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

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    The Parental Units are here for a few days, and we decided to have lunch with Hello Kitty's extended family. Trying to find a venue for Saturday lunch on a Friday afternoon is no easy task, and I probably called around 7 or 8 Cantonese restaurants from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom before getting ourselves a table at Hoi King Heen (海景軒) at the InterContinental Grand Staford Hong Kong.  It has been a long, long time since my one and only meal there, so I was looking forward to trying out some of Chef Leung's creations.

    But when I was browsing through the menu after our arrival, I noticed that a few signature dishes - including braised winter melon balls stuffed with black olives mustard (欖菜玉珠) - needed to be ordered a day in advance.  I did ask the staff with to check with the kitchen, but the answer was still no... they simply didn't have enough ingredients on hand.  Oh well...

    Vegetarian steamed rice flour rolls (羅漢上素腸粉) -  this was alright, and worked well for the old fogeys who had dietary restrictions.

    Pan-fried fish head with garlic and soya sauce (家鄉生煎魚咀) - I ordered this for dad and didn't expect many others to want to eat this.  How wrong I was!  Not bad, actually... and I think dad was pretty happy sucking out the goodies.

    Shrimp dumplings with fungus (羊肚耳香茜餃) - pretty tasty with Chinese celery, morels, and crunchy wood ear.

    Shrimp dumplings 'har gau" (海景蝦餃皇) - in comparison, this seemed unremarkable... and I could taste the MSG.

    Baked barbecued pork buns (香焗叉燒餐包) - very, very good.  The Parental Units have been away from Hong Kong for about a decade, and this was the first time for them to taste char siu bao (叉燒包) done with a "Mexican bun (墨西哥包)".

    Glutinous rice dumplings filled with peanuts and chicken (狀元茶粿) - didn't really taste much peanuts, just minced meat and crunchy pickled radish.

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with X.O sauce and bean sprouts (X.O醬銀芽煎腸粉) - this was alright.

    Pork dumplings with matsutake (松茸菌燒賣) - the siu mai (燒賣) wasn't much to write home about, and I definitely had lowered my expectations regarding the limp slice of matsutake (松茸) on top.

    Wok-fried assorted mushroom with lotus root and lily bulb (蓮藕百合炒菇菌) - this was always gonna be a hit with mom, and it turns out there were other fans, too.  Together with the crunchy lily bulb, carrots, lotus roots, and sugar snaps were maitake (舞茸), oyster mushrooms, and straw mushrooms - all in a ginger sauce.

    Crispy chicken with black truffle and black fungus (黑松露脆皮雞) - this, too, was a surprise.  The slices of black truffle were OK, and I expected them to lose their fragrance after cooking.  But the chicken was really, really good.  The skin was crispy as advertised, the meat was tender and moist, and I didn't find it too salty the way I find Lung King Heen (龍景軒)'s chicken.  Even Hello Kitty - who normally stays away from tasteless chickens - thought this was good.  The crunchy wood ear at the bottom was nice, too.

    Fried rice with egg whiter and conpoy (瑤柱蛋白炒飯) - nicely done at high heat. 

    Sweetened peanut and wheat cream (花生麥米粥) - I'd never had this dessert before, so I decided to order up a bowl and try it out.  The soup base was pretty clear and not too sweet, with peanuts which were a lot more crunchy than I had expected - they weren't mushy at all.  The glutinous rice grains had been boiled until they were falling apart, while the millet groats (麥米) also provided a crunchy texture.  Overall, though, this isn't something I'm a fan of.

    This was a long and relaxing lunch, and a pretty good start to our own version of Meet the Fockers.

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    It's been too long since the Parental Units' last stay in Hong Kong, and I have many, many places I would love to take them to.  A nice Cantonese dinner is a given, and I decided to use this occasion to return to Lung King Heen (龍景軒) and visit my sommelier friend Bernard Chan.  In spite of my past misgivings about the cuisine here, I remain hopeful that one day I will finish a meal here and tell myself that, YES, this was truly a 3-star experience.

    Needing to balance out the dietary restrictions of two moms who are sensitive to MSG, spice, and excessive salt with my own needs, I tried the best I could to walk a fine line while ordering.  They had literally just switched to a new menu today, so a couple of the dishes would be seasonal.

    But before I had a chance to warm my seat, Bernard came over to offer me a little pour of bubbly that they are currently serving by the glass. I know he really like this one, and I'm very thankful that he saved me a little before they ran out of stock...

    2008 R. Pouillon Chemin du Bois, dégorgée en 3ème trimestre 2016 - a lovely blanc de noirs with a nose that seemed fairy mature, nice and interesting and full of character.  Good acidity at the beginning, but palate was very short when it warmed up in the glass.

    Tonight's amuse bouche was a cuttlefish ball with crispy almonds (杏香墨魚丸).  The deep-fried ball - surprisingly with pieces of cartilage inside - was covered in crispy, toasted slices of almonds and served on a hollowed cucumber ring.  Pretty tasty.

    Barbecued pork with honey sauce (蜜汁燒叉燒) - the char siu here has always been good, and tonight was no exception.  Very tender, with enough fat to impart delicious flavors.

    Roasted goose with plum sauce (潮蓮靚燒鵝) - honestly, this didn't make the grade.  The meat was fairly tough and chewy, which wasn't helped by the fact that the restaurant chose to serve thick slices.

    Crispy shrimp toast (窩貼蝦多士) - I loved this dish the last time I ordered it, and figured I wanted some more.  Lots of oil got soaked up to make this crunchy toast... and the shrimp was good, too!

    Wok-fried lobster with lily bulbs and ginkgo (百合銀杏炒龍蝦球) - something for the moms.  I thought the lobster was just OK, but dad liked it.  Plenty of crunch, though, provided by the lily bulbs, ginkgo nuts, asparagus, wood ear, and carrots.

    Stir-fried minced beef and vegetables with black truffle in lettuce (黑松露牛崧蔬菜包) - the beef came with carrots and string beans, but not a whole lotta truffle... In fact I could barely taste any, and mom was certainly looking for it...

    Baked chicken with sesame, ginger, and spring onions (香焗薑蔥芝麻雞) - I've always found the crispy chicken here a little salty, so I figured I'd pick something else.  Well, this chicken also came with crispy skin, and generally tasty with the ginger and spring onions.  But... the underside of the chicken was still a little on the salty side.

    Assorted vegetable casserole with tofu sheets and vermicelli in soup (腐竹粉絲雜菜煲) - this was pretty good, and thankfully came with a lot less MSG than most versions at restaurants.

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth with salted and century eggs (金銀蛋上湯浸莧菜) - I figured this would be a more interesting way of serving up veg for mom, and hopefully the salty egg and the superior broth weren't too much for her.

    Fried glutinous rice with air-dried meats (臘味糯米飯) - the regular portion was pretty damn small, so we each got a little bit of the rice.  A little too wet for our liking, and definitely not 生炒.  Given that this was the first day the dish is on offer, I won't complain too much...

    Given that My Favorite Cousin was joining us, I knew we could polish off a couple of bottles... So I brought two bottles to share. And yes, there were a couple of very thirsty people at the table.

    2007 Arietta On The White Keys - decanted upon opening.  Surprising how dry it was on the palate at first.  Highly aromatic nose, with acetone and almonds.  Gradually developed toasty notes and became ripe and sweeter on the palate.

    1989 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett - beautiful nose with polyurethane petrol, and a little white flowers.  Relatively dry on the palate with surprisingly crisp acidity, but still remains an off-dry wine.

    Steamed ginger tea puddings with honey (蜂蜜薑茶糕) - pretty nice with plenty of kick from ginger.

    Osmanthus jelly (桂花凍)

    Baked cream custard puffs (楓葉奶皇酥)

    Bernard took out a coupe - those glasses that people served Champagne in back in the 60s and 70s - and poured me something. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but wanted me to try nonetheless. The 2009 Ca' D'Gal Moscato d'Asti Vigna Vecchia had a viscous consistency, mild and sweet on the palate, almost like drinking a slushie that has melted... Minty, almost menthol, with very light peachy flavors.

    This was a happy dinner, as mom got a rare chance to catch up with My Favorite Cousin.  I ordered up a bunch of simple dishes suitable for a family meal, so we didn't end up with any "wow" moments.  Perhaps one day...

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    This would be the first time that dad is spending his birthday in Hong Kong, and I have the rare pleasure of taking him out to a nice restaurant.  While a number of restaurants in town could have done a good job for the occasion, in the end I decided to go back to Caprice and let Hairy Legs and team take care of us.

    As usual, mom would not be able to take in a whole set menu, so I asked for the à la carte menu and explained each dish to mom, gauging her interest for each dish while trying to make sure that mom gets in the new experiences that would bring her so much joy.  In the end we decided to order 3 appetizers for her, while Hairy Legs put a menu together for us after I requested that he not send us too much food...

    Victor offered us a little bubbly to help kick start the evening...

    1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires - warmed up a little in glass and showed a nice, toasty nose, and also citrusy.  Ripe on the palate and slightly bitter on the finish.

    Then, a few nibbles...

    Egg sabayon with mushroom and sabayon

    Capsicum with cauliflower purée - loved the capsicum but couldn't really taste the sea urchin...

    Tuna tartare tart - topped with cucumber miso jelly and flying fish roe (とび子).  Very savory.

    Pita puff stuffed with chicken butter masala - loved the cumin and spices.  Topped with coriander.

    Hare soup - the soup was pretty thick in terms of texture, a little on the salty side (which I fully expected), but also surprisingly a little sweet.  Served with some hazelnuts, and a piece of toast on the side with quince, Fourme d'Ambert, foie gras, and white truffle.

    Scrambled eggs with ceps, figs, and white truffles - with chicken jus and some hazelnuts.  I gotta say, though, that I'm not a big fan of the French way of making œufs brouillés.  Just don't like the consistency.  But of course, one can't complain about the fresh ceps or the figs.  And most certainly not white truffles!

    1940 Haut-Brion - initially a little dirty, stinky, bretty, smoky, but still have fruity notes like prunes.  Surprisingly crisp and fresh sweetness underneath.  About 10 minutes later, the nose showed more leather and stewed prunes notes, even some pencil lead.  With the second pour some 30 minutes later, the nose was clearly less fresh, and palate showed more acidity.  It all went downhill after 45 minutes.

    Kinki, shrimp bouillon, sudachi, and ginger - the broadbanded thornyhead (喜知次) was very, very delicious as I would expect.  So, so, tender and succulent.  The bouillon was delicious, too... and the fragrance from ginger was definitely there.  The sun-dried tomato was nice, but the zing from the finger lime caviar was certainly felt.

    Carré d’Agneau de l’Aubrac, Epaule Confite, Caviar d’Aubergine et Sauce Massala - the confit lamb shoulder on the right came with eggplant caviar and was done with Ras el hanout, which made it very, very tasty.   The rack of lamb was seasoned with Canadian trapper spice - dried onions, garlic, and maple sugar.   Pretty good.  The nice piperade came with an egg on top. 

    Knowing the cheese selection here, it wouldn't be right to dine here without having some.  Especially since mom normally doesn't have the opportunity to have most of these...

