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

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  • 02/13/18--22:57: Valentine's preview
  • I received an invitation to join a "media lunch" scheduled for today, St. Valentine's Day.  Chef Umberto Bombana opened a so-called "private kitchen" last year, and Octavium was so private that they didn't even publish their phone number - all booking had to be made by email, if one was resourceful enough to dig for it.  I went for a little nibble a few months ago, and while the food was solid, I nevertheless came away feeling a little underwhelmed.

    The restaurant is due to launch their lunch service starting on March 1st, so they wanted a little coverage ahead of this roll-out.  I could certainly do a lot worse than getting fed by Chef Umberto and his Executive Chef Silvio Armanni, so I happily accepted the kind invitation.

    Pane carasau and grissini

    Hokkaido cuttlefish, bean, potato and celeriac broth - the slices of cuttlefish were very, very tender, and the warm and delicate broth delivered a comforting sensation immediately.  The bed of white beans, diced potatoes, and celery added some substance while keeping the flavors on the light side.

    Spaghetti chitarra, "cacio e pepe" and morel mushroom - this looked extremely simple at first glance, and fits with the philosophy that the dishes here are what Chef Umberto would cook for himself and his family.  I was surprised to find that not a lot of pepper was used here, and it also wasn't nearly as cheesy as I had expected.  Instead, the mushroom jus mingled with the light Pecorino sauce to deliver elegant flavors that were just so familiar and comforting.  The morels on top were full of deliciousness, too.  This dish reminded me of the cliché "Less is more"...

    Roasted veal, salsify and kale - the slices of French veal were very tender and moist.  In fact, they may have been a little too moist... to the point of being a little watery.  The meat itself was a little under-seasoned and bland, but it worked fine with the jus and the mix of topinambour and mushroom underneath.  While I wasn't surprised to see salsify, the use of kale was interesting.

    Sicilian cassata gelato, candied fruit and berries - this was pretty nice.  I loved all the different candied citrus fruits encased in the gelato, but personally I could have done without the chocolate center. 

    Tiramisu - we thought there was just one dessert for lunch today, but Chef Umberto was generous enough to send out additional items for us to try... such as this beautiful tiramisù.  Thankfully we were sharing, and I only took a couple of spoonfuls.

    Chocolate soufflé - as if two desserts weren't enough, servings of this arrived at our table.  It was certainly very good, but a little too rich by this point.

    Wild strawberry tart and hazelnut chocolate

    This being Valentine's Day and all, we were treated to some sparkling rosé...

    Ca' del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Rosé - nice and fruity, with strawberry notes.

    This was a pretty good lunch, with solid food as one would expect from one of the city's culinary stalwarts.  I think I now have a better understanding of the restaurant's positioning, and therefore appreciate the style of cuisine being served here.  Many people including myself have mistakenly been expecting this place to be just another extension of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, and therefore get somewhat disappointed when the dishes coming out from the kitchen aren't as "fancy" or "Michelin 3-star" - whatever that means. 

    In reality, it's a place where the chef would serve the style of food that he likes to enjoy, and dishes he would serve to his family and friends.  The only issue being the restaurant's location in one of the most expensive districts in the world, so when rent and other costs are factored into consideration, the price point doesn't one feel like one is having a "casual" meal.

    In any case, I'm sure Chef Umberto would have no trouble filling the seats with spillovers from 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, and the business crowd in Central now have another lunch venue.

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    Having been banished from Taipei this lunar new year season, I actually haven't gotten around to buying a single traditional pudding for the holidays.  Thankfully I still ended up with a few different puddings in the fridge, so the first few days of the year of the dog was spent nibbling on these fatty (and sometimes sticky) blocks...

    Hello Kitty decided to buy a trio of puddings from our friend KC.  These are from a "6-hands" collaboration between Fancook Productions (明廚料理教室), Tak Lung (得龍大飯店), and Hafie (哈妃).  So on new year's day, this is what we had for breakfast...

    Radish pudding with Japanese daikon and preserved meats (日本大根臘味蘿蔔糕), from Fancook - this isn't my first time having the radish pudding from Fancook, but somehow this wasn't as enjoyable as what I remembered from last year.  The pudding seemed a little more solid in terms of texture.

    Taro pudding with preserved meats (極品臘味芋頭糕), from Fancook - under normal circumstances, I can only take so much taro before I lose interest, so this isn't something I would normally get.

    New year pudding with ginger and Okinawan muscovado (薑汁沖繩黑糖年糕), from Fancook - pretty decent, but not surprising to find the ginger overpowering the muscovado.

    On the second day of the new year, we went to visit My Birdbrain Cousin and my nephew Wolfie.  More pudding!  This time I brought along the beautiful box sent to me by my favorite Cantonese restaurant - The 8 (8餐廳) in the Grand Lisboa Macau.

    Premium cane sugar cake with bird's nest and coconut juice (燕液椰汁年糕), from The 8 - YASSSS!!!! Gold foil!  My favorite ingredient!!!

    I do have to say, though, that I really liked this.  There was a good amount of coconut flavor, and the addition of bird's nest meant that overall it was a little less sweet.  Texture-wise it was also pretty good and didn't melt too much after frying.

    Turnip pudding with French morel mushrooms (法國牛肝菌蘿蔔糕), from Dashijie (大師姐) - My Birdbrain Cousin bought this pretty late in the game, so this was what was left on the shelves. It was obvious from the packaging that there was a lot of oil...

    The problem was exacerbated by the fact that My Birdbrain Cousin does not own a frying pan or a wok... so we ended up frying the pudding in one of her cast iron Staub pots... with olive oil, no less.  This turned the pieces of pudding into mush... not the texture you'd want.  But I have to admit that this was pretty tasty.

    We ended up steaming half the block, and that seemed to work better... as the texture became pretty close to what we would expect from steamed pudding.

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  • 02/18/18--23:51: Lunar new year French
  • It's been a few months since we last caught up with Mr Cane and his wife, and since we were staying in town for the lunar new year holidays (no, it's not "Chinese new year" in my book), we figured this would be a great time to have a nice and relaxing lunch.  Caprice was suggested, and I was more than happy to return.

    I contacted Hairy Legs right after I booked the table and sent him the list of Mr Cane's dietary restrictions.  It's not easy for Mr Cane to find a restaurant that can faultlessly take care of every single one of the ingredients off-limits to him, so it always help to have a friendly chef in your corner.

    The sommelier started us off with a bottle of Champagne, compliments of management and Hairy Legs.   I am, of course, grateful for the very kind gesture.

    Drappier Quattuor - an interesting Champagne made with four different white grape varietals, or blanc de quatre blancs, with an assemblage of 25% each of arbane, petit meslier, blanc vrai, and chardonnay.  Nice and yeasty, a little caramelized, lovely with marmalade notes.  Good acidity balance.

    I was pretty hungry by now, so I really looked forward to the bread selection.  The challah with chilies was pretty interesting.

    Our amuse bouche was crabe d'Alaska, caviar shadi et clémentine.  The crab meat came with diced oysters and came topped with Caviar Shadi from La Maison Nordique and slices of mandarin orange - whose citrus fragrance hit me even while they sat on the plate.  We were encouraged to take the sea urchin and avocado and mix everything together in one bite, but that's easier said than done when there are so many different ingredients...  A pretty nice way to get the saliva going, that's for sure!

    Noix de Saint-Jacques, espuma de Comté, truffe noire - then another beautiful fragrance came floating by... this time it was black truffles.  The scallop from Brittany was pan-fried and then topped with Comté espuma, along with mushroom fricassée, thin discs of mushroom, and slices of black truffle.  A lovely dish.

    Brill, grenobloise style with salsify - this was a nice surprise.  I don't come across grenoibloise sauce often, and on top of the brill from Brittany were small croûtons, capers, tarragon, lemon pulp, and hazelnut butter.  The sauce instantly transformed a white flatfish into something much more interesting.

    Le pigeon de Racan de la Maison Bellorr cuit dans une cabosse de cacao, purée de potiron, salsifi, jus naturel - this seemed to be a new dish, and the presentation was certainly interesting.

    The pigeon was very, very tender and perfectly rosé - just the way I like it - and topped with some cocoa nibs as well as black truffle put through a Microplane.  Served with a piece of pan-fried foie gras that was just a itty bitty overdone, along with some salsify and pumpkin purée.  Very delicious, as all the pigeon I have ever had from Hairy Legs have been.

    Plateau de fromages affinés - I wanted more desserts today, so I asked for a small selection of cheese.  The Mothais had nice acidity to go along with its creamy texture and strong, gamey notes.  Abbeye de Tamie showed a little ammonia.  Coulommiers was very ripe and bitter.  The Comtéwas aged for 3½ years, showing its fine crystalline salt.  I didn't touch the Roquefort...

    Pear sorbet with fresh berries - a good pre-dessert to get us ready...

    Orange blossom cream, fresh mandarin and chocolate, gingerbread chips - love the citrus flavors here, and the kick provided by the basil.  But this was, unfortunately, my least favorite dessert because everything else I tasted after it was simply awesome.

    Fraise sauvage, yuzu et pistache - this reminded me of Dominique Ansel's Paris Tokyo.  Made with wild strawberries on top of pistachio-encrusted vanilla mousse, with a layer of yuzu (柚子) mousse, a quenelle of yuzu sorbet, and strawberry sauce on the side.  This was BEAUTIFUL.  Love the balance of acidity and sweetness.

    Mont Blanc chestnut and rum cream, Tahitian vanilla cream, meringue, chestnut ice cream - I missed out on the Mont Blanc during my last visit, so I was very happy to have tried it today.  The intense sweetness coming from the bits of candied chestnuts, along with the rich chestnut ice cream... Just. Yum.  I would have loved another bowl.

    Crispy coffee and walnut biscuit, caramel and coffee chantilly - this was also very, very good and totally up my alley... with coffee ice cream, coffee chantilly, rice crispies, and caramel sauce.  Slurp.

    Mignardises today included pistachio religiuse with lots of toasty pistachio flavors, chocolate ganache, and a very nutty chocolate with pop rocks inside.

    I brought along a bottle of classic claret, which turned out to be drinking exactly as it should.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - served 30 minutes after decanting.  Classic claret nose with smoke.  Improved after chilling, not as tannic on the palate.  Very fragrant and lovely nose with lots of woodsy notes. 

    So nice to have had such a relaxing lunch before starting work in the year of the dog.  Many thanks to the team for taking such excellent care of us.

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  • 02/20/18--21:35: 9 up for lunch
  • It's the first day of the year of the dog where all of us are in the office, so naturally we decided to have ourselves a team lunch.  The boys weren't gonna go for another round at the local Tsui Wah (翠華), so they concocted a plan to get some sushi at company expense.  This time around, Sushi Ima (今鮨) won because of its close proximity to the office...

