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

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    Because they arrived a day later than we did, my friends weren't able to join us for sake at my favorite izakaya.  So I decided we should go hit a cocktail bar for some drinks.  I had heard about Bar Gen Yamamoto from a couple of different sources, and its range of fruity cocktails seemed right up the alley for a guy who always orders the fruity and girlie drinks (that would be moi).  The fact that it was a stone's throw away from the restaurant for dinner tonight seemed like a godsend.  Until I found out that the reservation slot immediately before dinner tonight was already taken...

    ...which was why we found ourselves sitting at the bar at 4 p.m.  Observing as Yamamoto-san made the drinks for our neighbors - who turned out to work for Asahi Shuzo (旭酒造), the makers of Dassai (獺祭).  When all of us were ready, we placed our orders and eagerly awaited for our drinks.  I chose the 6-cocktail set, wanting to taste a little bit more than the 4-cocktail set would offer.

    #1: This was made with a citrus fruit called Tsunokaori (津之香) that reaches maturity in March and April.  Base is a shochu called Tsurunashi Genji (蔓無源氏), which uses a type of yam that was revived from 100 years ago.  Sprinkled with basil flowers on top, which added a nice fragrance on top of the citrus.

    #2: The base of this drink was Hakushu (白州) Whisky, using apple kiwi from Shizuoka Prefecture, and garnished with some sansho leaves (木の芽).

    #3: This was a combination of organic ginger from Kochi Prefecture and organic lemon from Shizuoka Prefecture.  This was rounded on the palate, with nice length and some bite at the end thanks to the ginger.

    The base was a shochu named Mugishiru (麦汁) from Toyonagakura (豊永蔵), made from hulless barley.

    #4: Made with fruit tomato (フルーツトマト) from Kochi Prefecture and garnished with some mint leaves.  Nice and savory, and the mint is a nice touch.

    The base was a barley shochu called Chingu (ちんぐ) from Omoyashuzo (重家酒造) on Iki Island (壱岐).

    #5: made with some buntan (文旦) and freshly-grated wasabi.  Base is Reisen Kaseinigori Junmai Ginjo (醴泉 活性にごり 純米吟醸), an unfiltered sparkling sake.  You wouldn't feel it on the first sip, but the wasabi delivers its kick by the end of the third sip...

    #6: made with kumquat (金柑) and a shochu called Kinpeibai (金瓶梅), made with the sake lees leftover from making Azumaichi (東一) sake.  Obviously very fragrant thanks to the kumquat.

    We found the name of the shochu interesting...

    I really liked the range of cocktails Yamamoto-san served us today.  Very creative and interesting.  Would love to come back again on my next trip...

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    Tonight's dinner was arguably my most-anticipated meal this trip, in terms of food.  Unlike last year, there were no 3-star stops on this trip.  In fact, there were only two meals at starred restaurants this time around, and with two macarons, Kadowaki (かどわき) would be the top fine dining destination.

    We arrived a little early for our late seating, and were led around the corner to a small private room in a dark bar upstairs.  The air in the room was suffocating with cigar smoke leftover from the previous evening.  The six of us would squeeze in here until our private room was ready.

    Kinda like at Kanda (かんだ), there was no menu presented... so we had no idea how much food was coming our way.  I must say it's a little strange for a kaiseki experience...

    Icefish with shirona and grilled mullet roe - a pile of icefish (白魚) sat on top of a vegetable from Kyoto called shirona (しろ菜), which isn't exactly the same as bok choy (白菜) or cabbage.  A nicely grilled slice of mullet roe (カラスミ) came on the side.  A little sprinkle of sesame seeds make things complete.

    Deep-fried fat greenling with bamboo shoot in starchy sauce - with noble orchid tempura (春蘭天ぷら), shredded myoga (茗荷) on top, and some sansho leaves (木の芽) all sitting on a bed of wakame (若布).

    Olive flounder rolls with Chinese cabbage, asatsuki, and perilla leaves - now this was interesting...  Slices of raw olive flounder (鮃), which is normally taken as the first item in any sashimi or sushi meal, gets used as a wrap over a bunch of veg like Chinese cabbage, asatsuki (浅葱), and perilla (紫蘇) leaves.

    This would sound really bland, until one is asked to dip this into a sauce made with monkfish liver (あん肝) and wrapped with seaweed (海苔).  One would expect the liver sauce to be rich, but what was totally unexpected was how spicy it was.  Yowza!

    Grilled trout with fermented sweetfish sperm - WHOA!  Hold on there for a sec...  Did someone say sperm (白子)?  Homie don't play that.  And I don't give a rat's ass if it's from fermented sweetfish (鮎うるか).  As I've said time and again, "I don't do fish cum."

    So I was thankful that Hello Kitty volunteered to scrape that white goo off my fish onto her plate...

    Crab chawanmushi with foie gras and truffle - this was certainly not a traditional preparation, but I wasn't gonna say 'No'!  This reminded me a lot of André's signature Mémoire dish, with the same ingredients minus the crab.  Hearty and warm, full of rich flavors and fragrance.  Totally delicious.

    Golden alfonsino shabu-shabu - we were curious to find this plate of golden alfonsino (金目鯛) on the table, because it didn't look like a sashimi course.

    Then this pot was placed on the table, with some sansho leaves floating on top of the broth, and a plate of shredded burdock (牛蒡) was put on a side table.  Now we were told that this would be a shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ).

    Our waitress lightly blanched the fish in the broth, and made sure that each piece was served with a some burdock and sansho leaves.  Very nicely done.  We were to dip the fish in a mixture of sesame oil, karami daikon (辛味大根), salt, and wasabi (山葵).  Once again we were surprised by the heavy flavor profile of the dip.

    After all the fish was gone, our waitress cooked some bamboo shoots and Japanese honeywort in the broth and served us some soup.  Very soothing and comforting.

    Truffled rice in clay pot - finally we have reached their famous dish, which has probably been copied by numerous restaurants elsewhere.  The chef came to shave a generous quantity of truffle on top of the rice.

    The truffle was then mixed in to the rice, and served with a good selection of pickles.

    Dessert was a cup of milk pudding, kudzu, umeshu jelly, kuromitsu, and green tea powder.  The ingredients were certainly very Japanese, and the latter component were pretty strong in terms of flavor.  Yum.

    Finally, there was a cup of houjicha (焙じ茶) that was surprisingly burnt and smoky.

    We were debating about how much sake to have, in the event that we wanted to hit another bar after dinner... and eventually settled on just two bottles of sake with dinner.

    Isojiman Aiyama Daiginjo (磯自慢 愛山大吟醸) - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Very smooth and sweet on the palate at first, then became more spicy with deeper and more complex layers of flavors.

    Kokuryu Junmai Daiginjo Nizaemon (黒龍 純米大吟醸 二左衛門) - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Soooo smooth, mild, elegant, and sweet on the palate.  With notes of tropical fruits.  After some aeration the body seemed fuller and the finish became drier.

    A pretty good dinner, but a little disappointed that there weren't as many "wow" moments.

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    We went back to Ginza for the last meal of the trip, which was perfect as it would be within walking distance of our hotel.  Koguma (小熊) doesn't have any macarons, therefore it's kinda off the radar screens of many overseas visitors.  But one of our friends' parents visited the restaurant earlier and delivered positive feedback, and the pics on the restaurant's website (they even have an English site!) looked tantalizing.  So I looked forward to a nice farewell lunch.

    Sesami-tofu on sea urchin top (前付:胡麻豆腐 雲丹) - a good way to start.  The sesame tofu was rich and tasty.

    Clear soup with tilefish (お椀:ぐじ 筍 うるい) - I loooove these dishes with clear broth made with dashi (出汁), because the flavors are so clean and elegant.  Besides the piece of lightly-grilled tilefish (甘鯛), there were fresh bamboo shoots, leeks, and young hosta shoots (うるい) which sprout in the Spring.

    Aged sashimi: tilefish, 7 days (お造り:白川) - this was actually a type of tilefish called shirakawa (白川 or 白甘鯛).  Instead of soy sauce, this was dipped in saltwater flavored with konbu (昆布).  Also served with chiffonade of konbu and young red shiso (赤紫蘇) leaves.

    Aged sashimi: young tuna, 7 days (お造り:めじ鮪) - lightly torched.  This was very interesting, and served with some fern.

    Roasted Japanese no-horns beef, Chinese lantern plant, spring vegetable (強肴:無角和牛ローストビーフ) -  served with carrots which were grown while buried under the snow in Niigata Prefecture (新潟県); a type of rapeseed flower called のらぼう菜; tempura of butterbur bud (蕗の薹); and a cape gooseberry.

    The beef comes from a breed of cattle called Mukakuwagyu (無角和牛), which literally means "hornless Japanese cows".  This is a type of breed that has gone out of fashion for the last 60 years or so, as people's preferences veered toward cattle with more marbling.  It's easy to see that the meat was pretty lean and without much fat.  Very nice "beefy" flavors.

    Steamed coral-rockfish with parched rice (焚合せ:目拔け煎米蒸し) - the fish was topped with a layer of rice crispies, using rice from Shizuoka Prefecture milled down to the center the way sake rice is treated.  Absolutely loved this dish, as the crispy rice was slightly softened by the broth but still retained some crunch and the toasty flavors.  The spring onions on top were Kujonegi (九条葱) from Kyoto.

    Boiled rice with soy sauce and baby sardines (お食事:ちりめんじゃこ御飯) - this was really, really delicious.  I loooove baby sardines and they happen to be in season.  The rice was steamed with some green sansho (山椒) peppercorns inside, which added a nice kick when you bit into one.  Garnished with chiffonade of perilla leaves, which added yet another type of fragrance.  I couldn't refuse a second bowl.

    Fresh pickles (香物)

    Miso soup (留碗) - interestingly the little cubes floating in the bowl weren't tofu, but sesame gluten (胡麻麩).

    Persimmom ice cream (デザート:市田柿アイスクリーム) - actually made with dried Ichida persimmons.

    Miso caramel (キャラメル) - not your typical salted caramel.  With little bits of soybeans inside.

    We decided to order a couple of wines to go with lunch...

    2014 Château Mercian Private Reserve Hokushin Chardonnay - very fragrant and floral, with notes of tropical fruits.  Still a little sharp.  Actually riper on the palate than expected.

    2012 Hudelot-Noellat Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes - a little smoky, with black fruits and a little minty.  Still young and a little sharp.

    Lunch was very enjoyable, and I'm really glad we came to check this place out.  Maybe next time we'll come back for dinner.  Oh and I decided to buy a few boxes of their caramels, which come in 4 different flavors.  Yum1

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  • 04/03/16--01:35: Three-eighths lunch
  • The Man in the White T-Shirt pinged me.  Would I be free for lunch today?  I had plans to be somewhere during the day, but I figured that my plans could be rejigged.  After all, he usually calls me when there's a guest chef around at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  And sure enough, André Chiang from Restaurant André is in town for a couple of days.  So I made sure I was available for lunch.

    A quick glance at the menu today confirmed that I hadn't had any of them before, which was a relief.  It's been a couple of years since I was last at André, and it's good to see what he's come up with during this time.

    Stone crab and sea urchin tartar, elderflower-pickled cucumber, ice pebbles of cucumber drops - from the 'puréte' side of André's Octaphilosophy, most of the ingredients here were raw and retained their purity of flavors.  Compressed cucumber discs, cucumber flowers, cucumber sorbet made into ice pebbles, raw rings of (pearl?) onions, sea urchin, crab meat, fromage blanc, and even a little spring of sansho leaves (木の芽) as garnish.