    So I picked Brillat-Savarin, Colombier fermier, 24-month Mimolette, 3½-year Comté, Brin d'Amour, Perail de Brebis, and Fourme d'Ambert.

    The sommelier graciously offered us another glass to go with our cheese...

    2010 David Duband Chambertin - very fruity, showing fragrant cedar notes, and almost a little floral.

    The pastry station delivered a millefeuille as dad's birthday cake.  It was absolutely delicious, and mom loved it. 

    The sommelier once again graciously offered us another glass to go with the cake.

    Jacques Selosse Exquise, dégorgée à 27 Julliet 2016 - a little sweet on the palate, with marmalade and a little toast.

    And we would finish with some mignardises.

    Chestnut profiteroles

    Raspberry jelly with white chocolate - with rose mousse in the center, white chocolate rice crispies, and raspberry on top.  Lovely rose fragrance, and definitely reminds me of Pierre Hermé's ispahan.

    Almond dacquoise with marmalade

    Pecan brownies

    Passion fruit/lime chocolate, chocolate pralines

    The Parental Units were happy tonight. Mom got to try out a few interesting dishes tonight, and really enjoyed herself in spite of her slightly overcooked quail breast.  And dad was happy because, well, mom was happy.  Also, Hairy Legs gave us some serious VIP treatment for dad's birthday - even more so than when I celebrated my birthday here.  I couldn't think of a better way to have celebrated dad's birthday.

    P.S.  The Parental Units and I were very impressed by Hairy Legs' Mandarin.  His accent is actually pretty good!  Well, done, Bilbaobab!

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    After finding out a couple of years ago that a person by the name of Jo Soo-Tang - a marketing professional and socialite who is currently the Chair of the Board of the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation - plagiarized my pictures and posted them as her own on Instagram, and subsequently discovering that this photo I took of the Bimmah Sinkhole in Oman has literally been stolen by hundreds of websites, I was alerted to another case of plagiarism involving my work.

    Photo credit: @jfkhndwine on Instagram / James Michael Cavanaugh
    Here he is.  Someone who goes by the handle of @jfkhndwine (changed from @itstheoenophile after I reported him) on Instagram.  I don't know who this person is.  I don't even know if this is actually a picture of him.  This is James Michael Cavanaugh (@jamescavs), a spoiled brat who apparently holds an American diplomatic passport.  What I do know is that he has been stealing my pictures and posting them as his own on Instagram under the aforementioned handle.  And he has stolen a lot of them.

    I was alerted to this by one of my followers on Instagram, whose own picture has been stolen and used by this character.  Interesting, this person has actually blocked me on Instagram to prevent me from finding out what he has been doing, and I needed others to send me screen captures of my work on his Instagram.

    This was the first picture I received.  Let's be frank... there ain't too many bottles of 1940 Latour floating around on the market, which was what caused the kind Instagram follower to take notice.  Sure enough, this is my picture of the bottle I opened for dad's birthday on September 25, 2011 at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei

    Eventually I logged myself out of Instagram so I could see every post he has made.  There are a total of 127 posts, and I counted 25 of them as being pictures I have taken.  That's 20% of his posts!  STOLEN FROM ME!  And doing a quick search using his Instagram handle reveals many other reported cases of pictures being stolen by him.

    So what the fuck was going on?  Who is this guy?  Does he even drink wine?  Why is he going around stealing everyone's pictures?  Just so he can get lots of followers and 'likes'?!  So he can pretend he's living the good life while in reality he's sucking on Two Buck Chuck?  This is the sad state of social media, where people like him are pretending to have a life by stealing the work of others and passing the experiences off as their own.  I'm sure there are plenty of others.  What a bunch of sad fuckers!

    My message to this guy?  FUCK YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON!

    So I'm filing a formal complaint to Instagram, and I'm not gonna stop until his account is deactivated, and we find out who this person is and make sure he can never steal another picture from someone else again.  Please help me in that effort.

    (Update: I reported the violation to Instagram and the 25 pics were removed within the hour.  And the fucker has changed his handle.  I wish Instagram would just de-activate this account for good!

    Here are the rest of the pictures that he stole, along with links to the blog posts where the pictures were originally posted:

    This magnum of 1990 Lafite-Rothschild was drunk at my friend's birthday party at Sup 1 on June 11, 2014.

    This bottle of 1991 Vogüé Bonnes-Mares was opened at one of our MNSC dinners at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) on October 13, 2013.

    Vladimir poured me a glass of this 2008 Drappier Grande Sendrée when I had dinner at Gaggan in Bangkok on Gaggan's birthday - February 22, 2017.

    This 2009 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion drank beautifully at the Sotheby's Domaine Clarence Dillon dinner on September 26, 2013.

    This was a picture of a bottle of 1990 Chave Hermitage Rouge I served at an MNSC dinner at Caprice on June 21, 2010. The asshole who stole the picture said this was 1993 and posted fake tasting notes as he usually does.

    This bottle of Penfolds Bin 707 was drunk over some beef at Neighborhood on January 5, 2017.

    This beautiful bottle of 1973 Petrus was shared over an MNSC dinner at Amuse Bouche on April 29, 2013.

    The 1971 DRC Echezeaux, along with this stunning bottle of 1982 Latour à Pomerol, were drunk at an MNSC dinner I hosted at Petrus on June 26, 2017.

    The 1995 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde as well as 2008 Michel Gros Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Clos des Réas were drunk at a private dining facility on October 7, 2014.

    Both the 2005 Alter Ego and 2006 Alter Ego were part of the Château Palmer tasting at Hong Kong Wine Vault on May 31, 2011.

    As was this bottle of 1998 Palmer.

    I drank this bottle of 1998 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St-Jacques over dinner at Ming Fu (明福餐廳) in Taipei with some friends on June 15, 2011.

    The 2000 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux drank really well at the Sotheby's Château Margaux dinner on October 13, 2015.

    The 1975 Lafleur was served at an MNSC dinner at The Chin's (中華匯館) on January 15, 2017.

    Chef Fabrice Vulin very generously offered me a glass of this 1990 Lafite-Rothschild at The Tasting Room in Macau on July 8, 2017.

    This was an incredible bottle of 1976 Penfolds Grange I got to drink at an MNSC dinner at The Hong Kong Club on December 25, 2016.

    The 1995 Chave Cuvée Cathelin was drunk at 7 par Anne-Sophie Pic in Valence after visiting Jean-Louis Chave on October 24, 2011.

    I opened this bottle of 1991 Opus One at the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse on April 16, 2017.

    The 1996 Mouton-Rothschild was my wine of the evening at the Sotheby's Château Mouton-Rothschild dinner on January 29, 2015.

    I opened this magnum of 2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion at a private dining facility on October 19, 2015.

    The 2000 La Mission Haut-Brion was part of a 100-point wine MNSC dinner at The Principal on December 17, 2012.

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  • 10/20/17--08:33: A happy introduction
  • As unbelievable as it sounds, I still have a number of friends who have never been to Neighborhood.  So once again, a couple of us regulars were tasked with initiating a couple of newbies.  We were surprised to find The Man in White T-shirt in the house, but happy that we could spend a little time with him on a busy evening.

    Needless to say, we didn't do any ordering and just waited for the kitchen to start sending us our food...

    200 day aged rump / Hokkaido melon - the beef from Rangers Valley was marinated in classic Chiuchow masterstock (滷水), and rubbed with black truffles.  The chunks of Hokkaido Yubari melon (夕張メロン) were very sweet.

    Hokkaido tomato carpaccio / plum salt - this was, as always, delicious.

    Culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - ...and I can never find cause to complain about the depth of flavor that hits my tongue when I have a piece of this in my mouth...

    Amberjack crudo - beautifully drenched in olive oil, with chili flakes on top.

    Padron peppers / cheddar - the cheddar sauce was a little spicy, and I actually got a spicy pepper for once!

    Pigeon eggs / escargot butter - I've always loved the soft, jelly-like texture of these pigeon egg whites... along with the liquid yolk inside.  Of course, serving it with the herb gratin full of crispy bacon bits don't hurt, either!

    Buchot mussels "Mont St Michel" - they've switched back from the Hokkaido mussels to ones from Mont St.-Michel, but the sauce still retains the curry flavor...

    Black truffle chicken wings - oh yes.  The table fell silent for a couple of minutes.  NOM NOM NOM

    Kinki paella - another perennial crowd-pleaser.  The broadbanded thornyhead (喜知次) never disappoints with its succulence, and tonight the rice wasn't as soggy as it usually is.  INHALED.

    Colvert duck - it's game season, so this showed up out of the blue.  Perfect execution, and very, very tasty.  Guess who got to chomp on the leg?

    Roast autumn fruits and vegetables "Mr. Ducasse" - green apples, chestnut, carrots, endives, pumpkin, and black truffles.

    Salt baked morel chicken / giblet rice - not the least bit surprised when this was brought to our table and Shirley started breaking down the salt crust.  No truffle under the skin today...

    The chicken was sent back to the kitchen for the final preparation, and this 'chicken rice' delivered as much "WOW" as it has ever done.  The morels were beautiful, and herbs like chervil and dill added their wonderful fragrances to the dish.  Yes, there were chicken testicles buried in the dish.  In fact, there were so many of them that some at the table started wondering about what kind of chicken we were having...

    100 days dry aged Spanish Rubia Gallega chuleta steak - OH YES!  Rubia Gallega... currently among the top cattle breeds for me.  The chuleta was very, very delicious... although I did not try to gnaw on the bone this time.

    Chocolate palette - it's been a while since I last had this dessert, and it's as rich as ever.


    Someone did ask the "stupid question" of whether we were bringing wine...

    Ruinart Blanc de Blancs - riper and sweeter on the palate than expected.  Toasty nose.

    2008 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame - corked.

    2013 Château de Puligny-Montrachet Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly - lots of toasty oak in the nose, and fairly dry on the attack.

    2005 Pax Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard The Terraces, from magnum - very sweet on the nose with cedar and minty notes.  A little jammy after 2 hours.  Later on showed floral and almost 'soapy' notes.

    VERY, VERY FULL. But surprisingly, not very drunk...

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    The Hungry Tourist is back in town, and I made a booking at my favorite private dining space a couple of months ago.  As we have now passed Mid-Autumn Festival and the weather has actually cooled down in the last couple of weeks, I checked with the chef about the availability of our favorite snake soup.  When a positive response came back, I did a little "happy dance" on the inside...  This was the start of game season, then!

    Bamboo piths stuffed with bird's nest (官燕釀竹笙) - I've only had this dish once before and really enjoyed it, as the superior broth - thickened with corn starch - left its beautiful fragrance in my mouth.  I did think, though, that the flavors of the bamboo piths were slightly pungent and unpleasant.

    Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - this was also on the menu the last time that The Hungry Tourist came, and everyone was very, very happy about having these big, delicious claws.  I always used to think that deep-frying crab claws was a poor preparation and a total waste of a wonderful ingredient, but now I can see how the salty batter actually brings out the natural sweetness of the crab meat.

    Stir-fried soft-shell turtle shell (鳳城炒水魚裙) - it's been a while since I last had this dish, and it's a nice change from having those thick chunks of gelatin from mountain turtles.

