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

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  • 01/23/17--07:17: 3-some in the Valley
  • CK's in town from Chili Crab Land and wanted to catch up, so in spite of my Diet 2.0, I agreed to meet up with an old foodie friend.  It was obvious that he preferred Canto - even though there were only 3 of us - so a reservation was made at Hong Kong Cuisine 1983 (壹玖捌叁).

    I had only been there only once, and looked up my blogpost to see which dishes I enjoyed.  We ended up repeating one of the dishes.

    Snake soup with chrysanthemum (菊花燉蛇羹) - over the last few years I have been completely spoiled when it comes to Cantonese snake soup, and this one fell far short of my very high standards...

    Interesting to see black sesame seeds in the deep-fried crisps that they provide as one of the condiments.

    Deep-fried prawns with salty egg yolk (翡翠金沙蝦球) - this was excellent.  The batter on the large prawns were still crunchy, and the layer of salty egg yolk coating the batter was pretty tasty.

    Braised giant grouper fin (生炆龍躉撥水翅) - this was a dish that I thought I'd repeat, but it was disappointing today.

    Yes, we got the tail and also one of the pectoral fins, but unfortunately the meat just tasted muddy - not intensely so, but enough for one to notice and be annoyed by it.  Nothing else matters beyond that.

    Braised lamb brisket in clay pot (枝竹羊腩煲) - it's winter... well, kind of.  So 'tis the season for lamb in clay pot.  This looked real good when they brought it to our table.

    And it WAS good.  These fatty, lamby morsels were very tasty, indeed.  Loved the tofu skin, too... and the Chinese lettuce we added to the pot.

    Stir-fried rice noodles in soy sauce with premium beef (頭抽特級牛肉炒河) - this was surprisingly good, with a good amount of wok hei (鑊氣), although the noodles weren't as caramelized and a little more charred as they could have been.  This disappeared quickly.

    We brought a couple of bottles to dinner with us, and both turned out to be 2005 white Burgs.

    2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières - very mature and oxidized.  Obviously a very ripe vintage, but maybe overripe.  Nose was very sweet, very grassy with notes of straw, and almost sugarcane.

    2005 Bouzereau Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - fairly ripe but a bit more mineral and flinty, a little buttery, with some honey notes later.

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    I'm back home in Taipei for the Lunar New Year celebrations, and as usual I carried a few Cantonese puddings that are customary for the season.  After testing out several outlets for each of the last few years, this year I've decided to be lazy and just stick to the tried-and-true.  Basically, I just went back to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    As is traditional for us, we get to have these puddings for lunch on New Year's Day.  Mom patiently stands over the stove while she pan-fries slices over low heat, while dad and I just wait for the plates to be served...

    Fan Cook x Tak Lung Restaurant radish pudding with dried scallops (飯局 x 得龍大飯店 瑤柱蘿蔔糕) - my friend KC very kindly gave this to me as a gift.  This was made by the famous Tak Lung Restaurant according to Fan Cook's recipe.

    Mom was pretty happy with this.  The Japanese daikon (大根) came in little chunks and were a little crunchy.  The texture was relatively firm.  These little bits of Chinese preserved sausage on top, of course, were ones which were custom made according to Fan Cook's recipe.

    Fook Lam Moon premium new year radish cake (福臨門 臘味蘿蔔糕) - standard issue for us.  I pretty much get this every year.

    This was a lot more soft and moist, so the pieces kinda fell apart when mom was pan-frying them.  The radish inside came in strips, and the pudding delivered a little more of the radish flavors.

    Guo Fu Lou jujube cake (國福樓 紅棗糕) - I wanted mom to try some of this, since this only came to market 2 years ago.  Mom didn't care for the texture, as it was not as soft and chewy - and she was right about there being no glutinous rice powder being used.  The tapioca powder made the texture more springy and bouncy.  She also thought that the jujube flavors were too mild.

    One of mom's friends gave her a homemade jujube pudding (紅棗糕), where it was easy to see both the large chunks of jujube on top as well as plenty of ground jujube inside the pudding.

    This was the clear winner, thanks to both the chewy texture as well as the stronger flavors of the jujube.

    Fook Lam Moon premium new year water chestnut cake (福臨門 桂林馬蹄糕) - this is de rigueur for us.  This is mom's favorite water chestnut pudding so I buy it for her every year.  This year, though, the recipe seemed to be slightly off.  While the flavors of the water chestnuts were still there, the cooks seem to have forgotten to add enough sugar.  While we all want to watch our health and not consume too much sugar, you need a certain minimum to make these sweet puddings tasty.  This certainly didn't make the grade.

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    I'm back in Taiwan for the Lunar New Year holidays so I could spend some quality time with the Parental Units, after having been banished for the last 6 months or so.  Since I took delivery of my new drone just 10 days before my trip, this would be a great opportunity for me to get some good flying experience with the new toy.

    Traveling with a drone requires some homework to be done in advance of the trip.  First, I had to check with the airline about their rules regarding bringing drones onboard.  In this case, Cathay Pacific informed me that as long as I took the propellers off the drone and made sure the rechargeable batteries were in my carry-on bags, I was more than welcome to bring my drone with me.  That was easy.

    Next I needed to research the drone regulations for Taiwan.  Fortunately the Civil Aeronautics Administration (民航局) has a section devoted to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  In addition to explaining the rules regarding no-fly zones or zones with height restrictions around each airport, they even have an incredibly helpful interactive map which shows the exact boundaries of these zones, as well as a tool for measuring distances on the map.

    On top of this, there are of course plenty of other no-fly/restricted zones around Taiwan - such as nuclear power plants, military bases and installations... etc.  Someone made a very helpful map which combined all of these restrictions.  This would also prove invaluable to me, as it helped me avoid running afoul of the regulations and potentially getting fined and/or having my drone confiscated.

    So on the morning after I arrived, which happened to be the last day of the Year of the Monkey, I took my drone out for a spin.  After all, I do live on the fringes of Ganstaland - right by the river.  My apartment building was literally meters away from the border of a no-fly zone, but still within the zone which required me to fly below a ceiling of 60 m.  So I had to made sure I avoided flying in the wrong direction...

    The cloud cover had cleared by late morning, and we had blue skies.  I took my DJI Mavic Pro up to a height of around 55 m, and began exploring my hood from the air.  With the max distance limit removed since my first flight a few days ago, I began to push the drone further across the Tamsui River (淡水河) towards Taipei - stopping when I've reached the edge of the river on the Taipei side, and then turning to follow the river southwest.

    After I've flown about 1.4 km or so, my remote control started telling me that the signal was weak, and then I was told that the signal with the drone was lost.  I panicked.  I was a little weary about flying from my position as I was standing near a very tall radio tower.  Sure enough, when the tower stood in the line of sight between my drone and I, the signal interference became too great to overcome.  I quickly ran along the river towards the drone, closing the distance as well as placing the radio tower behind me.  Thankfully I regained the connection, and I was also grateful that the programming from DJI meant that the drone just hovered in the air and waited for reconnection.  There was enough juice left in the battery, so I didn't have to watch my drone fall into the river.

    I got up again the next morning - on New Year's Day - and went out by the river again.  I need lots of practice to make sure I can control the drone and make those smooth turns.  I had a lot of fun, and kept my eyes on the remote control for any warnings about weak signals.

    I flew over the strip of land in the middle of the Tamsui River between Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋) and Zhongxing Bridge (中興橋), where I had always known that some people were doing some small-scale farming.  On this day I got a pretty clear view.

    I also flew close to the New Taipei Bridge (新北大橋) as well as the section of the Taoyuan International Airport MTR (桃園國際機場捷運) which runs in front of my apartment.  The link to Taiwan's main international airport is meant to begin trial runs in a few days, and become fully operational in two months' time.

    On the second day of the Lunar New Year, we decided to go out to Tamsui so that the Parental Units can watch me fly the drone.  I had two specific spots in mind, but due to heavy traffic it took us a little longer than expect to get to Fisherman's Wharf (漁人碼頭).  The silver lining was that by late afternoon, the low cloud cover started to clear and we were under blue skies.

    I set up at the far end of the upper deck of the platform and sent the Mavic Pro up in the air.  The first flight was at a relatively low distance of around 30 m, but now that I was no longer in a zone with a ceiling, I decided to take it up to 100 m.  I did a couple of passes, flying over the Tamsui Lover‘s Bridge (淡水情人橋) and the boats moored in the wharf.

    The Mavic Pro was inland after my last pass, and I started to maneuver it back towards me when I noticed the battery level running a little low.  Suddenly the drone went into automatic return-to-home mode, when the system determined that the remaining battery level must be conserved for an immediate flight home.

    I was a little nervous, since this hadn't happened before.  I've tried out the system's return-to-home a number of times without much problem, but nevertheless I was staring at the battery level indicator like a hawk.  I was breathing a sigh of relief as the Mavic Pro came towards me and was almost overhead, when the obstacle detection system decided that the original takeoff point was not suitable for landing... and proceeded to shift away from me.

    The next thing I knew, the drone began descending to a height below the upper deck.  I freaked out.  I wasn't sure whether it was fall into the water, so I rushed to the edge of the deck and looked below.  Thankfully it was hovering over the pier, and I rushed down to try to recover it before it lost power.  Miraculously, the Parental Units happened to be standing next to it, and I managed to lower it to about waist level before it fell on some stairs.  Other than a couple of minor scratches, there didn't seem to be much damage.

    After that episode, I figured it was time to head out.  As the sun was going to set soon, I didn't think I could get another flight in over the mangroves further up the river, so we called it a day.

    Two days later, I met up with a couple of friends so they could get a feel for the drone.  We figured Daan Forest Park (大安森林公園) would have nice, open spaces for us to launch, although in reality there were lots of people around due to the holidays.  We eventually found a park bench to put our bags and launched from the path in front of the bench.

    One of our friends live in a luxury apartment building next to the park, so I jokingly sent the drone in front of the building to take a picture.  It's too bad that our friend lives above the flight ceiling of 60 m... otherwise I would have flown it right up to his window and snapped a few pics!

    I did try out the ActiveTrack mode and tried to have the Mavic Pro follow my friend.  In general it works reasonably well, and even managed to re-acquire the target when it was briefly obscured by a street lamp.  But when my friend tried to trick the drone by ducking under a gazebo with adjacent tree cover and coming out on the other side... the Mavic Pro wasn't able to keep track when she went out of range.  Oh well.

    Today was my last day in Taipei, and I went out by the river to test out more of the intelligent flight modes - in spite of the very strong winds.  Even at an altitude of 1.2 m, it was clear that the gusts of wind was affecting the Mavic Pro's performance.

    I tried out the different modes under ActiveTrack - Trace, Spotlight, and Profile.  I kinda got the gist of them, although I probably need more practice with Profile since it didn't work as well as I had imagined.

    The Point of Interest mode was the one that I really wanted to try, and I picked out the large tree that's always been visible from my apartment as the test subject.  I tried to center the drone on top, set the altitude as well as the radius, and sent the Mavic Pro circling the tree.  It was then that I realized that the tree was no longer as healthy as it had once been...

