golden hue coming from the egg yolks.  Ended up having a bowl and a half…

    Despite being very full, somehow I managed to stuff some dessert in...

    Steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (杬仁馬粒糕) - haven't had this for a while... very good.  Love the taste of brown sugar.

    Steamed layer cake (鳳凰千層糕) - not bad.

    Walnut cookies (核桃酥) - OMG these were soooo awesome!  Full of walnut flavor and... probably full of lard or some kind of fat that just made it delicious.  Couldn't resist having two.

    But tonight wasn't about the food at all... the focus was squarely on wine.  I must say we had a pretty nice selection.

    Jacques Selosse Les Carelles (disgorged February 24, 2011) - salty, minerals, salty plum, sweet on the edges of the nose.  Palate pretty mature and round, almost a little flat, with a little bit of savory minerals.  A blanc de blancs lieu-dit from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, made solera style using 2003 and 2004.

    2003 Christophe Roumier Charmes-Chambertin Aux Mazoyeres - a very floral and violet bouquet, with cool fruit, a bit sharp on the nose, but lovely and soft on the palate.  A little animal, leather and dried herbs.  Quite a lovely wine that's pleasant to drink.

    1989 Chave Hermitage Rouge - lots of animal and leather, grilled meats, a little smoky, with some toasty oak.  A really lovely wine.

    1976 Christoffel-Berres Erdener Prälat Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese - a little plastic, with marmalade and nutty nose.  Wonderful acidity balance with the sweetness.  This wasn't as sweet as I expected from a TBA, but the acidity was perfectly meshing and in tune with the sugar.  Very round and soft on the palate.  What a beautiful wine to drink now!

    1995 Roulot Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - big, toasty nose.  Interesting to find acidity in the nose, which was kinda ripe.  Nicely oxidized, with toasty corn.  Finish was a little bitter.  Pretty nice.

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  • 04/28/13--08:04: A reunion of sorts
  • Two nights after my last visit, I'm back at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) for dinner.  No, I did not choose the venue, and I didn't pick it for Friday, either.  I am, however, always happy to come here as the food is of fairly high quality in general.  And there are a number of my friends who are regulars, so I end up coming here probably more than any other high-end restaurant in Hong Kong.

    I was getting together with a couple of friends as I haven't seen them in quite a while.  They, in turn, invited a few of their friends in the name of drinking some good wines, and before I knew it we were a party of eight.  As it turns out, all but one of us used to work at the same sausage factory, although in different departments.  Not surprisingly, none of us remain at the factory today (well, one of my friends is serving his notice period...) so this was an interesting gathering...

    Dinner here for many of us would traditionally start off with the roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - if there are enough people.  This is still hands down one of the top 2 pigs in town for me, given the quality of the crackling.  However increasingly I have noticed that the underside of the pig has gotten over-seasoned, and so my enjoyment of the remainder of the piggy has gone down somewhat.

    Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - funny how I can't seem to escape from this dish… not that I'm complaining, of course!  I do like the way they do it here.

    Sautéed shredded prawns, crab meat with onions, bean sprouts and egg (蟹肉桂花炒蝦絲) - mmm… stuff that's fried in lots of oil… with onions and egg to bring out the flavor… what's not to like?!

    Long braised pork belly with preserved Chinese cabbage (梅菜扣肉煲) - hmmm… I always thought that 梅菜 was made with leafy mustard varietals like 雪裡红 and not cabbage?  Anyway… I'm always up for pork belly like this, especially when it's made with the sweet variant of 梅菜 like this.

    Stir-fried morning glory with shrimp paste (蝦醬炒通菜) - ummm… normally a nice dish to have, but we are drinking some nice wines tonight, no?  What's going on with this pungent shrimp paste?!  Thankfully I only had about 2 mouthfuls on my plate…

    Stewed eggplant with minced pork and salty fish sauce (魚香茄子) - OK, I see where we're going… more yummy dishes with pungent flavors to screw up the palate…

    Stewed garoupa belly with Chinese lettuce (蒜子唐生菜炆斑翅) - very delicious, with the fish having been pan-fried before stewing.  I actually didn't mind the big cloves of garlic which have now softened and absorbed the flavors of the sauce.

    Stir-fried kale with ginger sauce (薑汁炒芥藍) - one can often judge a restaurant's by the quality of the ingredients they use.  The kale here is top-notch.

    The seasonal clay pot rice (合時煲仔飯) was made with steamed finely minced beef with aged mandarin peel (馳名陳皮蒸牛肉餅).  This is simply mixed with steamed rice, but what an awesome dish!  The soft, slightly bouncy texture of the minced beef; the delicate fragrance of the mandarin orange peel (陳皮)…  Fook Lam Moon has been stereotyped by many as a place to splurge on shark's fin and abalone, but what they're also really good at is simple, comfort food like this…

    The ladies seemed like they had a thing for sweets, and that was fine by me!  I didn't get a bowl of dessert soup, but did indulge in a number of steamed cakes and cookies…

    Steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (杬仁馬粒糕)

    Walnut cookies (核桃酥) - O.M.G… this thing has the potential of turning me into the Cookie Monster… or Po the Kung Fu Panda...

    Glutinous rice balls steamed in apple leaves (蘋葉果)

    For some reason, ILoveLubutin insisted on sharing a piece of sachima (薩其馬) with me… then proceeded to sneakily grab a bigger "half".  In return, she offered me half a piece of steamed layer cake (鳳凰千層糕).

    I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't stuffed at the end of the evening, for once… but then again, tonight was really more about the wines for me.

    1982 Philipponnat Grand Blanc - recently disgorged so relatively fresh.  Nicely oxidized but not overly so.  Mild on the front palate with an acidic and long finish.  Interesting to drink such an old blanc de blancs.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - it looks like I didn't learn a lesson from my last bottle… this wine just shouldn't be double-decanted but rather drunk straight out of bottle.  You'd think I would know better…  Nose showed a little stewed prunes right after uncorking.  After an hour it was showing soy sauce, braised pork belly with preserved leafy mustard (梅菜扣肉), minerals.  Acidity was a little high.

    1982 Beychevelle - very classic Left Bank, with a smoky veil on top of earthy and mineral notes.  Very smooth and perhaps a little on the light side.  A lovely wine.

    1982 Drucru-Beaucaillou - one of my favorite wines, and this was in excellent condition.  Really nice and lovely, with some sweet grass notes, sweet fruit, a hint of smoke and later star anise.

    1999 Greenock Creek Shiraz Roennfeldt Road - first whiff was really plasticky… later on showed vanilla and coconut butter, which I guess is what I'd expect from an Aussie Shiraz.  I'm glad this has been cellared for a number of years so that it's softened somewhat.

    1970 Warre's - a little sharp thanks to the alcohol level.  Caramel and prune notes.  Very sweet on the palate.  I last drank this on my birthday last year

    Wenjun (文君) - normally I don't drink baijiu (白酒) as I just can't stand the smell nor the taste of it, but for some reason the staff brought this out for us to try.  Typical smell that just seems so artificial to me, while lovers of this would find it very aromatic.  Apparently this has been made in Qionglai, Sichuan (四川邛崃) since the Ming Dynasty.  Two sips is quite enough for me...

    A very good way to spend Sunday evening… but perhaps a tad too much alcohol for a school night...

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  • 04/29/13--08:34: A turkey by Curry
  • The MNSC boys were overdue for a gathering after a near two-month break, and eagerly anticipated tonight's dinner.  Four of us would be upgrading to four-handle this year, and the Ox was the first to kick off the celebrations.  It's been nearly two years since I first tried outAmuse Bouche, and I was pretty happy to have occasion to return.

    After a pretty big lunch that kept the hunger pangs at bay, I was pretty glad to discover that the menu wasn't set tonight.  We had the flexibility to order à la carte, and most of us ended up keeping it relatively light.  Funny that all of us ended up ordering the same two dishes to start, and half of us had the same main course... Guess it did turn into a set menu after all...

    We started with some jamón ibérico Lampiño de bellota from Juan Pedro Domecq, which has been aged for 42 months.  A nice way to start, but personally I found that jamón doesn't go well with Champagne... or Chardonnay for that matter.

    Our amuse bouche was salmon marinated with dill, honey, mustard and black pepper. Not bad.

    Mesclun salad with home-made black truffle vinaigrette - pretty "healthy" way to start the meal, but I guess none of us wanted to eat that much... And a little greens never hurt anybody...

    Tuscan artisanal pasta with black truffle and chicken gravy - it's not hard to see why this dish would be tasty and popular... just take a look at the black specks covering the pasta.  Inhaled this in a couple of minutes.  I did ask the waiter for the name of the pasta.  He didn't know and insisted that it is just handmade "artisanal" pasta... No shit, Sherlock... I can see that it's artisanal, but Italians don't make a pasta without putting a name on it, just like Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan... He was just too lazy to ask or find out.  A quick search on the internet led me to believe it's likely to be casarecce.

    Roasted Iberico pork loin and slow cooked Hokkaido pork belly with baby spinach and black truffle - interesting to have two different types of pork in one dish, and they couldn't have been more different.

    The Iberico was, sad to say, a little on the tough side.  Not entirely dry, but I wouldn't exactly call it succulent.  I guess that's what you get with the loin... I tried to spread a little apple sauce on top to enhance the flavors a little.

    It doesn't take a genius to realize that I'd enjoy the pork belly a helluva lot more... The thing just yielded to my knife like a pat of butter... and yes, boys and girls, fat is what gives meat its flavor.  That's why pork belly is so yummy.  I do have to say, though, that the baby spinach at the bottom was pretty yummy, too!

    I was too full to have dessert, but ended up nibbling on some Mimolette and young Comté, enjoying the sweetness and soft texture for a change.

    The Ox put together a totally kick-ass line-up of wines... We were pretty blown away by how well all of these wines tasted, especially from a vintage that was overlooked and written off.  It just shows that condition and provenance matter so much, especially when it comes to older wines.

    1973 Dom Pérignon Œnotheque, disgorged Spring 1999 - nose of Chinese licorice, toasted nuts, ripe, a little savory, toasty and yeasty, almost like sourdough.  Good acidity balance on the palate.  Due to late disgorgement this didn't taste like a 40-year old Champagne, but as it's more than a decade since disgorgement, it wasn't really "fresh", either.  Beautiful.

    Flight 1:
    1961 Ducru-Beaucaillou - opened and decanted 10 minutes before serving.  Very smoky and minty nose.  Grilled meats, saddle, black tea with a sweet fruit core.  A little metallic with some soy sauce at the end.  Smooth and medium-light bodied.  An elegant and lovely wine.  96 points.  Sourced from Altaya.

    1973 Ducru-Beaucaillou - opened and decanted 10 minutes before serving.  Funky nose with pine forest.  A little chalky?  A little stinky, with animal notes.  Lighter than the '61.  91 points.

    1982 Ducru-Beaucaillou - opened and decanted 1 hour before serving.  Color was noticeably darker.  Nose was very smoky but a little closed at first.  Ripe, stewed fruits, grilled meats.  94points.  Sourced from Altaya.  While the condition of the wine was impeccable, we all agreed that this bottle was not representative of what the wine should taste like.  The bottle I drank a day earlier was noticeably better.

