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

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  • 02/01/16--05:58: An Italian gem in Macau
  • I'm in Macau for a couple of days attending a conference, and as I have done for the past couple of years, I chose to be antisocial and skipped the first night's dinner.  Macau has a wealth of upscale dining options - some of which I would rate above anything else in their respective categories in Hong Kong - so I'd take them over the nice conference food catered by the Four Seasons Resort Macao any day.

    I haven't been back to Don Alfonso 1890 in the Grand Lisboa since my first visit a couple of years ago.  I've kinda been focusing on my favorite Michelin-starred establishments in the big hotels - sometimes at said hotels' invitation - so I figured it was about time to come back to this underrated gem.

    I looked over the menu and found the degustation menu a tad on the boring side.  There were a couple of items from the à la carte menu that really caught my attention, however, so I went for those instead.

    The amuse bouche came and I found myself staring at some lightly-battered and pan-fried sakura shrimp (桜海老), along with some salmon roe, sitting on a bed of polenta.  These are a few of my favorite ingredients, but somehow the combination delivered some acidity, and almost seemed a little fermented.  Still tasty, though.

    Warm seafood salad with potato and Sardinian bottarga - there are few words that manage to push my buttons more than 'bottarga'.  The intense flavors of dried fish roe just trigger something in me, and I'll salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs.

    This was pretty interesting, with a disc of herbed mashed potato sitting at the bottom.  On top we have some grilled baby squid, a pan-fried scallop, some sea urchin, a piece of crab meat, and a beautifully grilled Sicilian gambero rosso.  All this topped with some herbs and very thin chiffonade of bottarga di muggine from Sardinia.

    Oh yeah, I made sure to suck out all the goodies from the head of the gambero rosso.  Soooo damn good.

    Linguini with fresh scampi and bottarga in olive oil, garlic and chili sauce - oh look!  There's that word again! 'Bottarga'!  Must. Order. Dish.

    A beautiful pasta, this was.  So simple.  The scampi was perfectly fresh, with all the natural goodness and those flavors of the sea.  Then there were the slices of bottarga di muggine, and crunchy slices of garlic fried in oil.  These alone would have delivered enough flavors, but throw in some chili flakes and finely chopped bits of pancetta, and this dish really packed a punch.

    The chef delivered a pre-dessert in the form of mango, banana sorbet, topped with yogurt foam with pistachio.  The banana flavors of the sorbet were just incredibly intense.

    Famous Neapolitan puff pastry stuffed with cinnamon and candied sour cherries - this is the signature dessert of the house that I didn't order on my last visit, so I guess it had to be done.

    The beautiful, crispy, flaky pastry pocket was filled with cinnamon cream and cherries inside.  Pretty tasty, indeed.

    The restaurant has a whole spread of little mignardises on a table, and I sure wasn't gonna miss them.

    Dried figs with almond

    Candied lemon peel

    Candied clementine dipped in chocolate

    Caramel with chocolate


    Amaretti morbidi - these are actually softer...

    Limoncello chocolate - DAYAM!  These lil' buggers actually have limoncello inside, so they're pretty damn alcoholic!

    A very satisfying meal.  The food was certainly delicious.  Given that I was the only customer in the restaurant until about 8pm, and then one of only two tables for the remainder of my visit, I certainly had the attention of manager Salvatore Scarpino and the rest of the staff.

    But why was the restaurant so empty?  OK, so I know it's Monday night and probably the quietest night of the week, but this is a restaurant serving very high quality food, with fresh, imported ingredients.  Why aren't there more people coming to appreciate the cuisine?  Is it because, unlike many of the other restaurants within the Lisboa hotels (and other casino hotels), the restaurant wasn't awarded any stars by Michelin?  The Kitchen next door - whose main draw is steak - has held a star for the last few years.  I'd pick Don Alfonso 1890 over the Kitchen any day.

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  • 02/01/16--23:24: A fabulous Tasting in Macau
  • My conference finished just before lunch today, and while most of the others moved to join the group lunch, once again I chose to break ranks and go off on my own.  There's one more place I wanted to revisit before heading back to Hong Kong.

    I had a really enjoyable lunch at The Tasting Room in the Crown Towers last year at the hotel's invitation, and I was more than happy to go back on my own dime after they were promoted to 2 stars.  Instead of taking a 4-course set lunch as I had originally planned, I decided to take the 4-course dinner set as suggested.

    First to arrive was the bread basket, and among one of the more creative options was a chartreuse bread - said to have Chartreuse added to the dough.  Unfortunately, my olfactory senses must have failed me today... because I could not, for the life of me, detect any hint of the liqueur.

    The amuse bouche was made with Alaskan crab meat, cucumber gelée, julienned Granny Smith apple, coriander leaves, and olive oil from Château d'Estoublon.  Very clean and refreshing.

    Scallop carpaccio, potato and truffle salad, argan oil dressing - an incredibly beautiful dish.  Thin slices of raw scallops from Brittany, topped with round discs of Ratte potatoes and black truffles.  The scallops were fresh and sweet; the potato and truffle worked perfectly with the scallops, along with some very finely diced onions and a couple of twigs of chervil.  The argan oil provided a nice, nutty flavor profile.  Sprinkled all over the plate was a cauliflower 'couscous' which seemed pickled, along with finely chopped chives.

    Totally stunning dish.

    Contemporary style French onion soup - I was curious to see what is said to be one of Chef Guillaume Galliot's signature dish.  So basically this was a deconstructed French onion soup.  First came the bowl with caramelized onions, topped with a quenelle of onion ice cream, along with a couple of shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    Then the soup is poured in, melting the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The ice cream doesn't melt quickly, because it's sitting on a thin, bent slice of baguette... which, from this angle, kinda looks like a schlong coming out of the bowl...  Sigh... me and my photography skills...  WHY OH WHY couldn't I have just taken it from a different angle?!

    Anyway, this was very delicious, and does taste like a French onion soup - other than substituting the Gruyère with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    Duck breast cooked pink, almond crumble, gnocchi with parmesan - the Challans duck supplied by Burgaud came with a sprinkle of candied almonds and ginger confit.  There were also artichokes, gnocchi, and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side.

    Naturally I had the duck done rosé, as they would do in France.  This was very nicely done.

    Caramelized cheesecake, blueberry compote - interesting little strip of cheesecake, served with blueberry compote, a strip of maple gelée, and a quenelle of maple vanilla ice cream.  There was even a bit of crumb for texture.

    Finally, there was a little plate of mignardises.  There was a little caramel popcorn brownie...

    ...and a little pistachio financier...

    ...some almond in milk chocolate, a raspberry pâté de fruit, and this salted caramel chocolate lollipop.

    The hazelnut macaron that came with my double espresso wasn't bad.

    A very, very enjoyable meal.  I have always enjoyed myself here, and look forward to coming back soon.

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    I'm back home in Taipei for the Lunar New Year holidays, spending some time in my empty apartment.  I wanted to get some of the classic breakfast that I don't get to have in Hong Kong, and one of the most famous breakfast joints just happen to be somewhat close to my apartment...

    I arrived at Huashan Market (華山市場) shortly before 8am, and of course there was already a line all the way down to the street level for Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿)... but I took comfort in that the line wasn't as long as it was on my last visit.  How wrong I would turn out to be!

    As it turns out, it took me about 50 minutes to get to the counter to order my soy milk.  It then took me another few to order my food, and when I finally got it, it had been 65 minutes since I started at the back of the line.  This was much, much worse than I had expected, considering that I went on a weekday and relatively early.

    A couple of reasons for this: China has started their Lunar New Year holiday season, and there was definitely a number of Mainland Chinese tourists lining up.  Tourists coming here is nothing new, as the place is pretty famous.  But the issue I noticed this morning was that they don't just come and buy for themselves.  Some of these tourists - along with some locals - come and place an order for a large group of people.  I saw a Chinese tourist place an order for FIFTEEN thick baked flatbreads (厚燒餅) for takeout, while there were others who ordered six, eight, or ten.

    This place is famous for their thick version of baked flatbreads, and almost no one orders the "thin" version that is available just about everywhere.  The problem is that there are only two charcoal ovens here, and each one will only bake about 20 of these flatbreads at any given time.  So if one customer comes and puts in an order for 15, that takes out most of the production from one oven.  That leaves the rest of the crowd standing around waiting for the next batch - and hence the extended wait time.

    With the long wait times, it's natural that customers get impatient and agitated.  The cashier plays traffic controller and assigns the available goods to the waiting customers, and she has enough experience to try to optimize the process to clear the deck.  Sometimes this means that customers are given goods out of order.  And this was exactly what happened with me.

    I had been lining up behind a family of Mainland Chinese tourists, and they ordered 5 of the flat breads while I ordered one.  While we all waited at the front of the line, the cashier decided to assign me one of the last flat breads from a particular batch.  This was a logical choice, since there weren't enough in this batch to fill the order of 5 for the family in front of me, while assigning one to me would have satisfied my order and sent me away.  If you know something about logistics and operations research, you'd know this makes sense.

    One of the women from the Mainland Chinese family wasn't happy about this, and complained that they were treated unfairly.  I had left the waiting line by then, and didn't want to get involved in this argument.  Somehow, a simple argument turned ugly, and became a shouting match between the Mainland Chinese woman and another local Taiwanese woman who had nothing to do with this incident.

    The local woman started calling the other person a whore, and told her to stop "working it" in Taiwan and go back to the Mainland.  The Mainland woman didn't take this kindly, and told the Taiwanese woman to hurry up and get in a coffin.  Within moments, this became a show of anger between two sides of the Taiwan Straits.  How did we get here?  We all have the same ancestry, so why have things gotten so ugly that we've become so full of hatred for each other?

    There are similar sentiments over in Hong Kong, and we've seen that erupt over the last couple of years at various protests.  There are various reasons for the animosity felt by the people of Hong Kong towards the Mainland Chinese, but I would have thought that many of those reasons do not apply to the Taiwanese.  So why the hostility?

    Anyway, I guess it just felt really strange that something as innocuous as a simple breakfast item became the spark that started a shouting match.  This little (OK, so maybe it's not THAT little...) baked thick flat bread with deep-fried crullers and omelette (厚燒餅夾油條蛋餅) is my breakfast of choice when I'm home.  The thick flat bread that Fu Hang is known for is fairly unique, and pretty tasty after baking in those charcoal ovens.