    The chef's knife skills have always been super, and here we have ribbons of the gelatinous skirt of the soft turtle shell, along with bean sprouts, Chinese celery, chili peppers, spring onions, as well as deep-fried rice vermicelli.  What made the dish shine, though, were the Indian almonds (欖仁) wok-fried on high heat.  These were incredibly toasty, although perhaps just a tad too charred.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the main event tonight, as it always is during snake season.  Unlike most other commercially available versions, this one uses no corn starch to thicken the broth.  The broth was made with snake bones, which explains the depth of flavor.  The five different types of snake meat have been incredibly finely shredded, along with chiffonade of aged mandarin peel, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and fish maw.  A really, really beautiful bowl.  Actually, most of us had two bowls.  I did add some of the condiments - including the amazing chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves, coriander, white chrysanthemum petals, as well as the crispy wonton skin.

    Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - tonight the wild soles were perfectly executed.  Usually the back would end up a little overcooked as the chef tried to accommodate the wings, but not tonight.  Very yum.  The two heads were taken by the Zhongmeister and the Hungry Tourist.  Both were happy campers.

    Braised hundred-treasure duck (百寶炆大鴨) - another winter dish that I'm always happy to have.  Yes, that is the duck's tongue sticking out... Us Chinese people do eat that, and so does the Hungry Tourist, it seems...

    The duck has been boned and stuffed with salted egg, shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts, lotus seeds, Job's tears, duck meat.  So, soooo good... 
    Stir-fried kailan with crab roe (蟹黃扒蘭度) - this was a dish I was having for the first time.  This is the time of year when crabs fill up with roe, and I requested for a dish with this seasonal ingredient.  What we got was very, very delicious.  The kailan (芥蘭) was beautifully crunchy, and smothering it with crab meat and roe made us very, very happy.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - with cooling weather also comes preserved (and air-dried) sausages, which gives us this dish.  So, sooooo delicious.  Easily the best version of this rice I've ever had.

    Double-boiled ginkgo nuts and lotus seeds (銀杏燉湘蓮) - always happy to have this hearty dessert, with jujube, ginkgo nuts, lotus seeds, and apricot kernels.

    We brought with us a few bottles to wash down the delicious food...

    Jacques Selosse V.O., dégorgée le 21 Avril 2015 - lovely caramelized nose.  Wonderful balance between acidity and ripeness.

    Benoît Déhu Cuvée La Rue des Noyers,dégorgée le 4 Août 2016 - richer on the nose thanks to pinot meunier, with good acidity.

    2000 Château de Fonsalette Rouge - opened for 1 hour prior to serving.  Initially a little muted but later showed some leather and game notes.

    2014 Gaja Gaia and Rey - tropical fruits, very fragrant.

    2000 Lynch-Bages - opened for 1½ hours before decanting.  Very smooth with good acidity.  Fragrant with smoky notes and sweet fruit.

    2009 Château de Fonsalette Blanc - very fragrant nose, a little minty, almost like a chartreuse. 

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    A few weeks ago I received a kind invitation to a media tasting of a "collaboration" between Chef Agustin Balbi of HAKU and Chef Matsuo Hideaki (松尾英明) of Kashiwaya (柏屋).  Being a "freebie preview", it's completely understandable that this had been scheduled in the middle of the afternoon in order not to take up valuable revenue-generating seats during regular business hours.  These types of events have always been a pain in the backside for people like myself who have a regular day job, but given that this particular event was on a Friday afternoon and I was assured that "this is worth it", I somewhat begrudgingly got out of the office and crossed the harbor for this "lunner"...

    I spotted a couple of familiar faces upon arrival, and I was strategically placed next to my friend KC - who was strategically placed against the wall on the long end of the L-shaped counter.  That would turn out to be a very smart move...

    First, a flute of Champagne to start...

    Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne Premier Cru - nice balance on the palate.

    Then came a few nibbles:

    Kibinago (黍魚子) - the silver-stripe round herring was deep-fried, and pretty tasty.

    Nori cone - with dashi (出汁) cream, "ahgatsuo" (probably hagatsuo 歯鰹, or striped bonito) and coriander, ginger, chili.  The nori (海苔) cone was hardened in a dehydrator, which made it hold its shape despite the wet and creamy filling.  The raw fish tasted more like katsuoboshi (鰹節), with pretty strong flavors tasting more like deep-fried fish than the kibinago...

    Morcilla - with a dab of dashi mayo on top.  Very nice.

    Black tea and katsuoboshi consommé - dashi + tea, with chanterelles.  No salt here, just purity of flavors.

    First Frost: ika / bellota ham / konbu - sliced spear squid (槍烏賊), konbu (昆布), and jamón bellota, with dried cauliflower, cauliflower purée, squid ink dots, and chives.  The dish was finished by sprinkling dehydrated sake kasu (酒粕) powder on top, which is meant to resemble the first frost of winter.

    Between the konbu and the jamón, there are some pretty heavy flavors here... but thankfully there is still a reasonably good balance.  The sake kasu powder was rather hard and crunchy, giving the whole thing a harder texture balance than expected.  The good thing about the dish was that it was served warm, which gave it a hearty feel that is appropriate for winter.

    Now... before getting here today, I had seen a ton of pictures of the next dish - apparently a signature of the restaurant.  I was internally conflicted about this dish, as it pushed the button on a couple of pet peeves of mine.  I was pretty sure we would be tasting it today, and as I walked toward the restaurant I was going through some internal debates in my head...

    First of all, this dish was made with chutoro (中トロ) that I can only assume to have come from a bluefin tuna caught near Nagasaki (長崎).  I normally don't eat bluefin tuna for sustainability reasons, but since nobody asked us about our dietary restrictions, I kept quiet and ate it.

    Bridge: chutoro / caviar - with my first bite containing only the tuna and beef tartare, I tasted some acidity along with the chives.  This was rather nice.  Of course, the caviar added an abundance of salt, but I thought it was reasonably balanced as long as the right ratio was achieved between the eggs and the raw tuna and beef.

    We were meant to spoon the contents onto these paper-thin wafers made from potatoes - which curiously had a lacquered texture on one side and a matte texture on the opposite side.

    So... I thought the flavors were reasonably good.  But believe it or not, KC and I were the only pair not to finish what was on our shared plate.  Everyone else had the good sense to lap it all up.  So why didn't we?!

    At the risk of sounding like a total ingrate (asshole) who dares to complain about being fed Japanese bluefin tuna, French beef, and caviar without having to pay for it, here's what I felt was wrong with the dish...

    Agustin introduced the ingredients in the dish, including beef from Alexandre Polmard ("one of the top producers of beef around the world" - yes, I know who he is and have had his beef... thank you very much) and the fact that it was topped with 15 grams of Kaviari Kristal caviar ("one of the most famous, prestigious brands of caviar" - hmmm... yes, I know it's a French brand but these are farmed in China...).  Of course, we must not forget the gold foil that has been tweezered on top of the caviar.  And everything was served up on hand-cut crystal plates.

    In short, everything about this dish screams BLING.  Top/expensive/prestigious ingredients served on a plate that sparkles under the light.  Oh, and so does the gold foil on top.  That's very shiny, too.  As I would soon post on Facebook, I.FUCKING.HATE.GOLD.FOIL.IN.MY.FOOD.  It's one of those stupid things that add nothing to the flavor of the dish, only bling designed to impress.  Unfortunately, gold foil doesn't impress me.  In fact, it does the opposite.

    Taste-wise, there was nothing wrong with this dish.  It was perfectly enjoyable, and 98, nay, 99 people out of 100 would be "wowed" by it.  Who the fuck would complain about having all of these premium/luxe ingredients in one bite?  Well, I guess that would be me.  I'm the one guy out of 100 who feels that this dish is totally contrived.  It just feels like someone decided that the best way to impress the diner was to throw a bunch of expensive ingredients together.  Completely over-the-top and 120% Instagrammable.  I once laid similar accusations on a similar dish - albeit with much cheaper ingredients...

    Oh, and the other person out of 100 who didn't care for the dish was sitting next to me...  But unlike me, he wasn't complaining about the dish on philosophical grounds...

    Presence: Kagoshima A4 wagyu - another premium ingredient.  Hey, it's only natural to be served Japanese wagyu at a Japanese restaurant, right?  Above a particular price point, diners would almost certainly demand to see it on the menu.  And when the chunks of beef were presented on the hibachis (火鉢), the smoke coming from them was incredibly fragrant and, as KC said, "mouth-watering".

    If only that were true of the taste.

    The sauce made from beef bones - with a little bit of black pepper - was spooned on top of the beef.  On the side we had a dab of black garlic purée as well as a powder made by drying soy sauce.  While the exterior had a lovely, smoky flavor, the beef itself was... disappointing.  Yes, the beef was very, very soft and tender.  In fact, it didn't seem like I was chewing on beef at all, but something else that yielded easily to the force of my teeth.  Curiously, I had trouble seeing the marbling inside the A4-grade beef, and the beef tasted bland.  There was no beefy flavor, and it desperately needed the sauce.

    So here again, the poor chef hit a brick wall against this jaded diner.  Over the last few years, I've gotten very used to eating amazing beef like 12-year-old Rubia Galega that's been dry-aged for more than 4 months.  Or the incredible Hanwoo from Korea.  Beef is normally the last thing I'll pick out as main course from a restaurant menu, as I find pork, duck, lamb, venison, or a good chicken more interesting.  And if you wanna impress me, you'd better come to me with more than some soft but tasteless stuff.   After eating those four pieces of supposedly premium Japanese wagyu, the feeling of satisfaction I would have wanted -and expected - was sorely lacking.

    Oh, my neighbor had the same sentiments.  Now, do you see why we're such good friends?

    This pumpkin came from Saga Prefecture (佐賀県), and on top of the little squares inside sat slices of culatello, topped with black garlic sauce and slices of white truffles.

    Nothing wrong here, but just wondering why this came as a "side dish" to the beef... especially putting pork and beef together.  I was told, apparently, that the white truffle was pre-sliced onto a separate plate, then placed on top of the culatello later.  Not exactly how I would have served it.  But come to think of it, if you wanna impress me by putting white truffle on top of some meat, why was it on top of the culatello and not on the wagyu?!

    Perhaps there was a good reason and it was explained by Matsuo-san, but I was probably too busy scratching my head over this dish and failed to properly pay attention...

    Nature breeze: nashi pear / yoghurt - inside the hollowed pear from Saga Prefecture were chunks of the pear, panna cotta, yogurt from Hokkaido, and pear granita.  Refreshing and delicious.

    Petits fours - these matcha (抹茶) and yuzu (柚子) chocolate bon bons were delicious.

    Was this a terrible meal? Not by a long shot.  With the exception of the wagyu, everything else tasted fine.  Some of the bites were delicious - including the "bling bling" dish of caviar and tartare.  And even with the wagyu I could not fault the execution - I simply prefer more flavorful beef than what I was served.  So while I would never say that any of the dishes failed, at the same time I also wasn't "wowed" by any of them.  At the price point being charged for such a meal (ignoring the fact that I myself did not have to fork out money for it) - and with these types of premium ingredients - I would most certainly expect a few "wow"s.

