After taking Bear on the Batman Dark Flight ride - which makes it three days in a row for him - we left Studio City and dragged our bags across the road to Galaxy Macau. This was my first time walking into the giant complex, and thanks to me not doing sufficient homework, we literally walked from one end to the opposite side in order to get to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.
Upon arrival we were led around to the back entrance of the restaurant, which looked like it was set up for guests dining in the private rooms... as they can get to the rooms discreetly without passing through the main area of the restaurant. No doubt the real VIPs appreciate this type of arrangement.
Having been turned away for this meal by Robuchon au Dôme due to Bear being under age and the private room having been booked by another party - I advised the restaurant regarding our Bear situation. Initially, the staff on the phone insisted that Bear is under age and could not dine in the restaurant. I protested and informed her that not only has Bear dined at a number of fine dining restaurants, he has in fact dined at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong! Mama Bear even took the extra step of sending me a couple of pics of Bear posing with Chef Umberto Bombana in the Hong Kong restaurant, in case the staff insisted on their policy. Fortunately, the restaurant decided to accommodate us by seating us in one of the private rooms.
The set lunch seemed like a very good deal, so I chose not to order à la carte. I also chose not to have a main course, and had dessert instead.
Marinated amberjack : fennel salad, citrus vinaigrette, apple mint - the fennel was nice and a little crunchy. A very refreshing dish, thanks to the citrus and mint.
8½ seafood soup : shellfish, fresh herbs, "trombetta" zucchini - while this wasn't as thick and rich as a bouillabaisse, it was still incredibly flavorful and delicious. Came with a slice of scallop and some slices of lobster.
Homemade chitarra spaghetti : lobster, seafood jus, citrus - you just can't go wrong with ordering chitarra here... especially when it's made with shellfish. Here the chef dispensed with the "regular"carabinero or gambero rosso, and we ended up with lobster instead. Not only was the fresh chitarra well-made, that tomato seafood sauce was so, so, so delicious. I could have taken a second bowl for sure.
"Latte" and strawberry : fior di latte ice cream, fresh berries, vanilla chantilly - that ice cream was just very milky and smooth... the strawberries and raspberries worked nicely with the ice cream and the chantilly... and we got some nice crunch, too.
We didn't want to drink much, so a couple of us took a glass of wine.
2011 Gini Soave Classico - pretty flat on the palate, a little bit of oak.
As usual, I was responsible for tasting the wine... and found no reason not to accept this freshly uncorked bottle. So three glasses were poured. Hello Kitty thought the wine was corked, although I still didn't find the evidence obvious. But then again, I'm not as sensitive to TCA as some others. As I had already accepted the wine, I followed etiquette and chose not to kick up a fuss. After all, the wine wasn't undrinkable... it just didn't give much pleasure.
But my dining companions weren't happy with my decision and mentioned this to manager Danny Allegretti. He tasted the wine and opined that it was oxidized but not really corked.
Nevertheless, he offered us another wine as replacement. We certainly wouldn't have any issues with TCA for this bottle... since the closure is not actually cork but a screwcap!
2014 Ceretto Langhe Arneis Blangé - very fragrant and floral, almost perfume-like, with tropical stone fruits, some oak, and flint.
This was a very, very good lunch - which wasn't a surprise to any of us. Chef Antimo Maria Merone's talents are certainly put to much better use here compared to his previous kitchen, and Bear liked his pasta so much that he asked the staff to tell the chef that it was the best pasta he's ever had. The service was certainly top-notch today as Danny kept a watchful eye over us the whole time. Guess I'll file this place as somewhere we can come back to... and also recommend to others.
I've been back in Macau again over the last 2 weekends, and I try not to miss a chance to hit up some local spots for breakfast. As I'm not exactly local, from time to time I'll look to my friend KC for help... since he does come to Macau a helluva lot more than I do. So for homework, I do a combination of scrolling through his Facebook page and flipping through the old trusty Macau guidebook that he published a couple of years ago.
Café Nam Ping (南屏雅敘) is pretty old school, and its location not far away from St. Paul's means it gets its fair share of tourist traffic. The three of us trekked here looking for some coffee and sandwiches.
Sandviche com carne de porco assada (叉燒文治) - this just had to be done. Instead of the usual ham or luncheon meat, why not char siu (叉燒) with your egg sandwich?! So. Damn. Good. Love the fluffy egg.
Sandviche "Nam Peng" (南屏文治) - since this sandwich was named after the café, it made sense for us to order this "signature" item. Turns out it's just an upgraded version of the previous sandwich, but with slices of ham added. In the end, though, we preferred the simpler version with just char siu, as adding ham kinda skewed the balance between egg and meat. And it didn't help that the ham was nothing to write home about.
Sugar puff doughnut (沙翁) - Hello Kitty wanted this, since it brings back some childhood memories.
Not bad, but I guess I would have preferred it to be a little less wet and limp. I washed it down with some café com leite.
After breakfast, we continued walking along Rua de Cinco de Outubro, passing by some old school pastry shops, traditional Cantonese egg noodle shops, and also the original shop of Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記粥麵) after it relocated to Macau.
On a rainy morning this past weekend, we decided to keep things simple by going to Lord Stow's Garden Cafe in Coloane village. Its relatively remote location means that I don't make it out there often, but as we were staying on the Cotai Strip, it kinda made sense this time.
We were lucky and only waited for a couple of minutes before being seated. And I had only one thing on my mind...
This place is most famous for their pasteis, so I grabbed two of these and inhaled them. I just looooove the rich and sweet custard in the middle. And I do prefer these over the ones from Andrew's ex-wife Margaret...
Later that afternoon, after a very lovely lunch at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hello Kitty decided that she really needed to have some serradura. Once again, KC's Macau guide came to our rescue, and after flipping through the pages, I decided to head to a familiar place for my second dessert...
Miramar is a pretty local joint right next to the Grand Coloane Resort (formerly the Westin Resort Macau). As there were plenty of tables on the terrace - and this being a nice, breezy day and all - we decided to park ourselves outside.
Serradura "pudim" - we came specifically for this local specialty, and the restaurant did not disappoint. We were, however, surprised by the size of this thing. Pretty fluffy vanilla cream, with plenty of "sawdust" made of crushed Marie biscuits. And some strawberry coulis. This was very good, and Hello Kitty was happy to have finally tried a good serradura.
Pudim de ovos - I can never resist crème caramel whenever I see it. This was pretty dense, but very rich and delicious. Right up my alley.
We spent a little bit of time sitting on the deck, enjoying our desserts and drinks while being caressed by the cool breeze... and listening to the sound of the waves being drowned out by the cicadas. This was a nice way to finish our short stay in Macau - my fourth so far this year.
After taking a short break from gluttony after my return from my fourth outing to Macau, I'm back to my old self again. My friendly neighborhood prime broker has decided that I haven't been eating well enough, so they generously decided to treat me to lunch at Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡) to fatten me up.
I really enjoyed my first dinner a few months ago, and I knew that the menu is much simpler (and hopefully much less expensive) at lunch time, but it was still a real treat to have the luxury of dining here. The restaurant didn't seem to be very busy at lunch time, but I suppose the demand kinda drops off once the price point goes past a certain level...
Specialty soup for stomach-warming (特色暖胃湯) - a mix of pumpkin, carrots, and potatoes. Almost nice to prep one's stomach with something warm.
Seasonal duo of small bites (時令兩小碟) - interesting dish of diced fish balls with tomato. The pickled mustard (榨菜) was OK.
Smoked country-style duck (煙燻家鄉鴨) - the ducks were raised on a diet of sugarcane bagasse, and in fact smoked with bagasse as well. Nice sweetness in the duck and the pumpkin ginger vinegar on the side was totally unnecessary.
Crispy sea cucumber (脆皮婆參) - Howard Cai's signature dish, but my piece today didn't look as attractive as my last piece. In spite of all that, the texture was still as good as I remembered - very, very gelatinous and tender, with some crispiness on the outside.
At my last meal, the waitress recited the script about the composition of the cooking method as well as the composition of the sauce. Today our waiter informed us that the stock was frozen at -26°C (not sure of the importance of that precise temperature...), then both the fat at the top and the sediment at the bottom were removed, so that only the clarified stock in the middle was used in the dish.
Whatever the case, there was plenty of lip-smacking collagen here to be scooped up using a spoon.
Silkie chicken in broth (鮮湯烏雞片) - I gotta say I was impressed by this soup. As the weather is pretty hot these days, drinking cucumber soup has a natural "cooling" effect on the body. The cucumber strips themselves also still retained a certain degree of crunch.
The black silkie chicken had plenty of flavors - which coincided with our discussion during the meal about the lack of flavors in many of the Singaporean Hainanese chicken... and my basic requirement that "chicken tastes like chicken (雞有雞味)". Here the chicken itself had pretty strong flavors that almost tasted like it was fermented or mixed in with offal like liver... and the kitchen certainly used plenty of pepper here. This was in stark contrast to the very clean and pure flavors of the cucumber and the soup.
Crispy fish in premium soy sauce (頭抽浸海上鮮) - the smell of the house made premium soy sauce (頭抽) hits you as soon as the dish is laid down. The giant grouper (龍躉) fillet was deep-fried until the exterior was very crispy, but still tender and juicy on the inside. Pretty good.
Simmered leafy amaranth (香燉莧菜) - one thing I really like about this place is that the veggie dish is simply superb. The leafy amaranth was very, very tender... and the broth had a lot of flavor - no doubt helped by the slices of deep-fried garlic that has been cooked with the veg.
Fried rice with aged pickled radish (陳年菜脯炒飯) - very nicely done and showcasing the knife skills of the chef. Not only was the spring onion very fine, but the aged pickled radish (陳年菜脯) as well as the beef had been very finely diced. One would have thought that simply using ground beef would suffice, but dicing the beef with a knife to such small bits delivered a completely different texture.
Pink guava sorbet (胭脂紅慕斯) - this was pretty much the same as the dessert I had on my first visit, except there was a layer of bird's nest covering the sorbet back then... Not bad.
Lunch was very leisurely and enjoyable. So nice to have this midday break when the market feels so listless these days. Many thanks to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for the treat!
It's been a few months since the two uncles met up for a good meal by ourselves, and my friend decided it was his turn to treat me. Ta Vie 旅 is one of our favorite restaurants as we are both fans of Sato-san, and since it is literally a stone's throw away from my office, it seemed like the perfect lunch venue for me.
We decided to take the 5-course short tasting menu, and as it happens, all 5 dishes are familiar to me. Many are among my favorites. And as my friend has been visiting Sato-san with his family since the Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) days, he was kind enough to accommodate his cute little daughter - another well-behaved child used to fine dining establishments.
Nukazuke (糠漬け) bread - I'm not used to starting with this, but I ain't complainin'! Always love this house made roll. And the house made butter.
Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid Caesar dressing - this has quickly become one of my favorite dishes, on account of the delicious seasonal firefly squids (螢烏賊) from Japan. You've got the usual Romaine lettuce and shaved cheese and croûtons on top. But you've also got the beautiful umami of the squid, along with shredded Japanese spikenard (独活) and pepper chiffonade. The little dab of dressing made with the squid was just awesome.
House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - another one of my favorite dishes. I just looooove the aonori (青海苔)... with all those flavors of the ocean. Then there's the saltwater sea urchin from Yoichi (余市)... which were incredibly sweet as always.
"Rock" oyster with pork trotter cassoulet sauce - these big rock oysters (岩牡蠣) from Shimane Prefecture (島根県) are honestly a little too big and fat for my liking, but I can understand how satisfying they can be to some. Not surprisingly I like the cassoulet sauce as it's made with pig trotters, but the sauce was also made with puréed scarlet runner beans (花豆).
Sweet corn cold soup, shrimp consommé jelly, basil pesto - this was an extra course from the shorter, 3-course lunch set menu that Sato-san very kindly sent us. How incredibly delightful this was! The amazing, intensely rich and starchy sweetness of Japanese corn just perks me up... and the same botan shrimp (牡丹海老) consommé jelly from Sato-san's signature dish just added some beautiful umami to it all. Of course, the best thing about this dish was that this was chilled - perfect for a hot summer day. Inexplicably, it seems that the local clientele don't like the idea of cold soups... even in this weather. Takano-san told us that everyone else chooses the hot soup option on the lunch set menu.