    But things did not get off to a good start.  Upon arrival at the restaurant, I informed the chubby manager of the surname of our booking and that we were four.  He immediately asked for the phone number associated with the booking.   I couldn't remember the number off hand, and was about to point to the reservation recorded on their books - but the guy started to block me from looking at the book...

    SERIOUSLY?!  WTF? Half the seats in this small sushi restaurants have already been taken, so how many reservations for 4 people under Mr. X could there be?!  Do I look like some random asshole who just walked in to take someone else's reservation?  Sheesh...

    I reached out to my friend who is a regular here, and yup, she doesn't think much of him, either...

    I'm doing quite a few big meals this week, so I decided to just take the 9-piece omakase sushi set.

    I was a little surprised that the first otsumami (おつまみ) that came was pickled mustard stem (榨菜).

    Then came our chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し), with crab, chicken, and shiitake mushrooms.

    Then came a plate of four pieces of nigiri sushi (握り寿し):

    Japanese glass shrimp (白海老) - I thought they had overdone it in terms of chopping the shrimp.  The texture was now more similar to a paste... pretty mushy.  Nice yuzu (柚子) flavors here, with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds on top.

    Spotted knifejaw (石垣鯛) - with shaved yuzu zest on top.

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - garnished with sansho leaves (木の芽) which turned out to be surprisingly bland.

    Scallop (帆立貝) - the scallop itself was pretty sweet, and interestingly scored.  Served with a dab of truffle paste.

    I had a few pieces of ginger to cleanse my palate.  These had a surprising amount of kick.

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) - from Hokkaido.  Served with charcoal salt on top.  Decent, but I was hoping for a little better.

    Then came the last four pieces:

    Horse mackerel (鯵) -a beautiful piece of fish, with spring onion sprouts (芽ねぎ) and diced raw onions in ponzu (ポン酢).

    Yellowtail (鰤) - with chiffonade of deep-fried spring onions.  Pretty nice.

    Black cod (銀鱈) - torched to liquefy the fat, and served with shaved bottarga (カラスミ) on top.

    Righteye flounder wing (鰈縁側) - also torched to melt the fat and let it soak into the rice.  Absolutely delicious.

    Yuzu sorbet (柚子シャーベット)

    Not quite as satisfying as it could be... but when you're a cheapskate (even though it's on company expense) and on a diet, that's bound to happen...

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  • 02/21/18--06:33: Aussie night
  • After our last successful outing a few months ago, it was time to get together with my friends over some Aussie wines.  While the main goal of our last dinner was to introduce Hello Kitty to my friends, this time we would be introducing The Kat to them.

    My friends chose Gough 40 as the venue, as it had been one of their favorite places.  I myself have never been impressed with the food there, but it does fit the description of a place serving 'innocuous' food. 

    After resolving an initial issue with our reservation (or seemingly lack of one), I finally sat down by the door on this chilly night inside the empty restaurant.  There would turn out to be no other customers tonight.

    I struggled a little with the menu, as very few items jumped out at me.  Eventually I managed to pick something.

    Thanks to my small lunch, I was actually pretty hungry by now.  The garlic bread was a sight for sore eyes, and I wish I had more than 2 pieces...

    Traditional seafood soup - not bad, with plenty of seafood like king prawn, mussels, scallop, and clams.  The flavors here were a little on the light side, but perhaps that is because I have long grown accustomed to David Lai's bouillabaisse.

    Linguine with duck confit - apparently this place only stocks one type of pasta, but offers 11 different ingredients with go with it.  As my first choice was not available tonight, I went with something else I knew I couldn't resist... and the restaurant offered to make it as a starter portion.

    And it worked out fantastically well.  I LOVE duck confit, and the delicious meat and sinful, fatty skin have been shredded before being placed on top.  The linguine itself was tossed with a little bit of pesto along with shimeji mushrooms (シメジ茸).  Simple and delicious.

    Grilled U.S. kurobuta pork with peach liqueur - this was a nice surprise.  The pork was fairy tender (partially thanks to the fat) and not overcooked like Hello Kitty's duck breast.  It also came with plenty of flavors thanks to the use of peach liqueur, so it was not bland at all.  Very happy to have chosen this.

    We brought a little more wine than we were able to consume, but still did pretty well considering Aussie wines are generally a little more punchy and alcoholic...

    2003 Penfolds Yattarna - served much too cold.  Nose was very, very caramelized, and reminiscent of sugar cane juice.  Lovely toasty notes, with good acidity here.

    2000 Clarendon Hills Astralis - nose showing sweet fruit, a little metallic and animal, very fragrant with cedar notes, along with very ripe fruit.  Good acidity here, too... The color was visibly lighter than the slightly older RunRig.

    1997 Torbreck RunRig, from magnum - decanted for 45 minutes prior to serving.  Very sweet nose, with lots of ripeness and plenty of coconut butter and tropical fruit.  A little smoky.  Much more concentrated and muscular compared to the Astralis.  Drinking exactly like one would expect from an Aussie shiraz...

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  • 02/21/18--22:58: No gold foil for me
  • A few months after my less-than-complimentary comments on an invitational meal at HAKU, I am surprised to find myself once again seated at its L-shaped counter.  I was once again invited to a media tasting in advance of a collaboration, and this time the partner was Chele Gonzalez from Gallery VASK in Manila.

    Given my last experience and the repercussions which ensued, I did ask both the PR and Agustin Balbi whether they really wanted me there today.  When the answer came back in the affirmative - and with Agustin's promise to give me even more gold foil - I accepted their kind invitation and crossed the harbor for lunch.

    Once again we were served Duval-Leroy Fleur du Champagne Premier Cru to start our meal.  This being lunch on a weekday, I allowed myself just one glass.

    Before the start of the meal, we were each asked about our dietary restrictions.  I decided not to say anything, because I figured that with The Great One sitting next to me, she could always take up any bluefin tuna or fish cum they might serve me...

    Amuse bouche by HAKU:

    Sausage / Polmard beef / dashi mayo - YAY!  Meat-on-a-stick!  And French beef, at that...  With a dab of dashi (出汁) mayo and some katsuobushi (鰹節) shavings on top.

    Beetroot cone / ikura / dashi cream - YASS!  BEETROOT!  The Great One was worried that I wouldn't eat the beetroot, but honestly there was so little of it that it didn't really matter.  And the salmon roe would have overpowered the thin beetroot shell anyway.

    Amuse bouche by Gallery VASK:

    Ukoy : corn, shiso, uni - the shrimp cracker was colored with squid ink, and came with sea urchin tongues, corn mousse, yuzu (柚子) cream, celery, and perilla flowers.  The yuzu was substituted for the calamansi normally used in Manila.  I liked the crunch provided by the chopped celery.

    Japanese barrelfish tartare : purple rice cracker, lardo, sancho - while the others got tuna tartare, Agustin had noted my preference of avoiding bluefin tuna and advised a substitute.  The medai (目鯛) was served with ginger, lemongrass, and sansho leaves (木の芽).  The citrusy flavors were really nice and fragrant.  The crackers were made with purple glutinous rice growing in the mountains.

    We then moved on to the main dishes:

    Oyster : kinilaw, iberico, cilantro, from Gallery VASK - kinilaw is a Filipino preparation not unlike ceviche, although some ingredients are cooked instead of being served raw - such as the oyster.  The thin slices of kamias were crunchy and pretty sour after pickling, and reminded me of unripe star fruit.  The sauce contained lime, smoked coconut milk, pili nuts, and cashew - which delivered something that wasn't heavy on coconut flavor but reasonably creamy with good acidity balance.  The pili nuts were certainly very fatty and reminiscent of macadamias.

    Black cod / kabu / anchovy, from HAKU - the thick piece of black cod was very, very delish.  The skin was done crispy separately from the fish.  The sauce was absolutely delicious and full of umami, having been made with white wine, butter, salted kelp (塩昆布), turnip (蕪), sundried tomatoes, and chives.  A most satisfying dish.

    On the side we had a tempura (天ぷら).  While the others had cod fish cum, Agustin served me the cheek of the cod, topped with some akegarashi (あけがらし) and a slice of sudachi (酢橘) on the side.  Pretty nice, too.

    Heart : banana, peanuts, coconut, from Gallery VASK - the banana flower heart was served with Bicol Express sauce, with fermented shrimp paste, pork, ginger, lemongrass, and coconut milk.  Finally it was topped with some crushed peanuts and spices.  The whole dish was very creamy, with turmeric and Indian spices.

    King crab / Koshihikari rice, from HAKU - a dish that drew inspiration from Agustin's grandma, who used to serve him traditional caldoso.  Here we got chunks of Alaskan king crab (鱈場蟹) legs cooked with togarashi (唐辛子) peppers to deliver some heat for the cooler season.

    This was certainly hearty and delicious - with the spicy kick accentuating the sweetness coming from the crab.

    Sour ribs : beef, soyamansi, garlic casein, from Gallery VASK - an extra course that we simply could not refuse.  Short ribs served with "soyamansi" - soy sauce with calamansi to deliver a sharp acidic note.  I have to be honest... I didn't care for my beef to be sour.  I understand that sometimes people use acidity to cut through fat and richness, but I just don't like my meat to be sour.  The dots of garlic casein on the side helped make things a little better.

    The short rib itself, though, was incredibly tender and delicious.  If only it hadn't been ruined by calamansi...

    Pandan eclair : sweet monggo, pandan mousse, rice crisp, latik ice cream, from Gallery VASK - we were meant to combine everything together, and the thingy on the left side - which looked like durian to me - was actually made with glutinous rice and Parmesan. I guess the combination of pandan and mung bean was nice and sweet, but surprisingly the pandan flavors did not stand out.

    Tomato / Amaou ichigo / granita, from HAKU - inside the hollowed fruit tomato (Agustin would remind us that tomato is, in fact, a fruit) from Mochida Farms (持田農園) in Itoshima Peninsula (糸島半島) inside Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県) was a mixture of diced tomato, Amaou (あまおう) strawberries from Fukuoka, Hokkaido yogurt foam, and granita made with both strawberries and tomato water.  Very refreshing, as usual.  A nice way to finish our meal.

    A post shared by Susan Jung (@susanjunghkfood) on
    Just when I was wondering why I hadn't been given any gold foil during the entire meal, this arrived in front of me.  How special I felt right then and there... since I was the only one who got this!  Agustin got this from i CREMERiA a few doors down as this is one of their signature items.  While I posed for pictures holding this next to my face, I had to put it down as a business call came in.  After I returned to my seat, I was shocked to find that it had been taken away from me.  WHY, OH WHY?!  OH, CRUEL WORLD!

    In spite of my disappointment at the end, this was a pretty delicious meal.  Most of the flavors were on point, and my only issue stemmed from personal preference and wasn't related to execution.   I was grateful to have gotten a taste of Chef Chele's cuisine at Gallery VASK, and thankful for the VIP treatment I received.  Consider me impressed.

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    A couple of friends were in town for the weekend.  We last saw them during our temple stay at Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺) in Korea, and we figured we would catch up for dinner tonight.  No prizes for guessing that we went to Seventh Son (家全七福)...