    So I guess it's all about not meeting expectations.  I was - perhaps mistakenly - expecting this to be more similar to one of those "four hands" collaborations that are all the rage nowadays.  In that case I would have wanted to see a lot more input from Matsuo-san, and I had a hard time figuring out his influences.

    Many thanks to the powers that be for this kind invitation.

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  • 11/02/17--08:46: Durians and truffles
  • A friend was in town for a short trip and in need of a good meal.  After debating over a few restaurants, the choice was eventually narrowed down to - where else? - Neighborhood.

    Given that we only had one day's notice, we ended up getting seated at the bar - and displacing The Man in White T-shirt from his regular seat.  No big deal, since the two of us would be able to finish dinner quickly and have an early night... or so I thought.

    First things first - we needed to pick out our white truffle.  The crop is down significantly this year and I have been hearing complaints about prices going up.  I know that the pricing is reasonable here, but we were still looking at about a 50% increase from last year - if memory serves.  So the two of us settled for a small piece weighing just over 21 grams.

    Aquitaine beef / oyster tartare - I was eager with the truffle and shaved some on top of this dish, which turned out to be a mistake.  The truffle wasn't fragrant enough and was easily overpowered by the beef and the oyster... and the green capsicum, coriander, and chives...

    Hokkaido tomato carpaccio / plum salt - the tomatoes weren't as ripe tonight, but still tasty.

    Fried egg - The Man in White T-shirt was feeling generous tonight, as he sent out a whole pan-fried egg for each of us.  Shaving white truffle on top of eggs is, as some people would say in Chinese, "common sense"...

    200 days aged rump / Hokkaido melon - I hadn't planned on getting this, but once again The Man in White T-shirt was feeling generous, so we each got a piece of sweet Hokkaido Yubari melon (夕張メロン) topped with a slice of the delicious beef that's been marinated in Chiuchow master stock.  The crazy thing here is that we shaved some white truffle on top... when the beef has already been rubbed with bits of black truffle.  VERY yum.

    Speaking of being generous... The Man in White T-shirt took out a half bottle of dessert wine - pretty sure it was a Doisy-Védrines but dunno the vintage.  He poured us a little bit of the nectar, then encouraged us to shave a slice of white truffle into the glass.  Beautiful as expected.

    Beef tripe gratin - it's been a while since I last had this, and I was so happy when my friend decided that she wanted it.  Love the spicy kick here, and the tender strips of honeycomb tripe. 

    Buttered tagliolini - for me, this will always be THE perfect match for white truffle.  Just simple, fresh egg pasta drenched in melted butter sauce. 

    Salt baked young crabs - my friend would never pass up an opportunity to have crab, and she was certainly tempted by the prospect of having them salt-baked.  Guess which juvenile prank I pulled?

    Both crabs had decent amounts of roe inside, although I half-expected to drizzle vinegar on top of it...  The interesting thing was that thanks to the baking, the legs of the crab became crispy and brittle, so we ended up chewing them without removing the shells.

    Vanilla ice cream - our last bits of truffle were used up with the ice cream... although we really didn't need two scoops each... especially when we had run out of truffle.

    OK... so when The Man in White T-shirt stepped into the restaurant, he carried with him this smallish, Malaysian durian.  After a while he announced that, since he wasn't allowed to bring it home, whether we would share it with him.  Well... the two Malaysian ladies sitting next to me at the bar were ecstatic, and while I hesitated because I was already drinking wine (durian and alcohol don't mix well), I eventually gave in.

    Somehow, I ended up being the one responsible for opening the durian.  While a long and thin ham knife was first produced, I asked for a big cleaver instead.  After finding the "fault line" between the durian pouches, I pressed down with the cleaver and pried the shell open.

    But... as you can hear me say in the video... WHO THE HELL BRINGS A DURIAN INTO HIS OWN RESTAURANT?  I guess that will be my friend...

    Malaysian Black Thorn durian - this was surprisingly sweet and creamy, with just a touch of the bitter finish that Malaysian durians are known for.  I even got my friend to take her very first (and only) bite of durian.

    I brought a bottle and the two of us drank is pretty slowly over the course of the evening.

    2003 Arietta Variation One - very ripe and sweet on the nose.  Later on really fragrant and oaky, and jammy and rich.  Tannins still strong.  Wine held up for more than 3 hours after opening, but after 3½ hours tannins felt more astringent and became more prominent.  After 4 hours, showed some coffee notes on top of smoke.

    This has got to be one of the more interesting evenings I have spent here...

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  • 11/05/17--07:46: Losing at the Derby
  • I had missed out on the last MNSC dinner due to the Parental Units being in town, so I was really looking forward to dinner with the boys tonight.  Unfortunately I managed to catch myself a cold a couple of days ago, so I found myself at a blind tasting with a runny nose.  Not a good place to be...

    Lord Rayas chose to host tonight's dinner at the Derby Restaurant in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse.  I've been here a few times in the last couple of years, but my visits have all been meals with guest chefs... so this would be a good time to see what the resident chef can do.

    Smoked salmon cannelloni - pretty nice.

    Deep-fried crab ball - lots of potato inside and a dab of wasabi on top.

    Scrambled egg, shaved white truffles - Lord Rayas and I were kinda bitching about how expensive white truffles were this season thanks to the dry season leading to low yields.  We also felt that some of the truffles we had recently were also not of great quality.  Well, the 4 grams or so that had been shaved on top of our oeufs brouillés were pretty nice.  Certainly fragrant enough for me.

    And very nice to spread on toast...

    Roasted Australian jumbo quail, granola, sweet and sour bell pepper -  the quail was OK, not that special, but the sweet and sour bell pepper coulis made things a little more interesting.  So did the granola mixed in with the potato cubes.

    Butter poached Boston lobster tail, linguini, seaweed crouton - this was DELICIOUS!  The execution of the lobster tail was flawless, and the linguine was fine.  But the sauce!  Ohhhh myyyyy!  That was worthy of some plate-licking.  The seaweed croûtons and what seemed to be julienned black truffles were tasty, too...

    We sent back the little shot of sorbet that the restaurant prepared for us to cleanse our palates.  We didn't need the extra calories.

    Roasted U.S. super prime rib, roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables - I still don't know what "super" prime rib is, other than the fact that these were two big hunks of meat...

    Nice and smoky on the outside, and good doneness in the center.  Just enough fat in some parts.  Too bad I was way, waaaay too full to even polish off half the beef.

    Cigarette ring, strawberry, lemon balm foam - the boys were joking about "the ring", and when this arrived I had no idea why it was called a "cigarette ring".  This was pretty nice, as the acidic lemon foam came slightly smoky.  Underneath we had what seemed like strawberry compote, with a black fruit gel.

    Petits fours

    Lord Rayas, of course, was his usual generous self... and prepared a fantastic and "technical" lineup of wines for us.

    1973 Bollinger - no bubbles whatsoever by now.  Very oxidized, heavy salty plum nose, a little stinky even, with a little sugar cane.  Interesting on the nose but not on the palate.

    Flight 1: opened 1 hour without decanting prior to serving.
    1973 Ridge Monte Bello - a little sweet grass, smoke, a little banana, some fragrant wood notes.  Acidity showed up on the palate on the second pour.  95 points.

    1973 Vega Sicilia Unico - a little burnt rubber at first, with some coffee and sweeter notes later.  Still a little tannic but fairly smooth overall.  94 points.

    Flight 2: opened for 2 hours without decanting prior to serving.
    1979 Rayas - sweet and fruity, some leather notes, but very clean.  95 points

    1981 Rayas - a little burnt rubber?  Sweet fruit here, too.  93 points.

    Flight 3: decanted for 2 hours prior to serving.
    2004 Rayas - sweet fruit, minty, fragrant, floral and potpourri notes.  A little grippy on the palate.  94 points.

    2004 DRC Grands Échézeaux - a little stinky at first but lovely.  Sweet fruit, stemmy, dried herbs, leather notes, a little soapy and floral.  Beautiful!  98 points.

    Flight 4: decanted for 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to serving.
    1990 Tertre Roteboeuf - stinky, with leather and animal notes, smoky, and a little stewed prunes.  Sweet on the palate.  93 points.

    1990 Troplong Mondot - smoky, a little stinky.  Also a little sweet on the palate.  90 points.

    Many thanks to Lord Rayas for the wonderful arrangement, even though my runny nose and cold impeded my blind-tasting abilities tonight...

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    It's no secret that a few of the chefs in town do their best to pamper me, and I feel very loved when that happens.  My friends, of course, realize that they're likely to get better food when they dine at certain restaurants with me - apparently they think there's something called the "Peter Chang menu"... Well, maybe...

    Quite a few of us are fans of Chef Uwe Opocensky, and when they found out that I had been given a preview of his new restaurant Uwe, a few of them wanted to go with me.  Knowing that the restaurant was fully-booked for the next few weeks, I asked Uwe to find me the first evening available, and here we are.

    Our little party had the whole place to ourselves, and of course Uwe, Luke, Ken, and the kitchen team took very good care of us.  There was never any doubt in my mind that we would leave with our bellies stuffed...

    Autumn landscape - as I learned from my last visit, this "first course" consists of many, many different parts...

    Fermented sourdough bread sticks - with homemade Branston pickle.  Pretty tasty.  With sweet potato leaves on the side.

    Finnish reindeer moss - I have actually grown kinda fond of eating this... and this one came with grated horseradish.  The flower on top did taste a little like wasabi as Uwe described.

    Bone marrow and caramelized onions candle - my friends were very, very happy with this... eagerly spreading the liquefied candle onto sourdough bread.  You should have heard the chorus of "Awwwww" when Uwe told us about the candle...

    Fallen leaves - pumpkin/beetroot for the reddish ones, parsnip for the pale ones.  Made using the dehydrator but quickly went limp with Hong Kong's humidity.

    Pickled Japanese breakfast radish - very tasty.

    Venison tartare with cep mushrooms - always tasty.  Love the texture of the raw venison.

    Smoked salmon with caviar and sour cream - nice and smoky, but the texture was a little on the mushy side.  Still very delish.

    Ebisu oyster - these Ebisu oysters (恵比須かき) come from Fukuoka City (福岡市), and were topped with soya jelly, yuzu (柚子), and edible flowers.  The acidity nicely balanced out the light briny flavors.

    Mushroom velouté and pickled mushrooms - good balance with the acidity.

    Mushroom tart - girolles on top of scrambled duck eggs.  Very yummy, but the pie crust fell apart easily...

    Caviar - Uwe, generous as always, brought out tins of Kaviari Kristal caviar and scooped it on top of each slice of the "cheese cake" made with Marscapone.

    A few drops of chive oil were drizzled on top to finish.  Very, very decadent... especially when he decided to leave the unfinished tins on the table for us.

    Langoustine - Uwe loves these langoustines from the Faroe Islands, and so do I.  Finished with a few drops of soy sauce which was seasoned with langoustine shells at 42°C for 6 weeks.

    Artichoke - next up was a tart made with artichokes and caramelized Roscoff onions.  Then Uwe starting making it snow Comté on top...