    It's been a very good week in terms of flying my drone.  Although I've had a couple of close calls, I still have my Mavic Pro, intact, and have gained much confidence when it comes to maneuvering the craft.  I'm looking forward to taking it to Bali and Bangkok later this month!

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  • 02/02/17--06:50: Yo' mama
  • The Peanut Crew missed our scheduled gathering at the start of the year, so we ended up getting together tonight to try out the food at Lee Lo Mei (李好味) at the restaurant's invitation.  We had been watching this place come together for the last couple of months, and waiting for the chance to dine at a restaurant with such a cheeky name.  In Cantonese, "lee lo mei" sounds like the way someone would greet your mother - only not exactly in a polite way...  The owner, though, chickened out and decided on a more civilized Chinese name for the place.

    The place is meant to evoke the street-side daipaidong (大排檔) eateries of bygone days.  The government has been trying to kill off the daipaidong culture for the last couple of decades, by offering to buy back existing licenses and prohibiting their transfer until a few years ago.  The end result is that there are only a small number of daipaidong stalls still in operation.  But the food that used to be served by these hawkers remain popular with the people, so it made sense that these dishes would show up on the menus of proper restaurants.

    Chef Joe Lee was Harlan Goldstein's right hand for many years, so we know the guy can cook.  This would be the first time for us tasting anything Chinese from him, and I was definitely curious.

    The menu was pre-arranged for us, and I ordered a couple of cocktails to go along with the food.  The names of the dishes here often involve some sort of pun, which makes things a little interesting.

    "Lee's" brine platter (李鹵味) - OF COURSE we can't come to a restaurant called Lee Lo Mei and NOT have the dish pronounced the same way!  The chunks of Iberico pig's ear, octopus, and turkey gizzard were brined for 24 hours, then served with yellow mustard and sweet sauce.

    Taro dumplings (四大芋法) - there were little chunks of confit duck leg and foie gras mixed with taro mash, then encased in a layer of crispy, deep-fried taro mash.  With the addition of wafer-thin taro chips along with some taro-flavored cream that tasted of coconut, there were four different textures of taro in this dish.  Pretty tasty.  Shame about the taste of baking soda so often found in deep-fried taro dumplings.

    Jade Garden - aaaaand OF COURSE I only order girlie drinks!  The cachaca and calamansi juice were pretty obvious, but the pandan green tea flavors were less prominent.  A little on the sweet side thanks to the pandan syrup.

    Seasonal vegetable (咪扮上菜) - a simple dish of stir-fried broccoli with garlic and chili.

    "Ho fun" in H.K. style (牛魔王過河) - unlike the usual version of 干炒牛河, this plate of noodles came covered with large, thin slices of A4 wagyu and topped with some cooked turnip purée.

    This was very, very good.  Needless to say the beef was very silky and tender, while the noodles were stir-fried at high heat for their wok hei (鑊氣) - they called it "wok air" here.  The flavors were a little on the sweet side, but that's just fine by me!

    Borscht (羅宋湯) - apparently this came as a side to the beef noodles.  Not bad at all.

    "Full of rice" chicken (鹽焗有米雞) - the chicken had been baked under a blanket of salt, which was subsequently removed.

    The chicken was wrapped in lotus leaves, and stuffed with glutinous rice.  There was also an abalone on top.

    Very tender chicken with delicious glutinous rice.

    Yum Cha - oh yes, ANOTHER girlie drink!  This one, though, was surprisingly dry on the palate... even though there was supposed to be honey and Choya umeshu (梅酒) in the mix.  The pear from Grey Goose la Poire, the jasmine tea, and the apple sour stood out a little more.

    Steak on sizzling plate : Iberico pork chop (煙霧彌漫之肉雖鐵板上:伊比利亞豚美人) - the presentation was strictly old school, coming to the table on a sizzling hot plate in the shape of a cow.  How nostalgic!  Then thick, black pepper gravy was slowly poured on top of the pork.

    There was a strip of fat down the edge that provided some delicious flavors, but the pork chop was a little on the dry and chewy side.

    Salted egg yolk claypot rice bowl (咸咸濕濕豬頭炳) - this just looked BEAUTIFUL.  Chunks of pig's head cheese sausage, drizzled in sweet soy sauce and covered under a blanket of salted egg yolk powder.

    Once it's been mixed, each mouthful delivered the savory goodness from the salty egg yolk along with soft, fluffy strands of pork jowl.  The rice absorbed some of the flavors and balanced everything out.  I'd be happy just eating this.

    Black (黑) - this was all black sesame... in seven different ways.

    I don't know what the seven different forms were, but we've got black sesame crunch, snow, ice cream, rolls (also known as "film (菲林)" in Cantonese for their resemblance to old rolls of camera film), and what seemed to be meringue balls.  Very, very good.  Black sesame flavors were very strong, and the level of sweetness was just about right.

    White (白) - this was a mix of tofu pudding (豆腐花), tofu ice cream, yuba (湯葉) pearl, sago, and coconut.  Unfortunately I had this after the black sesame, and I could no longer taste the distinct flavors here.  Just seemed very bland to me, although everyone else liked it...

    Sweet rice dumplings (破漿重圓) - this was VERY good.  The molecular version of the traditional Chinese dessert, here you've got the glutinous rice dumplings completely encased inside a ball of ginger-flavored soup.  Applying pressure on the ball with one's teeth break the thin membrane, splashing the strong and spicy ginger soup across the taste buds.

    This was a pretty good dinner.  Before dinner started, we were joking around that we would be saying "lei ho mei (你好味)" at the end if the food tasted good, and "lei lo mei (你老味)" if the food sucked.  Well, I think we can all agree that this was the former!  Many thanks to The Forks & Spoons for the kind invitation.

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  • 02/03/17--23:50: Droning Boy: Chung Hom Kok
  • This is the last weekend before my upcoming weekend in Bali, and I need all the practice I can get with my drone before the trip.  So I packed my DJI Mavic Pro in my small LowePro camera bag and headed out to the southside of Hong Kong Island.

    I met up with Kung Fu Panda who suggested Cheshire Home as a good vantage point.  We parked at the end of Chung Hom Kok Road, and launched the drone from a platform at the barbecue pits in Chung Hom Kok Park.  With unobstructed views of the ocean, it was indeed a good place for this purpose.

    I had taken plenty of pictures of Chung Hom Wan - during the day and also at sunset - and always had Round Island in those pictures.  So I started by sending the drone out by having it face Round Island, then using the TapFly mode and sending it heading straight for the island.  One problem with this mode is that when the target has a height which is lower than the cruising altitude of the drone, at some point the drone will automatically start descending.  For a newbie like myself, this was somewhat disconcerting... so I turned back to flying manually.

    However, since I had sent the drone off in a direction where it was obscured by the rocks surrounding my location, I was soon getting warnings on my remote control that the signal was weak - on top of those telling me that the winds were strong.  I decided not to fly all the way to Round Island and started pulling the drone back.  At some point, though, the signal was completely lost - to the point where the live video feed was cut off.  This was when the return-to-home mode was automatically triggered, and the Mavic Pro started coming back to its home point.  Thankfully there was still plenty of juice left in the batteries, and the drone came back without any problems.

    We decided to move to a different and better vantage point - this time the waterworks facilities on the hill above Headland Road.  From there I sent the Mavic Pro flying south towards Stanley, then turning back towards Chung Hom Kok.  I let the drone circle around the area, filming footage of a few friend's houses so I could send pictures to them later.  I'm pretty sure some of them haven't seen their houses from that angle!

    I decided to end the session early since I was meeting a friend for coffee.  But even flying the drone for a short while on the south side makes one realize how beautiful Hong Kong is.  Imma make it a point to get out to the countryside more this year so I can fly the drone and document the beauty of these territories.

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  • 02/05/17--23:11: Fatty roast meats for lunch
  • Mrs. Tigger is back in town for a couple of days, and I badly wanted to catch up after not having seen her for a couple of months.  I asked what food she missed most, and the surprising answer I got was "goose".  I'm guessing quality Cantonese roast meats must be in short supply over there... Anyway, I was thinking we should go somewhere a little more comfortable than Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), so I thought about either Duddell's (都爹利會館) or Mott 32 (三二公館).  Unfortunately the former doesn't seem to serve roast goose, so Mott 32 it is...

    It's been a while since my first and only visit, and this time I wanted to check out a few things from Chef Lee Man Sing (李文星), who used to head the kitchen at Man Wah (文華廳) - a restaurant Mrs. Tigger is all too familiar with.  Too bad there were only two of us...

    Barbecue pluma Iberico pork, Yellow Mountain honey (蜜汁頂級西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - this right here... this is the signature dish of the restaurant.  It was in the press release sent out to all the media outlets, and when the place first opened, it was in every freaking blogger and social media influencer's (nowadays known as "KOL") post.  I got so tired of the hype that it turned me off from wanting to go to the restaurant.

    So now that I've finally had it, what did I think?  Well, I gotta say... it was DAMN GOOD.  While there are other versions of Iberico char siu - even ones made with pluma - this one was particularly tender.  It's not just because of the fat around the edges... the texture of the pork had been cooked until it was soft, almost a little mushy.  And the flavors were really, really nice.  Again, it wasn't just coming from the marbling fat, but it seemed like the flavors had been ingrained into every fiber of the muscle.  I was seriously impressed.

    Har gau with South Australian scallop, air dried pork floss (肉鬆帶子蝦餃) - pretty nice.  I could taste the sweetness of the scallops, and the pork floss gave these dumplings a nice textural contrast.  The nori (のり) seaweed chiffonade also threw a little kink into the flavors.

    Hot and sour Iberico pork Shanghainese soup dumplings (酸辣小籠包) - I ordered these because I thought they sounded interesting.  Well, anyone who bites into these has gotta be very careful.  We are familiar, of course, with the hot broth that is often found inside the wrappers of these dumplings.  But these are extra lethal - in addition to the hot temperature, the broth is also spicy as well as pretty acidic.  One could easily scald the back of one's throat with this hot, spicy, and sour liquid - and some choking and coughing could be in order.

    Admittedly I am not usually a fan of very spicy or acidic food, and while I thought this was creative, I wouldn't order it again.  The hot and sour flavors completely overpowered the original taste of the Iberico pork - which was a real waste of a premium ingredient.  Even Mrs Tigger - who normally enjoys spicy food - wasn't a fan.

    Australian wagyu beef puff (澳洲和牛千絲酥) - this has Chef Lee's fingerprints all over them, as we both remember having these at Man Wah.  In fact, it's a dish that my godson Bear loves.

    So you've got cubes of beef covered in black pepper sauce, inside lots of layers of fluffy puff pastry.

    Apple wood shredded Peking duck spring roll (鮑魚北京鴨絲春卷) - these were pretty good.  The abalone wasn't really obvious to me, and I didn't realize the duck was actually Peking duck, but the filling inside the crispy exterior was pretty tasty... and I particularly liked the addition of yellowed chives (韭黃).