    Chef DaRC pre-ordered a number of dishes, and I ended up adding one of my own.  In the end, I think we had a little too much food...

    Deep-fried chicken kidney mixed with egg custard (雞子戈渣) - can't come here with visitors without introducing them to this dish...  Very fluffy and creamy.

    Deep fried frog legs with garlic and chili (椒鹽田雞腿) - it's been a long time since I last had the frog legs here, and I have almost forgotten how good these are.

    Honey roasted crispy eel (蜜汁燒鱔) - not a dish I normally order myself, as the eel at Cantonese restaurants often do taste muddy.  Thankfully, tonight the honey glaze was able to compensate for the offending taste.  And the crispy texture is nice.

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - again, it just wouldn't be right if we didn't order this.  We had enough people and it needed to be done.  I can't imagine myself ever getting tired of eating this.  The thin, crispy crackling - of which there is never enough to go around.  The tender, succulent, pale and almost milky meat.  The tiny little ribs.  And if one is very lucky, a leg.

    Long boiled soup of the day (是日老火湯) - I didn't pay much attention to the dregs to find out what was in the soup tonight, but there is always pork, and I think perhaps soy beans, and I could certainly see hair moss (髮菜).

    Sautéed fillet of pigeon with crispy 'Kim Wah' ham (燒雲腿片拼炒鴿甫) - the stir-fried pigeon was pretty tasty, and also very tender - with a nice and springy texture to boot.  Unfortunately the ham was a little too dry.  Meanwhile, as Chef DaRC pointed out, there is an error in the menu translation.  Kim Wah ham (金華火腿) doesn't come from Yunnan...  If it comes from Yunnan then it should be Xuanwei ham (宣威火腿).

    Stewed garoupa dorsal with Chinese lettuce and clove of garlic (蒜子唐生菜炆斑翅) - I don't remember ever having this dish here, and was completely surprised by the size of this.  Instead of a collection of smaller pieces of dorsal fins, this clay pot seemed to contain just one chunk of giant garoupa.  Still very tasty, of course.

    Baked chicken flavored with 'Hua Diao' wine (花雕焗雞) - this turned out to be a little much, and while it was tasty, we simply couldn't finish the whole pot of chicken.

    Claypot rice with preserved meats (煲腊味飯) - I was so happy when I saw this plate of preserved sausages and pork belly...

    Everyone got a little bowl of rice, and I loaded up on the preserved meats.  Very yum.

    The best thing about having the clay pot rice here?  You can ask them to do a "second service", where they add some ham broth and coriander to the charred rice crispies (飯焦) at the bottom.  How I missed this...

    Chef DaRC and I brought along a few bottles for the evening:

    2011 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Kammern Kamptal Reserve Lamm - mild on the palate, a little flinty.

    2009 Dame de Montrose, en magnum - decanted 30 minutes prior to serving.  Alcoholic, tannic, and a little grippy on the palate.  Much better after 2 hours as it softened up.

    2008 Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore - sweet fruit, smokey, ripe on the palate, and definitely felt the 15% alcohol.

    Even though we were too full to finish our food, we still wanted dessert.  And Chef DaRC suggested that we go elsewhere... with the surprising choice being Caprice, of all places...  Well, both a few of us are big fans of Caprice's pastry chef Nicolas Lambert, so although this was an unconventional choice after a Cantonese dinner, I decided to ping Hairy Legs to help with the arrangements. 

    Which was how, at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, 8 of us found ourselves seated at Caprice Bar.  We weren't dressed for the restaurant itself, but the bar had a more comfortable and relaxed atmosphere anyway.  Thankfully Nicolas was in the house, and we ended up ordering 6 different desserts with 7 portions in total.  Of course we were extremely grateful that Nicolas and his team entertained our demands.

    Given that I had just had some of the desserts a few days ago, I opted for something a little different for myself.  Somehow this wasn't interesting enough to the rest of the gang, and no one else wanted a taste...

    We started with a pre-dessert of pineapple and mint sorbet, pineapple mousse, and crumble with a hint of ginger.  Very refreshing.

    L'ananas Victoria de La Réunion, crèmeaux de citron vert, biscuit coco, sorbet ananas - diced pineapple sandwiched between two layers of coconut sablé, then topped with pineapple sorbet, lime cream, and garnished with pineapple and coconut chips.  For me, this was a perfect way to end the evening.  After such a big meal, having a cold and refreshing dessert with acidity-bearing fruits was so soothing.

    Soufflé fruit de la passion, sorbet pabana - I had a spoonful of this, and it was pretty nice.  Again, the light and fluffy texture plus the acidity was right up my alley just about now.

    Trilogie de chocolat - a signature dessert from Nicolas and an update from one of the first desserts I ever tasted from him, with crispy feuillantine, Namelaka white chocolate, Guanaja as well as Tanariva chantilly.  Wonderful for any chocolate lover - if the small bite I had was any indication.

    Mini lemon madeleines are kinda tough to get exactly right.

    The box of mignardises arrived, and I recognized a couple from my lunch a few days ago.

    This heart-shaped raspberry chocolate was delicious.

    Philadelphia cream cheese mousse with grapefruit zest and coconut

    What a wonderful way to finish the evening!  Even though it wasn't exactly local and what visitors would want, I hope our friends enjoyed the dessert tasting anyway... 

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  • 02/26/18--06:31: Le "steak sandwich"
  • I'm in Macau again for the annual conference, and once again I have chosen not to dine with the other conference delegates, instead venturing out on my own.  I hadn't shown much love for restaurants within the City of Dreams over the last few months, so I thought it was high time I did so.  As Shinji by Kanesaka isn't open on Mondays, I decided to walk in to the Tasting Room without a prior reservation.

    Before I stepped foot into the restaurant, I had already decided not to do the usual thing of taking the tasting menu.  I had found a couple of dishes from the menu which appealed to me, so I would simply order à la carte.  I really didn't want to get too stuffed tonight.

    Even though David wasn't working the room tonight, I was still kinda recognized.  I guess that's what happens when you bring a big camera to dinner...

    I started with a trio of amuses bouches:

    Tourteau crab claw tempura

    Fried potato with salmon roe and smoked salmon - very nice.

    Foie gras éclair - pretty nice, with foie gras cream inside and passion fruit sauce on top.

    Poached Gillardeau oyster, shellfish tartare, sea water jelly, ginger cream, lemon confit - the sea water jelly on top of the oyster was fairly mild, but the briny flavors were certainly there.  The herb salad on top of the ginger cream came with green apple and melba toast.  A nice little bite compliments of the chef.

    Les grenouilles de chez monsieur Fivaz à Vallorbe - it's been some time since I last had frogs' legs the same way, and I was really looking forward to it. 

    The garlic and parsley cream was, as one would expect, delicious. Besides the herbs, there were also bits of purée made with lemon pith.  The presentation was elegant and  delicate.

    The frogs come from Mont d'Or, and were coated with garlic and parsley before being wrapped in a "bell" made of a thin strand of potato.  It was then deep-fried to deliver its golden color and crispy texture.  Absolutely delicious.

    Langoustine ravioli with foie gras, lobster cream sauce - the wrapper of the "raviolo" was actually a cabbage leaf, and carried langoustine, foie gras, and diced carrots inside.  There was also little bit of foie on top, buried underneath the chiffonade of black truffle.

    Oh yes, this was a delicious mouthful...  One that I could have done without, but when it was very kindly offered by the kitchen, it was received with gratitude.

    Filet de bœuf de chez Alexandre Polmard, le foie de canard des Landes - and now for the pièce de résistance.  This was the famous "vintage beef" from Alexandre Polmard.  The beef that is among the most expensive in the world, and indeed a rarity.  The meat comes from female Blonde d’Aquitaine cows raised in Meuse.  After slaughter, the meat was aged for 2 weeks, then undergoes long-term preservation (or "hibernation") by having cold air (-43°C) blasted continuously at a speed of 120 km/h.  The slices I had before me came from a cow slaughtered in 2004.

    The macaroni gratin on the side was pretty nice.

    From the description on the menu, I was expecting a tournedos Rossini.  But when I saw how the dish was plated, the first thought that came to mind was "club sandwich".  So I picked it up just like a sandwich, and pretended that the beef was "bread" and the foie gras was "meat"...  I'm not sure if that's what Chef Fabrice Vulin was thinking when he came up with the plating...

    So after all this, what did I think of the beef?  Well, I'll be honest and start by saying that I'm not a steak guy.  I'm no connoisseur when it comes to beef, and someone like Hello Kitty or Ro Ro would probably have been able to appreciate this a helluva lot more.

    These were tasty pieces of beef, to be sure, and the execution was perfect.  But perhaps I came in with some misconceptions.  When people speak of "vintage", I immediately think of "aging", which implies a maturation process where the matter is transformed.  As vintage wine ages and matures, it slowly changes - shedding tannins and softens on the palate while becoming more complex.  When beef is dry-aged, the enzymes break down the connective tissues, resulting in a more tender texture.  Flavors are concentrated.  I gotta say that over the last few years, I have grown very fond of the strong, sometimes cheesy flavors of dry-aged beef.  That isn't what this "vintage beef" is all about.  This had neither those concentrated flavors nor the sinfully satisfying flavors of marbled, fatty beef.

    So what was the whole point of this "vintage beef", then?  I guess from the Polmards' point of view, they see their beef as possessing a perfect set of flavors, which they wish to capture and have it frozen in time, so to speak.  The "hibernation" process enables the Polmards to maintain the same flavors just about indefinitely, keeping them at a plateau / flatline without significant drop-off, until the beef is ready to be consumed.  But the process doesn't do anything to enhance the beef, to transform it into something better.  Perhaps because the starting assumption is that it is already perfect.

    I was very full by this point, and decided to pass on dessert.  I accepted the offer of mignardises to round out the evening.

    Chocolate sphere with coconut ice cream - very yum.

    Mint and chocolate macaron

    Dark chocolate with ganache

    Raspberry puff with Marscapone cream

    Crispy 66% chocolate

    This was a delicious meal, and I'm happy to have had the chance to finally see for myself what the vintage beef was all about. Now I just have to come back with Hello Kitty so that she could have a bite...

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  • 02/28/18--23:06: Pizza fight: sausage edition
  • So... there are a few more rounds of chefs vs. food media battles in the The Great Pizza Bake Off.  I supported a friend during one of those rounds last year, and this time around I'm here to support another old friend.

    Believe it or not, I showed up at Mercato Hong Kong two days in a row for this.  I had dinner here last night, but chose to show my support for Gourmet KC by only ordering the pizza from his team.  It was good enough that I roped in Fergie for another round at lunch today - which was exactly what I did last year...

    So the current battle is between Olivier Elzer - formerly of Seasons by Olivier E., L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and Pierre - and the team from Fancook Productions (飯局製作公司).  Coincidentally, both teams used Cantonese preserved sausages on their pizzas, so this should prove interesting!

