We were graced with another visit by the King, and for the first time in quite a while, the gang ended up back at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門). This used to be the default venue for our gatherings for a long time, but we've kinda been a little more adventurous over the last couple of years. I was pretty happy to come back for some familiar dishes. As my stomach hasn't been feeling well for the last couple of days, I asked to take things easy tonight.
Double-boiled soup with tripe and ginkgo nuts (白果豬肚湯) - warm soup is always good when you have stomach problems. I was really happy to start with this... as my stomach gets relief from the warm, soothing liquid. The tripe and the pork belly from the plate of "dregs" were pretty damn tasty, too.
Salted steamed chicken (鹹切雞) - I'm glad we didn't get the crispy chicken as we usually do. This was pretty perfect - right in the middle in terms of salt between the crispy chicken (which can be pretty bland except for the skin) and the salt-baked chicken (which can be over salty).
Steamed pork patty with salted fish (鹹魚蒸肉餅) - more comfort food, requested by our visitor. Perfect over some steamed rice. Here one has a choice of having the salted fish all mashed up and blended with the pork (which was what we had) or having the fish in chunks on top of the pork. The pork was very finely chopped, which gave a very smooth texture.
Pan-fried leopard coral trout (煎封東星斑) - as much as I enjoy Cantonese steamed fish, I do like a change of pace once in a while... and they do a pretty good job with the pan-fried variant here.
Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦籽炆柚皮) - we love our pomelo skin, so we ordered up two variants. The good thing was that I didn't taste any bitterness, although there was a wee hint of the fibrous tissue. The shrimp roe, of course, made things very, very tasty.
Braised pomelo skin with abalone sauce (鮑汁炆柚皮) - but the "simpler" version with abalone sauce wasn't bad, either.
Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮荷葉飯) - we already had some steamed rice with the pork patty as well as the pomelo skin, but this was still immensely enjoyable.
Almond cream (杏仁茶) - I was kinda stuffed and feeling uncomfortable already, and had thought about skipping dessert. In the end I succumbed and had a bowl of the delicious almond cream, although I chose to skip the egg whites.
Glutinous rice dumpling (糯米滋) - this came complimentary along with the fruit plate. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have taken one of these... as glutinous rice is harder to digest.
I brought 2 bottles to dinner, but we were pretty weak tonight and left about half a bottle...
2001 BOND Matriarch - double-decanted 45 minutes prior to serving. Very fragrant nose, with some coconut butter, cedar, and nice fruit. Initially dry on the palate, but became sweeter with time. Still full-bodied after 15 years, even after throwing off a ton of sediment.
Unfortunately the wine caused my gastritis to flare up, so I was in pain by the end of dinner and had to leave a little early...
The traditional Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is coming up, and so once again mooncake season is upon us. I've been writing about my own mooncake tastings for the last couple of years, but wasn't planning on another round of it this year. Until now.
A few weeks ago I was contacted out of the blue by the good people at Good Goods Social Enterprise Concept Store (好好社企), which is under the Hong Kong Council of Social Services. They were rolling out their batch of mooncakes this year, and asked if I would be willing to taste them, provide some feedback, and provide them with some publicity. I was a little taken aback by their interest, as I'm certainly not an influencer with hundreds of thousands (or even tens of thousands) of followers. But hey, since they're a social enterprise, I figured I'd give them the benefit of the doubt and try out the mooncakes. I even offered to pay for the box they were giving me.
So... after a delay of almost two weeks - most of which was due to being laid up at home thanks to a bad case of gastritis - I finally got around to visiting their office to pick up the box of mooncakes. Humphrey and Edith very kindly (and patiently) gave me an introduction to the work they are doing at the HKCSS, especially the role they play as a platform for many small social enterprises which neither have the expertise nor the budget to market themselves.
The focus today, of course, was on the mooncakes. These are made by a social enterprise bakery headed by a chef who came from a local 5-star hotel, although this chef prefers to remain low-key and anonymous. There are a total of 5 different flavors, which can be purchases on a per piece basis (HKD 38, or HKD 25 early-bird before August 31st). In box form there are two different collection, and the box I was provided with included both custard as well as custard and egg yolk fillings (HKD 250, or HKD 188 early-bird before August 31st).
The box sleeve was painted by Elaine Chiu, an art student at Hong Kong University. I really like the watercolor painting for its very "local" look and feel.
I tried out two of these after nuking them for a few seconds.
Mini mooncake with egg custard (迷你奶黃月餅) - not bad at all. I'm not a connoisseur when it comes to mooncakes, but I thought these were pretty decent.
Mini mooncake with egg custard and egg yolk (迷你奶黃蛋黃月餅) - a little more interesting thanks to the small chunk of egg yolk in the middle, making things a little less sweet. The quality of the yolk was OK - not too dried out and crumbly.
When I was asked to give some feedback on the mooncakes earlier today, my reply to Humphrey and Edith was that I didn't expect these to be the best-tasting mooncakes on the market. Frankly, anyone who chooses to buy these aren't buying them because they beat out the ones from Spring Moon (嘉麟樓) in a blind taste test... and we all know that the Peninsula-branded ones all come from a factory, anyway - so there's really nothing special about them other than the name stamped on the boxes. As long as these mooncakes are reasonable in taste and don't leave consumers with a bad taste in their mouths, that should be fine.
And I do think that these mooncakes taste fine. I'm not a huge fan of mooncakes, but I'll happily eat these if they were given to me. So... although I'm usually not in the habit of giving mooncakes to others, I think I'll go and buy a few boxes to give away.
Humphrey and Edith also introduced me to their SE Gift Certificates, which can be used at numerous restaurants and shops around town, including (to my surprise) Leonidas Chocolate outlets. Since they declined to let me pay for the box of mooncakes, I ended up buying a few certificates for use later. There's a Leonidas Chocolate counter right in my office building, so I guess I know where I'll be using the certificates!
I was also given a quick tour of a Good Goods shop, which stock food and other items made not just by social enterprises here in Hong Kong but also Japan. I decided to pick up a couple of chocolate bars made here in Hong Kong.
As Mid-Autumn Festival approaches and people start thinking about buying mooncakes as gifts, it is my sincere hope that more people would consider the ones from Good Goods in lieu of ones from traditional suppliers such as 5-star hotels around town. I think those people who aren't concerned about brand names would be just as happy to receive these, and we can do a little more to help those in need within our community.
After a long bout with gastritis - and days of eating a lot of bread with water - I found myself craving for something a little more satisfying. I've been thinking about sushi for a few weeks now, as it's been a while since I last had something decent. Then there's the fact that it's been baby gizzard shad season, and I really love them. The question comes down to picking out a place in Hong Kong that would have the right supplier for that.
I remembered that I had the pleasure of having it prepared by Masa-san at Rozan (鮨魯山)3 years ago, so I figured that would be a logical place to try. I called to make a reservation. No answer. OK, it's past 10 p.m. I'll call the next day during the day. Still no answer, at an hour where someone should be in the restaurant prepping for lunch. Called during lunch service, and still the call went straight to a mobile phone number's voice mail. After 4 or 5 attempts, I gave up. I know that this restaurant isn't hard up on money, nor does it need to fill every seat, but seriously... How do you even do business when nobody picks up the fucking phone?!
Fortunately, my friends know the manager in charge of Uncle Peter's restaurants, and they ended up making the reservation by contacting him. I, too, was given the manager's business card once, but I don't know the guy well enough to call him on his mobile for a reservation. Whatever the case, at least we got ourselves seats at the counter.
We placed our order and the staff asked us about any dietary restrictions. Out of habit, Hello Kitty and I shake our heads... but we would later realize our mistake. We were, after all, dining at a top-end sushi restaurant.
A trio of amuse bouches start us off:
Grilled eel (鰻) - with pickled cucumber and mozuku (海蘊) seaweed in ponzu (ポン酢). A nice way to begin the meal, as the acidity in ponzu whets one's appetite.
Simmered octopus (蛸の柔らか煮) - very, very tender. Love the fragrance and the light kick from sansho leaves (木の芽).
Marbled flounder (真子鰈) - these slices were pressed between slices of kelp (昆布締め) for a few minutes, although as usual, I found the additional marinated flavors to be too mild.
This was especially the case when one dabs a little bit of spicy grated radish on top... as the kick was just too overpowering.
Then the series of nigiri sushi (握ずし) started:
Swordtip squid (剣先烏賊) - also called 白烏賊 when it comes from the waters around Kyushu (九州). Rather than the usual one piece of even being scored multiple times (such as this one in Gyodoike 魚道生 in Taipei), Masa-san completely diced the squid into little cubes. Some of the chunks were very soft, but others were surprisingly crunchy and chewy. Drizzled with a little sudachi (酢橘) juice, then sprinkled with some yuzu (柚子) rind, black (charcoal?) salt, and a dab of horseradish (山わさび). Very nice. Maybe my memory is failing, but I don't remember the shari having so much dark vinegar on my visit 3 years ago. I think the acidity was definitely a little more pronounced today.
Rosy seabass (喉黒) - lightly torched, with a little dab of what seemed to be asatsuki (浅葱) on top. Always delicious.
Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - the thin slice was lightly torched, then served over some very soft tofu skin (湯葉). The delicious sauce was made with alfonsino bones, so it's not surprise that it was particularly tasty with plenty of umami.
Raw shrimp (甘海老) - these were some pretty damn fat shrimps! Dressed in dashi (出汁) made with the shrimp heads. Slurp.
California cockle (蝦夷石影貝) - sometimes called 石垣貝. I can certainly understand why it's also called 白鳥貝, as it looks like a bleached version. This was tasty.
Oyster (牡蠣) - from Akeshi (明石).
Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - with a dab of king crab roe on top. This was really awesome.
At this point I realized my mistake. Why did I say that I had no dietary restrictions, when I clearly do at high-end sushi restaurants? If I am asked, I would certainly ask the chef not to serve me any form of tuna. But I was a little late, as the first piece had already been sliced.
Lean tuna (赤身) - marinated in soy sauce for a few minutes, scored well and served with a dab of minced ginger on top.
Japanese hairtail (大刀魚) - scored and lightly torched. Serve on a bed of Japanese corn purée, and garnished with edamame (枝豆), ladyfinger, and leeks.
Japanese yam (山芋) - pickled and wrapped simply in nori (海苔) seaweed.
Horse mackerel (鯵) - served with a paper-thin slice of kelp (昆布) and topped with a dab of yuzukosho (柚子胡椒). Very yum.
Northern sea urchin (北紫雲丹) - I loved this when Masa-san served it to me 3 years ago. Packed by Hadate Suisan (羽立水産) in Hokkaido. Sooo creamy and sweet.
Abalone (鮑) - from Kyushu. Simmered so that it was very, very tender. Served with abalone liver sauce.
Baby gizzard shad (新子) - this is what I came for. Unfortunately this was towards the end of "baby season", and these little guys have grown quite a bit... in fact they'd almost be 小肌 right now. On my last visit 3 years ago, my sushi was covered with 6 of these little fishies. Masa-san said that as recently as last week, he could still fit 5 of them onto one piece of sushi. But tonight the pieces were so big that I got 4 halves... or 2 whole fish. Still very tasty after marinating for 10 days between kelp, but I'm disappointed that I came a couple of weeks late.
Mackarel roll (鯖巻き) - this was my substitute for the usual fatty tuna roll. With some shiso (紫蘇) and sesame seeds. Pretty happy with this.
Conger eel (穴子) - simply grilled. Pretty good.
Fish soup - this might look like an ordinary bowl of miso soup, but it was made with plenty of fish bones, and was very, very tasty. I normally don't touch miso soup with the proverbial 10-foot pole, but I guzzled this down in a few seconds.
Conger eel (穴子) with sauce - the muddy flavors were much more pronounced with this piece.
Egg - pretty good.
Dessert was a combination of mizu shingen mochi (水信玄餅), mango from Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県), and houjicha (焙じ茶) ice cream.