    Flight 2:
    1973 Mouton-Rothschild - opened and decanted 30 minutes before serving.  Floral and sweet nose, with cassis, a little smoke, farmy, and later a little chalky.  93 points.

    1982 Mouton-Rothschild - opened and decanted 2 hours before serving.  Toasty, smoky, more concentrated than the '73.  A powerful wine but very well-balanced.  94 points.

    1986 Mouton-Rothschild - opened and decanted 2 hours before serving.  A little bit of burnt rubber at the beginning.  Acidity clearly higher despite being the youngest of the flight.  A little pine needle on the nose.  92 points.

    Flight 3:
    1973 Petrus - opened and decanted 1 hour before serving.  Very smoky, minty, more concentrated and powerful than the previous 2 flights.  Nose of black fruits, a little chalky, green pepper.  Very open and enjoyable. 96 points.

    1989 Petrus - opened and decanted 2½ hours before serving.  Smoky, a little sharp, a little ripe.  Nose was a little too closed to enjoy now.  93 points.

    1973 Yquem - honey, apricot, marmalade and acetone.  Very sweet on the palate but with enough acidity there.  Another lovely wine.

    We had an incredible performance tonight by Curry Jayer, who quickly identified all 3 wines in Flight 2.  Never before in MNSC's decade-old blind-tasting history had anyone been able to get all 3 wines in the same flight - a tripe-strike.  Very impressive!

    Finally, a big "Thank You" to the Ox for his generosity.

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  • 05/04/13--07:44: Die Roboter von Kraftwerk
  • I can't believe it's been nearly two years since my last concert.  I guess these days its easier for me to find a group of people to eat and drink with, and much harder to find people who share the same taste in movies and music.  When I first found out that Kraftwerk was coming to Hong Kong, I wanted to go but really didn't know who I could go with.  They're kinda esoteric… and probably unknown to many under the age of 30 to 35…

    So I resorted to a little trick I've been employing lately: posting about it on Facebook and see if anyone would respond.  Luckily, someone did.  My friend Susan and her husband already had tickets, but since they were standing tickets on the floor, there wouldn't be any issue for me to buy an extra ticket and join them.

    Before the concert, Susan very graciously invited me over for a quick dinner at their home.  After a quick round of delicious Thai food, involving just enough heat to get my blood flowing faster, we crossed the harbor to the Kowloonbay International Trade and Exhibition Centre for the event.

    Since we're in Hong Kong, the band mostly performed the English versions of the songs.  I attempted to write down the order of the set, although since some of the songs are mixed together I may have missed a couple as they may be mere segments in the show...

    The set started with The Robots from Die Mensch-Maschine (1978).  They had given us 3D glasses at the door, and right off the bat we were able to see the 3D effects in the videos and graphics.  The four robots were rendered and I could see their outstretched arms coming towards me.  Pretty cool!

    The graphics from Spacelab showed views of the Earth from space, and we see the spacecraft orbiting the planet and at points flying towards us, almost "skewering" us with its antenna.  Interestingly they showed a segment where it looked like we were passing over Hainan Island and Hong Kong.  Guess they adapt this segment to their local audience?

    Metropolis featured graphics showing blocks of buildings next to each other, much like the topography of Hong Kong...

    With Numbers we move forward to Computerwelt (1981).  As Ralf started going through the list of organizations, it suddenly dawned on me that one of them is a former employer of mine...

    Here a few of the songs were put together so I started to lose track of which was which… I think Home Computer and It's More Fun to Compute kinda went together...

    Pocket Calculator was performed both in English and Japanese - as Dentaku (電卓).

    Computer Love was always a classic for me...

    Die Mensche-Maschine - we're going back in time now, and here's where the funny thing happened.  I was trying to snap pictures of the words "Mensche Maschine" but, since I didn't bring my real camera, I had to contend with the slow reaction time of my iPhone camera… When the picture was finally taken, the word I ended up snapping was… DING!!!  Of course, this simply means "thing" in German, but is somewhat of a profanity in Cantonese… So what did I do almost immediately?  I posted this picture for the first person that comes to mind… ILoveLubutin.

    Das Modell - another song from Die Mensche-Maschine, showing vintage videos of lovely models.

    Neolicht had an interesting selection of neon signs floating around, with images implying both girlie bars and family-friendly establishments...

    Autobahn - rewinding the clock further now, back to 1974 and the band's first real success.  The CGI showed a vintage VW Beetle driving along Germany's famed autobahn, traveling across the country like other people, rich or poor.  A constant companion on the road was an old Mercedes E-Class, but there were also others like VW vans, Porsches and even Trabants.  The license plate on the Beetle featured 1970, the year the band was formed, while the Mercedes' plate number was 1974, the year this album was released.

    Tour de France - this song from 1983 has to be my all-time favorite Kraftwerk number.  When I first got into Kraftwerk in college, I always lamented that this song and all of its remixes were never released on CD, and it took me a long, long, long time even to find the 12-inch vinyl with all the original mixes.  I dunno why, but I always found the opening segment very "Oriental", even though it definitely took more than a few notes from Paul Hindemith's Heiter Bewegt...

    Years later, though, I finally found the Tour de France Soundtracks on CD featuring additional songs after it was finally released in 2003.  Yay!!!  Anyway, the band started with the original Tour de France - with vintage and modern footage of the tour - then went into Tour de France Etape 1 (showing some graphics overlaid on top of tour footage), but I'm not sure if Etape 2 or 3 were also played…  I suspect not.

    Vitamin - while graphics showed pills of all shapes and sizes falling/floating around the screen, names of different vitamins and nutrients were also flashed across the screen.

    With Radio-Activity we again rewind the clock back to 1975.  However the version performed tonight has been updated to include later nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl and even Fukushima.  The song calls for nations to stop developing nuclear power.  Almost 40 years later, the Kraftwerk maintains their relevance.

    Trans-Europa Express takes us to 1977, and the graphics show both high-speed trains zooming around, and also from the point of view of being at the front of a train traveling along the tracks.  This definitely had the industrial sound that quite possibly led to the development of industrial music.

    Planet of Visions was the most recent piece from Kraftwerk - an updated version of Expo 2000.

    Aéro Dynamik goes back to Tour de France again.

    Boing Boom Tschak now brings us to Electric Cafe, the album from 1986 that was the first work from Kraftwerk I ever owned.  I've spent a few nights listening to this album while pulling an all-nighter doing some term paper I started past midnight on the day it was due...

    Techno Pop follows Boing Boom Tschak on the same album.

    Tonight's rendition of Musique Non Stop was especially long, as it was the final song of the evening and the band members took turns exiting the stage after individual segments.  Frontman Ralf Hütter was the last to take a bow, to great applause from the audience.

    I had a lot of fun tonight, as this was the first Kraftwerk concert for me, and I got to listen to live performances of all my favorite Kraftwerk songs - although a "live" performance by this band probably doesn't deviate much from any of their recordings… This was something I was keenly aware of before coming to the concert, as I own a copy of Minimum-Maximum, the concert film from the 2004 tour.  No surprise, then, that the four members up on stage barely showed much movement during the nearly two-hour set…  Robots, indeed…

    Now I'm hoping that the band will release a new concert film with the 3D elements, so that I can watch them on my 3D TV at home… in Taipei, that is...

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  • 05/05/13--01:31: Mandarin duck
  • For the last week or so, just about all of Hong Kong has been going ga-ga over the giant rubber duckie designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, including yours truly.  This cute, inflatable duckie has been parked in front of Ocean Terminal since May 2nd, and has even swum around a little in the middle of Victoria Harbour.

    I've been pretty excited about the arrival of this duckie, and have gone to see it twice during the first two days.  I did take a break yesterday, but went back today for the third day in four so that I could take my godson to see it.  The little guy apparently really took to the yellow duckie, and at one point refused to leave the waterfront... Well, I'm glad he likes it as much as I do!

    I had originally made plans for us to lunch at the No-Brain restaurantAl Molo, since it has a perfect view of the duckie.  However, we came to see the duckie a full 90 minutes or so early as we wanted to avoid the crowds, and we had exhausted all options for activities by 11 am...  With a full hour until the restaurant opened, Tigger made the last-minute to decision to go back to the Hong Kong side for a little dim sum.  I guess there would be no duck-shaped cookies for the little one today...

    We arrived at Man Wah (文華廳) about half an hour before Al Molo was due to open, and even managed to order up some food for the little tyke while en route.  Yes, being a VIP (not me) certainly has its privileges!

    Roast pork belly (脆皮五層腩) - dunno why this arrived at the table cold... reminiscent of an earlier meal at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  The crackling was also very much over-seasoned.

    Tiger prawn, bamboo shoot dumpling (筍尖蝦餃皇) - the skin was very thin and delicate.  Lovely.

    Beef tenderloin puff, black pepper sauce (黑椒牛柳酥) - I had something similar a couple of years ago, but this seemed much better today.

    Absolutely love how these pastries are done...

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯浸莧菜) - very young and tender amaranth.  Love the garlic...

    Golden taro puff, abalone (蜂巢鮑魚盒) - the deep-fried taro puff was very, very tasty... with diced shiitake mushrooms inside.  The little abalone on top was pretty good, too.

    Pan fried Hakka dumpling, pork, dried shrimp, black eye peas (香煎客家茶粿) - these were not bad, and not something I find often on menus.

    Steamed glutinous rice dumpling, abalone, lotus leaf (荷香鮑魚珍珠雞) - for some reason we had ordered one too many of these, and I ended up having the whole thing by myself... I must say that this was better than your average rice dumpling, and had salty egg and dried conpoy (干貝) inside to lend some flavors.  Of course the abalone on top and its accompanying sauce didn't hurt, either...  Even better when taken with some X.O. sauce.

    Prawn, yellow chive (韭黃鮮蝦腸粉) - interesting use of yellowed chives, but pretty good.

    Finally there were some petits fours which were served up in mini versions of Mandarin's signature hampers.

    While I thought the food was pretty decent today, I found myself somewhat annoyed at the cryptic English descriptions on the menu.  It seems that Man Wah has taken a cue from the Mandarin Grill + Bar in the naming of dishes... Some of these items now only list out the main ingredients, without telling diners how the dish is actually prepared.  This is an annoying practice, as diners unfamiliar with the dishes are likely to run into some surprises - which may be unwelcome.  Take the last dish for example: if I wasn't able to read Chinese and only went by the words "prawn, yellow chive", would I in a million years be able to know that this dish actually involved wrapping prawns and chives in rice flour rolls?  I think not.

    But the Mandarin deserves praise in other respects.  My little godson was offered a cute little bag containing a drawing pad, coloring pens as well as a puzzle.  I thought this was a very nice gesture and would enable the little guy to keep himself busy while the adults ate.  Alas, the precocious one looked up at the big sister with a hint of a frown, pointed to his mama's iPhone that he's been playing with, then turned his attention back to the gadget in his hands... Sigh... Kids these days...

