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

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    So... the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2017 awards are done and dusted, and it was now time to paaaaartaaaay!  First stop was back in the courtyard of the House on Sathorn, where we have a ton of food and drink.

    There was a ton of local food, organised by the region in Thailand where they originate - so we've got   sai ua sausages from Chiang Mai, barbecued whole pork, and they even brought in the famed Thip Samai to serve their signature pad Thai and Soi Polo Fried Chicken.  Of course where was also an oyster bar and a ton of meat - including a really impressive hip of Tajima wagyu that was slow-roasted.

    But as good as the food looked, I really wasn't interested in most of it.  So I nibbled on some of the roast pork, grabbed a few people, and headed for a "second round" at an old favorite.

    A few of us snuck out of last year's after party at the House of Sathorn and skipped the after party at Gaggan (which was definitely a mistake...) to go to Raan Jay Fai (ร้านเจ๊ไฟ).  We loved it so much that we went back 2 nights later.  So there was no way that we'd come to Bangkok this year without hitting it at least once!

    We were here to watch Sister Mole work her magic, as she stands in front of her charcoal-fired woks in full regalia - knitted cap, ski goggles, and pink wellies.

    Crab meat omelet (ไข่เจียวปู) - as a certain hit from last summer says... this is what we came for.  Arguably the most expensive omelet in town, but so, soooo worth it.

    It's packed with deliciously sweet crab meat.  Simply awesome.  And the amount of time and care taken to make sure this is done right... is what makes us love her.

    Drunken noodles with prawns (ผัดขี้เมากุ้ง) - had to order a portion of pad kee mao for everyone to share.  This one came with a few giant prawns.  Still love the soft and stretchy texture of the noodles.

    Well, we got what we came for, so it was time to head to Gaggan's Unofficial After Party.  Even though he had handed out tickets to chefs and friends for the party - and I had gotten myself "two tickets to paradise" -Gaggan basically told everyone to "come on down"... so we brought a couple of party crashers with us.

    The party was catered by Baan Ice (บ้านไอซ์), and they gathered a bunch of street food vendors to give us a real taste of Thailand.

    Now THIS was a roast pig!  And DAMN delicious, too!  MUCH better than the pig they served at the "official" after party..

    Mango with glutinous rice (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) - Hello Kitty liked this better than the one we got from Kor Panich (ก. พานิช) yesterday. Maybe it's because this was a little more "fresh" and hadn't been sitting in a bag for an hour.  The rice was softer and a lot less chewy.  Definitely tasty.  One of the party crashers we brought along with us had two of these by herself... and probably could have had a third.

    This coconut ice was DA BOMB!  Incredibly refreshing with purity of flavors.  I'd say that this was also better than what I had at Nuttaporn (นัฐพร).  I should have gotten 2 more of these.

    Occasionally we would run into Your Highness, who came to offer a taste of whatever was on his plate.  I was pretty full, but a bite of that river snail curry was definitely interesting. My biggest regret, though, was missing out of the boat noodles that everyone was raving about.  It was so popular that by the time I got around to it, they had long run out and were packing up to leave.

    Hello Kitty was getting a little tired, so we ended up leaving the party "early" somewhere around 2:30 a.m.  Word was that some people stuck around till 6ish... after the boss himself had gone home at 4 a.m. and handed the keys to his restaurant to Richard Ekkebus...

    P.S. In case anyone was wondering, there werekatoys among the crowd last night.  All those "ladies" dressed up in Thai costume?  Uh-huh...

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    Paste was always going to be on my agenda for this trip, having heard good feedback from both the Great One Lick My Toes and Haokoufu last year.  Then I found out that my friend the Hungry Tourist also loves this place, so that made things even more interesting.

    I preferred to be "under the radar" on my first visit to a restaurant, so I turned down the Hungry Tourist's offer to join him for lunch the day I arrived.  Instead, I had Hello Kitty reserve a table in her name, and tried not to be too public about when I would be dining here.  Alas, I slipped up and failed to keep things under wraps.

    Our original booking for 4 eventually turned to 7, and as I called the restaurant to ask for a bigger table, the person answering the phone immediately asked me whether the Great One was coming (she was not), and proceeded to ask whether I was still coming.  So we had been outed... probably by my friend the Hungry Tourist, who was obviously trying to help one of his favorite restaurants make a good impression on us.

    With 7 of us - and most of us visiting for the first time - we decided to forgo the challenge of ordering from the menu, and asked for the chef to arrange everything for us - omakase (お任せ).  Effectively, we did a "I'll have what he's having"... and in this case we were having what my friend was having on his visits just days before.  We found out afterwards that the kitchen had been told to dial down the heat, knowing that I don't like my food really spicy.

    Our welcome drink was made with bael flower, elderflower and pandan.  Smelled of honey, too.

    Crispy smoked prawns with roasted coconut and cashew nuts, served on rose apple (กุ้งเสียบผัดหวานกับชมพู่) - pretty nice.  There's just enough heat here to make things interesting, but not enough to blow my head off.  The slice of rose apple helps temper the heat, which is good.

    Watermelon and ground salmon with crispy shallots, roasted galangal powder (ปลาแซลมอนแตงโม) - love how everything comes together here.  The sweet and juicy yellow watermelon complemented the sweetish flavors of the salmon floss, which then contrasted with the beautiful raw salmon roe.  The final touches are added by Thai basil leaves.  Just a wonderful dish.

    Tapioca dumplings of royal project smoked trout, toasted peanuts, coriander and pennywort (สาคูไส้ปลาเทร้าต์จากโครงการหลวง) - definitely tasted the smoky flavors, and the texture was interesting with crunchy peanuts inside the glutinous and sticky steamed wrapper.

    Roasted duck, nutmeg, curry paste and saw tooth coriander served on rice crackers (หน้าตั้งแขก) - I love things served on crunchy rice crackers, and here they've got shredded duck, peanuts, raw red shallots, deep-fried shallots, and chili.  Crunchy and tasty, with some heat but once again not overpowering.

    Korean pen shell with chilli and Thai herb cream (Pen Shell เกาหลีกับซอสครีมสมุนไพร) - the pen shell came with a steamed custard.  The spices tasted almost like mushroom powder, and the garnish included some fragrant dill flowers.

    Smoky southern yellow curry of Gulf of Thailand red spanner crab, hummingbird flowers, Thai samphire and turmeric (แกงปูจั๊กจั่นปักษ์ใต้กับพริกไทยดำ, ดอกแคและใบชะครามจากสมุทรสาคร) - this was always gonna be tasty.  You just can't go wrong with crab curry.

    Lon of Gulf of Thailand red spanner crab, Nan province salted duck egg, fresh coconut cream, hairy fruited eggplant and lime leaf (หลนปูจั๊กจั่นกับไข่เค็มจากน่าน, กะทิสด, มะอึกและใบมะกรูด) - the lon was definitely more on the sweet side, with a lighter, thinner consistency.  Kaffir lime leaves and white turmeric stood out in terms of flavor.

    Old style hot and sour soup of crispy pork leg, chargrilled shallots, jack fruit seeds, roasted tomatoes in a smoky chicken broth (ต้มยำเม็ดขนุนและขาหมูโบราณใส่หอมแดงเผา) - chicken feet and smoked pork leg... very nice.  Definitely very smoky.  Nice acidity and heat here in the tom yum (ต้มยำ) soup.

    Northern Chiang Mai salad of fresh water river prawn with roasted banana chilli, char grilled tomatoes and pink mempat (ยำกุ้งแม่น้ำแบบเชียงใหม่, พริกหนุ่ม, หอมรมควัน, มะเขือเทศย่างและสาหร่ายเผาเสิร์ฟพร้อมกับน้ำยำ) - a recipe from 1905.  The prawns seem to have come with some sort of caviar - perhaps its own?  The tomalley in the head was sooo sooo damn good...

    Mee grob crispy noodles of river prawn, pickled garlic, Asian citron zest, & garlic chives (หมี่กรอบกุ้งแม่น้ำ) - this wasn't part of the "Califa menu", but I've been trying out mee krob (หมี่กรอบ) around town so I wanted to see what they can do.  This was very light and airy, not quite ethereal.  Can't really taste the oil that's been used for deep-frying.  Pretty good.

    Stir-fried ocean blue crab, fresh curry powder, organic eggs, spicy chilli jam, pickles and fennel (ปูผัดผงกะหรี่กระเทียมโทนดอง) - probably everyone's favorite dish today.  Made with rendered shellfish oil.  Much deeper in terms of flavor, and once again the heat was very well-balanced with creaminess and sweetness.

    Chanthaburi province noodles with red spanner crab, curry paste, fresh coconut milk and dried scallop floss (เส้นจันทน์กะทิผัดปู) - supposedly similar to pad thai (ผัดไทย) and made with the same type of noodles.  Coconut milk and curry paste are added to spanner crab meat and crab liver.  Sprinkled with dried scallop floss on top.  Obviously this was more creamy and spicy compared to pad thai.

    Ox tongue and snake fruit stir-fried with smoked fish powder, hot basil (ฝัดเผ็ดสละกับลิ้นวัวและปลากรอบทรงเครื่อง) - the flavors were pretty heavy here, with liberal use of kaffir lime leaves.

    Chargrilled organic pork loin, smoked eggplant and tomato relish, fennel seed, glazed with wild honey (หมูออร์แกนิกย่างกับเมล็ดเฟนเนลและน้ำผึ้งป่า เสริฟ์กับน้ำพริกมะเขือเผา) - a beautiful-looking piece of pork.  Guess who picked up the bone and gnawed on it?

    This was nicely charred and caramelised on the edges.  The fat was really wonderful and tasty.  The relish was a little hot and sour.

    We were too full from the meal and turned down dessert.  Looking back though, I definitely should have taken their durian cheesecake...  So we had these dark chocolate truffles with orange and Thai rum.  Very nice way to end our lunch.

    I really liked this meal, and in fact it's probably the best Thai meal I've had across my two trips recently.  I can't speak to the "authenticity" of the flavors, although it would seem that Chef Bee has done her homework and some of the recipes appear to be old school.  But what's key for me is that there were no fails today across the range of dishes we had - some were even standouts.  For me, this would be the fine dining Thai restaurant of my choice in Bangkok.

    The only issue I had with our meal today had nothing to do with the food but with logistics.  There were too many of us sharing the same dishes, and as everyone wanted to snap pictures of the beautifully presented food, it took a little time for everyone to have their turn.  As a consequence, the temperature of the food wasn't ideal.  It was also a little frantic and at times confusing as to who has or has not taken a photo or tasted the dish.  I would imagine that a smaller party with fewer dishes would have delivered a calmer, more relaxed experience in the serene dining room.

    I'll try that next time I visit Bangkok.

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    Having sung happy birthday to the birthday boy in front of a crowd at the unofficial after party in the wee hours of this morning, the Great One, Hello Kitty, and I are back at Gaggan.  At our Gaggan x Den dinner a few nights ago, after giving him a special birthday present, Gaggan Anand very kindly invited the three of us back for dinner tonight.

