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

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  • 07/03/13--08:27: Adrift with the fish
  • After some delay due to our conflicting schedules, I was finally able to meet up with a friend for dinner tonight.  Mo' Unni decided to forgo revisiting Catalunya, and wanted to check out Ronin instead.  I had a pretty good time on my last visit, but was chastised by Your Highness for not posting any pictures.  Luckily I was able to get us seats through their email reservation system, and made sure I would be sitting at the bar where there was light.  For some reason the lights weren't on at the back of the room last time...

    Matt came over the say hello as menus were dropped in front of us.  Mo' Unni insisted that she is no longer the Girl With No Appetitie, and somewhere in between staring at the menu and glancing at me, decided that she'd like to go with the tasting menu.  I guess she was really serious about clearing up her reputation!  So we took sips of our drinks and waited for the onslaught of food...

    I loved the Hitachino Nest White Ale (常陸野ネストホワイトエール) from my last visit so much that I decided to start my evening with a glass of it.  Light and refreshing, and the aftertaste not so bitter.

    Our amuse bouche was okra wrapped with lotus root, with black sesame and shiso.  Gotta say that's one helluva pink lotus root... marinated and a little acidic.

    Shigoku oyster, red shiso vinegar, sudachi - these little babies from Washington were a little briny but creamy at the same time.  Nice touch with the sudachi (酢橘).

    A little sashimi platter arrived, bearing four different items:
    Shima aji sashimi, fresh wasabi, soy
    Ika squid sashimi, mentaiko, kabosu - with julienned cucumber and kabosu (香母酢) rind.  Don't think I tasted the mentaiko (明太子)...

    Tai sea bream sashimi, karasumi, yuzu - with grated bottarga and yuzu (柚子) rind.  Nice and fragrant.  Love the bottarga as always, and the combination with yuzu just works wonders.

    Saba mackerel sashimi, persimmon, smoke - mackerel is always good when it's fatty and rich, and very interesting to have paired it with persimmon.  Nice smoky flavors.

    Flower crab, mitsuba, uni - this was where Mo' Unni really came alive… The shell of the crab was filled with sweet crab meat, mixed in with a little bit of mitsuba (三つ葉).  Creamy sea urchin made Mo' Unni very happy...

    Bonito katsuo sashimi, tosa shoyu, white onion - very tender and yummy, with the bonito wrapped around the onions and sprinkles of scallions all around.  The Tosa soy sauce (土佐醤油) itself is made with bonito, so of course it would match perfectly with bonito sashimi...

    Spanish mackerel, tomato, white ponzu - the mackerel is lightly battered and deep-fried.  The ponzu (ポン酢) and tomato combination was pretty sour.  Got some red onions and mizuna (水菜), too...  Not bad, but prefer not to deep-fry mackerel.

    Sardines, pickled eggplant, tomato, cauliflower - YUM.  Love sardines. The finely chopped eggplant, and tomato provide the acidity to cut the fat of the sardines.  Yummy cauliflower, too.

    Django - having finished my white ale, I ordered up one of these at the suggestion of a waiter.  Made with Williams Gin, Mancino Vermouth Rosso and Aperol, apparently it's their version of negroni.  Nice and bitter, with the delicious fragrance of orange rind.

    Gillardeau oysters, smoked tofu, cauliflower - my favorite oyster, with plenty of salmon roe on top.  Nice and smoky flavors, kinda covering up the yuzu.

    Triggerfish, honey, Kyoto shichimi, chestnuts - I've never had triggerfish before, and this was a nice preparation.  Love that honey glaze, which was enhanced by shichimi (七味) from Kyoto's Shichimiya (七味屋).  The slices of chestnuts were surprisingly hard and crunchy, but nice!

    Squid steak, maitake mushrooms, thyme - the grilled squid was pretty good, but the maitake (舞茸) definitely stole the show with its wonderful flavors together with the slightly sweet sauce.  How interesting for Matt to have come up with the thyme tempura (天ぷら) that has been sprinkled all over!