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  • 05/09/13--08:55: Playdate with Uwe
  • It's been a while since my last dinner with Fergie, and I thought it'd be a good idea to arrange another get-together.  This time, though, I pulled in a couple of mutual friends to make the party a little bigger... in the hope that it would be even more fun.  I think that turned out to be a pretty good call, if I may say so myself!

    I had been wanting to go back to the Mandarin Grill + Bar for a proper meal, and my lunch last month provided a glimpse of what such a meal would be like.  Thinking that we should do something a little special, I called on my VVIP friend Tigger to set me up with Chef Uwe Opocensky, who very kindly arranged a special tasting menu for the evening.  I think we'll all remember this meal for some time to come.

    We started with a few nibbles:

    Ketchup cookies with shaved Parmigiano - I must confess that I found the Parmigiano shavings really yummy and full of flavor.

    Gougères - with a warm and yummy liquid cheese filling.

    Spherical olives - a little something from the months Uwe spent in the kitchen of elBulli.  While the olive flavors were pretty full-on, I found that "skin" to be a little too think for my liking.

    These black sesame swirls were really, really delicious... and I think we all had some.  This, as usual, would eventually come back and bite us at the end...

    Then the fun started.  When I say "fun", I really do mean it.  This entire dinner was nothing but loads of fun to eat, from the playful creations of the chef... to Fergie acting like a third-grader and then infecting the rest of us, leading to the whole table to regress back to childhood... I cannot recall another meal in recent memory where I've had so much fun!

    None of us had been here in quite a while, so we weren't aware that the table tops were metallic, and that the thin, tubular vases and candle holders all had magnets at the bottom.  Once we had made this discovery, it didn't take long for some of us to have some fun by sliding the vases back and forth along the table...

    Hand: caviar, sour cream, Melba - the staff asked us each to make a fist, then proceeded to squeeze a dollop of sour cream from a tube (bearing the Mandarin logo, no less!) onto our fist.  We were then instructed to pick up a tiny blini holding a small lump of caviar (which, as Fergie had declared earlier, was too little for him) and place it on top of the sour cream.

    While some of us were busy taking pictures of this thing on our fists, others decided to engage in fist bumps...  Anyway, we finally had to lick it all from our fists.  Now, how many of you have openly licked your fists/fingers/hands in a Michelin-starred restaurant?!  (No, I wasn't talking to you, ILoveLubutin... please put your hand down)

    Caesar salad: Romaine, Parmesan, ham, dressing - this was somewhat similar to the Flower Pot salad on the regular menu... Baby Romaine lettuce was laid on top of a layer of "moss/soil", served with some jamón ibérico and round discs of Parmigiano, and finally sprinkled with a fine layer of Parmigiano "snow" on top.  Someone had the audacity to ask the chef if he was using Kraft Parmesan...

    Salmon and caviar: organic, Scottish, home smoked, cedar wood, king crab, bagel, egg - this dish had multiple components... First there was the salmon which, I am guessing, may have been cured or cooked sous vide just for a few minutes.  It was then smoked for about 10 minutes inside a glass dome, with chunks of really smoky cedar.  It was then plated with sour cream, egg white and egg yolk "dots"... and we were meant to smear the dots on the salmon before tasting.  The salmon was very tender and yielded to the knife easily, and the smoky flavors filled the air around the table.  Very tasty.

    There were also fresh and pickled cucumber on the side to go with the salmon.

    Having declared that he was allergic to "small amounts" of caviar, Fergie now had the opportunity to get some more... This was done in the same manner as Robuchon - with a layer of king crab meat at the bottom of the tin, beneath the caviar.

    We could eat the caviar as is, or spread it on these bagel chips.

    V.v.G.: foie gras, chicken, sunflower, PX - I didn't pay much attention to the name of the dish until Uwe came over to explain it to us.  As it turns out this is one of his creations to celebrate Art Basel in Hong Kong.  We were each presented with a vase holding a sunflower, and asked if we know of an artist who painted sunflowers.  Why, that would be Vincent van Gogh, of course!  We were then asked if we knew what Vincent famous did, which was... cutting off his own ear...

    At this point the presentation cases were placed in front of us, and we came face to face with... an ear!  Eeek!  What are you serving us, Uwe?!  Well, he decided to create a mold in the shape of an ear, and filled it with foie gras and chicken liver.  We were all amazed and had a good chuckle.  I would show you all the funny comments we got on our posts to Facebook, but some of them couldn't be repeated in polite company...  I decided to spread it on the slices of toasted brioche served on the side.  More bread... digging myself deeper now.

    Mushroom: organic, custard, pearl barley, chicken, consommé - this is something I had for lunch last month, and it was just as delicious tonight.  I mentioned that previously I was told not to eat the barley on the plate, and a discussion about "recycling" food ensued... Well tonight I nibbled on a couple of grains just for the heck of it.

    Scallop: French, diver caught, stones, lemon, sea grass, dashi - actually I think these were Japanese scallops, and they were HUGE!  This was another lovely presentation. The staff poured what may have been seawater (from the Fragrant Harbor perhaps?) onto the bed of grass, reacting with the dry ice below to create a layer of "fog" which is meant to smell like the ocean.  Yes, very "fragrant" indeed...

    The black truffle and the scallop was delicious, although I thought my scallop was a little overcooked.

    We were asked to leave the seaweed in the shell for the second part of the dish.  A little deep-fried Japanese sawagani (沢蟹) was dropped onto the seaweed, and "dashi (出汁)" made with egg yolk and jamón ibérico was poured into the scallop shell.  The final touches included some grated lemon rind on top.  Yum.

    Fish and Chips: amadai, potato, tartare - this ain't no ordinary fish and chips, lads...  The delicious amadai (甘鯛) was first pan-fried with its scale-side down, then baked on a block of pink Himalayan rock salt to infuse it with the necessary seasoning.  We were then instructed to smear the amadai with the dots, which were made with mayonnaise, lemon juice and pickled cucumber - ingredients of a tartar sauce.  I have to say that the amadai was really delicious, especially with the crispy scales which had now curled up.  Oh and the potato puff was yummy, too.

    Duck: Welsh, Rhug Estate, organic, Gressingham, foot, "spring roll", natural jus - I've been avoiding eating any duck since the arrival of the giant Rubber Duckie, but that came to an end tonight...  The breast of the Gressingham duck was really delicious and executed perfectly.  There was some shredded "dark meat" which was stuffed into a tube, and that was pretty tasty, too.  I think there was a bed of pan-fried quinoa that was kinda crunchy.  Mmm mmm good.

    Spring lamb: Welsh, Rhug Estate, organic, cutlet, pearl barley, peas, natural jus - oh this was one delicious piece of lamb... with a good amount of lamby flavors I love so much and oh-so-tender.  I wonder why this was presented on a patch of grass, as I thought spring lambs were generally milk-fed and hadn't started to feed on grass?  Anyway... nice swoosh of pea purée and tasty jus.

    There was some peas and pearl barley served on the side, which was amazingly delicious.

    Pop art: Snake River Farm, organic, beef, pepper, truffle - when you talk about pop art, which artist's name is the first that comes to mind?  Why, Andy Warhol, of course!  He is well-known for his many variations of "Marilyn", and tonight we have Uwe's interpretation of that work...

    Presented on a black picture frame was a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, which does indeed call to mind Andy's style of pop art.  The white background was done with onion purée, Marilyn's famous blonde curls used yellow capsicum purée, her red lips were painted with red capsicum purée, but I'm not sure how the blue eyeliner (blueberries?) and black eyes were done...

    We have been talking about how full we all were, and it probably wasn't a good idea that I ended up eating the whole piece of beef... The black truffle jus did help a little, I must admit...  Well at least I only ate half of Marilyn...

    Potato: sweet, chocolate, caramel - this was actually a frozen scoop of ice cream made with Japanese potato  purée, sitting on a bed of chocolate "soil".  There were a few pieces of prunes marinated in Armagnac, and they were pretty tasty.

    Krug on the Moon - this is something I had heard about and decided to order in advance.  Normally done in the Krug Room next door, I must say that this absolutely blew us away.  The staff cleared our table, then laid down pieces of silicone to cover the entire table top.  This was then used as the "canvas" for Uwe to paint and create the dessert right in front of us.

    Round and flat chocolate pudding was made by pouring the liquid into a tubular mode, and have it solidify in a matter of minutes.  This reminded me of watching the bread rise on the table at Les Créations de Narisawa.  Squeeze bottles containing coconut and raspberry sauce were then used to draw dots and lines. Next came the sprinkles of chocolate rocks in brown, silver and black, as well as toasted, dessicated coconut.  Hemispherical chocolates in banana, blueberry and raspberry flavors were strategically placed at various spots.

    Two black "moons" were placed on the table, and hot fudged poured on top to reveal the contents of raspberries, ice cream and Pop Rocks.  Finally, flash-frozen ice cream shaped like moon rocks were placed in the center and smashed up.

    It was definitely a lot of fun watching Uwe create this right in front of us, just as it was a ton of fun to eat!  We definitely felt like a bunch of kids playing with our food at the end of dinner, and those Pop Rocks popping inside our mouths rewound the clock back some 30 years...  What a happy ending to a fantastic meal!

    We were definitely blown away by this dinner.  I have always admired chefs who are creative, and Uwe has always shown us that he's capable in that respect.  I've always been a fan of molecular gastronomy when it's done well, but I also love just plain deconstruction, and there's always been that element in Uwe's cuisine.  While I can't say that every dish was 100% amazing, it was a highly enjoyable meal that reminded me on my dinner at elBulli - with the creativity and the element of surprise.  We were all completely stuffed, but walked away convinced that this has been the highlight of our dining experience so far this year - food-wise.

    Ah, but let's not forget about the vino!  This was a group of winos and everyone other than me is connected to the wine trade somehow.  So for a "casual" dinner we decided to do an 80's theme...

    1982 Dom Pérignon - what a beautiful nose!  Very toasty, definitely savory, mineral, salty plum (話梅) for sure, with a hint of Chinese licorice (甘草).  Later on there was toffee, caramel and maple syrup!  Wonderful!  Fat, thick and round texture, but the finish was a little on the short side.

    1990 Krug - mineral, savory, toasty.  Later on the toasty notes got heavier, along with citrus.  Always a beautiful wine.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - mint, a little sweet, smoke, surprisingly floral, black pepper.  Lost a little of the structure on the edges, resulting in a lighter palate, but there was still reasonable length in the finish.  We agreed that the '86 looks like it's going downhill and best to drink them up.

    1989 Pichon-Lalande - smoky and earthy, with some cassis and black fruits at the core.  Classic Pauillac from a great vintage.

    1989 Conseillante - a little ripe and stewed, slight hint of rubber perhaps...  Sweet on the palate.

    2009 Italo Pietrantonj Passito Rosso - a red dessert wine that is sweet but not heavy on the palate.  Nose of forest pine, herbs.

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  • 05/11/13--03:15: TEDxVH 2013
  • Last year I had the honor of speaking at the first TEDxVictoriaHarbour, and trying my damnedest to throw some inspirational messages out there.  I'm not sure at all that my feeble attempt met with any success, but I'm real happy to have been part of the event.