    When we arrived for our 6 p.m. seating, sommelier Vladimir was in the house but looking a little worn out from party last night (or should I say this morning?).  Gaggan was nowhere to be found, but we all know he had a rough night after the unofficial after-party he threw after winning the top spot of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for an unprecedented third year in a row.  Thankfully he showed up soon after, and actually looked pretty together - unlike the picture he posted on social media.  We were once again seated in the Lab area of the restaurant, which was deliberately kept at about half capacity in light of the staff suffering from some serious lack of sleep...

    We were treated to the latest menu, which was now represented by 25 emojis - one for each course.  The number of courses has increased since I was last here, and the portion sizes have gotten smaller; meanwhile according to Gaggan, the flavors have become more focused and pure.  It is interesting to note that about 40% of the menu was developed for Gohgan, his frequent collaborations with La Maison de la Nature Goh.

    But first, a little bubbly to start...

    2008 Drappier Grande Sendrée - a little yeasty and very ripe on the palate.

    A (spice) B (citrus) 🍋  = C (cola) - scented mist billowed out of the box carrying our enamel mugs, and we were asked to guess the content of the mug from the fragrance.  Turns out this was just a combination of lemon and spices with a littl salt that turned into cola... but a savory one.  So we started our dinner with 咸檸樂...

    Yogurt 💥 explosion - this is Gaggan's signature dish - one of his earliest creations and inspired from the time he spent at Ferran Adrià's elBulli.  I've always loved this, and probably always will.

    Bombay 🌾 bhel - the edible "plastic" was a little acidic and savory, with a hint of spices.

    Eggplant 🍆 cookie - made by burning eggplant in a tandoor, then freeze dry before pulverizing and pressing into shape.  Made into an "oreo" but with onion jam filling.  The jam was delicious with both sweet and savory notes, and the smoky flavors of the eggplant cookie were really nice.

    Chili 🌶 bonbon - the updated version of Gaggan's pani puri.  Still tastes pretty much the same, though... with the white chocolate shell helping to temper the liquid filling of coriander water, cumin, chili, ginger, and other spices.

    Green peas 🍄 mushroom roll - a smaller version of what we had 4 nights ago at the Gaggan x Den dinner.  Still love the combination of the sweet peas and the mushrooms.

    Idly 🍚 sambar - light, fluffy, and ethereal.  The idly sponge cake seemed denser this time, but the texture was still lovely as a chiffon cake.  I still love the sambar-flavored foam and curry leaf.

    Coriander nest 🍏 green apple - cinnamon, crunchy exterior made with shredded apple, with apple purée/gel inside, and fake apple snow sprinkled all over through a sift.

    Charcoal 🌑 prawn amristsari - this time the charcoal tempura (天ぷら) shell - made by mixing burnt eggplant skin into rice batter - served as a coating for the minced lamb inside.  The filling was a little fatty and had curry leaves inside.  Loved it.

    2014 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py - nice acidity here with some tannins.  Nice leather notes.

    Aloo 🥔 gobi caviar - another variation of a dish we had 4 nights ago.  The freeze dried potato ball was very, very dry... and I prefer the earlier version.  Still tasted like aloo gobi, though.

    Citrus waffle 🍊 goat brain - this tasted like those lemon wafers that one can buy from supermarkets, except the texture is much denser.

    Amazake🍶 liver - the paper-thin wafers are made from amazake (甘酒), and a little bit of chicken liver mousse was sandwiched in between.  Yum.

     Uni 🍦 ice cream - what's not to like about a little cone with mango sorbet and a couple of tongues of sea urchin (雲丹) on top?  Both ingredients are creamy and sweet.  Then there's that little dab of wasabi (山葵)...

    Chu 🍣 toro - Oops, we did it again!  When we were asked what our dietary restrictions are at the start of our meal, we decided to reply "none" - since there were only a handful of things we don't eat and we didn't think Gaggan would be serving them.  Well... when Gaggan showed us this beautiful piece of Oma (大間) tuna belly (中トロ), we knew it was too late to turn this one down...

    The tuna had just been flown in today so it had not been aged, but the texture was unlike any other piece of tuna belly I had ever tasted...  It was so, so, so marbled, springy, and bouncy that I could feel it fight back against the pressure from my teeth.  And it was just like jello... and buttah... Seasoned with kombu (昆布) salt and freeze-dried yuzu (柚子) rind instead of soy sauce, and draped over a dashi (出汁) meringue made with roasted Thai rice that simply crumbled and vanished into thin air... leaving only the memory of its flavors.

    What an amazing bite.

    Akami 🌮 tartar - after the fatty tuna belly, it was now time to taste the leaner flesh from the tuna's back.  The akami (赤身) was chopped into tartare and became the filling of tiny tacos made from khakhra (ખાખરા).  Nice kick here...

    Tomato 🍵 matcha - once again, Gaggan served us his matcha (抹茶) made not with tea but with tomato... although no solids this time.  Tomato consommé was poured on top of freeze-dried tomato powder in our bowls, then whisked to create the foam.  Love the spicy kick from chill.

    Pork vindaloo 🍖 cutlet - the first of five curries tonight.  This tonkatsu (とんかつ) was made with pata negra Iberico suckling pig, crunchy outside with a soft and juicy center, with onions and a little bit of spice from Japanese mustard.

    2015 William Downie Pinot Noir Yarra Valley - a little forest and leather notes.  Higher acidity.

    Scallop 🥘 curry cold - curry #2, and probably my favorite dish of the evening, with the Oma tuna coming a close second.  The Hokkaido scallops were placed between layers of fresh Hokkaido kombu for 2 days to marinate - similar to kobujime (昆布締め).  The dish contained all the ingredients for a curry, but (almost) none of it was cooked - Gaggan called it a "raw curry".  You've got some curry leaf oil, an emulsion made with coconut milk and salt, some chili oil...

    Totally awesome.  Mind blown.  How can this pile of ingredients - cold to the touch - taste like the best curry I've ever had?!  When people talk about food being "emotional" or having an "emotional moment" while dining, surely this is one of those moments.

    Quail 🐥 chettinad - curry #3, made with tamarind, black pepper, and other herbs - no tomatoes or green chilis.  Roasted in a tandoor (but, as Gaggan stressed, not done tandoori-style).  Yum.  Never met a quail I didn't like.

    Cedar wood 🐟 paturi - Gaggan started by taking a torch gun to our food, setting it on fire and letting it burn for a while...

    What we got was Thai sea bass done as a Bengali mustard curry, wrapped in a layer of cedar paper inside a banana leaf.  So while the banana leaf burned, the cedar was heated to give off a wonderful fragrance.

    Made with this Indian mustard oil from a brand called "Engine"...

    Lamb kebab 🌭 hot dog - inspired by his trips to New York City last year, the "hot dog" came with chutney on top instead of mustard.  Inhaled in one bite.

    Crab curry 🦀 chawanmushi - #5 and the last curry of the meal.  This was essentially the same as the "raw curry", but done at a hot temperature and replacing scallop with crab.  Crab curry chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) with basmati rice inside.  Very, very delish... but the curry rice from the Gaggan x Den dinner simply cannot be topped...

    Beetroot 🧀 blue cheese - OK, this is what happens when you decide not to articulate your dietary restrictions - you get hit with a multitude of them.  Both Hello Kitty and I have a dislike for beetroot, but I'll eat it when it's served to me.  Here we've got the earthy flavors of beetroot paired with the pungent blue cheese, with a mulberry on top adding acidity into the mix.  No points for guessing correctly that this was my least favorite dish of the evening.

    Basil chocolate 🦋 butterfly - apparently inspired by the moss on a wall Gaggan saw while in Japan, we have a Thai basil sponge cake, with lime mousse and black pepper sorbet.  Very colorful and pretty.

    Strawberry 🍓 ghewar - the ghewar was filled with pastry cream and topped with a half of Japanese strawberry from Shizuoka (静岡), a layer of elderflower jelly, and a dab of gold foil.  This was sooooo sooooo delicious... like an Indian version of the ubiquitous Japanese strawberry shortcake.  I could have easily eaten three more of these, but I wanted to save some room for our "second round"...

    The ghewars were fried in ghee, and the holey texture was achieved when one of the Italian chefs suggested that they replace water with San Pellegrino as an ingredient.

    There wasn't a second seating tonight, so we sat around and just hung out at the Lab.  Vladimir and Gaggan very kindly offered me more wine, but I was happy with my alcohol intake.  So... at some point, Gaggan decided to offer us some of his tea which he referred to as "the Romanée-Conti of tea"...  He asked his staff to fetch a couple of boxes, one of which had something like "DON'T EVEN THINK OF TOUCHING THIS EVER" written on the outside.

    And this was the other box... with a gyokuro (玉露) from Uji (宇治) that was awarded the top prize in last year's competition.

    The tea leaves were rolled by hand.  I told Gaggan that I don't have the right experience and therefore am unworthy of this tea, but when someone offers you a cup of this, it would be impolite to refuse...

    Warm water was poured into the pot and Gaggan counted the seconds until it was ready to be poured...

    This was beautiful and elegant.  The flavors were very subtle and mild, but with incredible length that just kept going on and on.  A second pot was made, and already we could taste the higher levels of tannins and the shorter finish.  Truly a privilege to have been able to taste this.

    When it was finally time to go, we were offered a ride to one of Gaggan's favorite street food stalls around Silom.  When we got out of the car, I saw Gaggan and Vladimir talking to Chef Prin Polsuk from nahm.  When you have the chefs from the top two restaurants in Thailand - according to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, that is - at the same street food stall, you know that's some good shit!

    Gaggan asked me whether I ate offal, and the answer was of course "Yes"!  So I stood in front of the stall and made a motion with my hand, signalling that I wanted everything to the right - starting from pig's liver.

    Kuay jap nam sai (ก๋วยจั๊บน้ำใส) - all the pig offal came served in a clear broth with flat rice noodles rolled up, and we've got liver, intestines, tongue, kidney, and roast crispy pork.  It was simple, hearty, and awesome.

    It was past 1:30 a.m., and some of us were fading fast after a late night last night.  We bid farewell to Gaggan and company, thanked them for the hospitality, and told them we'd be seeing them soon...

    P.S.  We knew that when Gaggan invites us for dinner, he wouldn't let us pay.  But we tried to, anyway... The Great One and I snuck downstairs and asked for A, the affable restaurant manager.  Not unexpectedly, he refused to accept payment and told us that we can pay next time.  Knowing there is never a "next time", we asked to record his promise on video so that we could hold him to it when "next time" came around.  A ran away from us...

    Thankfully, though, both the Great One and myself had come prepared, and we each brought a bottle of Champagne as a gift to Gaggan on his birthday.  Of course, the bottle of bubbly from the Kat was better than mine...