    Grunt, Yardbird shichimi - a whole grilled grunt (伊佐木), which I ended up having pretty much all to myself... thanks to No Fish Mo' Unni. Pretty good with some lemon juice and the Yardbird shichimi, which was made with Korean chili peppers, sansho (山椒), Sichuan peppercorns and dried yuzu.  I could definitely feel my tongue going a little numb...  Very nice and succulent fish.

    The Last Word - for my final drink (or so I thought) I asked for this... trying to be funny.  Made with Williams Gin, Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino and lime.  The Chartreuse was definitely overpowering, and I could definitely taste the lime and feel the gin... but not quite getting the maraschino.

    Kagoshima beef, maitake, egg yolk - this wasn't meant to be part of our tasting menu, but I loved it so much last time that I shamelessly asked Matt for it... and also to give Mo' Unni something to eat...  YUM!  Fatty, melt-in-your-mouth mostly raw beef, together with the raw egg yolk and sweet sauce... kick-ass sukiyaki (すき焼き)!  Raw onions, scallions, maitake... and those deep-fried garlic chips!  Could this get any better?  I think not.

    Unagi, kinome, chirashi, rice - I was wondering about this eel a little, because it was pretty damn thick!  Loved the eel, loved the rice marinated in vinegar... and especially loved the sansho leaf (木の芽) that gave me that tingling numbness on my tongue.

    Unfortunately Matt no longer has the delicious udon (うどん) on the menu, so I can only dream of having it again someday... maybe.

    I was soooo full... and pretty happy from the alcohol, too... but Matt wouldn't let us go without having "dessert".  Ronin's idea of dessert?  Cocoa Nib Old Fashioned - made with Yardbird Cocoa Nib Shochu, Pampero Añejo and chocolate.  Nice way to send me home with more alcohol in my system... hic...  Oh and someone had TWO drinks desserts...

    I'm glad I made it back here tonight.  The food was very enjoyable, the atmosphere was jovial and the staff friendly.  I can't imagine ever not having a good time here...

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  • 07/04/13--07:57: The peachy summer dragon
  • Twenty-nine days after my last visit, I find myself back at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) for dinner with a friend.  It's been so long since I last saw him… our last meal together was more than 6 months ago!  He very kindly offered to treat me to dinner, so it was only right that I bring a decent bottle of wine in return.

    As the restaurant only changes their menu twice a season, and it hadn't been that long since my last visit… it wasn't at all surprisingly that I'd be having the same dishes that I had last time…

    Cold "somen" topped with "white shrimp" and "premium caviar", scent of "sudachi" - loved it the last time, and just as refreshing tonight.  Perfect start to the meal, with sweet, savory and acidic flavors coming together as well as soft and crunchy textures.

    Deep fried "premium sea urchin" from Hokkaido wrapped with seaweed - still not a fan, but the Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) from Hokkaido's Rishiri Island (利尻島), was pretty creamy…

    The "red eggplant" (赤茄子) from Kyushu (九州) was just as delicious as last time, with just a touch of ginger mash.

    Japanese sweet corn tofu - incredibly fragrant, pure and sweet.  A perfect match with our wine tonight.

    Traditional kaiseki summer soup: seasoned "ichiban dashi" broth with a delicate shrimp dumpling - the flavors are so light and delicate here… and the use of winter melon (冬瓜) - julienned this time instead of a large, thin slice - is perfect for summer.  The water shield (蒓菜) is from Akita Prefecture (秋田県).

    Tonight we have a selection of 3 sashimi.  Thankfully bluefin tuna's not on the menu tonight!
    Lightly poached "hamo" with "ume" sauce - it's summer and that means pike eel season for high-end Japanese restaurants.  Poached with a dab of plum sauce is a classic preparation.  I gotta say that I was a little underwhelmed by this tonight...

    "Bonito" with mustard soy sauce - the skin has been lightly torched.  OMG this was pretty good.

    Simmered "octopus" with "yuzu - koshyou" - the octopus was very, very tender… and love the yuzu kosho (柚子胡椒).

    Charcoal grilled "alfonsino" covered with "roasted rice" - loved this the last time, and got even better tonight!

    Apparently this is the peak of the alfonsino (金目鯛) season, and my piece was sooooo fatty and oily!  Simply to die for!