    And finally finished with chicken jus.  A lovely combination of sweetness from the onions, the salty flavors of Comté, and just enough richness from a little bit of jus.

    So... next up we have a gratin of celeriac, Gruyère, and Parmesan. And Uwe proceeded to "make it rain" again... only this time with black truffles.

    And to think... this is just the "condiment" for our next course!

    Pigeon - the Bresse pigeon has been aged for 3 weeks.  Served on top of the "condiment".  Very, very well-executed.  But I did find the sauce to be very heavy-handed with salt...

    Venison leg - this was "experimental" and Uwe warned us that it might not work out.  From Rhug Estate and aged for 6 weeks, then cooked for 16 hours wrapped in bacon strips...

    This wasn't nearly as dry as I had feared, although it wasn't exactly moist.  Nice and smoky flavors from the bacon.

    Consommé - stock made from the venison bone.  Very nice, and slightly herbal.

    Lamb - salt marsh lamb from Rhug Estate, aged for 2 weeks, and slow-cooked for 8 hours.

    Served with a punchy garlic aioli on the side.  Sooooo tender!

    Braised Savoy cabbage - cooked with lamb fat.  Slurp.

    Braised red cabbage - from Uwe's grandma.  Unlike Uwe's mother, I did not find this too sweet at all.

    Grilled Savoy cabbage - so I could make a ssam (쌈) with a piece of lamb...

    Cucumber yogurt

    Roasted vegetables - also from Rhug Estate and cooked in lamb fat.

    Mashed potatoes

    Here's what my plate looked like with everything on it...

    Figs - French figs stuffed with walnuts.

    Tarte tatin - this was very, very nice...

    Marinated plums - these were from two months ago, and they have been marinated in red wine, cinnamon, star anise, and brown sugar.

    Ice cream - hand-cranked as always... and some of my friends tried to bulk up their biceps by trying their hand at cranking.   Soooooo, soooo silky smooth...  This was the smoothness of Japanese soft-serve, except that this was much richer.

    "Apple pie à la mode"?

    But besides all the wonderful food that we got to have, the real focus tonight was gonna be on the wines.  One of my friends offered to bring a very rare - and ridiculously expensive - bottle of white Burgundy.  I figured the only appropriate match I could offer up would be a Monty, and the Candidate also decided to bring along a Monty.

    2001 Vincent Girardin Le Montrachet - popped and poured.  A little toasty, kinda muted at first, definitely good acidity here.  Minerality came out with the oyster.

    2009 Lucien Le Moine Montrachet Cuvée "C" - one hour in bottle, 2 hours stoppered, 45 minutes in the decanter, 20 minutes back in the bottle, then 1 hour in decanter on ice prior to serving.  Minerals came out, sweet and caramelized nose, and more toasty later... but rather short on palate.  5½ hours after first opening the wine started to improve.  Six hours after opening the wine opened up nicely.  This wine definitely needs lots of air.

    2009 Bernard Van Berg Les Echalas, bottle 21/121 - 1 hour and 15 minutes in decanter prior to serving.  Surprisingly very clean on the nose, a little oaky, powerful on the palate and very alcoholic.  Softened in glass and became a little sweeter.  What a privilege to have tasted this wine.

    2000 Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses - fruity, minty, dried herbs, very fragrant.  Drinking pretty well.  After sitting in glass for a while, the nose became similar to Chinese ginger tea with brown sugar.

    1997 René Engel Clos Vougeot - initially lots of black olives and stewed prunes, with leather notes.  There is sweet fruit underneath which showed up after a bit more swirling.

    1990 Angelus - an hour in the decanter prior to serving.  So beautiful!  Smoky, minty, pencil lead.  So smooth on the palate.

    What a fantastic evening! A great lineup in terms of wines, and as always Uwe's food made my friends and I very, very happy. We shall do this again soon...

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  • 11/12/17--16:36: Swedish durian
  • It has been a looooooong time since I caught up with a certain friend over a good meal, and he's never even had occasion to meet Hello Kitty.   After multiple rounds of attempts, we finally managed to pin down tonight as a date we could all manage, and we even roped in The Great One.  As it's been a while since my last visit to Frantzén's Kitchen, we ended up choosing it out of a short list.  Thankfully the restaurant was able to accommodate us at a time slot that worked for us.

    It always amazes me when I am greeted by name at the door of a restaurant, especially when I'm neither a frequent customer (although I did manage to visit 3 times within 3 months) nor anyone particularly important.  I am grateful, though, that Chef Jim Löfdahl always takes good care of me when I'm around.

    The seasons have changed since my earlier visits, so we now have a number of new dishes I haven't tried.  My goal tonight was to try each and every one of them.

    Noble scallop (桧扇貝) - from Oita (大分).  Dressed in lavender emulsion, some sea salt, rosemary, and almonds soaked in Sichuan peppercorns for 24 hours.  I saw this on Jim's Instagram earlier today, and was pretty excited that we'd be able to try them.  These were really, really fresh... and really sweet.  The texture was just amazingly soft - probably one of the best scallops I've ever had.  I loved the almonds, which were slightly sweet, delivered some nutty flavors, yet carried the delicate fragrance of Sichuan peppercorns without blowing my head off.  What an awesome way to start!

    Blood pancake - pan-seared foie gras on top of a pancake made with cow's blood and potatoes, with some fermented lingonberry sauce in between.  Sprinkled with pistachio bits and powdered butter.  Pretty decent.

    Swedish sushi - I don't think I'll ever get tired of having this.  There's just something pretty magical about this combination of a thin slice of raw roe deer on top of crispy white moss (yes, this would be two days in a row that I'm eating reindeer moss...), along with some incredibly tasty cep mayonnaise in between... and all topped with a blanket of shaved frozen foie gras and hay ash.  Maybe on my next visit I'll just order 3 of these for myself!

    Knäckebröd with beurre noisette - apparently nowadays they only bring these out after people have gone through the snacks.  I gotta tell ya... that beurre noisette is as addictive as ever!  Once I start on this, I simply couldn't stop.  In fact, it's even more addictive than any of the butter that Bordier puts out...

    "Seven Gardens" - apparently Jim's interpretation of a dish found at Frantzén in Stockholm, the contents of the bowl come from seven different organic farms in Hong Kong.  Sansho (山椒) butter is drizzled over the veggies, then puffed buckwheat and crispy dehydrated fish scales are spooned on top for finish.

    I couldn't possibly pick out all of the ingredients, but we've got potato, corn, roselle, okra, wax gourd, yellow and red capsicum, pickled winter melon, string beans, carrots, kailan (芥蘭) stems, asparagus, eggplant, and pickled radish.

    Toast "Pelle Janzon" - an interpretation of the Swedish sandwich, we have slices of beef carpaccio and cubes of beef sitting on top of a brioche, with a quail egg resting atop a layer of vendace roe.  The beef from Swedish dairy cow has been dry aged on the bone for 70 days, and the slightly charred edges of the cubes were pretty nice.  The yolk inside the deep-fried quail egg was still runny, and pretty nice when mixed together with the beef.

    Tartar of Te Mana lamb - with mint and coriander emulsion on top, and cucumber pickled in ättika.  As a finishing touch, dehydrated egg yolk was shaved on top with a Microplane over the sage and dill.  VERY tasty.

    Poached turbot "43°C" - interesting to see dehydrated sea urchin powder on top of the turbot.  On the side we have Jerusalem artichoke purée, different mushrooms including black wood ear and white snow fungus, chicken jus, and topped with a layer of lardo, pine shoots, and hazelnut slices.

    Not that the turbot was bad, but the condiments on the side really outshone the fish.

    "Hot- pot" - there were indeed small cubes of Australian wagyu woven inside the green "wreath" of kale, red cabbage, roast cabbage purée, carrots, purple cauliflower, mushrooms, and truffle.

    Roast cauliflower bouillon was poured in the middle on top of the puddle of kale oil.  The wagyu was supposedly medium rare, but did seem a little chewy to me.  A nice dish for the cooler season.

    Spicy orange - rose hip curd at the bottom, with some sea buckhorn sorbet, carrot foam with Sichuan peppercorns, then some cloudberry compote on top of a meringue disc.  Nice dose of acidity along with bitterness in addition to the sweetness.

    Lördagsgodis - now THIS was the dessert I have been waiting for.  I was meant to come here after dinner more than a month ago, but alas... I was too late.

    The black garlic marmalade jelly was really interesting, as it was at once sweet, savory, and covered in a mixture of salt and sour powder...  The French nougat was good.  The pine fudge was fragrant and interesting.  But what I really wanted were those two durian dumules.  I had seen posts about them earlier, and even though they only contained 2% durian, I could still taste the distinctive flavors.  Fairly subtle, but the durian was strong enough to make sure that you know it's there.  Loved it.

    Lavender lollipop - this was sure tasty, but the damn thing stuck to my teeth like an octopus clinging for dear life.  I seriously had to try using a toothpick to pry it away...  In fact I think it it may just take out a loose filling or two from someone's teeth.

    As I was eating with a couple of Aussies, I figured I'd bring an Aussie wine for a change.

    2003 Torbreck Descendant, from magnum - sweet and jammy as expected, with lots of fried herbs.  Actually good acidity here, and the wine has softened enough while retaining concentration.  Lots of oak and eucalyptus.  Very fragrant.

    Finally, Jim was kind enough to offer us a sip of something a little stronger - with each of us getting something different.  This Mackmyra Moment Bärnsten was finished in a cloudberry cask, and showed a much sweeter nose than I had expected.

    A very, very happy evening.  Glad to have caught up with my friends, and of course very grateful for the good care and generous hospitality Jim and the team showed us.  Now if he would only let me take home about a dozen of his durian dumules...

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  • 11/10/17--07:30: Peru in the Valley
  • A few weeks ago I received a message from The Specialist.  She had received news from the Hong Kong Jockey Club about their next guest chef, and wanted to know whether it was worthwhile to go.  As soon as I found out that it was Virgilio Martinez from Central, I told her that we should go together.  She rounded up the Alcoholics and booked us a table for tonight.

    I am still recovering from my cold, but at least I felt fine.  I needed to be in good shape for all the wines as well as the food that would be at our table tonight...

    Due to a bad traffic jam, I was almost half an hour late.  Thankfully my friends seemed fairly forgiving, and I was glad to finally have a chance to see Virgilio again after missing each other at the end of August.  It would be my third time having a taste of his cuisine, and a good opportunity to get more exposure to Peruvian ingredients and flavors as I prepare for my expedition to Peru next year.

    Although the menu didn't specify the altitude or a particular Peruvian region/ecosystem, Virgilio explained that all their menus begin below sea level.

    Shrimp, avocado and kiwicha - the crackers are made with sargassum, and paired with raw shrimp, mashed avocado, and kiwicha.

    One is meant to spoon the contents of the bowl onto the cracker, which creates a colorful and delicious bite that is at once creamy (avocado) and crunchy (sargassum cracker and kiwicha), and the raw prawns delivered both a soft texture together with a light crunch.