    Roasted traditional Cantonese goose (脆皮燒鵝) - I'm not sure why the roast goose was served last, but I'm glad they didn't forget about this pre-ordered item.  The paper-thin skin was wonderfully crispy, but I must say that I found it a little on the bland side.  Maybe these days I'm too used to all the spices that Yat Lok uses to marinate their goose, so this just didn't taste all that sexy to me.  The meat was very, very tender, but the duck itself was way, way too fatty for my taste.  Yes, believe it or not, it IS possible for me to find something too fatty!

    I'm glad I came back for a chance to taste their signature dishes.  In general, it seemed that these guys were trying hard to do a more upscale version of Cantonese cuisine, by using what would seem to be premium ingredients - Iberico pork, wagyu, caviar, truffle, imported seafood... In that sense it does fall into the same category as Duddell's in my book, and almost seem like they're adding these ingredients so that they could charge diners more.  In some cases the premium was worth paying, but I'm not so sure that it's the case on all the dishes.  Overall, though, I was happy with what I ordered today.

    It was good to catch up with Mrs. Tigger today, and I look forward to seeing Bear in a few months.  Oh, yeah, and his daddy, too...

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    I'm slow at trying out new restaurants.  I generally don't go to a new restaurant within the first 3 or even 6 months of opening, as I'm not a news reporter and don't need to brag about being first.  I also have zero desire to 'step on landmines' - spending my hard-earned money on a meal that may turn out disastrous.  After all, many new restaurant openings are so hyped up by the PR machine - helped by so-called "KOLs" (what the fuck are those, anyway?) who readily spread the word (more likely images these days) after being invited by the restaurant.  So I wait for the hype to die down, and if people are still talking about the place, and if my friends have given me enough positive feedback, I may be curious enough to try it out for myself.

    The Great One had raved about La Bombance after dining there a few months ago.  In fact, it was chosen as one of the five best (new) restaurants the South China Morning Post tried in 2016.  The fact that the original restaurant in Tokyo has itself a macaron, and the local partner has already backed Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) and Ta Vie旅 - both restaurants I love - also gave me confidence that this place could deliver.  So I rounded up a couple of friends to check it out together.

    I had already told the restaurant at the time I made the reservation that two of us won't eat tuna.  This morning I was shocked to find out that one of the friends we invited was in pain from gout.  This meant that there were a whole host of ingredients he couldn't touch.  I called the restaurant about 3 hours before dinner, and read out the list of ingredients that were off limits.  It was a pretty last-minute notice, so we weren't expecting them to be able to do much about changing the menu.

    The assistant manager recognized me from my visits to Tenku RyuGin, which was a nice surprise.  I always knew that I could be a real pain-in-the-ass customer who would be remembered by restaurant staff... After all, I don't go to Tenku RyuGin that frequently...  Anyway, we were also told that the kitchen had managed to change out every single ingredient I had listed as being off-limits for my friend - and even taken care to remove another ingredient that they believed would be bad for gout.  How's that for service?!

    First came the hassun (八寸), which was beautifully presented.  These looked like they still had the Japanese new year theme of red and white, and consisted of:

    Deep fried Japanese smelt served with basil tartar sauce (公魚フライ  バジルタルタルソース) - it's been a while since I last had deep-fried Japanese smelt (ワカサギ), and the basil tartar sauce really worked well with it.

    Homemade sesame tofu in red and white style, served with kuruma shrimp and sea urchin soy sauce (紅白胡麻豆腐  車海老  黒豆  ウニ醤油) - the "red and white" style tells me that this belong on a special menu for osechi (お節), with the red and white alternating bands of the shrimp, and the black beans reinforced that notion.

    Herring eggs on kelp served with canola flower and bonito flakes (子持ち昆布  菜の花  系かつむ) - herring eggs (数の子) is another ingredient used in osechi menu, and I love the crunchy texture.

    Sea cucumber flavored with vinegar (生子酢) - the Chinese don't usually pickle sea cucumber in vinegar, and the sharp acidity here along with a hint of bitterness was interesting.  The tiny little cubes of Japanese yam (山芋) provided a little extra crunch as well as some of the trademark slippery mouthfeel.

    Dried persimmon stuffed with cream cheese (干柿クリームチーズ射込み) - a hint of savory flavors along with the sweet and chewy persimmon.

    Kagoshima wagyu beef in dashi (牛ポトフ風スープ) - now this is why I always ask for a Japanese menu... because the English and/or Chinese translations often fail to convey the original meaning.  The Japanese menu clearly stated that this was a beef pot-au-feu, made with vegetables from Kyoto such as greenhouse onions, Kyoto red carrots (京にんじん), maitake (舞茸) mushrooms, and lotus roots.  The medallion of beef was oh-so-slightly overcooked, but still very tender and very, very flavorful.  There were a few rice puffs floating on top of the soup, which turned out to be surprisingly spicy thanks to the black pepper.  Very nice.

    Then came the sashimi (お造り):

    Sea bream (鯛) - this was lightly torched (炙り) for that hint of smoky flavor.
    Simmered abalone topped with liver sauce (鮑肝和え) - very tender.
    Hokki clam served with grated radish and ponzu sauce (北寄貝ちり酢和え) - crunchy and acidic as expected.

    Then one of the chefs came out to make nigiri sushi (握り寿司) in front of our "counter" table.

    Striped horsemackerel sushi (縞鰺握り寿司) - our substitute for not taking tuna.

    Torched yellowtail sushi (寒鰤握り寿司) - with a few sesame seeds on top and seemed a little spicy.

    Japanese green sea urchin sushi (馬糞ウニ握り寿司) - we were told that they had gotten a shipment of Japanese green sea urchin in, and asked whether we wanted an extra piece of sushi.  Of course we said 'Yes'...  These were nice and sweet, and the sea urchin came from Hirakawa Fishery (平川水産).

    Pan-fried yellowtail and foie gras served with black vinegar sauce (寒鰤とフォアグラ、大根ステーキ バルサミコソース) - this was very good.  The piece of pan-fried radish "steak" at the bottom was pretty tasty.  The best season for yellowtail is winter, both the fish and the thin slice of foie gras on top may seem slightly overcooked at first.  But having the two ingredients in the mouth at the same time - along with the balsamico sauce - seemed to work really well.  The big lima beans were surprisingly tasty.

    Steamed tilefish served with grated turnip, ginko nut and black fungus (甘鯛蕪蒸し  焼き穴子  銀あん) - hands down everyone's favorite dish of the evening.  The tilefish (甘鯛) was steamed on top of some kelp (昆布), and served with a mash of Shogoin turnip (聖護院かぶ) mixed with strips of vegetables such as carrots.  Besides ginkgo nuts and lily bulbs on the side, there was also a piece of simmered conger eel (穴子).  I gotta say that the flavors here were all very delicate - sweet, savory, and umami - with a hint of smokiness on top.  This perfect balance of flavors is what makes traditional Japanese kappo (割烹) cuisine so interesting.

    Charcoal grilled bamboo shoot and Kagoshima wagyu beef fillet flavored with yuzu pepper sauce (新筍と牛ヒィレ肉炭焼き) - this was served a little tepid, which was a shame.  The tender beef fillet sat on half a young bamboo shoot from Kagoshima - which was deliciously sweet and tender.  The chef has drizzled some yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) miso (味噌) sauce, which didn't pack as much of a kick as I had expected.  There was also a sprinkle of sansho leaves (木の芽) on top as well as some sea salt on the side for added seasoning, although I didn't think the salt was necessary.

    Crispy fried sakura shrimp cake with seaweed somen (桜エビかき揚  海苔煮麺) - I love sakura shrimp, especially when they've been fried to a crisp.  I also love somen (素麺), and putting all of these ingredients together couldn't have been more perfect.  Inhaled, but not as quickly as Hello Kitty did...

    Sea urchin donburi (ウニ丼) - instead of tuna (マグロ), we got sea urchin instead!  I'd call that a good trade.

    Black sesame sorbet (黒ゴマシャーベット) - the sesame was pan-fried before being used to make the granita, and this definitely intensified the flavors.  Really, really good.

    Egg pudding (焼きプリン) - I looooove Japanese pudding (プリン) because they tend do be really creamy and runny.  Really, really good.  Even Hello Kitty - who normally doesn't like sweets or desserts - found this to be really yummy.

    Matcha (抹茶) - Chef Koya Takayuki (小屋孝行) came out from the kitchen to whip up the matcha for all the customers, with water from the cast iron tea pot sitting in the middle of the room.

    I brought along a bottle of sake for casual drinking, as the corkage was reasonable.

    Isojiman Daiginjo Junmai Emerald (磯自慢 大吟醸純米 エメラルド), 2016 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Sweet on the attack but starts turning dry mid-palate.  The finish was definitely long and spicy, but the palate was still kinda round.

    We were very happy with our dinner.  Perhaps there weren't as many "WOW"s as we would have gotten at Tenku RyuGin, but there were no fails tonight, and taking the pricing into consideration, there was no reason at all for us to complain.  Our friend was super-impressed with how the kitchen handled his dietary restrictions on such short notice, because apparently every establishment in Japan managed to miss something - even ones with 3-stars.  Kudos to the team at La Bombance.  And yes, I'll repeat the cliché from the Governator: "I'll be back!"

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  • 02/09/17--07:07: Game and cheese
  • I was catching up with a friend tonight, and we decided to check out Upper Modern Bistro.  As it turns out, my friend had never been there, so it turned out to be a perfect opportunity for me to revisit after being away for about a year.

    Mini truffled Croque-Monsieur - I've always liked Croque-Monsieur, and these were cute bite-sized versions... although these were neither baked nor fried.  The Emmental and the jambon de Paris were nice enough, and the thin slices of black truffle on top made things a little more luxe and interesting.

    Sea urchin and avocado guacamole, lobster jelly, salmon roe - this was damn good.  Guacamole at the bottom, lobster jelly above, then a mélange of sea urchin, salmon roe, chopped chives, and red shiso (紫蘇) leaves. Seriously, it's hard to go wrong when you have this combination, especially when there's smoky emulsion to work with the sweetness, the umami, the acidity, and creaminess.

    King crab toast with sea urchin on top.  Oh man...

    Pigeon and foie gras Pithiviers, winter salad, Périgueux sauce - it's hard not to like Pithivier... especially in winter when it is stuffed with game meats.  Tonight's version came with foie gras - which is always a no-brainer - and some damn good, tender, silky smooth pigeon.  And it doesn't hurt that there were shavings of black truffle, either.  I was so, soooo happy.

    Oh there was a salad, and I did eat it, but I was too lazy to take a picture of it.  Rather, it wasn't worthy...

    Cheese platter - I asked for some cheese, and luckily for my friend and I, they guys here know how much I love cheese.  They've always been generous with me, but I was still shocked to find 10 different types of cheese in front of me.  And three different jams from Christine Ferber!

    Couldn't figure the name of this one... something like "Berat" and made in Isère from cow's milk.  Very dense and creamy, with slight goaty/gamey flavors.  Pretty mild overall but there's a little acidity in the end.

    Anneau du Vic-Bihl - gamey with ammonia and animal notes.  Very creamy.

    Pavé du Quercy - creamy on the outside but drier and denser in the middle.  Definitely gamey and stinky.