Hello Kitty and I opted out of Masa-san's signature fatty tuna sushi, with three thin slices on top of the rice. However, I don't think we got a replacement piece... That was a little disappointing.
We brought 2 bottles of sake with us tonight, which were very different in styles.
Kamoshibito Kuheiji Junmai Daiginjo Hinokishi (醸し人九平次 純米大吟醸 彼の岸) 2014, BY28 - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 30%. Dry on the palate, with some fermented rice flavors. A little spicy on the finish. Probably more of a food sake.
Juyondai Special (十四代 秘酒) - forgot to check the BY for this bottle, but assume it would be 28 as it was purchased this year. Seihakudo (精白度) of 65%, which should translate to seimaibuai of 35%. Much smoother and rounder on the palate, and more viscous. Deeper flavors and richer on the palate. Also slightly sweeter.
During dinner my friends were talking about going to Hidden Kitchen (秀殿) tomorrow, so I kinda flippantly suggested that we hit the place for supper after our dinner tonight. Well... this is an example of how you get called on your bluff! I was forced to call the restaurant and check for seat availability, and surprisingly at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, they were able to accommodate the 4 of us.
So we cabbed over, found ourselves seated at the counter, and ordered up a few skewers. And continued our drinking.
Chicken wings (手羽唐揚げ) - one should never leave this place without ordering these awesome chicken wings, and the sauce covering the crispy skin is the key.
Deep-fried fish cake (薩摩揚げ) - actually I think this was じゃこ天. Not bad at all.
Deep-fried chicken cartilage (なんこつ唐揚げ) - not bad, but some of the pieces are really kinda tough.
Kelp with herring roe (子持ち昆布) - always one of my favorites. Just love how the fish eggs deliver that crunchy and springy texture when I bite down into this!
Scallop with tartar and salmon roe (ほたてタルタルいくら) - simply one of the best items on the menu. Just the breaded and deep-fried scallop by itself would be drool-worthy, but then you add the tartar sauce on top, and put a bunch of gloriously golden salmon roe that you can pop in the mouth... Next time Imma order up two of these for myself!
I decided to order a couple of fruity girlie drinks here...
Fukucho Unshu Mikanshu (富久長 温州みかん酒) - this tasted like a very concentrated orange juice with a little bit of added alcohol. Well... there's less than 7% alcohol here, which is sake-based. Pretty nice on the rocks.
Okinawa Kokuto Umeshu (沖縄黒糖梅酒) - from Sakiyama Brewery (崎山酒造) using an awamori (泡盛) with 44% alcohol as the base, diluted down to about 14%. This was expected to be sweet, but actually wasn't as sweet as I thought it would be. Lots of depth in terms of flavors here, though. A delicious drink on the rocks.
A very happy and satisfying evening. Of course, I definitely didn't need the extra calories that I took in at Hidden Kitchen, but I'm glad that I was feeling stuffed to the brim at the end of the evening.
Thanks to my week of painful gastritis, I managed to cancel a few dinners with friends - including someone I hadn't seen for a couple of months. When we decided to reschedule our meeting, we figured we should go back to my favorite private dining space. As we began thinking about who else to grab for this dinner, it seemed like a good idea to invite our friends who had worked with us at the German sausage factory. It gave us a chance to catch up with everyone.
After taking a couple of requests, I added a couple of my favorite dishes, and arrange the menu with the chef. Some of us have not had the chance to dine here, so anticipation was high.
Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - always one of my favorites. Lots of flavor here without the excess honey glaze. Today the pork was a little lean and tough, but still tasty.
Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - another old favorite. Love the bouncy texture of these savory "madeleines" made with egg white, crab meat, and birds' nest.
Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - a little disappointed with this favorite dish today. Over the last couple of years I have come to regard this place as having the best version of this dish in town. Tonight I thought there was a little too much liquid left in my bowl... and the tripe itself wasn't as bouncy and springy as usual. Still pretty delicious, especially with the toasty flavors of the Indian almonds.
Double-boiled winter melon soup with shrimps, Yunnan ham, fresh crab meat and lotus seeds (百寶燉冬瓜盅) - the weather is still very warm, and nothing cools the body down like winter melon. Just love this in the summer, and the tonkin jasmin flowers (夜香花) were really fragrant.
Braised garoupa fin in traditional style (古法炆斑翅) - there was a request to skip the usual steamed sole, so I asked for this instead. Much less likelihood of this being over-steamed.
And so much more interesting! Each piece of fin was fried so that the skin was crispy, then braised with garlic slices, shredded shiitake mushrooms, and lettuce. Pretty yum.
Tea-smoked chicken (茶皇烟燻雞) - my favorite preparation of chicken from the chef. I just loooooove that smokiness, and the scent hits you as the plate is laid down on the table. So much flavors, too! Not bland like many crispy chicken (炸子雞) can be, or over-salted like salt-baked chicken (鹽焗雞). Just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the savory notes, along with the spices. Beautiful.
Steamed minced beef patty with aged mandarin peel (陳皮蒸牛肉餅) - I haven't had this too many times, but I love the diced aged mandarin peel mixed inside. Wonderful fragrance in the mouth.
Choy sum in superior stock (上湯菜心) - don't be fooled into thinking that this was nothing special. Vegetables here are of the finest quality, and the way they're cooked by slowly feeding stock so that the flavors are fully absorbed... and yet stay so delicate.
Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿古老肉) - the ladies were so happy that I ordered this. No, this isn't just for gweilos. The crispy batter was perfect, and just enough sauce to deliver the flavors.
Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) - very nice. Much better than I remembered.
Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - Slurp. A good way to finish the meal... on a sweet note but without being overpowered.
ILove Lubutin very kindly brought a few of these really sweet Japanese peaches to share with us. So ripe and sweet, and so juicy!
We brought a lot of wines with us, but didn't end up opening them all. Pretty weak...
2007 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay - pretty toasty with slightly high acidity on the palate.
2008 Galardi Terra di Lavoro Roccamonfina - smoky, minty, and later on coffee notes.
Agrapart Terroirs, mis en bouteille Mai 2012, dégorgée en Aout 2015 - an extra brut blanc de blancs that was very easy to drink. Well-balanced acidity with a nice mousse. Oaky and a little pungent.
Agrapart Complantée, mis en bouteille Mai 2012, dégorgée en Aout 2015 - richer, deeper flavors, with a longer finish, and a little more acidity.
2007 Rene Rostaing Côte-Rôtie La Landonne - floral with violet notes, fruity, sweet, a little ripe. A beautiful wine drinking well right now.
1982 Cos d'Estournel - decanted for about 2 hours, which was definitely too long. Very smooth and smoky, but lost a little of the fruit.
As I've been doing for the last 2 weeks, I dragged my ass out of bed early in the morning and turned on the TV to watch the 2016 Olympics in Rio. As my eyes gained the ability to focus after the first few minutes of being awake, I grabbed my phone and opened up Facebook. I had the option of reviewing my memories with the On This Day function, so I checked them out. A year ago today I happened to have lunch for the second time at the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine (Hello Kitty 中菜軒), thanks to visitors who demanded that I take them there. I decided to share a picture I took that day, which showed a group of 6 middle-aged "uncles" having dim sum at a restaurant where every other table was occupied by a female or a child fan of Hello Kitty.
So... when Hello Kitty finally decided to wake up this morning, and wondered about what to do for lunch, she decided that she wanted to have some Hello Kitty-shaped dim sum. Thankfully the restaurant was only a short walk away, and we managed to arrive shortly before 1 p.m. As luck would have it, we only had to wait about 5 minutes for a table to open up.
We wanted to get a couple of old favorites for the usual photo op, but also wanted to try some new items. Given that there were only two of us, it was decided that we would just stick to dim sum items and dessert.
Hello Kitty spring rolls (春卷) - the spring rolls were kinda skinny but tasted fine. They went out of their way to make this into a "Hello Kitty" item by decorating a rice cracker which, unfortunately, got a little stale despite being wrapped in cellophane.
Hello Kitty custard buns with egg yolk (流沙包) - one of my favorite items here. Not only did these white buns looked like Kitty, they were pretty tasty, too! Love the runny, savory custard inside.
Of course, I just had to do what I love most... which was to poke Kitty's eye out with my chopstick! This time around I made sure to take a video of it... and also made sure to twist the chopstick around. Yes, I'm cruel and sadistic.
Hello Kitty steamed sausage rolls (腸仔卷) - we originally thought that they would stuff these would Chinese sausages (臘腸), but these were just little cocktail franks. Still pretty decent.
Hello Kitty steamed prawn dumpling (蝦餃皇) - as always, only one of the dumplings had the whole face painted on. These looked a little better than the ones from my visit a year ago, but I was still impressed by the ones from my first visit.
Hello Kitty coconut and red beans Chinese pudding (椰汁紅豆糕) - not a fan. The coconut milk pudding on top tasted fine, but the bottom layer of red bean mash tasted a little foul.
Hello Kitty mango pudding (芒果布甸) - this was much better. Both the layer of mango pudding and the fruit jello tasted fine.
Not bad for the two of us. We got out in just under an hour, by which time there were close to 20 people squeezed inside the front door waiting for their tables, not to mention more people outside. We discovered new items on the menu, and vowed to round up more people so that we could try the food at dinner.
We also went to the boutique next door to check out all the branded items they were selling, such as chopsticks and chopstick rests, ceramic coasters, fridge magnets, stuffed animals, canvas shopping bags...etc. Of course they also had different types of wine made by Château Berthenon in Côtes de Blaye in Bordeaux, including a "limited edition" release for the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty a few years ago...
P.S. When Hello Kitty posted a pic of the dishes onto social media, she included the caption "貓全部都係貓全部都係貓", because it was indeed a bunch of cat faces on the table. This, of course, was a reference to the song that's recently gone viral in Hong Kong - forcibly inserting the words "雞! 全部都係雞! 全部都係雞!" into the melody of Mariage d'amour that was made famous by Richard Clayderman. So for the next two days, the two of us had that damn melody running through our heads...
It's been a while since our little group have gotten together for dinner, and figured we could gather up the troops and pop a few corks. While I was kinda hoping that we'd go and revisit my new Shanghainese discovery, a few people were pretty insistent that we pay ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge a visit. Apparently I was responsible for ensuring that we got the VIP treatment, since I'm on friendly terms with chef Philippe Orrico, manager Jeremy Evrard, and sommelier Nicolas Deneux.
So... in order to measure up to what was expected to me, I reached out to both Philippe and Jeremy in advance. I asked Philippe about the new dishes on the menu, and I asked Jeremy to please set aside some wine glasses for us. And just a couple of days before today, our party suddenly went to a table of 6 to a table of 9. Thankfully that didn't turn out to be a problem, but it meant we needed more wine glasses...
I ran into Philippe when I arrived, and he had put together a few of his newer dishes for us. This was pretty exciting...
Our amuse bouche was a serving of Cavaillon melon gazpacho, with melon balls and a slice of smoked duck breast. It's always good to start with something slightly chilled and refreshing, something a little sweet and fruity, which whets the appetite.
Then came the sea urchin trilogy:
Marinated fish - slice of young yellowtail (はまち) wrapped around burrata core, topped with sea urchin and lots of chopped chives. We were advised that the perilla leaf was only for decorative purposes, otherwise I would have rolled it around the whole thing and eaten the package.
Egg custard - the egg custard was topped by lobster consommé gelée, sea urchin, and caviar. And the ubiquitous gold foil...
Foie gras - here the brioche carried sea urchin and foie gras terrine on top.
Snails ravioli, girolle mushrooms, wild garlic emulsion - what a wonderful dish! We've all had the combination of escargot, girolles, and garlic numerous times before, and you just know that these ingredients work together beautifully. This dish was no exception. The texture of the escargot was so springy, and the wrappers for the ravioli were thin and supple. I could eat 3 portions of this. In fact, I'd come back for lunch and just order a regular portion.