    One year later, I have moved myself back to Hong Kong, and naturally found myself supporting the event in its second year.  I decided to go with a couple of friends and collectively take in the inspirational messages.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that I had been looking forward to this for the last 2 months, waiting for this day to arrive.

    The venue this year was the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院大劇場), a theater with a 40-year history famed for being one of the last performance venues for Cantonese opera.  The place has faced multiple threats of closure within the last 10 years, but has received a temporary reprieve until 2016.  It's my first visit to the theater, and I'm glad that there are efforts from the community to preserve a part of Hong Kong's cultural history.

    The theme this year was "E-Motions in Travel and Tourism", and an interesting roster of speakers came up one by one to talk about their personal experiences, to try to inspire us to do better.  My memory is a little hazy in my old age, but I don't recall watching pre-recorded segments at the event last year.  This year there were a few of them, but they certainly were inspirational.

    We started off with the recording of Barry Schwartz's talk on "The Paradox of Choice", which is a segment I had watched before and found very illuminating and thought-provoking.

    Dean Head then took the stage, talking about his work shooting films in and around Hong Kong, and how using one's city/country as the location of films can promote tourism and bring in revenues.  I guess the underlying message is a plea for the Hong Kong government to make it easier for filmmakers to do their work here, as it will eventually end up benefiting the city as a whole.

    Tom Schmidt got up to talk about his early days of backpacking through different countries, and how he used to pass the time by drawing in a sketch book and writing snippets about the people he comes across, his thoughts about certain destinations, events which took place during each day…etc.  (How I wish I had the talent to draw like he does…)  He spoke about how spending time drawing on his travels enabled him to interact with the locals on a very personal level.  He put together books about his travels to give out to friends and relatives, including a "fake" order form in the back.  He was surprised when he started getting actual orders from people around the world… His final message?  "See the world before you leave it".

    Next up is Tyson Wheatley, who moved to Hong Kong from Atlanta with CNN.  He discovered Instagram and quickly became an addict, founding HK InstaYay to get together with other Instagram users for interesting pics.  He spoke about how picture taking and sharing has fundamentally changed nowadays, and introduced the notion that "everyone is a photographer".  While it seems like a no-brainer as I look at the people around me, it's still a poignant message.  He recounted how, on a trip back to Atlanta, he chose to spend time with complete strangers (to take more Instagram pictures) instead of spending quality time with people he knew and loved.  Finally he announced that he had contacted Instagram about getting a job, and much to his delight, he will be relocating to California to run Communications for the firm.  So here's a case where a passion (or was it addiction?) for something has actually turned into a job.  Pretty cool, eh?

    We were shown the pre-recorded talk by Ric Elias, one of the passengers on Useless Air Flight 1549 that crashed landed in the Hudson River.  Here's a man who came face to face with death, and things that were truly important became crystal clear to him.  In his short but powerful talk, a number of quotes really stood out to me: "I no longer wanted to postpone anything in life", "I regretted the time that I wasted on things that did not matter with people who mattered", "I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life", "I no longer choose to be right.  I choose to be happy".  After having been given a second chance in life, he realized that his "only goal in life is to be a great dad".  He challenged the audience to think about how they would change their lives if they were faced with the same situation.  I must say I found this to be incredibly inspirational on a personal level.

    Session 2 started with the ever-entertaining Nury Vittachi.  I have loved his sense of humor ever since arriving in Hong Kong all those eons ago, and was really looking forward to listening to him.  I think he's a great follow-up to last year's Hossan Leong.  No surprise that Nury quickly had the audience bursting in laughter, as he talked about how Asians speak English and how there's a new language called "Globalese".  He even offered a "translation" of the famous passage from Shakespeare's Hamlet

    Jim Spear, the hotelier behind The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, spoke about his experience with interns at his hospitality business.  Interesting to see the passion and ideas from interns coming from as far as the Ivory Coast.

    I met up with Andrea Oschetti, a fellow speaker from last year, at the reception before the event kicked off.  He was very nervous, as he was cooking the sauce for tonight's dinner this morning… and couldn't remember whether he had turned off the heat before coming over to the theater!  He had to send someone to check on it… and fortunately all was well.  Andrea the traveling chef spoke about researching for his trip to Patagonia and following the footsteps of Magellan and Darwin.  Is it any surprise that he talked with his hands, like so many other Italians?  Not to me…  He ended his talk by telling us that, at the end of his trip, he and his wife went off the trail and wrote their own pages in their travel books.  Very interesting message.

    We then had a musical segment from Erica Yebyeol Lee, the barefoot violinist.  Showing us a little bit of nervousness, she announced that she's been on stage performing for years but she's never actually had to speak…  She's composed a musical piece to express the fear of flying, and I thought the violin was the perfect instrument for musicians to stir up emotions in the audience.

    It's hard to miss Bobsy Gaia - who runs Life Cafe, MANA! Fast Slow Food and other establishments - since you're likely to see his hairdo from a mile away.  Bobsy asked us to think of the Earth as our home - which it is, really - and therefore treat it with respect.  He also made statements like "the Earth is not dying, it is being killed"… which, in all honesty, isn't far from the truth.  He proceeded to show us a collection of statements - some of which are fairly controversial - and asked us to consider them without judging.  He's spreading a pretty interesting message, and one that I largely agree with when it comes to being eco-friendly.

    The last pre-recorded segment featured Elora Hardy, who spoke of her childhood growing up in Bali and designing her own house at the age of 9… and having it built.  After a career in fashion, she's now back in Bali, designing and building sustainable housing made entirely of bamboo.  I found it interesting that she spoke with a rather squeaky voice… and then in the middle of the video the pitch went higher… and then we were listening to a chipmunk on the screen.  The audience burst out in laughter at the realization that there has been a technical glitch, and the playback speed was wrong.  After it was corrected, Elora suddenly sounded a lot more normal…  Anyway, it's really amazing to see the beautiful work being done by Elora and her team in Bali, and truly inspirational for people to take away the message to "get up and take a stand".  Armed with no background in architecture, engineering or business, she has dared to dream big and set out to achieve her goals.  Bravo!

    The second photographer of the day was Simon Wan, who actually is a professional photog.  He spoke about the importance of amateur photojournalists, who are important "because the pros usually arrive too late".  We were shown an amateur photograph, taken by one of the surviving members of the 1972 plane crash involving the Uruguayan rugby team (famously made into a Hollywood movie called Alive).  The picture showed one of the survivors eating the flesh of their dead fellow passengers - something they had decided to do in order to survive in a terrain with no food.  I know of the story but had never seen the picture until now.  I guess it was a little before my time… He ended his segment by taking out his large format view camera and taking a picture of the audience - asking us to hold still for 30 seconds.

    Tony Verb took to the stage and told us to stop complaining and make it happen.  He is of the view that Hong Kong is a great city, and that we have no need to travel long distances to other cities to find the cultural activities Hong Kong is deemed to lack.  His mantra?  "Travel to arrive, stay to create".  He used Clockenflap, Island East Markets (which he incorrectly called "Taikoo Market"), and even Florentijn Hofman's giant rubber duckie as examples of why Hong Kong's got a lot to offer.  I guess that's true and we should stop complaining… He talked about wanting to do Nuit Blanche here…

    Finally we had Chris Hora, whose rambling wasn't too unlike those of Howard Beale, the protagonist from the movie Network - which Chris talked about at the beginning.  Yeah, I felt pretty old when I realized I was one of only a few in the room who had seen the movie…  We are urged to put our phones away and to be "human" when we sit down and have a meal.  I guess I get his point… kinda…

    When we first checked in on arrival, we were given a collection of stickers and asked to put them anywhere we'd like on the big map on the wall.  I decided to pin one in the middle of Uzbekistan and wrote in Samarkand, as it's one of the most beautiful cities I'd been to.  I also stuck one in the vast emptiness in the middle of Russia, and wrote "somewhere in Siberia".  Looks like a few people followed suit.  At the end of the day, the map looked pretty interesting…

    This has been an incredible day full of inspiration for me.  Many thanks to the organizers who generously allocated me a ticket.  I'm looking forward to attending again in the future!

    P.S. A final shout out to Harbour City who, as one of the sponsors, generously included a Rubber Duck Project postcard with every "passport" handed out to attendees.  Yay!

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    I was invited to a dinner tonight jointly celebrating the birthdays of a happy couple.  We gathered at Wagyu Kaiseki Den, one of my favorite places for kaiseki cuisine (懐石料理) in town.  There would of course be wine, and our thoughtful hosts had not only wines from their birth vintages, but also those of the attending guests.  The last time I had a similar theme at dinner was when Frédéric Engerer hosted us at Château Latour

    While the wines were being decanted and we waited for everyone to arrive, we had some snacks to nibble on… edamame (枝豆) was an obvious choice…

    …as was grilled dried puffer fish.

    Steamed egg with sea urchin, broad bean and yuzu citrus (冷: 雲丹釜 玉地蒸し 天豆 うに 柚子) - look real purrty in the spiny sea urchin shell…  Cold and refreshing, with just the right balance between sea urchin and egg.  Oh and that nice yuzu (柚子) fragrance...

    Stem of taro, abalone, mountain plant with sesame sauce (温冷: ずいき と 鮑  ワラビ  胡麻和え  木の芽) - I guess the taro stem was kinda interesting… slightly crunchy and marinated in sesame sauce.  The abalone was really, really tasty and full of flavors of the ocean.  The clear jelly seems like it was made with fern (ワラビ), and kinda acidic.  Nice touch with the sansho leaf (木の芽).

    Clear soup: grouper, shrimp ball, cucumber noodle and vegetable with yuzu citrus (椀物: 北海道 香深浜産蔵囲利尻昆布 アイナメと海老真蒸、胡瓜麺、嫁菜、花柚子) - very nice and simple.  The shrimp ball was more interesting than the grouper, but the cucumber noodle was the most exotic… Springy texture, and you could definitely taste the cucumber flavors.  I didn't really think the kelp was any special despite its place of origin, but maybe some of the flavors have already been cooked into the soup…

    Seared Awaji pike eel with onion vinegar jelly (炙り淡路鱧 ポン酢たまねぎゼリー) - didn't realize that pike eel season had started… Very nicely seared, and I really liked the ponzu (ポン酢) and onion jelly… I liked the use of scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ) and perilla (紫蘇) flowers.

    The chef's selection sashimi (お造り) consisted of 3 items, but as I'm still not eating tuna I decided to give my share of fatty tuna (トロ) to the birthday boy.

    Instead I had the lobster (伊勢海老) to start.

    The red king crab (鱈場蟹) was actually cooked, and incredibly tasty.  Served with a citrus jelly with yuzu seed.  There was a wasabi (山葵) leaf, which had a fairly mild taste.

    Interesting to find a cube of jelly made from kelp (昆布).

    Chef selection sushi (淩ぎ) consisted of three pieces:  a piece of Manganji pepper (万願寺とうがらし) on the side,

    tuna and scallion (ネギトロ) was very tasty...