Wagyu "minute" steak with burnt onion and onsen egg, Japanese whisky sauce - another one of Sato-san's classic dishes.
I just love how the soft-boiled egg jiggles under the thin slice of beef...
Taking out the beef reveal the soft-boiled egg underneath - inside an onion ring. Mashed potato lies beneath another onion ring on the other side. And that Whisky sauce sure was nice...
Almond tofu with peach compote fresh lychee and "monkey picked" oolong tea jelly scent of rose flower - this was the incredible dessert I had on my very first visit here. In fact, we asked Sato-san for a second serving on that visit. That's how amazing it was. Well, the lunch portion today is a lot smaller than those first two bowls, but I still love it. The lychees today were sweet, but unfortunately not quite as amazing that the ones from that batch last year. Nevertheless, the mélange of lychees, peaches (and peach sorbet), almond tofu (杏仁豆腐), Monkey picked Oolong tea (馬騮搣) jelly, and rose was simply beautiful. I could have had 4 of these...
Canelés - Sato-san knew how much I love canelés, so he very kindly baked these for us. And they were HUGE! Much bigger than I had expected.
They were very crunchy on the exterior, but remained moist in the middle. Absolutely delicious.
Don Papa rum from the Philippines was added to the batter of the canelé.
Sumatra tiger coffee - I am ever so grateful that there is now an alternative coffee available, although this smelled (and tasted) a little like me burning my food in the kitchen... Just look at the size of the canelé!
I wasn't too surprised that my friend brought wine to lunch, but I didn't want to drink much. And I was really surprised to discover - about an hour after I started drinking it - what a treat this really was. My friend was really, really generous.
1985 DRC Richebourg - not decanted. Initially very light and acidic on the palate. Opened up with time, and after an hour this became really lovely, with berries, animal, leather, and violet notes.
What a really delightful lunch! I am so spoiled... thanks to my generous friends.
So this was it. The first of my birthday dinners. Months ago I started joking with Hello Kitty about where she'd take me for my birthday, and since she seemed to hate Spaghetti House with a vengeance while it occupies a special place in my heart, it seemed to be the ideal venue. She couldn't possibly refuse my request, and would have to suffer through dinner while I savored my pasta (and the moment)...
For those not familiar with Spaghetti House, it's a chain of restaurants in Hong Kong serving "Italian food" catering to the Hong Kong palate. I'm not sure if Italians would call it authentic, I just know I would happily eat there any day. But I digress...
Things got even better a couple of weeks ago when I saw the ad campaign from the restaurant, as they were advertising their seasonal "Spicy Fusion" menu. I began salivating at the thought of having spicy, Asian-flavored pasta... and drinking a nice bottle of wine with it. Hello Kitty called and found out that corkage was HKD 50 a bottle, so I figured I'd fish a bottle out of my cellar that would cost about 20x the price of my pasta...
Kung soldier - I was sooo excited about trying this. Spaghetti with kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁)! How cool is that? To my surprise the sauce was a little sweet, but that was soon overwhelmed by the chili. There's both the heat of the dried chili peppers - and there were a few in my bowl - as well as the fragrance of Sichuan peppercorns (花椒). Thankfully the latter wasn't very powerful, so my tastebuds were just on fire instead of being numbed. Throw in some green capsicums, onions, and some (kinda burnt) pine nuts in place of peanuts.
But the nice surprise was the chicken! In addition to the stir-fried diced chicken, there were also chunks of popcorn chicken. I thought having two different textures for the chicken was a real nice touch. Even Hello Kitty was impressed.
Parma ham, arugula POP UP pizza - this was a simple yet delicious thin-crust pizza. The crust was decent, and all that was needed was slices of Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, and some arugula. Pretty tough to go wrong with this.
Classic barbecued premium baby back ribs served with French fries and tomato salad with balsamic dressing - Hello Kitty wanted some meat, so we got half a rack of these Danish pork ribs. The pork was definitely tasty, but unfortunately it had been marinated with rosemary - my least favorite herb - and the barbecue sauce wasn't enough to cover up the rosemary.
Of course I brought my own bottle of wine... I found this lying around in my cellar and figured it wouldn't be a bad time to open up a bottle of '86, even though nowadays it only costs about 10x the price of my spaghetti instead of 20x...
1986 Cos d'Estournel - double-decanted 50 minutes prior to drinking. Still plenty of fruit here like stewed prunes, a little toasty and cedar. But this bottle seems to be a little over the hill.
I was really happy with dinner tonight. The food was pretty good, and the fusion pasta was surprisingly tasty. Many thanks to Hello Kitty for indulging me...
My friend RC pinged me a couple of days ago and invited me to dinner at my favorite private dining facility. He was entertaining a friend from the West Coast who is an investor in several high-end restaurants in the Bay Area, and thought I might enjoy meeting the friend. I wasn't planning on having a big meal out so early this week, given my packed eating schedule the latter half of the week, but I didn't think it wise to turn down this invitation.
It's been a whole 3 months since my last visit, so I was pretty excited about coming back for some awesome old school Cantonese.
Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - I really, really like this tonight. For some reason I think the char siu tonight was fattier than I have ever had it here. That Kagoshima Kurobuta (鹿児島黒豚) was really, really tasty... and I loved the charring.
Stir-fried minced quail in lettuce cups (生菜包鵪鶉崧) - this was the only dish tonight that I haven't had before, and it was sooooo good that my neighbor had 5 portions!
Inside the lettuce cup was a mix of very finely diced quail meat, along with very finely diced duck liver sausage (膶￼腸). The two main components blended together perfectly as a result of the stir-frying. Besides the few strands of deep-fried rice vermicelli, the topping that really made the dish sing was the sprinkle of toasted Indian almonds (欖仁). The fragrance coming from the heated oil inside the powered almonds was simply incredible.
Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - these are as delicious as they've always been. I still consider this the best I've ever had in Hong Kong. The prawns from local waters were simply treated with some salt and corn starch - no baker soda is used - and "skinned" before being treated and stir-fried. The texture was wonderful, and the flavors just jumped out at you.
Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - this is a dish that I normally love, and the claws still tasted very, very delicious tonight. But I noticed that the claw I got had a much softer, slightly limp texture compared to the ones I had on my previous visits.
We asked Chef Duck how he managed to remove the thick, hard shells of the claw without damaging the crab meat, and apparently he dunks the claws in a pot of ice water...
Double-boiled winter melon soup with shrimps, Yunnan ham, fresh crab meat and lotus seeds (原個燉冬瓜盅) - you know it's summer when this shows up on the menu. Don't be fooled by this hot soup cooked inside a whole winter melon... it actually helps to cool the body's constitution.
As usual, you've got crab meat, loofah, button mushrooms, diced duck meat, tonkin jasmine (夜香花), and some really small and tender lotus seeds.
Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - tonight we've got two of these soles, each weighting one catty-plus. This means that the cooking time was reduced, which would explain why the meat from the back was more tender than usual. Very nice.
Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - another old school dish executed perfectly. The chicken had plenty of flavor, and I didn't find pieces that were tough or over-salted. The gizzard and liver were especially tasty.
Four treasure vegetables with superior broth (上湯四寶蔬) - believe it or not, this is usually one of the best dishes on the menu, as the simple vegetables are given an attention to detail not usually seen elsewhere. Unfortunately the radish was a little on the bitter side tonight.
Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - it's been a long time since I last had this, and I really, really, really miss it. The wok hei (鑊氣) here was amazing, and the flavors seemed a little more spicy than I had remembered. Simply awesome.
Double-boiled ginkgo nuts and lotus seeds (銀杏燉湘蓮) - a wonderful end to dinner... with jujube, longan, lotus seeds, ginkgo nuts, and apricot kernels.
I knew I was in trouble the minute I walked into the dining room tonight. None of the other guests had arrived, and there were already a few bottles of wine on the side table. The bottle count rose quickly as our dining companions arrived, and in the end we opened the equivalent of 11 bottles for the 12 of us - although one bottle was corked and did not get consumed - from 6 different countries. It's not difficult to imagine what happened to me at the end of the evening...
2000 Henriot Brut - nice and ripe on the palate, with a little sugarcane on the nose.
2011 Kings Farm Chardonnay - very buttery and creamy on the nose, oaky, very ripe and sweet on the palate.
2007 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - huge nose of petrol and flint, polyurethane. Such an amazing nose. Nice bit of acidity with a good amount of sweetness on the palate for balance. A beautiful wine.
2005 Camus Charmes-Chambertin - nice nose of cherries, a little gamey fowl, and a little metallic iron.
Juyondai Hizoushu (十四代 秘蔵酒), bottled May 2010 - this is a junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) koshu (古酒) with at least 3 years' aging, using Aiyama (愛山) rice milled down to a semaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%. This bottle had been aging in my cellars for the last 6 years, and the extended aging - possibly 10 years or more when you count cellaring before the release - gives the sake a wonderful depth of flavors on the palate. It is also noticeably viscous and rounded on the palate. Nose shows a concentration of rice flavors, very rich, with lots of tropical and banana notes.
2002 Frédéric Magnien Charmes-Chambertin - beautiful sweet fruit, more floral than the Camus, with oaky notes and toasty corn.
1985 Tattinger Artist Collection - nose was very caramelized, with heavy amount of toast, as well as something a little savory... almost like salty plum (話梅) that's soaked in Shaoxing wine (紹興酒). Beautiful.
1997 Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino Rennina, from magnum - sweet vanilla, lots of herbs, and really fragrant.
2012 Zorah Yeraz - really sweet and ripe, with lots of herbs and exotic spices, a little black pepper. Very smooth and silky on the palate. Made from vines that are more than 100 years old.
So... after a quiet dinner at home with the Parental Units on my Gregorian calendar birthday, I would go out for a celebratory birthday dinner of sorts on my lunar calendar birthday - which happened to fall on the very next day this year. For this occasion, I would be joined by a couple of special guests...
According to the Great One, it has probably been more than a decade since she stepped foot in Taiwan - outside of Taoyuan International Airport, that is. She had been asking me to take her around Taiwan for a few years, and she's finally decided to grace my homeland with her presence. Since she's flying into Taoyuan anyway, we decided to start her tour in Taichung with a meal at the highest-ranked restaurant from Taiwan on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list - Le Moût.
It's been almost 5 years since my first and only visit to the restaurant, and I found it a little wanting back then. HaoKouFu told me that she thought the cuisine has improved over the last few years, so I was looking forward to checking it out...
After getting off the high speed rail, I took our group to National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館). It's close to the restaurant, and they happen to be holding an exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e (浮世絵) art in conjunction with the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (東京富士美術館). It was a rare chance to see some legendary prints from the era, such as 31 of the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (東海道五十三次) from Utakawa Hiroshige (歌川広重) and 17 of the Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景) from Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎).
With some time to kill before our early dinner, we stopped by L'atelier de Bon Pain next to the museum. This actually turned out to be a decent bakery opened by someone who had won some kind of prize at Mondial du Pain 2011. We sampled a few of their selections, including kouign amann, canelé, gâteau breton... which weren't bad at all.
Finally it was 6pm and we walked through the gates of Le Moût to meet up with HaoKouFu. After spending a few minutes making sure we were dressed for dinner, we were seated at our corner table while the sun was still out.
Since we had booked the table directly with Chef Lanshu Chen (陳嵐舒), we were asked if we could prefer the "regular" menu or the special menu the chef had prepared for our little group. Well... since the chef wanted to show us her special dishes, it would be rather uncivilized for us to turn down her kind offer. So we eagerly awaited for what was in store for us...
These dough sticks were placed in front of us as snacks, which were like crunchy angel hair pasta with spices.
Here we go again... the butter that I had so much issue with on my last visit. Once again they had been left sitting at room temperature too long, but at least this time it wasn't as soft, and didn't taste disgusting like it had gone off. Both the salted and seaweed butter tasted fine.
Aperitif - there were a trio of bite-size snacks.
Filo stuffed with clam and cream - this was very creamy, with some dill in the mixture. The chopped clams inside provided a nice, springy texture in the midst of a creamy pile. I think we were told there was a little Crème de Menthe inside?
Pastry puff stuffed with char siu - like a char siu pineapple bun (菠蘿叉燒包). There were definitely bits of char siu here, and the green sauce inside reminded us of the garlic herb butter we often see with escargots à la Bourguignonne.