    The dish was everything I would expect from André - exactly demonstrating the purity of flavors.  Thanks to the cucumber you have very light, clean, and refreshing flavors - helped by the cool temperature of the sorbet.  Then the lightness continues with the fromage blanc, progressing to slightly stronger and sweeter flavors of the crab, and finally the sea urchin.

    Just beautiful.  I'm a happy camper just after the first dish.  And a big step forward compared to the puréte dish I had twice in Singapore.

    Squid spaghetti cooked in kelp jus, crispy rice soufflé and silky potato mousse - from the 'sel' side of Octaphilosophy - which means no salt was actually added to the dish.  I thought this might be similar to what I had at RAWearlier this year, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

    The double-boiled squid ribbons were certainly more fully-cooked than I had expected, but the texture was just about perfect - delivering a springy, bouncy feedback on the bite while still being soft.  The umami from the kelp powder was incredible.  Then you've got some caviar on top, although the staff from André admitted she didn't know what type of caviar was being used today (they use Kristal at André).  Finally you've got the rice crispies sprinkled on top like the Japanese furikake (振り掛け) - added both a little crunch as well as some nice toasty notes.  Interestingly, there was a bed of mashed potatoes at the bottom of it all, and some diced onions mixed in.

    "Granola" of wild grains, black garlic tapenade and kurobuta pork belly with black truffle, potato skin-cacao broth - don't recall being told which part of Octaphilosophy this was, but possible 'texture'?  A savory version with lemon confit, multi-grains on top of tranches of delicious pork belly.  There were also Brussels sprouts and pearl onions in the mix.  Yum.

    Carbonated red grapes, white peach parfait, honey ice cream on raspberry ice - we were asked to break the top layer of raspberry ice to get to the contents below.

    Underneath the ice, there were raspberries, strawberries, 'carbonated' grapes (which were macerated and left to ferment for 48 hours before put into a freezer), pomegranate seeds, red currants, chiffonade of perilla leaves, jelly that seemed to be made of bergamot, and both honey and white peach flavors in the mix.  Purple perilla leaves on top made it look extra pretty.  Loved this as it combined acidity, sweetness, a little creaminess... all in a cool, refreshing spoonful.

    Restaurant André Camembert - this wasn't on the lunch menu but somehow arrived at our tables.  Apparently it's now André's signature pre-dessert, which came in a little box designed to look like it's Camembert...

    And it sure does look like a petit Camembert, n'est-ce pas?

    We were asked to eat a chunk first, and of course this ain't no Camembert.  It's actually a bavarois with burrata and fromage blanc inside, which was fairly light and airy.  The "cheese" did come with a "rind", which was a thin layer of yuba (湯葉).  With a corner missing, a quenelle of hay ice cream was wedged into the opening.  We were told that the hay came from the Jockey Club's Beas River Country Club.  Very nice.

    We had gotten into the habit of BYO at these lunches, and today we ended up opening 4 bottles... which wasn't bad at all.

    2003 Penfolds Yattarna - pretty ripe nose with notes of straw.  Surprisingly good acidity despite the ripeness, and kinda fat on the palate instead of being lean.  Still very sweet on the nose after 1½ hours.

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru - sweet and caramelized nose.  Ripe on the palate but still retains nice acidity.

    2000 Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Vide Bourse - buttery and very toasty nose.  Ripe and sweet on the palate.

    2007 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape - sooooo fragrant and beautiful.  Minty with ripe fruit and a bit of leather.  Such a pleasure to drink now.  What a treat this was!  Very grateful to Jonas for bringing this as we both mourn Henri's passing.

    We took the opportunity to snap a nice picture of the four chefs together including André...

    A very enjoyable afternoon with great food, good wines, and wonderful company.  Many thanks to the Man in the White T-Shirt for the kind invitation.  Glad to have had an update on André's creations, and surprised to hear that - contrary to what you see across Oncle Joël's empire - there are no overlapping dishes among the handful of restaurants under André's flag... across Paris, Singapore, and Taipei.  That can't be easy...

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  • 04/07/16--22:21: Cow eats goose
  • Just a few days after we last met up in Tokyo, my friend Cow came into town to hang out with some of her friends.  She remembered me talking about my favorite roast goose, so I took time out to introduce her and her friends to the delicious offering from Yat Lok (一樂食館).

    Five of us gathered in front of the restaurant at the appointed time.  I told the boss lady that the sixth was on her way, and being a long-time regular - I've been going for about 10 years - she very kindly allowed the five of us to be seated first... which is quite a privilege since she normally doesn't let people do this.  We've got a few hungry mouths to feed, so I decided to order up a storm.

    Roast pork belly (燒肉) - I normally don't get to any other roast meat other than the goose, but if you had to, the roast pork belly is a pretty good choice.  It's not overly salty, and the crackling was pretty crunchy.

    Barbecued pork (叉燒) - this is normally the weakest of the roast meats here, but today it wasn't bad at all.

    Half roast goose (燒鵝半隻) - even though there were enough of us today, we decided not to try taking down a whole goose.  Half was enough for our friends, but I'm glad to see that they enjoyed it.  It ain't my favorite roast goose for no good reason.

    Rice flour noodles in soup (瀨粉) - I needed some carbs and MSG, so I had my usual noodles in soup.

    The girls wanted lots of veg, so we got ourselves some blanched water spinach (通菜)...

    ... and some blanched Chinese lettuce (唐生菜).

    The ladies seemed pretty hungry and wanted to eat more, but I was already satiated, so I left them to their own devices at Mak's Noodles (麥奀雲吞麵世家) and went back to my office...

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    It's Babu's birthday, and time for me to take her out for another dinner.  I was somewhat surprised when I found out that she's never been to Amber, so I took Mrs. Tigger's suggestion and got us a table there.  Chef Richard Ekkebus is away doing a guest chef stint in Seoul, but I figured Chef Maxime Gilbert would have no trouble holding down the fort...

    I chatted with both Maxime and Hector a little, and in the end I decided to leave the choice of dishes up to Maxime - with the proviso that we must have the signature Hokkaido sea urchin dish... and that it comes in a bigger portion than what we got at my last dinner.  I also let Maxime know that we wouldn't want to stuff ourselves with so much food tonight.  As it turns out, what we ended up with was essentially the spring menu with a couple of extras...

    First came the nibbles, which are now completely different...

    Even the welcome tea has changed, and is now basically a liquid ratatouille.  Kinda interesting.

    Buckwheat toast with avocado purée, fennel, lettuce, seaweed, and edible flowers - very pretty.  The toast was a little hard and crunchy.

    Waffle with aubergine, tomato, onion, bell pepper - made to resemble the local egg waffles (雞蛋仔), but the texture wasn't at all crispy...  In fact it was pretty limp, but the filling inside tasted pretty good.

    Gruyère tartlet - the cheese flavors were very, very strong here...

    Amuse bouche - instead of Jerusalem artichokes, this is now a mélange of different mushrooms... with morels, ceps, portobellos in chervil oil and seaweed butter.  Topped with potato foam and potato chips.  This was really, really good...  Love the hearty flavors of mushrooms, and the richness of the potato foam.  Of course the tiny squares of potato chips on top also delivered nice texture.

    Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffles - Maxime remembered my "complaint" about our portions being too small last time, so he very generously sent us à la carte portions of the dish instead of the usual tasting portions.

    I could see Babu's face breaking out into a great, big smile the minute our waiter laid down the mother-of-pearl spoons on the table.  She knew that one of her favorite ingredients was coming, and the combination of caviar and sea urchin would be a winning combination for her.

    I used that little spoon to scrape as much as I could from the inside of the little bowl.  I probably should have asked for more bread to wipe the bowl clean!

    Let's not forget the delicious seaweed waffles...

    Now that we have a definitive date when this dish would be taken off the regular menu (I hear that May 31st would be the last day... on the second and last evening of the four-hands dinner between André Chiang and Richard Ekkebus), there is a limited number of opportunities for us to savor this beautiful dish.  I did, however, see from social media that a very similar dish has popped up across the harbor... from Xavier Boyer at Gaddi's.

    White asparagus: charred with white miso paste, 'mousseline' vinaigrette, salted taiyouran egg yolk, snocciolate olives and wild herbs - it's asparagus season, and these were certainly very tasty.  Not surprisingly the mousseline that substituted for the hollandaise also came with acidity, and the broken bits of black olives were pretty interesting.  Lots of herbs and flowers give us the look of spring.

    Brown morels: stewed, mushroom tea poached duck foie gras, kabu purée and shavings with sorrel - don't let the first two words in the name fool you... This dish ain't about the delicious morel mushrooms in the middle... it's all about the big chunks of foie gras.  The foie was actually poached in morel bouillon, so it was really soft and wobbly... like pieces of tofu.  These were topped with thin slices of Japanese turnip (蕪菁), sorrel leaves, with turnip purée on the side.

    I absolutely looooooved the foie gras.  Of course the morels were delish, too... along with the rich flavors of the emulsion.  And I liked the crunch from the turnip.

    Line-caught John Dory: simmered 'au plat' with 'agretti' sea cress purée, green garden peas, grapefruit, mint in a lautrec garlic emulsion - the John Dory must have been slow-cooked and it was still relatively raw and tender.  Texture was nearly perfect.  Served with sweet garlic foam on top and some garlic flowers and sorrel leaves on the side.  Also on the side was an interesting sea cress purée along with some peas, all of which were topped with a ramp leaf that was blanched and then dehydrated.  The ramp leaf still maintained its light garlic flavor.

    Aveyron lamb 'blanc de blanc': roasted, crispy sweetbread, aubergine purée, tempura of purple artichoke, stuffed then braised silver beet in a jus 'gras' - I absolutely loved this lamb on my last visit, and complained loudly about only getting one small chop...  Well, tonight there were two on my plate, and I got a third chop from Babu.  Soooooo fatty and lamby, and just incredibly tender and succulent.  But I was getting pretty full at this point, and for the first time in about 2 decades, I didn't pick up the bones to strip them clean with my teeth.  I had reached my limit...

    Two silver beets, one stuffed with shredded lamb and the other stuffed with onions and anchovies.  Needless to say the latter was a little on the salty side.  The sweetbread wasn't bad, and I could have sworn there was caramel or something else really sweet in the aubergine purée...

    Malaga strawberries: over a Sicilian pistachio panna cotta with milk gel and strawberry sorbet - I was bummed that I didn't get the dessert with Amaou (あまおう) strawberries last time, and I kinda wanted that tonight... until I realized that this was on the menu.  OF COURSE the fraises des bois from Malaga are better!  Really, really tasty.  On a bed of panna cotta sprinkled with caramelized Sicilian pistachios.  Marigolds adorn the little dots of milk gel which, admittedly, don't seem to add all that much to the flavors in the grand scheme of things.  A quenelle of strawberry sorbet in the middle, along with tuiles made with the fraises des bois and strawberry coulis, make everything just about perfect.

    I was pretty full after the lamb, but there was no way I was gonna leave even a single strawberry seed in the bowl.