    Brin d'Amour - coated with herbs like thyme and juniper, which delivered really strong flavors.  High acidity.

    Pierre-Percée - very runny, slightly salty with a little ammonia.

    Saint-Nectaire - some acidity here.

    Mimolette, 26 months - I love aged Mimolette, and these were slightly salty but so full of flavor.

    Comté, 4 years - what has been left unsaid about this wonderful cheese?

    Vacherin Mont d'Or - it's the end of the season, and this was sooooooo runny, sooo ripe and strong.  Awesome!

    Roquefort fermier

    I brought a couple of bottles to dinner for my friend who is in dire need of some alcoholic refreshment after a tough week at work...

    2012 Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis Blanc - huge nose of toasty oak, and so buttery, too.  What a surprisingly delicious wine!

    2005 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard - lots of fragrant sweet fruit, a bit of leather, and some cedar.  Delicious as expected.

    Another really good meal here, even without Philippe or Jeremy. I should make it a point to come over a little more.

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    Hello Kitty is in Bali on a business trip, and her 500 sq.m. Ocean View Cliff Pool Villa has been comped by Ayana Resorts and Spa for the weekend.  Not wanting to leave her to her own devices in Bali, I dutifully bought myself a ticket and flew down to join her for the weekend.

    My airport pickup was relatively smooth, and I was soon enjoying the tranquility within the privacy of our villa.  We weren't in one of the Ocean Front Cliff Pool Villas as I had hoped, but we did still have a view of ocean, and it turns out we were just steps away from the Villa Lobby and DAVA Steak and Seafood - a restaurant where we could have breakfast.

    I had just enough time to get settled in and unwind before dinner.  One of the perks we had was getting our restaurant bookings done ahead of time.  Since sunset was supposed to be around 6:40 p.m., we asked for a table at Kisik Bar and Grill at 6 p.m.

    It's been a while since I last wore flip-flops to dinner, but given this was on the just above the rocks by the sea and there was sand on the floor, it was definitely the right call.  We got ourselves a table by the edge with views of the setting sun.  Very cool.

    I noticed that a table had been set up at the end of the jetty, and there were also some decorations along with musical instruments.  Sure enough, a couple had arranged a romantic dinner at the very private table, and a couple of musicians proceeded to play the traditional instruments - which we also kinda got to enjoy.

    Rempeyek - these are always a good idea, and I can never stop myself once I start nibbling on these.

    Jimbaran Express - yes, OF COURSE I had to order my girlie drink!  This mix of rum with ginger, kaffir lime leaf, red chili, lemongrass, coconut cream, and pineapple juice was pretty decent.  Although it did taste like a fruity and alcoholic version of Thai green curry...

    Kisik gado gado - my daily veg.  Pretty standard fare with sweet peanut sauce.

    Jimbaran bouillabaisse - snapper, prawns, calamari in a light tomato broth with "Jimbaran spices"... whatever they are.  Interesting that they added some kidney beans and corn.

    Barbecued rainbow lobster with Balinese spices - we were told that only rock lobsters were live, but the one that Hello Kitty picked out seemed to be moving a little, too.  Anyway, this was pretty decent.  And I tried to follow in dad's footsteps by removing the flesh in the lobster's antennae.  Damn, those spines are sharp!

    Clams steamed with white wine - these were OK.

    Balinese vegetables - no surprise that they served us stir-fried morning glory.

    I didn't have much expectations for the food, knowing that the main attraction here is the view and the ambiance of dining by the lapping waves.  It's rainy season so it was pretty cloudy today, and we barely got a glimpse of the sun as it set.  It was still nice and kinda romantic for us, though... as we don't get many chances to do this.

    Our dinner started early and also finished pretty early.  We went back to our villa to relax.  Both of us have had a long day, and went to sleep with the sound of the waves in our heads...

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    We woke ourselves up at an ungodly hour this morning when we should have been enjoying our huge, comfy bed in our villa.  Hello Kitty wanted to catch the sunrise, and she forgot that we're here in the rainy season... and the clouds take a while to dissipate after thunderstorms overnight.  I also forgot to mention to her that the Ayana Resorts and Spa faces northwest...  Anyway, we dragged ourselves out of bed, walked around the grounds of the resort, and quickly gave up on trying to catch a glimpse of the sun.  Nap time in the poolside gazebo.

    We did drag ourselves up again for breakfast, and it was just a few steps to DAVA Steak and Seafood - where we were seated outdoors with a view of the koi pond next to us.

    I was pretty surprised when I saw kouign amann in the pastry tray that was brought to us, and I felt obliged to try one.  This isn't an easy pastry to make, and the one I had wasn't bad at all.  It may not be as good as what the Great One makes at home or Dominique Ansel's famous DKA, but given that we're at a resort in Indonesia, I was pretty happy with it.

    I looked over the selection of breakfast items, and there was a dearth of Asian dishes that sounded interesting to me... So I ended up with the ol'nasi goreng.  Pretty much par for the course for an Asian resort.

    We also got ourselves a fruit plate.  This was no ordinary, boring plate with only 3 or 4 varieties... there were a whopping 13 different types of fruit on the plate - including some of my favorites like Balinese passion fruit, rambutan, and mangosteen.

    Our driver came to pick us up to get us to a couple of places I planned to hit today.  First stop was Pura Tanah Lot.  I'd been to the temple a couple of times, but this time I brought my new toy along.  That turned out to be a pretty fun morning.

    We headed back to Jimbaran to have a late lunch at Kayumanis Resto inside the Kayumanis Jimbaran Private Estate and Spa.  There seemed to be a lack of reliable reviews on restaurants outside Ubud, and once again I resorted to using TripAdvisor to get ideas...  This place came up #1 in Jimbaran...

    We arrived just before 2 p.m. and the place was pretty empty by then.  The decor was pretty nice, although the lighting indoors was pretty poor.  For some reason the tables were all placed in between windows, which meant that sunlight wasn't able to illuminate the dishes in front of us.  This was pretty annoying.

    Kunyit asam gula madu - I wanted to check out a traditional drink featuring palm sugar, but this turned out to be too exotic even for me.  The mix of turmeric, ginger, and galangal was too heavy-handed and the flavors ended up clashing... and any sweetness from palm sugar was wiped out by the combination of tamarind and lime.  I took a couple of sips and gave up.

    The two types of krupuk were made from rice and potatoes, and came with 5 different dips.  The plain ones made from rice were, well, plain.

    Sop buntut - oxtail soup is a staple of Indonesian restaurants overseas, and this was pretty decent.  The oxtail meat was pretty tender, and we could taste the nutmeg.  It's a shame, though, that the soup came only lukewarm.  We were hoping that it would be piping hot.

    Bebek betutu - a Balinese classic, and this was pretty good.  The smoked duck was very, very tender, and the flavors were satisfying.  The vegetables on the side were pretty tasty, too.

    Rendang sapi - I always want to try out rendang wherever I go, but I usually end up disappointed.  And so it was today.  The beef was tough, dry, and chewy - like so many other Indonesian restaurants.  I do wonder if they prefer their beef this way... or they're just so used to eating working oxen that they don't crave for more tender beef.  I guess that's why I love Candlenut in Singapore so much, because Malcolm Lee will use things like beef cheeks, French duck breast, and even Australian lamb shank in his rendang.

    I had room for one dessert, and just had to have cendol ngangenin.  I was a little surprised, though, when the jelly came looking white instead of the usual green.  Aside from orange-looking tapioca pearls, there was this thin, flat piece of unremarkable floury thing that I could only assume to be "mud cake"... although it tasted nothing like any mud cake I have ever had.  The small piece of banana on top was OK, and though I could recognize the faint jack fruit flavors, there was no trace of the ice cream that was mentioned on the menu.

    Overall, a very unremarkable lunch.  This basically reaffirms my view of restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor... or most crowd-sourced review sites.  Most of the reviewers simply don't know enough.  What we had were ordinary and I'd be really surprised if this place really was "the best in Jimbaran".  The service was also excruciatingly slow, especially for a restaurant that was practically devoid of customers.  No idea why it had to take over an hour for us to do lunch here.

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    We had a 6 p.m. reservation for dinner at Rock Bar at the Ayana Resorts and Spa, so I had to rush back from checking out droning sites around Pura Uluwatu.  Thankfully Hello Kitty already went back to the resort after our disappointing lunch, and she managed to show up for our reservation on time.

    By the time I dropped off my gear at our villa and rushed over by buggy, there was a big group of people without reservations lining up to try to get in.  Thankfully we were villa guests and had priority privileges, and had the foresight to book a few days before we arrived.  As I rushed down the cliff, I ended up at what turned out to be the wrong part of Rock Bar - thanks to directions from a staff.  Hello Kitty was nowhere to be found, and as it turned out Ayana had expanded this bar significantly to accommodate more guests due to the popularity of the place... so I was a little frustrated at having to run around looking for her.

    Thankfully, though, she had complained to the staff for having seated her next to an annoyingly boisterous family from Mainland China.  Today being the 15th of the Lunar New Year and all, Bali (as well as this resort) was overrun by Chinese guests.  After requesting for a change, she was moved to a table right next to the DJ booth on the elevated platform in the middle of the bar.  This area has one of the best views for sunset, and apparently was available only to guests staying in villas.  So we counted ourselves pretty lucky.

    I think the platform only accommodates five partitioned booths around the DJ, plus two tables to the side.  Very exclusive and private.  As we were seated at our table, a young couple from Mainland China left their booth and the guy got down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend.  A sunset proposal by the sea.  How romantic!

    And... OF COURSE I started by ordering another girlie drink!  This lychee ice tea was refreshing and exactly what I needed.

    Pla thod - these were pretty decent fish fingers, with Thai sauce on the side.

    Calamary fritti - pretty standard deep-fried calamari rings.  Can't go wrong.

    Goong sarong - these prawns were wrapped in noodles before being deep-fried to create "spring rolls".  Same Thai sauce used as dip.

    Since we finished our lunch pretty late, it didn't take much food before we started feeling full.  As we had switched to one of the booths directly facing the setting sun, we just hung out for a while enjoying the ambiance... listening to the sound of the waves, and feeling the platform shake when a big one hits.

    Back at our villa, I decided to pop up the bottle of 2014 Bernard Van Berg Le Rosé I brought down with me. Hands down one of the worst wines I have ever had.  Nose was faint upon opening, and palate was pretty non-existent.  Only showing some mineral, almost savory funk.  After aerating for 2 hours and warming up a little, finally there was some length to the finish.  Nose was still weak, with a hint of salted lemon.  A total waste and we did not finish. Made with pinot noir grapes from En Belles-Roses in Meursault, from vines planted in 1957.

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    We dragged ourselves out of bed at an ungodly hour for a second day in a row, as we were getting room service breakfast delivered before we head out for a droning session.  Only thing was... the rain from last night never stopped, and the skies were still dripping at 6 a.m.  Damn.

    Of course, room service arrived on time, and we asked our butler to lay out the spread on the daybed under the gazebo.  While the weather was crap, we could at least enjoy the morning breeze and listen to the rain while we ate.  Out of the available breakfast sets, we chose the continental breakfast with its basket of viennoiserie, as well as the Indonesian breakfast for soto ayam and mie goreng - which was changed from the original nasi goreng.