Pineapple marshmallow - with Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) and little cubes of jamón ibérico.
Then came our first piece of bread... made with Taiwanese sausage and Kaoliang (高粱酒). The sausage was chewy, with a nice, smoky flavor. And I could definitely taste the alcohol in the bread.
Shiso, sweet shrimp, lemon, herb - I thought the Japanese king prawn was not deep-fried as described but rather lightly torched. The shrimp-flavored tofu was pretty interesting, and the texture was like almond tofu (杏仁豆腐). There was ume shiso (梅紫蘇) powder sprinkled everywhere, including the delicious shrimp consommé. The little shrimp-flavored churros on top were crunchy and tasty, decorated with shiso flowers. The lemon confit added a touch of acidity. For some reason the wax begonia on top made this look Japanese. Very nice.
Preserved turnip and silkie hen's egg - this was inspired by the Taiwanese dish of 菜脯蛋. You've got steamed egg custard with sun-dried radish aged for more than 30 years, plus some crunchy pickled radish that seemed a lot more recent, along with puffed rice grains on top. A nice comfort dish, and I liked having the mix of textures from the soft purée and custard, to the aged radish with just a little crunch, to the (newly) pickled radish, and finally to the crispy rice. Very well-thought out.
Green bamboo shoot, winter black truffle of Australia, salted pork, white fungus - this "millefeuille" was possibly my favorite dish of the evening. The thin slices of summer bamboo shoots from Yangming Mountain (陽明山) were very sweet and juicy, with clean and refreshing flavors. There were also layers of white fungus, crunchy cabbage, and black truffle. Apparently somewhere in there was also salted pork purée, but I tasted no trace of it. There were, however, crunchy slices of dried salted pork on top, as well as thin discs of what seemed to be white button mushrooms. The "dot" on the side was made with truffle jus, truffle oil, fresh truffle, and Sherry vinegar.
A beautiful dish delivering light and refreshing flavors, accented by the intense perfume of black truffles. I think this was everyone's favorite.
Our second piece of bread was made with wild honey. It did seem a little sweeter.
Charcoal grilled foie gras, blazei mushroom, mango, "pain perdu fumé" - with thin slices of Taiwanese green mangoes and mango sauce. There were also smoky bits of mushroom besides the big halves of blazei mushrooms. The smoked brioche was particularly delicious.
The foie itself was actually poached first to deliver a very soft texture. Very nice.
Mung bean, agnolotti, mugwort, lamb paper and broth - this was universally panned by the table. The creation looked interesting visually, but the ingredients didn't seem to gel together. There must have been a reason why the chef chose to assemble them in the same dish, and I guess none of us "got" what she was trying to deliver.
There were what seemed like bits of crunchy, buttery cookies on the side with white sesame inside.
The lamb paper was crunchy and delicious, with cumin that hit our noses before we had taken a bite.
The agnolotti were made with mugwort and stuffed with mung bean paste. The wrapper was too thick and chewy, and the mung bean paste was pretty bland. The whole thing just seemed to heavy and unnecessary. But the lamb broth was nice, although I was unable to distinguish the homemade mugwort oil in the broth.
Maine lobster, chorizo, green sauce, raspberry - the lobster was cooked "confit" in duck oil and tasted very delicious, with a layer of chimichurri sauce. Chorizo foam on side was a little spicy but good, with some chorizo bits sprinkled on top of the lobster. Sautéed Swiss chard was surprisingly smoky, while fresh and puréed raspberries added a little acidity. Very good.
Wagyu flat iron, beef tongue, fig, onion, blackcurrant - Hello Kitty was kind enough to share a little bit of her main course with me. The beef (from Snake River Farms, I believe) was delicious as expected, and came with sautéed beef tongue that was smoky. Served with Shaoxing wine "purée" as well as caramelized onions, figs, and blackcurrant in beef jus on the side.
Beggar's chicken, white eel, mushrooms, baby ferns - an interesting interpretation of the classic dish of beggar's chicken (叫化雞). The top half of the "roll" was a mousse of chicken breast mixed with eel - which was included for its muddy flavors, in a gesture to recall the inevitable soil flavors which comes from cooking beggar's chicken in mud. It was also stuffed with mushrooms to impart more earthy flavors. The chicken leg at the bottom of the roll was nice and succulent. Sprinkled on top and on the side was a powder made with sarcodon aspratus - or "tiger paw mushroom "虎掌菌". The garnishes on the side included sautéed yellow turnip and crunchy bird's nest fern (山蘇).
Pretty decent chicken. Although I'm not sure that it reminds me of beggar's chicken, at least it was a helluva lot more interesting than the chicken I had here 5 years ago.
Camembert, turnip, vanilla, Tieguanyin - I was wondering why the Camembert tasted sweet and a little different... and when we were told that the center was made together with Belgian white chocolate, everything suddenly made sense. The turnip and vanilla foam on the side was kinda interesting, but the "swoosh" made with Tieguanyin (鐵觀音) tea was delish.
Nymphéas - this dessert blew us away, and probably would rank either as the best dish of the evening or just below the millefeuille with bamboo shoots. Looking at the name, it's not surprising that this was inspired by Monet's paintings of his waterlily pond at Giverny. Within the bowl was a broth made with Baihao Yinzhen ("white hair silver needle", 白毫銀針) tea. Other ingredients included candied winter melon (冬瓜糖), tofu pudding (豆花), white fungus, wolfberries, lotus seeds, and elderflower sorbet.
Everything seemed to work together perfectly. Nothing was too sweet or too sour. You had a variety of textures from the melting sorbet, soft pudding, to slightly crunchier white fungus and finally the lotus seeds. And decorated with nasturtium and wax begonia to look like a waterlily pond.
First came a cup with soy milk and almond pudding (杏仁豆腐), with toasty soy powder and toasted almonds on top.
Fruit tart - with custard and grilled pineapple, chocolate tuile and spices. The anise flavors were very strong.
Lemon mandarin cake
We had brought a few bottles down from Taipei, and in addition to waiving the corkage, the restaurant was also kind enough to offer us a couple of extra glasses...
2008 Bauget-Jouette Blanc de Blancs «Le Moût Restaurant» - nice acidity with a little ripeness. Nose was still a little sharp and somewhat toasty. Complimentary glass from the restaurant.
Egly-Ouriet "Les Vignes de Vrigny" Premier Cru, dégorgée en Juillet 2015 - rich and full-bodied on the palate with a long finish. Very interesting and toasty nose, with a bit of caramel.
1996 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune - this was a little more mature than I had expected. Lovely nose with flint, mineral, a little toasty and smoky, along with a little bit of honey.
1997 Chartron et Trébuchet Corton-Charlemagne - a little vanilla and almond, buttery, a little sweet on the nose, with tropical pineapple, straw, and Chinese licorice. Complimentary glass from the restaurant.
1996 Dominus - very minty, oaky, cedary, and fragrant. Smoky and a little earthy, with a hint of tea. Slightly sweet on the palate. Full-bodied and smooth on the palate. Drinking very, very well right now.
This was a very nice evening. As HaoKouFu said, Chef Lanshu's cuisine has certainly improved significantly over the last few years, and I was much, much happier with this dinner. We were pretty full and there was plenty of alcohol in our systems, so I took the opportunity to nap on the train ride back to Taipei...
P.S. I am still a little bummed that the others decided not to offer Chef Lanshu our congratulations...
After a very early breakfast at the very touristy breakfast spot Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿), we lunched at the other Taiwanese entry to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants - RAW. I wasn't planning on coming back here so soon, but what the Great One wants, the Great One gets.
We didn't sit at the Chef's Table today, so there was no need to pay the premium. The restaurant has, however, removed the shorter lunch menu... so now everyone has to take the long, 9-course menu even for lunch. This would turn out to be a lot of food...
Porridge, fermented tofu, condiments - from the 'mémoire' part of André's Octaphilosophy. It's common for Taiwanese people to have porridge with condiments such as pickles and fermented tofu (豆腐乳), so this is a modern interpretation.
The pickles are now made of kohlrabi, with a thick wedge at the bottom that has been pan-fried to retain its crunch, while a pile of shredded kohlrabi sits on top. There is a layer of crab meat in between the two different textures. Sprinkled liberally with leek powder, and served with a little bit of fermented tofu sauce on the side.
We were meant to drink the contents of this cup first, before tasting what's on the plate. A simple cup of rice water, which actually tasted a lot like the ubiquitous "barley water" (actually made with Job's tears) found in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a similar viscosity.
The whipped butter came with buckwheat, cocoa powder, and sea salt...
along with our bread...
Scallop, cauliflower couscous, spicy ponzu - a layer of sweet cauliflower purée sits below the Hokkaido scallop, while a sprinkle of cauliflower 'couscous' is sprinkled on top to provide some crunch. The spicy ponzu (ポン酢) actually provided some citrus flavors which reminded me of aged mandarin peel (陳皮).
The scallop was quickly pan-fried on both sides so that it was still raw in the middle... and I think it's a little more raw than mi-cuit... A very tasty dish overall.
Beef, tongue, cracker - I had heard about this from my friends... André's take on the classic Taiwanese snack of beef tongue cracker (牛舌餅) - so named not because it contains any beef, but because it visually resembles a cow's tongue. Normally it's a little sweet with some maltose inside, but here the cracker is topped with thin slices of actual beef tongue which has been cooked sous vide for 36 hours (wait, didn't André tell us that he no longer cooks in plastic bags...?), along with onion purée, garlic mayo, Japanese vinaigrette, and chopped chives. There's also a "perfect"(?) egg at the bottom of the bowl.
I ate about half of the cracker as is, then decided to scoop some of the egg yolk on top. Soft, viscous, and rich yolk on top of soft slices of tongue. The richness of the yolk and mayo was tempered by the acidity of the vinaigrette, and the sweetness from the onion just made everything a little better.
All I can say is that this, right here, was a little slice of heaven that I was blessed enough to experience. There was no question in any of our minds that this was the best dish of the meal. I would come back just for this.
Buttermilk, remoulade, gamberoni - the prawn was topped with julienned green apple, celery, and celeriac, along with nasturtium flowers and leaves. Buttermilk was then poured onto the plate, and gradually mixed with celery oil and olive oil. Celeriac purée on the side was a little smoky.
The prawn was barbecued but remained raw inside. There were slight smoky flavors. A very delicious dish.
Leek oil, daikon, spring vegetables - this was just amazing. Perhaps this is André's hommage to Michel Bras and his gargouillou. A total of 23 different local spring vegetables, sitting on a bed of radish purée and extra virgin olive oil... with Kinmen (金門) black garlic purée on the side of the plate.
The dish even came with its own menu, showing all 23 vegetables. I had a lot of fun picking out all the different veggies and checking them off against the list.
Simply amazing. Lovely to behold, and pleasure for the palate.
Hirame skirt, pickled jus, meuniere - the flounder skirt (縁側) was nice and cooking it made the collagen all soft. The pickle jus was made with onion, capers, lemon, butter, and Taiwanese watercress (水田芥)... and delivered good acidity to balance out the richness of the skirt as well as the butter richness of the sauce meunière. The chopped onions on top were sweet and crunchy.
Garnished with green onions, Japanese pearl onions on top, as well as mussels and clams from the northeastern coast.
Red quinoa, oyster Bearnaise, smoked cabbage - a "surf-and-turf" dish. The curry-flavored translucent cabbage wafer covered up most of the dish, except for the oyster-flavored Bearnaise and the spinach/wasabi foam.
Underneath the wafer, we find a piece of chicken encrusted in red quinoa with some honey, barbecued sauce, and undoubtedly Sichuan peppercorn. The chicken was pretty juicy and tender, although it was difficult to tell if the chicken itself had enough flavor. There was also stewed cabbage with soft and tender smoked shark (鯊魚煙) - a local Taiwanese dish that's a byproduct of the shark's fin trade.
Once again we were presented with cold versions of the Taiwanese pineapple cake (鳳梨酥), which was very crumbly.
Thunder tea, almond mochi, shaved bean curd - the base was Hakka "thunder tea (擂茶)" - made with ground tea leaves, sesame seeds, peanuts...etc. Topped with almond mochi (もち) ice cream, and finally some Koya dofu (高野豆腐) was shaved on top with a Microplane grater.