    ...and fat greenling (アイナメ) that was used earlier in the soup, wrapped in leaf. Pretty nice.

    Grilled amadai sea bream with tofu and vegetable roll, mountain plant, bean curd sheet and deep fried eggplant with minced shrimp (旬菜:甘鯛巻織焼 うど諸味 たらの芽新引揚 くみ湯葉 玉 茄子海老射込 茗荷) - the roll with amadai (甘鯛) and tofu was pretty good.  The eggplant and shrimp thingy was pretty tasty, too.  There was a little bit of egg yolk paste sandwiched between 2 halves of a broad bean, and that was kinda interesting.

    Charcoal grilled wagyu tenderloin and sirloin (主菜:和牛テンダーロイン、サーロイン炭焼き) - as the name of the restaurant implies, Japanese beef is the main attraction here.  This has always been very much melt-in-your-mouth fatty goodness... Yum!  The veggie rolls on the side were pretty good, too.

    Sea urchin, amadai sea bream with sanshou pepper rice (食事:うに、甘鯛、山椒土鍋ご飯) - very yummy... with sea urchin, sliced bamboo shoots (筍), shreds of amadai.  But for me the real star was the sansho (山椒), which just added so much fragrance to the rice and tickled your tongue a little at the same time...

    Beef and tomato sandwich - this isn't on the regular menu, but just had to be done... I've never failed to enjoy this delicious sandwich made with thick, fluffy white toast, tender wagyu and tomato "salsa"... INHALED.

    Finally we have dessert (甘味), which came in two parts:
    Strawberries ice-cream (苺アイスークリム) - ummm... I think the correct カナ should be アイスクリーム...?  Anyway, the ice cream was pretty decent.

    Wasanbon warabi mochi cake (和三盆わらび餅) - how can I not love the wonderful flavors of the sugar?!  Yum!  I'd drink a whole cup of this...

    But let's not forget to birthday cake.

    We had an interesting lineup of wines, and a couple of "backup" bottles as the hosts weren't sure of the condition of some of them.

    1980 Dom Pérignon Rosé - nose of raspberries, minerals, a little plummy, savory, fruity.  A lovely wine.

    1998 Haut-Brion Blanc - decanted, of course.  Surprisingly sweet, like marzipan.  Oxidized nose but still wonderful, like cooked sugar cane drink (竹蔗茅根水), dessicated coconut, Chinese licorice (甘草) and toast.  A beautiful wine!  Interesting that the accelerated oxidization has produced such an orange color in a 15-year-old wine.

    1955 Massandra Collection Sherry - dry on the palate, straw, plums, caramel, savory and mineral.  Very much like Chinese yellow wine.

    1979 Rousseau Chambertin - really lovely wine.  Animal, farmy, bacon notes.  Sweet fruit, plummy, fragrant and beautiful.  There's an elegance that belies that masculinity here.

    1970 La Mission Haut-Brion - old and over the hill.  Nose a little cooked, dusty and chalky, brett, wet cardboard, and savory soy sauce.

    1983 Jaboulet La Chapelle - surprisingly sweet creamy corn, straw, and a little toasty.  Drinking nicely.

    1982 Latour - WOW!  What a beautiful bottle of wine!  Classic pencil lead, smoke, black tea, cassis and minty.  Slightly savory on the palate.  When was the last time I saw such perfect balance between power and elegance?  Amazing condition.

    1971 Günther Mehrlein Mittelheimer St. Nicolaus Riesling Spätlese - marmalade, salty plum (話梅),  savory, desiccated coconut.  Flat and dead on the palate, acidic.

    Kokuryu Hachijyu-hachi Go (黒龍 八十八号) - classic banana, tropical fruits.  Soft and elegant.

    1983 Margaux - another lovely wine but would have benefited from additional aeration.  Sweet fruit, grassy, toasty.

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  • 05/12/13--01:05: Déjà vu on Mother's Day
  • So... it's Mother's Day, and I'm 500 miles away from my mom.  Since I'll be seeing her for the next two consecutive weekends, I figured I'll be forgiven for not spending today with her.  Maybe.  You just never know with Shanghainese moms...

    I did spend a few hours with two moms today - one of whom is the lovely mother of my adorable godson.  Just a week after our last visit, we found ourselves back at Man Wah (文華廳) for some dim sum.

    Vermicelli, garoupa, fish broth (魚湯斑粒米線) - the little tyke was having his usual noodle soup, so we decided to order extra and shared with him.  Very tasty, I must say… simple comfort food.

    Tiger prawn, bamboo shoot dumpling (筍尖蝦餃皇)

    Morel and wild mushrooms dumpling (羊肚野菌餃) - actually very, very tasty, with tons of fragrance from the different mushrooms.

    Deep fried dumpling, bacon, mushroom, black truffle (脆皮松露豬) - I missed out on ordering these last week, and they're so cute!  Flavor-wise they're reasonably close to deep-fried salt water dumplings (家鄉咸水餃), but about 10 times cuter when they come as little piggies!

    Beef tenderloin puff, black pepper sauce (黑椒牛柳酥) - pretty tasty, although the puff looked a little rough today.

    Bean curd sheet roll, assorted vegetables and beans (五色粗糧腐皮卷) - pretty good, with taro, red bean and other veggies as filling.

    Golden taro puff, abalone (蜂巢鮑魚盒) - much drier and crisper than last week, and a little bit hollow inside since it lacked enough of the yummy taro mash filling.

    Organic bean curd, black mushrooms (紅燒有機豆腐)

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯浸莧菜)

    Bean curd pudding served in wooden bucket (原桶即撞豆腐花) - this was made to order so we ended up waiting a little.  Yummy… makes me want to go trek to Lamma Island and get some of that amazing sweet bean curd…

    Oh and there was even a cake for Mother's Day!

    This was a lot of food, and I promptly went back home to take a nap…  Zzzzzzz….

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    Mr and Mrs Locust are doing a tour of Asia, and came into town today for a few days.  We were debating about which restaurant to visit, and somehow in the end Catalunya came out on top.  I had been very happy with my first visit last month - even though the focus that evening wasn't on the food itself.  I was pretty excited about going back, as it would give me a chance to see how the restaurant would do on a "regular" evening.

    I left the ordering to Mrs. Locust, not wanting to push them into ordering anything in particular… other than a couple of things I really enjoyed from last time.  We ended up doing tapas only, which I think is fitting given the positioning of this place.

    Pa amb tomàquet - a.k.a pan con tomate, which we had with slivers of Cantabrian anchovies on top.  Perfect balance of flavors.

    "Escalibada" with foie-gras and smoked eel - pretty decent, but didn't resonate with me.

    Avocado and lobster roll - pretty tasty, and also pretty-looking.  Love the fish eggs on top…

    Spherical olives - Mr. Locust wanted to do this for old time's sake, seeing that the 3 of us went to elBulli together.  Definitely tasting a little bitter on the finish today… something I didn't notice on my last visit.

    Ham, cheese and truffle "bikini" - there was absolutely, positively no way that I would pass this up on any visit here.  In fact, I wonder if I could just come here and order multiple servings of this and have nothing else…?

    Cod fritters - three words: deep.fried.bacalao.  'Nuff said.  Nom nom nom…

    Jamón ibérico croquette - four words: deep.fried.creamy.jamón.  'Nuff said.  Nom nom nom…

    Bombas from “Barceloneta”– very nice and tasty. I don’t think they were using minced wagyu as the filling, but nevertheless this outperformed the bombas from that other Spanish place

    We were reasonably full by now, and hadn’t ordered any main courses. Mr. Locust wanted just a liiiittle bit more food, so we ended up getting the suckling pig tapa since we couldn’t handle half a piglet. While you kinda miss out on the fanfare associated with watching the staff chop up the piglet with a plate, I must say that this wasn’t a bad alternative. Well… it IS suckling pig we’re talking about, so that’s a no-brainer for me!

    Padron peppers– having recently discovered these little buggers, I had my heart set on playing Russian roulette again and seeing if I could get the spicy ones. The batch we had would seem to break the curve, as we counted 5 spicy peppers from a plate of no more than 15. Also noticeably more bitter than the other ones I had.

    Finally for something sweet to finish the meal. I was thinking of trying something new, but as I had highly recommended the two choices I had from my last visit, I raised no objections when Mrs. Locust asked for them.

    Catalunya fruit salad– no, this ain’t just any fruit salad that you see at Cantonese restaurants… This is better. The pieces of fruit come harder and the don’t taste like something that had just been chopped up moments ago. My understanding is that these were compressed and/or cooked sous vide, and infused with the flavors of different herbs and spices. I think the pineapple and rock melon were paired with cloves, while star fruit tasted minty. The strawberries were halved and the tops were filled with jello that tasted slightly bitter and alcoholic. Refreshing.

    “Torrija” with smoked milk ice cream– as yummy as I remembered last time.

    Mindful of the corkage charge and not wanting to indulge too much, I brought just one bottle for the three of us. I must have been busy fiddling with something, because I didn’t even notice when the bottle was removed from the table. Apparently someone had decided to decant the wine – a good call – and it was done somewhere out of sight.

    Now, I was always taught that sommeliers (or regular waiters) should never decant a customer’s wine where the customer can’t see it, so that the customer can rest assured that what goes into the decanter is indeed the wine chosen by the customer and not something else. Now I know this wasn’t an expensive bottle of ’82 Lafite or anything that the restaurant would bother to secretly switch, but still… it’s a matter of etiquette and principle.

    2002 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast– dried herbs, forest pine, still a liiittle alcoholic on the nose, but this has softened significantly after 10 years. Definitely sweeter on the palate but not on the jammy side.  Not bad for a drinking wine…

    Leaving aside the service aspect - we had a hard time understanding our waitress while she butchered the names of the dishes, and one could never get the attention of a waitstaff somehow - this was a wonderful meal.  No fails, and many of the dishes were simple yet delicious - comfort food that brings a smile to my face.  The three of us left the restaurant very satisfied, and with a bill that was smack in the middle of what I often call the danger/death zone - where one is most likely to get the least bang for one's buck.  With this price performance, Catalunya should be beating the pants off the competition.  Ferran said it would...

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  • 05/15/13--08:12: From Yuen Long to Wanchai
  • Margaret Xu is a well-known figure in the local restaurant scene, having started with places like Cuisine X in Yuen Long and an early proponent of the farm-to-table movement.  A few years ago I paid her a visit at Yin Yang (鴛鴦) when she moved her operations into town, and for one reason or another I haven't managed to find my way back.  That chance finally came today.

    My friends kinda know Margaret from her Yuen Long days, and asked her to send us whatever she felt like.  Apparently there was a Japanese chef at the next table who also knew her, and we were just getting the same thing that Margaret's preparing for them.  I definitely don't have a problem with that!

    The starters have pretty interesting names, and I have a hard time figuring out which items the poetic names actually refer to…

    Spring summer affair (春夏之間): I'm guessing this refers to the various veggie items, which were

    Lemon-flavored eggplant with takuan (沢庵)

    Corn pudding - not bad.

    Pea shoot (豆苗) soup - pretty good.