    But the real reason we ordered room service breakfast was for the orange juice.  You see, Diva had gotten a bottle of Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial as a gift from one of his vendors.  He didn't want it, and couldn't be bothered to lug it back to Hong Kong if he wasn't gonna drink it, anyway... So he left it with Hello Kitty.  Well... I decided to channel Andy Hayler from his opening scene in Foodies and told Hello Kitty that the only thing that bottle was good for was to make Mimosas...  So there you have it.   I popped open the Moët and made us Mimosas to go with our mie goreng.  I was one-upping Diva on wine snobbery.

    The rain kinda let up a little by mid-morning, so I re-booked a driver after cancelling on him 2 hours earlier, bid farewell to the birds chirping around the trees and bushes on the grounds of our villa, and checked out of Ayana Resorts and Spa.  I got me some droning to do!

    But Operation Uluwatu ultimately failed, and it was starting to drizzle again, so I called my DJI Mavic Pro back, packed up, and headed back north for lunch.  I's gonna git me some pork!

    Being a long ways away from Iku Oka - my old favorite joint for Balinese babi guling - meant that I needed to find an alternate venue on the south side of the island.  Some of the recommended joints I found after some research, unfortunately, don't open until dinner time.  So we ended up at Warung Babi Guling Candra in Kuta.  This is apparently a local institution and not one frequented by tourists like ourselves - something we confirmed for ourselves when we arrived at the restaurant.

    There was, of course, no menu available.  I was momentarily confused about how I should go about ordering, and eventually just walked up to the group of ladies busily plating food and stuffing takeout bundles.  I decided to point at all the different parts of the pig I wanted to eat, and this was just about everything that was on offer.  Aside from the tender and succulent (not to mention fatty) pork, there were pieces of crackling, a section of a fatty sausage, two different types of satay, tasty deep-fried intestines, what seemed to be dry and tasteless hardened liver, plus some stewed vegetables, lawar, and sambal.  The sambal definitely packed some heat, and soon I was sweating and sniffling a little... but it was pretty damn good.

    I wasn't expecting soup, and this was by itself a little peppery.  Drinking hot soup while my tongue was on fire from the sambal was like pouring gasoline on top.

    As I was doing the ordering, I noticed a big bowl of trotters, and decided to get one for myself.  Yes, I'm greedy like that... and I can never resist gnawing on these little trotters with their crackling.  Unfortunately, though, the crackling was no longer crunchy... and became pretty tough to handle with my teeth.

    Nevertheless, it was still a very satisfying lunch.  It's been a few years since I last had babi guling in Bali, and I definitely wish we were staying a little longer to fit in more of it...

    We headed to the airport after lunch, but not before picking up more babi guling to take on our flights.  This was definitely better than any airplane food I was gonna get!

    My plans, though, hit a snag at the boarding gate.  CX very kindly decided to give me an upgrade, and I suddenly found myself sitting in Business Class with a #firstworldproblem...  I was pretty sure that the babi guling I had brought onboard would be more delicious than what CX was serving for dinner in Business Class.  However, it seemed pretty poor form to suddenly break out my takeout and eat it.  I would have done it in cattle class, as I couldn't have cared less about how it looks.  But in Business Class, on an upgrade, it suddenly seemed ungrateful.

    So my babi guling stayed in my bag in the overhead compartment, and I ended up not quite enjoying the tough and chewy Balinese beef stew that the flight attendants served me...

    P.S. Looking back at my old post about the last time I had babi guling in Bali, it seemed that I was also upgraded on that trip while bringing takeout on board...

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  • 02/13/17--07:46: A lifetime of achievements
  • I had the honor of being invited to dinner tonight at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, to celebrate the occasion of Chef Umberto Bombana being the recipient of the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award for Asia in 2017.  Chef Bombana has been a well-known personality in Hong Kong for the last two decades that I've been in town, and he's helped put Hong Kong on the global dining map - in part due to the white truffle feasts at his restaurants - so this is an award that I feel is well-deserved.

    Chef Bombana made a very short speech thanking his supporters, and asked us to enjoy our dinner. I had no doubt that we would!  But first, a little aperitif...

    Mattia Vezzola Costaripa Brut - very easy to drink.  A little floral, a hint of minerals, and a little toasty.

    Purple potato emulsion, root in truffle jus, "melanosporum" black truffle - what a nice way to kick off dinner with this amuse bouche!  Below the delicious layer of purple potato emulsion was a pool of vegetable purée, with braised green vegetables like broccoli and root vegetables.  Of course, the slices of black truffle on top made all the difference.  Such amazing fragrance!

    Confit abalone carpaccio, sweet pepper and semi-dried tomato, royal oscietra caviar - the red abalone from New Zealand was apparently cooked confit at 80°C for 18 hours, and those thin slices were indeed very tender.  With bell pepper and tomato compote on top, and not surprisingly, the caviar on top made its presence known by packing a punch.

    2015 Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna Merì - very floral and tropical fruits, with sweet peaches, and almost a hint of bergamot.

    Royal langoustine, sea urchin, scampi jus - the langoustine from the Faroe Islands came with Hokkaido sea urchin at the bottom, confit tomato, eggplant, asparagus and zucchini, and langoustine jus.

    The langoustine was crispy on the outside, and very, very delicious.  The langoustine jus was just... MUAH!

    2014 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva Mirum - aged in stainless steel on less and not in oak.  Actually I didn't find this interesting, but it's OK as a food wine.  Ripe on the palate with a little acidity.

    Burrata cheese ravioli, cherry tomato and basil, zucchini compote - Bombana always delivers when it comes to pasta, and these ravioli were simple and beautiful.  The Burrata came with a little Marscapone inside the wrapper, and they were served with tomatoes, basil, and Taggiasca olives.  I just love how pure and classic the flavors were.

    2012 Duemani CiFRA - nose of sweet fruit with lots of herbs, a bit of cedar.  Nice and fragrant nose.  No aging in oak here.

    Challans duck, foie gras and spiced organic pear - now we had a little WTF moment here.  The restaurant manager serving us told us that Challans was situated "in the northern part of Bordeaux"... Nope.  Sorry.  Challans is in Loire, not Bordeaux.  Also a wine region, just the wrong one.  Of course, he's hardly the first guy to get it wrong when it comes to Challans.  A few years ago there was also this guy at Amber who told me that Challans was in Burgundy.  It really makes me wonder how people at 2- or 3-star restaurants get shit like this wrong.

    But all was forgiven with the first bite of the duck.  Mon dieu! This was perfect!  It's easy to see from the color that the execution was just about perfect - still rosé in the middle while the skin was crispy.  The chunk of foie gras on the side was soft like buttah, and the spiced pear was very, very nice.  Hands down my favorite dish tonight, by far.

    2011 Pietradolce Archineri Rosso - more leather notes, very fragrant.  A little more tannic on the palate.

    Before the next dish is served, Chef Bombana came in to do his thang... which was shaving truffle, of course.  I was seated at the opposite end of the long table, and I could smell the beautiful fragrance from my seat without having a plate in front of me.  These black beauties from Périgord were simply amazing.

    Black truffle "fassone", braised green vegetables with "melanosporum" black truffle - the veal comes from the Fassone breed in Piedmont, and was coated with a nice layer of breading on the outside.  There was a pile of black truffle slices all over my plate, but I ain't complainin'!  Especially when a small chunk of truffle ended up on my plate.

    The Piedmontese cattle carries a genetic mutation that causes excessive muscle growth that reduces marbling, and it's clear that this was a pretty lean piece of meat.  As this was a piece of veal, it was still very tender despite being very lean.

    2009 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino - this was reasonably fragrant, with a little bit of leather, and softer tannins.

    Roasted Tasmanian cherry with honey gelato - the "roasting" didn't seem to have much effect on these cherries, which were very delicious on their own.  I could definitely taste the distinctive flavors from the honey, although the gelato was also pretty creamy and smooth.  Very nice and refreshing.  Such a simple and happy dessert.

    2014 Tasca d'Almerita Capofaro Malvasia di Salina - the berries are harvested around mid-September and sun-dried.  Showing acetone, honey, and stone fruit notes.

    Black truffle gelato, chantilly cream, crispy hazelnut and pitsachio - YES!!! More truffle!!!  This was a beautiful dessert, even without the addition of black truffle on top.  The hazelnuts were a great addition, providing that wonderful fragrance inside the mouth after one chews on them.  The small pieces of millefoglie were pretty fluffy, and added to the illusion that this was a "light" dessert...

    The petits fours here are always good, especially the nutty milk chocolate.

    We were given these mini ceramic pots with chocolates inside as gifts.  So cute!

    This was a wonderful dinner, and I was very grateful to have been able to be a part of Chef Bombana's celebrations for receiving this recognition.  I look forward to seeing him receive the physical award at the ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in Bangkok next week.

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    After ending my self-imposed exile from Thailand last year, I'm back in Bangkok for a few more days to explore the dining scene.  This time Hello Kitty and I are meeting up with friends from all over the world, and we started by meeting a friend for lunch right after we landed.

    My friend has spent a significant amount of time over the last few months eating around Asia, and actually has just finished organizing a tour of Thai restaurants in Bangkok.  When he suggested that we meet at Pe Aor (ร้านพี่อ้อ), I didn't hesitate to say "Yes" - despite not being a great fan of the classic Thai dish of tom yum goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง).

    We arrived straight from the airport with our big luggage in tow, apologizing to my friend for being late due to a traffic accident along the way.  No sooner had we sat down than we were handed a couple of menus.  One was clearly for locals, with multiple pages, pictures, and descriptions in Thai.  The other was a one-pager, with only large pictures of the various tom yum goong options and the prices.  No descriptions.  I guess this was for the tourists.

    Our friend has been here before, and since this was a snack before he headed off to a real lunch, chose a "regular" bowl priced at THB 60.  I looked at the menu and decided to splurge on a "luxe" version that cost THB 700 - making it the most expensive bowl of tom yum goong I have ever had.

    So what justified the large price multiple?  Well, instead of the regular shrimps, you get three giant river prawns, large mussels, and inexplicably, a fairly big chunk of salmon.  There's also a squid stuffed with minced pork.  One has a choice of noodles, and Hello Kitty chose glass vermicelli.

    These couple of small crabs stuffed with minced pork and yolk were pretty decent.

    We also found it interesting that they served boiled egg with soft yolk.

    This was definitely a pretty unique experience.  First of all, it was unlike any tom yum goong I've ever had.  I've never been a fan of either very spicy or acidic food, and tom yum goong hits both these problems.  The soup base here was very mild in terms of acidity, and not very spicy at all.  In fact, it tasted pretty sweet.  It's apparently made with Carnation condensed milk for the creamy texture.  This was by no means the classical version, although I myself liked this better for the reasons I outlined earlier.

    The problem, though, was that the river prawns weren't very fresh.  The flesh had started to turn a little mushy, so that was disappointing when you consider we were paying more than 10x for a bowl with "premium" ingredients.  Imagine what would have happened had we paid over THB 1,000 for a bowl with a spiny rock lobster and finding the lobster not fresh...