Unfortunately for me, this turned out to be a near-lethal combination. The grainy "tea" with all the bits of peanuts, sesame seeds, shaved tofu, together with the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds hidden inside... All of that ended up stuck onto the back of my throat thanks to the sticky liquid, and I started to choke involuntarily. Drinking water didn't seem to alleviate the situation, and I rushed to the toilet so that I wouldn't be coughing up my lungs in front of my friends. I finally regained my composure after a couple of minutes, but there was no way I would touch the rest of this dessert!
The final act was a coffee canelé, which was pretty decent.
With the exception of the dessert that almost killed me, this was a very good meal. In fact, it was better than my first meal here. I'd come and have that beef tongue any day, and same for the veg dish. I'm glad that the Great One and Hello Kitty enjoyed their meals, too. Many thanks to Chef Alain Huang for taking good care of us.
The only issue I have is that there was just too much food for lunch, and if anyone were pressed for time, they would get even more stuffed by trying to finish the food in the hurry.
With only a short break after our long and filling lunch, it was time to eat again. HaoKouFu and I wanted to bring the Great One to a place serving quintessential Taiwanese cuisine, and Ming Fu Seafood (明福台菜海鮮) seemed like such a place. For some reason, this small hole-in-the-wall is a popular destination for locals to take overseas visitors.
I had been joking with the gang about ordering some of the restaurant's specialties... including their Buddha jumps over the wall (佛跳墻) with chicken testicles, or their beef brisket and bull penis soup (牛腩牛鞭湯). I don't eat testicles, penises, or sperm, but I know that the Great One would. I was, therefore, a little disappointed she said ixnay to the penis soup...
Marinated dry tofu with dried fish (小魚豆干) - pretty standard fare for Taiwanese restaurants. I love the chewy texture of the fish, and the occasional kick from the chili peppers.
Marinated cucumber (腌黃瓜) - the flavors were surprisingly mild, which meant it was just nice and refreshing.
Stir-fried bird's nest fern (野菜山蘇) - I love this crunchy local veg, stir-fried with some dried fish and black bean.
Oysters with garlic sauce (蒜泥香蚵) - very fresh oysters, with loads of garlic sauce and plenty of finely diced coriander. Such classic Taiwanese flavors.
Deep-fried mullet gizzard (蒜酥烏魚腱) - the pieces of gizzard themselves are very crunchy, and this only got better when you coat them in batter for deep-frying... What's not to love about deep-fried food?
Steamed local chicken (白切土雞) - I looooove local Taiwanese free-range chicken. So does Hello Kitty... as it is one of the very few places where she will willingly eat chicken. Definitely tasty... and let me repeat the cliché of 雞有雞味 ("chicken tastes like chicken") again and say that, YES, chicken does taste like chicken here in Taiwan. Having said that, the breast meat was a little chewy, but that's simply because this is an older, free-range chicken.
Buddha jumps over the wall (一品佛跳墙) - YEAH, BABY! This is the first time that I've had this soup here, and look! There are one, two, three of them glorious chicken testicles here in this bowl. None for me, thank you very much! Unfortunately, when I agreed to have this pre-ordered, I totally forgot that in addition to testicles, there would also be sharks' fin in the bowl...
Which is why I had to be very careful in picking out what to put in my bowl. I managed to grab a delicious pig trotter tip, some pig intestines, crosnes, and chunks of really tough and fibrous bamboo shoots. This being the summer bamboo shoot season, and given what they charge for this small pot, it seems inexcusable that we are served this stuff.
Three-cup cuttlefish (三杯中卷) - this is always a winner... with the beautiful fragrance coming from all that basil. The three cups of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine all did their job in flavoring the cuttlefish.
Virgin mud crabs (處女蟳) - I thought it appropriate to order the virgin mud crabs tonight with the Great One, since she always said to me : "...but how do you know they are virgins? Did you ask them?" Well, I did explain how to spot the difference, and as did the boss lady. She then decided to bring over a HUGE crab that weighed about 1½ catties... Now, the virgin mud crabs I normally see are much smaller, and you'd think that it takes time for a mud crab to grow to this size, so I joked that she was the oldest virgin crab I've ever seen... or she was probably really ugly...
In spite of being an old virgin, the meat was still pretty sweet and delicious. The only disappointment is that there wasn't as much soft roe as I had hoped for.
Stir-fried rice vermicelli (炒米粉) - very, very delicious. Stir-fried at very high heat. The wok hei (鑊氣) was very obvious, and there was very little oil used, as the vermicelli tasted pretty dry. I loved that the egg was broken up into tiny little bits and dried, so that they resembled small bits of minced pork.
I was pretty full so I didn't join the others in taking in deep-fried taro balls with red bean (紅豆芋泥球)... especially since I don't enjoy taro as much.
A very good dinner, and I was glad to have met up with a couple of artisan boulanger/chocolatier in town. The funny thing is that for the second time in a row, I ran into a friend at the next table... and this is a restaurant with only 6 tables.
We adjourned to M.O. Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Taipei for drinks with my friends. Apparently they had brought in Ohtake Manabu (大竹学), the mixologist who was the winner of Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year in 2011. I decided to try his Yuzu Matcha Gimlet, which had a lovely fragrance from... you guess it... yuzu (柚子). Very nice and light. Definitely a girlie drink.
The day is TODAY. The main event for the Great One's trip to Taiwan. Not a dinner at some world-class fancy schmancy restaurant with Michelin stars or on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Nope. Today we'll be staying in all day at chez moi, and she'll finally have a chance to eat mom's cooking.
First up on the day was mom's gigantic lion's head (獅子頭). These meatballs are found in Shanghainese restaurants all over, but no commercial restaurant would make it this size. Instead, they prefer little round ones that can be taken by diners with a couple of bites.
Despite the fact that she uses lean ground pork, mom's lion's heads are always very, very soft and juicy. Her secret ingredient is onions - lots of it. They are diced very finely and mixed into the pork. The meatballs are coated with a little bit of corn starch water just before going into the wok - to protect them and to help hold them together as they brown.
The browned meatballs are then steamed for a while, then cooked in the clay pot with plenty of Chinese cabbage layered both below and above them. This cooks the liquid out of the onion, creating holes inside the meatballs and makes for a loose and tender texture.
We took a lunch break, and since the Great One wouldn't have time to go out for beef noodles, mom decided to braise a pot of beef so that we could eat in. To be honest, mom doesn't really make beef noodle soup like the ones popular all over Taiwan. What we eat at home is really just a beef stew served over a bowl of dry noodles, although mom uses beef shank since it's easy to cook. There's plenty of collagen that gets cooked into the sauce, so that's pretty satisfying.
After lunch and a coffee break, it was time to start on mom's Lunar New Year specialty - Perfect Ten (十全十美). This dish has its origins in Shanghainese cuisine, and is a combination of 10 different vegetables. It's an incredibly time-consuming dish to make, which is why mom only makes it once a year for the holidays.
Mom decided that for today, she would only use 8 ingredients instead of 10 - leaving out marinated cucumber (醬瓜) and hair moss (髮菜). Even so, that's still a lot of stuff to be sliced and julienned... with carrots, celery, rehydrated daylily (金針), dry tofu (豆干), summer bamboo shoots (but mom prefers winter bamboo shoots for the texture), soy bean sprouts (黃豆芽, sometimes called 如意), wood fungus, and shiitake mushrooms. So Hello Kitty was drafted as mom's little helper...
And she even learned a little trick to peel the husk off a bamboo shoot.
After all the ingredients were chopped up, it was time to stir-fry each ingredient separately - and each ingredient is seasoned differently with either soy sauce or salt. After an ingredient is done with the stir-fry, it's then transferred to another wok or pan and quickly cooled down with a fan. This is because the dish is meant to be eaten cold for the crunch, and the cooking process must be halted to prevent the veggies from becoming limp from overcooking.
The process is repeated for each individual ingredient, and over time the ingredients are evenly mixed together. This achieves uniformity of both color as well as ensuring - as much as possible - that each mouthful delivers the same texture.
The final lesson of the day is on sautéed string beans with minced pork (乾煸四季豆). This is one of my favorite dishes from mom, and in fact in all my years I've only ever come across two restaurants in Taipei that come close to mom's version... and none in either Hong Kong or Macau.
The beans are first pan-fried slowly and a few at a time to ensure that they are browned and starts to shrivel and dry out. They're removed from heat, and then finely diced, rehydrated dried shrimp (蝦米) and minced pork are stir-fried separately. Finally, everything is put back into the wok and stir-fried together along with some diced spring onions... again over an extended period of time to ensure the beans continue to shrivel and soften.
The lessons took a little longer today than expected, so some of us were pretty hungry by the time we sat down to our feast. But what a feast!
We started with mom's signature braised stuffed sea cucumber (海參鑲肉), which the Great One has been wanting to taste for years. Unlike the lesson held four years ago, this dish wasn't part of the lesson today. This is because it takes DAYS to properly rehydrate a sea cucumber, before it can be stuffed and braised over time. So the process for these big suckers started earlier this week.
Mom was very generous today because having 4 of these for the 6 of us is a lot... although in the end we only ended up eating 3 of them. Having just had some on my birthday a few days ago, I only had ¼ of one... while the Great One ended up with ¾ and HaoKouFu ended up eating a whole sea cucumber by herself!
But these were glorious! Mom always frets that sea cucumbers are tough to handle - especially when serving more than one - because the texture and required cooking time is different for each one. That was certainly the case tonight, and some were starting to fall apart while others remained slightly tough on the outer skin. Thankfully the one section I got was pretty much perfect. The sea cucumber was sooooo soft... and some of the collagen had oozed out into the sauce. The pork stuffing was very, very smooth, with ginger blended into the mix. This is one of mom's proudest creations, and I would never get tired of this dish. Lip-smacking good.
Then it was time to get some veg in our system. The perfect ten eight was pretty good today, but having eaten this for decades, I understood mom's concerns about the texture being slightly off. The summer bamboo shoots are a little too juicy compared to winter bamboo shoots, the bean sprouts were a little limp from being slightly overcooked, the celery was cut into much bigger chunks than usual... But I still loved the taste, and it's a rare treat to enjoy this in the summer.
The sautéed string beans with minced pork (乾煸四季豆) was very good as usual, even if some of the string beans were a little too charred by mom's standards. The beans were dried and shriveled, and much softer than what you'd see in commercial restaurants. The mixture of minced pork, dried shrimp, and spring onions added tons of flavor, and this is a dish that needs steamed rice to dilute its heavy seasoning. Yum.
Finally, the lion's head (獅子頭) that has been simmering and soaking for the last few hours was ready to be served. No surprise that mom lamented the fact that I didn't have a proper wok with a curved bottom in my kitchen, as the flat bottom of my wok caused these meatballs to flatten out so that they started to look like giant hamburger patties...
But that in no way affects the texture and the tastes, and it's easy to see the holes inside where the bits of onion had been before the liquid has been cooked out. This is the secret to having a soft texture.
We were all pretty full by now, and so we just had some local fruits to finish. There was a pineapple that was very, very ripe... which I enjoyed eating before the proteolytic enzymes started to digest my tongue. There were also these guavas which were almost seedless.
This being dinner at home, we drank some casual wines. HaoKouFu very generously brought along a white Burg to start us off...
2014 Hubert Lamy Saint-Aubin La Princée - mineral, lemon, and toasty oak.
1997 Beringer Merlot Private Reserve - decanted just prior to serving. Nose of stewed prunes, pretty sweet and ripe, plenty of vanilla oak. Very silky and smooth on the palate.
A very, very good evening. Many thanks to Hello Kitty for helping mom out, and I'm ever grateful to mom for her generosity and her love for me.
So... we've finally reached our last (proper) meal in Taiwan on this trip. The Great One and I were only able to catch up with our friend J for (literally) a few minutes in Bangkok a few months ago. Since we haven't spent enough quality time with him in a while, I told him that the Great One was coming to Taipei for her first visit since the Dark Ages. The next thing I knew, he went through the trouble of rearranging his schedule so that he could be in town to take us to one of the restaurant he owns.
STAY has become our family's favorite restaurant in the last couple of years, and it's the place where we go to celebrate birthdays and my parents' anniversary - which we last did 2 months ago. Since our last visit, STAY has welcomed their new Executive Chef Pierrick Maire, so we would have the privilege of previewing some of his new dishes.