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    I'm spending quite a few days in Bangkok on this trip, and wanted to do something a little different... more than just eating at restaurants.  I wanted to do something a little off the beaten path.  And I knew just where I wanted to go.

    A few years ago I was privileged to have been invited as a speaker at TEDxVictoriaHarbour, and I was mesmerised by the story of one of my fellow speakers.  Alisa lives on Bang Krachao - a riverine island sometimes referred to as "the lungs of Bangkok".  She talked about her life living on the island, away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, in a house built in part with recycled materials.  It sounded so far away from my daily life that I found it intriguing.

    So I contacted Alisa and asked for tips on visiting the island, and eventually I made plans to meet up with her for lunch today.  It's Sunday, and the Ban Nam Pheung Floating Market (ตลาดน้ำบางน้ำผึ้ง) - which is just a market by a canal and there aren't any vendors hawking their wares on boats - would be open for us to walk around in.

    We took a taxi from Sathorn and crossed the Chao Phraya River on the Bhumibol 1 Bridge, then doubled back to get on the island.  We got dropped off at the market, and after wandering around a little, we did eventually meet up with Alisa and her husband Landry, as well as their adorable daughter.

    Among the many vendors at the market was this stall selling traditional peanut candy called khanom tup tap (ขนมตุ๊บตั๊บ) - named for the pounding sound one hears during the process of making it.  The Great One and I were both pretty excited to see it being made.

    We found ourselves a place to park for lunch, and ordered up some noodles.  I took a bowl of noodles with pork and pig's blood (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวหมูน้ำตก), and asked for yellow noodles.  This was pretty damn good, if slightly smallish in terms of portion size.

    Alisa also bought some fresh vegetarian rice paper rolls, which she had the vendor make for her on the spot, and these came with a fiery dipping sauce.

    We also bought ourselves some local strawberries, which were small but very, very ripe.  Guess who was a real big fan of these strawberries and couldn't stop eating them?

    Once we were done with lunch, Landry helped me find a place nearby the launch my drone.  I had brought my DJI Mavic Pro with me so that I could fly it over the island, with the skyscrapers of Bangkok in the distance.  Eventually we found a basketball court that provided enough clearing for the task.

    Unfortunately, I ran into the same problem as I had in Bali - losing signal between the drone and my remote control before I was able to fly it to my destination.  Despite the lack of radio interference on this island, apparently the mass of trees between me and the drone became a problem.

    But I did get a decent view of the city in the distance, and managed to fly it over the market as well as to the river on the southeastern end of the island.  I also helped our local hosts take a family selfie from my drone.  That was kinda fun.

    We needed to head back to the city so we could clean up for dinner, and we went back to the market and hopped into the back of a truck that took us to the Bang Krachao Pier (ท่าเรือบางกระจ้าว) on the northern side of the island.

    This seemed like a good spot for me to do a little more droning, so I launched the drone up in the air and flew around for a few minutes, getting a much closer look of the skyscrapers across the river.  Then it was a short ride by boat to Khlong Toei Port (ท่าเรือคลองเตย) right across the river to catch a taxi back.

    I was pretty glad that I made the trip, and wish that we could have spent more time on the island.  I look forward to going back again, perhaps renting a bicycle to explore more of the island.  And of course to fly my drone again.

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    We're leaving Bangkok tonight after having eaten our way around town, but before we do, there was one last meal to be had.  My friend L flew in today for a short business trip, and we managed to catch up with each other in Bangkok of all places.p

    Having gone through a few Thai restaurants ranging from fine dining to historical hole-in-the-walls, I decided to go somewhere sort of mid-range.  Taling Pling (ตะลิงปลิง) is a local chain with a few convenient locations, and the branch in CentralWorld seemed to be a convenient location for all of us.

    The three of us each picked out some dishes that we wanted to try, so we ended up with a lot of food...

    Thai styled minced pork and crab dumpling (ขนมจีบไทย) - these were surprising good, kinda like siu mai (燒賣).

    Stir fried chayote in oyster sauce (ยอคผักแมัวไฝแคง) - L liked this so much that she ordered a second portion.

    Thai peppery vegetable and prawn soup (แกงเลียงกุ้งสดพริกขี้หนูสวน) - reasonably spicy with lots of pepper, but thankfully not too sour.

    Wingbean salad with curry paste, minced pork, prawn, and coconut cream (ยำถั่วพู) - this was a little spicy, and pretty tasty.

    Crabmeat curry with wild betel leaves (แกงคัวเนื้อปูใบขะพลู) - nicely flavored with kaffir lime leaves.

    Crispy pork lardons omelette (ไข่เจียวกากหมู) - what's not to like about crispy fried omelet?  Especially one with crispy, sinful bits of pork lard?

    Crispy fried noodle in sweet and sour tamarind sauce (หมี่กรอบทรงเครี่อง) - my fourth mee krob (หมี่กรอบ) this week, and this one wasn't bad.

    Green curry with fish ball, krachai and Thai eggplant (แกงเขียวหวานลูกชิ้นปลากราย) - the fish balls seemed handmade and had nice, bouncy textures.  Thankfully the finger root (กระชาย) didn't taste too pungent.

    This was a pretty good lunch at a popular chain restaurant in a busy shopping mall.  Not in line to be one of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, to be sure, but still provided us with a delicious meal.  I was happy to have caught up with my friend as we were wrapping up our trip to Bangkok.

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    We thought we've had our last meal in Bangkok as we headed for Suvarnabhumi Airport, but thanks to a bout of stupidity with yours truly, we managed to miss our flight out of the city.  Due to previously scheduled commitments the next morning, we ended up booking ourselves on a redeye flight at an ungodly hour.  So... with more than 8 hours until we fly out, we decided the only thing for us to do was to head back into the city and get ourselves some dinner.

    Having failed to pay for both of our meals at Gaggan this past week, Hello Kitty felt that we could show our appreciation by going to Meatlicious and finally paying for a meal there.  We decided to try out the Airport Rail Link, and took the train to Ramkhamhaeng Station, then grabbed a taxi to Ekkamai Soi 6.

    I pinged Gaggan on our way to the restaurant, asking him whether we'd have a problem getting seats at the last minute.  I knew he was already in the middle of service for the first seating, so I didn't really expect to hear back from him.

    We showed up at Meatlicious without a reservation, and were seated at the "chef's table" - counter seats facing the open kitchen.  Of course, I was wearing my Hug Me I Smell Like Curry shirt that I got from Gaggan last night, which the staff immediately recognized.  Chef Jorge Grande asked me how I liked the food there...

    After the ordeal I just put ourselves through, we badly needed a few drinks... so I ordered up my favorite Hitachino Nest Weizen (常陸野ネスト ヴァイツェン), since the White Ale was not available tonight.

    The Great One told us that she really enjoyed the rice congee when she was here yesterday, so we ordered up bowls of khao tom Meatlicious - which was basically pot-au-feu with rice.  This was indeed very good, and uses up the bits of meat that the restaurant otherwise would have discarded.  What a great way to reduce food waste!

    Argentine chimichurri - a really delicious tenderloin from Argentine cattle that was grass-fed but grain-finished.  Definitely nice flavors in the meat, and that chimichurri was good...

    Just look at this... so tender and juicy!

    Meatlicious roast chicken - Hello Kitty doesn't eat chicken when we're in Hong Kong, as she finds them tasteless, but she loved this Tanaosree chicken.  It was so delicious and so well roasted that we didn't need any of the condiments on the side.

    I also needed a second beer, so I got myself a Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (常陸野ネスト レッドライスエール).  Yum.

    My phone rang in the middle of dinner, and it was Gaggan - wondering whether I was OK.  I told him we were already at Meatlicious and that everything was fine.  Five seconds after Gaggan hung up, it was Jorge's phone's turn to ring.  Of course Gaggan was calling him to tell him to take care of us and not to let us pay.  I didn't know exactly what Gaggan said, but I told Jorge not to listen to whatever was being said by whoever was calling him.

    But clearly Jorge wasn't gonna ignore his boss' instructions, and we weren't given a bill at the end of our meal, despite our protestations.  So I left a tip big enough to cover the cost of the dinner.

    We still had a few hours before our flight, and our friends RC and Ro Ro were actually having dinner at Gaggan, so Hello Kitty and I decided to crash their dinner date.  We were, of course, taking advantage of our relationship with the restaurant's owner and staff...  And I walked in still wearing my T-shirt, which was exactly what the kitchen staff was wearing.  One of the managers later told me - not sure whether he was joking or not - that he thought I was a staff member...

    So we ended up sitting with our friends for the next couple of hours, sipping on wines that they generously shared with us - which we exchanged for the leftover portion of our delicious roast chicken from Meatlicious.

    2012 Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibner - nice and mineral, a little white pepper on the nose.  Ripe on the palate.

    2009 San Giuseppe Stella di Campalto Riserva - very fragrant with dried herbs, sweet on the nose.  A little vanilla and coconut butter.  Soft on the palate.

    It was a nice way to end our last day in Bangkok, in spite of the travails we had to go through.  We were happy to (unexpectedly) spend some time with our friends, and of course very happy to see Gaggan and Vladimir - for the fourth time in 6 days and for the third day in a row.  Hopefully we'll see them soon in Hong Kong.

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    One of my impetus for coming to Bali on such a short trip was the prospect of flying my drone over this beautiful island.  In particular, I wanted to take some aerial footage over the iconic temples of Pura Tanah Lot and Pura Uluwatu.

    I spent a lot of time researching the drone laws in Indonesia - which were published in 2015 and updated in 2016.  Not satisfied with the English summaries put out by a few law firms, I found the original text and asked my friend L to translate the key parts.  As Ayana Resorts and Spa, Pura Uluwatu, and Pura Tanah Lot were all somewhat close to Ngurah Rai International Airport, I was desperate to find out the exact definition of Kawasan Keselamatan OperasI Penerbangan - the restricted airspace around an airport.  I eventually gave up and decided to fly my drone regardless.

    On the first morning, we were picked up by our driver and headed north to Tanah Lot.  Upon arrival at the toll gate, I told our driver that I had no intention of going to the actual temple.  What I wanted was to find a secluded spot near the temple - somewhere I can use to launch and land my DJI Mavic Pro.  Thankfully we managed to find just such a place.

    I launched the Mavic Pro into the air, and sent it over the open water towards the temple.  The waves were coming in pretty hard, and it was pretty cool getting a bird's eye view.  I made a few passes over the temple, sometimes flying backwards for a different point of view.

    Then I set the drone in Point of Interest mode and started circling the temple.  This was the one thing that I most wanted to do - to be able to shoot a 360° view of the temple from above.  I got a pretty good view of everything on that rock, and circled it a few times.

    After I recalled my drone, I saw one of Air Bali's choppers come around and hover ave Tanah Lot.  At that moment I realised how lucky I was.  I could have been on that chopper and gotten a similar view as I just did flying the Mavic Pro... but I would have been subjected to the vibrations of being inside a moving chopper, and would have needed the use of a much bigger and clunky professional gimbal to get any decent shots.  The footage I got with my drone was taken while I sat comfortably on a chair, without any noise or vibration.