    Yun cheung pizza, by Fancook Productions - with foie gras sausage (鵝膶腸, actually made with goose liver), marinated Japanese Nanko plum (南高梅), preserved pork belly (臘肉), and Mozzarella.  This was so good that I had to come back for another round.  I looooove liver sausage, and I already have a stash of the same goose liver sausage at home.  The flavors are heavy, but nicely balanced by the sweetness and acidity of the marinated plums.  It also helped that there wasn't a whole lot of cheese on the pizza, so the crust stayed crispy and crunchy.

    Chinese preserved sausage pizza, by Olivier Elzer - with lap cheong (臘腸), crispy potato, Reblochon, and bacon cream.  This was apparently inspired by tartiflette, and this interpretation certainly isn't any lighter than the original...  The amount of cheese and cream on this thing was a little overwhelming, and made the crust in the middle very soggy and limp.  The genius here came in the form of crispy potato chips on top, which made Fergie and I go "WOW!"  It was delicious, but we thought it was simply too heavy.  Fergie felt stuffed after having just one slice.  But I could certainly see the non-Chinese diners preferring this one for its more familiar flavor combination.

    Fergie and I were stuffed, so I passed on dessert.  Both were delicious pizzas, but I hope my friends at Fancook win this round.

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    It's My Birdbrain Favorite Cousin's birthday, and I decided to organize a weekend of wine and dine for her.  We would revisit 3 of the best restaurants in Macau and get pampered the whole time.  And to make it easy on ourselves, we decided to stay at the Grand Lisboa Macau for the night - my third stay this year...

    Our first stop would be at The 8 (8餐廳) in the Grand Lisboa.  Hello Kitty had suggested that we come here for dim sum so that we could order a particular item for My Favorite Cousin.  I was, of course, only too happy to oblige...

    Given that there were only 3 of us today, I figured we wouldn't need to be tucked away in a private room... and I would finally have a chance to sit in the main dining room.  But as usual Nigel was too kind to me, and we ended up in a private room anyway.

    I ordered mostly dim sum today as I wanted to try out a few more items, but first we started with the usual two amuse bouche:

    Stir-fried minced chicken with pine nuts and capsicum in crispy bird's nest

    Abalone with yuzu jelly

    Steamed "Shanghainese" dumplings with chicken essence and vintage dried tangerine peel (老陳皮雞汁小籠包) - I've always loved this both for the delicate wrapper and for the smoky flavors coming from the aged tangerine peel.  Slurp.

    Crispy barbecued pork buns with preserved vegetables (脆香叉燒包) - I could never get tired of having this dim sum.  It is just too cute!  All those "spines" on the porcupine were hand-snipped with a pair of scissors.  What incredible attention to detail!  And yes, it was delicious.

    Puff pastry with river shrimp in purse shape (河蝦肉鬆手袋酥) - and this the reason we're here... a cute little handbag-shaped dim sum.  Perfect for the ladies, who couldn't stop taking pictures of this "handbag" placed next to a real one...

    And yes, this was delicious, too.

    Shrimp toast filled with mango in fish shape (魚形香芒蝦多士) - it's been 2 years since I last ordered this, and this big head shrimp still looks cute today.  Even those two eyes which were made of chocolate.

    I love mango, so is it any surprise that I loved how it tasted?

    Deep-fried glutinous dumplings filled with roasted pork belly and dried shrimps in calabash shape (像形葫蘆菓) - I love 咸水角, and here they've made it into this incredibly cute shape.  Yum!

    Vietnamese spring rolls filled with shrimp and black fungus (特式越南春卷) - the dried shrimp inside were pretty crunchy.

    Sauteed French bean with crispy potato in chili sauce (香辣脆薯法邊豆) - I jokingly called this "French beans with French fries", but that's exactly what this was!  The fries were very crunchy, and had been dressed in a spicy vinaigrette

    Steamed octopus dumplings filled with cuttlefish mousse served in shark's fin cartilage (沙魚骨湯浸八爪魚餃) - inside the bowl of delicious shark's bone/cartilage soup were these little octopus-shaped dumplings - complete with tentacles - filled with tasty cuttlefish mousse.  The big pieces of dried shrimp (蝦乾) also lent their wonderful flavors to the soup.

    Steamed turnip cake with shredded conpoy in fish shape (瑤柱蒸魚形蘿蔔糕) - I know these have been made in molds, but they still look damn cute.  And tasty, too, with the finely diced chunks of radish. 

    Baked tartlette with crabmeat in curry sauce (葡香焗蟹撻) - gotta have this... with lots of crabmeat and that fragrance coming from "Portuguese sauce".

    It was time for dessert, and I was so glad that My Favorite Cousin took my suggestion.

    Baked Alaska with red bean sorbet (火焰椰子紅豆蛋糕) - we were surprised to find a little chocolate plaque wishing My Favorite Cousin "happy birthday".

    Aaaaaand of course the birthday girl liked it.  It's ice cream, after all...

    Portuguese egg tart (葡式蛋撻) and milk tea (奶茶) - my favorite way to end the meal... with my favorite milk tea.

    It's a birthday celebration, so of course we need to pop the cork an appropriate bottle of wine...

    1976 Schloss Schönborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Auslese - lovely marmalade, a hint of nuttiness, and honey.  Lovely on the palate, with a very long finish.

    Not surprisingly, this was a fantastic and a very happy meal for us. Many thanks to Nigel and team for taking good care of us, and helping us kick off the weekend.

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    A few hours after we kicked off the weekend with a delicious lunch, and after the ladies had finished their spa session, it was time for dinner.  For this we would pay a visit to Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國峰) at Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) in the City of Dreams.  The restaurant very kindly seated the four of us in one of the private rooms - in fact the same one that I was in on my last two visits.

    I had pre-ordered a couple of items with Chef Tam, and picked out a couple of dishes from the menu, and then left the rest up to him.  One is usually not disappointed when such arrangements are made by a top chef.

    First to arrive were two amuses bouches:

    Corn spherification - with pop rocks on top.

    Pan-fried radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - with a sakura shrimp (桜海老) on the side.

    Marinated black fungus, cucumber, and jellyfish with garlic in aged Italian balsamic vinegar (蒜香意大利黑醋拌小木耳及海蜇頭) - Chef Tam decided to add some crunchy jellyfish head into the mix.  Nice.

    Chilled abalone with mustard seed (芥菜籽鮑魚) - a dish I first had two years ago, and tonight the execution was slightly better... the abalone was more tender than I remembered.  Nice acidity and spicy kick.

    Jade Dragon prime-cut barbecue Iberico pork pluma (譽瓏蜜汁西班牙黑豚叉燒) - I didn't get this on my last visit as the restaurant was out of its supply.  Happy to have had it tonight, but as I complained to the staff: "WHY DID I GET ONLY ONE PIECE?!"

    When we first arrived, a menu for soup promoting health benefits was placed on the table.  After some discussions with Chef Tam, he suggested that the four of us share 3 bowls of soup, and chose one which would remove the excess moisture from our bodies in this weather.

    Double-boiled cordyceps flower and dendrobium soup with pork (鮮蟲草花石斛燉豬腱) - very light and clean.  Perfect.

    Steamed garoupa fillet with egg white in "Hua Diao" wine sauce (花雕蛋白蒸斑球) - a suggestion from Chef Tam which I agreed to somewhat reluctantly.  Hello Kitty and I had tasted this on our first visit, and while it was enjoyable, it didn't really deliver the "wow factor" for me.  The wild brown-marbled grouper (黃皮老虎斑) came with a custard made with egg white and Hokkaido 3.7 milk, and which was steamed with 20-year-old Huadiao (花雕).  All great ingredients, but... as I had feared, the fish fillet came just a tad overdone. 

    Crispy baby pigeon marinated in fermented bean curd (南乳桂花乳鴿) - something Chef Tam was testing out and wanted us to taste.  To be quick frank, I didn't taste much fermented bean curd, and the only wonderful fragrance I smelled from osmanthus came from the ones sprinkled on my plate.  But that didn't matter, because this 2-week-old pigeon was really damn good!

    Next came a combo of two items, one of which was something Chef Tam wanted us to try...

    Braised Hokkaido sea cucumber with roasted leek (蔥燒日本刺參) - this was very, very good.  Of course the spiny sea cucumber had been braised until it was very tender, but the leeks - both the soft, braised ones as well as the crispy chiffonade on top - were simply outstanding.  Even better with a sprinkle of shrimp roe.

    French blue lobster deep-fried with Parmesan (芝士法國藍龍蝦) - yes, the homard bleu was delicious, but the crunchy batter with Parmesan was what elevated this to something special.

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯浸莧菜) - very young and tender.

    Suckling pig filled with pilaf (金陵乳豬飯) - and here's the other dish I pre-ordered.  Is there any universe in which I would come here and NOT order this?  Absolutely not.

    Tonight, the crackling rolled around the stir-fried glutinous rice seemed even thinner than what I had last time.  The rolls seemed a little smaller, and perfectly gone in just two little bites... or one big bite.  It almost seemed like a maki sushi (巻き寿司), except that it's better than any maki I've ever had.  Drizzling a little bit of kumquat sauce on top was kinda interesting, but the X.O. sauce was probably a better way to go.

    The restaurant found out that we were celebrating a birthday, so we got a few goodies...

    Birthday buns (壽包) - with lotus seed paste and egg yolk.  Yum.

    And a chocolate cake with sparkles. How did they know that My Favorite Cousin is a chocolate fiend?!

    Then came the usual mignardises:

    Milk tea, lime, and red bean sorbet

    Strawberry gummies - they tasted just like strawberry jam.

    Malay sponge cake (馬拉糕)

    Jujube and walnuts squares (紅棗核桃糕)

    Pandan macarons

    We brought 3 bottles of wine with us tonight:

    1975 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - very mature by now, with lots of salted plum, savory minerals, tons of marmalade.  Big on the palate, good acidity but carried a slight bitterness on the long finish.

    2006 Louis Roederer Cristal - kinda yeasty, much fresher, with white flowers and a little bitter.

    1982 Trotanoy - decanted for 2 hours and chilled prior to serving.  Smoky and fragrant, with plenty of coffee, pencil lead, and cedar.  A beautiful wine.

    It was yet another happy meal for us this weekend.  Many thanks to Chef Tam for taking such good care of us, and we all went to bed dreaming of the piggy...

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    After a reasonable night's sleep for once, we got up and went out for our morning rounds.  Knowing what was to come once we sat down for lunch, we wanted just enough nourishment to keep the hunger pangs at bay.  Margaret's Café e Nata is just a stone's throw away from the Grand Lisboa Macau, and seemed like the perfect place for us.

    It had started to rain this morning, and we were pretty lucky to get ourselves seats at one of the tables under the awning.  We were pretty disciplined and decided to take just one pasteis each, washed down with coffee.