Raw mackerel with parsley and hibiscus jelly - there was a dab of parsley purée along with some shiso (紫蘇) leaves and shiso flowers on top of the mackerel. The sauce on the side was tomato confit, but it tasted a little like ponzu (ポン酢) reduction. More acidity came in the form of the roll of hibiscus jelly, coated in sesame seeds. Pretty refreshing, and the acidity kinda whets the appetite.
Baby pork ravioli with raw and cooked baby vegetables, honey foam - interesting to find diced tomato inside the ravioli with pork. Lots of spring vegetables like multi-colored carrots, tomato, zucchini, and asparagus... etc. Apparently the baby pigs come from the hills around Taipei. Pretty delicious.
When noticed the wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano next to our table when we were seated, and it became apparent now why this was on the tray... Chef Pierrick was gonna finish cooking our risotto on it!
After the softening process finished, the chef used the spoon to scrape off the soft cheese. The cooked risotto was then put on top of the wheel and thoroughly mixed with the cheese, before being served to us.
Risotto with bean sprouts and mahi-mahi - the mahi-mahi was cooked with armagnac, butter, and lemon. It was delicious, but ever so slightly on the dry side. The risotto - despite having plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano mixed in - was cooked with soy sauce and bean sprouts. A very Asian twist, and I wondered whether the chef developed this while he was at STAY Beijing.
USDA Prime beef cap with truffle macaroni, asparagus, tomatoes - I love this cut of beef as it's just really tasty. The truffle macaroni was nice, too.
Perfect doneness. The French do know how to handle a piece of beef.
I've always loved this place for their dessert ribbon, and while the most I've ever done was two of these, today we were treated to three of these babies by Head Pastry Chef Alexis Bouillet. That's a pretty impressive sight!
Mini millefeuille with pistachio and cherry
Vacherin with raspberries and lime, vanilla cream - very refreshing and delicious.
Mandarin - a signature at Ledoyen, and this was very, very tasty.
My eating itinerary continues even after I'm back in Hong Kong, and the very first evening I'm back at Amuse Bouche. Dr. Poon is hosting his MNSC dinner, and there was no way I was gonna miss it!
Lobster salad: Main lobster salad with tomato jelly, sea urchin and Oscietra caviar, shaved Mozzarella - love this as a starter. The cold lobster and the lobster jelly was very refreshing, and there was lots of umami here between all the ingredients. Even the multi-colored tomatoes were full of umami. The Mozzarella powder on the side were both savory and acidic, and the vinegar caviar next to the powder had tougher skin than expected.
Truffle pasta: Tuscan artisanal pasta with black truffle and a natural poulet jus - the restaurant's signature dish that no one ever gets tired of. Just casarecce pasta, truffle sauce, some cheese, gravy, and topped off with shavings of fresh truffles. So simple, and so much happiness from such simplicity.
Yellow chicken: slow-cooked free-range whole yellow chicken from Landes with morels, asparagus and sauce Albuféra - the chicken came in big chunks but were nice and tender. The pile of creamed morel mushrooms was very creamy.
Prime beef sirloin: Roasted US Prime beef sirloin, black truffle celeriac risotto with asparagus and baby carrots, beef jus - medium-rare was recommended, but I asked for it to be a little more rare. I think I made the right call.
The beef was done perfectly. Nice and charred on the outside, but still juicy and tender in the middle. The "risotto" underneath was pretty tasty, too.
Caramelized pineapple: caramelized pineapple scented with cinnamon, layers of marscapone in pots - this was surprisingly good. The diced confit pineapple was served in alternating laters with marscapone and crunchy bits like feuilletine.
Once again, Dr. Poon was really generous and we were treated to a fantastic range of wines.
1998 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon P2 - very nice and toasty nose, drinking beautifully. Surprisingly mature on the palate. However, sitting in the glass caused the wine to die quickly.
First flight: opened for 1 hour and decanted just prior to serving
1967 Palmer, from the Sotheby's ex-château sale on June 4, 2016 - initially very dusty and chalky nose. Very savory, with some tobacco notes. Very smooth on the palate. 92 points.
1967 Petrus - nice and ripe fruit on the nose at first, but also showed a little dusty and mineral notes, with mint, smoke, and some sweetness here. 93 points.
1967 Trotanoy - nice fruit, a little stinky, some coffee, black fruits, smoky with a hint of vegetal notes. Firmer and more powerful on the palate. 95 points.
Second flight: opened and decanted 1 hour and 15 minutes later.
1982 Latour à Pomerol - lovely ripe fruit, eucalyptus, still a bit graphite and dusty. Much riper on the palate. 95 points.
1982 L'Evangile - showing sweet grass and vegetal. Corked.
1982 Trotanoy - replacement bottle. Opened late. Mineral and savory nose. 93 points.
1982 Lynch-Bages - coffee, smoke, a bit of sweet fruit. Sweet grass showed up on the second pour. Wonderful. 97 points.
Third flight: opened 30 minutes prior to serving without decanting.
1989 DRC Grands Echezeaux - really sweet berries, almost like strawberries. Lovely, with a bit of forest. Not so great on the palate after sitting in the glass for a while. 96 points.
1980 DRC Grands Echezeaux - also nose of really sweet berries. Beautiful, with more concentration. 98 points.
One of our friends is leaving Hong Kong and moving out to Canada, so Hello Kitty and I decided to send her off with a nice dinner... since she's not likely to get much fine dining choices where she's going. Épure is a place whose food we all enjoy, and location-wise it was also very convenient, so it seemed like the perfect location.
I think I was recognized by some of the staff, and even manager Olivier came over to say hello - and mentioned that he hadn't seen us in over a year... I guess we need to give them a little more love, then!
I had a few words to say about the "For her" and "For him" menus we had to deal with on our first two visits, so we were relieved to find that they finally scrapped that stupid sexist crap. Diners can still choose from a 6- or 8-course tasting menu, and has a choice of having the chef decide those dishes (presumably featuring more seasonal ingredients) at a premium, or compose their own menu from a list. Heck, they can even go à la carte! Given that I've been literally eating nonstop for the last week, I figured 6 courses would suffice tonight.
But the best change they've made to the menu? The names. On top of just scribbling out the list of ingredients, each dish now has a poetic name attached. In a way this calls to mind what Dominique Crenn does at L'Atelier Crenn, although I've yet had the pleasure of dining there.
We would start with some amuses bouches, the first few of which came in a small box.
Filo pastry with beetroot - the cheese overpowered the beetroot, which was perfect.
French vegetable tart with basil cream and tapenade - the tapenade dominated, and the veggies were crunchy.
Smoked eel tart with grapes and horseradish gel - the eel was smoky and I loved the grapes. The sauce was sweet, too.
Beef carpaccio with cheese and spinach - not sure what kind of cheese was inside, but it tasted a little fermented and acidic at the same time.
Sea urchin royale with green pea purée - with piment d'espelette on top, which was surprising in its kick.
Zébra, ananas, cornue, tigrée... sans oublié l'infatigable terrassier des mer | chilled lobster, heirloom tomatoes three ways : jelly, sorbet, confit - the poached lobster was delicious, and I loved the flavors of the different tomatoes. The jelly was both savory and acidic, and the confit was savory with plenty of umami.
Il était une 'foie' dans le sud-ouest | seared duck foie gras, black cherries, black pepper, Banyuls wine - love the pun! Served with discs of spiced cherry jelly, Sauternes gel, and almond foam.
The foie was perfectly done. Delicious.
Âgé de 9 ans il en 'riz' encore | aged rice risotto, Parmesan Reggiano, baby spinach - this looked like a wonderful risotto...
but Olivier came over and offered us some black truffle shavings on top, which was a very generous treat.
Voyageur dans l'âme | Vendée pigeon, girolles, Medjoul date and verbena carcass jus - knowing how much I love pigeons, Hello Kitty very kindly shared part of her dish with me. The pigeon was, naturally, done perfectly rosé. The roll on the side came with pigeon leg and crunchy diced onions, and tasted pretty sweet.
Another roll served on the side was filled with pistachio and pigeon liver mousse, which was whipped to an incredibly light and airy texture that it simply melted with the heat of my tongue. Wow!
Le vol au vent | flaky butter puff ring, lobster line caught fish, liquorice scented coulis - wow! I'd never had vol au vent like this! This was a pretty damn big one, and the puff pasty ring was impressive-looking as it was deliciously flaky. Inside was a langoustine tail and John Dory with lobster bisque foam, as well as some haricots verts. It's no wonder that this is the signature dish of the restaurant, but I guess this only showed up on the menu in the last year or so.
Olivier very kindly offered us some cheese, and Hello Kitty picked two from the cart:
Laguiole - salty, a little smoky, definitely earthy. Texture was a little soft and wet, but at the same time a little crumbly.
Mimolette - this must have been well-aged, since it was pretty damn salty... but tasty.
Our pre-dessert was vanilla panna cotta with honey yogurt sorbet and apricot compote. The "panna cotta" was actually not solidified but rather liquid. The sorbet was very rich and creamy, and the very sour apricot compote helped with that.
J'en suis baba | soaked sponge cake, rhum agricole, pineapple, Tahitian vanilla - in the very dark environment of the restaurant, I mistaken read the title as "Je suis baba". Since my godson Bear calls me "baba", I felt obliged to order this as my dessert. The baba themselves were a little more dense than I am accustomed to, but the tropical flavors - passion fruit, pineapple, and vanilla - were all there.
Première fois en 1867, elle est gonflée... | caramelized mille-feuille, strawberries and lime zest Chantilly - the ladies decided to share this, and our eyes opened wide when we saw it brought table-side. This was one impressive millefeuille! And it's meant to serve two! Yes, the dinner spoon is in the picture for scale...
Olivier cut the giant puff in two, then ladled on the Chantilly and strawberries...
Just look at the air pockets in the puff! Sooooo flaky! So delicious.
It even came with a quenelle of strawberry sorbet on the side.
Finally, we have the mignardises...
Orange blossom macaron
2005 Kistler Chardonnay Stone Flat Vineyard Parmlee Hill - overripe, really sweet, lots of Chinese licorice (甘草), straw, and ripe, tropical pineapple.
A really, really good dinner. This was our third visit, and we've never been disappointed here. In fact, the level of cuisine here is consistently high - which isn't surprising given the pedigree of the chefs. Service seems to have improved, too... but then again, having the attention from Olivier could have something to do with it... We probably shouldn't wait for a whole year before our next visit, especially since corkage has now been reduced to a more-reasonable HKD 500.
P.S. Many thanks to Olivier for giving us copies of their customized Hong Kong Tatler Best Restaurants Guide 2016, which has the vol au vent on the cover.
P.P.S. I'm still curious about the party that went on in the private room during dinner, where I counted 13 young girls in the early twenties hanging out with a young guy in his early twenties... Actually, I'm more curious about what happened after they left the restaurant...
It's one of the hot openings in town in the last few months. Seafood Room boasts panoramic views of Victoria Harbour high above Causeway Bay. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to its opening party, although I got distracted enough on the day that I actually forgot to attend the happening event. Not that I really cared to rub shoulders with Adrian Brody, but I didn't really understand his connection with the restaurant...
So when No Fish suggested that we check out this place, I didn't have any objections. There's been so much hype about this place that I figured it was worth checking out... especially if it wasn't on my dime! Many thanks to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for the treat...
First thing I noticed when I really the elevator lobby was the presence of a tall, svelte Caucasian door bitch hostess with long, flowing hair... standing next to the key pad for the elevators. It seems that is all she was required to do... punch in the floor numbers and directing them to the right elevators.
Once I got out of the elevator, I came face to face with another tall, beautiful Caucasian hostess. And a tall, well-dressed Caucasian man who seemed to play the part of manager. I was led to our table by the window. Nice view, indeed.
The menu was kinda interesting, being divided up into different sections along the cooking/serving methods, such as "sashimi", "ceviche", "hot dishes", "Cantonese style", "tartare", "new style sashimi"... etc. Speaking of "new style sashimi", maybe I am too stupid to know what it is... because I was never enamored with Nobu. The last time I heard the term was from the mouth of an idiotic Indian manager during a disastrous dinner at a now-defunct restaurant in Dubai. And that was 9 years ago...