    Add in a thin pan-fried omelette, and the deep-fried fatty goodness of the crullers, and you can understand why people are willing to line up for this.

    But this will probably be the last time I'm willing to stand in line for this.  The current system sucks, since there's not enough production capacity to meet demand.  And I have better things to do than to waste an hour of my time standing in line.

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  • 02/05/16--06:57: We like it RAW
  • Not being a person of any influence, I've never managed to book a table at RAW on my previous attempts.  One is normally forced to book through the restaurant's website for parties of 7 and less, with parties of 8 and above considered as "chef's table" and open to phone booking via a different mechanism.   When I've tried to book online exactly 13 days in advance, tables have always been booked out within 20 minutes of the start of the booking window.  So while everyone's asked me whether I've been to RAW, my answer has always been negative.

    So I had to thank my lucky stars tonight that I got to know Cathy from HaoKouFu (好口福), who gathered the twelve of us and here we were, seated at two tables put together just outside the kitchen.  There was a hodgepodge of people tonight, but half the table turned out to be artisan suppliers of foods that manage to meet Cathy's very high standards - honed from her years of living in Paris.  We had a chocolatier, a boulanger, and a couple of charcutiers.  Shame that I wouldn't have time this trip to pay them a visit.

    The chef's table has a slightly better menu than the regular menu - upgrading the protein course and supposedly using better ingredients overall for a roughly 50% premium to the regular price. Of course, I'd prefer an upgraded menu myself anyway... and I don't mind paying for the ability to book in advance.

    The restaurant's trying to be cool by presenting a menu listing only the main ingredients - in a manner reminiscent of the grid from Eleven Madison Park.  The menu, which comes in either English or Chinese depending on one's seat at the table, is tucked away in a drawer underneath the table top at each seat - along with all of the cutlery and the napkin.  The only thing, though, is that I was too dim-witted to figure out why any of the three ingredients for each dish appear in their respective columns.

    This whipped butter with buckwheat came with our bread.  I'm generally not a big fan of butter that is close to being a foam, but this was alright.

    Oyster, sago, red coral (蠔, 西谷米, 海藻) - the oyster was cooked, and topped with tapioca and Taiwanese three-cup vinegar (三杯醋).  Not bad.

    Buri, cucumber, water bamboo (青魽, 大黃瓜, 茭白筍) - a very pretty dish.

    Underneath the thin slices of water bamboo were cubes of yellowtail and cucumber, along with cucumber gelée.  The staff poured some leche de tigre into the bowl to make this into a ceviche.  Nice and refreshing.

    Prawn, cappellini, mussel (胭脂蝦, 細麵, 淡菜) - these Stout red shrimps were pretty tasty, although from the soft texture they seemed to have been previously frozen and not fresh caught.  The shrimps were covered with potato brunoise and a sauce made with mussels as well as a house blend of spices.  The crispy capellini were nice, but the individual strands going in all directions was a real pain to pick up with a fork.  This was when a pair a chopsticks would have come in real handy.

    Sweet potato, "bottarga", buckwheat (番薯, "烏魚子", 蕎麥) - here we've got a chunk of sweet potato that's been covered with buckwheat crispies and a sauce made with salty egg yolk.

    An indentation was dug into the middle, and a quail egg with runny yolk was lodged inside.

    The thin yellow slices on top looked like bottarga di muggine, but it's actually salty egg yolk pressed into shape to look like bottarga, then sliced the same way as it's normally done in Taiwan.  Pretty creative and cool.

    Squid, kombu, lovage (中卷, 昆布, 洋當歸) - so here we have the squid noodles that have become pretty popular over the last couple of years.  Very thin slices that look like fettuccine.  With thin shreds of dried konbu and garnished with some lovage.

    Then the hot broth was poured into the bowl, and almost instantly the squid is "cooked" and starts curling up.  Makes for a pretty dish, and it happens to be very, very tasty, too!  Very comforting as the broth warms the stomach.

    "Taiwan rice", pork, truffle ("台灣"米, 豬肉, 松露) - a more premium version of the Taiwanese minced pork rice (滷肉飯), with delicious cubes of pork belly, enoki mushrooms, and black truffle shavings.  No less than comfort food for many of us, I was really happy to see this in front of me.  The ceramic pot had been cooked so that the rice on the bottom were charred into rice crispies, while some of the pork fat had melted and been soaked up by the rice.  This made me such a happy camper.

    Duck (鴨) - the duck breast was pretty nicely done, with a relish made with leeks.

    There was also a risotto made with Job's tears and some shredded duck.
    Leek, barley (青蒜, 薏仁) - the leek came with a creamy sauce, and crunchy fermented bean sauce (豆酥).

    White fungus, soursop, bergamot (白木耳, 釋迦, 佛手柑) - a wonderful dessert to finish the meal, but there seems to be some translation errors here.  The dish was introduced to us in Chinese, so we were told that the sorbet was made with 釋迦 - which happens to be in season.  But 釋迦 is custard apple while soursop is a completely different fruit altogether.  Same thing with the granité, which was supposed to have been made with lemongrass and 佛手柑... the latter of which is actually Buddha's hand since bergamot is something completely different.  There was also snow fungus, marshmallows made with Buddha's hand, custard apple pulp, star fruit, aiyu (愛玉) jelly.  I was told that the green powder on top was seaweed, since I had a hard time identifying it against the incredible fragrance of citrus.

    Some bubbly was poured into the bowl after we've had a taste of the "original" flavors.  There was a nice mix of mild sweetness along with some acidity.  There was also a lange of textures, from feeling the fizz on one's tongue to the soft sorbet, then the slightly harder (but still melt-in-your-mouth) granité, to the jelly, and marshmallow, and finally the more solid and crunchy fruits.

    The bubbly in question.

    We also had a couple of mignardises, starting with a cold version of the famous Taiwanese pineapple tart (鳳梨酥).

    The texture here is very different, with a loose, crumble exterior and an acidic filling made with real pineapple.

    We were then presented with a box which gave off some smoke when the lid was lifted.  The fragrance from the longan wood was very nice.

    Longan wood smoked financier - very tasty.

    We brought along a few bottles of our own tonight...

    2009 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs, en magnum - very fresh with lots of bubbles.  A little yeasty, a little flinty.  Smooth but a little light on the palate.

    2002 J. de Telmont Grande Couronnement - riper on the palate with nice acidity.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - nose of ripe cherries, a little animal and leather.  Pretty clean.

    2013 Matthieu Barret Petit Ours Brun - forest notes with cool fruit, with a hint of ripeness.

    This was a very enjoyable evening.  The food did not disappoint our high expectations, and I am told that the food is steadily improving with time.  Chef de cuisine Alain Huang - who has spent time in the kitchens of Justin's Signature, STAY, Maaemo, and Les Crayères - is clearly doing something right.  I look forward to coming back.

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  • 02/07/16--07:23: The missing one
  • It's Lunar New Year's Eve, and as is customary, I'm spending it with family at grandma's.  Except it's no longer grandma's... since she passed about 2 weeks ago.  This was my first family gathering since then, and it definitely felt a little weird to be in that apartment without having her around.  Since grandma's funeral is in exactly one week, we had the rare pleasure of having Brazilian Uncle for dinner tonight.

    Dinner started with the usual Chinese charcuterie platter, and Last Minute Uncle cooked his usual braised beef shank while his helper whipped up a range of veggie dishes and what not.  There was also a big pot of store-bought Buddha jumps over the wall (佛跳牆), although this Taiwanese-style soup was never anything I would get excited about.

    My focus, of course, was squarely on the dishes that mom prepared.  And her contribution always starts with her version of the perfect ten (十全十美).  It's a labor-intensive vegetarian dish that is prepared over the space of at least two days, and I wrote about it a few years ago.  Mom almost always serves it cold so that some of the ingredients could retain their crunch.  This year, though, she decided to use only nine ingredients instead of ten.  Hair moss (髮菜) has become increasingly expensive over the years, and she would need to use a pretty big amount for it to be noticeable in the final mix - something she felt wasn't exactly worthwhile this year.  Of course, not using hair moss is also more environmentally friendly, as its harvesting promotes desertification in the parts of China where it is found.

    I guess it's just as well that the dish is missing one ingredient, since grandma is conspicuously missing from the table.

    Next up from mom is her famous braised sea cucumber stuffed with minced meat (海參燒肉).  She generally uses sea cucumbers from Indonesia, but as she puts it, every single one is different in terms of texture and consistency... so it's really hard to get a uniform texture each time after braising.

    This time the texture of the sea cucumbers turned out perfectly - not overcooked so that they started to liquefy and turn mushy, but soft and wobbly enough to have that Jell-O-like feel.  The minced pork and ginger stuffing, however, did not turn out perfect.  Mom didn't use enough starch in the mixture, so it wasn't as perfectly soft and tender.  But hey, none of us were complaining... My Foodie Wannabe cousin actually inhaled an entire sea cucumber by himself.

    Stir-fried diced smoked chicken with garlic scapes (大蒜炒燻雞腿) is a dish that mom came up with around a decade ago... or so she says.  Every season before Lunar New Year, dad would go and buy a bunch of smoked chicken drumsticks from 桂來標, strip the meat from bone, and dice it up into almost a powder.  He and mom would do the same with winter bamboo shoots and garlic scapes, then stir-fry the whole lot.  Chili peppers were added at the request of Sporty Cousin.

    This is the killer dish every year, because there's nothing better than having a pile of this over steamed rice.  Never mind all the other dishes that came before... THIS is the dish that gets me full - thanks to all the rice.

    A few of my friends sometimes would marvel at a chef's knife skills when we dine out.  Check out dad's knife work.  The old man's got SKILLZ!

    For dessert, Last Minute Uncle bought a Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)-branded eight treasure rice (八寶飯).  I say "branded" because I very much doubt it was made in-house at Din Tai Fung, and it's more likely that this was pumped out at a factory.  Basically, this was crap.  Mostly glutinous rice and not a lot of goodies like red bean paste and runner beans.  A waste of calories that I didn't bother to touch.

    Knowing Last Minute Uncle's sweet tooth, mom made her longan and jujube soup (桂圓紅棗湯) - with fresh lotus seeds.  After the base was made at home, mom added more sugar - twice - to get to the sweetness that Last Minute Uncle would find appetizing...

    It's always good to family at times like this, and treasure the time that we still have left together.  Here's wishing everyone good health and a peaceful Year of the Monkey.