    Opalys: white chocolate cream with raw grated, preserved and gel from lime, crispy tuile with lime custard and cold infused coffee ice cream - I didn't realize there was a second dessert... and it looked a little rich, too!  Thankfully there was plenty of acidity from all forms of lime - both with the sphere of white chocolate cream and all around the plate.  The acidity really helped at this point.  I gotta say that the quenelle of coffee ice cream was really, really good.  Surprisingly strong in terms of flavors.

    For the first time ever, I decided not to nibble on any of the mignardises that they brought us...  Simply too full.

    We were taking it easy tonight, so I brought just one bottle for us...

    2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres - pretty ripe on the palate, but still somewhat dry with good acidity.  Toasty nose with buttery and sweet corn notes.  A very delicious bottle from a great vintage.

    Another delicious meal, and I think Babu was happy.  Maybe we shouldn't wait another year before going back together...

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  • 04/15/16--07:26: New seasonal Quest
  • My friend Ninja and I have been meaning to catch up, but we both have fairly busy feeding and travel schedules.  We finally got together tonight and I suggested that we go back to Quest, since Chef Que has now switched back to an Asian-themed menu.

    Squid noodles, chilli tomato jelly, squid ink pearls - so squid noodles seem to be the flavor du jour...  The bottom of the bowl has a layer of the chili tomato jelly, which was surprisingly spicy.  There was some cucumber below the squid that added a little crunch while delivering some clean and refreshing flavors, and it's always fun to pop those flying fish roe (とびこ) in the mouth.  I didn't get any distinct flavors from those squid ink pearls, and I thought the texture was a little too solid and hard.  But the yuzu (柚子) sauce poured on top of the spring onions was a nice touch.

    Tom yum shima aji tartare, pickled green papaya, pomelo salad, roasted seaweed - there were crunchy cubes of pickled green papaya and cucumber mixed in with the striped jack (縞鰺) tartare.  The pomelo salad at the bottom had kaffir lime leaf chiffonade tossed in, which I really love.  The shaved coconut cream on top of the roasted seaweed was a nice touch, but instead of getting the tom yum (ต้มยำ) feel, I thought that the strong flavors from the roasted nori (のり) seaweed and sesame actually made the dish feel a little Japanese...

    Seafood duo: red curry crab cake, tempura abalone, sautéed bok choy - the crab cake was very nicely done, but I thought the abalone was a little tough.  Both the lemongrass and mint sauce as well as the red curry mayo were interesting.

    Tamarind glazed grilled pork neck, turmeric rice, sautéed long beans - I love pork neck, and these slices came with a nice and sweet sauce made with tamarind.  The sticky rice was interestingly flavored with turmeric and kaffir lime leaves, and the sprinkle of peanuts, pork crackling, and dried shrimp made things really tasty - especially the beautifully crunchy crackling.

    Pan seared grass fed striploin, smoked eggplant purée, caramelized pearl onions, straw mushrooms - the beef came from grass-fed cattle, so it was understandably more lean and a little bit more chewy for people used to grain-fed cattle.  The eggplant purée was definitely smoky, and the galangal sauce with the pearl onions were pretty nice.

    Soursop sorbet and crispy meringue, lemongrass strawberry fizz, strawberry jelly, basil seeds - I looooove soursop, and I'm so happy that Que decided to use this fruit in his dessert.  Around the strawberry jelly at the bottom was a strawberry soup flavored with lemongrass and also had a kick from ginger.  The candied basil leaf had an incredibly strong anise flavor.

    We chatted a little with Que, and I just had to tell him how happy I was to be back here having his Asian-themed dishes.  I really do think that they are more unique, but my only complaint was that he didn't put his bánh mi back on the menu.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll call ahead next time and ask him to make a special order for me...

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  • 04/16/16--08:18: A feminine touch
  • It's been a while since I last saw My Aussie Cousin, so I was pretty happy that she came to town for a couple of days and gave me the chance to meet up with her... as well as My Birdbrain Cousin.  Not surprisingly I was tasked with choosing the venue for our dinner, and I was choosing between a couple of places that I wanted to revisit.  In the end I decided to go back and have another nibble of Tate Dining Room and Bar.

    Chef Vicky Lau was in the house tonight on my second visit, looking pretty focused.  Something that I noticed on my last visit - which became all the more obvious tonight - was that the interiors of the space definitely had the feminine touch.  It's no secret that most fine dining establishments are run and likely financed by men, so it's kinda nice to find subtle evidence of the mistress in charge.

    This was my third evening in a row dining out, so I decided once again to choose the shorter Sensualist Menu - despite the fact that the longer menu had carabinero as one of the dishes.  I figured the Bresse chicken and the Alphonso mango would make me happy enough...

    Amuse bouche tonight came in a very different presentation compared to my last visit.  The shiso and apple kombucha in the test tube - also flavored with jasmine - was pretty sour on the palate and made me wince a little.  The tomato panna cotta was alright, and the green pea tartlet was pretty tasty.

    Shima aji : cauliflower purée / tomato marinated shima aji / tomato sorbet / bonito gelée - from my last visit I know the chef's fondness for tomatoes, so it's not surprising to see it here.  The diced cucumber and tomato sorbet on top of the striped jack was nice, and there was both sweetness and acidity from the cauliflower purée and lemon cream on the side.  I suppose the most interesting aspect of this dish has got to be the bonito gelée...

    Scallop : scallop espuma in brik pastry / kimchi daikon / taraba crab meat / black vinegar gel / caviar - kinda interesting (and unexpected) when the stated main ingredient of the dish doesn't come in solid state... but I definitely tasted the flavors of the scallops.  The two small piles red king crab (鱈場蟹) with marinated jellyfish were pretty tasty, as were the discs of kimchi-flavored radish.  Kinda fun to dab some of the avocado cream and black vinegar gel on the crab, too.

    Firefly squid : seasonal firefly squid with innards / Taiyouran egg yolk / bread crouton / fermented tofu lime sauce - Japanese firefly squids (螢烏賊) are in season, but I wouldn't have chosen to deep-fry them.  We were asked to break the slow-cooked yolk and dip the squids in it.

    Duck foie gras chawanmushi : sweet corn espuma / duck fat maitake mushroom / chestnut / sliced breast of duck - nice and warm comfort food, with soft chunks of chestnut buried in the custard along with foie gras.  The corn espuma on top was a nice touch, but although the small slices of duck breast were very tender, I wasn't really sure why they were there in the first place.

    The maitake (舞茸) mushroom was pan-fried in duck fat, but the flavors weren't as rich as I had expected.

    Bresse chicken : slow cooked breast of chicken / chicken thigh with shrimp paste / chicken jus / Japanese spring vegetables - the biggest disappointment tonight.  Seriously, to this day I still firmly believe that although Bresse chicken is arguably my favorite breed of chicken to eat, it doesn't work when chefs try to make them into fancy schmancy dishes.  It's best just to grill the damn bird so that the diner can enjoy the crispy, delicious skin.

    The two chunks of thigh did come with some skin on top, but honestly they were surprisingly bland.  On the other hand, the slow-cooked breast was surprisingly tender and juicy, but I thought that the accompanying shrimp paste was totally weird.  Alas, this was not a dish that could be saved by a few sautéed girolles or Japanese fiddleheads...

    Alphonso mango : exotic flower foam / passion fruit mousse / exotic fruit sauce / alphonso mango frozen parfait / coconut dacquoise - yet another disappointment... Oh, this was a delicious dessert, no doubt.  The "exotic" fruit soup was made with a mixture of pineapple, banana, and mango.  Starting from the bottom, the four layers of the "tower" were: coconut dacquoise, mango parfait, passion fruit mousse, and exotic foam on top.

    Very fruity and tropical, and a great way to finish the meal.  But what I really, really wanted during this Alphonso mango season was a dessert where the mango took center stage!  With this thing, the glorious mango just kinda got buried underneath all the other flavors.  Boo!

    Zen garden - ah yes, the chef's signature mignardises collection... with passion fruit marshmallow, matcha opéra cake, dark chocolate with sesame ganache, and the "rocher" that looked like black volcanic rocks.  All on a bed of charcoal sugar that we are encouraged to play with using the small rake provided...

    Sesame ice cream with matcha foam - this was alright.

    Thanks to me playing "big head shrimp" for the day, I wasn't able to pick up the two bottles of wine that I had prepared for dinner tonight... So I decided to stay dry while the ladies picked out some cocktails.

    A pretty tasty meal overall, although I missed out on a few other dishes that looked pretty and tasty.  Maybe next time I'll have enough stomach space for the bigger menu.

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    So... there's been some furor in the local Hong Kong media over the last few days, and a group of people - restauranteurs, the press, pundits, netizens... have gotten their panties in a bunch.  All over remarks by a local tycoon, gourmand, and restauranteur.

    A little background is in order... but first of all, lemme declare that I haven't seen the movie Ten Years (十年), which recently won the Best Film Award (最佳電影) at the Hong Kong Film Awards (香港電影金像獎).  Therefore I have no idea if it is a good movie, and can offer no judgement on whether or not it truly deserved the award.

    As I understand it, the movie is seen as localist and anti-China by large segments of the population.  The political sensitivities at present are such that the movie has been banned in China.  In fact, mainland Chinese media have exercised self-censorship to the point that not only did they choose to forfeit broadcasting the awards ceremony for the Hong Kong Film Awards this year, but when reporting on the winners of the awards, they left out any mention of the Best Film Award altogether.

    A number of film industries insiders have come out to criticize this choice of the Best Film Award, and among them is Uncle Peter - who runs a prominent production company in town.  Given his political leanings, many of us weren't surprised by his first round of comments, which were to the effect that he didn't think Ten Years deserved to win the award.

    A couple of days ago, though, Uncle Peter decided again to touch on the subject.  This time, he said something to the effect that "If I told you that a wonton noodle shop was the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong, would you buy it? (如果我話畀你聽,有一間雲吞麵舖係全香港最好嘅餐廳,你會唔會服氣呀?)"

    An uproar ensued immediately.  Tons of people - foodies and restauranteurs especially - immediately criticized Uncle Peter for his remarks.  There are few things more iconic in Cantonese cuisine than wonton noodles, and the public rose to defend the virtues and worthiness of the humble wonton noodle.  The China-bashing media were only too happy to take things out of context and lead the public to jump to the conclusions to suit their own interests. The argument became, as is typical in Hong Kong nowadays, extremely politically charged and has gotten completely out of hand, with many netizens completely missing the point thanks to their inherent bias...

    So lemme take a step back and try to comment from a relatively neutral point of view - leaving aside all the political aspects.

    First of all, even though it sounds like Uncle Peter was dissing people whose craft and livelihood are wonton- and noodle-making, I don't think that's his argument at all.  Now, how do I know this is the case when I don't even know him personally?  Well, I know this because he's a food snob.  And as it happens, yours truly is also well-known as a food snob.  And we food snobs speak the same language.

    No one here is saying that making wonton noodles is not an honorable profession.  In fact, kneading the egg noodles with bamboo (竹昇麵) is a dying art that some are desperately trying to preserve.  We all have our favorite wonton noodle shops, and I regularly get my fix at a few of them.  Some of these places have even gotten themselves a macaron from the Rubberman.

    But the crux of the argument is this:  no matter how good the artisan's work is in making these wonton noodles, and even if you single out the very best wonton noodle specialists in town - be it Mak's Noodles (麥奀記), Ho Hung Kee (何洪記), or another famous establishment - the reality is that the place simply cannot be "the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong".