John Dory and sea urchins, orrechiette, clams, prawn, bisque sauce - the roasted John Dory sits on a bed of orecchiette as well as razor clams cooked in seaweed butter, with a delicious carabinero on the side. This might seem like a hodgepodge combination, but I assure you that the flavors all work together. Damn, I love those carabineros!
Then came the main event. Philippe told me about the Challans duck, which would work perfectly with the wines we were having tonight. Given that there were 9 of us, we ended up having two of these babies... This was presented with two services:
Challans duck apicius, first service - first up was the duck breast. This was really, really delicious. Philippe adapted the dish with the use of 14 different spices, including star anise, cinnamon, and aged mandarin peel. It's no wonder that it tasted a little Asian (or Chinese)...
There were only 4 wings that can come from 2 ducks, and since I am supposed to be the VIP here, was it any wonder that I got to have one of them?! That seemed to have drawn some complaints from those who had smaller portions at the table, but I did share some of it with Hello Kitty, and also got to have a cut of her portion.
Roasted pigeon, artichokes, baby spinach and lemon chutney - how can we come here and NOT have the pigeon, the one that I had declared to be "the best pigeon in town"?! This wasn't part of Philippe's plan, but there were some at the table who would raise a stink if they didn't get this tonight.
And yes, it was as delicious as ever. Although I would have preferred it slightly more pink... that would have been perfect.
Challans duck apicius, second service - duck leg Parmentier, with mash potato (duh), frisée, truffle, and albufera sauce. This disappeared in no time...
What's next after the mains? Cheese, of course! Even though Jeremy wasn't here tonight, we were well taken care of by Peter Kong - who told me that he "sneakily" chopped off a wedge from the very last of Jeremy's 4-year Comté. Apparently there wasn't any new supply coming until next year, and they were hoarding what was left of the stash. As a "regular", I guess I was pretty lucky that they were willing to let us have some!
We were presented with 7 different kinds of cheese, plus the passion fruit and raspberry jams from the one and only Christine Ferber. Starting from left these were:
Gratte-Paille - a triple cream made in Champagne-Ardenne. Smoky, with a little bit of acidity but also salty on the palate.
Bûche des Pyrénées - ashy, smoky, very strong gamey flavors.
Chevre de Rove - creamy with some acidity. Naturally this was also gamey, being a goat cheese.
For some reason I skipped the Saint-félicien...
Comté, aged 4 years - nutty and salty. Sooooo delicious.
I also skipped Petit Fiancé.
Colombier fermier - salty, nutty, with acidity.
I also skipped the Roquefort that was aged for 2 years. I was too drunk to eat any more...
Speaking of getting drunk... this group of winos all wanted to bring lots of wine, and it got a little ridiculous. While we generally get to finish around 1 bottle per person, we ended up with 17½ bottles... and only 8 of us were drinking! I played the role of dictator and strictly limited consumption to 1 bottle of wine per person - rejecting people's wishes to open more bottles "for tasting". The theme I had set for tonight was originally "non-Burgundy pinot noirs", which turned out to be apropos given that "Pinot Noir Day" happened to fall 2 days ago. Not surprisingly, the Candidate raised her objection, since she pretty much only drinks Burgundy...
Inflorescence Côte de Val Vilaine, millesime 2010, dégorgée en Avril 2012 - nice acidity balance here. Lovely nose which was nice and a little caramelized. I wasn't expecting a Champagne, but since this was a blanc de noirs made from 100% pinot noir, and was not a Burgundy, this definitely fit the bill...
2012 George Ferae Naturae - a rosé of pinot noir from one of my favorite producers. Ripe and sweet nose but slightly pungent. Surprisingly dry on the palate.
2009 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Spätburgunder 'R' trocken - double-decanted after opening. Very rich nose, with animal notes and a hint of grilled meats. Very fragrant, almost floral after opening up. Smooth on the palate but good concentration here. A beautiful wine that I'd love to taste again in 10 years.
2007 Jacques Cacheux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots - a little dusty and chalky. There's still fruit underneath, but the bottle wasn't ideal.
2012 Tuck's Ridge Pinot Noir Buckle Vineyard - a little burnt rubber, pungent nose. Later on showed some animal and leather notes.
2009 George Leras Family Vineyard - double-decanted for 2½ hours prior to serving, which was probably a little too long. Nose was still beautiful and fragrant, with plenty of sweetness coming from raspberry notes, almost a little caramelized.
2009 Rockburn Pinot Noir Twelve Barrels - nice and smooth, with some lovely fruit on the nose.
2009 Chacra Pinot Noir Treinta y Dos - double-decanted for 3 hours, nose was fairy muted. A little minty, some sweet and cool fruit, with a little rubber. Nice structure on the palate.
2003 Peter Michael Pinot Noir Le Moulin Rouge - sweet nose with eucalyptus. Lovely.
2013 The Hilt Chardonnay The Old Guard - nose of minerals, a little ripeness here. Lovely with cheese.
2003 Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon - opened for 11 hours prior to serving. Grassy nose, lots of ripeness, a little marmalade, and some minerals.
2009 Araujo Grappa - a little acetone, paint thinner in the nose. Reasonably smooth on the palate but still a lot more spicy than I had remembered.
Yeah... we kinda went a little out of control with the wines... The crazy thing was how many bottles we didn't open and had to take home. We did share many of these with Philippe and Nicolas, and didn't bother taking home the unfinished Château-Chalon and grappa. Many thanks to Philippe, Nicolas, Peter, and the team for making our evening so enjoyable (and for putting up with us!) I think I need to go back and visit them a little more. Gotta show them more love! And to get more duck, pigeon, and ravioli...
Another four years have gone by, and this year we had the Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro. I've long been a seller of the Rio Games, and didn't think they could actually manage to pull it off. They did. So kudos to the Brazilians for getting their act together (mostly). They overcame plenty of obstacles, not the least of which was fear of the Zika virus.
As usual, I made an effort to watch the Opening Ceremony, which meant dragging my ass out of bed before 7 a.m. on a Saturday. But it's usually worth it, and I gotta say that I really enjoyed it this time.
Opening Ceremonies have featured stories illustrating the histories of their host countries, and this year I particularly liked this segment at Rio. They did it from the narrative of different races: starting with the indigenous people in the rainforests, followed by the white explorers who began colonizing the land, then the Africans who were brought in as slaves by the Europeans, immigrants from the Middle East, and finally the Asian immigrants - represented by the Japanese who started arriving in 1908. Each group of people brought with them their unique cultures and customs, which combined to make what Brazil it is today. It is a multicultural society, and I liked that they highlighted this.
The end of the history segment introduced the world to Alberto Santos-Dumont and 14-bis. I'll bet most of us have been taught that the Wright Brothers were the first to achieve flight in an aircraft, but the Brazilians recognize Santos-Dumont as the father of aviation.
Of course we were gonna hear Antonio Carlos Jobim's iconic Girl from Ipanema tonight, played by grandson Daniel Jobim. Not too surprised to see Brazilian supermodels make an appearance here, and tonight the Maracana Stadium floor would be Gisele Bundchen's last catwalk as she sashayed from one end to the other, playing the role of the girl in the tune.
A few things I loved about the parade of athletes this time around: I loved those tricycles with the potted plants, and I also loved the children who carried the potted plants as they marched with each team. I loved the fact that Iran's flag bearer was Zahra Nemati, a woman.
I was a little disappointed that Michael Phelps was the flag bearer for Team USA. Yes, he is the greatest Olympian of all time and fully deserving of the honor, but a stronger and more meaningful message would have been sent had the Stars and Stripes been carried by Ibtihaj Muhammad while wearing her hijab - especially in the year of The Donald. Of course, the Olympics aren't supposed to be political...
And finally, the Refugee Olympic Team. It's incredibly sad that these athletes had to go through what they did in their lives, but it's incredibly inspiring that nothing dampened their will to compete. Few, if any, of them are at the very top level of their sport, but it didn't matter. I'm glad that they were given the opportunity to come to the games.
This was the green Olympics, so the five Olympic rings turned green instead of their traditional colors. Each team also were given seeds to insert into the shiny, metallic "cheese graters", and those seeds were supposed to be planted after the games. This I really liked. And there was a video presentation on climate change and how it would affect different parts of the world, including the coastal city of Rio.
The olympic flame this year was another memorable one, with the small cauldron being placed in front of a kinetic sculpture by Anthony Howe, which moves with the air flow generated by the heat and is meant to resemble the sun. A beautiful work of art.
Two weeks later I was at it again. Glued in front of the TV for a few more hours. It was windy, and it poured. Not the best weather to put on a spectacular show.
Undoubtedly the most memorable moment for many from the closing ceremony was the segment on Tokyo 2020. The ante was upped after the surprising and entertaining participation of Queen Elizabeth II in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Games, and it was Japan's turn to answer...
After the Games were declared closed, Mariene de Castro took to the stage in front of the cauldron and sang beautifully as "rain" fell all around her - eventually giving the impression of dousing out the Olympic flames. What a beautiful moment!
Now I'm really looking forward to the Tokyo 2020 Games...
So, years after Lady Elf left us and headed east, Worm Supplier Legolas Jr has decided to leave us, too. He will be eating west to accompany his beloved to jamónland, and a farewell dinner was planned in their honor. After our original plans were hijacked, we got the Man in White T-shirt to help us organize a special menu at Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房). I haven't been back here in a few years, so it was a good opportunity for a refresher.
We started with some appetizers, which arrived in quick succession and kinda pissed me off a little... since it got a little hectic trying to take pictures of each dish quickly before it got cold and the Canadian Bear got pissed off...
Deep-fried custard with porcini (牛肝菌戈渣) - the flavors here were definitely much richer than the usual versions of gaozha (戈渣). The flavors of the porcini definitely came through, as well as the fragrance of having these deep-fried in oil.
The texture, however, remains unchanged. Still kinda jelly-like as it is, after all, deep-fried custard made with chicken stock.
Deep-fried Puning bean curd with Chiu Chow bean sauce (酥炒普寧豆腐) - this was very nice... The texture was just perfect - crunchy exterior, airy interior.
With the traditional fermented bean sauce on top, this became way, way salty...
Crisp fried Osbeck's grenadier anchovies (酥炸鳳尾魚) - it's so rare to find these little fishies nowadays... I remember always having to eat them out of a tin from China, since they weren't available in my native Taiwan. They were my maternal grandpa's favorite, and we used to smuggle tins of it back into Taiwan from Singapore. Anyway, these were certainly fresh and not preserved, and sooooo delicious. I really gotta make it a point to order these whenever I can.
Stir-fried corn in premium soy sauce (頭抽炒粟米) - the corn kernels were crunchy, very starchy and consequently sweet to the taste. Love the kaffir lime leaf chiffonade on top.
Crispy deep-fried pork belly roll (香酥扣肉卷) - these were incredibly crunchy. There wasn't much filling inside, and what was there turned out to be a little sticky and sweet - which I would never have guessed were bits of pork belly. But the deep-fried dough rolled around it? Oh, man... These were so light and airy, and simply crumbled at the slightest pressure from one's teeth. Very, very fat die, but sooooo nice.
Double-boiled roast duck soup with preserved mandarin peel (陳皮老鴨湯) - this was always gonna be a beautiful soup. I didn't end up eating any of the "dregs" and only drank the soup, but I bet the duck (the good restaurants tend to use older hens) would have had a lot of flavor even after being boiled in soup. The soup itself took on a lot of the heavier, smoky flavors of the hen, as well as the distinctive fragrance of aged mandarin peel.
I only allowed myself one bowl of soup, since I knew there was a lot of food tonight.