    Served with a little bit of green apple and ginger on the side, so that the acidity can help cut through the oil.

    RyuGin interpretation of "katsudon": "wagyu beef cutlet" with "onsen tamago" and red onions - I would never, ever, ever complain about having this dish again so soon.  How could you not love this?!  Tender, succulent beef made into a katsudon (カツ丼)… with raw egg, onions and a sukiyaki (すき焼き) sauce to boot!  Nom nom nom...

    Simmered whole "ezo" abalone with abalone reduction over shiitake mushroom rice - subtly fragrant rice and tender abalone.  Yum.

    Abalone liver and pickled cucumber on the side…

    …and a little red miso soup with tofu skin (湯葉).

    Sencha (煎茶) was served to cleanse our palates.

    RyuGin specialty: -196ºC "candy strawberry" and +99ºC "strawberry jam" - I still like these "hot and cold" desserts… and also nice because the acidity from the hot strawberry jam works well with the sweetness from the powdered filling.

    Peach compot jelly - apparently this was inspired by the Bellini.  You've got Japanese white peach - currently at the peak of the season - with a layer of jelly on top and served on a bed of crushed ice.  Chilled Champagne sauce is then poured over the crushed ice around the peach.  Very ripe and sweet peach.  Icy and refreshing.  Fantastic way to finish the meal.


    1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - drank about half an hour after opening.  Big, toasty nose, lots of grilled corn.  Good acidity on the palate.  Opened up further and eventually showed more elegance other than just the toasty punch.  Worked pretty nicely with the corn tofu…

    Once again I was totally stuffed at the end of the meal.  Many thanks to my friend for the lovely treat, but I gotta limit my visits to once every 2 or 3 months...

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  • 07/07/13--02:37: Stars and celebrities
  • I got together with a few friends for lunch today in advance of an event in the afternoon.  As the event itself would be held in the Miramar Shopping Centre, we figured it would only make sense to have a late lunch at Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂魚翅酒家), just a few floors above the stage that had already been set up.  It's been more than 2 years since my last lunch here, and I relished the opportunity to see if the quality was still the same.

    I was surprised how many people were still at the restaurant even at this late hour.  We sat down about a quarter before 2pm, and it looked like some of the others had arrived not along before we did.  As a consequence, the kitchen was pretty busy and it took a while to get our food to the table…

    Ox tongue in XO chili sauce (XO醬鹵牛脷) - more chili sauce than XO, but at least the tongue was very tender.

    Steamed shrimp dumpling (水晶鮮蝦餃) - looks like nothing's changed from my last visit.  The skin STILL stuck to my chopsticks, my plate, and just about everything else.  Why can't they get this right?!  Well, at least no one found a bug inside their dumpling this time…

    Roast suckling pig with minced shrimp (百花脆皮乳豬件) - can't remember why I didn't have this last time, but O-M-G these were really delicious.  The fatty flavors of the crispy suckling pig crackling combined beautifully with the shrimp paste encased underneath.  Maybe next time I'll just have half a plate for myself…

    Steamed rice flour rolls with shredded turnip, enoki and Yunnan ham (金包銀絲腸粉) - I remember liking these from last time, and it was still pretty tasty today, but…

    enoki (えのき)? Yunnan ham (雲腿)?  Where the hell were they?

    Steamed pork dumpling topped with minced Yunnan ham (腿茸燒賣皇) - pretty decent, and the shredded ham on top helped make it a little more interesting.

    Steamed preserved vegetable and pork bun (梅菜皇扣肉包) - a little on the sweet side thanks to the preserved leafy mustard (梅菜).  Interesting to find a chunk of fatty pork belly inside, but then again this is the classic combination, innit?!  Not bad.

    Steamed pork sparerib with vermicelli (豉汁排骨蒸津絲) - how interesting for them to put glass vermicelli at the bottom of the dish, so that it soaks up all the sauce and is just absolutely yummy…

    Rice with diced fresh abalone and diced chicken wrapped in lotus leaf (鮑魚雞粒荷葉飯) - actually pretty tasty, with plenty of flavor from the fresh abalone.