    Beetroot and greens

    Seafood in satin (夢遊仙境):
    We had some deep-fried fish which were paired with homemade buffalo cheese…

    …which were dipped into this… but I can't quite remember what this was supposed to be.

    There were also prawns and papaya with chicken feet cartilage jelly.  The prawn was fresh and firm, and the jelly definitely tasted like chicken soup...

    Summer snow (六月雪) - hempseed (火麻仁) tofu, with soy beans and coriander.

    Stone ground crab rice roll (活蟹石磨腸粉) - pretty interesting and soft texture for the rice flour roll, and the crab meat and roe wasn't bad.

    But the dish came with part 2 on the same plate:  homemade noodles with leafy amaranth (莧菜) and beetroot, stir-fried with egg, tomato and salted radish (蘿蔔乾).  Pretty interesting.  Unfamiliar due to the unusual noodles, yet somehow they taste homey to me thanks to the fried egg and tomato - something my mom does at home a lot.

    Yellow earth chicken (民謠黃土雞) - once again this was the star…

    A wonderfully roasted chicken with thin, crispy and delicious skin.  I still think this can give Bresse chicken a run for its money.  Oh and that organic galanga (沙薑) dip… Yum.

    Soup without water (無水燉湯) - chicken soup with mushrooms.  Very yum.

    Bowl of urchin pudding (水鄉海膽糕) - mixed with sweet potato starch and stir-fried.  I'm still not a fan of some methods of cooking sea urchin, and this time it definitely brought out the strong "fishy" taste.

    Ice plum crab (冰梅蟹) - 2 blue swimmer crabs.  Love that they're done with the homemade plum wine.  Unfortunately the flesh was too mushy, and I prefer my crabs fresh and firm.

    Red hot (跟紅頂白) - I wasn't a real fan of this last time, thanks to the inconsistency in seasoning.  Things are a lot better this time, although it is still a tiny bit over-seasoned for my taste, but at least I don't have to wash down the pork with either water or wine!  Lovely hunk of pork, though… with that wonderfully crispy rind.  For some reason this reminds me of confit...

    Seafood Yin Yang rice (生死戀) - this was a far cry from the version I had last time, and I really miss the wagyu.

    Once again there was rice baked inside the cuttlefish, with squid ink of course.   Unfortunately the whole thing was rather bland, so I ended up putting some chopped chili on top…  And I didn't get why there was so much ginger.

    Not your chopped chill fish (點只剁椒魚) - what a treat!  I've had flying fish roe before, but never the actual fish itself.  Margaret explained that one doesn't see live specimens in the markets nowadays, so she grabbed these as soon as she saw them.  The flesh was actually a little tough and chewy - polar opposite of the garoupas and other coral fish that Cantonese love so much.  The chopped chilies were pretty hot, at least for me.

    Our organic vegetables (種了有機菜) - there were four kinds of veggies here, including morning glory shoots and choy sum (菜心) shoots.  Wonderful stuff.

    Stone-ground dessert sampler (石磨甜入心)
    Mung bean ice cream

    Glutinous rice ball with sesame filling - interesting the soup was made with chili powder…

    Mulberry egg tart - cookie crust.

    Oh yes, we had a wee bit'o wine tonight…

    1993 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Auslese 83 - nose of citrus lemon, plastic and white pepper.  Perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.

    1997 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis - pine forest, fruity and sweet, smooth on the mid-palate but with a tannic finish.

    2003 Yquem en demi-bouteille - really sweet on the palate.  Viscous like honey.  Nose of orange and acetone.

    Not all the dishes are hits tonight, but there were certainly enough of them.  I also really appreciate Margaret's efforts at going organic and local.

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  • 05/16/13--18:32: Everybody marries in May
  • It's the Parental Units' anniversary again, so naturally I find myself back in Taipei for this important date.  After all, if they hadn't gotten married on this day so many moons ago, I wouldn't be here today, would I?  Anyway, today was a different sort of anniversary from years past.  Instead of just the three of us, Mr and Mrs. Tigger as well as Grandma Bear joined us for this occasion.  As it turns out, everyone (except me, of course!) got married in May!

    There was never gonna be any question about which type of cuisine we would have tonight, and I booked ourselves a little room at Shunsai (旬採).  After a pretty good experience the first time around, I was looking forward to trying it again.

    As usual we started with some homemade pickled radish (沢庵), which were delicious and crunchy.

    Our amuse bouche was Matsuba crab tofu (松葉蟹豆腐), with a little mash of okra on top.

    The sashimi selection (お造り) arrived with an array of seafood paired with accompanying condiments:
    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - from Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島), served with finely shredded radish and perilla (紫蘇) leaves.

    Salmon (鮭) - forgot where this was from… Served with myoga (茗荷).

    The chef said this was "tajiuo" but I can't find any fish that fits this name…

    Ark shell (赤貝)

    Cockle (鳥貝)

    Oyster (牡蠣) - from Akkeshi (厚岸) in Hokkaido.  Served with scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ).

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) with glass shrimp (白海老) and ark shell lip - the glass shrimps were from Toyama Prefecture (富山県), and served with perilla flowers.

    Sea cucumber (海鼠) - these were from Aichi Prefecture (愛知県), marinated in vinegar raw and served with ginger mash.  I don't think I've ever had raw sea cucumber before…

    Pike eel (鱧) - from Kyoto (京都), served with tofu skin (湯葉), wheat bran (麩), myoga and winter melon (冬瓜).  They did a pretty good job with the pike eel, as I only noticed 1 or 2 tiny little bone fragments.

    The wheat bran was really interesting, as it just looks like a piece of pork belly - instead of something vegetarian.

    Horned turban (栄螺) - served with its liver that turned the "jus" bitter.  Crunchy texture.

    Glass shrimp (白海老) - deep-fried with shells.  Very yummy.

    White asparagus - Dutch.  This was pretty sweet, with only a slight hint of bitterness.  The ground rock salt really brought out the sweetness.

    The selection of nigiri sushi (握り鮨) came next:
    Tuna belly (トロ) - I normally don't eat tuna for environmental reasons, but gave in today.  This was wild tuna from Kyoto, and not something you see everyday.  Very veiny and fatty.  Very yummy.

    Roughscale sole (鮫鰈) wings - torched so that it's incredibly smooth and melt-in-your-mouth.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹)

    Mackerel (鯖) - done in box sushi (箱寿司) style, with a thin piece of shiroita kelp (白板昆布).

    Egg (卵) - very soft, silky and smooth.  Yum!

    Short-necked clam (浅蜊) - from Aichi Prefecture (愛知県).  The soup was made with 3 different misos (味噌): two white miso and 1 with rough texture.  The finely chopped scallions were particular tasty.

    Finally we had some fruit

    …and lemon mousse… and mulberry (桑) sorbet.

    This was a very yummy meal.  I had a couple of items for the first time, and once again this meal proves that the best value for money in terms of Japanese fish is to be found in Taipei.

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  • 05/18/13--08:57: The best in Asia?
  • It was an itch I had to scratch.  For far too long, eating a meal from André Chiang has been on my to-do list.  Ever since his arrival in Singapore a few years ago, helming the kitchen at Jaan par André.  Then he opened his eponymous restaurant, and still I did not have a chance to visit.  The main reason, of course, was that I have been in Singapore only once since the end of 2008.  Pathetic…

    Well, I ticked this one off the list tonight.  I knew I was coming in town for business, and booked a table at Restaurant André 6 weeks in advance.  I figured that the one person in town who would appreciate this as much as I do would be Mr. Ho.  After all, Mr. and Mrs. Ho were the other couple who traveled to elBulli with me, besides Mr. and Mrs. Locust…

    The evening got off to a good start at the Ho residence, when Mr. Ho uncorked a bottle of 2010 Roulot Bourgogne Blanc.  Yes, it's a lowly Bourgogne Blanc, but I'd be happy drinking anything made by Jean-Marc Roulot!  Beautiful toasty nose with lots of corn and ripe on the nose.  Nice acidity balance here, with an acidic finish.  Yum.

    Then we kinda hit a bump.  There were accidents on the highways in Eastern Singapore, and traffic was horrendous.  When we finally arrived at the restaurant an hour late, it was the biggest taxi fare either of us had ever paid in Singapore.

    We were led to our table by Sudarampai who, as it turns out, is André's wife.  I didn't know that until later in the evening, when she blurted out something like: "…even though I'm André's wife, he doesn't tell me EVERYTHING…"

    André has developed what he calls octaphilosophie - with 8 different facets/elements.  I must admit that it's been more than a year since I last watched his talk at TEDxTaipei, so my memory is a little hazy…  I guess we'd have at least 8 dishes tonight!

    A bunch of snacks hit the table in one go, so we started nibbling…

    Vanilla popcorn - this was a little soggy, but I wonder if it was due to the fact that I spent a couple of minutes snapping pics of all the snacks.  This had a creamy center and was tasty.

    Cylindrical lobster sandwich - this was definitely tasty, with chopped chives on top.  Unfortunately the wrapper wasn't made of rice paper and was inedible.

    Masala spiced chicken skin - paper-thin, with that hint of spiciness.  Yum.

    The box came bearing 3, no, 4 different snacks.
    Porcini crêpes - Oh, definitely porcini…  Also paper-thin.  Sweet-tasting.
    Patata bravas - pretty yum for a small bite.
    Deep-fried amaebi head - what's not to like about deep-fried prawn head?!

    But the real star here was the "soil" in the box… Mr. Ho and I were trying to figure out the ingredients, and managed to guess the obvious one.  The other one, though, turned out to be a surprise…

    Puréte: a plate of assorted seafood showing their pure flavors.
    Japanese amaebi (甘海老) - barely cooked sous vide, with a sprinkle of black olive powder, and a leaf that tasted like a very mild sansho leaf (木の芽).
    Salmon– served with some perilla flowers.
    There were some pieces of cucumber and a quenelle of red cabbage cream, which was right up Mr. Ho’s alley.

    Abalone– this was OK, with a piece of pickled shallot.
    Spanish Palamós prawn - lightly torched, with dill flower on top.
    Bouchot mussels– from Normandy, served with a nice, wild herb coulis.

    Sel: the “coral reef” was constructed with a layer of tartare made from Gillardeau No. 1 oysters, topped with a disc of Granny Smith apple mousse. On top there were Russian golden caviar (whatever that is), mushrooms, olive oil caviar, Granny Smith apple and chives.  On the side we've got seaweed and salt water (or was it sea water?) foam.

    Mr. Ho was blown away.  For a Frenchy, it may come as a surprise that he actually doesn't care for the briny taste of oysters.  With this dish, the normally strong and briny flavors were tempered by the acidity of the apples, resulting in a perfect balance of flavors.  Very delicate and lots of finesse.

    Artisan:eggplant from Kyoto (forgot to ask which cultivar), with a layer of finely chopped cockscomb, and finally crispy duck tongues on top.  On the side was a pile of deep-fried salsify, with shaved macadamia nuts and eggplant crème anglaise at the bottom.