Stir-fried duo of squid with celery and snow peas (香芹荷蘭豆炒鴛鴦魷) - this was really nice, too... The kitchen used both fresh as well as slightly preserved squid, and the textures as well as flavors were totally different. Not surprisingly, the fresh squid had a much more springy texture, while the preserved version were somewhat chewy. The preserved squid also had a much heavier flavor profile. These contrasted greatly with the crunchy textures of both the celery and the snow peas, and the sweetness of the peas helped to temper the salty squid. Not exactly a fancy dish, but special nonetheless because it's not something one is able to find everywhere.
Salt-baked chicken with ganbajun mushrooms (乾巴菌鹽焗雞) - this wasn't just any salt-baked chicken, this was done with mushroom from Yunnan Province (雲南省) called ganbajun (乾巴菌). I couldn't find the common name in English, because even the Latin binomial name is thelephora ganbajun... Very yum, and I wish I had more room for it.
Steamed virgin crab (清蒸奄仔) - a few friends were at the restaurant last night for another gathering, and I saw pictures posted of these steamed virgin crabs. And here we have them. Yes, April, there are such things as virgin crabs... and no, you don't ask them if they're virgins. There are way to tell.
And one such way to tell is by looking at the roe. The roe of the female crab turns a darker color after mating, and also becomes denser and harder. Looking at the soft and yellow roe in the crab, it's pretty obvious that this one hasn't been around the block.
Stir-fried spinyhead croaker with Chinese lettuce hearts (生菜膽炒獅頭魚) - this was also something special. These little croakers are from local waters and are of the cheap and cheerful variety, which is why they they've completely disappeared from the menus of most Cantonese restaurants in town. Nowadays one mostly finds coral fish like garoupas or groupers at seafood restaurants or fine dining establishments, as they are bigger ticket items that rack up the bill. It's a real treat to find these "pedestrian" fish.
These were filleted and stir-fried with dried mandarin peel, along with plenty of spring onions, hearts of Chinese lettuce, and yellowed chives. Soft and fluffy texture of the fish provided a contrast to the crunchier greens.
Braised winter melon with bird's eye chili (野山椒炆冬瓜) - a really nice dish, but that chili really delivered some kick!
Honey-glazed ham (蜜汁火方) - what a sight to behold! A nice, delicious-looking block of fatty pork. It almost looks majestic as it rises above a bed of lotus seeds.
Unfortunately, I found the lean pork to be a little dense and tough, and the pork fat and skin didn't quite make up for it. But those lotus seeds were completely cooked through, and kinda just pulverized in the mouth. Soooooo delicious.
Bamboo noodles with spring onions and soy sauce (蔥油拌竹昇麵) - this, we were told by owner Lau Kin Wai (劉健威), was a slight twist on the Shanghainese classic. Rather than using the normal round Shanghainese noodles with the softer texture, they have decided to substitute with old school Cantonese bamboo noodles (竹昇麵) from the famous Kwan Kee (坤記). These are thinner and flatter, but also have much more bite. One could easily taste the wok hei (鑊氣) coming from stir-frying at high heat. Absolutely delicious. Too bad we each only got about half a small bowl's worth...
Purple glutinous rice with pumpkin purée (紫米南瓜露) - this was OK. It was supposedly a recipe from the late Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠), but... I dunno. Whatever.
Coconut milk jelly (椰汁糕) - I've always liked these things, but unfortunately I didn't get one shaped like a cat's anus...
Sesame roll (芝麻卷) - known colloquially as "film (菲林)" for their resemblance to old school rolls of camera film, they are always fun to eat (and play with)...
We brought a bunch of wines and Sherries, and it was a little tough trying to do food and wine matching, but hey, whatever...
Aubry Brut - toasty and yeasty on the nose, with a nice balance between ripeness and acidity.
Barbadillo Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado - front palate was a little short but the finish was reasonably long. Nutty, dry on the palate. Nice.
2007 Leeuwin's Chardonnay Art Series - toasty, mineral, a little caramelized and ripe.
2008 Westrey Pinot Noir Justice Vineyard - eucalyptus, a little smoke, some cherries.
Valdespino Solera 1842 Oloroso VOS - much more nutty, more honey and sweetness, more concentrated.
Lustau Almacenista Amontillado Pata de Gallina 1/38 Juan Garcia Jarana - much more savory on the palate, with a drier finish. Clearly a more refined and sophisticated wine.
2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de la Reine de Bois - opened more than an hour before serving. Ripe and sweet on the nose, minty, pretty concentrated.
2005 Monbousquet - popped and poured. Earthy and a little smoky.
This was a fun dinner, with plenty of old school dishes that were specially arranged for us. Many thanks to the Man in White T-Shirt for hooking us up, and I look forward to seeing my Worm Supplier habla español!
I'm up in Beijing again for a quick trip, and this time around I actually get to have a couple of decent meals. I was chatting with Mr. QLI about the potential candidates, and in the end he suggested that we hit Family Li Imperial Cuisine (厲家菜). While there are several branches of the restaurant in the city, curiously, one of them is a long way from the city center. In fact, it's not far from Beijing Capital International Airport. Mr. QLI told me that this particular branch, named 蘭庭厲家菜, is where Chef Li Xiao Lin (厲曉麟) - the second generation owner - cooks. Apparently the location is close to his home.
Since I was flying in this afternoon, it seemed to make sense for us to dine here - as I wouldn't have far to travel from the airport and therefore not subject to the frustrating traffic jams that Beijing is known for. But poor Mr. QLI did have to travel for about an hour just to have dinner with me...
I arrived to discover an empty restaurant in a quiet shopping mall, and Mr. Li chatting with Mr. QLI in one of the five private rooms. We seemed to be the only diners tonight, which wasn't too surprising giving the restaurant's location. I dropped my luggage, apologized for arriving a little late, and was introduced to Mr. Li. I had had my first taste of their cuisine at their branch in Taipei last year, and had been curious about what it would be like at to eat in Beijing. Well, I did better than just eating here... I got to meet and chat with him.
Everything seemed to have been arranged, so I just sat back and waited to see what came our way.
Fried beancake (炸咯渣) - these were interesting, because they were crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Similar to gaozha (高渣). Pretty old school and dipped in some garlic-laced soy sauce.
Deep-fried cod (椒盐银鳕鱼) - pretty good. I do love the texture of cod.
Mashed green soy beans with minced scallops and ginger (翡翠豆腐) - one of the dishes I've tasted before in Taipei. That little bit of chili oil helped pick up the flavors.
Beijing smoked pork (北京燻肉) - a little better than the slice I had in Taipei, with nice and smoky flavors. The deep-fried wafer of crispy dough added some crunch.
Steamed soup with minced pork stuffed in clam (青蛤丸子) - these were pretty nice. The Venus clams these days are no longer wild, and are harvested within the year, rather than the 3-year old wild ones that are double in size.
Stewed beef pan-fried in spicy sauce (麻辣牛肉) - the beef was battered and then browned in the pan, before brushing on the spicy mala (麻辣) sauce. Nice collagen in the beef.
Stewed pork rib in sweet and sour sauce (糖醋排骨) - this is always good. Very soft and falling off the bone.
Duck with shrimp paste and sesame (芝麻鸭子) - the duck was good, but the shrimp paste had a surprising amount of bounce on the bite. Yum.
Steamed snowfrog oil with egg (清蒸蛤什蟆) - nice to see hasma on the menu, even if I'm not a huge fan.
Stir-fried marinated carrots (炒胡萝卜酱) - this used to be served with hazelnuts from the northeast (a.k.a. Manchuria), but these days the quality of those nuts are a little wanting, so macadamia nuts have been substituted
Fried mung beancurd (炒麻豆腐) - another local Beijing specialty.
Baked sesame bun with roasted pork (炉肉烧饼) - the pork belly in the middle was nice and crispy, especially the crackling.
Bird's nest in clear soup (燕窝野意银丝) - a little pile of bird's nest sits on top of a bunch of deep-fried mung bean vermicelli (粉丝).
At the bottom is actually shredded pheasant, although the birds are farmed and not wild. Curiously, the broth tastes a lot like the sauce used in Cantonese steamed fish - minus the soy sauce.
Braised abalone (原汁鲍鱼) - only dried abalone from 3 sources for Chef Li, and all are 吉品鮑 from Yoshihama (吉浜) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県) in Japan.
I can't claim to be an expert on abalone, but what I had tonight was very, very good.
Lobster with Beijing flavor (京味龙虾) - the Boston lobster was lightly coated in starch, which I wasn't a fan of even when I had it in Taipei last year. Chef Li explained that while lobsters weren't part of the 'imperial cuisine' inside the Forbidden City, he likes lobsters so much that he decided to put them on his menu. The "Beijing flavor" comes from the sauce that had a little sweetness on top of being savory, which was used in shrimp dishes in imperial cuisine, so he's substituted the key ingredient. I was a little surprised to find that the slice of bamboo had been pickled.
Braised deer tail (红烧鹿尾) - now THIS was a treat, as neither of us had ever eaten a deer's tail before. In fact, the only time we've seen the tail of a deer have been the dried versions in Chinese medicine shops. We were told that fresh ones were hard to come by these days, and that he prefers ones from sika deer (梅花鹿) - and he can't find suppliers for his Taipei branch. Traditionally in Chinese medicine the deer's antlers have always been prized for their "yang" while the tails have been sought after for their "yin", so the latter have been used to boost male virility and treat any deficiencies in that department.
Here it's braised with preserved leafy mustard (梅干菜), and the flavors from the preserved vegetable was clearly evident - and reminds me of mom's braised pork belly cooked the same way. Chef Li explained that underneath the skin, part of the tail consists of a type of gland which, when cooked, gives a texture and taste similar to that of liver. And it certainly tasted like it to me. In fact, this whole dish was very delicious, and perfect over a bowl of rice. I felt like I was home eating mom's cooking, except there was a more exotic ingredient on the plate.
Shrimp ball soup with gexianmi (葛仙米鲜虾丸子汤) - the most interesting ingredient here is the gexianmi (葛仙米), a type of freshwater algae which grows like a stand of pearls. Apparently the wild algae only grows in unpolluted waters and nowadays come from waters between Hubei (湖北) and Hunan (湖南) provinces. The origins of the discovery and use of the algae traces back to the Taoist scholar Ge Hung (葛洪) in the 4th century A.D. - for whom this is named. Legend has it that Ge Hung sent this as a tribute to the palace, and the crown prince's health was restored with it. Nowadays scientific analysis apparently revealed that it contains a multitude of amino acids and minerals.
Anyway, it was kinda interesting. This particular type of algae was pretty small, and really was about the size of a grain of rice or smaller. And it definitely tasted a little like algae.
Pea cake (豌豆黄)
Fresh milk yogurt (奶酪) - pretty nice and light.
Fried egg custard (三不沾) - this is always interesting as, befitting its name, this sticky blob actually sticks neither to one's teeth, the wok, nor the plate.
Mr. QLI very generously brought a lovely bottle of dry German riesling. I don't see this enough so I'm especially grateful to him.
2013 Keller Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Großes Gewächs - nice and ripe, sweet on the nose. Very floral with honey notes. Dry on the palate. A lovely wine.
This was a really enjoyable evening. For someone like myself who isn't well-versed in Pekinese or "imperial" cuisine, it really does make a difference to have Chef Li around to give some background on the dishes and ingredients. We stuck around for a long time after finishing the food, and enjoyed chatting with Chef Li - and stayed a little past our welcome...
We asked for the bill, but no one came back with it. Chef Li looked happy to just send us on our way home - probably so he could go home and call it a night - and it seemed a little rude to insist on paying. So I ended up having a 霸王餐... and felt a little bad about it. I did remember to thank Chef Li again via email, and extended an invitation to him for dinner on his next trip to Hong Kong.
By now many people would have heard about the earthquake in Italy that happened 2 weeks ago. Massive damage has been reported in the town of Amatrice - the birthplace of the classic pasta sauce all'amatriciana. As a response to what happened, a number of restaurants in town have decided to help the disaster relief effort by donating all or part of the proceeds from serving their pasta all'amatriciana during a promotional period.