    This was a lot of fun and I wish I could have stuck around a little longer, but it was time to head back and grab some lunch.

    I headed to Pura Uluwatu after lunch, and I had picked out what I thought was another perfect spot from which to launch the drone.  Unfortunately, I found out after arriving inside the temple parking lot that the spot was inaccessible.  It was going to be a full moon tonight, and besides the usual horde of tourists wanted to watch a kecak performance at sunset, the locals were also coming to worship.  The temple staff would not allow any drone-flying, even if I were willing to pay a ridiculous fee (I wasn't willing).  And I certainly did not want to be disrespectful and buzz my drone above the temple while the locals were worshipping.  So I decided to go back to Ayana Resorts and made it just in time for my sunset dinner date with Hello Kitty.

    The next morning, after some delay due to unexpected rain, I decided to go out to Nyang-Nyang Beach to launch my drone.  I scoped out the place with my driver from the day before, and the cliff above the beach seemed like the perfect spot - it's where paragliders launch themselves.

    I got the Mavic Pro up in the air and immediately dropped it down towards the waves, flying parallel to the beach.  Then I navigated it along the cliff and made my way towards Uluwatu.  Unfortunately for me, the signal between the drone and the remote control was lost at a distance of just 800m out - since I was circling around the cliffs.  The Mavic Pro automatically went into return-to-home mode and came back to me.

    Not having gotten the footage I wanted, I decided to try again using a more direct route, flying over land in a straight line towards Uluwatu.  This didn't work, either...  There was just no clear line of sight from me to the Mavic, and the signal got lost at just under 1km out.

    I got a little closer to my target this time, but it was still a case of "close, but no cigar"...

    It started to drizzle a little, and I didn't want to risk flying the Mavic Pro in the rain, so I called it a day and headed into town for lunch.  I'll just have to figure out how to get the shot I want on my next trip to Bali...

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  • 03/02/17--07:43: A few bites of Sweden
  • My Favorite Cousin's birthday was coming up, so it was time again for me to take her out for her birthday.  Frantzén's Kitchen has been on my "hit list" since it opened a few of months ago, and I figured that by now they should have hashed out many of their issues, so I decided to book us a table via their website a few weeks ahead.

    A couple of days ago, I wanted to double-check my booking, but couldn't find the confirmation email in my mailbox.  It was sent by a booking service, and a keyword search in my mailbox didn't return any hits because I hadn't typed in the accent above the letter "e"...  So I decided to call the restaurant and confirm it over the phone.  The first person who answered the phone - with a more "Asian" accent - couldn't find my reservation. This sent me into panic mode.  Shit!  Was I dreaming that I had booked the table online?  Did something go wrong in the final steps of booking?  Where would I get a table for this birthday dinner on such short notice?!

    I decided to make another booking for a later date through the restaurant's website, and got a confirmation email right away.  Using the address of the sender, I managed to find the original confirmation email for this meal, then called the restaurant again.  Thankfully, the person who picked up the phone this time - with a more "Western" accent - found my reservation almost immediately.  Crisis averted!

    Knäckebröd - the rye crispbread came wafer-thin, and the three of us probably went through about 5 or 6 trays of it throughout the evening.  It went down so easily because it just seemed to be made of air...

    ... and the fact that we could spread the beurre noisette on it.  I probably went through two to three mounds of it by myself.  It was sooooo nutty and savory!  Calories be damned, imma inhale myself some more of this!

    We ended up ordering one portion of each of the 4 snacks for each of us - except for My Favorite Cousin who refused to eat "Bambi" - then shared the rest of the courses.

    Apple- and lingonberry macaron - sandwiched between two "cookies" of apple meringue was a thin wafer made with apple and some smooth and creamy chicken and duck liver parfait, and some chewy, dried lingonberries (does it get more Swedish than this?), with a sprinkle of lingonberry powder on top.  Light and airy.  Inhaled in one bite, and disappeared in a 'poof!' The liver parfait delivered pretty strong and savory flavors, and made me wonder whether it's been fermented.  Delicious.

    Poached oyster "63.4C" - I asked and was told that this was "Gaia?" oyster from Normandy, bathed in cream along with Hernö Gin, and sprinkled with frozen gooseberries, seaweed powder, walnuts, and sea spinach on top.  Some acidity here, but thankfully there was plenty of cream to balance it.  Very nice.

    "Swedish sushi" - ah yes... this was the moment when I - to quote Mr. Locust describing his experience of dining at Noma - felt like a reindeer.  The "shari" was actually a chunk of lichen, and the "neta" was a thin slice of fallow deer that was very soft and very tender.  Instead of wasabi, there was a rich and savory cep mayonnaise.  Instead of brushing the neta with soy sauce, the kitchen shaved frozen foie gras on top and sprinkled some hay ash.  We were told there were coriander seeds in there somewhere, but I wasn't able to pick out their distinctive flavors.  In case anyone was wondering, Bambi was delicious.

    "French toast" - one of the signature dishes that I'd seen so many pictures of.  Rather than pain perdu, I thought it was more similar to the seemingly ubiquitous "bikini sandwich" that popped up around town a few years ago.  A layer of stewed white onions held the two slices of toast together on their sides, and some Swedish cheese was spread on top, before black truffle shavings were added.  A few dots of 25-year-old balsamico became the final touches.  This was, of course, delicious.  What's not to like when there's black truffle shaved on top?!

    Sashimi of Norwegian salmon - normally I wouldn't touch generic Norwegian salmon with the proverbial 10-foot pole, but... I guess I'll trust the guys here to source it.  In addition to the raw salmon, there was also some very creamy king crab, along with delicious trout roe that required a little bit of effort to pop.  There was also crunchy cucumber julienne, crunchy raw onions, fennel seeds, as well as the triple-dill - fresh dill, dill powder, and dill pollen.  Unlike a number of my friends, I'm no expert on Nordic cuisine, but I'd be hard pressed to find a dish that was more Nordic to me than this.  Was it good?  You bet your ass it was.

    Pan-fried Hokkaido scallop - another busy-looking dish.  The scallops were buried underneath a pile of stuff, which I assumed to be the "cauliflower x 4" in the description: sliced cauliflower, cauliflower purée, caramelized cauliflower purée, and I'm guessing cauliflower foam.  Add to this some burnt bread pudding that was sticking to the plate and that beautiful beurre noisette I'd be shoving in my face since the moment I sat down, and it's easy to see how I completely missed the existence of mie de pain that was supposedly there, as well as noticing what hay ash was supposed to bring to the dish.

    North Atlantic skrei "janssons" - this was a damn delicious piece of cod, browned to caramelized the edges.  It sat in a deliciously rich sauce made with beurre blanc and anchovy oil, topped with onions, crispy onions, vendace roe, and dill powder.  Even though it wasn't really cold tonight, this was such a warm and comforting dish that I immediately ordered up a second portion - after bitching to myself inside my head that there was no way I was leaving this place with just half a mouthful of this manna from heaven.

    Tartar of Swedish dairy cow - dry-aged for 100 days and served with smoked eel which added a really nice dimension to the flavor profile.  Topped with mushroom julienne, crispy onions, chopped chives, and flowers. The menu said herring caviar, but I thought I heard our server say squid ink.  In any case, this seemed less like real fish roe and more like avruga.   A beautiful dish both visually and taste-wise.

    Veal cheeks - cooked for 24 hours so it was very tender, but honestly I can't remember any sweetbreads in the dish.  Swimming in this creamy, foamy sauce that had acidity from ättika.  Topped with a combination of glazed carrots, carrot purée, and crudité carrots covered in dill powder - as well as fresh dill and crispy onions.  Must say this was pretty damn good...

    Roasted Swedish pork belly - YES!!! Pork belly!!! What more can I ask for?  Maybe some pumpkin purée, roasted black garlic, pumpkin seeds, and kale chips.  The carrot "hot sauce" really packed a kick, which I think came from the sprinkle of chili powder.

    Green asparagus - someone decided that it was too weird for us to order all this protein without any veg, so we picked up this bowl of asparagus.  Came covered in fermented white asparagus juice, and a dab of curry-flavored purée on the side, plus verbena, pistachios, and some bitter flowers.

    Smoked ice cream - our server came to pour the hot fudge onto the candy dome, melting it to reveal the contents underneath.

    So we've got some smoked ice cream, tar syrup (we eat tar?!), and some cocoa nibs and nuts for the crunch.  Pretty tasty, and the cloves in the salted fudge was really nice.

    "Syltkakor" - meh.  I'll trade these brown butter shortbread with some of that beurre noisette they used to make them.

    I brought a bottle of Aussie shiraz in honor of my Aussie cousin, and ordered a bottle of rosé Champagne that I love.  They ended up waiving the corkage for the bottle I brought.

    Chartogne-Taillet Le Rosé - nice and fruity, strawberries, yeasty nose.  Always love this Champagne.

    2006 Mollydooker Carnival of Love - decanted for 1 hour before pouring back into bottle for another hour.  Lots of coconut butter upon opening.  Showed forest notes as well as sweet fruit.  Still pretty tannic but very sweet on the palate.  The alcohol was evident at 16%.

    This was a very good dinner.  I was very much relieved that the dishes we had weren't swamped in acidity, like the scallop prepared by Björn Frantzén at the Michelin Gala in Macau last year or many of the dishes I had at Noma Tokyo. The main dishes were also warm and hearty, which was great.  There were no fails tonight, and I pretty much liked every single dish we had.

    If I had to pick a bone, it would be with the service.  Not that the staff weren't friendly or incompetent, but I had some issues with the introductions to the dishes.  I understand that the dishes are complex and there were many different components, but the staff seemed intent on reciting all the ingredients as quickly as possible - that it all turned into one big blur.  Taking literally a few more seconds and slowing it down would make things much easier to understand.

    Well, guess what?  I have myself another reservation for next month.  Let's see how many new dishes they come up with by then.  The good thing is that even if they don't, I'd be happy to eat pretty much anything we had tonight as an encore performance.

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  • 03/03/17--07:18: Cooking for mom
  • I'm back home in Taipei for a short trip, spending time with the Parental Units and celebrating mom's birthday.  Normally I would just book a table at STAY, and having just had lunch with Chef Pierrick Maire in Bangkok last week, that would have been the easy solution.

    But Hello Kitty suggested that we cook for mom instead, and deep down I knew that would make her much happier... and so we did.  Well, when I say "we", I meant Hello Kitty.  My culinary repertoire is pretty limited, but fortunately I brought along my pinch hitter...

    After dropping off our luggage at my place, we made a mad dash for CitySuper so Hello Kitty could quickly take stock of the available ingredients and decide what she was gonna cook.  We didn't have a whole lot of time, and it's always tough to find the ingredients we want in Taipei, but oh well...