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    I'm blessed to be able to call Gaggan Anand a friend.  I've been a big fan of his cuisine since first getting a taste of it about 2½ years ago, and my fondness has only increased with my visit to his restaurant last year.  He's been extremely nice to me both in person and over social media, and I'm very grateful for his kindness.

    I always knew that I would take Hello Kitty to Gaggan on this trip, but when I found out via Instagram posts from the two chefs that Hasegawa Zaiyu (長谷川在佑) from Den (傳) was going a 4-hands dinner with Gaggan in Bangkok, it didn't take me long to ask my friend to save seats for Hello Kitty and I at this special collaboration.  And since the Great One was gonna be in town at the same time, we decided to go to the special event together.

    I had never had the pleasure of dining at Den, but given all the glowing reviews from the Great One and plenty of other friends, it's been on my list of places to hit in Tokyo for some time.  This would be somewhat of a preview...

    We knew we were running about 20 minutes late, and was pretty embarrassed about our tardiness since I figured everyone sitting around the counter at the Lab would be served at the same time.  Thankfully more than a few of us were running on Bangkok time!

    Looks like everyone in the kitchen has their uniform on, even our visiting chef.  Which reminds me... someone still owes me a shirt!

    Gaggan has switched to an all-emoji format for his menu, so it wasn't a surprise when I saw this in front of me...

    Monaka, by Den - a meal at Den always starts with their signature monaka (最中), where the filling includes foie gras marinated in white miso for 10 days.

    Out of the bag and plated...

    This version also had some (dried?) Thai mango and iburigakko (いぶりがっこ) - radish that was smoked and then aged for 6 months.  There was also some yellow curry in the middle.  Loved the contrast between the soft, creamy foie and the crunchy radish.  The mango also was a little more crunchy than I had expected.  The flavor contrast between the sweet and sour mango with the smoky, savory radish and foie was also very interesting... helped along with a little kick from the curry.  This might look like something one can polish off with a few bites (or in my case, two...) but there's a whole lot going on here.

    Eikun Murasaki no Eikun Junmai Ginjo Muroka Namagenshu (英君 紫の英君 純米吟醸 無濾過生原酒) - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Sweet on the attack but dry mid-palate, and surprisingly dry and spicy on the finish.

    Mushroom ghewar, by Gaggan - traditionally a sweet dessert like the one I had at Golden Peacock, Gaggan's done a savory version.  Apparently the crispy ghewar was made by frying milk fat, and used to hold smoky mushroom mousse with mushrooms "growing" out of it.  Inspired by the classic dish of methi matar malai (मैथी मटर मलाई), this also included a big "green pea" on top which needed to be eaten in one bite.  This was pretty nice, and the green chili powder at the bottom provided a little bit of a kick.

    Sake dashi, by Den - this was "Japanese tom yum"... with a dashi (出汁) base and sake kasu (酒粕), lemongrass, chili, and plenty of ginger.  Quite a strong kick, this one...  Instantly warms the body.

    French fries, by Gaggan - this is basically Gaggan's new twist on aloo gobi (आलू गोभी).  Freeze-dried deep-fried potato balls with dehydrated cauliflower chips on one side, and cauliflower purée topped with caviar on the other.

    We were meant to skewer the potato balls with the stick, then dip it into the cauliflower purée and add some caviar on top.  Definitely pretty cool and got similar flavors as aloo gobi.  Oh and Gaggan freely admitted that putting caviar in there was just so he could charge more money... LOL!

    Primosic Ribolla de Oslavia Riserva, vintage unknown - nose was oxidated and came with very familiar flavors.

    DFC, by Den - the "Dentucky Fried Chicken" is yet another signature dish from Den.

    The box opens to reveal a deep-fried chicken wing.  I had seen countless pictures of the dish, and was a little disappointed that it did not come with a doll of Hiyoko-chan (ひよこちゃん), the mascot of Nissin chicken ramen (日清チキンラーメン)...

    The wing has been deboned and stuffed with glutinous rice and peanuts, deep-fried, and smeared with some green chili paste on top.  Pretty tasty for sure, but the basic idea has been in Cantonese restaurants for quite a while.

    Den has been known to print the faces of their diners on the DFC boxes to provide that personal touch.  Tonight the boxes carried the faces of Zaiyu and Gaggan.

    Charcoal lamb, by Gaggan - lamb was my favorite dish on my last visit, so I had very high expectations for this.  This time the charcoal dish no longer had a mystery ingredient.

    The tempura batter covering the lamb kebab was mixed with ash from vegetables (Narisawa-style?).  As expected, cooking the lamb sous vide made it very, very tender.  There was definitely enough fat there to make every bite incredibly satisfying.  Then you've got that deep-fried batter on the outside.  Arguably my favorite dish of the evening.

    2014 Lapierre Morgon - nose seemed a little stewed prunes?  Nice with just enough acidity here.

    Fake Peking duck, by Den - the emoji says fish, but I was confused by what I saw on the banana leaf in front of me.  Deep-fried pieces of snakehead (雷魚), shredded spring onions, strips of cucumber, flowers were joined by dengaku miso (田楽味噌) and placed on top of a piece of very stretchy and sticky rice paper.

    After we wrapped it up ourselves, it was time to chomp!  Kinda interesting, as the combination of the miso, spring onions, and cucumber did taste a little like the ingredients inside a Peking duck pancake.  Except here the protein was crunchy, but I couldn't taste any distinctive flavors of the fish itself after deep-frying and being overpowered by the other flavors here.

    Strawberry uni, by Gaggan - served with a quenelle of miso and horseradish sorbet, with some (curry?) oil.  The miso was definitely pretty salty.  I think I prefer last year's version with the deep-fried rice cake.

    2015 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco - oxidized nose with acetone notes, a little dry on the palate, not really sweet.

    I thought Gaggan had announced that we'd be eating with our hands, but then we got chopsticks...

    Som tam, by Den - interesting take on the classic Thai dish, served in a the bell of a banana flower.

    This was made with only Thai fruits, and inside one will find rose apples, mulberries, deep-fried banana, julienned green mangoes, marian plums, peanuts, and dried shrimps.   The acidity and the kick were there, so the flavors were pretty authentic.

    At this point a very distinctive aroma started filling the space around us, and I knew that Gaggan was starting to cook his curry.  These were the spices that went into the pot...

    Soon the two chefs would show us their pots - Zaiyu with a pot of rice, and Gaggan with his curry pot.  Gaggan started asking everyone what size they wanted: S, M, or XXL.  Guess what size I asked for?

    Mazegohan, by Den and Gaggan - the mazegohan (混ぜご飯) was made with Siam Ruby Queen corn, which were beautiful and crunchy.  Topping was a curry made with a combination of Thai swimmer crabs and Hokkaido crabs.  This was really fucking good.  After all the food we've had tonight, I started regretting getting this XXL bowl about halfway through it.  But it was sooooo damn good that I couldn't just dis the chefs by leaving anything behind, so I powered through it with Hello Kitty's help.  Now THIS was something I could eat everyday!

    2012 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Hengst - off dry, with nice ripeness on the palate and a slightly bitter finish.  Good length.

    Coconut Den - the first of two coconut desserts.  This was also known as the "emoji dessert", each serving was drawn with a different expression.  Now why did they give me an angry one?!  Do they know me better than I know myself?!

    Anyway, this was a mochi (餅) made with coconut milk that was cooked until it became sticky, and mixed with kuzu (葛) and tapioca pearls. The expressions were drawn with caramelized palm sugar, and it was surprisingly salty.

    Château Jolys Cuvée Jean, vintage unknown - sweeter on the palate with deeper flavors, more marmalade, and slightly bitter.

    Coconut Gaga - a quenelle of coconut and curry leaf ice cream with candied ginger, pomelo, desiccated coconut, kaffir lime leaf chiffonade, apple blossoms, tamarind sauce, and lightly torched chili marshmallow.

    While I have to admit that I was happier with more of Gaggan's dishes, nevertheless I was very, very impressed with Zaiyu's ability to come up with dishes within half a day, using local dishes that he had just gotten himself exposed to.  As I told Gaggan tonight, that takes some serious SKILLZ, and it showed me the potential of what a meal back home at Den could be like.  Bravo to both chefs for what they put together tonight.  It was certainly a lot of fun!

    P.S. In spite of all of our efforts, neither the Great One nor myself have succeeded in paying for our meals at Gaggan.  When I asked Gaggan for seats at tonight's dinner, I told him specifically that he needs to let us pay for dinner since we are not eating for free.  Well, I did see some sort of a bill at the end of the dinner, and offered up my credit card.  A few minutes later, a waitstaff returned to tell me that it was for the "wrong table", and Gaggan once again refused to let me pay.  I didn't want to make a big fuss in front of the other guests, so I thanked him for the treat.

    Thankfully I had come somewhat prepared, as I carried a small package of precious cargo as a gift to him for his upcoming birthday.  In retrospect I should have given him a bigger package...

    P.P.S.  A few months ago, Gaggan posted a few pictures on Instagram of him visiting Dewazakura Brewery (出羽桜酒造).  I commented that I really like the sake that these guys make, and he remembered.  During dinner tonight, he asked sommelier Vladimir Kojic to bring out a very special bottle as a gift to me.  As far as I know, this is not available commercially.  A sparkling sake that has been aged below freezing for 15 years at the brewery.  Truly and very special and thoughtful gift.  I will certainly treasure this bottle and share it with some very special friends.

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    I'm on a mission to check out more fine dining Thai restaurants in Bangkok, and among the usual suspects - at least for us tourists - is Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin.  This sister location of the Danish restaurant holding a Michelin star for its modern Thai cuisine sits on the ground floor of the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, and the very high ceilings here provides a nice and relaxing feel while dining.  This feeling of tranquility was enhanced by seating us in one of the booths with very high backs - helping to shut off some of the noise from our surroundings.  Unfortunately, neither the service nor the cuisine were relaxing.

    I had gotten some unenthusiastic feedback from a couple of friends who had tried the cuisine here before, but I was undaunted.  I'm a big fan of chefs who try to deliver modern versions of traditional cuisines with long histories - especially when molecular/modernist techniques are involved - so I was always curious about this place.  Tonight was the opportunity to check this box.

    Our welcome drink of chilled lemongrass and pandan tea seemed to be a popular choice among restaurants in this city, but thankfully it's also one that I love.

    There was never any question that I would be taking the "Journey" tasting menu, which includes 10 courses preceded by a number of bites.  Halfway through the menu, I would come to the realization that this was simply too much food to stomach.

    Wasabi yoghurt - the kick from the wasabi was really strong, and my nasal passages got cleared in a couple of seconds.

    Cashew nut meringue - pretty savory thanks to the soy sauce, but sweet at the same time.  Reminds me of the sauce from red braising (紅燒).

    Cashews in bag - the fragrance from kaffir lime was pretty prominent.

    Street Food:
    Prawn cracker - with lobster mayo on top.

    Chicken satay - peanut sauce is frozen into a "meringue" and placed on top of a thin piece of crispy chicken skin.