Giando is one of these restaurants which pledged donations, and they are offering to donate 100% of the HKD 188 they receive from customers on the dish. As it happens, I remember distinctly having rigatoni all'amatriciana at Giando a few years ago. So I figured the least we could do is to go and have ourselves some pasta.
The dish is part of the restaurant's specials and therefore not part of the set lunch menu. I'd have to order à la carte. Since the restaurant is going to donate 100% of the proceeds, it didn't seem right to come and just have the one dish, as the restaurant wouldn't really be making any profit off of us. So we decided to order starters, too.
La melazana alla parmigiana - what a nice surprise! For eggplant Parmesan, this turned out to be much prettier than I expected. And tasty, too! The eggplant mash had nice, smoky flavors. The fresh tomato salsa was refreshing, but the surprise was the minced raw garlic in the middle giving a nice little kick. There were also a small, cheesy chunks, too. Together with thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a little bit of basil, this made for a really delicious start.
Rigatoni all'amatriciana - this was much better than what I had last time, or another bowl of pasta all'amatriciana I had just two days ago. The rigatoni itself was cooked perfectly, with just enough bite while retaining the springy form. The caramelized red onions added some sweetness to help balance out the heavy, salty flavors from the guanciale - which I can never get enough of. Love that delicious, fatty goodness...
We were a little full for dessert, but the restaurant was kind enough to bring us a few little sweet nibbles. This was a very good lunch, and I'm glad to have done a small part to help with disaster relief. Giando will keep up with the donation pledge until September 30, so if you would like a little taste of this classic dish, you, too, can satisfy your hunger at Giando.
The Locusts are back in town for a few days, after chewing their way through Shanghai over the last few days. Besides whatever personal business that they're up to this time around, the other important activity on their minds is clearly munching. I asked the Locusts for a list of places they were interested in hitting, and when I was told that Shanghainese food was high on their priorities list, I knew that I wanted to use this opportunity to revisit Jiang Su (江蘇薈).
This is a members-only club I was introduced to a couple of months ago, and I was so impressed by it that I've been dying to go back. Since I have yet to cough up the money to join as a member, I had to ask my friends to help me book a table... and to come along for the ride.
When I arrived at around 7:30 p.m. - which is relatively late for a "local" Chinese restaurant - two of the neighboring tables have already opened up quite a few bottles of wine. And the volume was already above normal levels. Naturally, this led to more and more instances of having arms around each other, hugs, and toasts. Glad to see that people enjoy themselves here...
We had Mrs Locust do the ordering for the first round, since they don't get any decent Shanghainese out where the angels live, and supplemented with a couple of dishes that I enjoyed on my last visit.
Marinated celtuce stem with spring onions (香蔥萵筍) - Hello Kitty requested this as she really liked this last time. While this may be new to some, I grew up with mom's Shanghainese food and this was something we had regularly... especially in the summer when it is served cold to retain its crunchy texture. All it needs is some sesame oil along with a little bit of diced spring onions.
Marinated organic radish (天水有機醬蘿蔔) - this was a dish I remember well from the last visit. Marinated or pickled radish might seem ordinary and even be seen as a condiment, but these were very, very tasty and sweet. And crunchy, too. So good that we ordered a second plate the last time I was here.
Steamed lion's head meatball (清燉獅子頭) - these were totally unlike mom's, as they had not been browned at all. Lots of diced water chestnuts (荸薺) and also chunks of pork fat mixed in with the minced pork, which gave a very soft texture overall.
Thick cut beef with secret sauce (厚燒密制牛肉) - this was not bad. Most of the pieces were tender enough, and there was plenty of thick, rich sauce that delivered a sweet taste along with a variety of spices.
Shredded tofu with hairy crab roe (蟹粉撈干絲) - surprisingly good. The shredded tofu (干絲) had a lot more soybean flavor than I had expected, and was even a little smoky. In addition to the crab roe sauce (which included crab meat) there was also plenty of wood ear fungus.
Phoenix tofu in claypot (鳳凰豆腐煲) - I've never had this type of tofu before, but we were told that this came from Jiangsu and no gypsum was used in the process. This definitely had a firmer texture - somewhere between a soft tofu and a tofu puff. It also had a much heavier flavor profile, with a stronger, more smoky and pungent taste. Of course, serving it with slices of pan-fried pork belly didn't exactly hurt, either...
Sweet pork ribs (無錫排骨) - very classic, with a different rich and thick sauce delivering flavors that are on the sweet side.
Stir-fried mandarin fish with spring onions (蔥椒長江桂魚) - I'm normally not a fan of fish in Shanghainese cuisine, but did not put up a fight when Mrs Locust wanted some. Since Mr. Locust had balked at the price of a whole Reeve's shad (鰣魚) and didn't insist on ordering one, we ended up with the mandarin fish... which was boned and filleted before a quick stir-fry. I wasn't the least bit surprised when this fish from the Yangtze River showed a little muddy flavor, which kinda marred the experience a little.
We needed a little more food, so 娜姊 picked a few items from the menu...
Braised omelet with tripe and napa cabbage (肚絲白菜燜蛋餅) - this was surprisingly good. Nothing fancy here, but the light and clean flavors all came together.
Braised leafy amaranth (家燜米莧) - I don't think I've ever had leafy amaranth cooked in this much grease before, but the young shoots were very tasty.
Mini spring onion pancakes (迷你蔥油餅) - these have got to be the smallest pieces of spring onion pancakes I have ever seen, but they were pretty decent for ones that have been baked instead of pan-fried.
Eight treasure rice (發財八寳飯) - not something I would normally order, but I found myself enjoying it. I think the dried apricots, caramelized pineapple and the osmanthus sauce all helped to make it a little more fruity and light.
For one reason or another, the 6 of us took it easy on a school night and only opened 3 bottles over dinner - unlike our neighbors. I guess that's why we didn't look as happy as they did by the end of the evening...
1998 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese-trocken - big nose of petrol and polyurethane, but riper, fuller, and richer, with lots of muscat grape. Dry finish with plenty of acidity to balance the full-bodied palate.
1983 von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese - obviously riper on the palate and much more mature, with plenty of acidity to balance the sweetness that wasn't at all overwhelming. Lots of lemon and marmalade on the nose here, along with some minerals and flint.
2009 Mugnier Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale - nose of eucalyptus, game meats, lots of leather and animal notes, with a little floral violet underneath. Slightly pungent.
Once again I really loved the food here. Nothing really fancy on the menu, but just lots of simple dishes made with fresh ingredients. Gotta come back more often!
We were on our way to watch the latest documentary on Noma - Ants on a Shrimp - and needed to grab a quick lunch beforehand. Since we couldn't think of an outstanding eatery around Yau Ma Tei, we figured that we'd just do a quick dim sum lunch somewhere in Tsim Sha Tsui. Fortunately, Sun Tung Lok (新同樂) had a table available on short notice.
Given that Mid-Autumn Festival is coming up next week, it was kinda nice to see that the restaurant was serving us complimentary mini-moon cakes with the traditional lotus seed paste and egg yolk.
Steamed shrimp dumpling (同樂鮮蝦餃皇) - this was decent, but the wrapper seemed a little loose. In fact, I would have preferred it slightly smaller and tighter. At least I tasted a couple of chunks of bamboo shoots inside...
Deep-fried taro dumpling with diced chicken (蜂巢五香雞粒芋角) - FAIL. If there's one thing I find unforgivable in this dim sum item, it's baking soda. It tastes foul, and I really don't enjoy it when it find it in most of the Cantonese egg noodles. And it definitely doesn't belong here. It's a real pity because the shells were soooo deliciously crispy and crumbly, but it just tasted awful and I wanted to spit it out.
Steamed rice flour rolls with shredded turnip and Yunnan ham (金包銀絲腸粉) - always one of my favorites here. Love the crunch from the deep-fried crullers wrapped inside, which contrasts with the soft shreds of cooked turnip. Good flavor here even without the soy sauce we poured on top.
Rice with preserved meat in clay-pot (臘味煲仔飯) - someone finally got to satisfy her craving for clay pot rice, even though this was a small one shared among three of us. I love the heavy flavors of the preserved meats, and they did a good job with the charred rice crispies on the bottom. Yum.
A light and decent meal overall, but I would get a little hungry later after sitting through a movie about food...
It's been a while since I last had a night out with the Tiggers, and took the opportunity to catch up this weekend. After suffering a devastating loss to my 6-year old godson Bear in a board game, I badly needed something to cheer me up as I licked my wounds. Thankfully dinner was at ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge, where we know we'd always get well-taken care of.
I knew in advance that Philippe would be out of town, but arranged with him to save me a duck. I also wanted to take care of an itch I wanted scratched for a long time, and thankfully everyone kindly indulged me.
Our amuse bouche was sautéed sardine with tomato concasse, confit eggplant, and squid. The sardine was fused with a thin wafer of toast on one side to make it crispy. Not bad at all.
63° egg, frogs' legs, pearl barley, aged Comté - this was very, very rich... which wasn't at all surprising thanks to the Comté in the emulsion. The egg, of course, was perfect and runny while ever-so-slightly browned on top with a torch. It melded seamlessly with the silky and supple frogs' legs. The chanterelles added a nice dimension of flavors, and along with the pearl barley brought some crunch. The kitchen picked up the flavors a little with some finely diced chives and a sprinkle of piment d'espelette.
Normandy sole meunière, Parma ham, gnocchis, squids and oyster - ever since my first visit here, I'd always wanted to try out their sole meunière... but could never pull it off as we all ended up ordering individual main courses. I finally got my wish tonight. The dish was meant to be shared between two people, but given the size of this thing, I'll be surprised that anyone who takes half of this fish would have much room leftover for anything else.
Given the years that Jeremy has spent in world class dining rooms such as Le Cinq and Caprice, it was simply a pleasure to watch him take the bones and the wings out while dividing the fish into five not-so-equal portions.
The sole was plated and served with an interesting Royale (Brion?) oyster which had a nice balance between creamy and briny - similar to Gillardeau. There were also little gnocchi, squid, diced lardon, and a slice of Parma ham. The creamy sauce changed the flavors into something I did not expect. This was a lot busier than I had expected, but very tasty.
Jeremy originally had the plate bearing the wing sections taken away to be discarded, but Babu and I would have none of it. We wanted to be able to suck on them! And this turned out to be a very, very good call... since the flavors of the lemon butter was unadulterated here.
Challans duck Apicius - I definitely wanted another taste of this after totally loving it at my last dinner here.
Challans duck Apicius: roasted peach, radish, turnip and almonds - the duck breast was PERFECT. It was just incredibly soft and tender, perfectly juicy and succulent. I could not have imagined that I was eating duck breast had I been blindfolded. The lightly pickled radish and turnips, along with the peach, provided a nice touch of acidity to balance out the rich flavors of the roast duck. Just love the combination of 14 different spices used here.
Challans duck Apicius: duck leg Parmentier - a month after my last visit, and they've already given me a different presentation of the Parmentier. I've still got the shredded confit duck leg and the mashed potatoes, as well as the frisée, but tonight it's served with truffled jus as well as a Parmesan sauce. Hidden among the frisée were bits of walnuts as well as some grapes soaked in whisky.
Roasted pigeon, artichokes, baby spinach and lemon chutney - I wasn't planning on having a piece of my favorite pigeon, but Tigger refused to take his share... I simply can't rave about this enough... and the execution was still perfect. Yes, it's still the best pigeon in Hong Kong. That lemon chutney with coriander seeds just brings a little special something to the mix.
We were too full for the cheese - which came as a shock to Peter - so we just nibbled on petits fours. The apricot jellies was nice, as were the financiers and the chocolates.
I assumed this wasn't a drinking crowd (since it usually isn't) so I just brought along one measly bottle. Turns out someone was real thirsty tonight and we ran out of wine very quickly!