    We saw a package of beef shank from Rangers Valley, and we were reminded of the Black Market beef we had earlier this year.  We figured that this would work well in a stew, and picked up some veggies and other ingredients to go along.

    Hello Kitty wanted to pick up a bottle of supermarket wine to dump into the beef stew, but I had other ideas.  I have a few bottles of 1997 Beringer Merlot Private Reserve Howell Mountain lying around, and I didn't think it was going to get much better with age, so I popped open a bottle and asked Hello Kitty to use it for her beef.  She was pretty shocked at first, but as the beef was cooking she quickly realized that it does matter what wine you use - and she could smell it.  Hey, we're cooking for my mom, and nothing's too good when it comes to the Parental Units.

    We started with a simple salad, which mom seemed to like a lot.

    Bœuf bourguignon - we were a little short on time, so the carrots weren't as tender as I'm used to, but the beef shank was definitely tender enough.  And yes, the flavors from the wine made things much better.  The spaghetti was cooked al dente, with some pan-fried garlic.

    The classic chocolate cake from Black As Chocolate is something I know that mom likes, as it's not deathly sweet.  It was perfect.

    Birthday celebrations aren't complete without wine, and of course I opened a bottle from mom's vintage...

    1943 Cheval Blanc, Eschenauer bottling - smoky nose with grilled meats, nice and fragrant cedar notes, leather, and a little stewed fruits.  A nice surprise.

    Mom was very happy.  Hello Kitty had cooked dishes which aren't in mom's repertoire, and that is always interesting to mom.  Mom even packed the leftovers home, knowing that we wouldn't have the opportunity to finish it.  I'm grateful to have had Hello Kitty's help, and glad that everything turned out well despite the mad rush.

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    A sommelier friend was in Taipei for the weekend, and since I happened to be in town, I figured it would be a good opportunity for us to catch up.  I figured it would be a good idea to rope in HaoKouFu, too... and asked her to suggest venues where we could do Taiwanese food with a little vino.  We debated between two venues and after checking with our visitor, decided to do dinner at Mountain and Sea House (山海樓).

    Since HaoKouFu knows the boss lady, our menu was pre-arranged. I was curious to see how many dishes would be repeats of my earlier visit.

    We've got some pickled radish (小蘿蔔) and sweet potato (地瓜).  These were pretty good.

    Chop suey greens with strawberry salad (春菊草莓沙拉) - I'd never heard chrysanthemum greens (春菊) called "chop suey greens" before, but what do I know?  This was pretty good, with strips of bacon mixed in with the organic strawberries and chrysanthemum greens from Nanao (南澳).

    Wild mullet roe (現烤野生烏魚子) - these are always good, although I must admit that I don't remember tasting the Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) that they were brushed with before grilling.

    Mountain and Sea House deluxe platter (山海樓豪華拼盤) - in addition to the tasty free range chicken from Chiayi (嘉義) smoked with sugarcane, there were also some tender abalone.

    The abalones were flavored with a spice called tara (打那) by the Atayal (泰雅族) aborigines.  Like mountain litsea (馬告), these give up flavors similar to lemongrass and ginger, and a little floral.

    Spring rolls with flounder (扁魚春卷) - the stuffing included dried flounder flakes, minced prawn, and bean sprouts.  Very, very tasty.

    Additive-free Chinese sausage (手工現灌香腸) - this sausage just looked beautiful, and smelled real good, too!

    Very, very delicious with that fat... and not too hard in terms of texture.  Apparently the price ain't cheap, I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

    Whitebait with wild seaweed pancake (吻仔魚海菜煎餅) - this was pretty good, as I remembered last time.  Not too over-seasoned to show off the natural flavors of the whitebait as well as the wild seaweed.

    There was also a little ball of tomato sorbet (樹番茄冰沙) to cleanse our palates.  Pretty savory and delicious.

    Lobster stir-fried with duck egg (桂花炒龍蝦) - this was OK.  Hello Kitty and I have been spoiled when it comes to lobster, so this didn't have the same impact as it might have on others.  Not a bad effort, though.

    Steamed cabbage terrine (高麗菜封) - this was really nice.  Apparently the cabbage was stuffed and then cooked without adding any water, so the flavors only came from the ingredients themselves.  It did seem curious, though, that there was so much liquid in our bowl...

    Cutting the cabbage open revealed shredded chicken as well as carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and some sort of crunchy pickled mustard.  This was very, very nice - all the flavors were familiar, and the warm, soupy contents of the bowl just warmed one's stomach and immediately brought about happiness.  Plain and simple comfort dish.

    Stir-fried rice noodles (古早味炒米粉) - this classic Taiwanese dish was a little over-seasoned the last time I had it, leading me to accuse the restaurant of using MSG - an accusation that the restaurant denied.  This time they dialled things down significantly, and neither the pepper nor the MSG were front-and-center.  I was a much happier camper tonight.

    Taiwan organic fruit platter (季節水果) - always nice to end with some local fruits, including loquat (枇杷).

    With a group of winos, naturally we brought our own wines to dinner.  Thankfully we didn't have to bring our own glasses to dinner...

    Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs, en demi-bouteille - released only weeks ago.  Vintage unknown, but suspect to be 90s.  Big nose of salty plum, marmalade, sweet grass, and straw.  Mature and soooo beautiful both on the nose and the palate.  There were almost no bubbles rising up in the glass.

    2003 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge - opened for an hour prior to serving.  A little caramelised nose, showing mineral, grass, and straw notes.  After 1½ hours the nose was really sweet and sugary, with a little lemon.  Sweet on the palate and slightly sharp alcohol on the back end.

    Pretty decent dinner, although admittedly some of the very "classic" Taiwanese fare was missing from our menu. And no doubt we paid a significant premium for both the organic/sustainable ingredients as well as for the dining space. But I thought it was a good compromise between food, ambience, and wine service.

    The night was still young, so we adjourned to Domaine Wine Cellars (鈞太酒藏) for a little more vino.

    2002 Morey-Blanc Meursault Les Casse-Tetes - nose of toasty corn and almost a little pipi de chat... Ripe on the nose.

    Hello Kitty and I had been awake since early morning, so we decided to call it a night and bid farewell to our visitor.  Hopefully we'll have a chance to catch up in Tokyo soon.

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  • 03/06/17--05:35: Canto dinner for two
  • A friend is in town and wanted to catch up.  It's been a while since I last had the pleasure of entertaining her, so I asked her what she preferred to have.  When the choice came back as Cantonese, I knew that with just the two of us, I'd have to pick some place in a hotel where they put together single-portion tasting menus for tourists or people with expense accounts.  In short, places where I usually avoid like the plague.

    After quickly surveying a few menus online, I ended up choosing Summer Palace (夏宮) at the Island Shangri-La.  My last dinner there delivered an upside surprise for quite a few of us, and I was more than happy to go back and check it out again.

    I chose the cheapest dinner set available, because I liked the dishes better.  I would have wanted the prawn toast from the set menu for two, but I didn't care for the rest of the menu...

    Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - this is one of my favorite things on a Cantonese menu, and I was pretty happy to have it again tonight.  The breadcrumb crust was perfect, and I loved the creaminess of the crab meat stuffing, along with the crunchy strips of onion.  I could do with another one of these...

    Lobster wonton soup with porcini (牛肝菌龍蝦雲吞湯) - the biggest disappointment of the menu.  Unlike my friend, I didn't think that the ham-based broth was too salty.  I did, however, think that the wontons were ridiculously hard.  Without looking at the menu, I also thought they tasted funny and artificial.

    Stewed beef cheek with the chef's special preserved bean paste (紅燒牛面頰) - WOW!!!  This was really, really good.  The beef cheek was just incredibly tender, and yielded easily to one's teeth.  It was also full of rich flavors.  I wish I had a bowl of steamed rice to go along with this, because that's all I need for dinner tonight.  I almost stopped the staff from taking my empty (or so she thought) plate away because I didn't want to give up the sauce that was still on my plate!

    Braised cabbage dumpling with diced vegetables (碧綠上素石榴球) - the dumpling (or "money bag") stuffed with diced vegetables is another classic dish, and here they've opted to use cabbage as the wrapper instead of dumpling skin.  Pretty tasty.

    Steamed fried rice with egg, prawn, and garlic sauce in a basket (籠仔蒜茸蝦球蒸蛋炒飯) - this was damn good!  It was interesting to see fried rice come on a piece of lotus leaf in a steamer, but what I didn't expect was the amazingly aromatic minced garlic sauce.  Adding that garlic sauce is kinda like hitting the switch to deliver NOS to the car engine - and all I can say is "Whoa!"

    Chilled mango cream with mango juice and pomelo (香芒楊枝甘露) - can't go wrong with this classic dessert.  Love the rich, sweet flavors of the mango juice, which was punctured from time to time by the slight bitterness of pomelo pulp.

    Our set menu actually comes with a drink, and I chose to have a glass of white wine. 2016 Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road Vineyard tasted very much like lolly water... very tropical and peachy, a little flinty but still sweet on the nose.  Later on a little pungent sulfur.  Sweet on the palate.

    Pretty decent meal.  Not cheap, but outperformed my expectations.  At least the evening didn't end with me cursing under my breath about being ripped off, like at this famous 3-star restaurant...

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    This was a night we've been waiting for since December, and I was glad that it finally happened tonight.  Ever since I first got my hands on some Russian beluga caviar late last year, a few of us have been discussing the possibility of doing a beluga tasting.  Our schedules went through a few changes, but we managed to clean out our stash tonight.

    Rather than asking our favorite chef the Man in White T-Shirt for another favor like last time, our friend RC offered to host us for this gathering, and proceeded to cook up a storm.  We had only been able to drool over pictures of Chef RC's cuisine at Chez Ro Ro, and tonight we finally had the chance to have a taste.

    First, a little Joselito Gran Reserva bellota, which has been aged for 48 months.  Very nutty, but also has a surprisingly sweet finish.

    Chef RC's first course of the evening was a single, giant Japanese clam (蛤) - which was purchased at Tsukiji Market (築地市場) yesterday morning.  Steamed with a little wine and served with a slice of radish, and garnished with some myoga (茗荷), yuzu (柚子) rind, and perilla flowers.  Simplicity and purity.

    Next came a single Amela tomato (アメーラトマト) - also brought in yesterday - which was simply quartered and served with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a drizzle of lemon-flavored olive oil.  The tomato delivered very clean flavors, and the olive oil was a perfect complement.

    Then came the evening's main event.  We brought out all the caviar and lined them up, and took turns taking pictures.  A tasting like this doesn't happen everyday - at least not for the likes of us - so we were all eager to record it for prosperity.  There was a suggestion to name the different tins, and after a little bit of discussion, we eventually settled on the very creative quartet of A, B, C, and D...  orz

    I brought along a few packs of mini blinis, as well as a little tub of crème fraîche from Isigny.  These always come in handy.