Anyway. We ordered a few dishes that interested us... a whole fish, a burger, 2 "new style sashimi", a tartare... and asked our waiter if that was enough food. He suggested that we order more. So we took an extra dish and added a ceviche.
A waiter came over to pour the olive oil onto our bread plates, then proceeded to use specialized scissors (with four rows of blades) to snip some herbs onto the olive oil. A little gimmicky? Perhaps. But at least we know the herbs are fresh.
Langoustine tartare, avocado, truffle, caviar - a very familiar look, since many restaurants nowadays have something like this: a stacked column consisting of diced cubes of avocado/tomato/seafood. I have to admit that this particular version tasted pretty good. Heck, you've got fresh langoustine, creamy avocado, then add a little caviar, some chopped chives, a few slices of black truffles (which, by the way, are not fresh shavings of tuber melanosporum but appear to be preserved), drizzle some truffle oil for the fragrance and that familiar flavor on the tongue... and dab some gold foil for decoration. Looks pretty, and tastes pretty good. What's not to like?!
The only problem, at least for a pain-in-the-ass diner like me, is that I've seen it many times before. It's contrived. Formulaic. The chef has decided to slap a few ingredients and dress it up to make it look and feel luxe, but there's no soul here. And they want HKD 290 for this.
Sea bass ceviche, mango, lime, plantain crisps - I was somewhat surprised by the sweetness of the mango and lime sauce here, although I'm sure there was still enough acidity here to cure the sea bass.
Sea urchin new style sashimi, ponzu, shiso leaf - I wasn't the least bit surprised when No Fish turned into her alter ego Mo' Unni and demanded that we order the sea urchin. Well, she is picking up the bill, after all... so of course I was only too happy to oblige.
But to be honest, I wasn't happy with this dish. It seemed simple enough, but why was the sea urchin drenched in so much ponzu (ポン酢)? The acidity and salinity of the sauce simply overpowered the natural sweetness and creaminess of the sea urchin. And although I am normally pretty attuned to the taste of perilla leaves, for some reason those flavors didn't register with my taste buds. And no, I don't need those raw quail eggs provided on the side, but maybe I should have just added them into the mix to cut down the ponzu. Then again, I wasn't exactly expecting sea urchin shooters, you know...
Sea bream, lemon, lime, Moroccan spices - that's a pretty big fish for the two of us, and you know what the most surprising thing was? No Fish ordered a whole fish! You don't see that happening everyday...
Alas, this dish was underwhelming. I didn't mind that it was grilled slightly on the dry side, but the main problem here was that it was completely under-seasoned. Bland. Yes, there were some "Moroccan spices" here... which I deducted to be not much more than some mint leaves and some red pepper flakes. Had we not squeezed some lime juice on top, the fish would probably have no seasoning whatsoever. Not enjoyable at all.
Shrimp and lobster burger, chunky chips - in comparison to the fish, this burger was heavenly... although the flavors were probably still slightly timid if taken on its own.
The shrimp and lobster filling was soft and creamy. Definitely satisfying after that very unsatisfying fish we just had.
To be honest, there was simply too much food for the two of us. We had no idea why our waiter suggested that we add one extra dish when we had already ordered a whole fish and the burger. Perhaps as a result, the bill seemed a little steep given the quality of the food we had. HKD 2,000 after factoring service charge, with no drinks other than bottled water. There are plenty of choices around town where I could dine for less and be far happier.
No Fish and I got talking, and realized that we were not the restaurant's target demographic. There were clearly quite a few couples here on dates, sitting by window-side tables with good views, but that wouldn't be us. Neither of us were impressed by the artwork being displayed in the restaurant, and I really couldn't care less if any of it came from Adrian Brody. We appreciated the section of "Cantonese style" seafood on the menu, which offers local classics for those of us familiar with them, but we would balk at paying a premium over what we could get at local joints. Then again, maybe we're just a couple of cheapskates.
I know they've got great views. I know they spent buckets of money decorating this place. I know they're aiming for a lively vibe, and have a great terrace and roof for drinks. And they're paying for pretty hostesses to be eye candy. All of this costs money and is gonna be reflected in the prices. But I really only care about the food, and when a restaurant comes up short on this - arguably its raison d'être - then there's little point for me to even think about it.
Tonight I was privileged to have been invited to attend the local launch event for Krug x Egg - a collaboration between Champagne Krug and chefs around the world who have created egg dishes to pair with the Champagne house's signature Grande Cuvée.
The recipes have been collated and published as a beautiful cookbook, similar to previous volumes on potatoes, tomatoes, and crabs.
Locally in Hong Kong, 14 restaurants have signed up to present dishes that will be paired with the Champagne - and these will be offered starting on the first of July. Three of these restaurants sent teams to the House of Madison tonight to present their offerings at the preview.
We started with, of course, flutes of Krug Grande Cuvée. Tonight these were served from magnums, and this batch used 2005 as the base wine. Lots of toasty corn in the nose, while it was lovely and mature on the palate.
Egg / chicken / corn, from Restaurant Akrame - the egg was steamed at 63°C and covered with a very thin sheet of Mimolette. Below the egg were cubes of poached chicken with shallots, which I found slightly overcooked. The team then sprinkled some popcorn on top. This was pretty tasty, and I thought the popcorn was a stroke of genius... because the nose of Krug Grande Cuvée is always full of toasty corn.
Smoked egg and asparagus with truffle, Parmesan and hazelnut dressing, from Aberdeen Street Social - very nicely balanced. The acidity from the asparagus vinaigrette cuts through the richness of the yolk and the Parmesan foam. It also enhanced the acidity in the Champagne.
Smoked egg, mushroom, and truffle, from Catalunya - a syringe is inserted into a soft-boiled yolk to extract part of the contents, then truffle broth is injected back into the yolk sac. This is then smoked inside a glass dome, before potato foam is squirted on top.
This is pretty much how the truffled egg is done by Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi, except here you've got some bits of mushrooms at the bottom and potato foam on top.
At the end of the evening, each of us received an egg stand personalized with our initials, meticulously decorated by Gigi Tang from Steady Hands Creative. Such a nice souvenir!
A pretty interesting evening, and I really look forward to visiting a few more restaurants for their special egg dishes.
I received a ping from the Man in White T-Shirt, telling me that Gert de Mangeleer was coming to town and doing a pop-up at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It took all of 3 seconds for my excitement level to go from zero to 150%. I absolutely loved the dishes I had when Gert came to do a pop-up last year, and I had just been talking to Mr. Ho about going to Hertog Jan and dining in their farmhouse. So I couldn't be happier to find him back in town again.
And it took me less than a minute to ping the Fergies... since they're members of the club and can actually book us a table. After a quick check, we realized that booking didn't open for another 12 days, so I was tasked with reminding Fergie to make that booking - when it opened at 9:00 a.m. on the day.
Funny thing is... I didn't have to. Small Person pinged to remind her husband half an hour before booking started, and Fergie took a break from his session with the trainer to make the call. So we had our table. And because we had quite a few of us... and because Fergie's reputation precedes him... we were given the private room at Derby Restaurant - so we could be as loud and obnoxious as we pleased without disturbing the other members too much.
Having met him briefly last year, I pinged Gert and told him that I was coming tonight. So when Hello Kitty and I arrived before anyone else in our party, Manager Nicolas Caupain invited me into the kitchen for a quick catch-up with Gert. It was good to see him again before things started getting busy during service, although he was already timing his ducks as we chatted...
After everyone has arrived and all the wine bottles laid out next to us, it was time for the food to come our way...
Tomato cannelloni - these were filled with fresh cheese in the middle, and sprinkled with a powder made with 107 different varietals of tomatoes. Yes, boys and girls, that is one hundred and seven different types of tomatoes. Nice.
Marinated bell pepper with goat cheese and anchovy - one of the few items repeated from last year.
Taking the top off reveals the goat cheese inside, along with the anchovy. There was plenty of sharp acidity here in the pepper, which helps cut down the richness of the goat cheese as well as counter the saltiness of the anchovies. Right off the bat, you've got some pretty heavy flavors.
Foam of potato topped with coffee, vanilla oil, and Mimolette cheese - a totally amazing dish, and apparently a signature for the restaurant. It's at once savory and sweet, although the balance tilts towards saltiness. The potato provides the basic creaminess, but the vanilla and the coffee flavors pierced through the savory cheese to announce their presence. Very exotic, and lovely fragrance.
One can see the different layers here, with potato foam at the bottom, then coffee powder, vanilla oil, and finally shavings of Mimolette.
Meringue of passion fruit filled with goose liver, bergamot, and Coca-Cola - a familiar snack from last year, although sans the thin layer of Coca-Cola gel at the bottom, it seems... The fennel seeds and bergamot delivered their distinctive flavors over the creamy goose liver and the passion fruit.
Avocado, tomato powder, and Hertog Jan olive oil - the avocado was covered in the same tomato powder used on the cannelloni, with 107 different types of tomatoes. We were also surprised to learn that the olive oil comes from Hertog Jan's own farm, since the climate would seem to be a little cold for olive trees. In any case, this was simplicity and purity in a nutshell.
The giant poster displayed at the front of the clubhouse publicizing this pop-up prominently announced "Simplicity is not simple". I think that's exactly right.
Royal Belgium caviar, marinated watermelon with dashi vinegar and Mozzarella - when I first read the menu and saw this dish, I was at once overjoyed yet slightly dismayed. Overjoyed because I loved the caviar, watermelon, and Mozzarella dish Gert showed us last year. It was absolutely harmonious and delicious, and visually stunning. Slightly dismayed because I would be repeating a dish from last year instead of trying something different. As it turns out, this wasn't the case at all.
While the three main ingredients may be the same as what I had last year, the manifestation and presentation was completely different. It's certainly not as pretty as before, as the watermelon - marinated in dashi (出汁) - is now just one large round disc hidden underneath the 20g of caviar. Gone are the kohlrabi and nasturtium. The Mozzarella now comes as a thin, somewhat powdery "milk" instead of little round balls.
Not surprisingly, the sweet watermelon paired well with the caviar. And the creaminess from the Mozzarella also helped to temper the savory flavors of the caviar. When I discussed this with Gert at the end of our meal, he felt that this version of the dish was "more pure". I could not disagree with him.
Langoustine 'dim sum', pumpkin, passion fruit, and cacao - last year Gert brought us similar-looking "dumplings" made with kohlrabi, and tonight the wrappers were made of thin sheets of pumpkin. The fillings were made of langoustine, and the sauce was made with deep-fried langoustine heads and their tomalley, along with some vanilla oil and passion fruit sauce. Finally, there was a sprinkle of cacao powder on the dumplings and a few crystals of sea salt.
The flavors here were just so complex... You've got the umami from the langoustine broth; exotic, tropical fruitiness and acidity from the passion fruit; sweetness from the vanilla; some lovely cacao; and an exotic spice that I mistook for cloves, but which in fact turned out to be wattleseeds. A lot of distinctive flavors here, but they all seemed to come together without any one of them feeling out of place. Wow!
Goose liver, smoked eel, green herbs, and pickled vegetables - another dish where I was surprised by the presentation. I had thought Gert was doing the same dish as the one I had last year. Nope. Once again he delivered a different variation using the same ingredients, which is visually more stunning.
The smoked eel (probably from the Oosterschelde delta like last year) was wrapped around the foie gras terrine, and topped with slices of kohlrabi and beets, and garnished with pickled beets and flowers. The dashi was a little smoky and sprinkled with cumin seeds. The lovely fragrance of bergamot seemed to emanate from the kohlrabi. Just an incredibly lovely dish.
Duck from Chalans, grilled on hay with beetroot, cherry, and liquorice - the beautiful Challans ducks, which aged for 10 days, were presented to us whole, and the room was filled with the lovely smokiness of hay instantly.
There was some trepidation on the part of both Hello Kitty and myself, because neither of us are fans of beetroot. The big cylinder of beetroot did have those earthy flavors we are not fond of, but I still managed to eat most of it. The sauce was made with beetroot, licorice, cherries, and raspberries.
The duck was perfect. Very tender, well-seasoned, with smoky flavors in the skin. The thin sheet on top of the cherry and beetroot was chewy and tasted full of licorice flavors.