    Not having done much reading about André's signature dishes, this was completely unexpected.  When we were asked at the start of the meal regarding what we don't eat, I joked with our waiter that I even got Mr. Ho to eat chicken feet for the first time at elBulli…  And now we've got not only duck tongue but cockscomb, too!  But it was all very yummy.  Nice, smoky and roasted flavors on the eggplant.  The crème anglaise + macadamia + salsify combination was pretty awesome.

    Sud: this came in two parts:
    Risotto with greater amberjack (勘八), mackerel and sea bass.  The greater amberjack was thinly sliced and raw.  Mackerel is always tasty, and it's got some crab and Palamós prawn foam on top.  By contrast the sea bass seemed to be to boring one.  Oh and the risotto was very tasty.

    Persimmon, heirloom tomatoes with flounder (平目), pink radish, tomato sauce, hijiki (鹿尾菜) - pretty tasty, especially the persimmon sorbet.  Our waiter didn't tell us the identity of the fish, so we flagged down the Frenchy and asked him.  He hesitated and answered "kisu" - Japanese whiting (鱚).  As he didn't seem very confident, we figured that he didn't really know the answer, and decided to flag down our Chinese (from Singapore?) waitress.  This time the answer was flounder, and this was an answer that made sense.  I guess not everyone in the front of house know what's on the menu today…

    Texture: homard bleu from Brittany, Saint Jacques crème anglaise, flour-less gnocchi, shallots, parsley oil, black caviar, peas, black truffle with pear - this was absolutely awesome, and the favorite dish of the evening for both Mr. Ho and myself.  It was, quite possibly, the best homard bleu I have ever had.  This was barely cooked sous vide, creating a crunchy, springy texture that was just perfect.  Sudarampai did say that "it was more than just sous vide" but André "does not tell me everything even though I'm his wife"...

    The gnocchi and the crème anglaise made a perfect combination.  The finely diced truffle and pear worked very well together.  The dish looked very busy, but the different flavors and textures were surprisingly complementary.

    Unicité: espelette with baby barracuda, artichoke, green apple, black olives, beurre blanc foam - the baby barracuda was torched and tasted wonderfully sweet.  The piment d'espelette was slightly spicy.

    Mémoire: warm foie gras jelly and black truffle coulis - O.M.G.  What's not to like about a foie and truffle combination?!  It's a warm foie gras custard, almost like a chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).  Even the wooden spoon we used to consume the dish looked like something we'd find in a Japanese restaurant.

    On top of the foie was a layer of finely chopped black truffle, chopped chives and a drizzle of olive oil.  When mixed together, the contents of this bowl were simply unbeatable.  I wanted to do an ILL and use my index finger to wipe the bowl clean…

    Terroir: tri-tip with braised Dijon mustard, butternut squash, burnt leek, black olive speckle and garlic soil - I'd never had the tri-tip before, and we were told that this was the beef equivalent to sot-l'y-laisse in chickens.  The mustard grains were pretty tasty after braising...

    While tri-tip is meant to be a pretty lean cut, our piece must have come from wagyu or something… just look at the marbling!  And it was done perfectly… charred on the outside with that wonderful flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth tender and succulent.  Sinful.

    Now comes the assault of the desserts…

    Wild berry mousse, honey ice cream, fig and freeze-dried berries - nice and refreshing, cleansing our palates for what's to come.

    Deconstructed Snickers bar - ooooooh boy!  Definitely a fan of this one!  We were picking apart the sprinkle and figuring out all the different components - as we tried with the "soil" earlier.  Interestingly the tiny cubes of gelée were made of caramel.

    Strawberry sangria "Chupa Chups" - frozen exterior with a liquid center.  Awesome.

    Black cherry madeleine

    Licorice and coffee marshmallow

    Earl Grey crystalline with green apple

    White chocolate popcorn with pop rocks - yup, felt like a kid again with pop rocks in my mouth…

    Mr. Ho very kindly brought 2 bottles to dinner with us:

    2000 Pol Roger - toasty, yeasty on the nose.  Smooth and round on the palate.

    1995 Cos d'Estournel - smoky, minty, brett, a little floral, coffee.  Drank after at least opening for 5 hours…

    I'm not sure what the staff thought of us - two guys who kept bombarding them wish questions about ingredients for every dish… and always wanting to know what the secret ingredients were that we were tasting - but couldn't quite figure out because our palates just weren't sharp enough… At least they were patient with us, and tried to recite the ingredients slowly as I frantically typed away on my iPhone...

    This was an absolutely amazing meal…  This year, I've had the pleasure of re-discovering Richard Ekkebus' beautiful creations and the playfulness of Uwe Opocensky's deconstructions… but I can't help but feel that tonight's dinner may be even better!  Most of the dishes were beautifully presented, technically correct in execution, and delicately, perfectly balanced in terms of flavor.  This could very well be the best meal I've had in Asia… although it probably just edged out my dinner at Amber by a nose…

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  • 05/24/13--01:50: Keeping it light
  • My plans for a salad lunch today was derailed by Tigger, who very kindly asked me to join him at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  I protested about the need to reduce my intake, but he twisted my arm into ordering just one pasta dish…

    Spring vegetables risotto, morel mushroom jus - I must say that I had a different picture in my mind of this dish… rather than something that came from the home of the Jolly Green Giant…  I'm guessing the green is from spinach… and there were broad beans, peas and diced asparagus inside.  The morels were very yummy.  Needless to say, the rice was cooked al dente

    OK, so this wasn't exactly a light lunch, but I'm thinking I could have done a lot worse...

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  • 05/25/13--08:00: Taiwanese birthday feast
  • Today was a big day for the Ox, as he upgraded himself to a higher handle.  To help him celebrate this milestone, he very kindly invited a group of us over to Taipei for a weekend of festivities, culminating in dinner tonight.  The boys of MNSC, along with our respective attending other halves, had our own little "Vosne-Romanée" table in a private room at the Grand Formosa Regent.  Dinner tonight would come from the kitchen of Silks House (晶華軒).

    I arrived to discover that half of the appetizer combination (雙福滿漢) had already been laid out on the table, and we were encouraged to start digging in at any time.  These included:

    Marinated mixed vegetables (涼拌老虎菜)

    Shredded salted duck with black pepper (黑胡椒鴨賞) - this is a specialty from Yilan (宜蘭) and I love it.

    Steamed pork liver Yilan-style (宜蘭粉肝) - traditionally steamed and then chilled before serving.  This was drier and saltier than what I'd normally prefer.  My standard is still the one from Lu Sang (呂桑食堂).

    Smoked shark (沙魚煙) - yes, boys and girls, this really is made from shark meat… and smoked to cover up the often pungent flavors.

    Steamed bamboo shoots (金沙綠竹筍) - chilled after steaming, to be dipped in sweet mayo the Taiwanese way.

    Two-flavor beauty's legs (雙味美人腿) - this was actually water bamboo (茭白筍), which were served with some diced chili peppers.

    Steamed free-range chicken (富貴放山雞) - one of my favorite dishes in Taiwan.  The chicken here just have lots of flavor, and chilling the chicken after steaming produces a layer of chicken stock jelly between the skin and the meat.  Not your ordinary 白斬雞 found in other Chinese cuisines.  Yum!

    Stir-fried manila clams (炒海瓜子) - with basil (九層塔), garlic and chili.

    Pan-fried stuffed intestines (大腸煎) - normally this would be pan-fried glutinous rice sausage (糯米腸), which is rice stuffed inside sausage casing.  But I didn't see any sausage casing, and instead these were just blobs of glutinous rice balls which had been pan-fried.

    Stir-fried morning glory in shacha sauce (沙茶炒空心菜) - don't think I've ever had this done with shacha sauce (沙茶醬) before…

    Deep-fried chicken roll (台式雞捲) - very classic Taiwanese… Yum.

    Steamed cabbage with manjack berries (樹子蒸高麗菜) - Taiwanese cabbage are among the sweetest around, and one of my favorite veggies since I was a kid.

    Deep-fried shrimp (鹽酥蝦) - absolutely delicious.  So crunchy that I ate the head, shell and the whole shebang.

    By the time we were done with the appetizers, I'm sure most of us were at least half full…

    Steamed blue crab (清蒸處女蟳) - actually I think these were mud crabs, but in any case Taiwanese love the "virgin" crabs before they had a chance to mate, and these are valued for their roe.  

    Chrysanthemum bean curd soup (芙蓉菊花盅, 老母雞燉湯) - the chicken soup was alright, but the block of tofu (豆腐) was sliced up to resemble a blooming flower.

    Fried isinglass with garlic sprout (蒜苗炒烏魚膘) - ummm… this ain't isinglass, which is a gelatin derived from fish bladder…  And while 魚膘 usually refer to fish bladders, when Taiwanese talk about 烏魚膘, they are actually talking about the milt or sperm sacs of mullets.  Most of the MNSC boys did not find this very appetizing, in spite of the garlic scopes.

    Oyster omelet / luffa omelet (蚵仔煎 / 絲瓜煎) - FAIL.  While the night market / street food versions of oyster omelet these days are full of starch, I would expect that a 5-star hotel would come up with a version using less starch and more egg.  Too heavy and unappetizing.  Oh and I thought there was simply too little loofah (絲瓜) in the other type of omelet…

    Fried kidney with sesame oil (麻油炒腰花) - yup, us Taiwanese do love our offal and anything high in cholesterol… These were thin slices of pig's kidneys cooked with rice wine (米酒) and sesame oil.

    Steam pork legs and noodle with soy sauce (福祿壽喜長壽麵) - WOW!  This was awesome!  The braised pig trotter was so tender, and unusually it was also smoked to provide that extra level of flavor.  I was a little sad that I only had one piece of this…  A damn good version of the classic pig trotter vermicelli (豬腳麵線).

    Taiwanese style shaved ice (海派剉冰) - during dinner Lady Rayas had talked about going to get shaved ice, but apparently our host had made sure that we didn't need to go elsewhere for it.  O.M.G.  I'm gonna channel Luke Skywalker and say… "Look at the size of that thing!"

    We had a huge platter for each table, and on top of the pile of shaved ice were toppings like grass jelly (仙草), aiyu jelly (愛玉), yellow jelly (粉粿), boba balls (波霸粉圓), sweet potato balls (地瓜圓), taro balls (芋圓), peanuts, mung beans, red beans, watermelon, guava, kiwi and wax apple (蓮霧).  On the side were brown sugar syrup, condensed milk, passion fruit syrup, mango sauce and sour plum sauce.  Totally awesome!

    I dunno about the others, but I was TOTALLY stuffed… especially after the shaved ice!

    There is, of course, plenty of wine when an MNSC member throws a bash.  We had quite a few for the evening:

    2005 Philipponnat Grand Blanc - not bad.  Better than the rosé.

    Charles Heidsieck Rosé

    2009 Albert Grivault Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières - oaky and flinty.  Sweeter on the palate.

    2006 Roulot Meursault Les Meix Chavaux - wow!  As I said last weekend in Singapore, I will drink anything from Jean-Marc Roulot!  Big, toasty nose, mineral and flinty.  Acidity is higher here, but it's a little ripe and sweet at the same time.