    Turbot, rocoto emulsion and green Andean grains - the quinoa was seasoned/dyed with huacatay, an aromatic Andean herb.  The dish was meant to be a "hot ceviche", where the rocoto emulsion - with good acidity and just a hint of chili - would cook the slices of mostly-raw turbot.  Besides colorful edible flowers, we also had a few spears of salicornia.  This was a dish that was beautiful both to the eyes as well as on the palate.

    Squid, cecina and corn - one of the signature dishes of Central is the diversidad de maíz, as Peru has over 170 different varieties of corn.  Here Virgilio presented 7 varieties of corn - a white, a black, a yellow, a crispy variety, and chullpi, among others.  Strips of seared squid were buried underneath the foam and the purée, while strips of house-cured cecina were laid on top.

    This seemed the polar opposite of most of the dishes I have had from Virgilio, as the flavors were really heavy and rich.  There was certainly sweetness in the foam, but for the most part the dish was salty and the flavors of the ham were pretty prominent.

    Seared lettuce and scallops - the scallops were perfectly seared, and in fact we were told that the scallops and the braised lettuce were harvested on the same day.  The acidity in the sauce worked very well with the sweetness of the scallops.

    Duck crudo, petals and anticucho - the lattice on top was made from dried sweet potatoes.  The duck was very tasty, but what stole the show was certainly the anticucho sauce which delivered familiar flavors of Latin American spices along with a little sweetness.  There were also very finely diced peppers in the sauce.

    Miyazaki wagyu sirloin A4, panca pepper, Andean - when I first received the menu, I was a little shocked that Virgilio was using an ingredient like Miyazaki wagyu.  Not very Peruvian.  But then I remembered the first time I had his beef dish and how tough the beef was... And as I talked with him after this dish, I realized that it was a way for him to make sure he got decent beef - else he wouldn't know what quality he would get if he simply asked for beef.

    And he does tend to cook beef a little more than what I would like as a "steak" - it had a crust and was a little on the chewy side - so in this case the marbling of the Japanese beef helped ensure that the texture wasn't all dry and tough with this level of doneness.

    Peruvian tubers and vegetables were puréed and covered the beef, with slices of oca laid on top.  The presentation included some leaves to give one a sense of being in the mountains.  Virgilio explained that in Central these would be coca leaves, but he couldn't exactly bring them into Hong Kong, could he...

    Humid green "dessert", everything from Lima - lime ice cream at the bottom covered by broken chunks of compressed maca powder.  The red granita was made with fruit of a red cactus, while the green granita was made with caigua.  The zest of the lime has been burnt and then made into the black powder scattered on the plate, while the light gray powder was made of maca.  Deliciously refreshing thanks to the cold temperatures delivered by the ice cream and granita, while the acidity was tempered with the different powders.  Another stunningly beautiful dessert from Virgilio.

    This being an Alcoholics' gathering, there were of course plenty of good wines.  Rice kicked off by offering up a 1990 Salon, so the rest of us would have to do what we could to match...

    1990 Louis Roederer Cristal - very caramelized nose, with savory minerals, fragrant, sweet grass.  Nice and still plenty of acidity on the palate.

    1990 Salon - higher acidity than the Cristal, also caramelized nose, but more flinty.  Still got some fizz here.

    2007 Etienne Sauzet Batard-Montrachet - initially served too cold so not very open.  Very dry on the palate, a little toasty at first.  Worked wonderfully with the dishes.

    2007 Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques - fruity, minty, dried herbs, a little floral, lots of eucalyptus, really beautiful.

    2004 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée - this was fucking beautiful.  Soooo sweet and fruity, with leather notes.

    We all had a pretty good time, and the dishes continued to deliver plenty of surprise and pleasure for me even the third time around.  Now I'm REALLY looking forward to dining at Central next year... AND his new lab up in Cuzco.

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  • 11/13/17--07:35: GG x2
  • Over the last few months, Hairy Legs and Bilbaobab and I have been talking about going to Neighborhood together - and yes, they wanted make their first visit with me... even though they have already met The Man in White T-shirt.  So during our last lunch gathering, we tried to pin down a date where we would all be free... which would be tonight - a whole two months from that lunch!  I also managed to rope in The Great One to our table - meaning that she was unable to join some others at a separate table tonight.

    As usual we were not in control of ordering, as it was omakase from The Man in White T-shirt...

    Hokkaido tomato carpaccio / plum salt - there was clearly more of the plum salt tonight compared to my last visit... Still a nice way to start.

    Aquitaine beef / cockle tartare - apparently we got cockles instead of the usual oysters with our Alexandre Polmard beef.  The coriander and deep-fried shallots were a nice touch. 

    Foie gras with figs and hazelnuts - actually, this was really delicious.  It's too bad I had to make do with 1/6 of it...  Loved the richness and sweetness of the figs, as it worked very well with the foie gras pâté.

    Culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" and saucisson "Noir de Bigorre" - these are some very, very tasty charcuterie...  Lots of depth in the flavors here.

    Dutch Creuse oyster - these were pretty big.

    Padron peppers / cheddar - always nice to munch on a few of these... especially with the cheddar.

    200 days aged rump / Hokkaido melon - always a crowd-pleaser, but I'd actually like to go back to just having the beef without the melon...  Or maybe next time I'll eat them separately and not in the same mouthful.

    Pigeon eggs / escargot butter - always good to have the soft and runny egg with that herb butter and bacon bits.  Yum!

    Black truffle chicken wings - perennial favorite.  Who doesn't like wings?  And with black truffle?!

    Roast autumn fruits and vegetables "Mr. Ducasse" - nice to get a little bit of veg... and nice acidity as always.

    Baby razor clams with girolles - nice acidity here, too...

    Wild boar garganelli - this was DAMN GOOD.  Hairy Legs remarked that while an Italian would never do this, the French figured how to make things perfect by adding a little crème fraîche.  Well... he IS biased...  Having said that, this was just about perfect for me.  The rich wild boar ragù had a nice little kick from the piment d'espelette, and that crème fraîche did add a little magic.  Simplicity is not simple.

    Kinki paella - we weren't expecting the broadbanded thornyhead (喜知次) paella, but happy that we got it.  As always, the fatty, succulent fish was delicious, and having the fat and juices absorbed by the rice underneath make it perfect.

    Salt baked morel chicken / giblet rice - the only dish I pre-ordered.  Another perennial crowd-pleaser, especially when you consider the presence of amourettes, cockscombs, liver, gizzards...  And that creamy morel sauce and the herbs all over...  Just wonderful.

    Tarte tatin - pretty good.


    We brought a few bottles tonight:

    2005 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes-Dessus - kinda ripe, a little toasty and flinty.

    2014 Arnaud Ente Clos des Ambres - a little toasty, leaner, with flint.  Ripe on the palate but there is acidity on the finish.

    1996 Chapoutier Ermitage "L'Ermite" - decanted 1 hour prior to serving  Somewhat muted at first, with forest pine and some sweet fruit.

    This was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we finally had to chance to come with Mr and Mrs Hairy Legs.  Interesting that on this Monday night, we ran into quite a few tables of friends, including some chefs on their day off.  It's just too bad The Man in White T-shirt didn't have any gold foil...

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  • 11/14/17--05:28: Sushi Tuesday
  • It's been another few months since I last attended a gathering with a group of old friends, and tonight we celebrate (belatedly) a couple of birthdays.  It's been quite some time since I last had decent sushi in town, so I was pretty happy when I found out that dinner would be at Sushi Sase Hanare (鮨  佐瀬  はなれ) - the new(ish) joint with Sase-san aimed at nabbing some macarons.

    We started with the hassun (八寸):

    Mousse with Napa cabbage head - the tofu was surprisingly milky in flavor.

    Arrowhead (慈姑)

    Mizuna and burdock (水菜  牛蒡) - with sesame sauce.

    Ginkgo nuts (銀杏)

    Ise lobster (伊勢海老) - the chef stuck a knife between the thorax and the tail of the live lobster and proceeded to separate the tail.  Obviously very fresh with great bite.

    Longtooth grouper (九絵) - classified as "Vulnerable" under IUCN Red List v3.1.

    Mullet roe (カラスミ) - very tasty.  Somewhat thick-cut and stuck to the teeth a little.  Classically served with a slice of radish.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - very, very soft and tender... with a dab of ginger on top.

    Bonito (鰹) - this was DAMN GOOD.  Incredibly tender and flavorful, with crispy skin delivering nice, smoky flavors.  Really nice with the soy sauce, oil, and chopped spring onions.

    3-year old chum salmon (白鮭) - Sase-san gets these immature keiji (鮭児) which are caught when they are at 3 years of age - before they are old enough to spawn.  The annual catch is about 10,000 and comes from the waters around Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島) - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Needless to say, this was very, very young and tender...

    Crab tomalley (蟹味噌) - flavors were not very strong here... with cucumber and sesame.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - interestingly done as a roll (巻き), with the fish wrapped around the rice instead of the other way around.  Very tasty, especially the very toasty nori (のり) seaweed.

    Grilled king crab legs (鱈場蟹) - as is the practice at many Japanese restaurants, the chef chopped the legs off the crab while it was still alive and moving.  Earlier this year my friend Gaggan posted a video of this while he dined in Japan, and received a ton of backlash for "being cruel"... when he was just the diner and not the one preparing the crab.

    In any case, this was tasty.

    Abalone (鮑) - placed on a little ball of rice sitting in a puddle of sauce, with some liver sauce and wasabi on the abalone.  Yum.

    Monkfish liver (鮟肝) - really melted in my mouth.  Sooooo good!

    Since this was omakase (お任せ) and no one asked me about my dietary restrictions, I passed on two items and had my friends take my portions - grilled shirako (白子) because I don't swallow fish cum, and also fatty tuna (トロ) for environmental reasons.

    On to the sushi part of dinner...

    Needlefish (細魚) - interestingly came with a little acidity, and a little bit of asatsuki (浅葱). Yum.

    Tiger prawn (車海老)

    Mackerel (鯖) - slurp.

    Sea urchin (雲丹)

    Founder wings (縁側) - lightly torched to melt the fat.  INHALED.

    Surf clam (北寄貝) - torched to give off a little smoky flavor.

    Broadbanded thornyhead (喜知次) - lightly torched.

    Clams (蛤)

    Eel (鰻) - very nice, and not completely drenched in sauce for once.

    Egg (卵) - not used to having this with rice...

    Our organizer arranged the usual... a mille-crepes cake from Lady M.  This time it was salted caramel, and I gotta say that it was pretty good.

    Our organizer - and birthday boy - very kindly shared two isshobins with us...

    Inemankai Red Rice Sake (伊根満開 赤米酒), from isshobin (一升瓶) - surprisingly a little tart and bitter, given that this has a Nihonshudo (日本酒度) of -18.  Very rounded and smooth on the palate.  It was, obviously, a little sweeter than your average sake, which is why it is popular with the ladies and even the female winemaker suggests that it be served on the rocks or mixed with soda water.

    Tengumai Yukanpaku (天狗舞 有歓伯), from isshobin - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%. Sweet on the attack but slightly drier later, with very strong, fermented flavors.  Later on this became much drier on the palate.

    Very, very good meal tonight.  I really should come and visit Sase-san more often...