    Now, I believe that Uncle Peter is eminently qualified to make this judgement.  Besides being well-known as a gourmand, he also owns a restaurant group which boasts the inclusion of one Michelin 3-star, one Michelin 2-star, and three Michelin 1-star restaurants.  So... more than most people in this town, he would know a thing or two about what makes "the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong".

    As a food snob who eats at high-end restaurants often, I would wholeheartedly agree with Uncle Peter.  There is no way in hell I would consider any wonton noodle shop in Hong Kong to be the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong.  In fact I put forth a similar argument 5 years ago while commenting on the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau for a TV program  - that establishments serving simple fare, while they may be very good at what they do, do not merit Michelin stars at all.  The same way ramen stalls, hotdog stands, and dumpling shops do not deserve any stars - regardless of how delicious their food is.

    Of course, you can ask the question: "Who the fuck do you think you are?!  Why are you qualified to pass judgement on what is and what is not the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong?!"

    Well, that's a fair point.  So don't take it from me.  Take it from those who are seen as the authoritative voices on the subject.  Let's see what the Michelin people have to say, shall we?  When looking at the 2016 Guide for Hong Kong and Macau, where are wonton noodle restaurants ranked?  Well... they are generally not given stars but rather are listed in the Bib Gourmand section.  While there is one establishment known for their wonton noodles, among other things, which was awarded a star (the aforementioned Ho Hung Kee)... there are no such establishments among the recipients of the coveted 3-stars.  Since there are 6 restaurants with 3-stars in Hong Kong, clearly the Michelin people do not consider any wonton noodle shops to be "the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong".

    Let's look at another point of view - the people who put together the World's 50 Best Restaurants and Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  When the list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants was revealed recently, 9 restaurants from Hong Kong made it to the list.  Were any of them wonton noodle shops?  Sadly, no.  So... from the standpoint of the people who cast the votes behind this list, clearly no wonton noodle shop was considered "the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong", either.

    Turning to a more "local" opinion, let's look at Hong Kong Tatler and their Top 20 Restaurants of 2016 which, incidentally, include some entries from Macau as well.  Any of those places wonton noodle shops?  Nope.

    I can't deny the possibility that for any number of people, they may very well consider a particular wonton noodle shop to be the best restaurant or their favorite restaurant in all of Hong Kong.  But it is clear that those whose opinions are highly regarded on such matters do not see this as the case.

    And why are people arguing about Uncle Peter's opinion about what the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong is?!  After all, opinions are like assholes, and Uncle Peter is entitled to one... just like I am entitled to mine.  And in my not-so-humble opinion, Uncle Peter's opinion on this matter carries a helluva lot more weight than most of the people in this town.

    So if you tell me that the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong is a wonton noodle shop, my reply to you will be "我唔服啊!"

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    We’re on a mission this weekend. The Great One is writing some articles about restaurants in Macau with Michelin stars, so I helped her organize a “hard-core” eating trip to the city – with 5 meals at starred restaurants in 2½ days. And since we were hitting mostly Chinese restaurants, I even rounded up a couple of extra mouths so that we could sample a wider variety of dishes.

    First stop was Golden Flower (京花軒) at the Wynn Macau tonight. Because we were starting dinner a little late, I thought it would be better to order our dishes as soon as we arrived at the restaurant. So I browsed through the restaurant’s menu online, narrowed down to a shortlist, and worked out the final choices with the Great One on the ferry ride – while trying to ensure that we get a decent sampling of the three non-Cantonese cuisines offered by the restaurant.

    After sipping on the very fragrant welcome tea, we were presented with an amuse bouche of marinated cucumber with shredded spring onions the raspberry pearls. The sesame oil was very fragrant, and the spring onions were dipped in spicy chili oil, while popping the raspberry pearls released a little bit of sweetness to temper the heat.

    Spiced braised yellow croaker (五香魚), Tan cuisine – this was very similar to the classic Shanghainese smoked fish, with some five-spice and smoky flavors. The main difference is the lighter touch with soy sauce and an almost complete lack of sugar.

    Tossed shredded pork ears and spring onion with chili oil (乾拌豬耳絲), Sichuan cuisine – this was really, really good. I’ve always loved pig’s ears since childhood, but what I found in the bowl was some of the most tender bits I have ever had, mixed with shreds of crunchy spring onion whites which came with some kick. Then the chili oil added a good amount of heat that I found slightly addicting. Such a happy camper…

    Stewed fish maw with crab roe in supreme chicken broth (蟹黃燒魚肚), Tan cuisine – this is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant and I had a similar dish all to myself on my last visit. Having been first deep-fried at low heat and then stewed for up to 12 hours, the fish maw was very tender. The flavors here were rich, the texture thick with both collagen and crab roe. A dish not to be missed.

    Braised sea cucumber with Shan Dong leeks (香蔥燒遼參), Shandong cuisine – probably the biggest disappointments of the night. It’s nice to get a sizeable sea cucumber to share among the four of us, but the flavors were rather underwhelming as they came from the sauce… and hadn’t been absorbed by the sea cucumber itself.

    Perhaps this was a question of personal preference, but I prefer my sea cucumber a little softer…

    Stewed turtle skirt with Shandong leeks (香蔥紅燒山瑞裙邊), Shandong cuisine – I don’t get the chance to have turtle skirt often, and so we were a little excited to see this on the menu. Unfortunately, there were only three thin slices of the soft and gelatinous skirt – a far cry from the thick and satisfying slices we’ve had at our favorite private dining venue. The flavors were also a lot milder here – with very thin slices of bamboo shoots and some spring onions to round out the dish.

    Pan-fried venison with cumin and onions (煎孜然鹿腿肉), Shandong cuisine – so, so, so happy to have ordered this. This was nice and crispy on the outside but incredibly tender and succulent on the inside. I love it when meat is seasoned with cumin, and the onions on the bottom were simply awesome. I could eat this all day. In fact, just gimme a bowl of rice and a plate of this…

    Stir-fried crispy chicken with sweet and sour spicy sauce (宗堂脆雞柳), Sichuan cuisine – this, boys and girls, is otherwise known as General Tso’s chicken. But this isn’t the version with sweet glaze that one typically finds at Chinese restaurants in America. There was a good amount of garlic and a nice amount of chili, but otherwise the familiar crunchy batter coated the chicken. The only issue I had here was that some of the slices were too thin – which made the chicken either a little bit dry and chewy or otherwise somehow less satisfying to bite into.

    Stir-fried string beans with minced pork (乾煸四季豆), Sichuan – this was always gonna end in disappointment… since in all my years, only once did I ever have this dish done by a restaurant that was almost as good as mom’s version. This is a dish that requires time and patience, as the beans need to be kept on medium heat over the stove for enough time for them to dehydrate and shrivel while delivering the right amount of char and smokiness. Unfortunately most kitchens and chefs just try to whip this out in a few minutes, resulting in beans that are simply too juicy and flavorless. While this didn’t measure up to my very high standards, it was admittedly better than most versions I have had. Not surprisingly the accompanying minced pork was pretty salty.

    Mango panna cotta– once again I am surprised by the fact that the final act wasn’t Chinese, but this was nonetheless delicious.

    Overall I was pretty happy with our dinner, and there were certainly quite a few highlights tonight. I’m grateful that we started our trip on the right foot!

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    Our only non-Chinese meal this trip was today’s lunch at The Tasting Room in Crown Towers. The Great One had insisted on this stop as she had yet to visit the restaurant, and quite a few of us have delivered positive feedback.

    We had chosen to come for lunch because of the excellent value offered by the set lunch (3-, 4-, or 5-course options are available), so as it turns out, we would miss the dinners with guest chef Thierry Drapeau from Vendée – with two Michelin stars to his name. Quel dommage!

    I was flattered to be recognized by Manager David Bassaluy as soon as I walked in. This time, though, I decided to keep things “light” and stick to the set lunch menu… instead of following his suggestion last time of taking the set dinner at lunch.

    David very kindly offered complimentary glasses of bubbly for all of us to start, and the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs went down very smoothly, with a nice degree of ripeness and less acidity than I remembered.

    The Great One was going for the 5-course lunch and naturally tried her damnedest to persuade us all to do the same. I initially wanted a smaller meal but eventually relented. I guess we’d be doing a lot of walking today and can probably burn off the calories from the extra dish… maybe…

    The amuse bouche was an Alaskan king crab salad with cucumber gelée, yuzu sauce, green apple sorbet, and caviar.  There were little bits of crunchy cucumber peel as well as finely diced onions for some texture, as well as some coriander to give a little extra flavor.  I didn't get any hint of flavors from yuzu, but the whole dish was already refreshing enough.  A lovely start to our lunch.

    Slow cooked egg with potato smoothie Parmesan and onion - my jaw dropped when this arrived in front of me.  This was a pretty big bowl and the volume of its contents was pretty substantial... and it was all meant to go into my stomach.  The slow-cooked egg came on a bed of caramelized onion compote with potato espuma on top, with bacon bits, bread crumble, and chopped chives.

    Honestly, this was like a cross between a French onion soup and a fondue.  This was seriously thick in terms of viscosity, and extremely rich in terms of flavor.  When you take egg yolk, potato cream, Parmesan cheese, and put it together with caramelized onions...

    I first began by spooning this into my mouth, but after a while I decided to take the advice of our server by dipping pieces of baguette into the bowl, and watching the mixture slowly drip and succumb to gravity.  Yeah, I probably should have taken a video of this...  Just.Heavenly.

    Truth be told, this was too much to take as the first course of a set menu.  Even without any bread, there was enough stuff sitting in my stomach by now that I could walk away from lunch happy.  Adding some bread would just make an entire meal out of this one dish.  But speaking to David after lunch, it seemed clear that downsizing the dish wasn't an option, as Chef Guillaume Galliot would want to keep the ratio of the egg yolk to the rest of the ingredients... and no self-respecting chefs in a restaurant with Michelin stars would serve you half a slow-cooked yolk...

    Lobster bisque with fresh Scottish razor clams - with brunoise of carrots and celery.  As the bisque was poured into my bowl, I came to the realization that I had made a mistake with ordering... and the feeling was confirmed with my first spoonful.  This was an incredibly viscous and rich bisque - probably the richest lobster bisque I have had in recent memory.  Besides the obvious ingredients, I swear I could taste beurre noisette... with caramelized sweetness and an almost nutty fragrance.  It was so delicious that I couldn't stop myself from cleaning the interior of the bowl...

    The Scottish razor clams served with orange and grapefruit seemed a little superfluous.  The acidity of the citrus fruits didn't seem able to balance out the overwhelming richness of the bisque...

    By now I have consumed two out of the five courses from my set lunch, but I was already feeling 80% full.  I was due to take down a lobster course next, but made the painful (both literally and figuratively!) decision to ask the kitchen to cancel it so that I could downgrade myself to a 4-course lunch.  I was ever so grateful that the kitchen agreed to my request, and hope that I didn't end up causing any issues.

    Pigeon from Racan with fava bean purée, popcorn, cooking jus infused with 'Peranakan' nut - I would always choose the Racan pigeon, and was particularly intrigued by the mention of "Peranakan nut".  Did they mean buah keluak?  I didn't ask for clarification, since I figured I'd find out for myself, anyway...

    I asked for the breast to be done rosé, bien sûr!  The execution was perfect.  It seemed to be sitting on top of a slice of celeriac, and topped with a combination of popcorn and what seemed to be cocoa nibs.  I didn't really get the popcorn, but cocoa nibs always work well with pigeon.  I thought that I may have detected a slight hint of something exotic in the jus, but couldn't definitively say that it was from buah keluak...