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    Every year when I go home for Lunar New Year, a key part of my luggage will be the shipment of puddings which go on sale this time of year.  This year was no exception, although these days I no longer run around town scouring for different selections.  We've kinda figured out what mom likes, so I just went straight to the one outlet that sells it.

    This year, though, I actually received complimentary puddings for the first time.  The nice people at the Hotel Lisboa have put me on their pressie list, and this year The Grand Buffet (自助山) has produced a gift box containing both a savory and a sweet pudding, and I managed to pick up mine the day before I flew home.

    The top tier contained the savory turnip cake with conpoy and dried shrimp (瑤柱金鈎蘿蔔糕).  We were kinda surprised that the toppings came in such big chunks.  I would have thought they would have made it a little more refined and diced them into smaller chunks.

    While cutting the pudding into chunks for pan-frying, mom noticed that the consistency was softer.  These turned out to be pretty tasty.

    The lower tier housed the New Year pudding with Okinawa black sugar and golden leaf (沖繩黑糖椰汁金箔年糕).

    As we cut open the plastic package to take out the pudding, we noticed that the few pieces of gold leaf had disappeared...  It turns out that as the pudding warmed up, the gold leaf ended up sticking to the plastic packaging!  Oh well, not that I really wanted to eat gold leaf, anyway...

    Mom was too lazy to whip up some egg batter to dip the pudding in, so she ended up taking a long time pan-frying... and it ended up being kinda ugly.  But I was able to taste a little bit of the muscovado, since the flavors are distinctive.

    The main haul came from Fook Lam Moon Fine Foods (福臨門尚品).  Mom cares most about the premium new year water chestnut cake (桂林馬蹄糕), and for her the ones from Fook Lam Moon have been the most satisfying.  So every year I make a trip to Fook Lam Moon for this...

    And it IS very tasty, thanks to a combination of having enough actual water chestnuts in the pudding, and also the use of water chestnut water throughout the pudding.  Letting the sugars caramelize a little is always nice.

    While I'm there, I decide to also buy some of their premium new year glutinous rice cake (椰汁賀年糕).

    This was OK, and nothing to write home about.  There was a little bit of coconut flavor, but not enough for my taste.  Oh, and mom did a pretty ugly job of pan-frying...

    And I also pick up a premium new year radish cake (臘味蘿蔔糕) from Fook Lam Moon.  I've always liked this while dining in the restaurant, and I wanted to have some with mom.  There's a stark difference in appearance between this and the one from The Grand Buffet, as the toppings are much more finely diced.

    This was pretty damn good.  Tastier than the one from The Grand Buffet.

    The last pudding in this year's haul was an afterthought... literally.  I had picked up my stash from Fook Lam Moon when I remembered that there was a branch of Kung Lee (公利真料竹蔗水) nearby.  So I walked over and picked up a water chestnut pudding with sugar cane juice (蔗汁馬蹄糕).

    I was definitely liking it, and so did mom.  Despite the relatively sparse presence of water chestnuts - which were pounded into little chunks instead of being sliced - the sugar cane juice was the winning factor.  Once caramelized, this was really tasty.

    Yes... we ate a lot of these puddings over the span of a few days... but that's what Lunar New Year is all about, innit?!

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  • 02/11/16--22:29: More simple pasta and pizza
  • My office neighbor and I got together for an impromptu lunch, and we decided to go visit CIAK - In the Kitchen again.  It's a pretty easy solution for us, since the food is pretty tasty, the atmosphere casual, and it's not impossible to get a seat.

    Spaghetti | garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper with Mediterranean anchovies - so simple, but comfort food is best.  Inhaled and gone in seconds.  OK, maybe gone in minutes...

    Once again we ordered half of two types of pizza...  Pesto | mozzarella, pesto sauce, semi-dried cherry tomato, sun-dried tomato and Parmesan was on the left side.  Loved the green flavors of the pesto.

    Norcina | homemade sausage, mushroom and mozzarella was on the right side.  Mushroom and sausage is always a winning combination... at least for me.  And the crust for the pizzas are just perfect.

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    Grandma's funeral was today.  After a pretty emotional day - during which we cremated her and brought her ashes to her final resting place - we took a breather at grandma's Last Minute Uncle's place.  We knew we were having dinner together again, and we knew we would be having vegetarian food for the second night in a row, but we also knew that we weren't gonna go back to the neighborhood restaurant we hit last night.  We can't handle vegetarian buffet two nights in a row.

    Last Minute Uncle remembers that he was taken to a high-end vegetarian restaurant once upon a time, so that was where we ended up.   Yu Shan Ge (鈺善閣) apparently is a place where high-ranking Buddhist monks are entertained by their followers, and their set menus start from around TWD 1,100 and go all the way up to around TWD 4,900 - which is about USD 150!  I wondered what the restaurant would serve for that price...

    We sat down at the large oval table, and the thirteen of us ended up leaving the seat empty at one end of the table.  We told ourselves that the seat was reserved for grandma, and invited her to come dine with us.

    Since there were so many of us coming for the first time, Last Minute Uncle decided that taking the TWD 1,400 menu (鈺品套餐) would be sufficient for a first look.

    To start with we were given bowls to wash our hands - which may be a ritual cleansing before the meal.

    The tea we were served throughout the meal tonight was made with sweet potato, ginseng, and Chinese licorice (地瓜人參甘草茶).  Actually I think it was sweet potato leaves and not the sweet potato itself, since this was actually a little bitter.

    雪鮮懷石 - a selection of vegetables as well as blocks of konjac (蒟蒻).  Two chunks of konjac were made to look like blocs of raw salmon, while what looked like a bloc of black sesame tofu (胡麻豆腐) also contained chunks of konjac inside.  There was a little bit of marinated kumquat, cherry tomato, black wood ear fungus, broccoli, eggplant, pumpkin, and a chunk of kailan (芥藍) stem with some miso on top.

    懷味鮮菌 - made to resemble shark's fin soup but without the shark's fin, this was full of fungus like bearded hedgehog mushroom (猴頭菇) and enoki mushroom (榎茸), together with pickled mustard (榨菜), water chestnut, and Napa cabbage.  There was a good amount of red vinegar and white pepper inside, which kinda reminded of me Taiwanese cuttlefish bisque (魷魚羹) or minced pork bisque (肉羹).

    茄紅佳珍 - the ball was made with glutinous rice and peanuts, and deep-fried to create a crispy shell.  The flavors were a little like the tofu dessert (豆花).  The bowl contained a variety of vegetables like Napa cabbage.  Unfortunately the veg was only lukewarm, so it tasted particularly greasy.

    焗烤雙珍 - underneath the blanket of baked cheese were chunks of konjac and water bamboo (茭白筍).  I found the water bamboo a little bland, and mom commented that they're actually not in season.  And baking konjac just makes it tough... About the only good thing from the dish was the cheese...

    雙鮮菌味 - that huge hunk on the plate was actually one whole bearded hedgehog mushroom, covered in Provençal spices and lemon juice.  This thing was actually pretty filling, and the fibrous nature of this mushroom actually made the texture resemble a huge chunk of chicken breast or pork.

    The pickled cabbage on the side was pretty spicy, not quite like kimchi...  Garnished with loofah leaf.

    天醋香草 - a shot of plum juice drink.

    食潤燉湯 - the soup came with jujube, lotus seeds, cashews, ginseng, wild ginger flower, Job's tears (薏仁), and my bowl was missing the lotus root.

    生蔬麴米 - the base of the dish are rice flour noodles known as 米苔目 from Penghu Islands, topped with pumpkin mash, string beans, wolfberries (枸杞), celery, and Napa cabbage.  Pretty nice.

    水果甜點 - we had a little bit of fruit to finish...

    ...and some purple glutinous rice and red bean soup, with chunks of yamaimo (山芋).

    Well, this was certainly a pretty creative menu, even if not all the dishes worked for me.  It did, however, pique my curiosity about what they can do at slightly higher price points.  Maybe I'll get another chance to revisit...

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  • 02/16/16--07:05: More fortune sushi
  • Jay Essu was back in town on a whirlwind visit, and wanted to meet up for dinner with a few of us.  It's been a few years since the four of us all worked on the same floor, and I can't recall the last time that ILove Lubutin, Jay Essu, and I were all at the same table.  Tonight we would be sitting at the same counter at Sushi Fuku-suke (鮨 福助).

    My only visit to this restaurant came almost 5 years ago, in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, when a bunch of us went to support their business and take a symbolic stand for Japanese businesses in Hong Kong.  They were in pretty bad shape then, but I'm glad they managed to stick around.

    Our friend is a regular here and gets the VIP treatment, so we're all riding on her coattails tonight.  Omakase it was, naturally...

    We started with some dried marinated blowfish (ふぐみりん 干し), which were a little more wet than I had expected.  There was also a little too much of it for a snack, but oh well...

    Next up was water shield (蒓菜) in jelly, which always has an interesting, slippery texture.

    Jellyfish (海月) - I was a little surprised to see jellyfish tentacles here, but I do love the crunchy texture.  Served with a little grated ginger and citrus juice.

    Oyster (牡蠣) - this came from Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県), and was a little more briny than I had expected.  Served with shavings of yuzu (柚子) rind.

    The chef then brought out the plate for serving sushi, along with their selection of homemade pickles...

    Roughscale sole (鮫鰈) - don't think I've ever had this particular type of sole before...

    The wing of the サメガレイcame with a few drops of sudachi (酢橘) juice.

    Wild red seabream (天然真鯛) - served with a piece of its own liver on top.  Yum.

    Geoduck (海松貝) - naturally, very crunchy.  Seasoned with soy sauce and sudachi.

    Barracuda (魳) - nicely scored.  Lightly torched to impart a smoky fragrance and heavier flavors.  Topped with a dab of yuzukosho (柚子胡椒).  Very nice.

    Halfbeak (針魚) - with some spring onion sprouts (芽ねぎ) under the neta (ネタ) and a little ginger on top.

    Japanese horse hair crab (毛蟹) - at the start of the meal, the chef put this baby on the table to show us...

    ... and now the crab was served to us, along with some tomalley (蟹味噌).  Pretty difficult not to like this...

    Next came a little snack, featuring the leftover bits from the halfbeak we had earlier.  My friends got the deep-fried halfbeak bones, I had halfbeak skin wrapped around a stick and torched.