1996 Clos Erasmus - decanted and served after 10 minutes or so. Nice and minty, smoky and earthy. Very smooth but good concentration here even after 20 years, with nice acidity levels which were perfectly balanced.
Jeremy very kindly pour us glasses of a Châteuneuf-du-Pape because he couldn't bear the thought of us having game birds without any wine...
2012 du Banneret Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge - served at a perfectly chilled temperature. Very peppery with a little animal notes. Nice acidity here.
What a wonderful dinner tonight, and I'm so glad I finally brought the Tiggers here. Once again I have Philippe, Jeremy, Nicolas, and Peter to thank for helping to make it a wonderful evening. We'll be back soon!
L was in town again, and this time she actually managed to give the Great One and I enough advance notice so we can plan a decent meal together. The original request was for Ta Vie 旅, but since Sato-san was away in Bangkok we decided to go with Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) instead. I'm spending more time with Sato-san these days because he's physically just so much closer, but I mustn't forget to show the younger Seki-san some love, too.
We found it a little incredible that L has never been to ICC, and panicked a little when she realized she would have to cross the harbor for dinner. Thankfully she didn't arrive too late, although I didn't succeed in getting her to buy us dinner...
Cold simmered abalone with abalone liver sauce, shirodatsu, udo and fresh sea urchin (煮鮑とその煮凝り 肝酢 うにと芋茎と独活の海苔和え) - the abalone from Ezo (蝦夷) has always been one of their best items here, and we would start with it tonight. Simmered for 6 hours, scored, and served with yuzu (柚子) jelly to deliver a refreshing bite. There was a little bit of abalone liver sauce on the side, and I dipped my second piece into it for a change of flavor profile.
Everyone loved this, and so did I... except that I thought the pieces were a little too big and thick. For some reason, I found the pieces of abalone a little harder than chew on than normal. Yes, it was tender and surely they cooked it long enough, but it just didn't quite do it for me tonight. Maybe I shouldn't have put a whole piece into my mouth and tried to chew on it... Guess I'll actually bite it in half next time.
On the side were sea urchin tongues resting on top of shredded Japanese spikenard (独活) and white taro stem (白だつ), along with some shredded nori (海苔). Pretty good.
Kegani crab hot egg custard served with bamboo fungus and red vinegar (毛蟹あん茶碗蒸し 衣笠茸と紅酢) - this was simply a beautiful dish. A luxe version of chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) with shredded Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) meat that was fresh and sweet. The soft tofu skin (湯葉) melded seamlessly with the silky egg custard, and the flavors all worked really well together, too... except for the crunchy cubes of ginger pickled in red vinegar. That was a little out of place and completely unnecessary. Without it, this would be a delicious bowl of comfort food that I'd be happy to eat a few bowls of.
Premium foie gras served with fresh figs, sesame cream sauce and wafer (イチジクとフォアグラの最中) - WOW! A stunning dish! I've had the foie gras and fig combination from RyuGin a couple of times, but this was an even better version. Ripe and sweet figs, topped with perilla flowers and drizzled with some 30-year old balsamic vinegar, sat on a crispy monaka (最中) wafer filled with a layer of foie gras pâté dressed with some sesame cream.
Everything came together flawlessly. The sweetness of the figs, the hint of acidity in the balsamico, the fragrance of the rich sesame cream, the smooth pâté, the toasty fragrance of the monaka, and the beautiful shiso. Everyone raved about how beautiful this was, myself included. Such happiness in every bite.
Kijihata grouper, matsutake mushroom in kijihata broth (きじはたと松茸の椀) - the redspotted grouper (雉子羽太) was beautifully scored and simply poached in the ichiban dashi (一番出汁). There was a block of tofu that had a richer flavor profile, and a fresh matsutake mushroom (松茸) with that beautiful fragrance. A small piece of yuzu rind added a little extra citrus perfume. Clean, pure, and elegant flavors here.
Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り) - there were four different types of seafood tonight, and none of them tuna! Yay!
Homard bleu (オマール) - the flavors of the slow-cooked French blue lobster was so pure, with a hint of smokiness and topped with apple vinegar jelly. Nice and firm texture, too.
Surf clam (北寄貝) - very nice. The second piece at the bottom was fatty and creamy with some briny shellfish flavors.
Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - wow! This has always been one of my favorite fish here, but tonight the crispy skin was paper-thin and just perfect, with lovely smoky fragrance.
Pacific saury (秋刀魚) - beautifully made into a cylindrical box sushi (箱寿司) along with some sesame. Loved the acidity as it worked with the fatty fish. Served with a square of pickled green apple on the side with a little kick from ginger.
Ryugin style charcoal grilled amadai served with crispy scales (甘鯛うろに焼き) - what's not to like about a delicious piece of tilefish that was perfectly cooked to retain its succulence? And just look at those crispy fish scales on top! Loved the ripe fruit tomato on the side, too... along with the shredded perilla leaves.
Hot shabu shabu Miyazaki wagyu beef (野崎牛サーロインのしゃぶしゃぶ 焼なす ポン酢のあん) - O-M-G. They've always done an amazing job with their Japanese beef here, but this was another perfect dish. The slices of marbled beef were perhaps 1/8 of an inch thick, and had been lightly blanched so that they were just soooo tender. The grated horseradish didn't provide as strong of a kick as I had feared, but meanwhile the grilled eggplant underneath was beautifully smoky. The acidity of the ponzu helped balance out the fat. In fact, these were less like slices of beef and more like thin pats of butter... Just. awesome.
Grilled Japanese eel served with steamed rice (鰻丼) - the eel from Aichi Prefecture (愛知県) was very, very nice. No hint of muddy flavors here, and so the light sprinkle of sansho pepper (山椒) and sansho pepper leaves (木の芽) just accented the flavors a little.
The pickles that come with the rice are usually very good, but tonight they were amazing. While the little radish was nice, it was the young Japanese pumpkin (南瓜) that surprised us all - by being just absolutely crunchy. The Great One loved it so much that they brought her more of it.
RyuGin specialty -196°C peach candy and +99°C peach jam (-196°Cの桃飴 と +99°Cの飴炊き桃) - I love peaches, and I've had the signature dessert here numerous times... including the peach version. However, I never would have thought to comment out loud that this looked like a perky nipple on a breast... unlike my friend the Great One here.
Hello Kitty decides that she'd rather skip this dessert, since it's too sweet for her taste, so guess who got to have a pair of boobies peaches? Unlike those clichéd chocolate molten lava cakes, I don't think I'll ever get tired of RyuGin's signature frozen desserts with the warm jam on top.
Melon and sake kasu (酒粕とメロン) - this was also a dessert I've had before. The mousse made with sake lees (酒粕) was very light and fluffy... almost ethereal. It's topped with some melon and lemongrass granité which gives it a slightly different texture as well as perfume. At the bottom are chunks of crunchy and very, very buttery biscuits that are almost too rich at this point of the evening. Thankfully the rice papers on top were so light and flimsy they resemble the translucent wings of an insect.
I brought along a nice bottle of wine for dinner. I know L only likes to drink red wines, but the seafood-dominated menu here works better with whites, so I decided to bring out one of my favorite whites from California.
2003 Kongsgaard The Judge - opened 40 minutes prior to decanting. Nice and ripe, with sweetness, a little marzipan and cotton candy, toasty corn. Nice acidity here but soooo elegant and well-balanced. Just drinking beautifully now.
A fantastic evening. Dinner here has always delivered, but I have to say tonight showed that things were getting even better. I think Seki-san is really knocking them out of the park these days, and it doesn't hurt that the ladies find him cute...
Finally, as I commented on social media before dinner, it's so nice to be able to go to a place where they know all your preferences without the need for you to explain over and over again. They know not to serve me any tuna without me having to raise the issue. Many thanks for the fantastic service - and for waiving the corkage.
A week ago I received an invitation to a join a special dinner featuring two chefs with Michelin stars at their respective establishments. I'm familiar with the cuisines of both Philippe Orrico and Akrame Benallal, and was curious about what a "4-hands" dinner would be like. After getting assurances about the identities of my dining partners - as I don't care to waste my time in the company of certain people - I took the tram from my office and walked through the doors of Restaurant Akrame for the fifth time.
The theme for the dinner - the second night of only two - was black and white. Each chef would cook dishes based on one of the two colors. Not surprisingly, Akrame chose the dark side... which put Philippe in the white corner. Again, not a surprise.
I hadn't really thought about it, but when g4gary mentioned dressing up for this dinner, I thought it was a pretty good idea. So I made sure I put on a white dress shirt and squeezed into the pair of beige jeans I had long outgrown. I was gonna be Team White/Orrico!
We started with a few bites.
Brioche with mustard and Parmesan - actually the texture wasn't like a brioche at all, but a little more firm... almost like a Krispy Kreme donut without any glaze. The grainy mustard inside plus the little wafer of cheese made it a little salty.
Parmesan cookie with radish; potato paper with sardine purée - the cookie was pretty nice and the little dot on top was pretty acidic. No surprise that the sardine purée inside was on the salty side, but it sure was tasty.
Pearl: oyster / tarragon / vodka lemon / charcoal granita (Black) - the oyster comes from Geay, just inland in the Marennes-Oléron region. This came with some tarragon oil, which was completely overpowered by the acidity in the vodka lemon and charcoal granita. Nice and refreshing, though.
Sea: white risotto / yellow tomato water / langoustine / sancho pepper (White) - the risotto was cooked in yellow tomato water, served with some raw-ish (mi-cuit?) langoustine and basil oil at the bottom and garnished with mizuna (水菜).
We were told to "mix everything together" before we eat, which was a good call. The cheese in the risotto had a sharper flavor profile, and no doubt the acidity was there from the tomato water. The langoustine was fantastically smooth and silky. The kicker (literally) for me, though, was the sansho (山椒) pepper - which delivered the tongue-numbing kick I love.
Sailor: black snapper / beetroot / rhubarb (Black) - the snapper was cooked in beetroot juice (blegh!) and sat on a bed of beetroot brunoise, with beetroot juice and charcoal juice, as well as some cream and chervil. Once again we are asked to "mix everything together" by our waitress.
Not a real fan of this dish, which wasn't surprising given the presence (or should I say omnipresence) of beetroot. The cream on the side - together with the chervil - actually managed to cover up the earthy flavors of beetroot that I abhor. But the problem for me is that the snapper itself tasted a little funky... perhaps because it had absorbed the beetroot flavors, or perhaps because it didn't work so well with charcoal. Nothing wrong with the execution here, just that any dish with beetroot runs a high probability of me hating it...
Meat: free range guinea fowl / turnip / apple / pecan nuts (White) - the guinea fowl sat on a bed of turnip mash, and was topped with purée of sour apple, crumbled pecans, slices of raw turnip, and some baby red perilla leaves. And of course, we were told to "mix together" before eating...
I liked the sweetness from the turnip mash, and there was a good variety of textures. The guinea fowl itself was nicely done and still very tender. But let's be honest here... while guinea fowl sounds more exotic than chicken, in the end it still kinda tastes like chicken... although there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. This was nice.
Milky: goat cheese / mountain honey (Black) - I think the mountain honey worked really well with the gamey Sainte-Maure de Touriane and charcoal.
Sweetness: coconut / caramel / passionfruit (White) - LOVED this one. Mango and passion fruit, cacao crumble, coconut foam, and perilla leaves. Tropical and fruity, right up my alley.
Sweetlove: black tube / truffle / chocolate (Black) - very good. Slurp.
Finally, there's the dark chocolate with sea salt as mignardises.
The team at Akrame very kindly poured us a few glasses of wine to go with our dinner:
2014 Henri Perusset Mâcon-Villages - nice and tropical with floral notes. High acidity.
2014 Aegerter Saint-Véran - some ripeness on the palate. Otherwise kinda bland.
Clos Dady, vintage unknown - a little peach. A lot drier than expected for a Sauternes.