    A: Iranian beluga - RC's contribution and a gift from one of his (obviously very generous) friends.  This has been sitting around for a while, and clearly some of the eggs have burst.  Pretty good in terms of depth of flavor, definitely tasting of the sea... almost a little umami.

    B: Russian beluga, packed in December 2016 - Fergie's contribution.  Lighter in terms of flavor, definitely less salty.  Oily and nutty.  The eggs in this tin look the freshest.

    C: Russian beluga, packed in November 2016 - my contribution, from the same 22-year-old fish whose eggs I tasted in December.  I think we all agreed that this was the best batch.  Really big flavors, full of the ocean and seaweed, nutty, good acidity on the finish along with slight bitterness.

    D: Russian golden oscietra, packed in December 2016 - my contribution.  slightly more salty with nice acidity.

    Clockwise from top: Iranian beluga, Russian beluga (Dec 2016), Russian beluga (Nov 2016), Russian golden oscietra
    For the first time - since we had a few samples to compare - I noticed that the golden oscietra eggs were visibly smaller.  I had shrugged off my supplier's comments about the beluga eggs being big, but now I finally know what he was talking about...

    Since we just had all this good stuff, our host decided that we should have some of the "regular" stuff for comparison's sake.  Out came this jar of oscietra, which looked like it had been picked up in a supermarket in Russia.  It's been sitting around for at least a year, and upon opening the jar we can see that a lot of the eggs had burst.  Honestly, this wasn't very tasty at all... no complexity nor depth of flavor beyond the salt and fishy notes... none of the oily, nutty flavors of the others.

    Conclusion?  Yeah, it's worth paying up for quality when it comes to caviar.  But is beluga worth double the price of golden oscietra?  Well... that's the same kind of question as whether Romanée-Conti is worth 3 to 5 times the price of La Tâche...

    Chef RC went back to the kitchen to cook up this 1.7kg red seabream (真鯛).  This was, of course, taken from Tsukiji yesterday and killed via the Japanese ikejime (活け締め) method.

    This was baked in the oven with a little salt rub on top.  Served with a variety of salts - including matcha (抹茶), Hawaiian red, and seaweed.  Cooked perfectly.

    Last but not least, Chef RC came up with this aitchbone (イチボ) of Japanese Omi (近江) beef.  It was marinated with a mix of two-year-old Shinshu miso (信州味噌) and soy sauce for 2 hours.

    The result was stunning.  Perfect execution.  Very tender beef, yet not excessively marbled.  Served with Taiwanese shallots which were deep-fried in goose fat, and red pepper chiffonade.  How this is the work of a amateur home chef is beyond me...

    Small Person brought us some Comté that had been aged for 36 months.  Yum.

    I picked up this sake castella (酒ケーキ) made by Dassai (獺祭) on the spur of the moment, and figured it would be interesting to try it out.  While some of the others were surprised by the level of alcohol inside (it was only about 2%), I was quite happy with it.  I love Japanese castella (カステラ), and this had junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) inside!

    On top of the goodies he brought back from Tokyo, our host also shared with us some of the treasures from his cellar - as he forbade us from BYO.

    2002 Dom Ruinart Rosé - very fruity and a little flinty.

    1999 André Beaufort, dégorgée en juillet 2010 - really smoky with heavy toasty notes.  A very mature Champagne with a long finish.

    1999 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne Collection - very mature and smooth, toasty, a little savory and mineral, with aged citrus and marmalade.  A little pungent at the end.

    Juyondai Special (十四代 秘酒) - very smooth.  Deep and rich on the palate, or as the Japanese would say コクがある.

    1986 Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon - pop-and-pour.  Animal, leather, cedar, smoky, red bell pepper, and a little eucalyptus.  Still medium to full-bodied, and the tannins are still there.

    What a fantastic evening! Not only did we get to do a rare tasting of beluga caviar, we were treated to a delicious dinner with fresh Japanese ingredients cooked by an expert.  Now... when do we schedule our next gathering?

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    It's been a long, few years, but I finally got to see live performances by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch again.  Three years ago I missed the opportunity to see them when I stupidly double-booked myself and left my friend stranded by herself.  This time I wasn't gonna be so stupid, and I dutifully logged in to Hong Kong Art Festival's website just hours after booking opened to get my tickets.

    Tonight the company was presenting two of their most iconic works.  I had seen snippets of both in Pina, the movie by Wim Wenders, but I would finally get to see the entire works, live.

    We started with Café Müller, which was first performed in 1978.  The set was the interior to an empty cafe, with tables and chairs dotted all over the stage.  A set of revolving doors was placed at the corner upstage right, and there are plexiglass walls indicating the boundaries of the cafe.

    The music for the piece is pretty... sad... to say the least.  It was basically a woman waddling in melancholy, weeping - which set the mood for the piece.  One of the female characters spends most of the piece walking aimlessly through the space with her eyes closed, wearing a pained expression, and in fact ends up mostly against one wall or another.

    One of the male characters spends his time clearing tables and chairs from the paths of the women walking through the café.  I guess that's to signify what adults often do to their children - trying to make sure they don't hurt each other.

    Most of the audience would likely focus their attention on the main couple, who find each other in the middle of the floor and immediately go about embracing each other.  Another character comes and intervenes, manually adjusting the couple's embrace to another posture.  As soon as the intervener leaves, the couple reverts to their original embrace - at which point the intervener returns to make the same adjustments.  The process is repeated at an ever faster pace - until at some point the couple goes through the adjustment process themselves without the need for anyone to intervene.  I guess in life, our natural behaviors are often corrected by others in society to conform to accepted norms... and eventually we just end up doing what society wants us to do instead of what is natural for us.

    The characters also go through plenty of internal struggle and pain... The main couple also go through cycles where they flail each other against the wall.  Violent and destructive.  Oh and there's unrequited love, too...

    No, there's no happy ending here.  Nobody walks out with smiles on their faces.

    The Rite of Spring is seemingly more upbeat - at least it's set to Stravinsky's score originally composed for Ballets Russes.  For this piece from 1975, the stage is covered in a layer of brown "earth", and the piece begins with a woman lying face down on top of what seemed to be a piece of red cloth.  This red slip is then discarded, picked up, and passed around throughout the piece - all the while groups of female and male dancers come on stage and perform a dance that seemed ritualistic and certainly animalistic, and reminiscent of tribal fertility rituals.

    A victim is chosen for the ritual sacrifice, and she dons the red slip.  The emotions are so intense that by the end of the piece, she was literally in tears.  Such is the level of character immersion demanded.  I couldn't help but join others to give her - and the rest of the cast - a standing ovation.

    Maybe it was because of casting rotation, but I didn't see some of the more senior cast members I had seen in previous performances.  Dominique Mercy was notably absent, and his role in Café Müller was taken over by Scott Jennings.  I was very glad to see Christiana Morganti in the piece.

    Azusa Seyama and Michael Strecker seemed to be the only dancers who performed in both pieces - with Michael being the oldest dancer in the Rite of Spring.  I guess that's understandable, since the older members of the company would look a little out of place in a piece about a fertility ritual...

    I was very happy to have finally watched these two pieces in a live performance.  I guess I'll have to wait for another 3 years before the company returns to Hong Kong...  But the bonus of the evening?  I finally was able to get my hands on the CDs of the music from Vollmond, the first Pina Bausch piece I ever saw.  I just love the music, and I was happy that I didn't have to order the CD all the way from Germany.

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  • 03/11/17--06:57: Remembering 3/11
  • It's been 6 years since that fateful day in Japan, and the memories of watching the horror unfold on live TV are still with me.  Six years on, there is still no solution to Fukushima, as recent robotic probes have all failed in their missions.  It' still the elephant in the room that the Japanese government and TEPCO don't like to talk about.

    But I have not wavered in my support of Japan.  I still try to go to Japan when I can... although my visits have been annual and infrequent.  I still haven't made it to the Tohoku region myself, but one of these days I will make a trip to help H-man at his nascent winery in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県).  But one thing I do consciously is to try to support the people of the Tohoku region by buying their products, and sake is something easy for me to purchase, so in recent years I have steered myself towards sake breweries in the affected region.

    After entertaining my mom last weekend, it was time to entertain Mary White.  We were trying to pick a Japanese restaurant somewhat convenient for her, and came up with Inagiku (稲ぎく) at the Royal Garden Hotel.  In all my years in Hong Kong, I've never managed to come to this restaurant.  In fact, I've probably only been to the newer sister outlet in IFC twice.  These jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants like Inagiku and Nadaman (なだ万) are, inevitably, master of none...

    The three of us decided to order a few dishes to share.

    Salted firefly squid (蛍烏賊沖漬け) - while it would have been nice to enjoy these fresh and "as is", they're not too bad when they're salted.  Very nice with some yuzu (柚子) rind.

    Special assorted sashimi (上刺身盛り合わせ) - during the process of ordering, we checked with our waitress to see which sashimi and sushi set we should choose in order not to have tuna.  This was our waitress' recommendation.  Unfortunately there were still slices of tuna back (赤身) on the plate.  The waitress apologized for this misunderstanding, but we decided not to send the plate back since one of us don't share in this particular dietary restriction...

    Special assorted sushi (上握り寿司) - no tuna here...

    Grilled eggplant with miso (茄子田楽) - I've always loved the way Japanese grilled eggplants with some miso (味噌) on top.  This was pretty good, although I wish we had ended up with both halves of the eggplant.  The miso delivered savory yet sweet flavors, which were prominent without being overpowering.

    Japanese beef sirloin (日本和牛サーロイン) - I didn't bother asking about the origin or the grade of the Japanese beef, but needless to say these cubes were pretty delicious.  Definitely marbled and fatty, and very satisfying to bite into them and feel the liquefied fat oozing out.  The deep-fried garlic chips were really awesome.

    Ox tongue (牛タン) - this was pretty good, too.  Love the springy texture.  And more deep-fried garlic!

    Grilled rice balls with salmon (焼き鮭おにぎり) - these were really, really good.  Dry and crispy exterior, and lots of delicious flavors from the salmon flakes and the perilla leaves chiffonade.

    This looks just beautiful.
    Deep-fried mixed vegetables and shrimp cake served on rice (かき揚げ丼) - I love かき揚げ... it's probably my favorite thing from a tempura (天ぷら) meal and I always have to wait till the very end for it.  Loved the variety of mixed vegetables tonight, including the mushrooms.

    I always open a bottle of sake from the Tohoku region to mark the occasion, and this year I once again picked something from Dewazakura (出羽桜).  They make very high quality offerings, and I love the fact that some of their production is aged in the brewery for a long time.

    Dewazakura Yukimanman, Aged 5 Years Below Freezing (出羽桜 雪漫々 五年氷点下熟成酒), released Dec 2016 - first sip was drier than expected, but mid-palate was very soft and smooth, with a spicy finish in the back.  Fragrant nose with a little tropical fruits.  Nice length with good depth of flavors.