    Pole-and-line caught horse mackerel (釣り鯵) - with a dab of minced ginger on top.  Very nice.

    Glass shrimp (白海老) - with yuzu shavings.

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - this was a little thick, and kinda crunchy in texture.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - with a sprinkle of sesame on top.

    Surf clam (北寄貝) - I saw the chef take out a few of these big, beautiful babies and open them up...

    ... and turn them into these...  Very yum.

    Rosy seabass (赤鯥) - torched, served with spring onions and crispy scales.

    The chef asked if we wanted to have something a little special... and of course we said "Yes"!  So he pulled out a Pacific herring (鰊) and began to fillet it, then used tweezers to meticulously pick out the bones.  You see, this isn't a fish that one normally sees being used for sushi.  Besides being a "cheap" fish, it's also waaaay too bony... so it's a pain in the ass to pick clean.  That's why the popular preparation is にしんそば - where the marinated and simmered fish (breaking down the bones) is served over a bowl of buckwheat noodles.

    I gotta say that I enjoyed my very first piece of Pacific herring sushi.  It was a little crunchy in texture.

    Gizzard shad (小鰭) - served with a piece of perilla leaf under the neta.  Interestingly this was surprisingly salty, almost like salted plum (梅).

    Grilled scallop (帆立貝), wrapped in toasted seaweed.

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - interestingly, the chef used a mix of sea urchin that comes in a box (which is how most of the sea urchin that sushiyas use come in) and sea urchin that is transported in salt water (塩水雲丹).

    Finally, we have some seasonal Japanese fruits to finish off.  The musk melon (マスクメロン) from Shizuoka (静岡県) was, naturally, very ripe and very sweet.  The same could be said of the strawberry from Fukuoka (福岡県).  the apple from Aomori (青森県) was very, very good, too.

    On my previous visit, we brought along only sake that came from the Tohoku region.  It was therefore appropriate that on my return visit, the bottle I brought also came from the same region affected by the disaster - Yamagata Prefecture (山形県) for this particular bottle - and released in the month of the disaster (March 2011).

    Dewazakura Junmai Daiginjo Aiyama (出羽桜 純米大吟醸 愛山), released Jan 2011 - nose with fermented rice lees.  Deep and complex flavors, with a pretty dry and spicy finish.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 45%.

    When we got the bill at the end of the meal, it was clear that we had gotten a lot more food than we were paying for.  Many thanks to the chef for this kind and special treatment.

    P.S. my friend informed the chef in advance about my preference to not have tuna.  The chef did ask me about the reason I don't take tuna, and after hearing my answer, told me that he didn't think most places in Hong Kong actually serve bluefin tuna.  While that is likely to be the case, I still choose not to avoid it on the odd chance that they do serve it.  Tonight, this chef was more than willing to accommodate my request.

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    I'll start this off with a little rant.

    We were looking for a venue for our get together with Snoopy, and Hello Kitty suggested Sushi Tokami (鮨とかみ).  We both enjoyed our lunch experience there, and I thought I'd go and check out dinner service at this outpost of a well-regarded 1-star sushiya from Tokyo.

    So Hello Kitty booked us a table.  While on the phone, the person on the other end of the line asked about our dietary preferences, so we first informed them that two of us do not eat tuna.  Later on we realized that none of us eat tuna, so we called the restaurant back and amended our request.

    About half an hour later, the restaurant called back to inform Hello Kitty that they could not accommodate our dietary restriction.  Apparently tuna was meant to be a key part of the dinner menu, and they did not wish to do any substitution for us.  We weren't happy with this turn of events, and told the restaurant to cancel our reservation.  We would go eat somewhere else.

    This episode left a bad taste in our mouths, and it probably means that the restaurant has lost our business for good.  Not that they ever needed our business in the first place.

    From our previous experience - and Hello Kitty has had lunch there twice without having a single piece of tuna - the chefs have always been very accommodating when it came to the request for no tuna.  So what the hell happened this time?

    When I go to top sushiyas in Tokyo, tuna is not an issue for me.  I am respectful and have no wish to offend the chefs, so I don't make any alterations or requests - since they don't even bother asking you about your dietary preferences.  You eat what they serve you, period.  And I'm fine with that.

    But the situation here is different.  The restaurant took the proactive step of asking us about our dietary preferences, then turned around and threw it back in our faces... kinda like a "fuck you, tough shit" response.  If you're not gonna adjust the menu according to my request - which, in my not-so-humble opinion, wasn't outrageous or unreasonable (after all, it's not like I went to a sushiya and asked for all my sushi to be cooked...) - then why bother asking at all?!

    Well, we decided that we would take our business to Wagyu Kaiseki Den.  It used to be one of my favorite restaurants, and I was planning on taking Hello Kitty there for Valentine's Day until my plans were changed for me.  The surprising thing was that out of the four of us, I was the only one who has ever been to this restaurant.  The others hadn't even heard of it...

    Once again Hello Kitty picked up the phone to make a reservation, and the restaurant was informed of our "no tuna" preference.  Not a problem for this restaurant, since it wasn't the first time customers had requested for "no tuna".  Hello Kitty also told them about my "no sperm" policy...

    ...which came in real handy, because lo and behold, there be some fish cum in the very first dish on the menu here!

    Appetizer: Fish egg white, icefish, dried fish roe, yomogifu with sanona sauce yuzu (前菜:白子 白魚 唐墨 蓬麩 佐野菜餡 花穂) - seriously?!  Fish EGG WHITE?!  If you don't wanna write "sperm" or "cum" because it's too blunt and vulgar, at least use the term "milt".  Don't try to pull the wool over your customers' faces... If you're serving fish sperm, I think your customers deserve to know what they're eating.

    Having said that, they did remember to leave the fish cum out of my bowl...  Besides the icefish and the delicious dried mullet roe I love so much, there was a piece of chewy mugwort gluten (蓬麩).  The whole thing was flavored with the fragrance of perilla (紫蘇) and yuzu (柚子).

    Bamboo shoot, baby octopus, peas, kinome and miso, kinome (筍と飯鮹 スナップ豆 木の芽味噌 木の芽) - the octopus tentacle was very tender, as were the young bamboo shoots.  Served with a miso made with sansho leaves (木の芽), and garnished with sansho leaves, sugar snap peas, and burdock (牛蒡).

    Soup: Clam dumpling, nanohana, warabi, shiitake mushroom, Kyoto carrot, radish in clam soup, kinome (椀物:北海道 香深浜産藏囲利尻昆布 蛤真丈 菜花 蕨 椎茸 京人参 大根 木の芽) - this was beautiful.  The soup looked deceptively clear as if it would be light in flavors, but the reality is anything but.  The base flavors come from kelp from Rishiri (利尻) in Hokkaido, but the sweetness of the clams really shines through... along with a hint of smokiness.

    The clam dumpling had a surprising number of clams encased inside, which made for an interesting mix of textures while delivering sweetness to the palate.  Lots of different vegetable garnishes here.

    Tsukuri: Chef selection sashimi platter (造り:料理長おまかせ) - no tuna here!

    Fat greeling (鮎並) - pretty crunchy.

    Yellowtail (鰤)

    Cherry salmon (桜鱒)

    Lobster (伊勢海老) - Canadian "Boston" lobster, served with tomalley on top.

    Chef specialty dish: Zuwai crabmeat with sesame julienne in whole yuzu, white shrimp sushi with caviar, fukinotou tempura, egg castella (お凌ぎ:柚子釜 ずわい蟹 胡麻ジュレ 白海老鮨キャビア 蕗のとう天 カステラ玉子) - another dish with lovely Japanese presentation.

    The crabmeat came with slices of shiitake mushrooms, along with yuzu jelly and sesame sauce.  Lovely combination of acidity with sweetness from the crab.

    The deep-fried butterbur bud (蕗の薹) was incredibly bitter.  It was always going to be a bitter flower, but I've never had it so bitter. Ever.  This thing needed a chaser.

    I had this white shrimp (白海老) sushi next, which was absolutely delicious with the vinegar rice and a little dab of French caviar.

    The sweet egg castella was supposed to follow after the bitter butterbur bud, and was pretty good.

    Seasonal dish: Kinmedai, braised abalone, ebi taro, taranome, kogomi with grated turnip sauce, yuzu, chive (旬菜:金目鯛 鮑 海老芋 こごみ たらの芽 蕪餡 柚子 浅葱) - interesting to see both golden alfonsino and abalone together.  Both were delicious.  So was the soupy sauce made with turnip, especially when you shave yuzu rind on top.

    Main course: Charcoal grilled A-5 Nozaki wagyu tenderloin, variety of vegetables (主菜:A-5野崎牛テンダーロイン 炭火焼 季節野菜そえ) - ah yes, the main event.  We have a few beef lovers at our table, and I'm sure they were really looking forward to this particular course.  Interestingly, half of the beef was marinated in miso, which imparted a nice flavor.  I also preferred the texture of the marinated beef as it was a little more moist.

    Needless to say, the beef was grilled perfectly.

    Chef specialty rice: Sea urchin with black truffle rice served with pickles and red miso soup (シェフスペシャリテ:海栗 黒トリュフ 土鍋ご飯) - this has long been the restaurant's signature.

    Of course it's even better with fresh truffle shavings on top, in addition to the truffle paste that's already mixed in.

    Aaaaannnd... of course I had to ask for the rice crispies!  That's the best part of any clay pot rice!  So crunchy and tasty!

    Dessert: Strawberry and red bean paste wrapped with mochi cake, sweet potato and Dekopon jelly (甘味:いちご大福とふわふわ安納芋乗せ と デコポンゼリー) - naturally I started with the Dekopon (デコポン) jelly.  Pretty nice.

    The strawberry daifuku (いちご大福) was stuffed with both strawberry and red bean paste, but the interest part were the shavings from Anno sweet potatoes (安納芋) from Tanega Island (種子島) in Kagoshima (鹿児島県).

    This crowd can drink (well, at least half of this crowd...) so we came prepared.  I knew I was a goner but decided to open all four bottles anyway...

    2002 Krug - nice and toasty nose, and a little floral.  Very nice and lively on the palate, with some maturity.

    1996 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - pretty smooth, initially light on the palate, but gradually opened up and became more acidic on the finish. With more aeration this turned into a beautiful wine, with incredibly nutty and toasty nose.