'Snickers': chocolate - pinda - caramel - who doesn't like Snickers after dinner?! You've got the deconstructed Snickers bar at the bottom, with chocolate, peanuts, and caramel. On top was a block of "crème de caramel" that had been frozen in liquid nitrogen, and some liquid caramel was drizzled for more ooomph. Just.delicious. I could have taken another.
This was a drinking crowd, and the 9 of us (with one not drinking much) managed to polish off 8 bottles' worth of wine on a Sunday night...
1997 Salon Le Mesnil - a little toasty and a little salty plum (話梅). Acidity was higher than expected.
2006 Bernard Van Berg La Rose Jaune Rosé - pretty sweet on the nose, with a little candy, coconut butter, a little Chinese licorice (甘草), sugarcane, and very bubble gum.
2006 Sine Qua Non Autrement Dit - the other rosé in the pair, with a much darker color. Nose was more pungent, very sweet, and lots of strawberries.
1990 Camille Giroud Pommard 1er Cru Clos Les Epeneaux, en magnum - opened 2 hours prior and decanted 1½ hours prior to serving. Drinking very well tonight. Smoky, savory nose with eucalyptus, and fragrant cedar notes.
1993 Hubert de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Les Grands Epenots - nose was a little dusty. Savory and smoky notes.
1996 Chanson Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Mouches Blanc - nose of marmalade, sugarcane. Fresh, rich, and a little sweet.
2007 Suduiraut - nose of acetone, marmalade, orange blossom, and honey. Really sweet on the palate but there's enough acidity for balance.
This was another fantastic dinner from Gert, and showcases not just his amazing flavor combinations but also the quality of the produce. They shipped everything in from Belgium in two shipments, with the vegetables and herbs coming in the day before the first day of the three-day event. We were a group of picky diners and I think expectations were surpassed around the table, so there are now discussions about a trip to the farmhouse next summer. I look forward to seeing Gert again, but on his home turf next time.
After a quiet period of a few months, it was time to gather the troops and celebrate some birthdays again. For some reason, this time it was decided to lump three of us together... with birthdays from June to August. Our usual organizer has decided to throw the ball back to us, insisting that we pick the venue. When no one else wanted to speak up, I asked whether it would be too late to book us seats at Ippoh (一宝)... which of course it was. So our other birthday boy suggested Tenkai (天海) instead.
Which was how the 7 of us found ourselves taking up all but one of the seats at the counter... much to the detriment of the lone Japanese man sitting next to us. Our organizer had warned the restaurant's owner that we would be loud, but I'm not sure he was prepared for how loud we were...
We took the middle of three set menus, which was certainly enough food for us.
First came the set of appetizers (酒肴) designed to go with our liquor, served in a nice box. I didn't have a ruler, but I wondered if the width of the box was 8 inches...
Boiled spaghetti squash and watershield (そうめん南瓜と蓴菜のおひたし) - pretty interesting to have pumpkin shredded into noodle-like strands of somen (素麺), served in vinegar with marinated eel (鰻) and slippery watershield (蓴菜).
Chef's omakase otsukuri (おまかせお造り) - with sweet shrimp (甘海老), chicken grunt (鶏魚), and lean tuna (鮪).
Cold pork shabu-shabu "buta rei-shabu" (豚冷しゃぶ) - this was alright, marinated in ponzu (ポン酢) and served with some shredded myoga (茗荷) on top.
Sweet and vinegared horse mackerel (鯵の南蛮漬け)
Boiled green papper and baby sardines (甘長とうがらしとじゃこのおひたし) - I didn't see the pepper, but we got some nice raw tofu skin (生湯葉), along with some edamame (枝豆) and baby sardines (ちりめんじゃこ).
For some reason, the salted sea squirt and sea cucumber "bakurai" (莫久来) that was on the menu was never served...
Then the tempura (天麩羅) started:
Prawn "kuruma-ebi" (活車海老) - first the head was served.
Then the tail.
Snow crab "zuwai-gani" (ずわい蟹) - nice and sweet.
Tile fish "amadai" (甘鯛) - I don't think I've ever had tile fish tempura before. Not bad. Of course the skin and the scales were left on the fish.
Cake of minced sardines "kuro-hampen" (黒はんぺん)
Sillago "kisu" (鱚) - I'm not used to having half a sillago when having tempura...
Japanese mackerel "sawara" (鰆と木の芽) - the Spanish mackerel has been marinated a little, and I love the flavor of sansho leaves (木の芽).
Leaf ginger "ha-shoga" (葉生姜)
The chef paused to serve us the palate cleanser (口代わり), which was egg custard "chawan-mushi" (茶碗蒸し). This was very delicious, with dried scallops, shrimp, baby spinach, and some chicken that had been overcooked. But the flavors were deeper than your standard chawanmushi, perhaps because of the dried scallops.
Baby sweet fish "ayu" and small river crab "sawa-gani" (稚鮎と沢蟹) - nice presentation. I love baby sweetfish (稚鮎) in the summer, and these were served with matcha powder. The tiny river crabs (沢蟹) have always looked cuter than they were delicious, as there is just too little crab meat inside...
Sea urchin on green perilla "ohba-uni" (大葉海胆) - technically the tempura portion is just the perilla leaf, with raw sea urchin on top.
Scabbard fish (太刀魚)
Mini tomato "mizuki-hime" (ミニトマトみずき姫) - so much umami here... and a little salty.
Sardine "iwashi" (鰯)
"Tendon" with sakuraebi from Suruga Bay (駿河湾桜海老のかき揚げ天丼) - my neighbors were bitching that their pieces of kakiage (かき揚げ) seemed a lot smaller than mine...
Lifting up the kakiage revealed a layer of scrambled eggs on top of the rice, and there were little pieces of pickled cucumbers mixed in with the rice. Totally awesome! The sakura shrimp (桜海老) were very, very, very tasty... and the scrambled eggs made all the difference.
Clear clam soup (あさりの吸い物) - ummm.... where were the clams? OK, without clams this was still tasty, with some tofu puffs, shiitake mushrooms, carrot chiffonade, and mitsuba (三つ葉).
Seasonal omakase dessert (季節のおまかせデザート) - nice and refreshing fruit jelly.
Lady M chocolate mille crêpes - our organizer has been getting Lady M crêpes for our birthday gatherings for the last 2 years, and tonight was no exception. Now we've got a new flavor that we haven't tried previously... and I gotta say I enjoyed it... even though this made me completely stuffed.
I've been dying to break out one of my big isshobins (一升瓶), so I volunteered to bring this...
Kikuhime Tokugin (菊姫 特吟), from isshobin No. 154/300, brewed in 2000 (平成十二年) and bottled in May 2013 - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%. This was sweet on the attack, and became dry mid-palate with a spicy finish. Very viscous and rounded on the palate. Very smooth thanks to the aging.
Godenya (ごでんや) is probably one of the toughest restaurants to get a seat at in Hong Kong. Up until recently, the restaurant had a capacity of just 8 seats - 6 at the counter, and another two at a table. That capacity was expanded significantly when their private room finally opened last month, which allows for another 6 seats. Reservations is strictly via their website, and with such limited seating, it's no wonder that most of the available spots are filled almost as soon as they become available.
I have had the pleasure of dining here only once, when the Man in White T-Shirt kindly offered me a seat at a pop-up last year. Even though the cuisine didn't come from the chef here, the sake pairing from Goshima Shinya (五嶋慎也) left a deep impression on me.
I finally got around to book seats via their website - a whole 2½ months in advance. As the cuisine is seasonal and would likely include crustaceans as ingredients, and the restaurant discourages people with allergies from visiting, I had to disinvite a very dear friend after making the reservation...
I met our friends Birdie Golf and Mrs Snoopy on a street corner nearby, and led our gang down the dark back alley to the restaurant. It really IS a hole-in-the-wall...
Peach, glass shrimp, soy milk (白桃 白海老 豆乳) - on top of the soy milk panna cotta at the bottom was a pool of shrimp consommé, with chunks of Japanese white peach as well as a pile of Japanese glass shrimp (白海老) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県). The raw shrimp was sweet and tasty as expected, and the peach was pretty sweet. The shrimp consommé was cool and refreshing, with surprisingly clean and focused flavors. A beautiful dish to start.
Zarusouhourai Junmai Ginjo Queeen Nama (残草蓬莱 純米吟醸 クイィーン 生), 2016 - served at 12°C. An unpasteurized cloudy sake (薄にごり) with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%. This showed strong fermented rice flavors, almost like an overripe peach with that alcoholic flavor. In that sense this was the perfect pairing with the peaches in the first dish.
Rock oyster, seaweed (岩牡蠣 海苔) - June to August is the best season for the Japanese rock oyster coming from the deep seas around Mie Prefecture (三重県). The texture was kinda crunchy, and the flavors were more briney and less creamy than I had expected. The pile of nori (のり) seaweed underneath the purple perrilla leaves was really, really delicious.
Tamagawa Ice Breaker Junmai Ginjo Nama (玉川 アイスブレーカー 純米吟醸生), 2016 - served at 13°C. An unfiltered (無濾過) and unpasteurized sake with a seimaibuai of 60%. Tasted like fermented rice, with a little nutty flavor or liked dry tofu.
Abalone, liver, rice (蝦夷鮑 鮑肝 米) - what a beautiful dish! The Ezo (蝦夷) abalone from Hokkaido was first steamed and then sautéed. Served on a bed of risotto cooked with Parmigiano-Reggiano, toasted pine nuts, shiitake mushrooms, and zucchini. What made the dish, of course, was that deliciously rich and powerful abalone liver sauce on top. Probably my favorite dish of the evening.
Sogen Junmai Nama (宗玄 純米生), 2015 - served at 43°C. Unfiltered and unpasteurized with a seimaibuai of 65%. Sweeter on the palate, with a spicy and alcoholic back palate.
Bonito, roe, Iberico ham, beets, black olive (鰹 魚卵 イベリコハム ビーツ 黒オリーブ) - neither Hello Kitty nor I are fans of beetroot, but in this case the dish worked out much better than we expected. The earthy flavors were covered up by the black olive purée, as well as the smoky flavors of the smoked salmon roe (イクラ) and the bonito flakes. Texture-wise the beets kinda worked very well with the slices of raw bonito, while the salmon roe and the shredded jamón ibérico on top added interesting dimensions to the mouth feel. All in all, a very tasty and interesting dish.
Kazenomori Yamada Nishiki 80% Junmai Shiborihana Nama (風の森 山田錦80％ 純米しぼり華 生), 2016 - served at 12°C. With seimaibuai of 80%. Nice and easy to drink, with medium sweetness as well as dryness. A little banana on the nose.
Kamo eggplant, morel mushrooms, lobster bisque (賀茂茄子 モレルマッシュルーム) - I love Kamo eggplant, and here it's been split in half and scored in the middle they way that one would a mango. The morels are delicious, but it was the lobster bisque in the bowl that made my eyes pop. Really, really tasty stuff. I could barely contain my giddiness as I delivered spoonful after spoonful into my mouth.
Tenyurin Tokubetsu Junmaishu (天遊琳 特別純米酒), 2003 - served at 48°C. With a seimaibuai of 55%. Medium and slightly sweet on the attack, but dry on the finish. Nose of salty plum along with some savory minerals. Starting to exhibit the characteristics of a koshu (古酒). Released in 2016.
Lamb, Manganji pepper, blue cheese (羊 万願寺唐辛子 ブルーチース) - how interesting that the lamb was served with Okinawan bitter gourd (ごうや) and okra, along with Manganji pepper (万願寺唐辛子). Even better was pairing it with sauce made with Fourme d'Ambert.
Taenohana Kimoto Junmai Nama 90% (妙の華 きもと純米生), 2016 - served at 18°C. With a very high seimaibuai at a whopping 90%. A little viscous, almost a little creamy with some acidity... like drinking Calpis (カルピス). Nice and elegant on the attack, sweet on the palate with the blue cheese sauce, but with a spicy finish.