This was indeed a very interesting dinner and contrasted the cuisines of the two chefs very well. As much as I found the charcoal dishes from Akrame interesting, in the end it wasn't a surprise that my favorite dish - the risotto - came from Philippe.
Many thanks to The Forks and Spoons for the kind invitation, and for the very enjoyable company this evening. Now I'm just gonna need to plan that BYO dinner at Spaghetti House we talked about tonight... Stay tuned, everyone!
Mr. QLI's in town and wanted to catch up. We're both big fans of the Man in White T-shirt, so it seemed natural that we would end up back at Neighborhood for an early dinner. We ended up grabbing Kung Fu Panda, too, as she was the mutual friend who originally introduced us. It just meant that we could order a little more food...
Truffle poached artichoke / anchovy mayo - always good to start with this. This time they served the artichoke to us after they cleaved it in four, which made it a lot easier to divvy up. That mayo is just awesome...
Wagyu beef / scallop tartare - oooooh boy! This was gooood! The beef still had plenty of chewy texture (since it wasn't minced but chopped), and worked pretty well with the scallop. Very nice with a little kick.
Heirloom tomato terrine / burrata cream - I finally got around to having this, and it was damn good. I love how the tomato was compacted into a terrine, so the texture was pretty firm. The flavors were all there, and the creamy burrata worked very well. The basil was very, very fragrant and strong... with a nice kick.
Sicilian red prawns fritter - these were really, really good. Basically finger food, but just totally awesome - especially with the piment d'espelette in the mayo. I could picture myself eating a couple of plates of these without being able to stop myself. And yes, with the whole heads, too!
Sicilian baby squid / borlotti beans - this was pretty decent. I'm used to this coming with squid ink, so this seemed a little lighter in flavors tonight. The piment d'espelette picked things up nicely.
Girolle mushrooms / sea urchin / sweet corn frittata - what's not to like?! Big tongues of sea urchin on top of fluffy egg frittata omelette with crunchy corn kernels, along with sautéed girolles. Topped with some herb crème fraîche and lots of chervil and chives.
Acquerello risotto with fresh porcini - this was perfect. These porcini were so fresh and tasted of fall (autumn for those of you who speak Brit). So simple, so hearty. 'Nuff said.
Roast wild mallard duck - we had pre-ordered this on the advice of the boss, and this was certainly something not easily found in Beijing. Unfortunately the Man in White T-shirt ended up overcooking the duck somewhat, although as he said, it actually becomes more gamey and flavorful when it is overcooked.
Braised autumn vegetables - pumpkin, fennel, and chestnuts. Definitely feels like autumn fall.
Boudin Basque "Christian Parra" - Mr. QLI couldn't resist the temptation to order this, because again this was something he simply wouldn't find in his adopted city. As for me, there is no situation where I wouldn't be happy to have this. I love it for its full and bold flavors as well as the texture.
Canelés - chomped two. Happy.
Our meals together are never without wine, and since he was generous to share a very delicious bottle of Riesling with me last month, I brought along a couple of bottles I thought would drink well. Mr. QLI also generously contributed another delicious bottle, and we shared all of them with the Man in White T-shirt.
2010 Roulot Meursault Ruchets - lemon and flint notes. Drank better than my last bottle 2 years ago.
2004 Ponsot Griotte Chambertin - plummy and alcoholic on the nose, with leather and almost a hint of floral notes. After 3½ hours the nose was more musty and animal. Drinking pretty nicely.
2008 Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Combe aux Moines - more concentration here, with eucalyptus and cool fruit. Lovely.
Grappa della "Donna Selvatica che scavalica le colline" Riserva 45% vol. Bianca - definitely singed the hair in my nose a little. A little herbal notes. A generous treat from the boss.
Tonight I finally had the opportunity to introduce Babu to my new Shanghainese discovery. Well, technically this isn't 本幫菜 but Huaiyang cuisine (淮揚菜), but we'll ignore the technicalities here... I was very happy to get confirmation that one no longer needs to be a member to dine at Jiang Su (江蘇薈), so I booked us a table for dinner tonight.
Marinated Indian aster (馬蘭頭) - this was a surprise... I never expected a place like this to serve up a classic dish using a heart-shaped mold... then decorate it with two halves of a cherry tomato and 2 little shreds of red cabbage... like putting arms and feet on the heart. Anyway, compared to what we would normally see, this was definitely lighter in terms of flavor - with a lot less sesame oil mixed in... and seemingly a lower ratio of diced dried tofu. The pine nuts were kinda nice. We ended up getting a second serving.
Marinated celtuce stem with spring onions (香蔥萵筍) - I don't think I'll ever get tired of this, and neither will Hello Kitty. We wanted a second plate, but were told they had sold out...
Nanjing salted duck (金陵鹽水鴨) - a classic dish that I don't really care for.
Stir-fried loofah with green soy beans (鮮毛豆炒田園絲瓜) - this was really, really good. Loofah is one of my favorite veggies, so it's a no-brainer that I would love this dish. The green soy beans (毛豆) were so crunchy, which is how you know they were fresh. In fact I don't remember eating ones that are this crunchy, ever. But the best thing about this dish was the sauce that everything was soaking in - made with pumpkin purée and fish broth that had a nice thickness. Sooo yummy!
Phoenix tofu in claypot (鳳凰豆腐煲) - Hello Kitty loved this dish and wanted to have this again, thanks to the strong soy bean flavors and the firmer texture. Babu and Mrs. Tigger didn't seem to care for it, though...
Stir fried finger rice cakes with shepherd's purse (薺菜炒手指年糕) - definitely not your average rice cake dish... Maybe it's the way they are cut, or more likely it's because the way the rice cakes are made, but they were definitely a lot more chewy (but not in a bad way) than most of what we see on the market. I love shepherd's purse (薺菜), and they've diced it up real fine here.
Slow-cooked veal (炆火小牛肉) - wow... this was very, very nice. The meat was extremely tender - almost like beef cheeks - and packed lots of flavors without being too heavy.
Yangtze Reeve's shad steamed in soy sauce (紅蒸長江鮮鰣魚) - for some of us who love Shanghainese cuisine, steamed Reeve's shad (鰣魚) has a special place in our hearts. The fish is notoriously (or should I say ridiculously?) bony, and you really gotta love it even just to order it. I hadn't planning on ordering it, but Babu saw the poster on the wall next to us, and she wanted it. So we ordered it. And we didn't read the description on the menu carefully enough...
When it arrived, neither Tigger nor Hello Kitty batted an eyelid. They're not really familiar with Shanghainese cuisine and have no idea what to expect of this fish. But Babu, Mrs. Tigger and I sorta stared at the fish in a mild state of shock. Kinda like this:
Aside from the size of the fish itself - which was probably the smallest Reeve's shad I've ever been served - we were surprised to see the fish soaking in soy sauce. Now, between the three of us, we've eaten our fair share of this fish - in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere - and not one of us have had it with soy sauce. Ever. It has always been steamed with Huadiao (花雕) wine and some fermented rice (酒釀). This looked like the Cantonese chefs in the kitchen went a little cuckoo...
Then there was the eye. Babu - who only buys the freshest fish from the fishermen directly - took one look at the sunken eye and blurted out : "the fish looked like it's been dead for a thousand years".
I laughed so hard that I almost spat out the food in my mouth. She was right, though. Yes, we know that you never get a live Reeve's shad as you would other fish - restaurants only get them shipped frozen - but it still looked pretty sad.
Hello Kitty did what she does best - which was to do a search online about this type of steaming for Reeve's shad. Apparently there are people who cook the fish this way, although no restaurant we are familiar does - nor would even contemplate such a thing.
We asked the staff about this preparation, and were informed that unlike other restaurants serving Reeve's shad coming from Vietnam, their Reeve's shad actually come from the Yangtze River. (Although almost all the Reeve's shad these days are farmed and not wild-caught.) We got a song and dance about the scales of their fish being smaller and softer, and that this was the preparation best suited... Yeah... however you wanna spin it. The soy sauce completely overpowered the flavors of the fish itself. This was half of tonight's bill, and I would never order this again.
Incidentally, the alternate preparation was pan-fried. None of us have ever heard of anyone pan-frying Reeve's shad, either.
Marinated organic radish (天水有機醬蘿蔔) - I still really like this. So crunchy.
Noodles with spring onions and soy sauce (蔥油拌麵) - this was very much on the sweet side, and I'm kinda not used to it being so sweet.
Mini spring onion pancakes (迷你蔥油餅) - these baked bite-sized pancakes are nice and cute, but I still prefer to have this fried in lots of oil...
Eight-layered jujube cake (八層棗泥糕) - surprisingly these steamed cubes weren't very sweet at all, and were topped with some osmanthus.
Red bean soup with black glutinous rice (紫米紅豆湯) - this was the complimentary dessert, and was also a lot less sweet than your average red bean soup - partly because of the presence of the black glutinous rice.
I brought a nice little bottle for the occasion...
1970 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - a little green and grassy, with some petrol in the nose. Some sweetness here still along with the acidity. Nicely balanced.
Other than the disastrous Reeve's shad, I still really like the food here. And it's pretty clear that the flavors here are much lighter and more delicate than your average Shanghainese restaurant, and that's a nice change. Now that I know membership isn't necessary, I wouldn't mind coming back for more of their simple fare that would just be my comfort food.
It was finally my turn to host a tasting for the MNSC boys, and it took us a real long time to come up with a date that worked for everyone. I was racking my brain to come up with a venue, when I remembered that it's been a while since I was last at Duddell's (都爹利會館). Given the ownership, of all the Chinese restaurants in town, you would think that this place would have a sommelier who knows how to handle fine wine, right?
So I got Pineapple to set me up, and arranged to drop the wines off earlier in the day with the team at the restaurant. With full confidence (which, as it turned out, was in fact misplaced) in the team, I showed them the order of the different wine flights but left them to decide on when the wines should be opened, and whether the wines should be decanted.
Given I'm not real familiar with the strengths of the kitchen here, I was more than happy when Pineapple asked the chef to put something together.
Duddell's appetizer combination (都爹利拼盆):
Barbecued Iberico pork with honey glaze (豉味蜜餞黑豚肉叉燒) - this was OK. The strip of fat down the side was nice, and the char siu was fairly tender, but it somehow wasn't as moist as I would normally prefer.
Deep fried frog leg with spicy salt (椒鹽田雞腿) - it's been a while since I last had frog's legs at a Cantonese restaurant, and certainly a while since I had it served "full size". If memory serves, the ones offered by Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), Seventh Son (家全七福), and Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) all come a size or two smaller. These remind me of the ones at Tien Heung Lau (天香樓), because they were so plump and so satisfying to bite into. Yum.
Marinated pork leg (滷水豬腳仔) - these trotters were pretty good, with just enough spice to pick up the flavors beyond just the soy sauce.
Fish maw broth with chicken (古法雞絲魚肚羹) - a very good substitute for those who don't eat shark's fin soup. The fish maw has been cut into strips, and the shredded chicken was fairly tender. Thankfully the chef went easy on the starch, although the broth was a little saltier than I had expected.
Crispy salted chicken (富貴鹽香雞) - wow! This chicken was amazing! That crispy skin was pretty much how the skin on a duck confit would taste - with the fat oozing out as pressure is applied with one's teeth and tongue, filling the entire mouth with that wonderful fragrance and flavor. This was by far everyone's favorite dish of the evening.
Pan-fried M9 Australian wagyu beef, wasabi soy sauce (芥末香煎澳洲M9和牛粒) - FAIL. The kitchen must not have gotten the message that this was a wine dinner. How else would you explain the chef sending out a dish with wasabi?! Even though this wasn't 100% pure and wasn't clearing my sinuses, it still had a significant impact on our palates. Now, I will take some responsibility for this as I only glanced at the menu quickly when it was sent to me this morning. I should have objected to the dish and asked for a substitution.