    2000 Beychevelle - decanted for more than 1½ hours prior to serving.  Smoky and savory notes, like soy sauce, with pencil lead, oak, and almost earthy notes.  A little ripe.  Drinking very nicely now.

    1999 Rayas Blanc - initially this was too cold and wasn't open, but improved after warming up a little.  Nose of acetone, white flowers, and white pepper.  Surprisingly young and lean.

    We had a lot of fun tonight. The food was still very good, and as Big Monkey said, we generally don't need to worry about the food at any restaurant where Uncle Peter has ownership.  I really should come back a little more often, especially since they've always been pretty customer-friendly.

    Oh yeah... I was pretty toasted...

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  • 02/24/16--05:17: In pork we trust
  • We were in Causeway Bay trying to figure out a place to grab a bite for dinner when Hello Kitty suggested that we check out The Fat Pig by Tom Aikens.  It's the latest venture from my friends at the Press Room Group, replacing SML which occupied the same space.  This was, of course, a great idea - since I was salivating over a picture of pig trotter on toast from this place just days ago.

    The menu was relatively compact, and of course pretty much all pork.  We decided to order a few small plates but ended up caving in to the lure of a larger main dish.

    But I start off with a drink.  Hello Kitty and I have a running joke about how every single waitstaff at restaurants and bars always deliver the wrong drinks to the two of us.  I would always get the alcoholic drink that the staff assumed guys would order - like beer, for example, which I actually don't like - when in reality they are her drinks.  She would always get served the girlie drinks, but inevitably I am the one who orders them...

    Anyway, I wasn't looking carefully when I ordered the Whore's Bath... but upon the first sip, I realized that the umeshu (梅酒) pretty much overpowered everything else.

    Confit pork rillette, sour apple chutney - I know Tom Aikens can do a good rillette from what I've had at The Porn Pawn, so this was a no-brainer...

    As much as I love the full-fledged fattiness in a rillette, I gotta admit that the sour apple chutney did a very good job in balancing things out.

    Fried pig's head croquette, watercress salsa verde - what's not to like about pig's head, especially when it's been deep-fried?!

    There was a lot less collagen here than I had expected, but that didn't mean it wasn't tender or delicious.  The icing on the cake, though, was the watercress salsa verde.  Once again, this helped cut down the fat and also brought nice flavors to the dish.

    Braised chopped pig's trotter on sourdough - this was the dish I was salivating over... when I nearly drooled onto the screen of my phone.  It did not disappoint.  The chopped trotter was every bit as fatty as I had hoped, but once again there was vinegar to provide acidity, along with some spices to keep it from being one-dimensional.  So much happiness for a mere HKD 45.

    Barbecued sweet and sour pork ribs, spiced honey, steamed rice and coleslaw - this was the surprise of the evening.  I was expecting sweet and sour, and the tamarind-based sauce certainly got that.  What I didn't expect was how spicy this was... there was some serious heat here!  My tongue was on fire, and I had to douse the flames with the cool coleslaw.  And here comes the other surprise: it wasn't your typical and boring cabbage drowning in mayo.  The spiced coleslaw had plenty of cumin to make things interesting, and I would have happily eaten a couple more bowls of it... if I could find the stomach space.

    A pretty satisfying meal, and I still love the concept of a nose-to-tail menu... as the sign says: "Leave no part behind".  On my next visit I'd definitely want to try to fried pig's tail, fried pig's ears, the jowl... and of course the belly.

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  • 02/26/16--07:42: NOT a birthday dinner
  • I'm taking My Birdbrain Favorite Cousin out for dinner.  She refuses to acknowledge the fact that a big birthday (read: the big figure is changing) is coming up, so she is adamant that we don't call this a birthday dinner.  No cake, no mention of the B-word, and no, we are not having it on the actual day itself.  I did, however, ask her to choose the venue... and she decided that she'd like to go to Ta Vie 旅.

    Having found out hours in the wee hours of the morning that yesterday was, in fact, Sato-san and Takano-san's 10th anniversary, I doubled back to the office when I realized that I forgot to bring them my impromptu present.  I brought another bottle of this wine on my last visit to the restaurant, and it happens to be from their vintage.

    Meanwhile, My Favorite Cousin and Hello Kitty were sipping on the special bottle of Champagne that I brought while waiting for me to return.  Takano-san remarked that this was also Sato-san's vintage...

    The menu tonight offered very different dishes compared to my previous visits, with the exception of the very first item:

    Cauliflower puffed mousse with Botan shrimp in shrimp consommé jelly - one of the best dishes to come out of this restaurant was the sweet corn mousse with Botan shrimp (牡丹海老), and this was a variation made with cauliflower.  I love the chunks of lightly-torched shrimp, buried in the cauliflower mousse along with finely chopped chives and tomatoes.  The beautiful consommé jelly, full of umami, was tempered by the slightly sweet and clean flavors of the mousse.

    This was a wonderful way to start our meal, but truth be told, the original version with corn was better.  There was a lot more sweetness from the corn, and I love the crunch of raw corn kernels.

    Beetroot / strawberry / black truffle - neither Hello Kitty nor I are fans of beetroot, but we wanted to see what Sato-san can do with it.  Fortunately both the baked beetroot and the beetroot pickled in Japanese wine made with the Muscat Baily A (マスカット・ベーリーA) grape had their earthy flavors toned down.  The Japanese strawberries and the black truffle shavings also helped mask the unwanted notes.  Certainly not my favorite dish, but I happily polished it off.

    Homemade butter - I loooooove this light and ethereal butter, but somehow I thought this used to be unsalted.  Well, it's now salted for sure, and I can see the flakes of fleur de sel on top once I take off the cover.  I probably polished off 2/3 of this block by myself.

    Homemade bread - I just love the wonderful nukazuke (糠漬け) bread, and of course I asked for a second one!

    Pan seared scallop, gobou cream, cheese foam and black truffle - these scallops were just perfect... and perhaps a slight touch more raw than mi-cuit.  Love the combination of the winter flavors of cheese, black truffle, and burdock (牛蒡).  A little surprised by the peppery kick coming from the burdock cream.

    Black egg custard topped with Aori squid and colorful radish - one of my favorite dishes from Sato-san's days at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟).  The steamed egg custard was made with squid ink and flavored with a little ponzu (ポン酢) and yuzu (柚子).  The very lightly torched bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) was beautiful, and actually sandwiched a little bit of fermented black bean (豆豉) in the folds.

    Pan seared fresh Japanese langoustine with cabbage-stuffed tortellini - I've never had Japanese langoustine before, but this one from Sagami Bay (相模湾) was simply STUNNING.  It was gently pan-seared but remained mostly raw, and I knew how fresh it was simply by the texture.  In fact, Takano-san told me that these arrived just before the restaurant opened for business tonight, and they were still alive and kicking.  The langoustine jus was flavored with some pepper and wonderfully fragrant olive oil.  I relished in spooning it into my mouth.  The tortellini was interesting, because I've never had one that was stuffed with mostly vegetable before...

    Roasted pigeon with aged mandarin skin and spices, chicory confit flavored with Keemun tea - the skin of the local pigeon was coated with local longan honey and aged mandarin peel (陳皮), then crusted with cumin, coriander seeds, Sichuan peppercorns (花椒), Taiwanese mountain litsea (馬告), and crushed roasted rice.  The execution was perfect.  The pigeon jus was flavored with mandarin orange, and there was a sprinkle of aged mandarin peel powder on the side.

    The chicory was supposed to be flavored with Keemun tea (祁門紅茶), but I guess I wasn't paying enough attention...

    House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - this wasn't on the menu, but came with Sato-san's compliments because he knows how much I love it.  It's really, really hard to beat the sweetness from sea urchin soaked in sea water (海水雲丹), and here you've also got the wonderful flavors and fragrance of aonori (青海苔).  Awesomeness.

    Lemongrass and ginger tea - so good to cleanse my palate with this icy cold and refreshing drink.

    Mini crêpe Suzette - the crêpes drizzled in a mixture of honey and mandarin juice, served with Japanese kumquat (金柑) compote, kumquat skin confit, and a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.  Love the citrusy flavors here.

    Almond ice cream with meringue, fresh strawberry, scent of sakura blossom, covered with fragile candy glass - the almond ice cream was pretty tasty, and the thin wafers of meringue were OK.  This was the first time I've ever had Kirapika (きらぴ香) strawberries from Shizuoka (静岡県).  At the bottom of it all is a puddle of crème anglaise made with lemon confit, whose bitterness was somewhat tempered by the sakura petals.

    Herbal tea - this combination of pandan, lemongrass, and mint is always a winning combination in my book.

    Fruit tomato - as always, the petit four varies depending on the drink you order, and with the tea comes the (Japanese?) fruit tomato confit in umeshu (梅酒).  Ripe and delicious.

    Walnut meringue - this was the petit four for people ordering the macha (抹茶).  Pretty interesting.

    Since we are NOT celebrating someone's birthday, I decided to bring a very special bottle of bubbly for our Champagne lover... from her birth vintage.  And since this is also Sato-san's vintage, I offered him a glass, too.  Too bad the wine was already fading a little by the time I offered it to Sato-san...

    1976 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, dégorgée en 2003 - lovely and mature nose, caramelized, honey, marmalade, with floral notes that was almost like osmanthus.  Acidic on the mid-palate and also on the finish.  Toasty notes emerged later.  This peaked about 30-40 minutes after popping the cork, and the floral fragrance disappeared.

    Takano-san poured us a complimentary glass of chardonnay.   Tasted blind my first instinct was that this was from a cold climate, and initially wondered if it were Japanese.  But according to Takano-san, most Japanese chardonnays are one-dimensional.  If I did have a second guess, I would have guessed it was Chinese... and of course it was!

    2011 Grace Vineyard Chardonnay Tasya's Reserve - nose was a little lean, almost a little green apple.  Only a little ripe on the palate.  Very light floral notes, with a little hint of sweetness after the wine warmed up.  At the end there seemed to be sulfur in the nose.

    1996 Clos Erasmus - decanted for 1½ hours before serving, which was definitely too long.  There were vibrant and fruity notes coming from the decanter when the wine was first decanted, but those notes disappeared when we finally got to drinking the wine.  A little bit of stewed prunes, along with smoky notes reminiscent of Chinese ink.  Also savory like soy sauce or black tea.  Still surprisingly a little grippy on the palate at almost 20 years.