    Having gotten our caffeine fix, we moved on to our primary target this morning.  On our first trip this year, we discovered that Loja das Conservas Macau has gotten themselves a shop cat named Kwuntau (罐頭, literally "can" in Cantonese).  Unfortunately, I never got around to petting this cute little thing, and on subsequent visits to the shop, she never even bothered to come downstairs.

    So it was nothing short of ecstatic to find her in the shop today, and in such a friendly mood that she willingly came around and let us pet her and play with her.

    It's pretty obvious that she is one well-fed cat...

    Lunchtime rolled around, and the four of us went up to the top of the hotel.  Robuchon au Dôme is one of my favorite restaurants, and it seems nigh impossible to have a bad meal there.  We left the decision up to My Favorite Cousin as to which menu to take, and true to form, she went for the full tasting menu.

    Before we arrived, I had chosen a bottle of Champagne from the extensive wine list.  I was happy that my friend approved of my choice. The local importer had run out of stock on this particular vintage, and the price on the wine list made it look like a steal...

    2002 B de Boërl et Kroff, dégorgée en Novembre 2011 - decanted as per my friend's instructions.  Love and fragrant nose.  Soft on the palate. 

    As usual, the butter trolley came around with a mound of salted and unsalted butter each.  I noticed that the color of the butter seemed different today, and sure enough, I was informed that the restaurant no longer uses Beurre Bordier (GASP! QUELLE HORREUR!!!), and has switched to Pamplie from Charentes-Poitou instead.  Both Hello Kitty and I noted that this butter was more salty than the one from Bordier.

    When the staff offered to choose a selection of bread from the bread trolley, I asked that they don't give us too much.  Unfortunately, they never seem to listen to this particular request... and ended up with way too much for the four of us.  We don't like to waste bread, so we asked them to pack the leftovers for us... which we did not get at the end of the meal.

    Le king crabe: Alaskan king crab, elegant vegetable and ginger jelly with cream "vichyssoise" - YASSSS!!!  Vichyssoise!  The king crab was, naturally, sweet and delicious... served with carrots and cucumbers brunoise, as well as julienned breakfast radishes.  The vichyssoise-style cream on top was cool and refreshing, with herb oil and a quenelle of Imperial caviar from Sologne by La Maison Nordique.  I didn't quite pick up the ginger from gelée, as the flavors kinda just melded into everything else.

    The carta da musica on the side was a nice touch as a delivery vessel.

    L'Asperge blanche: French white asparagus, mimosa salad with caviar and wild sorrel - the presentation looked beautiful.  I've had other versions of French white asparagus and egg mimosa here, and this one somehow seemed a little less inspired - in spite of the caviar on top.  Still pretty nice, though...

    Le macaroni "candele": macaroni "candele" pasta stuffing with celeriac and black truffle - the candele pasta was stuffed with a totally sinful combination of jamón ibérico, small cubes of foie gras, diced celeriac, and black truffles.  As it that wasn't mouthwatering enough, there were also crispy artichoke chips, shavings of black truffle and Parmesan, along with watercress emulsion and poultry jus on the side.  Rich and delicious.  Certainly a winter dish.

    Le homard cardinalisé: roasted lobster with salted butter, green pea and bok choy follow with spice bisque - ah... I've had this dish thrice this year, and I'm still not tired of it.  The texture of the lobster was so springy that the others suspected overcooking, but when I looked at what I had in my bowl, I thought the execution was perfectly mi-cuit.  In any case, I love the sweet pois princesse, and the rich, spicy bisque.

    I was tasked with choosing a bottle of Burgundy, as My Favorite Cousin instructed: "Surprise me!" I went for a bottle I suspected to be a little on the young side, but the pricing was still relatively reasonable...

    2009 Méo-Camuzet Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Aux Boudots - decanted for 50 minutes prior to serving.  Still too young and the tannins were still prominent, but showing lots of animal and leather notes, along with sweet fruit, in the beautiful rose and floral nose.  Probably still needs a few more years.

    Le pintade: roasted guinea fowl and foie gras rolls with snow peas and spelt in risotto style - the guinea fowl roulade came, predictably, with foie gras at the center.  This was very, very tender... and came with delicious skin.  Served on a bed of spelt risotto with Parmesan and guinea fowl jus... which was OK.  The roast garlic on the side, though, was powerfully delicious.

    Of course, we couldn't do without the famous mash potatoes...

    We've also got some broth, which was perfect.

    La symphonie des douceurs - time for desserts, but we all decided to be relatively restrained.

    In addition to a whole millefeuille, which My Favorite Cousin got as her birthday cake - her third in 2 days - I also took a strawberry and vanilla cream cake.  Very delish.  But that was all I had from the dessert trolley.

    The good people at the Grand Lisboa decided that we shouldn't have dessert without dessert wine, so they poured us one of the best Sauternes around.

    2005 Rieussec - lots of orange blossom and honey.  Nice and rich on the palate, but still got nice acidity for balance.

    We got some mini madeleinesà la minute.

    The mignardises trolley came, and I picked out a few nibbles...


    Strawberry and pistachio tart - with gold foil on top, of course!

    Lychee chocolate - very, very good.

    Always finish with a canelé...

    This was, of course, a perfect way for us to end this birthday celebration weekend. Very grateful for the excellent service and pampering from the restaurant staff.  But having had my third meal here this year on the 63rd day of the year, perhaps I could take a little break before my next...

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  • 03/08/18--07:31: A tale of two livers
  • Following an epic wine dinner last year, a few of us decided to get together to catch up.  After rescheduling a few times due to conflicts (it's surprising how tough it is for 4 people to find a date for dinner...) we finally met up tonight at Neighborhood.  I couldn't believe that I hadn't been back here in almost 2 months!

    I didn't pre-order anything, and figured I would just pick a few items off the menu.  For the first time since I started coming here - and I've been here a few times - I discovered that I had pretty much tried every single item listed on the menu.  And this was in spite of The Man in White T-shirt frequently rotating the offerings based on seasonal ingredients.  So... for the first time, it would seem that there were no new dishes for me to try.

    Thankfully, The Man in White T-shirt did have a couple of extra tricks up his sleeve...

    Fried padron peppers / dried flounder salt - I've had padron peppers here plenty of times, but tonight instead of having a cheese dip, these came with bits of dried flounder.  Pretty interesting.  I still didn't get a spicy one, though...

    Culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - this is always great to start with.  So much flavor.

    Pigeon eggs / curry - this is always fun, and the curry powder with panko (パン粉) butter adds a nice kick to the soft-boiled egg.

    Zucchini flowers / scallops - this was one of the daily specials, and something I hadn't seen before.  The zucchini flowers have been stuffed with scallops which were very, very tender.  Zucchini, olives, tomato purée, and black truffle chiffonade gave this a touch of southern France.

    Frog legs meuniere - all you gotta do is look at the golden brown color, and the amount of butter at the bottom of the pan.  'Nuff said.

    Bouillabaisse - I was wondering why we were getting bowls of bouillabaisse, when I was told that there was a piece of monkfish liver in each bowl.  As the Candidate didn't want to take her piece, I ended up with two...

    I've always loved the bouillabaisse from The Man in White T-shirt, but I gotta say that I wasn't a fan of his decision to add the monkfish liver.  The liver was fully cooked, and just disintegrated into a pile of grainy mush.  For me, I prefer my monkfish liver like foie gras - either with a smooth texture like a pâté (like how the Japanese like to do it) or pan-fried.

    Salt-baked lamb / morel and lamb liver rice - the kitchen had just gotten the Pyrénées lamb in, and prepared in a similar fashion to salt-baked chicken.

    Underneath the salt crust, the lamb had been covered in a layer of hay, then wrapped in a layer of caul fat to keep the moisture in (and add some fat).

    The leg of lamb was very, very tender.  Dressed with jus seasoned with plenty of piment d'espelette.

    But the key, as usual, was the rice.  In addition to the morels, cream sauce, and chervil, tonight the main ingredient would be diced cubes of lamb liver.  The flavors here were much stronger than the previous versions made with chicken giblets, but I loved it.

    We were too full for dessert, so we just had canelé.

    Each of us brought a bottle, the result of last-minute coordination...

    2016 Fromm Riesling Spätlese - kinda sweet but not quite "lolly water".  Pretty big mineral and petrol nose.

    2012 Lucien Le Moine Corton Blanc - big and toasty nose.  Very ripe, with lots of marmalade and honey. 

    2007 Jacques Cacheux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru La Croix Rameux - some fruit here, sweet but not too much.  Nice and elegant with floral notes.  A little light on the finish.

    2003 Pavie - opened for 2 hours prior to serving.  Very fruity.  Softer now on the palate but tannins were still there.

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    It's been almost 8 years since I first met Dominique Ansel in Hong Kong.  At the time he was still in the kitchen of Daniel, and we showed him some classic Cantonese cooking before going off to do a little partying.  After he started his own bakery, I managed to catch up with him a few years ago in New York - after lining up for hours for his famous Cronut.  It was good to see him before he expanded his empire to include Tokyo, London, and L.A.

    He's back in town for a couple of days after a long absence, so The Great One and I rounded up a few friends, and took him for more classic Cantonese.  I passed up the opportunity to have the suckling pig with him at Seventh Son (家全七福) yesterday, but that was because I was already taking him to my favorite Cantonese private kitchen tonight.

    But disaster struck before dinner even started.  I had recently switched to shooting with a Sony A9 from my old Canon 6D, and the battery life on Sony just sucks.  While I normally have a habit of bringing a spare battery, for some reason it wasn't in my bag today.  So when I turned on my camera to find that the battery was at 7%, I knew I was gonna have to shoot with my iPhone tonight...

    Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - I told Dominique that these were "savory madeleines", which weren't far from the truth.  These were made with egg white, crab meat, birds' nest, and some finely diced ham and spring onions.  The texture was fluffy as usual, but tonight they seemed more wet and greasy than usual.

    Stir-fried soft-shell turtle shell (鳳城炒水魚裙) - such a classic dish, and it's been a while since I last had it.

    The shredded chili peppers, spring onions, coriander, and pickles all added their fragrances - and the Indian almonds (欖仁) pan-fried in oil were amazing.  The strips of soft shell turtle skirt were a little like jellyfish but without the crunch, but I don't think Dominique was a fan. 

    Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - one of our favorite dishes here, and nowadays the chef has begun to add bamboo piths since I don't want any shark's fin.

    For many non-Asians, this can be a plate of #fuckno... thanks to the soft and gooey texture of so many ingredients: spiny sea cucumber, pig trotter tendon, fish maw, dried abalone, goose web... balanced somewhat by the crunch of bamboo shoots, as well as more familiar ingredients such as pork belly and shiitake mushrooms.

    For the rest of us Asians (Dominique excluded, of course) this was a plate of amazing goodness, and naturally we poured the collagen-laden sauce into bowls of steamed rice and just goggled it up like Pac-Man.