Wild ayu (天然鮎) - this came out in a Chinese bamboo steamer. 'Tis the season for sweetfish (鮎), and the surprise was that it was steamed Cantonese style... by pouring hot oil and soy sauce on top. This is a very, very bony fish - meaning there were TONS of long, thin bones inside. Eating this took some effort, since the bones were still a little hard. I guess that's why high-end Japanese restaurants often serve baby sweetfish, or deep-fry them to get the bones to a crisp. In any case, the wild sweetfish from Shimanto River (四万十川) in Kochi Prefecture (高知県) was very, very tasty. Steaming it seemed like the perfect way to bring out the delicate flavors. The guts inside - with the liver - delivered a strong and bitter flavor with a sweet finish on the tongue. It's exactly how the Japanese would love to have their fish.
Yoemon Junmai (酔右衛門 純米), 2011 - served at 47°C. Unfiltered sake with seimaibuai of 70%. Nice acidity here and a little spicy. Released 2016.
Crude wheat udon, mussels soup (玄麦饂飩 ムール貝スープ) - the udon (うどん) from Chiba Prefecture () was so thin that it almost seemed like soba (そば) in terms of texture. The soup base was made with surf clams (北寄貝) and flounder (鮃) bones, but the fragrance of mussels from Iwate Prefecture (岩手県) was prominent and unmistakable. Very sweet and flavorful on the palate, yet there's a certain elegance here. Drinking the soup delivered that warm and fuzzy feeling - so comforting. So simple. So good.
Black cherry, pistachio, sake (さくらんぼ ピスタチオ 日本酒) - I had conflicting feelings about the dessert. The pistachio ice cream was rich and dense, with loads of pistachio flavors. But the "topping" - made with the accompanying cloudy sake that had been frozen for a day - was rather bitter. I would have preferred to do without the frozen sake.
Kinpo Shizenshu Nigorishu (金宝 自然酒 にごり酒), 2016 - a really thick, cloudy sake with a seimaibuai of 80%. Alcoholic, spicy, and bitter on the palate.
This was a wonderful dinner. Wonderful Japanese ingredients. Seemingly simple yet very complex flavor combinations. Good sake pairings with the occasional stroke of genius. Not costing the diner an arm and a leg. No wonder this place is tough to book. I'm already regretting not booking a table immediately when the website opened up for reservations again 2 weeks ago.
It's Friday night, and I'm back in my favorite Neighborhood for a casual dinner. I was meeting up with a friend over a simple bottle of wine, and I couldn't think of a better venue for it.
The Man in White T-Shirt asked me in the afternoon whether a whole chicken would be too much for us. Since there were only two of us, I let him know that we wouldn't be able to handle a whole bird... even though I knew any bird he sends our way would be really, really delicious. After a quick word with him, we decided to order a few dishes and take things easy.
Fried white asparagus / bacon mayo / trout roe - I had this a couple of months ago, and I definitely wanted some more of this... especially that sinful bacon mayo with the trout roe on top. It's coming to the end of the season for white asparagus, and I could start to taste a little more bitterness on the palate. But that's nothing that a little bit of bacon mayo could cure...
Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon crudo - these stay I stay very far away from salmon, unless I know that it's not farmed and doesn't come from Norway. Well, when the Man in White T-Shirt tells you to try this salmon, you dutifully follow his instructions. Very tasty, indeed... and that nice, crunchy texture tells you that this ain't no farmed fish.
Wagyu skirt steak tartare / egg / truffle - the steak tartare here never fails, and what's not to love about a little runny egg yolk and plenty of black truffle shavings?
New season matsutake mushroom pot-au-feu - I've had more than a few amazing pot-au-feus from the Man in White T-Shirt, and when I see this on the menu - with matsutake (松茸) mushrooms to boot - I just gotta hit it!
Besides the fresh matsutake, each of us also got a big chunk of poached foie gras in our bowl. Even though it's the middle of summer and people are melting in the heat, it still felt really good to drink a nice bowl of soup. So comforting.
Warm Riviera vegetables "Ducasse" / truffle jus - they must know that I'm not getting enough veggies in my diet, because the kitchen sent this out for us. The peas were amazing, and the carrots were damn good. Love the acidity in the artichoke, too... and of course the truffle!
Australian wagyu hanger steak - this was pretty nice and tender, and I got absolutely no complaints. All that black truffle on top of the mashed potatoes didn't hurt, either...
2005 Pascal Lachaux Clos St Denis - lots of black fruits here. Opened up really nicely to show forest and herb notes.
For a casual dinner, this was definitely too much food... but very satisfied as always.
So this is it. The end of an era. My friend Uwe Opocensky had decided to leave the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong after 9 years to pursue greener pastures. Besides passing the baton for the job of executive chef, this also means that both the Mandarin Grill + Bar as well as the Krug Room will be helmed by someone different.
As soon as I found out that Uwe was leaving, I rounded up a few friends who are also fans of Uwe's cuisine. We were lucky enough to be able to book the Krug Room for Uwe's last day at the Mandarin, and I figured we just had to be there to give him a proper send-off. I even asked Uwe for permission to BYO so that we could share some wines with him.
I was completely shocked to have gotten a ping from My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin around 7 p.m., telling me that she has arrived... since she is not known for being punctual. Well, dinner was set at 7:30 p.m. so she turned out to be a whole half-hour early. I guess the advantage of arriving early is that she got to start sipping the Krug Grande Cuvée earlier, while waiting for the rest of us to arrive at the Bar area of the Mandarin Grill.
After the Fergies arrived, the 12 of us were led through the usual route to our dining room. We did have a couple of people who hadn't been here before, and the remark about the space looking like a vintage luxury train was spot on.
As usual, the menu for the night was written on the wall in chalk. Throughout the dinner, I kept hearing the question "How many courses do we have tonight?" The answer I repeated in response was that the number of courses doesn't really matter, since we all would roll out of there completely stuffed... That has always been Uwe's m.o.
Salad and flowers - with locally foraged herbs, roasted pistachio, and shaved pistachio on top. Hello Kitty complained about "no fork use", but this is something that one picks up with one's hands... A nice and light starter.
Salmon caviar - an old favorite that Uwe was serving again tonight. The glass domes were lifted to release the smoke into the room, which I recall came from chunks of cedar.
The organic Scottish salmon were just so, so tender and delicious. The smoky flavors were just right and not overpowering. As usual this was served with dots of sour cream, egg yolk, and egg white... which we would use on the salmon as condiments. Tonight this came with an additional serving of Kristal caviar from Lake Qiandao (千島湖) in China. Yum!
We also had some fresh as well as pickled cucumbers on the side.
The Parker House rolls also made an appearance, and they were very, very well-received. These would lead to an interesting discussion about "bottoms" and "tops"...
Langoustine - another old favorite, and these not-so-little guys from the Faroe Islands are really, really amazing. Seared and sprinkled with some roasted konbu (昆布) powder.
Since another Parker House roll magically appeared in front of me, I decided to jokingly make a 'langoustine roll'... and dipped it in the reduction on the side made with the langoustine head in the same manner as soy sauce. Another "no fork use" dish.
At the start of dinner, Uwe brought out this king crab from Norway. Scanning the QR code on her tag, Uwe was able to tell us that she weighed 4.9kg, was caught by a woman named Inge who owns a boat with a crew of 1... etc. The ladies felt that the crab needed a name, so they decided to call her "Ingrid the crab". She may have been sitting on ice, but she was still kinda moving around a little. Uwe lovingly petted her as he introduced her to us...
King crab, part 1 - leg of king crab, seared (with butter?), with a little yuzu on top. Beautiful. With some nasturtium leaf purée on the side.
King crab, part 2 - next came a nice little cocotte filled with lots of yummy-looking stuff. This would be the rest of Ingrid...
Uwe then ladled the contents of the cocotte into our bowls, which came with some purée of local wild pepper leaves that had been blistered and burned. Besides the crab meat, there were green peas, finely diced chives, and chive flowers mixed in. Uwe also spooned a little bit of the crab tomalley on top. On the rim of the bowl was a pinch of homemade miso with sake. Smelled beautiful, and tasted rich and amazing. At this point, I noticed that the staff had taken away our unfinished Parker House rolls... which would have come in real handy in soaking up any liquids in the bowl.
Lobster - cooked in its own jus with girolles and asparagus, topped with microgreens and some dashi (出汁) vinegar. I dunno what it was, but there was definitely some incredible, almost nutty fragrance coming up as I hovered my nose over it. Slurp.
Sea bass baguette - I was kinda wondering why Uwe was slicing a baguette in front of us, when we realized that there was sea bass baked inside the baguette!
The sea bass was wrapped with a layer of greens - which I thought might have been spinach - as it baked inside the dough. The slices were served with some fennel salad, and we were told to "butter our bread" with some caviar butter.
Many of us are fans of Jean-Yves Bordier's seaweed butter, but this is even better!
Matcha - as a palate-cleanser, we were served the "green tea" which, as I know very well, contains neither tea nor caffeine. The ceramic bowl comes with some basil powder inside.
Some "ice water" was poured into the bowls, and we were asked to use the bamboo whisks to whip it up until it's nice and foamy on top. The "ice water", of course, is actually tomato consommé that had been frozen into a block of ice, then extracted as it melted. Finally we sprinkle some flowers and herbs on top. This has always been one of my favorites here, as the tomato consommé is just a big umami bomb, and the basil made it really, really fragrant.
Pork - this was the same good stuff that Uwe served me early this year, and comes from a 5-year old French sow.
Each of us got two thin slices of the very fatty pork, with crackling on top. Served with some carrots, as well as dots of carrot and carrot top (read: greens) purée. My first bite of the lean meat was very tough and dry, but thankfully the rest of it was juicy enough. I could never say no to pork fat, but at this point in the dinner, I was having trouble shoving much more food into my stomach... So I focused my attention on the extra chunks of pork crackling that magically appeared on my plate - which I dutifully shared with My Favorite Cousin upon demand.
Beach - desserts in the Krug Room have always been a performance affair that takes up the entire long, marble table. We were asked to move to one side of the table while the chefs moved around to create it with edible sand, chocolate pudding that hardened in front of our eyes, pieces of chocolate, coulis,... etc.
They've even got coconuts on the beach... which were really, really delicious.
Almost everything on the table was edible, with the exception of these brightly-colored corals...
In terms of the wines tonight, we decided to take the "Vintage Package" which comes with 2 glasses of Grande Cuvée and a glass of the 2002. There was plenty of vino to go around, however...
Krug Grande Cuvée - I forgot to check the ID and find out the base year. Honestly, I would be happy to drink Grande Cuvée any day of the week... and often I prefer it to some of the other offerings from the House of Krug. Tonight I loved the toasty nose, and the way the maturity of the wine hit my palate.
2002 Krug - perhaps my palate was a little off tonight, but I really didn't appreciate this wine tonight. I thought it was pretty flat on the palate, with just a little bit of acidity. A hint of toast in the nose, but otherwise totally unremarkable.
1996 Margaux - what a beautiful wine! Smoky nose with pencil lead, savory minerals, soy sauce, some sweet fruit, eucalyptus, and a little sweet grass. Silky tannins on the palate. I would have given this a near-perfect score tonight. Decanted just under two hours prior to serving.
2003 Colgin IX Estate Proprietary Red - decanted for just under 2½ hours prior to serving. Honestly I was disappointed in the wine I brought, although the others - including Uwe - seem to have enjoyed them. Maybe because I left the wine in my glass for much too long before taking the first sip, but I didn't get very much out of my first glass. I got a little more from my second glass, which showed some coconut and vanilla oak that I was expecting from this wine. Still very tannic at this young age.
1997 Philippe Delesvaux Carbonifera - as the back label states, this was harvested on October 30, 1997, with a whopping 27% potential alcohol and a ludicrous 459 g/L of residual sugar. As a reference, Yquem usually comes in at 1/3 of the amount of residual sugar... Totally unctuous, viscous in terms of texture. Loads of honey, nutty, and orange blossom turning into rich marmalade on the nose. Very, very sweet... getting to the point of tasting like honey. A real treat to have tasted this monster.
Not bad... considering that 1 of us didn't drink.
At the end of service, Uwe brought in the entire team from the kitchen to introduce them to us - including Chef Lung who is said to have spent the last 35 years at the hotel. These guys have done a tremendous job, and what we had tonight was certainly world class!
Since Uwe had many fans here tonight, we all took turns taking pictures with him. I'm not normally in the habit of "stamp collecting", but decided to make an exception and snap a few pics with Uwe. We will miss him at the Mandarin Oriental, but look forward to seeing him soon at his new venture!