    The leg was much drier, and almost tasted like a confit.  Beautiful.

    I picked out a glass of red to go with my pigeon, and was pretty satisfied with my choice.

    2012 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis - very fruity with blueberries and lots of vanilla oak, very minty, very fragrant... almost like cedar.  Really sweet on the nose.  A little bit of sweetness on the palate.

    Caramelized bananas, caramel, peanut, brown butter ice cream - the three of us who chose dessert over cheese all picked the same one.  Loved the caramelized chunks of banana.  The delicious beurre noisette ice cream sat on a bed of peanut butter crumble, next to some wonderful caramel mousse.  Blueberry halves and a piece of blueberry wafer served as garnish.  Very, very good.

    We were presented with the usual assortment of mignardises.  While I agreed with the Great One that her financiers were better, I didn't mind nibbling on one of these from the plate.  I always liked the raspberry pâté de fruit, and passed on the brownie with popcorn today.

    This chocolate macaron with hazelnut ganache came with my espresso.

    Absolutely stuffed, and very thankful that I did not insist on taking 5 courses.  Every single course I had today was delicious, and I really, really, really loved my bowl of "onion soup fondue".  With prices for the set lunch being so reasonable - and knowing that the kitchen changes the offering on a pretty frequent basis - I really wonder why more people (including myself) don't find themselves lunching there.

    P.S. I was told that the restaurant plans to raise prices for their set lunch in a matter of days, but even with an increase of MOP 50, it would still be a bargain!

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    We were joined by the Fergies for our third formal meal on this trip, making this a real party.  Having had a pretty good dinner at the restaurant's invitation last year, I was looking forward to going back to Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) - especially since they had gotten themselves a second macaron since my visit.  Since Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國峰) had, after my last visit, very kindly offered to put together a menu for my next visit... I decided to reach out and ask him to do just that - with the view of trying different dishes.  The PR team at the City of Dreams also very kindly arranged a private room for us.

    We were first presented with two bite-sized amuses bouches:

    Yuzu kumquat jelly

    Crabmeat spring roll - with a little aged vinegar and a sprinkle of chili powder.

    Then came a trio of starters:

    Signature deep-fried Fine de Claire oyster (酥炸法國生蠔) - Fergie and I both liked this from our previous visits, and we were pretty glad to have it again.  In fact, Fergie wanted a dozen of these for himself... and eventually did order a couple more later in the evening.  Deep-fried for just 10 seconds or less and very tasty.  Served with the sweet chili sauce ubiquitous at Thai restaurants, which actually kinda works.

    Chilled abalone with mustard seed (芥菜籽鮑魚) - I found this a little more chewy than I would have liked, thanks to this being chilled.  The use of wholegrain mustard was expected.

    Lychee wood roasted “Peking” Goose with blini (譽瓏片皮鵝配蝴蝶餅) - this was very, very good.  Underneath the crispy skin were thin slices of roast goose with hoisin sauce, and I added a few strands of spring onions for the kick.  If only I had a bottomless stomach... I'd take a few more of these.

    I remembered from my last visit that the char siu (叉燒) was one of the best I've ever had... perhaps even better than what they were serving at The Eight Restaurant (8餐廳) in the Grand Lisboa.  I definitely wanted to have that again... but which version to order?  Both of the ones listed on the menu sounded tantalizing, and I was having a really tough time trying to pick just one.  So... the only sensible solution was to order both!

    These were brought out at the same time, and served on white ceramic plates in the shape of a pig!  How cute!

    Jade Dragon prime-cut barbecue Iberico pork pluma (譽瓏蜜汁西班牙黑豚叉燒) - I've started seeing restaurants in the region serving Iberico pluma lately, so I wanted to see how it would taste as a char siu.  This was very, very, very tasty.  You don't get the obvious chunks of marbled fat, but the cut is still incredibly tender and full of flavor.  I can't remember eating a better piece of char siu lately.

    Jade Dragon prime-cut barbecue Iberico pork collar (譽瓏蜜汁西班牙黑豚梅頭叉燒) - previously my favorite cut for char siu has always been the collar (), which is very tender and tasty thanks to the marbling.  Yes, this was as good as the two pieces I remember having last year.  It's almost neck-and-neck (pun intended) with the pluma, but maybe just losing by a hair...

    Double-boiled gastrodia with fish head (天麻魚頭滋補湯) - everyone else chose the other soup on offer so I decided to pick this one.  The flavors from Chinese angelica (當歸) was very strong and I could smell it as soon as the bowl was placed in front of me.  I didn't eat much of the fish nor the black chicken, but drank enough of the soup to try to get the health benefits.

    Duo of French blue lobster (雙味法國藍龍蝦) - kinda interesting for the kitchen to use homard bleu instead of Australian or even local lobsters.

    The first part was lobster tail steamed with egg white and Huadiao (花雕) wine sauce - the same signature preparation they use for garoupa fillets.  This was pretty good.

    The claw was then pan-fried with black bean (豆豉), Chinese black olive (欖角), haricots verts, and chanterelles - all in a deep-fried edible nest.

    Sweet and sour Iberico pork with fresh pineapple (鮮菠蘿咕嚕豚肉) - this was a request from Hello Kitty, and she ended up taking down a good portion of the dish.  The chef uses the same Iberico pork neck as the char siu, and it certainly showed.  Nice and crispy on the outside while tender and succulent on the inside.  Absolutely delicious.  The only issue I had with this was the use of pickled Chinese onion (蕎頭).  I bit into one thinking it was a pearl onion, and I forced myself to swallow the whole thing...

    Stir-fried chicken with chopping ginger in “Hakka style” (火焰沙薑客家走地雞) - Chef Tam seems to have a thing for serving flaming hot plates, and once again I found myself watching flames dance around a golden sheet of foil...  Apparently the flames were heating up some Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) meant to provide some rose flavor.

    Inside the foil we find chunks of tender chicken, garlic, and shallots.  Definitely tasted the ginger, too.

    Tossed noodles with shrimp roe in abalone sauce and wagyu beef cheek in Port wine (砵酒和牛頰配鮑汁蝦子撈麵) - the original menu from Chef Tam included slices of char siu with the noodles, but since we already had two places of char siu earlier, this was changed to wagyu beef cheek cooked in Port.  Well, this was really, really delicious.  Normally I'd be happy enough just having the egg noodles with shrimp roe, but these chunks of beef cheek were so tender... and rich in flavor.  On any given day, a bigger bowl of this would have made me a very happy camper.

    Double-boiled Hokkaido milk in whole coconut (原個椰皇燉鮮奶) - this isn't something I would normally order, as I'm not a fan of double-boiled milk.  At least this was done in a coconut and picked up some of the flavors.  Gotta admit that the texture was very smooth.

    There were three flavors of ice cream in cornets - milk tea, corn, and purple sweet potato soup.  The latter definitely had the ginger kick.

    The mignardises included hawthorn (山楂) gummies, almond and fritillaria (川貝) sponge cakes, lemon sponge cakes, walnut cookies, and salted plum (話梅) macarons with chocolate ganache.

    The milk tea I ordered wasn't bad, but it was miles away from my favorite milk tea at The Eight.

    Fergie and I don't do meals without wine, so we planned on bringing our own wines to dinner.  Having checked with the PR team beforehand, we were told that corkage was MOP 400 per bottle but they were very kindly going to waive corkage for two bottles.  We ended up bringing four bottles and were fully prepared to pay corkage for two bottles... only to find that the restaurant had very generously waived corkage for all the bottles.  Given this special treatment, I decided to add a good amount of gratuity to show our appreciation.

    2005 Kistler Chardonnay Stone Flat Vineyard - the toasty nose was very overpowering, to the point it smelled like burnt charcoal, so we had the wine decanted.  Things got a little bit better afterwards, but remained heavily toasted.  Ripe on the palate.

    2007 Lucien Le Moine Clos Saint Denis - double-decanted.  A little lighter on the palate than I expected.  After 1½ hours the nose really opened up to reveal lots of sweet fruit.  This drank reasonably well.

    2002 Bertagna Vougeot 1er Cru Clos de la Perrière - this had been shaken around earlier in the day, so it wasn't a surprise that it didn't show very well.  This was also a little more tannic after shaking, and frankly pretty one-dimensional.

    1988 Suduiraut - the nose was surprisingly a little smoky at first, with some burnt rubber notes alongside some plastic and acetone.  Palate was not as sweet as expected.  After more aeration I found honey and a little nutty notes in the nose.

    We were all very stuffed by the end of the evening... and just a little buzzed, too.  Really happy to have come back here, and even happier to have ordered the incredibly delicious char siu.  The next time you catch me humming "Sweet dreams are made of these...", you know I'll probably be thinking of the Iberico char siu here...

    Many thanks to Chef Tam for composing our menu, and Manager Arman Chan for taking such good care of us.

    P.S. One of the nice touches from the restaurant comes in the form on a hand-written menu done by their resident Chinese calligrapher, which is presented at the end of the meal.  It's a small thing but a very nice touch nonetheless.

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    Less than two hours after an old school dim sum breakfast, we found ourselves seated for the main event of the day - a dim sum lunch at my favorite Cantonese restaurant.  Ever since my first visit 5 years ago, my love for The Eight (8餐廳) at the Grand Lisboa has never wavered.  It's certainly the finest Cantonese restaurant I have ever visited, and its location within the Lisboa gives it access to one of the best wine lists in the world - and perfect for a Riesling lover like yours truly.

    I insisted that we come for lunch on this trip, because my last few visits have all been at dinner time, and that means I didn't get to enjoy any dim sum items - because the dim sum chef doesn't work at night, and he refuses to have the kitchen serve any dim sum when he's not around.  I'd been seeing some really cute pictures of dim sum in animal shapes, so I was determined to try them out.

    As usual we were presented with two little nibbles as amuses bouches, and they haven't changed much over the years...

    Abalone with plum jelly

    Wagyu beef cubes with pine nuts and celery in crispy bird's nest

    Then came the dim sum dishes I ordered.  Unfortunately service failed today, and all of them arrived within a span of about 7 or 8 minutes.  This was one of not just mine but the Great One's pet peeves, because a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars should certainly know better.

    Shrimp toast filled with mango in fish shape (魚形香芒蝦多士) - I love Cantonese shrimp toast, and these were definitely the cutest ones I had ever seen.  Breaking the nice and crunchy exterior released the liquid mango inside, which worked really well with the flavors of the shrimp.  I'd definitely love to chomp on another one of these...

    Steamed "Shanghainese" dumplings with chicken essence and vintage dried tangerine peel (老陳皮雞汁小籠包) - I've had these before, and anytime I get to have some aged tangerine peel in my food, I'd definitely take that option.  The soup inside was just so fragrant...

    Steamed "Shanghainese" dumplings with lobster (龍蝦小籠包) - these were chunkier and more satisfying, and not just because of the lobster filling.  The only bummer was that I found some lobster shell in mine.

    Steamed dumplings with pork and mushroom in X.O. chili sauce (X.O.醬豚肉刺蝟水晶餃) - it's kinda difficult to make out the porcupine patterns on the wrapper after steaming, but this thing still looked pretty cute.  And tasty, too!  Love it when they add that X.O. sauce inside to give it a little more ooomph.