    Almond soup with pig's lungs (杏汁白肺湯) - another classic.  Tonight, though, the soup wasn't as pale white as I am used to seeing.  It was also a tad more salty than I remembered.

    The 'dregs' tonight were certainly impressive... chunks of lung along with delicious pork belly - the latter with their fat half-melted.  Well, I don't blame our chef friend for not liking to eat the chunks of lung... since I can only handle a few nibbles myself.

    Steamed wild sole (清蒸海方利) - standard fare here, and this wild sole came in at more than 2 catties.  Nice.  And this is when we asked Dominique to pose for a pic while holding the fish to his face...  Ideally, we should have had him to an #anselfie with both arms extended - one hand holding the plate while the other holds the camera.  But with a big plate and all the sauce... that seemed a little risky.

    Braised hundred-treasure duck (百寶炆大鴨) - another fantastic classic winter dish.  The duck was stuffed with lotus seeds, egg yolk, Job's tears, shiitake mushrooms, duck meat, and chestnuts.  Very yum.

    Four treasure vegetables with Yunnan ham (雲腿扒四寶蔬) - it's been a while since I last had this, too... and it was one of the dishes where the chef showed impressive skills.  It may be a dish of vegetables, but the way Yunnan ham broth had been 'fed' to the veggies so that the flavors were absorbed... very much opened my eyes the first time I had this.

    Steamed fragrant rice in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) - this may be a pretty common dish at Cantonese restaurants, but this version featured much better ingredients and in larger quantities.  VERY tasty.

    Red bean purée with aged mandarin peel (陳皮紅豆沙) - alas, no 50-year-old dried mandarin peel for us tonight.  But this was still delicious.

    From experience I know this isn't a drinking crowd, so I only brought 3 bottles tonight...

    1996 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese-trocken - not surprisingly the acidity was rather high, but still feels a little rounded and aged.  With flint and mineral notes.

    1988 Clinet - a bit smoky, with a little fruit at the beginning.  After airing in decanter, this became nice and ripe, with a little cedar and some tropical, exotic coconut and banana.

    It was good catching up with Dominique, even if it was just for a short time. Gotta go back and visit him in New York soon...

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  • 03/20/18--07:42: Buried by the wave
  • No Fish is back in town for a few days, and I was glad to have a chance to catch up with her.  It's been a while since we were both at Ronin, so it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit.  I also roped Hello Kitty into this dinner, at No Fish's request...

    We took the first seating and decided to go for the "market tasting".  Previous experience tells me that we'd get pretty full.

    Kale flower, dashi, yuzu - this was OK.

    Kumamoto oyster, mozuku, apple, ginger vinegar - to my great surprise, the Kumamoto oyster was a lot more briny than I'm normally used to.  The mozuku (モズク) was nice, and the green apple purée on top delivered a hint of sweetness and acidity - which melded very well with the briny flavors.

    As usual, there was a platter of sashimi...

    Shima aji striped jack sashimi, wasabi, soy

    Kanpachi amber jack sashimi, sesame, negi soy - the finely diced leeks were marinated in soy sauce, which toned down the spicy kick.  There was also a nice hint of sesame.

    Hobou sea robin sashimi, daikon, ponzu, yuzu kosho - the yuzu kosho (柚子胡椒) was surprisingly mild.

    Akagai arkshell clam sashimi, kizami wasabi, cucumber, soy

    Botan ebi spot prawn sashimi, sudachi, salt - the flavors of perilla (紫蘇) here were pretty delicate.

    Botan ebi head, deep-fried - deep-fried prawn heads are always tasty.

    Next came the signature dish from which No Fish got her original name Mo' Unni - flower crab, uni, mitsuba, sudachi.  This was simply decadent, with the sweet and creamy tongues of sea urchin melting in the mouth right on top of the sweet flower crab meat.  Sudachi (酢橘) added a little acidity to pick things up, while mitsuba (三ツ葉) added some texture.  Mo' Unni was pretty happy, although I was surprised that we didn't order an extra one.

    Aji tartare - in a sesame dressing, with plenty of spring onions and minced ginger - which is, of course, the classic condiment paired with horse mackerel (鯵).

    This came with purple chips, which were pretty tasty.

    Tua Tua clams, surf clams, turnip, garlic miso - the turnip came with its greens, which were not surprisingly a little bitter.  The Tua Tua clams were OK, and the surf clams provided a more chewy texture.  The whole thing came in some kind of lemon butter (although we were told it was garlic miso), which worked perfectly well with all the different flavors.

    Cuttlefish tempura, nori, uni, sea salt - the cuttlefish was wrapped with nori (海苔) before being battered and deep-fried.  The sweet and creamy sea urchin worked well with the tempura, although I wasn't sure that the little dab of wasabi on top was necessary.  Needless to say, Mo' Unni approved of the dish.

    Katsuo tataki, king oyster mushrooms, daikon, olive - the bonito was smoked and lightly grilled.  Very tender.  Served on top of a slice of king oyster mushroom that had been cooked sous vide before charcoal grilled.  Topped with grated daikon (大根) and pickled olive, which added a nice dose of acidity.  Pretty good.

    Quail, orange, sansho - another staple on the menu.  The quail was pretty tender on the inside, although a little less pink than before.  The hint of orange was always interesting, but the sansho (山椒) was pretty mild.  Still very tasty, but the ladies decided to raise their white flags at this point...

    Unagi chirashi, kinome, pickled cucumber, sesame - the end of the tasting menu brings us to a mini unaju (鰻重).  This was interesting because they added some pickled cucumber to the rice, which brought some acidity and made me feel a little better about the amount of food I was stuffing into myself at this point...

    I was very full, but I saw something on the menu that I just couldn't pass up.

    Udon, wild shrimp, chorizo, tomato miso - the udon used to be a bit of rarity here, as the guy Matt sources it from in Fukuoka didn't give him a steady supply.  I just looooove the texture of it... with lots of bite.  Tonight this came with some shrimp and slices of very salty chorizo.  The tomato miso delivered lots of umami, while what seemed like finely diced Chinese chives (韭菜) added some crunch in the mouth.  But I really was stuffed... so I took a couple of mouthfuls and packed the rest of it home.

    We only had a short time to catch up during our 2-hour seating, but I was happy to see No Fish.  Hopefully I'll get to catch up with her again soon.

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  • 03/22/18--08:20: Pure, simple, seasonal
  • We finally caught up with Babu again after a couple of months, after serving her some of my expired beluga caviar back in January.  I only have a handful of restaurants where I'd like to take her, and tonight it became Ta Vie旅's turn.  Of course, the fact that it is right across the street from my office had absolutely no influence on my choice of restaurants...

    As usual, Sato-san and Takano-san knew of my dietary preferences and automatically switched out the ingredients for one particular dish, so I was getting a different printed menu from Babu.  I am ever grateful for their attention to detail.

    Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid caesar dressing - it's firefly squid season, so I was very, very happy to kick off dinner with this.  The tiny squids were packed with delicious goodness, and basically exploded in the mouth once bitten.  The shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, croûtons, Japanese spikenard (独活), and pepper chiffonade (糸唐辛子) on top of half a head of romaine lettuce was made perfect with a little dab of firefly squid caesar dressing on the side.  SLURP!

    With our salad came the homemade nukazuke (糠漬け) bread, which is something I always love.  Fermented rice bran is mixed in with dark rye flour and Kitanokaori (キタノカオリ) wheat flour.  I could resist a second one...

    And of course there is the homemade butter, made daily and served within a day.

    "Clam chowder", whelk Matsubu twist clam and peas with chef's twist - the chowder is poured from whelk shells into our bowls.

    The pieces of whelk (真つぶ貝) were very, very tender.  The two different types of peas were both very sweet.  Warms the stomach and, consequently, the heart...

    House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - Sato-san is incredibly kind to always offer me this dish as an extra course... サービス, of course.  I absolutely looooove the umami from the aonori (青海苔) seaweed, and the sea urchin soaked in sea water has that extra sweetness which is accentuated further by the seaweed.  Tonight the seaweed seemed a little more salty than usual, but this was still seriously yum.

    Burrata cheese with green asparagus, green apple and avocado purée - this was the dish that Sato-san switched for me.  Last year he substitute Japanese strawberries in place of beetroot, and this time around he developed the dish only yesterday...

    And it was fantastic!  Seasonal asparagus is always delicious, and besides the creamy Burrata and the drizzle of fragrant olive oil, we've got thin, crisp slices of green apple bringing some acidity... and that green apple/avocado purée which had just the right balance between savory, creamy, and acidity.  A couple of basil leaves became the perfect finishing touches on the dish.

    After hearing Hello Kitty's description of the dish, Babu also wanted to switch, and I'm pretty sure she was very happy about that decision!

    Confit chicken wings with artichoke, black truffle - before we started, Takano-san informed me that there was one portion of this dish available. Seeing as I have had their signature abalone quite a number of times, she wondered if I would want to substitute this.

    Of course I did.

    What's not to like about de-boned chicken wings which were cooked confit until the skin was all crispy?  The artichoke came with some acidity to help offset the grease, while the black truffle reliably delivered their wonderful fragrance.  Some ostrich fern shoots (屈) were added for a seasonal touch.

    Japanese langoustine with pork tail, Yunnan ham, langoustine broth - this was introduced as a very "simple" dish... and indeed the presentation looked very minimalist and simple.  But I have learned over the years that "simplicity is not simple".

    The langoustines from Sagami Bay (相模湾) was perfect. The mi-cuit execution delivered an amazing texture which was a combination of tender and slightly bouncy.  The clear broth was finished with a few drops of fragrant olive oil.  Delicious.

    We also got a "dumpling" on the side.  Underneath the cabbage wrapper was a combination of langoustine, pig tail, Yunnan ham (雲腿), and spring vegetables.  This was good, too.

    Before the next dish was presented, we were shown these big morels which came from Yunnan Province in China...

    Beef tongue stew, onion nouveau, fresh Yunnan morel - beef tongue is a delicacy enjoyed by the Japanese (and many of us Chinese), and this was incredibly tender after the tongue from Australian black Wagyu cattle was stewed for more than 4 hours with red wine, Cognac, and Shaoxing wine (紹興酒).  The accompanying cream sauce was made with morels and Shaoxing wine.

    Minced beef tongue was also stuffed inside the onion nouveau.  Very yum.

    Almond ice cream with meringue, fresh strawberry, scent of sakura blossom, covered with fragile candy glass - by now this is the signature dessert from Sato-san, which was accented with seasonal cherry blossoms.  Today the strawberries being used were Amaou (あまおう) from Fukuoka.

    Caramelized French Toast, black truffle toffee - the French toast came with cashew nut shavings on top, while the delicious Oolong tea (烏龍茶) ice cream came with the usual salted egg yolk shavings.  The toffee sauce on the side was flavored with black truffle.

    All of us finished with the wonderful herbal tea, which combined mint, lemongrass, and pandan leaves together to deliver a beautiful and soothing fragrance.  Tonight this meant that our petit four was mulberry compote and gélee.