    Chiang Mai sausage - the glass dome was lifted to let the smoke escape and fill the air.  A piece of smoked coconut was skewered along with the sausage.  Speaking of the sausage, it was very delicious and undoubtedly the best of the bites.  Incredibly soft casing with an amazingly soft filling that almost felt like mashed potatoes.  Very nice and smoky flavors, and a nice spicy kick.

    Tuna tartar - such a pretty presentation to have the tuna tartare inside a floating lotus flower.  Spicy kick on the backend.

    Kai toon - egg flan in miso soup, topped with bonito flakes and roasted garlic.  Honestly I dunno why the chef thinks we can pick up a chunk of flan with a stick and eat it gracefully...

    Miang Kham (เมี่ยงคำ) - I love miang kham, and here they've decided to help us make them instead of having us DIY.

    Peanuts, dried shrimp, shallots, ginger, and palm sugar paste on a wild betel leaf.  They didn't add chilis for me because I had told them that I can't take very spicy food.  Pretty nice.

    Then came the different elements of our first starter, laksa based crab-on-crab cornetto - at least, that's how all these little bits were listed on the menu.  Only, nobody explained to us that these were all part of the same course... and certainly not that the cold coconut scented towel they suddenly presented to us was actually part of the dish.  We didn't even touch it.

    Grilled squid with egg yolk dip - nicely grilled and dipped into raw quail egg yolk.

    Oyster tempura with misomayo sauce - the French oyster was pretty tasty as a カキフライ.

    Crab cornetto - the cornetto came with yellow curry ice cream topped with crab meat and dried shrimp.  Pretty decent.

    Laksa soup - I had no idea that I was drinking laksa, because it didn't taste anything like the laksa I know - whether Singaporean or Penang assam.   Not really spicy, just savory.

    Then came the remaining 9 of the 10 courses...

    Seabass with apple and celery salad and spicy meringue - I thought the execution of the seabass was fine, with crispy skin and decent texture in the middle... almost like marble goby (筍殼魚) that is often found in Thailand.  The spicy meringue tasted of coconut and lime, and we were told the sauce drizzled on top of everything was made with passion fruit juice, orange juice, and mashed raw garlic... even though the menu said yuzu (柚子), garlic, and palm sugar - minus chili for me.

    Tom ka with baby corn and chanterelle mushroom - this dish was totally WTF.  Our server told us that the chef wanted to serve two different versions of the soup - warm for the man and frozen for the woman.  HELLO?!  WTF are you trying to say???  That women are cold and frigid?!  Who arbitrarily decided on this?

    There were chanterelles, pickled shallots, baby corn, kernels of sweet corn, crispy chicken skin, coriander, and garlic oil in the bowl.  The crispy chicken skin was indeed very crispy, fatty, and satisfying.  The flavors were actually decent, and this bowl did taste like a tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่).

    The "for her" version was made by pouring the soup into a separate bowl and adding some liquid nitrogen to flash freeze the liquid.  Same ingredients but completely different texture.  Hello Kitty was not a fan, but I'm more accepting of these molecular gastronomy dishes.

    Salt-baked carrots with scallop and tamarind, lemongrass - Hello Kitty hated this dish.  I didn't hate it, although I was kinda scratching my head a little.  The carrot was very soft and a little savory.

    The scallop was cooked mi cuit, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with the execution.  But we didn't understand why it was paired with the sauce made with tamarind, lemongrass, and dried shrimp.  There was sweet, tangy, and unami flavors all in one... but somehow just didn't jive.

    Foie gras with pineapple caviar and ginger foam - I honestly didn't taste any flavor whatsoever in the foam.  The foie was well-executed, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  The plum wine sauce was very sweet, but with an added kick from lots of ginger.  Didn't seem to find any "pineapple caviar"... and funnily enough while the name of the dish on the menu listed "pineapple caviar and ginger foam", the list of ingredients below the name included "ginger caviar and pineapple foam".  Consider me confused.

    Lobster served with kra chai and red peppers - there were three types of crackers on top: shrimp, beetroot, and bell pepper.  Served with dots of bell pepper purée on the side.  The bell pepper used to make the chips were so burnt the chips tasted bitter and unpleasant.

    The lobster underneath was nothing less than a tragedy.  If you're only boiling the lobster for 5 seconds as the menu states, presumably the point is to let the diner taste the natural and fresh flavors of the premium ingredient.  So why the fuck would you add some heavy and pungent sauce on top of it?!  I don't know where those pungent notes were coming from - perhaps it was finger root (กระชาย), or perhaps it was the oyster sauce that delivered strong mineral flavors.  In any case, this wasn't pleasing in the last bit.  Complete and utter FAIL.

    Beef massaman with potato, five spiced soup DIY noodles - thankfully this dish worked out beautifully.  The Australian grain-fed beef short rib was perfectly executed and had just the right amount of fat to impart those satisfying flavors, as the peanuts in the massaman curry dominated.  Served with what looked like dehydrated kale (it says winter cabbage on the menu), mashed potatoes, and potato confit in clarified butter.

    The DIY noodles asked diners to inject the tofu in the syringe into the bowl of lukewarm five spice soup.

    Well, this DIY stuff may be cute and fun, but as I remarked to some people, it's "so 2003"...  We've seen this a long time ago and novelty has definitely worn off - at least for some of us.

    At this point we had run out of bottled water, and Hello Kitty was reluctant to open a new bottle... so she asked for some tea.  And this is when a plate of petits fours suddenly appeared on the table - with the tea.  It's probably the first time I've ever had petits fours BEFORE my dessert.  These were chocolate and peanut bonbons, coconut marshmallows, and some dark chocolates.

    Lemon foam with Thai basil sorbet - the basil ice cream was made with a touch of mint, and sat on a pile of lemon foam flanked by wafers of lemon meringue.  There were also some basil leaves and a drizzle of basil oil.

    "Flower shop" - Hello Kitty wasn't gonna touch this with the proverbial 10-foot pole, saying that it reminded her of jasmine-scented tissue paper from Tempo.  I myself enjoy floral desserts, and didn't mind in the least bit the combination of jasmine foam, lotus ice cream, elderberry sorbet, rose petals, rose jelly, and chrysanthemum meringue - the last of which tasted nothing of the flower.  While enjoying the sweet, floral, and refreshing flavors of this dessert, my taste buds were suddenly jolted by the presence of very savory, dehydrated capers.  WTF was that?!  What was the point of throwing in this monkey wrench?!

    Mango sticky rice - thankfully the meal ended up a very delicious dessert.  I loooove mangoes, and this re-interpretation of the Thai classic ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง was very well done.  Underneath the cotton candy drizzled with coconut syrup were chunks of cold stick rice, mango sorbet, and mango purée.  Very, very yummy, and very, very sweet.

    This was a very long and excruciating dinner.  There was simply too much food here.  A 10-course menu with this kind of portion size would be substantial enough, but this was preceded by a bunch of nibbles.  That might have been fine had the dishes been all hits, but unfortunately it was not the case.  Quite a few of the dishes lead to some WTF moments, and the lobster was borderline revolting.

    In discussions afterwards, the question of "Do they know what they're doing?" was raised.  I think that the kitchen knows exactly what they're doing, but unfortunately we just don't happen to like whatever they're doing.  The consensus between Hello Kitty and I is that the snacks were much stronger than the last nine courses.

    In case anyone is wondering, this is a place I wouldn't bother going back to, and certainly not going to recommend it to anyone who asks.

    We made our way back towards the area where we were staying, and met up with Da Jam for a drink at Vogue Lounge Bangkok.  It's a great place for a drink at night - given the cool, comfortable breeze and the outdoor setting.  Too bad our friend Vincent Thierry was out of town...

    This was a pretty good negroni, and it's easy to see that they got themselves some very expensive ice machines in order to make these crystal-clear ice cubes...

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    One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was to check out some old school Thai restaurants that have been running for a few generations, and I thought I'd start by going back to Chote Chitr.  It was where I had my last meal before my self-imposed exile, and I was curious to see how the place had changed (or not) after 9 years.

    We arrived pretty late, and the place was practically empty.  Hello Kitty got herself a bottle of Chang, and I picked out three dishes for our meal - knowing that there were still two stops I wanted to hit after lunch...

    Banana flowers spicy salad (ยำหัวปลี) - this is one of the signature dishes here, and I never got to eat it the first time, so it was an itch I needed to scratch. Unfortunately, this wasn't anything to write home about.  The chicken was bland and boring, and even the diced banana flower was unremarkable.

    Dry yellow curry on deep-fried pork (หมูทอด) - they didn't have crab today, so we ordered this instead.  Totally WTF.  The curry wasn't dry at all, and the flavors were diluted and sweet.  Basically, a very wet and sweet Japanese katsukare (カツカレー)...

    Crispy noodles with chicken and shrimps (หมี่กรอบ) - I was very impressed with this 9 years ago, so I definitely wanted to have it again.  This came fresh from the wok, so the noodles were very, very crispy.  While I liked the tamarind sauce and the tanginess that it brought, Hello Kitty was unhappy with the flavors that come from cooking with oil that has been used many, many times - or in her words, "thousand-year-oil".

    Sooo... not such a successful visit.  Zero for three.  I don't think I'll go back again.

    But the silver lining of dining here is that we were literally steps away from two dessert shops I wanted to hit.  First there is Nuttaporn (นัฐพร) just around the corner.  This unassuming corner shop sells some old school ice cream, and I could definitely use some to cool down!  Apparently run by the third generation for more than 70 years.

    Mango ice cream - wow!  This was seriously old school.  I haven't tasted this texture in my ice cream for a long, long time.  Made with Mahachanok (มหาชนก) mangoes, the texture was very silky and smooth.  The flavors were also much more delicate than your average mass production, store-bought branded ice cream.  The flavors were very familiar to me, like the mangoes I used to eat when I was young and spending my holidays in Bangkok.  More clean and "green" than, say, the Irwin mangoes found in Taiwan.  It was surprisingly not too sweet, and in fact delivered a noticeable level of salt.  Yum.

    Coconut ice - as others have said, this is more like a fine granita rather than ice cream.  Very, very clean and pure coconut water flavor.  Incredibly refreshing.  I didn't want peanuts or any other topping, because I just wanted to focus on that purity.  Slurp!

    Having gotten my ice cream, it was time to go get some of that classic Thai dessert - mango with glutinous rice.  Fortunately we have Kor Panich (ก. พานิช) around the corner, which has been around since 1932.  The owners claim that the recipe came from the palace kitchen.

    Most people just come to buy their glunitous rice by the kilo with coconut milk, then get their whole mangoes from either the vendors right next to this place or closer to home.  Being tourists, we were lazy and just bought them together as a set and took it back to our serviced apartment.

    Mango with glutinous rice (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) - the khao niew kiew ngoo (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) rice from Chiang Rai (เชียงราย) was certainly glutinous and sticky, and had a nice, firm chewy texture.  The was a good amount of mangoes here, and plenty of coconut milk that we drizzled on top.  Very nice.