    Steamed dumplings with cristal blue shrimps in goldfish shape (藍天使蝦金魚餃) - this has always been my favorite... and the first dumpling that they made into a cute animal shape - taking care to emboss a fish scale-like pattern on the wrapper, and dyeing it with crab roe so that it looks more like a goldfish.  Oh, and I have zero complaints about how it tastes.  Delicious.

    Steamed dumplings in cuttlefish shape with satay sauce (像形沙爹墨魚餃) - just when you thought these steamed dumplings couldn't get any cuter, along came this lil' cuttlefish with tentacles.  That spicy satay sauce sure was tasty!

    Steamed barbecued pork buns with preserved vegetables (8餐廳特色叉燒包) - who needs those boring ol'char siu baos (叉燒包) when you can have these cute lil' porcupines?!  The filling also includes some preserved leafy mustard (梅菜), but the flavors are kinda faint.

    Crispy barbecued pork buns with preserved vegetables (脆香叉燒包) - the same buns also come pan-fried instead of steamed, so they have a crunchier bottom.  Incidentally, pan-frying also makes the porcupine's quills harder.

    Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) - one cannot leave here without having their signature char siu (叉燒).  This was once my favorite, thanks to their preference for serving it thick-cut.  I love the honey glaze and the charring, and while this was still very tender and tasty, I gotta say that this has now been beaten by both versions of Iberico char siu we had at Jade Dragon (譽龍軒)last night...

    Roast pork belly (金牌脆皮火腩) - you can't beat crunchy crackling, but where was the delicious fat??!!

    30 years vintage tangerine peel chicken (三十年陳皮雞) - for some reason our waitress was trying to dissuade us from ordering this, but Fergie and I weren't having any of it.  The reason we love this dish lies beneath the paper-thin crispy skin...

    There was plenty of aged tangerine peel chiffonade here, and that fragrance... those flavors... just lingered in one's mouth.  Unfortunately, though, parts of the chicken was a little overcooked - especially the breast.

    Poached seasonal vegetables with shredded Yunnan ham in congee broth (米皇雲腿浸時蔬) - an interesting way of serving poached veg... in relatively plain congee.  Very clean and mild flavors.

    Seafood fried rice topped with sakura shrimps (櫻花蝦海鮮炒飯) - this was one beautiful-looking pot of rice!

    Lots of crunchy, fragrant, and delicious sakura shrimp (桜海老) here, and the crunchy rice crispies made things even better.  Full-on flavors here.  I wish I had enough stomach space for another bowl.

    We couldn't handle any desserts, so we made do with these mini Portuguese egg tarts.  Pretty delicious.

    Finally, my favorite milk tea in the whole wide world.  So intense, so sweet, so beautiful.  Since Hello Kitty couldn't have her cup, I got myself a second cup...

    I got ourselves a private room by booking through the PR team, so there was the little matter of minimum charge.  As we were here for dim sum and not ordering anything super-premium, the easiest way to solve this problem was ordering a nice bottle of wine off the Lisboa's amazing wine list...

    1990 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel - nose of mineral and flint, a little white flower, some orange marmalade.  Not too sweet on the palate.  Nose started to really open up after half an hour in the decanter.  Pretty good, but a little disappointing given the vintage.

    I was very, very happy with lunch today.  I had finally managed to go through all the cute dim sum items on the menu, and I could tell the Great One was happy, too.  Now all that was left for me to do was to catch a nap before dinner...

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    It's our last meal on our Michelin tour, and thankfully it is also the most casual... as we were down to only three mouths.  I had never heard of Feng Wei Ju (風味居) at the StarWorld Hotel before, and apparently it only opened at the end of 2014.  It is therefore quite an achievement for this restaurant serving Sichuan and Hunan cuisine to nab themselves a Michelin star within a year of its opening.

    As I'm not very fond of spicy food, I had very low expectations coming into this dinner.  I was also grateful to the Great One for accommodating my weak palate, as she definitely tried to steer clear of dishes which were bound to deliver intense heat.

    We weren't expecting to get an amuse bouche at a place like this, but the spiced duck tongue was nice.  I didn't touch the pickled Chinese onion (蕎頭).

    Marinated mung bean noodles and vegetables with spicy sesame dressing (東北大拉皮) - I should have taken a picture of the picture on the menu.  It looked so beautiful... with all the different vegetables arranged in a radial pattern around the outer edge of the round plate.  Then this arrived on the table...

    But it still tasted pretty good, although I was surprised at how long these noodles were.  Just enough chili in the sesame sauce to get me going.

    Pork neck meat with hot garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉) - I had to order this, knowing it is one of Hello Kitty's favorites.  And it so happens that I love it, too.  This was wrapped with thin slices of cucumber inside and served with two different dipping garlic sauces, and surprisingly the reddish sauce didn't taste of chili.

    “Sichuan” stewed pork hoof (壹品天下壇子肉) - we chose this out of three different fatty pork dishes, but even this didn't taste any more "Sichuan" or more spicy than the other two...  In terms of flavor, it was kinda interesting that they served it with dried oysters and hair moss (髮菜)... and also had quail eggs and chestnuts in the bowl.  But the lean meat was overcooked and a little tough...  Pretty disappointing.

    Pan-fried bun with lamb meat (孜然羊肉夾饃) - the clear winner tonight.  You just can't go wrong with lamb and cumin, and in this case they threw red and green bell peppers as well as onions into the mix, which led Hello Kitty to pronounce that this tasted like fajitas.  And guess what?  She's absolutely right.  This was reasonably spicy, but sooo delicious!

    "Old Beijing" pan-fried pork dumplings (老北京鮮肉鍋貼) - we had heard that the restaurant hired a Beijing dama (大媽)/auntie to make the dumplings for them, so we decided to check this out.  Well... maybe this IS the traditional style for dumplings in Beijing in days of yore, but it didn't pass muster with us.  I can deal with the wrapper being thick, but the all-pork filling was just a hard lump.  To add insult to injury, it was also bland.  I think I'll take "modern" dumplings any day...

    One strip noodles with beef bone soup and braised beef "Shanxi" style (山西紅燒牛肉一根麵) - the restaurant is also known for their noodles so we definitely wanted some.  I'd never had the chance to have the "one strip noodle" - where the double is stretched into one long and continuous strand of noodle.  So we ordered up a bowl... and of course the Great One ended up choosing something that was not spicy at all.

    After we checked out to see that it was indeed one single strand of noodle in the bowl (but of course...), the staff took the bowl away, cut up the noodles, and split it into three smaller bowls for us.  The braised beef was OK, and the soup tasted a little of five spice and had a slight kick from chili.

    Well... the food was decent, but hardly star-worthy in my opinion.  Maybe if we had more mouths to feed tonight, we could have ordered a few of the larger dishes instead of the noodles and dumplings.  As it turns out most of our dishes weren't fiery, so perhaps we didn't get the full experience?

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    In case anyone gets the wrong idea, it wasn't all fine dining on this weekend trip.  We did get a chance to hit some breakfast spots and also walked around a little - seeing a little bit of Macau that people who only spend time in hotels and casinos don't get exposure to.

    We got up pretty early the first morning and headed to Mercado Municipal Horta da Mitra (雀仔園街市) for some breakfast.  The grandma who runs Lung Kei (隆記) had just arrived and hadn't set up her stall for the day, so we asked her to save us some bread and went in search of coffee.

    Café T.H.S Honolulu (檀香山咖啡) has a branch just around the corner.  For a modest-looking, local coffee shop, I was surprised to see these guys with almost 30 different single origin coffees... so I's got to order me one!

    The Arabica Ethiopian Sidamo was pretty nice.  I could smell it as soon as the cup was brought to the table.

    After finishing our coffees, we went back to Lung Kei.  Grandma's now got her charcoal stove going, so we asked her to grill up some toast and sandwiches for us.

    Toasting over charcoal really does give a more intense flavor... not to mention that our hair smelled like charcoal for hours afterwards.

    We got some peanut butter and condensed milk on toast (奶醬多) and also on piggy buns (豬仔包).

    There were also spicy sardine piggy buns (辣魚包), which had a little butter spread on the bun.  The canned sardines were a little spicy, which made this even more delicious.

    With our craving satiated, we decided to walk around a little.  Our first stop was Santa Casa da Misericordia Albergue (仁慈堂婆仔屋) - a former old ladies' home which has been transformed into an art space.

    The historical buildings with their yellow exteriors are over a hundred years old, as are the two camphor trees in the courtyard.  Since it was still early on a Saturday morning and nothing was open at this hour - neither the gourmet shop nor the restaurant - the place seemed really serene.

    Walking along Rua do Campo towards the Exploding Pineapple Grand Lisboa, we come across the Bibloteca Publica da Associaçao Commercial de Macau (澳門中華總商會附設閱書報室).  The cute little two-storey, octagonal structure has got to be the tiniest library I have ever come across, and this time we decided to go in to take a look.

    We even climbed the steep stairs to the upper level, and while many other uncles were leisurely reading their newspapers, I found a section of books on Chinese and Taiwanese political figures, and decided to browse through one of them...

    After a long and delicious lunch, we met up with the Fergies after their arrival, and made our way to Studio City.  Among the attractions within this complex were two rides that I wanted to check out, and as it happens there was a promotion where both tickets could be purchased at 40% off face value.  What a great deal!

    The first ride we took was on the Golden Reel - the ferris wheel in the middle of the building in the shape of the number 8.  The weather was poor, the sky was gray, and what was in immediately in front of us turned out to be an empty plot of land earmarked for the next hotel project... but I still wanted to ride it just for the novelty factor.

    The second ride was Batman Dark Ride, which was billed as a "4D experience".  I didn't have any expectations before going on the ride, and it was a little slow in the beginning, but I thought it was really well done and totally enjoyed it by the end.  The only issue was that I got a little dizzy towards the end, and my stomach got a little queasy.  Thankfully this didn't affect my appetite for dinner.

    We woke up a little later on the second morning, as the Fergies some people demanded to sleep in a little.  I took our gang to Casa de Cha Lung Wa (龍華茶樓), which I visited for the first time two years ago.  The dim sum here might be old school and not as refined as the lunch we would soon be having, but I just love the nostalgic feel of the place.

    With the ladies seated comfortably and a pot of Puer tea (普洱茶) going, it was up to Fergie and I to go and grab the food that was placed on steamers in the middle of the restaurant.  Everything is DIY here.  And even though another dim sum lunch awaits us in about 2 hours, we still managed to put away a good amount of food...

    Curry flavored honeycomb tripe (咖喱金錢肚) - love this.

    Steamed pork ribs with black beans (豆豉蒸排骨)

    Steamed beef meatballs (山竹牛肉) - these are always a little pink inside, but today they seemed a little more red than usual.

    Steamed dace fish balls (蒸鯪魚球) - thankfully not too many of those bone bits that I hate.

    Stuffed eggplant (釀茄子) - eggplant pieces were butterflied and stuffed with a piece of fish paste.

    Steamed glutinous rice ball (蒸糯米球) - basically the same as the steamed glutinous rice they have on the side, but made into balls and wrapped with siu mai (燒賣) skin.

    Steamed siu mai (切肉燒賣) - very old school.

    Stuffed tofu (釀豆腐) - very delish.

    Chicken feet (鳳爪)

    Steamed sponge cake (蒸馬拉糕)

    We needed to walk a little after our breakfast, and after a long walk through the parts of Macau without any tourist footprints followed by a short taxi ride, we ended up back in the middle of town for a shopping stop.