    This was yet another wonderful meal from Sato-san and his team, and I really can't rave enough about the cuisine he has been refining for the last 3 years at Ta Vie旅.  Congratulations on making it to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for another year!

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    It's Earth Hour again, and once again Hello Kitty and I planned on participating in this global effort to raise awareness about doing something to help save our planet.  After attending a cocktail event at La Rambla in IFC, I met up with Hello Kitty and rode the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to the waterfront.

    One by one, the commercial office buildings and hotels turned off their main lights and signage. Some were slower than others, and the Hong Kong Observation Wheel next to the Central Piers finally went dark about 10 minutes after Earth Hour started.

    A darkened Hong Kong skyline is a rare sight indeed, considering how much light pollution there is normally.  Many of the tourists who gathered here tonight were noticeably disappointed about not getting shots and/or selfies against the full light show that is Victoria Harbour.  Some spoke of "wasted shots" while the lights were off.  Those people clearly haven't heard about Earth Hour, yet.

    As usual there were some buildings or advertisers who stubbornly refused to turn off their lights.  While everyone in Central and most people from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay did, Hengda/Evergrade (中国恒大) kept their logo on their building lit, while Hong Kong Arts Centre, LG, and Cellars of National Treasure 1573 (囯窖1573) had their LED/neon signs on the whole time.  And the two Aqua Luna junks also kept their sails brightly lit as they criss-crossed the harbor.

    We stuck around until the buildings started to turn their lights back on, then left the harborfront area to go get some dinner and drinks.  I'm happy that Hello Kitty could join me for this event once again, but a little bummed that we had to leave Kuma behind in our darkened apartment...

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  • 03/25/18--02:20: (Gre)GohGanDen
  • I'm back in Macau on a day-trip (my fifth trip in 2018) for a very special lunch.  Ahead of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Bangkok last year, I attended the first four-hands collaboration between Gaggan and DEN (傳).  Subsequently I also attended the two GohGan collaborations between Gaggan and Goh-san from La Maison de la Nature Goh - in Seoul and Bangkok.  All three have been very interesting dinners for me.

    Two months ago, in between bites of roast suckling pig at Seventh Son (家全七福), Gaggan told us about their plan to do a new variation of GohGan - by adding DEN into the mix.  We knew that this would take things up a notch, so we were pretty ecstatic when the invitation came to join the event in Macau.

    Hello Kitty and I dragged our butts out of bed early in the morning, and took the ferry to Macau.  We arrived at Wynn Palace a full hour before lunch started, so we strolled around for a little lèche-vitrines before becoming one of the first to arrive at Mizumi (泓).

    The three chefs were still busy doing their thang, so I waived Vladimir Kojic over and handed him the bottles of wine that I had brought him and Gaggan - including a bottle of natural wine bong water that I planned to drink with him.  This was gonna be fun!

    When enough people had arrived, we took our seats next to The Great One and Sweetheart, plus a couple of other friends of Gaggan we had seen at the GohGan in Seoul.  A cozy group which made for good conversations.

    True to form, we found an emoji menu in front of us. I was very much looking forward to being surprised for the next 14-courses. Given that the chefs only arrived in Macau on Friday, it wasn't a surprise to hear that the menu was only finalized yesterday morning...

    La Closerie Extra Brut - very yeasty nose.  Lots of mousse here, and very floral.  Nice.

    Foie gras🍊 monaka - BUT OF COURSE the first course would be the DEN monaka (最中)... There would, of course, be smooth, creamy and fatty foie gras inside the monaka.

    The fruity ingredient denoted by the orange emoji? That would be kumquat (金柑) marmalade, and the citrusy fragrance carried by the peel made the dish.

    Lick It Up👅 umami - these days when you see the tongue emoji, and when you suddenly hear guitar riffs being blasted around you, you know what comes next would be “Lick It Up”…. Today the dish – like many which would follow – was a joint effort by all three chefs. We were asked to identify the chef behind each of the three different purées, so we ended up taking little licks of each.

    The tomato/chili chutney at the bottom came from Gaggan; the green pea (perhaps with spring onion) in the middle from Goh-san; the miso at the top came from Zaiyu-san. And yes, we all licked from the plate, and there were pictures and videos…

    2012 Pithon-Paillé Coteau de Treilles - nice acidity here.  Tasted a little complex and unfiltered, with some oak.

    Tart🐷 brain - upon opening the box, we found what looked like a Portuguese pasteis placed on some cinnamon sticks, surrounded by star anise and cardamom. But the emoji was a pig’s head…

    As it turned out, beneath the top layer of sweet brûlée was a creamy mousse made with pig brains, spicy with curry flavors as well as the fragrance of cardamom. This was very, very delicious. I could have had a few more of these and inhaled them like I do pasteis

    2003 López de Heredia Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia - very oxidized nose, really sweet nose with lots of vanilla and marzipan.  Ripe on the palate with good acidity.

    Bafun uni 🥣 white asparagus - it’s hard not to love a dish which has tongues of sea urchin peeking through the top. Apparently a classic dish from La Maison de la Nature Goh, the chilled white asparagus purée hid a layer of what I thought was shellfish gelée at the bottom.  This had a combination of sweetness with umami, which made it a very beautiful dish.

    Duck🦆 vindaloo - being served in a metallic Chinese steamer may make this "bao" look Chinese, but the bun was, in fact, made with Japanese sake that Zaiyu-san brought - whose flavors I could certainly detect over those of the slightly spicy duck vindaloo filling made by Goh-san.  VERY, VERY tasty.

    Otoro🐟 paturi - this looked like a familiar dish from Gaggan, but looks can be deceiving.  Once the cedar paper was removed and the banana leaf was unwrapped, what we got was an arrangement of fatty tuna belly (大トロ), which had been cured by Zaiyu-san for a day in soy saucewhich had konbu (昆布) sitting in it for a month.  Paired with a little yuzu-flavored wasabi.

    With the paturi, the burning/smoking process meant that parts were slightly warmed - melting the fat a little - while others remained raw.

    OK.  So I ate bluefin tuna today.  I didn't proactively tell anyone about my dietary preferences, because this was a special event and I wanted to see what the chefs would come up with.

    Fried chicken🍗 Dentucky - もちろん there would be DFC... This time with some sakura blossoms... and the special people opened up their boxes to find a little Zaiyu doll inside.

    So as usual you've got glutinous rice stuffed inside the deboned chicken wing, along with edamame (枝豆).  There was a spicy ingredient inside and we managed to identify it as X.O. sauce.  But as we learned a few minutes later it wasn't just ANY X.O. sauce... it was actually the X.O. sauce from The Great One herself - who regularly brings it as gifts to chef friends like Gaggan and Zaiyu-san.

    As it turns out, this was actually an 8-hands event, then...

    2014 Burn Cottage Pinot Noir Burn Cottage Vineyard - sweet and ripe fruit.  Pretty nice.

    Awabi🍄 shitake - the abalone came in thick chunks, and while we have eaten our fair share of fresh and dried abalone, the thick cut and the precise cooking delivered a particularly spring texture - which I enjoyed immensely.  The shiitake mushrooms and the mushroom sauce on top delivered plenty of umami as Zaiyu-san intended, while the porridge at the bottom was made with abalone liver to add some intensity of flavors.  A very understated dish which provided much satisfaction.

    Rosy🐠 seabass - the carpaccio was seasoned with tarragon oil, lemon salt, and a little koji (麹) salt.  In addition to the acidity curing the dish, you've also got a little curry flavor here... which was totally unexpected.

    2012 Pierre Gonon Saint Joseph - very ripe and sweet on the nose, almost jammy, with nice notes of dried herbs, almost floral.  Still pretty tannic.

    Beef shank 🥟 black garlic - the single black momo dumpling was presented in a beautiful Japanese lacquer bowl, sitting in a clear broth (of beef consommé and dashi?)

    The oxtail filling was actually pretty tasty.  The dumpling wrapper was a little drier and more chewy than I had expected, but I didn't mind it.  This was actually pretty comforting and nice.

    Charcoal🌑 surprise - this is a classic Gaggan dish, the ingredients of which are usually never made known to the diner in advance.  One simply needs to bite into it and try to figure out.

    Today the shell was made of mashed taro, while the center contained a combination of Mangalitsa pork and cheese.  It was pretty tasty, and also kinda fun to eat...

    At this point I asked Vladimir to bring out the bottle of bong water that I brought along. It has been airing for the last two hours, and he was pretty confident that I wouldn't like it.  But hey, I brought this for him and Gaggan so we would drink it together...

    2015 Gut Oggau Mechthild - totally bong water!  Just look at how cloudy and orange the thing is!  Nose was definitely pungent with minerality and fizziness.  It's actually more like a French cidre and less like wine.  Vladimir was right.  While I wouldn't mind a bottle of cidre like this, I have a tough time accepting it as a bottle of wine.

    King crab🦀 GohGanDen - for me, this is always the highlight of any Gaggan collaboration.  The curry.  Ever since the first one I attended a year ago, I have always ordered up a "XXL" portion of this dish, and today was no exception.

    As usual Gaggan was responsible for cooking the Alaskan king crab curry.  Instead of the usual practice of serving it with rice, today the curry came with Hakata-stayle ramen (博多ラーメン), sourced from ShinShin in Fukuoka (福岡) by Goh-san. True to the spirit of having every chef contribute to a dish, Zaiyu-san made the dashi which made the curry more liquid.

    Yes, that's a damn big bowl of noodles.  And yes, I ate it all.  It was spicy, but I was able to take it.  And like every other Gaggan curry I have ever tasted, this was very, very delicious.  If I hadn't had another bite to eat before this arrived, I would have asked for another big bowl.

    At this point we were poured a cup of fragrant rose tea to cleanse our palates.

    Dessert🍃 from the garden - this was a variation of DEN's "tea-ramisu", and was made with Taiwanese Oolong tea (烏龍茶), with (MY FAVORITE!) gold foil and what seemed to be puffed genmai (玄米) on top.

    Vanilla miso🍓 Amaou strawberry - the delicious Amaou (あまおう) strawberry from Fukuoka came with a creamy foam on top, while the vanilla miso ice cream was sprinkled with soy sauce powder, bringing a nice mix of sweet and savory flavors.

    This was undoubtedly the best collaboration meal I have ever had the pleasure of attending.  This is not to say that dishes at the other events weren't tasty.  In fact, I have had many stunning dishes at 4-hands events.  But this was truly, fundamentally different.  Instead of having two (or three) chefs each doing their own thing and simply ordering their offerings alternately, most of the dishes here incorporated elements from two or all three of the chefs.  They had to work together to ensure that the end result of their joint efforts would deliver the harmony and balance that is expected of dishes from chefs of their caliber.  That, boys and girls, ain't easy.

    It was good to catch up with Gaggan, Vladimir, and Rajesh; and also nice to see Goh-san, Zaiyu-san, Emi-san... and especially Noriko-san who remembered my face in spite of the fact that I had never ever stepped foot in DEN.  Many thanks for the wonderful treat!