    A very, very happy dinner for a Friday night.  I still love the food, the creativity, and the passion that I see in the team.  Looking forward to more visits in the very near future.

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    I found myself at Cucina in the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel tonight.  Hello Kitty was doing some research for a project, and we decided to have dinner here.  This would be my first visit.  In fact, I had never even heard of this place.  But hey, I heard this place has a pretty good harbor view, so why not?

    The menu was reasonably compact, with a mix of Italian dishes together with other not-so-Italian choices like lobster bisque, foie gras...etc.  I chose a selection of what I felt would be representative of what the new chef could do.

    Cappuccino al funghi porcini con biscotti al parmigiano - this was pretty decent.  Slightly over-seasoned for my taste, but most diners will probably find it perfectly fine.  They even threw in a slice of porcini.  The Parmigiano biscotti are not bad, either.

    Linguine ai gamberi rossi di mazara del vallo con la loro salsa ridotta e pomodorini freschi - any type of red prawns just automatically pushes buttons with me, so of course we had to have this.  The linguine, unfortunately, was a little overcooked.  But the red prawns were delicious, and as usual I greedily sucked out the heads.  The prawn reduction was delicious, but in all honesty it was a little one-dimensional.

    Guancetta di manzo wagyu cotta lentamente su pure' di zucca, porcini e salsa al Barolo - wagyu beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine?!  Doesn't get better than that!  The beef cheek was sooooo tender... and the collagen didn't hurt, either.  This was very, very good.  The pumpkin mash was pretty decent, and the beans on the side added some textural crunch.  But I wish they'd used better porcini on top.

    For dessert, I initially had my heart set on the zabaligone, but as I looked at the picture of the tiramisu on the iPad - yes, for some reason they brought us an iPad to show us the desserts - I was intrigued enough to order it.  Unfortunately, while it looked like a deconstructed tiramisu, and tasted perfectly fine, it wasn't as interesting as I had hoped.

    We decided not to open the bottle of cheap-and-cheerful Langhe that we brought along, opting instead to choose another cheap-and-cheerful wine from the restaurant's wine list.

    2009 Sartori L'Appassito - initially some green and herbaceous notes, which I thought may be signs of TCA.  Still some black fruits in the nose.  Opened up well after 30 minutes and the green notes disappeared, leaving a nice and fragrant nose.  Soft on the palate.

    This turned out to be a decent meal, and I couldn't find much fault with the food.  Pricing, too, was reasonable.  But the issue here was the service...

    When we first got seated, we immediately noticed that our white tablecloth was not clean.  And one of the plates in front of us wasn't clean either.  That's pretty shocking for a hotel restaurant, and I can't remember my last similar experience.

    There there was the case of staff delivering another table's dishes to us, which really shouldn't happen.  And they didn't remember that we wanted to share our main courses, even though we told them so once upon ordering, and again when they delivered the wrong dishes to us.

    And when we asked for the bill, they neglected to charge us for the bottle of wine we ordered.  While some people might have been happy about this, we just take this as another part of their incompetent service...

    The restaurant has an outdoor bar area immediately adjacent to the restaurant, which is on the top level of parking lot structure.  They have gorgeous views of Victoria Harbour, and one can sit here, order a drink or a cigar, and take it all in.  We decided to do just that after dinner.  Alas, being out on the deck is like being in Siberia, and we - along with 6 other tables - were neglected while every single remaining staff at the restaurant seemed to be busy changing tablecloths or doing some mundane task that isn't the least bit time-sensitive inside the restaurant.  Sigh...

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    I learned a little more about the dining options of my new hood yesterday, thanks to a story link posted by my friend g4gary.  One of the places mentioned was Reiki Small Field (小田料理), a new Japanese place by the ferry terminal, which is literally a stone's throw away from me.  I'd walked by this place numerous times, and had been pretty curious.  Tonight it was time to check it out.

    The restaurant occupies part of the ferry terminal building, and the side facing Victoria Harbour is actually open to the water without any windows.  Harborside seats had already been taken when I called to reserve, but it was probably a good thing, anyway... The fragrance of the Fragrant Harbour isn't always pleasant, and there's always a chance of breathing in fumes from the departing ferry boats.

    In addition to an à la carte menu offering items from sashimi to tempura, the restaurant also offers two kaiseki menus.  I decided to splurge for the more expensive option which, at HKD 1,000 a head, seems a little steep for a location such as this.

    First up was this plate.  Our waitress plopped it down in front of us and walked away.  I tried to ask what it was that we were eating, but I couldn't get an answer.  The cook came out, and he didn't seem to understand my question of "what are these?" Maybe he thought I was a total idiot... since I couldn't even recognize what was obviously a giant scallop in front of me.

    Hello Kitty saw my frustration, and tried to calmly extract the answers from the cook.  So we've got a pile of greasy onion tempura, a giant scallop that was lightly grilled, butterflied, and stuffed with Japanese mayo and a piece of deep-fried chicken cartilage.  Why, exactly, the chicken cartilage was sandwiched between the two halves of the scallop is completely beyond me.  The sea weed tempura was also greasy, and the cook made sure to tell us that "everything is edible"... including the slice of avocado and some perilla flowers.  Again, no clue as to why they were part of the combination.

    The bulk of the set consisted of sashimi and sushi, so we asked to have tuna excluded.

    Flounder wings (縁側)

    Salmon (鮭) belly

    Red sea bream (鯛) - with spicy grated radish and young scallions rolled inside.

    Abalone (鮑)

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - I don't understand the double-cut when it comes to sashimi.  In reality this was pretty veiny.

    Swordfish (目梶木)

    Then came four pieces of nigiri sushi, which were all too big... They were presented in a style that seems like it would appeal to local Hong Kong customers... with extra-long pieces of neta.  Interesting to see that the shari was made with red rice vinegar, but it's too bad that the shari was cold...

    Scallop (帆立貝) with sea urchin (雲丹)

    Sweet shrimp (甘海老)

    Japanese whelk - I asked the cook what kind of shellfish this was, but he couldn't tell me.  He obviously had no idea what ingredients they were getting in...  A little too crunchy and hard for my taste.

    Eel (鰻) - usually conger eel (穴子) shows up as neta for sushi, not eel...

    Salmon handroll - beside salmon, there were also little bits of tempura dough to provide some crunch, and spicy mayo.  Actually reminds me of those spicy tuna rolls that you find in US neighborhood sushi joints...  Interesting that the cook told us to "eat it while it's hot" when the rice itself was only lukewarm and the salmon was cold...

    Salmon miso soup

    Yuzu ice cream

    Well, honestly, I wasn't impressed.  I know this isn't some high-end, fancy schmancy sushiya with a chef who has honed his skills for years in Japan, but for the price being charged, the quality of the food still fell short.  And these guys know nothing about how to serve customers beyond just plopping some food down in front of them...

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    I've been on a self-imposed exile from Thailand for the last seven years.  After reading about the completely heartless way the Thai government chose to treat the Rohingya refugees (and I thought Thailand was a nation of devout Buddhists?) back in 2008-9, I decided that I would no longer support Thailand by giving them my tourist money.  I stopped coming, and treated the country like a deadzone when I planned trips.  After all, there is so much to see in the world!

    But an invitation to attend the awards for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, which was held in Bangkok for the first time this year instead of Singapore, was to be the one invitation that I couldn't turn down.  Especially since I had turned down an invitation to attend last year's event as I was working to launch a new fund.

    I got into the city during lunch time, and dropped off my bags at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G since my room wasn't ready.  The staff had suggested that I take lunch at the on-premise burger joint, but there was just no way that would work for me.  I's gonna have me somethin' local!

    I pinged Chubby Hubby about meeting up later, and he suggested that I go grab lunch at Supanniga Eating Room since it's close by.  Apparently a couple of chefs from Singapore were having lunch there.  I'd seen pictures posted by the Great One of her meal there a couple of days ago, so I figured it wouldn't hurt...

    So I walked past W Bangkok, turn in at Soi 10 Sathorn, and kept walking until I saw the sign.  It was now about 1:30 p.m. and the Singaporean chefs are nowhere to be found.  I did see a table occupied by a Japanese contingent, and realized that the guy in the middle was Yamamoto Seiji (山本征治) from RyuGin (龍吟).  I am seated a couple of tables away by the door, and order a few dishes.

    Ma hor (ม้าฮ่อ) - little dabs of stir-fried minced pork with garlic and peanuts.  I hadn't seen these things served on butterflied mandarin wedges before, and this was perfect.  The sweetness and slight tanginess of the mandarin orange helped to temper and douse the heat from the bird's eye chili.

    Pu jah (ปูจ๋า) - little crab shells stuffed with a blend of crabmeat and pork, then steamed.

    These were actually pretty tasty, although the texture was a little denser than I had expected.  And there were a few bits of crab shell in the stuffing, which was a shame.

    Khai jiew goong (ไข่เจียวกุ้ง) - an omelet stir-fried at high heat with lots of oil, with diced prawns.  The prawns were a little overcooked, and this thing was damn greasy...

    Thai tea panna cotta - this was actually pretty tasty.  I'm very fond of Thai iced tea, and putting those flavors into a wobbly panna cotta is a very good idea.

    I was pretty full, having devoured all but half of the greasy omelet by myself.  The food was pretty decent, but I wish I had come with more mouths.  Next time!

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    I finally made it.

    I received an invitation to attend last year's awards ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, in Singapore.  Unfortunately, I was trying my damnedest to launch a new fund and couldn't afford to fly off for a few days for some partying, and I decided to cancel my trip.

    So when I was lucky enough to receive another invitation to attend this year's awards ceremony in Bangkok at the last minute, I didn't hesitate.  I even called off my 8-year self-imposed exile from Thailand for this.

    The events were held at the W Bangkok as well as the beautiful House on Sathorn adjacent to the hotel.  The crowd would shuffle back and forth between the two locations.  I picked up my badge at the media registration desk, found the couple of media friends I knew were also attending, and went to mingle inside the courtyard of the House on Sathorn.

    When the time came, the organizers ushered us into the ballroom at the W.  My friend had very kindly saved me a seat in the front row of the media section towards the back of the room - making it a little bit easier for us to take photos.

    After speeches by the dignitaries, the presenters rolled through the top 50 list - pausing only for the presentation of individual awards - such as the best restaurant in each country and other categories which were previously announced.

    Who wins the No. 1 spot is always the focus, but even getting into the top 10 is already a very huge deal.  As we count down to the top 5 spots, it became a game of sorts to look at which restaurants hadn't been mentioned...