    The Great One wanted to hit Lojas das Conservas Macau and do some canned sardines shopping.   Our eyes opened wide and our jaws dropped when we arrived.  The selection here was just a little bewildering for novices like us, and we spent a good amount of time going through the different selections - with sardine, mackerel, tuna, eel, and even corvina in all different flavors.  Some people spent a pretty penny here today...

    After happily filling our shopping bags, we headed off to an eagerly-awaited (at least by me!) dim sum lunch...

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    A globe-trotting foodie was coming to town, hitting all 6 of the Michelin 3-star restaurants in Hong Kong and both of the 3-stars in Macau in the span of four days.  I figured it would be interesting to meet someone who was close to his goal of having eaten at every single one of the 3-star restaurants in the world, so I invited myself to dinner at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) tonight.

    Most of my friends know of my opinion about this place.  Yes, it's a good Cantonese restaurant, but it was never a 3-star in my book... and the only time it came close was a particular dim sum lunch about 5 years ago.  Maybe I am unfairly unprejudiced against this place, but I was never 'wow'ed come dinner time.  I wanted to give the place another try and see if I'd feel differently.

    Unfortunately, things went the other way.  I came away from dinner fuming.

    However much I bash this place about their food - or about their undeserved 3-star status - I have to give them credit for service.  I'm lucky enough to know both of the restaurant's sommeliers, and once I was recognized, we were pampered for the rest of the evening.

    Ordering for Chinese food is never easy for small groups, and given there were only three of us - with two of the three being Caucasian - it was natural for the manager to suggest that we take their Chef's Tasting Menu.  This was when I experienced a bit of sticker shock.  The price of the menu was a little bit more than HKD 2,000 per head.  Another set menu - with bird's nest and braised abalone - came in around HKD 2,700 per head.

    Now, I'm not really known for being stingy when it comes to paying for food, although I generally eschew the "big five" of expensive Chinese ingredients due to my inability to fully appreciate them.  I've shelled out this kind of price before for a Chinese dinner, but I was somewhat skeptical after taking a look at the list of dishes.  In the end, as the visitors seemed to have no objections - and I would never have taken a menu like this under normal circumstances - I decided to go with the manager's suggestion so that I could finally have a similar experience to what overseas visitors are likely to get when they come here.

    Crispy Scallop with Fresh Pear and Yunnan Ham (龍帶玉梨香) - this is one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I had it at my very first dinner here.

    This was alright, but I didn't really quite get it, again.

    Lung King Heen Appetiser Combination (廚師燒味拼盤) - this came with three different types of roast meat:

    Roast Goose with Plum Sauce (潮蓮靚燒鵝) - not bad, but falls far short of my favorite roast goose at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).

    Crispy Suckling Pig (片皮乳豬件) - this was not bad, although it was interesting to have a perilla leaf at the bottom.  Since our waitress took the care to tell us that the leaf was edible (duh...), I decided to eat it together with the crackling and pork.

    Barbecued Pork with Honey (蜜汁燒茶燒) - I wondered if this were from the collar (脢頭肉), as it was slightly marbled and very, very tender.  Pretty good.

    Crab Meat and Tofu Soup with Lobster and Bamboo Piths (龍蝦竹笙蟹肉豆腐羹) - you know, I had to explain to the visitors... it's not that this type of soup isn't "authentic Chinese".  It is most certainly Chinese.  But it's rare that these heavily-starched egg drop soups actually show up on a menu that we regularly put together.  Most of us actually prefer double-boiled soups.  Of course, it's not to say that these soups can't be delicious.  They are.  But putting this on the menu kinda perpetuates the perception that all Chinese soups are full of egg drops and starch... like the ones that usually show up at Chinese restaurants in the US and elsewhere.  So it kinda annoys me.

    Simmered King Prawn with Seafood Sauce (梅辣蝦球皇) - and things get worse from here.  Crystal king prawns (玻璃蝦) makes frequent appearances on fine dining menus, but the classic Cantonese preparation has it cooked in superior (ham) broth.  Drizzling hot and sour sauce on it doesn't make it unauthentic, but in my opinion it panders to gweilos who think that Chinese food means hot and sour soup (酸辣湯) and kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁).  And what's with the silver foil on top?!

    But the prawn itself was pretty tasty, if just a touch overcooked.  It sat on a hollowed out section of hairy gourd (節瓜), and with a ring of leafy amaranth (莧菜).

    Braised Abalone with Star Garoupa Rolls in Supreme Oyster Sauce Cuvèe (蠔皇鮑魚星斑卷) - this looked and sounded kinda creative, wrapping two thin fillets of spotted garoupa (東星斑) around two strips of abalone.  Unfortunately, while the garoupa fillets were fine, I wasn't fond of the way the abalone was prepared.

    Wok-Fried Superior Australian Wagyu Beef Cubes with Sarcodon Aspratus and Bell Peppers (黑虎掌菌彩椒爆澳洲特級和牛柳粒) - although "superior" Aussie wagyu was supposedly used here, the execution was off.  Yes, the centers of these beef cubes were still tender, but the exteriors were definitely overcooked and tough.  Served with bell peppers, yamaimo (山芋), shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子), and of course the "black tiger paw mushroom (黑虎掌菌)".

    Shredded Chicken and Vegetable Dumpling in Superior Pottage (皇湯雞肉蔬菜餃) - interesting how they've taken a very homey dish - the humble meat and vegetable dumpling - and tried to make it more "fine dining" by serving just one... and have it sit in a small bowl of rich and intense chicken broth.  I do love that broth, though.

    Chilled Milk Custard with Tomato (蕃茄鮮奶凍布甸) - surprisingly good.  Loved the savory and acidic flavors from the tomato.  A very nice way to finish the meal.

    Petits fours - the baked cream custard puff (楓葉奶黃酥) was good as usual, and the osmanthus and wolfberry jelly (枸杞桂花糕) was nice, too.

    I brought a couple of bottles of wine to share with my hosts tonight.  But before we even got to my bottles, Bernard the sommelier very kindly came over to offer us a sip of a rare bubbly.

    Charles Dufour Avalon, dégorgée à 14 octobre 2014 - a blanc de blancs brut nature with zero dosage.  Nose was very fragrant and toasty.  Beautiful.  What a treat to taste this!

    Paul Dethune Cuvée a l'Anciennedégorgée janvier 2012 - nose was very caramelized and toasty.  Creamy and smooth, full on the palate.  Delicious.

    2005 Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes - decanted for about an hour prior to serving.  Nice fruit, with animal and leather notes.  Nice acidity here but obviously still tannins here.  Not bad but a little young.

    I had a good time tonight, as I really enjoyed the conversation and the company of my hosts.  But at the end of the meal I couldn't help but feel disappointed - and a little upset.  With the exception of the beef, most of the dishes were fine tonight.  But I couldn't shake the feeling that we didn't get our money's worth... and that I could have done better elsewhere.  Yes, this is a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars in a 5-star hotel, and good Chinese restaurants and chefs definitely deserved to get paid the same way as good French and Japanese restaurants.  But the reality is that I'm paying a lot more for food that isn't head and shoulders above some of the other places in town, and there was too little "wow".  When I sent the menu to some of my friends and told them the price, their reactions were similar to mine.

    As Happy Gilmore once said to Bob Barker: "The price is wrong, bitch!"

    But I haven't given up yet.  I'll keep coming back to Lung King Heen once in a while, and hope that just once, they will deliver such a knock-out that I will finally understand why it's held 3-star status for the last 8 years.

    P.S. My hosts had dinner at The Eight in Macau the following night, and sent me a message during dinner saying something like: "Three courses into the signature menu and already 10 times better than last night".  Having just been there 3 days ago (and quite a few times over the years), I whole-heartedly agree!

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  • 04/28/16--07:08: Boss in the 'hood
  • The boss is back in town so it was time again for a long-overdue team dinner.  This time around I made an executive decision to take the team to Neighborhood, since it was close to the office and I really, really wanted some of the seasonal dishes.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce the team to Neighborhood after the closure of On Lot 10.

    I had pre-arranged a couple of the specials with the restaurant, so I just picked out a couple of starters while we waited for the big guns to show up.

    30-month culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - seriously good shit.  Need to revisit more often for more of this.

    Salt cod / cod tripe / tomato crostini - I love a good bruschetta or crostini, and this was really, really delicious.  Having tomato and basil as toppings is pretty normal, but the shredded salted cod added a nice dimension.  I've never had cod tripe before, and these chipped bits were kinda springy and bouncy... kinda reminds me of espardenyas.  Nice seasoning with piment d'espelette.

    Fried asparagus / spring garlic aioli - I do love asparagus when they're in season, and they've been coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried.  Love the garlic aioli, too.

    Bone marrow risotto / morel mushroom - it's hard to come here without having the bone marrow risotto, and tonight the kitchen added some delicious morels and what looked like chervil on top.  So rich. So delicious.  So satisfying.

    Fourfinger threadfin cutlet beurre blanc - The Man in the White T-Shirt has been telling me that he's been getting some good fourfinger threadfins (馬友), and it's a really delicious fish from local waters.  We didn't get the fish head cooked with rice, but the beurre blanc was a nice way to accompany the flavors of the fish.  The flesh was so silky and tender... just a beautiful dish.  The potatoes were pretty good, too!

    Pyrénées spring lamb shoulder / morel / rice - now THIS was the dish I had been craving!  The 2-month-old lamb was likely still suckling on its mother, which explains the tender and milky meat.  This big pan came with lamb shoulder, lamb chops, a front leg of lamb, as well as some lamb kidneys.  Lots of morels and chervil with a cream sauce seasoned with piment d'espelette... all sitting on a bed of jasmine rice.

    This was really, really awesome.  It's really tough to beat milk-fed spring lamb, and that cream sauce over rice... We were all pretty stuffed after this.

    We didn't want any dessert, but the kitchen wouldn't take no for an answer...

    Chocolate palette - just as rich as always.

    Baba au rhum - the kitchen warmed this up and then poured a good amount of rum on top.  Served with chocolate ice cream.  Nice.

    I brought a casual bottle to share with the team...

    2005 Petaluma Chardonnay Tiers - very ripe on the palate, with heavy toasty nose and some buttery corn.

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  • 04/30/16--08:19: Spoiling the parents
  • I'm back in Taipei spending a long weekend with the parental units.  I didn't get to spend their anniversary with them last year on account of my banishment, and since they decided to take short trip without me for their anniversary this year, my only recourse was to move my celebrations up by a couple of weeks.

    We've been spending the last few celebratory dinners at STAY, and since mom's been pretty happy with them so far, I didn't feel the need to change to another venue.

    For the very first time, I actually contemplated seriously about taking one of the set menus here - since the shorter set actually offers the one dish I always order here.  But something else caught my eye and it wasn't on the same set menu, so in the end I went back to ordering à la carte...

    The amuse bouche no longer came as a "trio".  Instead we had smoked salmon with brunoise of pickled cucumber, French leeks, and lemon crème fraîche.

    Caviar tart, beurre blanc - this was another lesson on why I need to read the menu more carefully in multiple languages.  I read the Chinese translations and saw that there was crab together with the caviar, and I immediately thought of the wonderful dish from Joël Robuchon.  This was gonna be gooood!