    P.S.  I wonder when Goh-san is gonna find out the evil plan Gaggan has hatched for him when GohGan (the restaurant) actually launches... *cue Dr. Evil's maniacal laughter*

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  • 03/27/18--01:18: The clarity of the wave
  • After a day in the office, I'm back in Macau again for 2 days to join the festivities for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  As the event is held at Wynn Palace in Macau, the official venue sponsor was extremely generous with the attendees and rolled out the VIP carpet for us.  In addition to offering accommodation, we were also invited to dine around at many of the restaurants within both Wynn Palace as well as Wynn Macau.

    I got off the ferry and took the bus to Wynn Macau.  I chose Mizumi (泓) in this property - as opposed to the one in Wynn Palace - because it's the one restaurant within the Wynn properties with a macaron which I have yet to visit.

    The restaurant is normally closed at this time, so when I arrived a few minutes before noon, I was the first and only one to be seated at the sushi counter in front of master sushi chef Fujikawa Hideki (藤川英樹).

    Some bubbly to start us off...

    Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs - pretty easy to drink.

    I heard the staff informed Fujikawa-san that my neighbors had no dietary restrictions.   Curiously, he did not ask me whether I had any...

    Deep-fried firefly squid (蛍烏賊) - these are in season, and I don't seem to remember ever having them deep-fried.  Of course, deep-frying just about anything makes for a tasty morsel, and here the chef has chopped up fresh firefly squid - along with their insides - and made it into a very tasty sauce with plenty of inky flavors.

    Kinsen Daiginjo Kashin (金泉 大吟醸 華心), BY 30 - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Very fragrant, lots of fermented rice and banana notes.

    Olive flounder (鮃) and sea urchin (雲丹) - we were meant to add some marinated grated radish (おろし) and roll the thin slices of flounder up like a roll.  While the ingredients were fresh and tasty, and it is customary to dip flounder in ponzu (ポン酢), in this case I felt the sea urchin with yuzu (柚子) shavings on top was overpowered.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - rolled up with marinated grated radish inside.  The yellowtail was very fatty, and the texture was very, very tender.  The acidity from the ponzu helped cut through the fat of the fish.  It was a perfect mouthful.

    Japanese gaper clam (海松貝) - this was terrific, very crunchy.

    Surf clam (北寄貝) - lightly grilled, with a very springy and tender texture. Taken with salt and wasabi. Very good.

    Fan shell (平貝) - sliced, grilled, and served wrapped in a piece of nori (海苔).

    I saw the chefs bring out a big tray with large chunks of tuna laid out on top, and politely informed Fujikawa-san that I did not wish to have any kind of tuna.   He acknowledged my request, and the next serving was a substitute.

    Great amberjack (間八) - with grated yuzu zest.  There is firmness within the softness here, and pretty fatty that it kinda melted in the mouth.  Yum.

    Next up, Fujikawa-san brought out a large Japanese horsehair crab that was already cooked.  He cut off a leg and puts it on a plate for me.

    Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - the meat from the leg. Just the purity of the natural flavors.  Beautiful.

    Then came a pile of meat from the crab's body, topped with crab tomalley (蟹味噌).

    Ichigoni (いちご煮) - a regional specialty in Aomori Prefecture (青森県), this is a soup with Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) and Ezo abalone (蝦夷鮑) - both from Hokkaido - as well as nori and perilla (紫蘇) leaves chiffonade.  Very comforting and delicious.

    Manatsuru Mana1751 Premium (真名鶴 Mana1751 Premium), BY30 - a junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) with seimaibuai of 50%.  Initially muted because it was served too cold, as it warmed it showed a sharper nose with some acetone notes.  Once it fully warmed up it became smoother and slightly sweet.

    Then it was time to move on to sushi... The vinegar in the shari (しゃり) was rather pronounced.

    Red sea bream (鯛)

    Needlefish (細魚) - with a little minced ginger on top.  Pretty nice.

    Ark shell (赤貝) - slightly crunchy and still tender.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - substituted for tuna.  With a little kabosu (香母酢), ginger, grated radish, and spring onion.

    Botan shrimp (牡丹蝦) - with some kabosu.

    Mizumi burger - a pile of Japanese horsehair crab meat (which came, unfortunately, with a piece of shell), sea urchin, and salmon roe.  Just like one of those "3-in-1" combos that Taiwanese chefs at Japanese restaurants love doing...

    We have another soup, and this time there was a very tender piece of "leftover (アラ)" red sea bream, with this particular piece coming from the collar (カマ) area.

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - very fatty and torching helped to melt the fat.  With some citrus.

    Trout (鱒) - from waters surrounding Hokkaido and Aomori.  Lightly smoked with cherry wood chips after light torching, which delivered lovely smoky flavors.  Beautiful.  Served with diced raw onions marinated in ponzu.

    Gizzard shad (小鰭) - shinko (新子) is not in season yet, but these thin slices of gizzard shad were pretty small.  The acidity in the fish was pretty high.

    Botan ebi head - deep-fried and always delicious.

    Conger eel (穴子)

    Egg (卵) - nice to see that it's the higher-end type resembling a Japanese honey sponge cake (カステラ).  Made together with fish and shrimp, of course.

    Finally, we have our fruits and dessert.  First up was Amaou (あまおう) strawberry with cream, along with a nice of very, very, very ripe and juicy Musk melon from Shizuoka (静岡).

    Then we have Fujikawa-san's homemade coconut pudding (ココナッツプリン) with matcha sauce on top, along with a single black bean (黒豆) covered in gold foil.  Very soft and wobbly.  Very creamy.  Very good.

    This was a lot of food, and all of it very good.  Would be very curious to come back and try the tempura (天ぷら) and other non-sushi offerings.  Many thanks to our hosts for the treat!

    With my belly very full, I dragged my luggage onto the shuttle bus and checked in to Wynn Palace on the Cotai side.  Many of us had been given complimentary suites which - and I'm certainly not complaining here - seemed a shame given that I didn't have anyone to share with other than my beloved Char Siu...

    ...and I didn't have anyone I could entertain in the sitting area...

    But at least I think I could enjoy the very spacious bathroom.

    I caught up on some work, then ironed my shirt before donning my penguin outfit for the festivities this evening...

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    After donning my brand-spanking-new penguin outfit (the invitation specified "black tie or cocktail"), I strolled downstairs to the pool deck of Wynn Palace, got my wristband at the media check-in desk, and joined the cocktail party for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.

    This annual party is a good chance to catch up with some friends - chefs, fellow foodies, as well as the media.  Social media has lit up over the last few days with posts by people attending the festivities, so we kinda have a sense of many of the chefs who have made it to the list.  What we don't know is the positioning of each restaurant... which would only be announced later in the evening.

    The chef I'm most happy to see here tonight is none other than The Man in White T-shirt.  I have often introduced him to people as a "chef's chef" - meaning when chefs knock off and wanna go eat somewhere on their own free time, they go and eat in his restaurant.  After years of being a favorite of local foodies in Hong Kong, it would seem that Neighborhood has made it on the list!

    Eventually we moved into the Grand Theater, took our seats, and waited the the countdown to start.

    There seemed to be quite a number of new entries (8) as well as a few re-entries (2) this year.  I was happy to see chef friends among them:

    La Maison de la Nature Goh climbed back to No. 48.  I was very happy for Goh-san.

    With a job change last year, I was happy to see that Hairy Legs has managed to stay on the list as Caprice re-entered at No. 46.   As he's only been on the job for less than a year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him move up the list next year.

    I just had another good meal at Ronin last week, so I had to congratulate Matt as they moved up a few spots to No. 41.

    Chef Bee Satongun was presented with the Elit Vodka Asia's Best Female Chef Award.  I was very happy to see this, as I had a delicious meal at Paste in Bangkok last year.  Paste also debuted on the list at No. 31.

    Asia's Best Pastry Chef Award, sponsored by Valrhona was taken home by Nicolas Lambert from Caprice.  I have been a huge fan since I first tasted his desserts more than 2 years ago.  Very, very happy for him.

    Jade Dragon slipped a couple of places to No. 35, but with all the visitors in Macau visiting his restaurant this week, I have no doubt that Chef Tam will climb up the list next year.  Visitors from outside the Pearl River Delta are only realizing now what we've known for a while - that Jade Dragon is among the very best Cantonese and Chinese restaurants in the world.

    Neighborhood debuting at No. 32 was a happy surprise.  The Man in White T-shirt did, naturally, wear his trademark white tee to the award ceremonies.

    The Chairman moved up 25 spots to No. 22 this year, sharing the Highest Climber Award.  My suspicion is that it has something to do with the fact that Richard Ekkebus always takes visiting chef friends there...

    The other co-recipient of the Highest Climber Award was Mume - which moved up to No. 18.  Very happy for Richie and the guys.

    I was extremely happy to see my friend Sato-san climb from No. 33 to No. 16 on the list with Ta Vie.  It is one of my favorite places to dine in Hong Kong, and only gets better as the young restaurant matures.

    This year Alain went up on stage on his own to collect the award for The Best Restaurant in Taiwan on behalf of RAW.  Very happy for him and his team.

    The Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award this year went to André Chiang, who recently closed his eponymous restaurant to spend more time in Taiwan (and China, it seems...)

    Amber slipped a few places but remained in the top 10, ending up at No. 7 this year.  Congratulations to Richard!

    As usual, things get more tense the closer we got to the top.  By the time it got down to the final two... we were all waiting on the edges of our seats.  Would Gaggan remain No. 1 yet again?  Or would DEN knock it off its perch at the top?

    So yes, my friend Gaggan and his team at his eponymous restaurant is The Best Restaurant in Asia, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna for the fourth consecutive year.  I was so, so, so happy for them!

    Afterwards we went back to the poolside to grab a few more drinks, and I finally grabbed a few bites to eat. But first, I went back up to my room to grab the bottle of Champagne I had brought to drink with my friend Vladimir Kojic.  Now that Gaggan was No. 1 AGAIN this year, this single bottle of 2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature just wasn't enough when shared between Gaggan, Rydo, Vladimir, João, and myself!

    P.S. Per my usual practice, a quick take on the list:

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

    The Best Restaurant in Japan, also No. 2 on the list, is DEN. In its 6th year, the Best Restaurant in Japan is finally one that serves Japanese food.

    The Best Restaurant in Singapore, also No. 5 on the list, is Odette. It doesn't serve Singaporean or Peranakan food.

    The Best Restaurant in China, also No. 7 on the list, is Amber. It doesn't serve Chinese food.

    Sushi Saito slipped one place to No. 27, and is now the lone sushiya on the list.

    P.P.S. Among the 10 restaurants which dropped off the list this year was the place run by the Asshole Chef who left me a love note in the comment section of this post... which also happened to be the highest-ranked restaurant from 2017 to have fallen off the list.  MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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