The other crime that the kitchen committed was to overcook the beef. Wagyu is meant to be marbled and tender, so imagine how disappointed I was when the most premium dish on the menu ended up being the worst dish. It was just tough and I couldn't taste any of the marbled fat. There was really no excuse for this execution fail.
Poached hairy gourd in fish broth (魚湯浸節瓜甫) - I loved this delicious fish broth, but once again the kitchen failed to realize that this was a wine tasting... and that fish broth don't work with no red wine. But once again I'll take responsibility for not rejecting the dish before dinner. Oh and I love hairy groud, too... so this dish was right up my alley. Complete comfort dish.
Egg white fried rice with fresh crab meat and black truffle (松露蟹肉蛋白炒飯) - maybe this isn't fair on my part, but I tend to see dishes like this as prime examples of how some Chinese restaurants have tried to add in certain Western ingredients to try to make dishes look more "luxe". Dropping a few tiny eggs of caviar on top of dim sum items, dabbing on a bit of gold foil, black truffle, or even matsutake (松茸) mushroom.
Very often, these additions don't actually have much substance, as there was so little of the ingredient that it didn't add much to the actual flavor profile. Tonight the black truffle was clearly visible, and I understand that the chef only added a little in order not to overwhelm the delicate flavors of crab meat and egg white. But then why add it in at all? I thought the whole point of truffles (black or white) was to just hit the diner with the amazing fragrance? You either go big and pack a punch, or there's no point.
Fortunately, these bowls of XO sauce have been sitting on our table even before the appetizers arrived. The Ox announced that, after staring at them for the entire dinner, he was gonna pile it into his bowl of fried rice when it came. I thought it was a great idea and followed suit. At this point of the evening, after we've all had a fair dose of wines, what I wanted wasn't a delicate, elegant fried rice. I wanted FLAVA! And adding in a few spoonfuls of that spicy, oily XO sauce felt reeeeaaal good!
Chilled sago cream with mango (香芒楊枝甘露) - always one of my favorite desserts, especially in warm weather.
Petit fours (美點薈萃)
Even though my birthday is long past, I still keep to the tradition of serving at least one bottle from my birth vintage every time I host an MNSC dinner. And I specifically put in a flight to commemorate the legendary Henri Bonneau, who passed earlier this year. I had the privilege of paying him a visit 5 years ago, and it was certainly one of my most treasured memories as far as wine trips go.
1970 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - obviously mature, with lots of Chinese licorice, very sweet, lots of caramel and sugary, but also savory and mineral notes, some salted plum. Big on the attack. Sooooo beautiful.
First flight: opened 1¾ hours prior to serving, not decanted.
1970 Lafleur - seemed to show wet cardboard nose on top of leather, smoky, and earthy notes. The group voted to throw this out because it was corked.
1976 Lafleur - pretty fragrant, with a hint of floral notes. Elegant with a little sweetness, almost a little jammy. 95 points.
Second flight: opened 2½ hours prior to serving, not decanted.
1991 DRC Richebourg - stronger animal notes, a little stinky and funky. Later a little musty, and not very pleasant on the palate. 88 points.
1996 DRC Richebourg - very fragrant, with plenty of sweet, red fruits. A little plummy, too. After 20 minutes in the glass, the palate also wasn't as pleasant. 96 points.
Third flight: opened 3½ hours prior to serving, not decanted. This drew some criticism from the boys, since this was an "L" and not a standard vertical or horizontal. But I didn't care. I wanted to open these three bottles together to remember Oncle Henri.
1990 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Speciale - ripe, a little leather, a little sharp on the nose. A little flat on the palate and slightly green. 93 points.
1998 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Speciale - ripe, plummy, black fruits, jammy, a bit smoky. Palate was going downhill 4 hours after opening. 97 points.
1998 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - a little minty, pretty sweet and fruity, ripe, almost jammy, with a little forest notes. 96 points.
Slightly disappointed that a couple of bottles didn't show well, but very happy that I got to serve the pair of Cuvée Speciales together. While the blind tasting performance of the gang was pretty consistent (and dismal) across the board at the beginning, I think Curry finally breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn't getting shafted again at one of my tastings...
I do think, though, that we should put an end to our fully blind tastings after more than 10 years. The performance tonight - especially during the first flight - should leave no doubt as to our abilities in this department.
After our planned birthday meal was knocked off the tracks by force majeure, tonight we did a proper celebration for Hello Kitty. When I asked where she wanted to go for her birthday, she surprised me by telling me she wanted to try Gaddi's.
Gaddi's in the Peninsula Hong Kong is the grande dame of French haute cuisine in Hong Kong, having been around for more than 6 decades. It was one of the first fine dining restaurants I ever dined in after I arrived in Hong Kong, and it was the first time I'd ever sat at a chef's table inside the kitchen back around 2001 or so. But it's been off my radar for a long, long time... and my last visit for more than 5 years ago - or should I say two chefs ago? But I did hear that the kitchen is now helmed by Xavier Boyer - who has spent years in the Robuchon empire, so I had high expectations for the cuisine.
When I called to make a reservation, I was a little surprised to be reminded that the dress code for gentlemen included a jacket. In an era where everything is getting more casual, I guess time kinda stands still in that dining room...
We both took the 8-course tasting menu, even though there is a starter on the à la carte menu that I'm dying to try - with crab, lobster jelly, cauliflower cream, and caviar. A Robuchon classic. But that will have to wait...
The amuse bouche was a cube of confit chicken in parsley cream sauce, topped with a wafer of Parmesan.
Langoustine des côtes bretonnes en carpaccio, langue d'oursin et caviar de France au yuzu - probably our favorite dish of the evening. The langoustine carpaccio was good, but it was the combination of everything that made it work so well. The fragrance of yuzu (柚子) drifted into our nostrils mere seconds after the cloches were lifted. The sea urchin tongues were creamy and sweet, and were countered by the savory flavors coming from the French 'imperial caviar' - as well as the salty crisp rolls. Add into this mix some dill and perilla flowers - each delivering its distinctive and intense flavors - as well as a generous sprinkle of poppy seeds for a little extra crunchy texture. Very busy, but very good. The only thing was that with some bites, there seemed to be a little too much salt for my liking.
Les saint Jacques d'Hokkaido sur fregola sarda comme un risotto, émulsion coraline au vin d'arbois - like Pavlov's dog, I knew that I would be ordering the 8-course tasting menu the second I saw the words 'fregola sarda'. The execution for the scallop was good, and there was a coating of finely diced chives and ginger on top, as well as a crisp with a sprinkle of piment d'espelette on top. The fregola, though, was a little disappointing. Some of the fregola had been roasted before cooking, and the texture became harder and powdery in the middle.
Les cèpes en royale et poêlés aux saveurs ibériques - this worked really nicely with the bottle of wine I brought. It is ceps season, so were presented with a custard made of the mushroom, along with thin, dehydrated cep wafers, as well as parsley sponge cake and parsley "chutney", all topped with some hazelnut bits and thin strips of jamón ibérico.
There were also diced cubes of ceps that had been pan-fried. Basically, 'shroom heaven.
Le foie gras chaud de canard accompagné d'une mandarine flambée au Grand Marnier - a very pretty presentation. Unfortunately, while the execution of the foie was fine, I had two problems with the foie itself. It was a little on the thin side, so it didn't deliver enough satisfaction from chomping into a thick, fatty piece of liver. The other problem was that it was veiny. That detracted from the pleasure of eating something creamy and fatty.
I liked the pairing with Japanese mandarin, although I must admit I didn't taste the Grand Marnier. But the perilla leaves on top were cool. The chef also shaved a fine powder of the Japanese mandarins and mixed it with some flour before sprinkling it in a circular pattern on the plate. Interesting.
Le cabillaud noir mariné au miso - miso-marinated cod. Hmmm... where have I seen that before? Well in this case, the black cod was marinated in white miso (味噌). Very familiar flavors. Slices of fresh and pickled carrots on top. There was a "swoosh" of ginger carrot purée, and some saffron cappuccino sauce. Very nice.
Le faux filet de bœuf "Black Market" assaisonne de condiments aux câpres, ravioli de queue de bœuf, purée de céleri et truffe - we were told by the waitstaff that Black Market is a mixed breed coming from wagyu and Angus cattle, although some quick research indicates that it's actually a brand moniker given to pure Black Angus cattle with highly-marbled meat. In addition to the striploin, there was also a single raviolo stuffed with delicious oxtail, along with some celeriac (not celery as we were told) purée and truffle dots.
Nick the manager suggested that I opt for "rare" instead of "bleu". The sides were nicely seared and delivered good, smoky flavors. The texture of the beef was pretty springy and bouncy. Very nice. Topped with some capers, diced tomato and parsley, along with some celeriac chips. The birthday girl was happy.
L'assiette de fromages affinés de France - from the house of Bernard Antony.
Brillat-Savarin - I would never pass up an opportunity to have this "ice cream", and tonight this was very, very ripe... with the rind giving off some ammonia. Savory with some acidity.
Langres - farmy, a little nutty. Thick and creamy.
Croix Cathare - salty and pretty goaty.
Gruyère - a hint of nuttiness here. A little bit of age but not too old, so not very salty and still a little sweetness here.
La compotée de figues et son crumble aux amandes, crème glacée au Porto et espuma à la mascarpone - the fig compote paired nicely with the Port and sabayon ice cream, as well as the mascarpone espuma. The creaminess and acidity just worked. The crunchy almond crumble added some nice textural balance, and you've got some pretty, white verbena flowers here. The Port tuile on top was pretty nice.
Les mignardises -
Sakura chocolate - I kinda expected more Japanese sakura (桜) flavors here, but in the end this just tasted like a regular cherry ganache inside.
This being a birthday dinner, naturally I brought an appropriate bottle of wine for the occasion...
1982 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - decanted upon opening, served immediately. It took a couple of minutes for the hint of musty nose to dissipate, but once it did the wine just got better and better. A classic claret, with earthy, smoky notes. Very silky smooth on the palate, with acidity in the middle. Not a whole lotta fruit here, with more grilled meats instead. Later on showing more cedar and a little more sweetness. A beautiful bottle of wine.
Having mentioned to Nick that I'm familiar with Chef Xavier's history, Xavier came to greet us after our meal, and we chatted a little about a few things - including our mutual friend Vincent Thierry. I would be curious to come back and try a few more dishes.
One thing is for sure: there is no other dining room in Hong Kong like Gaddi's. It looks almost exactly like it did when I first arrived in Hong Kong. The chandeliers, the polished sterling silver candelabra, and a live band!
Speaking of the band: the singer had a beautiful voice and was performing many classics, from The Tennessee Waltz to The Beatles'Michelle, Christopher Cross'Arthur's Theme (The Best that You Can Do), and (as we were told to expect by friends) Teresa Teng (鄧麗君)'s immortal classic The Moon Represents My Heart (月亮代表我的心). For some reason the band also really liked songs from Disney's animation movies, so we got Colors of the Wind from Pochahontas, A Whole New World from Aladdin, and Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King.
While I was chatting with Xavier, Hello Kitty was speaking with Nick about the band, and Nick reminded her that the band entertains requests - as long as it's not something like a song from Rihanna. While I was joking with Hello Kitty earlier about ordering up Bruno Mars'Uptown Funk, Nick's mention of Rihanna got Hello Kitty's wheels spinning inside her head, and all she could think of was what the room would look like if the band played THIS SONG from Rihanna...
It's Hello Kitty's birthday and she's decided that she needed some goose. So off we went to our favorite joint for roast goose, and dutifully lined up at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝). Thankfully the wait wasn't too long.
We ordered the usual: some goose, some noodle soup, and veg.
Roast goose, lower quarter (燒鵝下庄) - with the two of us, it makes more sense to order the lower quarter in order to secure ourselves a coveted drumstick. For some reason, the skin was really, really crispy and flavorful today. Very yum.