    2006 Hudelot-Noellat Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru Les Murgers - forest and black fruits.

    1999 Geantet-Pansiot Charmes Chambertin - dried herbs and black fruits.  Softer, more elegant.

    How interesting for the Ox to serve us classic Taiwanese fare in a 5-star hotel setting!  Congratulations, my friend, and many happy returns!

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  • 05/27/13--07:03: Grand setting, simple food
  • A couple of my ex-colleagues were in town today, and wanted to meet up for dinner.  No surprise that the task of picking a restaurant fell on my shoulders, even though one of them used to live in Hong Kong and know the town pretty well.  After some arm-twisting to at least give me some direction, I ended up picking Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) in IFC.  My last visit was a few years ago, and I wanted to see what things are like nowadays.  After all, these guys have themselves a little macaron… and it's always interesting to see if these places deserve them.

    I was flipping through the menu, and some the first things that caught my attention were actually dishes that are classically Cantonese, yet very much favored by gweilos…  I joked with my friends about ordering stuff like lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork…etc.  They seemed to let me order whatever I wanted…

    Deep-fried taro silk with Chinese vinegar (金絲珠豆) - a last-minute decision to order something "interesting".  This looked a little different from the picture on the menu, but never mind.  I figured the ladies would enjoy the taro… Basically this was a tower of shredded taro, together with some raw onions and peanuts, drizzled in a light vinegar sauce.  Pretty yummy, actually… but I seemed to have enjoyed it more than the ladies, which I find a little odd.

    Honey-glazed barbecued pork (蜜餞叉燒皇) - can't come here without ordering their char siu (叉燒).  This wasn't the most tender char siu I've ever had, but it sure was tasty!  There was a good balance between the tender parts and other parts which were slightly more chewy; a good mix between fatty and lean parts.  The flavors were also a little stronger, which I liked.  I had a tough time finding decent char siu in Taipei, and wanted to give the ladies a chance to enjoy it while they're here.

    Sweet and sour pork with strawberries (草莓咕嚕肉) - yes, I did order this… but one of my guests found it too sour… For someone who normally doesn't like things which are acidic on the palate, I thought it was just fine.  A pretty decent version.

    Stir-fried kale (清炒芥藍) - this had a slight bitterness to it, and produced a sweet aftertaste.

    Fried rice with conpoy, scallop and egg white (瑤柱帶子蛋白炒飯) - this was executed very, very well.  Rice grains were individually separated, dry on the outside thanks to high heat, yet still chewy with bite.  Delicious.

    2000 La Croix de Beaucaillou - sweet and fruity on the nose, with cedar, mint, and smoke.  Also some coffee notes.  Really lovely after 2 hours.

    I didn't quite get to order some of the more "creative" dishes here, but the food was still pretty solid.  Maybe I need to come a little more often?  Definitely doing the lemon chicken next time!

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    Don't get me wrong.  I'm blessed to have so many friends around me, who like me enough to want to see me and eat with me.  Some of them are generous enough to treat me to fantastic meals.  But sometimes it does get a little too much, and I have the urge to be anti-social and go into hiding.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, in reality) there are some people I can't say no to...

    The Growing Boy has grown too much lately.  I seriously need to cut down my intake, and restart my exercise regime.  I've been trying to go back to eating simple, small meals, but the powers that be couldn't let that happen.  The last 2 days have seen 3 unscheduled meals pop up in my schedule, and despite all intentions to the contrary, I ended up on the brink and stared into the abyss tonight…

    Grandma Bear is someone who I cannot say no to.  I no longer remember the original reason for tonight's dinner, but it had something to do with an offering expiring by the end of the month.  Dining at the Mandarin Oriental with Tigger is dangerous, and nowhere more so than Mandarin Grill + Bar.  I should have known that Uwe would not neglect his VVIP.

    We started with a string of nibbles, some of which I had already sampled at my dinner here three weeks ago:

    Ketchup cookies with shaved Parmigiano


    Spherical olives

    Salmon and caviar cornet - yummy.  A little bit of Thomas Keller.

    Beet root marshmallows - actually the beet root flavors were pretty mild…

    Bacon and egg: Spanish, 18 weeks, suckling pig, organic, duck egg, herbs, truffle jus - I've been wanting to try out this for weeks now, and finally got my chance tonight.  Yes, I am having breakfast at 8pm… and I'm lovin' it!!!  Not exactly a light way to start the meal, though...

    Spring: essence of minestrone - I started to smell trouble when waitstaff started laying down spoons for each of us, when I clearly did not order anything that required this utensil…  Uwe explained that he was trying out some dishes for the new menu, and wanted to know what we thought.  I guess there are worse things in life than being lab rats for a chef with Michelin stars to his name…

    This was a lovely, lighter version of the Italian classic - with asparagus, celery, carrots, tomato, peas and oregano.

    Amadai: chicken wing, girolle - next round of utensils saw all of us with the same knife… which again meant that this was something extra before our individual mains.  Uwe's amadai (甘鯛) is pretty amazing with those crispy scales that are incredibly yummy.  Now you've got a boned chicken wing sitting at the bottom, lightly flavored with cumin, truffle sauce and mash.  A single girolle sits on top of it all.

    Lobster: Brittany, blue, leek, green asparagus, parsley, consommé - we finally get to the other dish I ordered, and I wasn't the least bit hungry by this point.  I took this because I wanted to compare it with what I had at André last week.  Well this wasn't exactly a tasting portion, so I guess it was not gonna be as delicate…  The homard bleu itself was a little on the raw side and texture-wise not as perfect as what I had in Singapore.  The parsley mousse was interesting, as was the fennel.

    But the highlight of the dish for me was something totally unexpected.  There was a scattering of black "dirt" around the roots of a single leek, as if the leek had just been uprooted and placed on the plate.  The dirt was actually charred leek ground into powder, very much like what I found at Les Créations de Narisawa.  Once again Uwe was displaying a little of his playfulness, and I'm a total sucker for that!

    I was certainly not in any shape to have dessert, but nonetheless the kitchen sent out a little something.  Besides an edible candle made of chocolate and marmalade meant to belatedly celebrate a birthday, we received another playful creation: more chocolate.  We got a bunch of chocolate truffles - made with black truffles - along with a truffle shaver made of chocolate!  Oh yes, we love to play with our food!

    There were actually two kinds of chocolate truffles: the ones to the left of the shaver were made with black truffle ganache; the ones on the right were made with bits of black truffle, which meant the flavors were much stronger.  Very yummy.

    I was really full.  I was posting messages on Facebook and Twitter about Tigger and Uwe stuffing me till I was on the brink of explosion.   If, after reading this post, you find that this blog was no longer being updated, you know what happened and who was responsible…  But as a friend remarked, this wouldn't be a bad way to go!

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  • 05/30/13--00:44: Half empty
  • About a month ago, ILoveLubutin decided to book a table at Caprice for a gathering.  The Fat One was gonna be in town for an event, and a few of us worshippers were gonna meet up for it.  It made sense for us to have a nice little meal together before going.

    The trouble with booking meals so far ahead is that plans often fall apart.  People get distracted, often by work, or even travel out of town.  The table went from 8 to 6, and down to a lonely threesome.  As the cancellations were last-minute - and this includes ILoveLubutin having to travel out of town for business - the three of us found ourselves sitting at a table meant for six…

    I realized halfway through lunch that I had sat in the wrong seat.  There were two seats at the table which afforded their occupants with a view of the giant rubber duckie - or at least of the duckie's ass, but I chose to park myself somewhere else.  Oh well…

    Our amuse bouche was a cube of deep-fried pork knuckle with sea urchin and lentils, sitting on a bed of lentil mousse and topped with fresh sea urchin.  The lentil mousse was incredibly smooth, and had a smoky flavor along with a sprinkle of piment d'espelette powder.  The pork knuckle was lightly flavored with some curry powder.

    Challans duck leg ravioli, eggplant and piquillo in fresh garlic sauce - these were not bad, but I kinda expected a little more.  The duck filling was tasty, but a little drier than I had expected.  The eggplant and piquillo in the middle was really tasty.  I wish there was a little more of the garlic sauce.

    Guinea fowl breast stuffed with young herbs, black olive, polenta and fondant tomato - a layer of herb butter (tarragon) was stuffed under the skin, and the skin was nice and crispy.  The black olive polenta was really fragrant and delicious.

    Calamansi puff with green tea marshmallow - for some reason I found the cream inside the puff a little savory instead of acidic, as it should have been with calamansi.  Fortunately the layer of chocolate and marshmallow both tasted of green tea.
    Apricot macaron - this was OK.
    Chocolate with orange ganache - this was OK.

    We were a little pressed for time, so we skipped dessert, coffee and uncharacteristically ran out the door… but not before having a quick chat with Chef Vincent.

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    The Fat One is in town.  After years of yearning, he's finally opened up a shop here, and we were graced by his presence for a few days.  There was a signing event where people (including a number of my friends) lined up to get their books, macaron boxes and who knows what else signed.  Not wanting to wait around during office hours - and what would I do with a copy of his Macarons book, anyway? - I decided to ditch my friends and head back to the office.

    On the way back, I decided to stop by the shop and check it out.  I had heard about the limited number of parfums at the moment, and sure enough there were only 10 on offer.  Well, it was high time I checked out the quality myself, after getting all the negative feedback recently.  So I dutifully picked out 7 to fit in a small box.  In all honesty, I was more excited about having a local supply of the confitures made for the Fat One by Christine Ferber…

    After a light dinner of veggies, it was time to inhale.

    Huile d'olive et vanille - this was the flavor that really wow'ed me the first time I had macarons from the Fat One.  I was amazed that he put a savory ingredient in something that was traditionally sweet… and made it work!  The ganache was always gonna be a little soft thanks to the olive oil, but this one was definitely a little gooey…

    Infiniment rose - no surprises here.  Love the fragrance of rose.

    Céleste - I try to keep a jar of Céleste confiture in my kitchen, as it's one of my favorites.  Today the inside of the shells were wet and a little soggy.

    Imagine - the shells were made with matcha (抹茶) and sesame, and the ganache was black sesame.  Very yum, and my favorite of the batch.

    Infiniment caramel - usually at the top of my list… and not surprisingly, the ganache was gooey today…

    Infiniment praline noisette - I've had this before and it was pretty good.

    Infiniment chocolat Pérou - I think this was what I got… strangely this didn't taste like dark chocolate but rather very milky chocolate…

    I must say… this was a little disappointing, but not as disastrous as some of the reports I've had back from the others.  The shells were not as wet and gooey as I had feared, with the exception of Céleste.  The ganache, however, was a different story.  Definitely more gooey than I remembered from what I used to buy in Paris or Tokyo, and oozed out with the slightest pressure between the fingers.

    One annoying detail was that the shop did not have labels for the macarons in the display counter… one had to ask the staff for each flavor, and at this stage I just don't have enough confidence in the local staff… and I wondered whether the last macaron I devoured was really the one I asked for…

    I would have loved to see my friend Susan trying to put her arms around the Fat One in a hug…

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