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  • 03/14/17--07:52: Senpai's big birthday
  • Senpai is back in town, and I haven't been able to catch up with him in a while.  As he just celebrated a big birthday earlier in the month, we managed to round up the troops for a dinner at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  It's been about half a year since I was last there, and I was curious to see how much of an impact the departure of Chef Gordon Leung (梁燊龍) had on the quality of the food.

    Our usual organizer and restaurant VIP kept things simple - sticking to very traditional dishes and especially the ones that Senpai would like.

    Barbecued suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - I couldn't believe it when Senpai said that it was his first time having suckling pig outside of a Chinese wedding banquet.  I guess we're just much too spoiled here in Hong Kong.  The piggy was nice, but I thought the crackling was a little over-roasted today... The color was darker, and a little too charred.  Still very tasty, though.

    Soup of the day (例湯) - didn't check what the soup was, but there was clearly pork belly, cucumber-like gourd, and different types of legumes and grains.

    Wok-fried king prawns (油泡大蝦球) - prawns stir-fried without their shells along with spring onion, ginger, and carrots.  The texture was a little crunchy.

    Wolfberry leaves in superior stock with pig's liver (上湯豬膶枸杞葉) - I always like to order wolfberry leaves when they're in season, and of course they come with rehydrated wolfberries.  I do like them with pig's liver, even though technically the dish is no longer pure veg.

    Traditional baked chicken in rock salt (正宗連雑鹽焗雞) - I generally prefer this over the crispy chicken, and I was happy to find that tonight the chicken wasn't too salty.  In fact the chicken was pretty fatty, and I was surprised by the amount of chicken fat oozing out in some of the pieces.  I do like it served with the giblets...

    Fried egg noodles with shredded pork, bean sprouts and yellow chives (韮王銀芽肉絲炒麵) - this being a birthday dinner and all, noodles are definitely in order.  Senpai loves these fried noodles, and we both like to get it from Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記).

    The noodles here seem thicker than the ones at Wong Chi Kei, and not as crunchy and crispy.  But this was still very delicious.

    Yolk and sesame paste birthday buns (蛋黃麻茸壽飽) - I picked one with sesame paste filling and was pretty happy with it.  The ones with yolk filling are good, too, but I didn't need the calories today...

    Lady M rose mille crepes - our host never ceases to surprise me... I knew that he loves Lady M, but I still didn't expect him to pick the rose-flavored offering.  I thought *I* was always the guy who liked the girlie stuff... Anyway, you've got rose flavored pastry cream between the layers, plus a layer of rose jelly on top with rose petals.  Pretty good.

    As usual, I brought some wine to go with dinner.  And since we were celebrating Senpai's birthday, I made sure I brought a nice bottle of bubbly...

    Jacques Selosse Version Originale - can't read the disgorgement date on the back label... Very nice mousse, with yeasty notes.  Very mineral and savory, and much more salty than expected on the palate.

    2004 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm, from magnum - served a little warm, and decanted shortly before serving.  Tons of vanilla and coconut butter in the nose.  Very sweet.  Pretty much as expected from this wine.

    Very happy to have had the opportunity to celebrate Senpai's birthday, and glad to be back at FLM.

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  • 03/15/17--08:28: An Italian in the Valley
  • It's been a while since I last saw the Specialist and the Alcoholics, and she pinged me a couple of weeks ago to try to schedule a dinner.  Apparently Chef Angelo Aglianó has come back to Hong Kong and recently opened up Locanda dell'Angelo, and as she had been a fan of Angelo's, she wanted to give it a try.  I had paid a few visits to Angelo during his years in Taipei - both at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon as well as his own Angelo Aglianó Restaurant.  I had been wondering as to his whereabouts after the latter restaurant closed when he wasn't getting enough traction in Taipei.  Now I know.

    Da Jam had just visited the restaurant last week and published his review, so I had been warned about a particular dish to avoid.  I dutifully relayed his message to the Specialist, and picked out what I wanted to try before I stepped foot in the restaurant tonight.

    The restaurant is in the same space as Dai Siu Yeh (大少爺), a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) I used to frequent during the years I lived in Happy Valley - since I lived on the very same block.  The layout is very different now... Instead of having the kitchen all the way in the back, it now takes up half of the narrow space at the front of the restaurant.  This means the dining space is one long and narrow strip, and can only accommodate tables of four that are tight on space near the entrance.  For a bigger party like ourselves, we ended up being put in Siberia - all the way at the back.  This kinda sucked for us, as it became a little tough to get the attention of the staff.  We were also right next to the air conditioning vents, so at times yeah, maybe it did feel like we were in Siberia...

    I arrived a couple of minutes after the appointed time, and the rest of the gang were already chowing down on some starters... The carpaccio di manzo classico con rucola e Parmigiano, salsa leggera alla mostarda was fine.

    Parma ham - I didn't see the menu when this was ordered.  When someone at the table wanted to find out how long this has been aged, we asked our senior-looking waiter.  We were told that this was Parma ham.  No shit, Sherlock...  We know this is fucking Parma ham since we ordered it.  He seemed genuinely confused by our question, but maybe the clientele of this place isn't as discerning/picky/snobbish as we are, and don't care about the aging of their cold cuts.

    Carreˋ d'agnello cotto all'aglio e timo con spinacini saltati e polenta al Taleggio - I know that our senior waiter/manager had suggested that we split our dishes into two batches, but I still don't understand why he thought the lamb chop should be served in the first batch, before a bunch of primi piatti.  Well... at least it was tender and pretty decent, even though it had gotten a little cool by the time the Specialist got herself a glass of the red Burg... as she insisted before taking a bite of the lamb.

    Linguine mantecate all'astice con la sua bisque profumata al dragoncello - the signature Boston lobster linguine (isn't Homarus americanus more commonly called Maine lobster?) is meant for two, and they split the dish into two serving bowls for us.  This wasn't bad, but I've been spoiled by our lobster supplier for the last year... and get the same type of lobster flown in on demand - wild and still alive.  These just don't compare...

    Oh and this is where we get our WTF moment of the evening.  One of the bowls still had a lobster claw left untouched, and somehow our over-eager manager figured that we must not want it anymore.  We stared in stunned silence as he nonchalantly whisked it away.  It took a couple of minutes for us to get his attention again to tell him that we wanted it back.  Sigh...  If you're in service - even if you were working in a casual cafe - you NEVER, EVER take plates away from a customer without asking first.

    Then came our second round of dishes, with three primi piatti:

    Risotto mantecato con i ricci di Hokkaido, wasabi fresco e erba cipollina - this was very good, and the sea urchin was definitely creamy and sweet.  I guess I should have read the menu a little more carefully and tried to pick out the fresh wasabi (山葵)... because it didn't hit me at all.  Mrs. Birdie loved the dish - no surprise since there's sea urchin here - because the rice was more al dente.

    Risotto "Acquerello" mantecato di gamberi rossi di Sicilia e carabineros con pomodorini pachino - there was never any chance of me passing up a dish with carabineros in it, and here Chef Angelo had diced up Sicilian gamberi rossi and cooked them in the rice, then served up a nicely grilled carabinero on top.  Very yum.  I could come and have two plates of this and nothing else.

    Homemade tagliolini with morel mushrooms - morels are in season so we ordered this simple pasta.  Pretty nice when you've got delicious and fresh ingredients.

    That wasn't nearly enough food for the 5 of us, so a third round of dishes was ordered...

    Spaghetti "Mancini" all'aglio, olio, peperoni secchi e bottarga di branzino di lenza - I love me a simple "aglio olio" pasta, especially when you've got shaved bottarga from a line-caught seabass.  Yes, this was on the salty side, but that's what you get when you put bottarga in your dish... and I love it!

    Tagliolini freschi all uovo con scampi, cipollotto e pomodoro confit - this was pretty good, too.  In addition to the soft and tender langoustine on the side, there was also some diced langoustine mixed into the pasta sauce.  Simple and delicious.

    Cannoli di Ricotta, pistacchio e frutta candita - I saw a picture of this that Da Jam had posted, and decided that it's been too long since I last had a cannoli.  Pretty good, but I don't think the chocolate ice cream (or was it gelato?) on the side was necessary.  The candied citrus peel and cherries did a nice job of adding sweet and fragrant touches to this.

    The petits fours came in the form of cookies - sweet ones with desiccated coconut on top on the left, and savory ones made with Parmesan and pistachio on the right.  In my (slightly) buzzed state, I declared that the Permesan cookie was the best thing I tasted all evening.  Yes, it was an exaggeration... but also shows that my palate could still be impressed by something seemingly so simple - yet so pure.

    I did say in the first sentence up top that this was a dinner with the Alcoholics, right?  That means a casual evening - where the Specialist decided that we didn't need to consume 1 bottle per head, and telling me that "no need to be too serious" - turned into something slightly different... We ended up ordering 3 bottles from the restaurant's relatively reasonably-priced and well-thought-out wine list, plus opening two bottles that we brought along.

    2010 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrières - nice acidity here.  Flinty with a little lemon on the nose.

    1985 Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze - served without decanting.  Very clean, with sweet fruit and a little leather.  Nice and mature, very smooth.

    I gave the Specialist a choice of 4 wines that I could bring from my limited stock in the office - knowing full well that she would scoff at 3 of them - and wasn't the least bit surprised when I was asked to bring the most expensive/best bottle...

    2015 Guigal La Doriane - really ripe, flinty, with tropical banana and stone fruits.  Very rich and sweet on the palate - almost chewable.  14.9% alcohol, supposedly...

    2000 Branaire-Ducru - smoky with leather notes.  Solid with no surprises.

    1975 Massandra Rose Muscat - having tasted some of Massandra's dessert wines before, I knew that this was gonna be deathly sweet.  At 24.3% sugar, this has easily 50% more sugar than something like Yquem...  Pure honey and sugarcane, with a hint of savory notes like salty plum (話梅).

    In glass.

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  • 03/17/17--08:36: A taste of the Riviera
  • After going to a pop-up lunch with a 3-star chef at Petrusa few months ago, I received messages from the restaurant's chef Ricardo Chaneton inviting me to visit the restaurant.  My last meals at Petrus were back in 2010, and nowadays none of my close friends actually talk about dining at the restaurant.  Like Summer Palace (夏宮) many floors below, it's a restaurant that's been around for a long time - I know it's there, but I never think about it because it no longer seems interesting.

    But Ricardo comes with 7 years' of experience working for Mauro Colagreco, the man behind the acclaimed Mirazur (as well as other restaurants).  That piqued my interest, and I put Petrus on my "hit list" for Hong Kong - despite the fact that it's not a new restaurant.  After trying to find a slot for it for the last couple of months, I finally made it there tonight.

    As I was already on Ricardo's radar, I decided to be discreet and asked Hello Kitty to reserve a table in her name.  A change of plans meant that Hello Kitty had to go out of town and would be missing out on dinner tonight.  Knowing that she might not pick up the call when the restaurant called to reconfirm the reservation today, I called the restaurant myself to avoid our table being cancelled.