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  • 11/15/17--06:48: Nice, but no WOW
  • The Locusts are back in town again, and we decided to catch up for dinner in order to discuss our plans for Peru 2018.  After going through rounds of elimination, we ended up booking a table at Octavium, the new-ish "private kitchen" from Chef Umberto Bombana.

    There was a ton of buzz on social media earlier this year from so-called influencers who got previews of the place.  I was scratching my head about why the chef would want to open a "private kitchen" that seemed to be easily accessible to the public, but hey... what the hell do I know, right?

    This "private kitchen" tries to live up the "private" part by refusing to publish its phone number.  To get a table, one must send an email, then wait for a reply.  Thankfully, I was able to get myself a table with just a few days' notice, despite reports in the media about the place being fully booked for months.

    Amuse bouche - our server laid down these bowls in front of us, and left without any explanation.  I guess it was some kind of pumpkin custard, with cubes of pumpkin.  Not exactly sure what the green purée was...

    Not off to a very good start, but then service for our entire meal was about the same.  The staff were very "efficient" and quickly laid down the dishes with swift, if robotic, movements.  Very different from the more elegant service at other fine dining establishments in town.

    Marinated scampi, oscietra caviar and puntarelle - this was pretty good.  There was good acidity in the citrus coulis, which worked well with the scampi.

    Melloreddus, traditional pork ragout and castelmagno cheese - one can always count on good pasta with Chef Bombana, and the ragù was certainly tasty.

    Roasted "Te Mana" lamb, 3 styles of artichoke - the lamb loin was very nicely done, and certainly very tasty.  The little bits of lamb belly was deliciously crispy, but those pieces were ridiculously small - as was the single piece of lamb rack.  The artichoke came roasted, pickled, and puréed.

    Speaking of lamb... While this was certainly delicious, I don't think it was anywhere close to the Colorado rack of lamb that they used to serve at 8½ Otto e Mezzo in the old days...  I could never wait to sink my teeth into that thing, since it delivered such an amazing level of satisfaction. 

    Hello Kitty had the Fassone, and her tenderloin was overcooked... which was made worse by the fact that Fassone is a very lean breed.

    Our palate cleanser was a persimmon sorbet with persimmon cubes and garnished with pomegranate sorbet.

    Monte Bianco, hazelnut merengue and chestnut gelato - so we've got chestnut gelato on the side, with a cylinder of rum cream covered with chestnut purée and sticks/dots of hazelnut meringue.  Pretty decent.

    I brought a lonely bottle to dinner - something I had been aging for about 18 years... and which happened to be the very first vintage of the wine.

    1997 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta - decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Sweet fruit, a little inky, with grilled meat notes.  Surprisingly tannic.

    From my perspective, the meal was fairly decent. Not a single dish was a fail, and everything I had was well-executed.  However, it was also lacking a little in the "wow" department.  I know that it's truffle season and that many people come to a Bombana restaurant for it - and we could smell the wonderful fragrance from all around us.  But we're cheapskates... and I wasn't gonna cough up the premium being commanded this year due to the poor harvest.  In any case, I would want the "wow" to come from the restaurant's kitchen instead of the truffles.

    As we left the restaurant, I couldn't help but feel a little similar to that night I dined at Saison - nice and solid, but not much "wow"...  At least this meal cost less than half of what the 3-star meal cost in San Francisco so I could afford to go back a little more often...

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  • 11/18/17--22:38: Dark Side surprise
  • We're having lunch with Hello Kitty's family, which usually means a venue on the north side of Victoria Harbour.  When the overriding requirements were dim sum and stir-fried glutinous rice, the one place that I could immediately think of was Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) in Tsim Sha Tsui.

    One thing that surprised the hell out of us today was the service.  We're absolutely nobodies and this was only my second time here, yet the captain seated us at a table close to both the elevator and the restrooms, so that Hello Kitty's granny wouldn't have to walk far.  While I was ticking off items on the dim sum order sheet, she also suggested I not go overboard and order in multiple rounds - which was an excellent idea given that Fook Lam Moon in Wanchai usually sends out all of your dim sum dishes in the span of 5 minutes, and one can find oneself staring at 10 or more steamers on the table.

    Finally, even before the first dish arrived, someone noticed that Hello Kitty was left-handed, and proceeded to move her chopsticks and spoon to her left side.  That was simply amazing... since many restaurants in town completely fail on this front.

    This was the kind of service that I'm used to seeing at Lung King Heen (龍景軒)... not at a restaurant famous for treating nobodies like... nobody. 

    Glazed barbecued pork buns (叉燒焗餐飽) - it's been a while since I last had these.  Not bad.

    Steamed sausage rolls (風味腊腸卷) - pretty decent, too... now that the weather has cooled and preserved sausages are available.

    Steamed rice flour rolls with spring onions and dried shrimp (蔥花蝦米腸)

    Steamed Chiuchow-style dumplings (潮州蒸粉粿)

    Steamed prawn dumplings with bamboo shoots (筍尖鮮蝦餃) - somehow a little below par today...

    Pan-fried rice flour rolls with XO sauce (XO醬炒腸粉) - lots of XO sauce here... Tasty.

    Crispy pork belly (燒腩仔) - very good, crispy crackling.  Someone at the table confessed to having 5 pieces...

    Deep-fried wontons (錦鹵炸雲吞) - these come with a separate bowl of seafood and vegetables immersed in a starchy, vinegar-based sauce. 

    Unfortunately the seafood items were all previously frozen and didn't taste very fresh.

    Steamed lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice with Chinese dry scallops and chicken (瑤柱珍珠雞)

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - baby, this is what you came for... A request for Hello Kitty's granny.  In fact Hello Kitty has pretty high standards when it comes to this dish, as the older generation in her family used to cook this the old-fashioned way at a daipaidong (大牌檔).  She seemed pretty pleased with what we had today... commenting that the grains of rice remained separate and this tasted like it was fried from scratch using uncooked (and unsoaked) rice.

    Overall, a very happy meal for everyone.  I wonder why we didn't come more often when Hello Kitty lived nearby...

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  • 11/20/17--07:01: More reptiles for dinner
  • The City Foodsters are swinging through Hong Kong for a day, and Chef DaRC arranged to take them to our favorite private dining facility.  He very graciously asked me to come along so that we could catch up a couple of months after our adventures in Korea, and I was only too happy to come along for some of my favorite snake soup!

    But I have been indulging a little too much over the last couple of months, so I told myself that I was going to be a little restrained tonight, and just nibble at some of the dishes.

    Barbecued Kurobuta pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - it's been way too long since I last had a taste of this delicious pork, made without the typical honey glaze.

    The pork belly was understandably fatty, and I loved the texture.  Flavor-wise the soy sauce delivered much deeper flavors.  But I did limit myself to just two slices...

    Steamed crab claw with winter melon (冬瓜蒸蟹鉗) - I've always had the deep-fried crab claws here, and this was the first time having them steamed. 

    Naturally the crab was very, very fresh and sweet.  Winter melon is a classic pairing, and the deep-fried minced garlic just made it so much better.

    Stir-fried soft-shell turtle shell (鳳城炒水魚裙) - happy to have this dish again.

    Tonight the chef provided us with an extra bowl of those toasty and fragrant Indian almonds (欖仁), which I wasted no time in sprinkling on top.  The gelatinous strips of the skirt of soft-shell turtle were really nice, as were the combination of Chinese celery, spring onions, peppers, and deep-fried vermicelli.

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - always an elegant dish, these savory madeleines made of egg white, crab meat, and bird's nest have a nice bouncy texture.  I asked for 2 instead of 3 of these.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - it's hard to be satisfied with snake soup made by someone else once you've had this one. 

    The knife work; the depth of flavors that can only come from broth made with the snake bones; the sticky coat of collagen covering one's lips from the fish maw that has been breaking down; the fragrance of the aged dried mandarin peel; and the fresher, wonderful fragrance of the kaffir lime leaf chiffonade that one can choose to add to the bowl.

    I saved my second bowl and took it home to Hello Kitty.  She can enjoy the leftovers and save me from putting more calories into my system...

    Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - two very nice and wild soles.

    Tonight the execution was perfect.  The back of the dish wasn't over-steamed at all.

    Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - I normally find this the least interesting of the chicken preparations, but tonight this chicken was simply fantastic!  The crispy skin seemed to have much more flavor than before, and the same could be said of the meat.  Very yum!  Too bad I only allowed myself a couple of pieces.

    Stir-fried pea shoots with liver sausage (膶腸炒豆苗) - it's been almost a year since I last had this dish, and I couldn't be happier.  Rich and decadent, smothering young, tender pea shoots with mashed Cantonese liver sausage it's nothing short of sinful.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - and with winter come Cantonese preserved sausages, and this dish which is made by stir-frying uncooked rice that has been soaked in water for a few hours.  Sooooo, soooo delicious.

    Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶)

    We brought a few bottles along, as usual...

    2004 Kistler Chardonnay McCrea Vineyard - still plenty of flint and minerals here, along with toast.  Surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

    2004 Henri Giraud Argonne - savory minerals, a little salted plum.

    2002 Ruinart Rosé - sweeter and more fruity.

    2013 Ganevat Grusse en Billat - a little flinty with lemon notes.

    1998 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses - opened for 3 hours prior to serving.  Sweeter on palate than expected, although not quite jammy.  Nice fruit.

    1989 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - unfortunately corked.

    1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia, from magnum - minty, a little coconut, smoky with grilled meats.  Drinking beautifully.  Smooth and well-balanced on the palate.

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  • 11/23/17--21:52: Steak for a quick lunch
  • I got a call from my friendly neighborhood prime broker yesterday, asking whether I would be free for lunch today.  Given my coming eating schedule this weekend, I was originally planning to take it easy for lunch, but it would have been impolite to turn down such an invitation.  Which was how I found myself at Beefbar.

    The five different set lunch options are named after cities around the world - and presumably feature ingredients or dishes representative of such cities.  I went with the Sydney option.

    Amberjack carpaccio, wasabi dressing and coriander cress - this was actually pretty tasty, especially with a slight kick as well as acidity, and the fragrance coming from both very fine chiffonade of citrus zest and a light sprinkling of sesame seeds.

    Australian wagyu hanging tender caramelized shallots - I asked for rare, and I guess this was close enough.  This has always been a cut of beef with lots of flavor, and it certainly disappoint.  Nice charring on the outside while keeping a very tender texture.  I was, however, surprised at the almost complete lack of seasoning... and no salt was provided.

    The accompanying caramelized shallots were delicious, and I used little bits of it to add some additional flavor to the meat.  It's too bad that our server decided to remove the pan without my approval while half of the shallots were still in it...

    Mashed potatoes

    A delicious lunch made better by good conversation. Many thanks to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for the treat.

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    I'm off to Macau for a quick "media fam" trip at the kind invitation of Grand Lisboa Macau.  We had a little bit of time to catch our breath after checking into our rooms at the Grand Lisboa Hotel, and I noticed that some parts of the room decor seemed different from my last stay a couple of years ago.  We would be told later that the rooms have gone through renovations, as it's been 10 years since the opening.