    It wasn't a complete surprise to me when Gaggan was announced as the Best Restaurant in Asia, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, for the second year in a row.  From the outside, it would seem that they've been getting even more attention since the last year, so I can imagine that even more people on the voting panels have been visiting the restaurant.  Gaggan also became the Best Restaurant in Thailand, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.

    The rest of the top 5 weren't really surprises and mostly consisted of the same restaurants reshuffling their positions.  Narisawa, André, Amber, and Nihonryori RyuGin are all regulars when it comes to the top part of the list.

    After the group photo session with all the chefs, a press conference was held with Gaggan Anand, chef-owner of Gaggan, who said that "winning at home is the sweetest".  Besides talking about his own path of rising from relative obscurity (outside of Thailand) and landing at No. 10 on the 2013 list, to going to No. 1 on the 2015 list, Gaggan called the list "a discovery" - as he as well as other chefs in the region became more aware of restaurants outside of their home countries.  He also mentioned that the list isn't about the competition between chefs, but more about a group of friends getting together - "a gathering of a family, the family of Asia's 50 Best".  The camaraderie among this group of chefs is clearly evident.

    And I suppose that is exactly the attraction of all of the "50 Best" lists.  Besides being the Oscars of the culinary world - and the actual Oscars just took place half a day earlier half way around the world - it's just a big party that everyone wants in on.  There's a "purple" carpet, a number of backdrops for chefs and VIPs to pose for pictures, a cocktail reception beforehand, a party with food and drinks afterwards, and even after-parties.  During the awards ceremony, individual award winners get up on stage to receive their awards, and speeches are given by some of the recipients.  It's run pretty much the same way as the Oscars, and the chefs are treated like celebrities.  The whole thing is a glamorous affair.

    For all the prestige of the Guide Michelin and the coveted stars, the reality is that the annual Michelin announcements are boring affairs.  The list of restaurants with stars is shown on a screen, facts are rattled off from the press release, and chefs take a group picture.  Then it's all over.  All very business-like.  No fun.

    Anyway, I was very glad to have been invited again, and happy that there were no work conflicts this year.  It was good to mingle to meet some of the chefs from other countries, and I even managed to catch up with some old friends like Chubby Hubby.

    We had heard that there was an after-party at Gaggan, but we decided not to crash it like everyone else.  There was plenty of food inside the courtyard of the House on Sathorn, prepared by the in-house kitchen as well as the team from Nahm, but we were going out for something better...

    P.S. Most of us were shocked to hear Gaggan Anand announce that he will close his eponymous restaurant in 2020.  He says he doesn't want to do the same thing beyond the next 5 years, and will look for new challenges or new dreams to pursue.  I guess we'd better hit Gaggan as soon and as often as possible, then...

    P.P.S. During a break after the awards ceremony, I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and came to the following realization:

    No. 1 on the list, also the Best Restaurant in Thailand, is Gaggan - which serves progressive Indian cuisine instead of Thai cuisine.

    No. 2 on the list, also the Best Restaurant in Japan, is Narisawa - which serves cuisine that I consider to be more modern French instead of Japanese cuisine.

    No. 3 on the list, also the Best Restaurant in Singapore, is André - which serves modern French cuisine rather than Peranakan cuisine.

    No. 4 on the list, also the Best Restaurant in China, is Amber - which serves modern French cuisine rather than Chinese cuisine.

    Thankfully No. 9 on the list - Indian Accent, which happens to be the Best Restaurant in India - actually serves contemporary Indian cuisine!

    A friend chimed in later, reminding me that according to the list, the best sushi restaurant isn't in Japan, but rather Singapore.  Shinji by Kanesaka - an offshoot of Sushi Kanesaka in Tokyo which doesn't appear on the list - comes in at No. 21 while Sushi Saito - considered by many foodies to be the finest sushi restaurant in Japan - is only ranked at No. 26.

    Go figure.

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    Now that the main event for this trip is over, it's time to eat!  I've been away from Thailand for 8 years, and I was determined to catch up on some Thai food.  So I rounded up the Great One and HaoKouFu and headed for the original location of Krua Apsorn ( ครัวอัปษร) on Thanon Samsen.

    Krua Apsorn came highly recommended by the local expert on Chowhound, and a quick search showed that my friend Chubby Hubby and a whole host of other bloggers and foodies are also big fans.  Apparently she used to cook for the royal family before opening her own restaurant, so I figured we can't go wrong with this place.  The location is a little far from where we're staying, as it's near the National Library in the very old part of Bangkok - and therefore inaccessible by BTS or MRT.  Thankfully there wasn't much traffic, and we made it easily by taxi.

    I had done a little bit of homework and came up with 3 dishes I wanted to order, and the others came up with the dishes that they wanted.

    Miang kana (เมี่ยงคะน้า) - naturally this arrived first.  One is supposed to mix all the ingredients and wrap them in the Chinese broccoli leaves - which is different from the wild pepper leaves often used.

    This looks very simple, but herein lies the magic.  Combining the little bits of lime, ginger, shallots, bird's eye chili (I stayed away from this), dried shrimp, peanuts, and pork crackling and drizzling the tamarind-based sauce on top would seem like an overload of flavors, as the individual ingredients by themselves can be pretty sharp on their own.  But somehow, when you put the mix into your mouth, it was pure harmony.  Total magic.

    Omelet with crab (ไข่พะโล้) - we just had arguably the best crab omelet late last night, and we decided to order this one for comparison... knowing that this comes at 1/9 of the price of what we had last night.

    Of course there wasn't nearly as much crabmeat as the ones from last night, but this was pretty decent for the price.

    Stir-fried Thai flower with pork (ดอกขจรผัดน้ำมันหอย) - I had read about this dish, and definitely wanted these Tonkin jasmine buds.  So simple, so good.

    Tom yum kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) - I normally stay as far away from this as possible, but the others wanted to try.  This was surprisingly good.  That is to say, it's neither deathly spicy nor acidic like biting into a lemon.  It was at once acidic, spicy, and savory... with umami coming from the prawns.  Balanced and delicious.

    They sent us a plate of rice to go with the tom yum kung, and like a stupid tourist I took a picture of the steamed rice just because it was heart-shaped...

    Stir-fried crab with curry powder (เชียงปูผัดผงกระหรี่) - this was meant to be one of the signature dishes, and it was reasonably tasty.  Delicious crab meat with onions, spring onions, and chili.  Perfect with steamed rice.

    Fried bean curd eaten with sauce (เต้าหู้ทอด) - this was actually on the dessert menu, which we thought was strange.  The sauce was, once again, tamarind-based, but still... this is a savory dish!

    There were a lot of interesting drinks on the menu, many of which we have never heard of.  I ended up ordering this butterfly pea and lemongrass juice, which had this beautiful purple hue.  It was nice and refreshing, but I mostly tasted the lemongrass.

    This was a very good lunch.  Simple dishes, classic flavors, and budget-friendly because it's not a tourist trap.  During the time we spent in the restaurant - which was a little more than an hour - there were only 3 tables of tourists including ourselves.  As I would find out later, this place is beloved by the locals we run into.  If you tell them that you've been to Krua Apsorn, you are instantly seen as someone who's tried "authentic" and good Thai food - instead of those places that only farang like.  So yeah, a meal here is absolutely de rigeur for anyone looking for "the real thing"...

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    Part of the problem that come with my self-imposed exile from Thailand is that I don't get to see my friends.  One of my favorite chefs left Hong Kong more than two years ago to pursue new opportunities in Bangkok, and I haven't seen him since.  Now that I was finally in town, there was no way I was gonna leave without catching up with him.

    Fortunately, I ran into Chef Vincent Thierry at the awards ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants yesterday.  We finally got a chance to catch up, and I got a download about what he's been up to since his arrival.  He seemed really happy, and I was happy for him.  We made plans to pay him a visit this afternoon.

    Shortly after 5pm, I walked the short distance from W Bangkok to the (significantly) shorter of the two towers that make up the MahaNakorn CUBE, and headed to the Vogue Lounge on the roof.  This is one of the handful of Condé Nast International Restaurants dotting the globe, and the very first of a number of outlets that Vincent will be in charge of.

    The menu looked absolutely beautiful - just like the pages of Vogue.  Vogue Lounge is meant to be a stylish place for people to have a few drinks and some nibbles, and the interior of the space is certainly very pretty... so the menu matches the decor perfectly.

    Mixologist Saito Hideyuki picked a different drink for each of us, and I found myself with a Nightcap Daiquiri.  HaoKouFu joked that this was indeed right up my alley, what with vanilla-flavored rum and lavender and all... Yup, I get the girlie drink today without even having to order one.

    Vincent also made sure we got a few nibbles.  The items on the menu are little bites made to be taken with one's hands, which are perfect for a lounge setting.

    Smoked tuna tartar rolls - Vincent explained that the roll was just a delivery method for the tuna tartare, which was wrapped around a piece of Japanese pickled radish (沢庵), enclosed in seaweed (のり), topped with a piece of rice crispies along with some flying fish roe (飛子) and balsamic caviar.

    King crab chawanmushi, sea urchin - Japanese steamed egg custard (茶碗蒸し) sits inside these golden egg shells, with sea urchin espuma on top.  A chunk of Alaskan king crab completes the dish.  Very yum.

    Black truffle gyoza - these were pretty full-flavored, and nice with the fragrance of black truffle.

    The Great One and I really miss Vincent, and were really glad to finally have the chance to see him and check out the Vogue Lounge.  It looks like a great place for the hip and beautiful crowd to come for drinks and snacks, and the food's pretty tasty, too.  I can't wait to see what other ventures he will be helping to launch in Thailand.

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    After our drinks and nibbles at the Vogue Lounge, HaoKouFu and I got on the BTS and made our way to Bo.lan for dinner.  This place has been on the radar screens of international foodies for a few years, and were included in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for the first three years of the list's existence.  It was therefore no surprise that we both wanted to check it out, even though every Thai person we ran into told us that "Bo.lan is not Thai food"...

    Upon arrival, we were presented with this welcome drink of pandan and lemongrass tea.  Ice-cold and very refreshing.  I would have been happy to take this all night...

    After flipping through the menu, we decided to take the Bo.lan Balance menu.  However, since I don't care for tom yum kung, I asked to change my soup to the one listed on the Bo.lan Brief menu.