    I was running a few minutes late and started getting messages from my friend.  My friend had forgotten that the table wasn't reserved under my name, so I told him to look under Hello Kitty's name.  My friend was told that there was no table reserved under that name, either.  At this point I was getting annoyed, given that I had called to reconfirm the reservation only hours earlier.

    Apparently, the restaurant staff had misspelled Hello Kitty's family name, which is a real feat considering that there are only three letters.  They have written down the same three letters, but jumbled up their order.  My friend tried to persuade the door bitch that they must have made an error in spelling, and he's there for that particular table of three.  The door bitch didn't buy it, then started recounting a past instance where there had been two tables reserved under similar names, and a particular customer had been led to the wrong table.

    But there wasn't another table reserved under a similar name tonight.  Yet the door bitch refused to budge and seat my friend.  Exasperated, my friend asked whether the restaurant was full tonight.  It was not.  Quelle surprise.  Could he be seated at another empty table first, perhaps, until the person whose name is on the reservation list arrives?

    The door bitch finally relented and seated my friend.  Minutes later, I arrived at the door and asked for the table reserved under Hello Kitty's name - with the correct spelling, of course.  I could see the displeasure on the door bitch's face as she showed me the table where my friend was seated.  Well, guess what?  I don't know what the fuck her problem was, because I was more pissed than she was.

    Not a good start to the evening.

    Once seated, we noticed a card on the table with the title "Blind Tasting".  I initially thought this was about a wine pairing, but it turns out that the restaurant was asking diners whether they would forgo ordering from a menu and just let the chef choose 6 courses to serve them.  Well, this is giving carte blanche to the chef, or omakase (お任せ) as the Japanese would call it.  This certainly isn't anything new to me, and I'm happy to trust chefs to do the best they can.  So we went for it.

    Hazelnut macaron with smoked eel - the "macarons" were made of very soft and foamy meringue, with a layer of smoked eel mousse in the middle.

    Pig's blood tart with mushroom and apple - this was a nice surprise, as I wasn't expecting many fine dining establishments to be serving pig's blood.  Of course, the three Taiwanese at the table had absolutely no issues with it, and I found it pretty delicious - especially with the slice of crunchy and slightly acidic apple in the middle.

    Charcoal bread - pretty interesting, with fennel seeds and what seemed to be apricot bits inside.

    Our amuse bouche was sea urchin topped with Granny Smith apple gelée and Granny Smith foam.  There were also bits of crunchy, raw onions inside.  Pretty nice.

    Salmon in two ways, Uruguayan Oscietra caviar - this was very good.  There was a mix of raw and smoked salmon, which provided a subtle difference in textures in addition to the smoky flavors. This was mixed with what seemed to be iceberg lettuce (?), raw onions, and very finely diced ginger, then sprinkled with some poppy seeds on top.  All of these ingredients added a bit of crunch in addition to lending their flavors.  The dill on top added a familiar touch.

    The caviar on the side provided a stark contrast with their saltiness, and while the lemon cream added the expected sweetness, it also brought a very strong and bitter finish that I didn't care for.

    Duck leg ravioli, duck confit with duck consommé - we were told that these were foie gras tortellini, but the filling was definitely mostly shredded duck leg.  This was very tasty, and the duck consommé provided spoonfuls of big flavors - seasoned with thyme.  The wood sorrel brought a touch of acidity to balance out the big, savory flavors, the lily bulbs added some starchy sweetness along with their crunch, while the toasted buckwheat added a bit of toasty fragrance.  A simple and straightforward dish that delivered a lot of satisfaction.

    Thinly sliced calamari à la plancha, cabbage and Amalfi confit lemon sauce - the calamari have been sliced into thin noodles before being cooked à la plancha, and this gave us lovely smoky flavors as well as wonderful, tender texture.  Served with some lemon cream sauce as well as cabbage, cauliflower, romanesco, and smoked broccoli purée.

    Line caught sea bass with confit blue shrimps, heirloom vegetables from Annie Bertin's garden - the sea bass was very, very tender, with nice, smoky flavors from the lightly charred skin.  The Obsiblue prawns were nice, and the legumes from Annie Bertin in France seemed particularly fresh given their outstanding crunch.  The prawn stock that was poured into the bowl?  Wow.  I wish I had a supply of that stock handy in my kitchen.

    Grilled veal filet from Olivier Metzger, leeks and béarnaise sauce - a very pretty presentation, with the Ratte potatoes and béarnaise positioned alongside the single leek, and a sprinkle of what I guessed was leek powder.  The veal was cooked medium-rare and looked nice and pink in the middle, and was indeed pretty tender inside.  However, while the exterior seemed soft, it was actually a little on the dry side, and the muscle fibers were very noticeable.  A little disappointing.  The veal jus was nice, though.

    Valencia mandarin pie, saffron ice cream and merengue - I was advised against ordering dessert even before I arrived at the restaurant, as I was told that they don't have a pastry chef.  This pile of meringue was deathly sweet, and the Valencia mandarin filling in the middle had no hope of being able to overcome the amount of sugar in that mouthful.  The ice cream - made with saffron sourced from Sospel, France - was more interesting.

    Inside the cup was a piece of candied pineapple as well as a white chocolate truffle with pineapple filling.

    Mignardises - we weren't told what these were, but I think they were dark chocolate truffle, salted caramel bonbons with passion fruit, marshmallow with nutmeg/cinnamon, and langue de chat with minty pastry cream.

    Per restaurant policy we were able to bring two bottles of our own wines, and we happily paid corkage for this.

    I had originally wanted to open a different bottle of white wine, but when I pulled the cork on the 1996 Olivier Leflaive Montrachet in the office, I made sure to have a sip to check on the condition.  White Burgundies from the mid- to late-90s have a reputation of being excessively oxidized, and sure enough, the small pour in my glass smelled very caramelized.  So I brought a backup bottle, and asked my friend (as well as the sommelier) for their opinions.  In the end we decided to put the cork back in the bottle and drink the backup bottle instead...

    1990 Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune - a beautiful wine!  Very open and fragrant, with flint, petrol, nice fruit, white flowers, and some lemon in the nose.  Some residual sugar here but really good acidity, especially after opening up.

    1982 Lafite-Rothschild - decanted for more than a hour prior to serving.  Drinking very well, with smoky nose along with tobacco and pencil lead.  Still some fruit here.  Silky smooth.  Started going downhill after almost 2 hours in the decanter.

    We asked for Chef Ricardo and offered him some of our wines and our compliments.  He ended up spending over an hour with us, and we talked about his time at Mirazur, their philosophy, his Venezuelan/Colombian background...

    We also discussed how Petrus' place on the Hong Kong dining scene had undergone a complete change over the years.  When I first arrived in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago and wanted a place to celebrate my first birthday in the city, Petrus was the restaurant I chose.  These days I don't hear any of my friends talk about going to Petrus, and the departure of Chef Frédéric Chabbert a few years ago aroused people's interest mainly because of where he landed... In fact most of my friends couldn't even be bothered to find out who replaced Frédéric - myself included.  Undoubtedly the restaurant's dated decor scores negative points with some of the younger diners today, but unfortunately this isn't something that is easily addressed.

    But with our dinner tonight, I have renewed hope for the restaurant.  The dishes tonight may not be ones that feature on #theartofplating, but they all come with carefully sourced ingredients - the arrangement of which are all well-thought-out.  And here's a chef who challenges the diners to trust him by offering his "blind tasting".  In the past I've only done that with chefs I know well - or in a place like Quintessence with their carte blanche menu.  Hopefully more diners in Hong Kong will accept the omakase-style menu and discover a different kind of cuisine from Ricardo.

    Next time, though, Imma ask Ricardo to cook me some of his Venezuelan repertoire.

    P.S.  Ricardo very kindly offered us a huge discount on our dinner, and after we pleaded with him without success to accept the full payment, we accepted his kindness with gratitude.  I did make sure to add a very generous tip...

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    ILoveLubutin and I had talked about catching up over lunch, and she happened to be entertaining a couple of guests from out of town, so we all met up at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) for some goose.

    Half roast goose (馳名燒鵝半隻) - with four of us today, we could get ourselves half a goose and really get into it.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of the crispy skin with all the flavors from five spice and more.  I did think, though, that parts of the goose seemed a little more charred than before.

    Rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉) - MSG city!!! Mmm mmm good.

    Barbecued pork and soya chicken (叉燒油雞) - the barbecued pork here is usually hit-or-miss, but ILoveLubutin asked for the fatty and charred cuts, which meant these slices were a lot more tasty than usual.  The chicken was pretty good, too.

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    I'm entertaining a visitor from China, and decided to take her to my favorite Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) for lunch.  Yes, it's my second lunch here this week...

    Roast goose, lower quarter (燒鵝下庄) - with just two of us today, all we can manage is a quarter of a goose. And once again, I felt that parts of the goose was just a little too charred.

    Rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉)

    Blanched choy sum (菜心)

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    A few weeks ago, I found out that an old favorite restaurant of mine is closing.  My first time dining at W's Entrecôte was probably shortly after I arrived in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago, and its no-nonesense, straightforward offering of steak frites and other classics haven't changed much since then.

    I can't say that I've been a regular of the place, but whenever I was in the mood for some steak frites, this was the place to go.  From time to time I'd even bring along a bottle of wine, and I've also attended an event or two with the Commanderie de Bordeaux, as the restaurant's owner Wilson Kwok is an active chapter member.

    So I'm feeling a little sad upon hearing the news that the restaurant is closing after 23 years, and figured that I should come and bid farewell.  So here we are tonight, just 4 weeks before closing.

    Paper is laid on top of the red-and-white checkered tablecloth, which allows the staff to scribble down each diner's order.  No more confusion about who gets what at the table.

    Escargots à l'Alsacienne, sur les champignons - ah... OF COURSE I had to get the escargots!  Love the fact that they come on top of mushrooms sitting in mash, and were drenched in garlic butter.  Slurp.

    Australian Angus entrecôte, 8 oz. - figured I'd go for the 8 oz. this time instead of the usual 6 oz.  Ordered it rare, and it came pretty rare - which is great.  Looove the herbal butter sauce that's all over the beef.  In fact, I should have asked for more sauce...

    You can always ask for extra fries, but usually I don't have the stomach space for it.  Tonight, however, I made it a point to finish my fries and asked for extras.  Yum.

    Millefeuille, crème Anglaise parfumée au Brandy de pêche - they didn't have profiteroles tonight, so I got the millefeuille instead.  Nothing to complain about here!  Very classic.

    I also took a glass of house red wine with my dinner.  Didn't bother asking what it was, but I figured it would at least be drinkable given this is Wilson's place.  And it wasn't bad at all... especially at the price of HKD 40 a glass.

    I've actually never gone to any of the newer steak frites restaurants that have opened up in the last few years, because it was always easier for me to come here.  After next month, I guess I'll have to look elsewhere to get my fix...

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