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  • 02/20/17--06:17: Bangkok 2017 day 3: Le D'oh!
  • A few of my friends have previously enjoyed their meals at Le Du, and when people talk about fine dining or chefs doing creative things to modernize Thai cuisine, this place often gets mentioned.  So when I was choosing a venue for a gathering with friends from New York, Singapore, and Melbourne, this was the chosen one.  Of course, it didn't hurt that the restaurant was within walking distance from the serviced apartments where 4 of us were staying.

    I was rather surprised at the no-frills decor of the place.  Low ceilings and bare cement walls.  In fact, the place was so minimalist that there was nothing to absorb any noise, so the restaurant was very, very boisterous.  We had to up our own volumes in order to carry on a conversation with friends across the table.  Not a great ambiance for me - especially when I was expecting (perhaps mistakenly) fine dining on the table.

    There was never any question that I would take the full 6-course tasting menu, although a few of us did take the shorter, 4-course menu.

    Amuse bouche -

    Tomato soup with oregano salt - very creamy, with thick texture like crème fraîche.

    Pineapple jelly, caramelized nuts

    Lotus flower with Thai salad - with shredded carrots, chopped ginger, dried shrimp, and lime paste.  Kinda like miang kham (เมี่ยงคำ).

    Blue swimming crab, prawn fat, pork and salted crab, coconut milk - served with bitter melon purée, chili purée, coconut snow, and the grayish sauce was made with salted crab.  The crab meat was mixed with chili, red onions, and crunchy pickles.  Taste-wise this was fine, but I found bits of crab shell - one of my pet peeves...

    Poached oyster, chili paste, spicy green mango relish, Thai rice wine sabayon - the thin wafer of rice cracker was deliciously toasty.  Underneath the sabayon made with sato (สาโท) was a green mango relish with kaffir lime and chili.  I liked that there was just enough kick without putting my tongue on fire.

    River prawn, egg, chu-chee curry, banana blossom - the poached egg came with burnt lemongrass purée mixed with banana blossom and kaffir lime leaves.  The prawn was pretty decent and had a nice amount of tomalley, and came with with chu-chee (ฉู่ฉี่) curry.

    Squid, wild mushroom, salted duck egg - Hello Kitty offered me a taste of her dish.  The squid was OK, but the mushrooms were pretty delish.

    Sustainable ocean fish, roasted pumpkin puree, fermented fish stomach - I don't remember if we were told what type of fish we were eating, but whatever it was, it was very, very bland. I had no issues with the execution, as it was seared around the sides and still a little raw in the middle.  But there was absolutely no seasoning, and relied completely on the sauce on the side - made with roasted pumpkin purée and tai pla (ไตปลา) - fermented fish stomach.  The greens on the side came with a pretty sweet sauce.

    Speaking of which, I gotta hand it to the chef.  It takes guts to put fermented fish stomach on the menu of a restaurant where farang eat... although admittedly the sauce was just salty and spicy, and didn't taste too pungent.

    Free range pork belly, green bean salad, Chamuang sauce - FAIL.  Pork belly - with all that skin and fat - should have been very, very tender and satisfying.  This piece was overcooked, tough, and dry.  It gave me no pleasure whatsoever to put it in my mouth.  Served with sauce made frrcinia (ชะมวง) leaves.  Wing bean salad with pickled radish. was much better than the pork.  The half boiled egg on the side had its yolk replaced with fermented fish purée, which was a little savory with umami, a little spicy, and fragrant with kaffir lime leaves.

    Local short rib, egg noodle, cabbage, home-cooked khao soi - I was lucky to have had a piece of this from Hello Kitty, and it was MUCH, MUCH better than my pork belly.  Came with pickled cabbage and pickled bean sprouts underneath, and khao soi sauce on the deep-fried egg noodles.

    Local cheese - one of my friends has been here a few times and was recognized by Chef Ton's girlfriend.  We were given a complimentary plate of cheese made locally - which we suspect came from Heaven on Cheese.  We had Reblochon, Camembert, Brie, and Munster.

    Pandan cake, jasmine tea ice cream, local strawberry - this was a totally forgettable dessert - both in terms of looks as well as taste.  The jasmine tea ice cream was the clear winner out of the three, and Hello Kitty was thankful that she didn't get to have Tempo tissue in her dessert...

    Mango panna cotta, passion fruit, smoked coconut ice cream - this was Hello Kitty's dessert, and it was MUCH better than what I got as part of the 6-course tasting menu.  The panna cotta was good, as was the smoked coconut ice cream on top.  The puffed sticky rice on the side was interesting, and worked well with both the coconut and the mango elements.  The passion fruit and raspberry dots on the side looked pretty, too.  This deconstructed version of the classic khao niew mamuang (วเหนียวมะม่วง) was definitely a hit.

    We also got a fruit plate at the end, which was nice.

    Was this a bad meal? Certainly not. I could see that Chef Ton tried very hard to incorporate traditional Thai flavors into his dishes, and in general they worked.  But to be honest, none of the dishes really excited me, and I wasn't the only one who felt this way.  For a restaurant that has often been mentioned together with other fine dining establishments in town, and for a chef often cited as a rising star on the local culinary scene, tonight's performance was somewhat of a let-down.

    We knew that Chef Ton was away at the Chef's Feast of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants tonight, so perhaps execution was somewhat affected - under-seasoned fish, overcooked pork belly... although the latter is a cardinal sin in my book and really pisses me off.

    P.S.  The evening after my disappointing dinner, Le Du was named No. 37 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for 2017.  Well, I guess it just shows that I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about...

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    I'm still on the hunt for some old school Thai food in Bangkok, and today I chose to venture to the other side of the Chao Praya River to a place with a long history.  My friend the Peranakan Baba had done an extensive tour of old school establishments in the city 2 months ago, and Tek Heng (เต็กเฮง, 符德興) was one of the places he found.  Apparently the Teochew family has been running this place for more than 130 years, and is famous for having served their mee krob to King Chulalongkorn back in the day.

    We were lucky that the Great One and her Thai friend were coming along with us, and we were able to ask for directions in Thai.  The restaurant suggested that we take the BTS and get off at Talat Phlu, then grab a taxi and ask to be taken to the "King Rama V restaurant".  I guess everyone in that neighbourhood knows about this place!  Anyway, the four of us ended up getting on 4 separate mototaxis, and were promptly dropped off at the location by the river.

    Fried oysters with omelette on hot plate (ออส่วนกระทะร้อน) - this was really, really good.  I've always loved similar dishes since childhood, and here they've done a pretty good job making sure it's crispy.  Great with some sriracha sauce.

    Spicy stir fried fish ball on hot plate - the fish balls have obviously been made by hand, and the soft and bouncy texture was real nice.  Spicy and tasty.

    Crispy noodle with shrimp cramb and egg in soup - I never knew there was a "wet"mee krob, and neither did our Thai friend... The soup was on the tangy side, and turned out to be pretty nice.

    Crispy noodle with shrimp cramb and egg - the pièce de résistance.  The mee krob (หมี่กรอบ) whose recipe has been passed down for more than 100 years.  And it WAS tasty.  In fact, it was so much better than the one I had at Chote Chitr.  Texture-wise the fried noodles were pretty crunchy and hard, and the flavors were deeper and more intense.  The tanginess comes from the peel and juice of a citrus fruit called som sa (ส้มซ่า), which can be a little bitter.  Very, very good.

    Fried shrimp cakes (ทอดมันกุ้ง) - pretty good, too.  Much better than the average ones we get in Hong Kong.

    Steamed sculling crab - so they decided to serve us a whole plate of these swimming legs of crabs, simply steamed with sprinkled with a little bit of pepper salt that brings out the natural sweetness of the crab.

    Spicy kale with grilled pork - the slices of fatty pork neck underneath the layer of kale sure was tasty.

    This was a really good meal, and prices were of course very reasonable.  There were no tourists here, and the flavors were very straightforward and "authentic".  I would come back for the mee krob any day, and I would be very interested to visit the street food stalls around the Talat Phlu market nearby.

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    I'm back in Bangkok to attend the awards ceremonies for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, which is once again held at W Bangkok and the House on Sathorn. I'm pretty excited to be back, as it gives me a chance to catch up with friends - both from within Asia as well as from other parts of the world.

    As usual things started with cocktails and food in the courtyard of the House on Sathorn, and I met up with friends and congratulated chefs I knew personally on being included on the list.  Knowing that there was a long night ahead, I refrained from imbibing any alcohol, and just took Acqua Panna and the flavoured San Pellegrino sodas instead.  It's pretty hot in Bangkok and being in a suit and tie really didn't help... so it didn't take me long to get soaked.

    Having learned the lesson from last year, a few of us went and lined up in front of the Great Room about half an hour before the ceremonies were due to start.  There's no assigned seating, so we wanted to make sure we got to choose the best seats in the media section.

    The announcer rolled through the list of restaurants as usual, pausing for the presentation of specific country and special awards.  Some of the awards were announced some time ago, such as May Chow being awarded Asia's Best Female Chef and Umberto Bombana getting the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award.

    The team from Den (傳) received the inaugural The Art of Hospitality Award, and Chef Hasegawa Zaiyu let his front of house team take the spotlight, before joining them on stage.  Those who know him would know of his love for Puchi Jr., his dog.  So there was a round of applause when he decided to "flash" the audience by flipping up his T-shirt and revealing an image of Puchi Jr. printed on the underside.

    Perhaps tonight's biggest surprise was the Highest New Entry Award, with Odette making its debut at No. 9.  That is no mean feat!  But having been to Odette last year, I can say that Julien Royer is certainly among the top chefs in the region.

    Things always get tense when we start counting down the top 10, and when it came down to Gaggan and André for the top 2 spots, there was no question who I was betting on.

    So for the third year in a row, my friend Gaggan's eponymous restaurant in Bangkok took home the title of The Best Restaurant in Asia, sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.  It's a THREE-PEAT!!!

    At the press conference, Gaggan was clearly very emotional, and talked about the camaraderie of 50 Best, tell us that he was cheering for chef friends.  When André Chaing crashed and came to give him a hug, Gaggan said: "It's not about being No. 1, it's about being No. 2, too!... There's no difference between No. 1, No. 2, and No. 50." "Let's forget where we're from, we're all from Asia... Let's celebrate Thailand."

    Gaggan was asked how he was going to celebrate winning this award again, and of course a bunch of us already knew - we had gotten tickets to the "Unofficial After Party".  He then invited EVERYONE to his party, and promised that they "will be gentle... won't behave like Thais... there won't be any ladyboys... there won't be any street food..."

    Hmmmm... we'll see about that!

    P.S. As I did last year, here's a quick take on the list:

    The Best Restaurant in Thailand, also No. 1 on the list, is Gaggan.  It doesn't serve Thai food.

    The Best Restaurant in Singapore, also No. 2 on the list, is André.  It doesn't serve Singaporean or Peranakan food.

    The Best Restaurant in China, also No. 3 on the list, is Amber.  It doesn't serve Chinese food.

    The Best Restaurant in Japan, also No. 6 on the list, is Narisawa.  It doesn't serve Japanese food.

    Thankfully this year the highest-ranking sushi restaurant on the list is actually Sushi Saito in Japan, which came in at No. 26.

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