    Ya dong grachai dum served with local sour fruits (ยาดองกระชายดำ ก ับผลไม รสเปรี้ยว) - ya dong is a local herbal liquor, and this version uses grachai dum (sometimes known as black ginger).  A quick search on the net shows that this stuff is meant to enhance male libido and counteract erectile dysfunction... so it's all the more curious that it shows up on a fine dining menu and is served to all guests.

    As as as tastes go, this stuff smells like Chinese medicine, with a hint of salty plum and a little smoke.  It comes with sour fruits that one takes with a sip of the drink.  The mango is sprinkled with chili powder and salt.  The tamarind looked like it's been put through a dehydrator.  After a sip of the ya dong, one is meant to take a hit of the pandan spray into the mouth... although curiously it only has a mild sweetness and almost no fragrance.

    Oh, and in case anyone was wondering if I got hard during my dinner... the answer is NO.

    Bo.lan amuse bouche - a series of five bites:

    Crispy Thai wafer with local flower - the flower was very bitter, but the wafer below contained prawn mousse and tasted sweet.

    Prawn with minced pork - with some sort of greens, topped with deep-fried shallots and ginger flower.

    Pork salad with pomelo - interestingly came with finely diced pork skin.

    Coconut cupcake with green chicken curry - deep-fried tart, and I thought there was eggplant inside.

    Thai rice noodle with cucumber - the rice noodle was rolled around cucumber, crab, green guava, coriander, ginger flower, and topped with chili and deep-fried shallots.

    Single plate of the day - this came with three elements, which are meant to be taken together in sequence.

    Grilled rice with shrimp paste relish - this was a little sweet, which was unexpected.

    Assorted salad - a little salty and spicy, with preserved radish similar to the 菜脯 found in southern Chinese cuisine.

    Egg mouse with banana blossom - this was very spicy.

    Here is where things took a wrong turn, at least for the two of us.  The restaurant chooses to serve 5 "main dishes" - along with the soup - AT THE SAME TIME.  Unless you're in the habit of inhaling large quantities of food in 5 minutes, how the hell are we supposed to get through all of our food before it all gets cold?! Nevermind that we also happen to be sitting underneath an air conditioning vent!

    Salad of grilled pork jowl and native tamarind stuffed with salted duck egg relish with assorted Thai herb - the acidic and spicy flavors here are very familiar, again with coriander and deep-fried shallots.  Not surprisingly, the grilled pork jowl was tender and tasty.  The raw form of tamarind is completely unfamiliar to me and I didn't recognize it, and they did take out the seeds and stuff a little bit of salted egg yolk inside - although I really had to cut a couple open just to confirm the presence of yolk.

    Stir-fried squid stuffed with minced chicken and pawn with three flavor sauce - staff said it was minced pork... and I guess there was no "minced pawn", either...  This was very tasty with the pork stuffing, with a sweet and sour sauce that wasn't very spicy.  My favorite of the bunch.

    Galangal relish with grilled crayfish and assorted local greens - these were actually river prawns, and this was the least interesting dish of the bunch.  Sure, there were organic vegetables like mushrooms, wax apple, purple winged bean, and what seemed like jicama.

    The galangal relish was pretty much the best part of this dish.

    North-eastern style soup with fish and greens - this was a lot spicier than I had expected, and I almost choked as the soup hit the back of my throat... so I gave up after a couple of sips.  Tasted of salted plum, like those Thai-style fish  on a steamboat.  The dill was pretty prominent.

    "Korat" style curry of "Ku" beef with betel leaves - the beef was very tough, but the chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves and betel leaves added nice flavors.

    Batter-fried stuffed cabbage with minced pork and salted fish - this was also pretty tasty, as long as avoided the bird's eye chili...

    I took both the Kor Khor 105 jasmine rice from Yasothorn as well as the organic gaba rice, harvested in 2014.

    Roast coconut - I started the evening with a young coconut, which is readily available in this country, but I was more curious to try this.   I'm guessing that they did actually put this over a fire, because the flavors are a little more intense here... both with the slight caramelization of sugars, as well as more savory notes from the coconut flesh.

    Pre-Dessert - we are meant to pour the contents of the cup - orange wedge and slices of sea coconut - over the ice in the bowl.  There was a jasmine flower and what seemed to be chiffonade of young ginger on the ice.

    Dessert - sapodilla (ละมุด) simmered in coconut milk, with glutinous rice balls.  I've always loved sapodilla for its intense sweetness, so of course I was happy to have this.  On the side was an egg waffle with shredded coconut, dried banana, and salted egg yolk.

    Petits fours - sticky rice paper, soy bean pudding, coconut toffee, coconut layer cake (like lapis sagu), agar agar... etc.

    Crunchy rice with peanuts - smoked with jasmine candle, so that was pretty interesting.

    Coconut cupcake - with shredded coconut.

    Steamed tapioca - with salted coconut on top.

    Bo.lan blend tea - made with cardamom, mint, lemongrass, cinnamon, and ginger.

    So... thoughts on this dinner?  While most of the food was reasonably tasty, there were almost no "WOWs"...  Nothing really stood out, and I can't name any dishes which led me to think "I MUST COME BACK FOR THIS!"

    Now I'm not surprised that they've fallen off the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2016.

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    Another day in Bangkok means another day of eating.  We start the day with lunch at Issaya Siamese Club, the celebrated flagship restaurant of Chef "Ian" Kittichai which had just clinched the No. 19 spot on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.  I had the pleasure of visiting the Hong Kong outpost a couple of months ago, so I was pretty exciting about going to "the original".

    We were debating about whether to take a taxi or public transport.  Just 3 days ago, the Great One had gotten lost in a taxi trying to get there... and in fact never made it to an event there.  With that in mind, I looked at the almighty Google Maps and figured that we should opt for public transport, since the restaurant looked like it was just 300m away from the Khlong Toei MRT station.

    What I should have done, though, was to take a closer look at Google Maps - especially the satellite version.  After walking to within less than 100m of the restaurant, I realized that there was an impenetrable wall standing between us which made it impossible for us to reach the restaurant...  The only solution was to backtrack, then do a huge loop around the alleys.  That took us about 20 minutes, and I'm pretty sure both the Great One and HaoKouFu were cursing me under their breaths...  Along the way, we did see signs at various turns which point to the direction of the restaurant... so I guess taking a taxi would have made sense...

    We were hot and thirsty when we finally sat down, so we ordered a round of fresh pomelo juice.  That really hit the spot.

    After a quick discussion, the four of us chose not to take the set menus on offer.  Instead we would pick and choose à la carte, and each of us ended up choosing something... although a few items we wanted were not available.

    Yum hua plee : Banana blossom and heart of palm salad, crispy shallots and roasted peanuts in a chili jam dressing - I really liked this dish when I visited the Hong Kong outpost, so I ordered it again.  While this looked similar to what I had in Hong Kong, the size had shrunk by half... I like the mélange of textures and flavors from the heart of palm, banana blossom, desiccated coconut, and deep-fried shallots, but thanks to the heavy flavor profile, I seemed to be the only one...

    Koi nua: 240 days grain-fed Australian Black Angus beef tartare with northern Thai dried spices, sawtooth coriander, poached egg yolk and chili - another pretty presentation, using ox bone to serve the beef tartare.  They're also using the wild pepper leaves (ชะพลู) which is often used in miang kam (เมี่ยงคำ).

    This was a little acidic and spicy.  The texture was real smooth, and some of us would have preferred it to be a little chewier with chunks.

    Kradook moo aob sauce : Spice rubbed pork baby back ribs glazed with Issaya house-blended chili paste - I ordered this again since I loved it in Hong Kong.  But today this didn't work out so well.  The pork ribs were much bigger today, but the pieces had a lot of cartilage.  For some reason we weren't given knives, and when we first asked for them, we were told that we didn't need knives because the pork was so tender it would just fall off the bone...

    Well, that didn't work.  The pork didn't fall off the bone, and we did need knives to cut the cartilage.  We finally got some knives when we asked for them a second time.

    Poa pia Issaya : steamed soft summer roll with spiced chicken, goon chiang pork sausage, bean sprouts, garlic chives and Issaya chili sauce - these tasted alright, but not particularly outstanding.

    Nua sun seaklong : beef short ribs twice cooked until succulent and tender with a wok-seared, sweet chili-lime dipping sauce - this was fantastic.  As described, the beef was very tender.  It was served with two very different types of dipping sauce, providing a nice contrast.

    Geang kamin : Royal King's Project vegetables in coconut milk and homemade yellow curry - we needed some veg, and this veg curry seemed to be a good way to get both our curry and veg fix in one way.  Very rich and creamy.

    Wok sautéed short grain rice with "hed por" : Asian multigrains, Chiang Mai mushrooms and garlic sprinkled with mushroom-scented oil - this was very, very tasty.  Lots of oil to make things taste good, and of course mushroom and garlic don't hurt, either!  This was great with the veggie curry.

    Since Chef Ian's wife Sarah knows the Great One, some desserts magically appeared on our table...

    Kanom tung taek : cold coconut crepe soufflé with a variety of Thai condiments - this was done tableside, with banana leaves placed on the table.  Then the five condiments - coconut sauce, shredded coconut with white sesame, passion fruit foam, mulberry foam, and crispy rice crumble - were spread on top of the leaves.

    Then a chocolate "rice bowl" containing the crepes was dropped onto the table and "broken"...

    In the end we each picked up a chunk of the crêpes...

    and had it with the collection of fruity foams.

    Then came the rest of the desserts, again note the very pretty presentation...

    The presentation case on the left carried three items:

    Tao thong "ladybug" : soft cheesecake dome filled with mulberry gelee, chocolate feuillantine dacquoise and glazed with ruby white chocolate miroir

    Maekhong baba : a baba soaked in a Thai rum syrup served with coconut whipped cream, fresh fruits and pandan sauce

    Honey financier with mulberry sauce

    There were a few other petits fours, but I was only interested in the salted egg macarons, which were smoked in a jar and turned out to be pretty tasty.

    HaoKouFu took a jibe at me by suggesting that I would like the cotton candy, because they were a little floral...

    This was a very relaxing lunch, in a nice and comfortable setting.  The food was definitely very pretty, or "Instagramable" in today's parlance.  While the food tasted reasonably good, I was hoping for a few more "wow"s...  Oh well, maybe next time.

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