    Alas, I should have read the Chinese descriptions a little more carefully.  It actually said scallop and crab mousse, and in fact that was baked in the pastry shell and came hot.  Not at all what I had expected... and not very luxe at all.

    Mom and I thought that the à la carte portions we both had were overpriced, because dad's tasting menu portion of the same dish looked nearly identical.  Maybe we had a few more of the grayish golden pearls of Kaviari Kristal caviar - which comes from sturgeon farmed in China.  We definitely had a lot more gold foil than dad got, but why the hell should I care about how much gold foil I'm getting?!

    Fregola sarda, pan fried scallop and sea urchin - they've kept fregola on the menu all these years, and throughout the years, I've ordered it on every single visit.  Tonight, though, I thought the "sauce" was a little grainy... like they've added mashed potatoes with too little butter to it.

    But I loved the scallops, and the sea urchin wasn't bad, either.

    Pork in 4 ways, cabbage, potato puree and pork jus - how can I say 'no' to pork, especially when it's done "4 ways"?  Just about everything came from parts of the pig that I love to eat - from the head cheese served with cubes of cucumber and egg white, to the deep-fried medallions of diced pig's ear with minced pork, and finally to the boudin noir with its red peppercorn kick.  All really, really good stuff.

    Unfortunately the execution failed on the two chunks of pork loin.  While the centers were still relatively tender, these had obviously been overcooked... and the exterior was really dry and tough.  I ate everything except one of the chunks of loin, and when I told mom that I simply refused to eat it, she cut into the piece, took one nibble, and understood.  There was simply no pleasure to be had by consuming the loin.

    The tower of cabbage 'millefeuille' was very interesting.  Of course, it was probably just cutting out a chunk of cabbage and steaming it before sprinkling cracked peppercorns on top.

    I didn't want any dessert, so we had some mignardises and nibbled on some of dad's desserts from his set menu.

    Vanilla and raspberry choux - there is raspberry coulis in the middle of the delicious and fragrant vanilla cream.  Yum.

    Hazelnut choux - not only was the cream full of hazelnut flavor, the accompany toasted hazelnut was also very nice.

    Chocolate tart

    Coconut and lime marshmallow

    Passion fruit gelée

    This being an anniversary celebration and all, of course I brought along a bottle of wine appropriate for the occasion.

    1969 DRC Marey-Monge Romanée-Saint-Vivant - popped and served without decanting.  Very light color, initially acidic on the palate.  Plenty of preserved salty plum (話梅) with savory notes, along with a little leather and certainly something fermented.  Later started gathering body in the glass with aeration.  Nose was nice and fruity, with plums, black fruits, and a little animal.  Less powerful than expected, but a lovely wine nonetheless.

    I was reasonably happy with my dinner.  I made the mistake of only order two appetizers for mom, so she ended up having a little more bread than usual... and dad and I both gave her mouthfuls of our dishes.  Dad was probably the happiest camper, since he not only had plenty to eat, but most of the dishes were pretty good... and the more expensive tasting menu turned out to be the best value for money.

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  • 05/07/16--08:21: The first journey
  • Ta Vie 旅 has been open for about a year, and the Tiggers still haven't had a chance to visit Sato-san at his new digs.  So I took the opportunity to check out some of the new seasonal dishes that have appeared on the menu since my last dinner there.  It's always good to come back and visit Sato-san and Takano-san.

    It appears that the restaurant now has its own custom bottled still mineral water from Azumino (安曇野) in Nagano Prefecture (長野県) - where Sato-san comes from.

    Sweet corn puffed mousse with aburi botan shrimp in shrimp consommé jelly - one of the signature dishes here that's been added back to the menu.  The Hokkaido corn was nice and sweet, with crunchy and starchy kernels embedded in a fluffy and ethereal mousse.  The botan shrimp (牡丹海老) in the center was still mostly raw after a light torching, and tasted very sweet against the strong and savory flavors of the consommé gelée.  Of course, when you combine everything together in one mouthful, the balanced achieved is just about perfect.

    The house made butter comes out, so I knew the bread is coming...

    Nukazuke (糠漬け) bread - as good as it's always been.  It may surprise many that Sato-san actually spent time as a boulanger and pâtissier.  Takano-san was surprised when I turned down the offer of a second roll...

    We were presented with the ingredients from our next course,  with butterbur buds (蕗の薹) placed in whelk (海螺貝) shells.

    Potato gnocchi tossed with "fuki" bud, simmered abalone and "tsubu" clam - there was a myriad of textures here... from the airy foam, to the soft gnocchi, to the tenderness of the simmered Ezo (蝦夷) abalone from Hokkaido, and the chewy whelk... to finally the crunchy young ostrich ferns.

    I was expecting to taste bitterness from the butterbur buds, but instead of serving them whole as is usually done in Japanese cuisine, Sato-san has chosen to chop them into bits to sprinkle onto the gnocchi as flavoring.  This imparted a hint of the familiar flavors without letting the bitter flavors dominate the dish.  A stroke of genius.

    "Rock" oyster with pork trotter cassoulet sauce - the rock oyster was cooked meunière and drizzled with the thick and rich cassoulet sauce.  I actually prefer my oysters to be smaller, so this was a little too much for me... The natural flavors of the oyster would have been a little overpowering for me, but thankfully it was countered by the sauce.

    Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid Caesar dressing - I loved this dish.  Sato-san put his stamp on the classic dish by replacing anchovies with Japanese firefly squid (螢烏賊) that happen to be in season.  On top of the Romaine lettuce were pepper chiffonade (糸唐辛子), shredded Japanese spikenard (独活), croûtons, and cheese.  The dressing on the side was made with the juices of the firefly squid.  Totally delish, and I'd love to have this salad any day.

    Pan seared white asparagus and scallop with white sesame tuile - the Hokkaido scallops were perfectly seared to mi-cuit.  The asparagus came from Kagawa Prefecture (香川県).  The tuile was just so full of fragrance from the sesame it was beautiful.

    Charcoal grilled wagyu tenderloin glazed with Arima pepper sauce - the beef from Hokkaido was first roasted before being sliced, then glazed with Arima sansho pepper (有馬山椒) sauce.  The pepper was a little interesting as it was a little tannic.  The Alpine leek (行者にんにく) on the side was really interesting because it tasted almost exactly like chive.

    The tenderloin was very, very tender indeed... The red wine reduction used Japanese wine made with Muscat Baily A (マスカット・ベーリーA).

    House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - this was an extra course courtesy of Sato-san since he knows I'm a huge fan of this.  What could be better than having sweet sea urchin that's been suspended in seawater on top of pasta tossed with aonori (青海苔)? Not much.


    A nice cup of cold ginger and lemongrass tea to cleanse the palate.

    Almond ice cream with meringue, fresh strawberry, scent of sakura blossom, covered with fragile candy glass - I had this dessert on my last visit, but this time the strawberries used were Echigo Hime (越後姫).  The slight bitterness of the lemon cream made things a little more interesting.

    Loquat compote with orange sabayon sauce, served with vanilla ice cream - the loquat (琵琶) compote and orange wedges were buried underneath the sabayon made with orange and the juice of loquat compote.

    Fruit tomato compote - as usual I ordered the beautiful and fragrant herbal tea, so this was my petit four.  So delicious.

    I didn't get a chance to fish out an appropriate bottle of white wine from my cellar, so I made do with an Aussie Shiraz...

    2001 Penfolds RWT - decanted for an hour prior to serving.  Pretty metallic nose, a little smoky, with ripe fruit, jammy, and obvious vanilla oak.  Clearly this has softened up to drink nicely, although it still packs a punch.

    I was pretty happy with dinner tonight, and being long-time fans of Sato-san, I hope the Tiggers liked it, too...  On our way out, Sato-san very kindly gave me two jars of their homemade jams... since he knows how much I like my jams.  Is there anything this amazing chef doesn't do?!  I look forward to getting my first taste very soon.

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    It has been some time since I last saw V, and seeing as his birthday is coming up, we decided to meet up for dinner at Hidden Kitchen (秀殿).  I was kinda in the mood for a casual place without a set menu, where we could just pick and choose... and (hopefully) not stuff ourselves.

    We arrived and were seated at the opposite end of the L-shaped counter from where I last sat.  That means we were right in front of the deep-fryer.  Fortunately the restaurant has installed a powerful range hood that envelops the deep-fryer and funnels the air up to the ceiling (and presumably expels it outside), so we didn't get too much interference from the smell.  This was important because we had brought a couple of nice bottles...

    Baby sweetfish (稚鮎) - nice to get these babies the length of my middle finger... They were a little bitter since all the guts and the head were still intact.  Still nice.

    Firefly squid with white miso (ほたるいか酢みそ) - another seasonal item I can't get enough of.  Very, very delish... especially with that sweet white miso (味噌) sauce.  Served on a bed of wakame (若布) seaweed.

    Bamboo shoot (筍串) - spring veggies are the best, and the bamboo shoot was very tasty.

    Giant clam (蛤串) - this was a seriously big clam!  Very nice texture, and tasty, too.

    Japanese angelica shoots (たらの芽) - another seasonal vegetable.

    Quail eggs (うずら玉子) - three is better than one.

    Deep-fried sweet potato (フライドさつまいも) - one of my favorite dishes from last time.  These come with really crunchy exteriors and really soft interiors.

    Chicken wings (手羽唐揚げ) - also an old favorite.  I didn't bother trying to figure out what was in that dressing, but it just tasted so damn good!

    Sillago (鱚) - very fluffy inside.

    Chicken breast with wasabi (ささみわさび) - the wasabi mayo was mild and had just the right amount of kick to it.

    Scallop with tartar and salmon roe (ほたてタルタルいくら) - this was DA BOMB.  Somehow I missed out on this last time, so I made sure I got one tonight.  That delicious whole scallop was breaded and deep-fried, then sandwiched between two layers of tartar sauce with egg white, and finally topped with some salmon roe.  The salmon roe had really "crunchy" skin that popped with surprisingly strong force.

    The whole thing was really, really delicious.  But I made the mistake of dropping a few of the salmon roe onto the floor.  Boo hoo...

    Kelp with herring roe (子持ち昆布) - I loved this on my last visit, so I wanted it again.  So delicious... and I love the crunchy and springy sensation as I bit into the cube of roe.

    Oyster (かき) - this was very good, too... and I'm usually not big on fried oysters (かきフライ).

    Pork shoulder (豚肩ロース) - can't say no to one of the best cuts of pork...

    Ochatsuke with whitebait ( しらすお茶漬け) - when I found out that they put seasonal whitebait (しらす) over the ochatsuke (お茶漬け), I just had to have some... but shared a bowl with V.  Simple, straightforward, delicious.

    I was pretty devastated when told that they didn't have any house made pudding tonight, as I was really looking forward to trying some.  Hopefully there will be some on my next visit.

    The main focus for tonight was actually on wine, so we each brought a bottle of Burgundy to dinner.  We knew the restaurant wouldn't have nice crystal stemware, and the thought of bringing my own glassware did cross my mind... but in the end we just used whatever the restaurant provided.

    2004 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - CORKED.  Pretty grassy and green.  With some coaxing came a little toasty oak, a little sweetness.  Nice acidity on the palate.

    2006 Christophe Roumier Charmes-Chambertin aux Mazoyeres - opened for an hour prior to serving.  Lovely sweet fruit here with nice forest notes, and the wine gained weight in glass.  Nice balance but lacking concentration.

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