    Our first stop would be dinner at the recently renovated and rebranded Casa Don Alfonso.  I always felt that the former incarnation - Don Alfonso 1890 - was probably one the most underrated and under-appreciated fine dining restaurant in Macau.  But on my two previous visits - both on a Monday night - I was the only diner in the restaurant for most of my meal.  I could not imagine how manager Salvatore and the chef could have spent years feeling unloved.

    With the new rebranding and format change, the restaurant is now squarely aimed at entertaining diners family-style.  This outpost of an Italian 3-star is going down-market, which may be the right strategy for them... although I would miss the more refined dishes.

    We received a warm welcome by Ada Chio de la Cruz when we arrived at the hotel, and she would accompany us for dinner.  But I was a little surprised to be greeted at the door to the restaurant by Kenneth Lai, who has taken such good care of me over the years each time I dined at The Eight (8餐廳).  It has been more than a year since I last saw him, but my mood brightened instantly.

    We started with some bread while we waited for the late arrival of the last member of our party.

    Calzone con salame, ricotta e pepe nero - it has been years since I last had a calzone, and I was curious to see what the new pizzaiolo Maurizio Ferrini would deliver.

    The dough was nice and soft, and the filling of ricotta and salami was delicious.  A good start to our dinner.

    Pizza bianca con prosciutto di Parma e rucola selvatica - I'll freely admit to being completely ignorant of what "real" Neapolitan pizza should taste like.  I know Maurizio has been trying to make sure the dough is as close to what he used to make in Napoli, but I guess my inexperienced palate just found the dough a little too soft and chewy... and perhaps a little on the sweet side.

    Insalata di gamberi con rucola, pomodorini e aceto balsamico - these were delicious - especially the tomatoes.  Oh and I got to suck out the heads of two prawns...

    Parmigiana di melanzano - rather than the "rediscovered" classic that Alfonso Iaccarino is famous for, they've gone old school.  This came with a crispy top, and I certainly couldn't find fault with the dish.

    Pollo con patate al rosmarino e sugo di arrosto - the roast spring chicken was certainly very tender and delicious.  I just wish they didn't use rosemary.

    Cotoletta di vitello alla Milanese - what's not to like about a piece of meat that's been breaded and deep-fried?!

    A little bowl of salad for us to share... to make us feel less guilty about that deep-fried meat...

    Ossobuco di vitello in gremolada con risotto allo zafferano - the saffron risotto at the base was certainly pretty wet and a welcome change to what one normally gets in Hong Kong.  The ossobuco was pretty good, but I wouldn't mind seeing bigger pieces or even a chunk of leg on the table.

    Frittelle di banana e cioccolato con gelato di vaniglia - I picked this dessert because, well, what's not to like about something that's battered and deep-fried?!

    And each piece of bignè was filled with banana and chocolate, then covered in powdered sugar.  Slurp!

    I never dine at any establishment within the two Lisboa hotels without ordering wine off their incredible list - which I think is the best in the world.  Just yesterday I posted on FB that I was browsing through the 582-page wine list online and putting together a "shortlist" of wines for this weekend, and the powers that be took note.

    Kenneth knows well my penchant for old German rieslings, and moments after I sat down, Ada informed me that she had done her homework on me, and our hosts had chosen a suitable bottle of dry German riesling as an alternative to something I was thinking of opening.

    2012 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Forster Kirchenstück Riesling Trocken GC - lots of petrol, plenty of polyurethane, a hint of white flowers on the nose.  A hint of ripeness on the palate, with a little bit of acidity on the finish that seemed a little bitter.  A lovely wine.

    I assumed that the hotel was kindly taking care of the first bottle, so when it was finished, I proceeded to order two additional bottles... thinking that, per usual practice, I would take care of the bill for them.

    2009 Henri Boillot Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières - pop-and-pour and beautiful right off the bat.  Huge, open nose with lots of toast, a little popcorn, and lemon citrus.  Beautiful, ripe, and buttery on the palate, although a little bit hot and alcoholic given the vintage.  Drinking incredibly well right now.

    Frank Cornelissen Magma 6VA - a natural wine from a maker recommended by Vladimir Kojic at Gaggan, this limited production (500 bottles in this 2007 vintage) wine was made with grapes grown on Mount Etna and come from vines that are more than 100 years old.  I was surprised to see this bottle of "bongwater" on the list, and was dying to try it.

    Opened and decanted for 1½ hours prior to serving.  Really sweet and jammy on the palate, very alcoholic... enough to clear one's sinuses.  Almost herbal notes, like putting one's nose near Brin d'Amour.  I didn't mind this, although I don't think there were many fans at the table.  Oh and I don't buy the 14.5% alcohol for one bit... It's gotta be at least a point or two above.

    When I asked for the bill at the end of the evening, none was forthcoming.  Ada insisted that she was taking care of all the wines, not just the first bottle.  Chasing Kenneth around the restaurant did not yield an alternative outcome, as he kicked the ball back to Ada while running away.  In the end I accepted our hosts' kind offer, with the understanding that I would simply return the favor at lunch tomorrow.

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    I actually got pretty drunk last night - much to my surprise - and ended up having insomnia.  After getting some much-needed congee to calm my stomach for breakfast, we retired to our room to rest up before meeting the gang for lunch at The Eight (8餐廳).

    For this meal we were joined by a couple of new faces (to me, anyway), so we became a party of 8.  The sommelier immediately handed me their iPad wine list, as he fully expected me to order some wine.  As I had already done my homework beforehand, I quickly picked out 2 bottles of German riesling - as usual...

    ...and as usual, we start with a duo of nibbles:

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

    Abalone with yuzu jelly - this version is so much nicer, with shaves yuzu zest delivering wonderful fragrance.

    Steamed Shanghainese dumplings with hairy crab roes (鮮蟹粉小籠包) - absolutely delicious.  Wonderfully thin and delicate wrapper - one of which unfortunately broke... and of course the filling was yum.  I could easily down about a half-dozen of these...

    Then came a steamer bearing two dumplings...

    Steamed crystal blue shrimp dumplings in goldfish shape (藍天使蝦金魚餃) - the goldfish dumpling has been the signature dim sum item here for, I don't know... donkey years.  They've been steadily improving it since my first visit 6 years ago, and the latest change since my lunch last year is... GOLD FOIL!  My favorite useless ingredient!

    Having said that, it is still one damn delicious dumpling!  The shrimps were very crunchy, as were the pieces of bamboo shoots inside.

    Steamed pork dumpling with abalone (原隻鮑魚燒賣皇) - the other signature dim sum that's been around forever.  Very nice.

    Crispy barbecued pork buns with preserved vegetables (脆香叉燒包) - now THIS is impressive.  I first had these cute porcupine-shaped buns last year, and was pretty happy to eat more today.  The pieces of preserved leafy mustard (梅菜) were pretty crunchy.

    The chef responsible for this - Brother Fai (輝哥) - apparently makes a dough that is a little firmer than usual, which allows him to take a pair of scissors and snip all those spines into shape.  That attention to detail is simply amazing.

    Baked tartlette with crabmeat in curry sauce (葡香焗蟹撻) - another cute item in the dim sum menagerie here... The crab meat inside the tart was done in "Portuguese sauce (葡汁)"-style, with curry powder.  Pretty yum.

    Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) - another signature of the restaurant.  I've been a big fan of this ever since my first visit, and although there has been the occasional variation in quality, this has consistently been at the top of my favorite char siu (叉燒) list.  Served with a rose-flavored honey glaze that simply glistens under the lights.

    The chefs select only the best parts of collar (脢頭) for their char siu, and insist on serving them thick-cut to deliver a level of satisfaction not possible with thinner pieces.  The marbling is fantastic, as is the light charring.  Wonderful texture.  Simply beautiful... whether you take it in one bite (as I sometimes would) or two.

    The quality today is about as good as any I've had on my previous visits here.  In fact, what I wouldn't give to do a face-off with the char siu from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒)...

    Chicken broth with fish delicate and beau curd in chrysanthemum shape (菊花魚圓) - the fish ball soup (obvious typo aside, not sure what the restaurant meant by "fish delicate"...) has always been one of the most impressive things on the menu, not just because the very fluffy and airy fish balls, but for the amazing tofu chiffonade (文思豆腐) by their chef trained in Huaiyang (淮陽) cuisine.  Apparently, the chef makes 105 fine cuts to the piece of silken tofu - while making sure that all strands remain attached to the bottom of the tofu.  Of course, the matsutake (松茸) added some light and delicate fragrance to the broth.

    Steamed crab claw with egg white in fish broth (魚湯蛋白蒸蟹鉗) - I can never find fault with this dish... not with the freshness of the crab claw, nor the bouncy and wobbly texture of the steamed egg white, nor the delicious savory flavors of the starchy fish broth on top.

    Poached seasonal vegetables with lily bulbs and birch seeds (百合杞子浸時蔬) - I love lily bulbs, and I also love wolfberries (枸杞子).

    Seafood fried rice topped with sakura shrimp (櫻花蝦海鮮炒飯) - another favorite dish of mine here...

    The rice was stir-fried at high heat, and came topped with a generous helping of crunchy sakura shrimp (桜海老).  If only I had twice the stomach space...

    Black and white sesame pudding with sesame ice-cream (黑白芝麻布甸配芝麻雪糕) - one of my preferred desserts here, made better now with a little scoop of white sesame ice cream that came sprinkled with both white and black sesame seeds.  As much as I loved this, I simply could not finish...

    Finally, the usual mini Portuguese egg tart (葡式蛋撻)...

    ...and not to forget the little cup of milk tea (奶茶)!  This is probably still my favorite milk tea anywhere in the world, and since Hello Kitty can't take more caffeine at this hour, I had an extra cup for myself!  Yay!

    So we had a few bottles with lunch. Thankfully I was no longer hungover by the time we sat down...

    2013 Keller Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling Großes Gewächs trocken - flinty on the nose, with good ripeness on the palate but still good acidity on the back.  More like a French riesling than your average German off-dry riesling.

    1971 Christoffel Berres Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese - decanted just prior to serving.  Lots of Manuka honey in the nose, very fragrant, with marmalade notes, a little whiff of old, musty nose... at the same time rich and nutty.  Good depth of flavors on the palate, but a little short.

    I was perfectly happy with just having 2 bottles of German riesling, especially given my condition as well as being told by g4gary that he was gonna take things easy. But Kenneth and the sommelier came over and started laying down Riedel Sommelier Bordeaux Grand Cru glasses... and informed me that Jonas Schuermann - who took over as MD of Hospitality Services at SJM - had prepared a surprise for me.

    And what a surprise it was! Much, much too kind of him.

    1978 Mouton-Rothschild - decanted and served right away.  Just 15 minutes later, the wine showed beautiful nose with classic smoke and pencil lead.  The palate was a little short at first, but improved with time.

    This was, of course, yet another fantastic meal at a restaurant that has never disappointed me.  And to have had the opportunity to enjoy it with lovely wines was even better.  Many thanks to Jonas, Ada, Kenneth, and the team at Grand Lisboa Hotel for their kind hospitality.  Thankfully I was finally allowed to pay for the rieslings today, and I'll be back to pick out more gems from their cellars soon enough!

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