    Baked ham and spring onion cake (火腿焗燒餅) - the fragrance of the spring onions was so strong that I could smell it when my friend was eating one next to me…

    Personally I would have preferred a little more ham, and for it not to be so soaked in lard that the interior became so mushy.  Still yummy enough, though…

    Since they didn't have any cold desserts, and my memory of their desserts from last time isn't exactly inspiring, so we quickly adjourned downstairs in time for the event…

    I've never been to an event where a celebrity was launching something… and I'm a little too old to chase after idols and stars… so it may be a little surprising that I showed up at the launch event of a magazine issue with Shiga Lin (連詩雅).  The reality is that I didn't come to cheer for Shiga.  I came to cheer for my friend Jimmy, who was the photographer behind the shoot.  He's a very talented photog who works with many different celebrities all over Asia, from Hong Kong (Angelababy), Korea (2PM), Japan (Go Hiromi, 郷ひろみ) to Taiwan.  I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this issue of Gekkan NEO (月刊NEO) and see more of Jimmy's fantastic work!

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  • 07/12/13--08:21: Old and French
  • Having attended a few fantastic birthday dinners over the last couple of months, it was now my turn to return the favor by throwing one of my own.  I had struggled to come up with a wine list that would be interesting enough, as I've got a harsh critic or two among my guests.  The choice of venue also took a little effort, as I wanted to avoid some of the usual suspects but needed somewhere with a private room.

    After some deliberations and booking multiple venues, I decided to do it at The Principal.  My past dinners there - all hosted by partners behind the restaurant - have been pretty delicious.  They've got private rooms available without the exorbitant minimums that some other restaurants demand.  And what's more: their corkage policy of charging per head - as opposed to per bottle - works fantastically well for wine-heavy dinners like this one.  One of the partners very kindly booked a room for me, and introduced me to the team to set up a menu that would work with the wines I wanted to bring.

    This has been a quiet time at work for me, so I showed up at the restaurant extra early… A couple of friends were also eager to get a head start and showed up a half hour early, so I brought along an extra bottle of bubbly to entertain them…

    2009 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Lieu-dit "Les Ursules", dégorgée en Juillet 2011 - 100% Pinot Noir.  Slightly mineral and metallic, a little toast.  Very ripe on palate.  Second pour showed a much more open nose with heavier toasty notes.  Not bad but I expected a little more.

    A trio of amuse bouche showed up before us:
    Mojito-infused melon - pretty hard and crunchy.  Reminds me of the fruit salad at Catalunya.  Definitely tasted the alcohol...

    Chorizo gougères - pretty tasty.

    Smoked eel with pineapple - we were told that there was a slice of pineapple on top, but it seems like a layer of agar instead…

    I took the black truffle roll, which smelled fantastic and tasted fine, too.  Unfortunately the texture was soft and mushy…

    Caviar: bacon custard, pancetta - I could kinda get the faint flavors of bacon in the egg custard, but didn't see the piece of pancetta like last time…  The caviar is apparently from French trout.

    1970 Dom Pérignon - totally oxidized, so sweet on the nose, with sugarcane, Chinese licorice (甘草), caramelized sugar, orange marmalade notes.  Totally up my alley.  Very flat with almost no bubbles left.  Good acidity here on the palate.  I expected this to be a lot more lively and complex.  Guess this bottle was over the hill…

    King crab: Alaska, avocado, yuzu, wasabi créme fraîche, grapefruit, herbs - the roll was made by wrapping avocado slices around crab meat, gherkins and capers.  The citrus fruit on the side appeared to be pomelo and not grapefruit…  The crab legs were very tasty, with some herring roe on top.  The wasabi crème fraîche was pretty strong, and made things pretty interesting.

    1995 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet en magnum - a little toasty, kinda sweet, honey, caramelized sugar.  Pretty ripe, but acidity still there on the palate.  Served about two hours after decanting.

    Turbot: baby fennel, celeriac purée, watercress - not a fan of this… The turbot was pan-fried and not very interesting, as there was no sauce or anything to impart flavor other than being lightly salted.  This meant that I could taste a hint of the "fishy" flavors.  The celeriac purée was nice, the fennel was fine, but I didn't get the use of bitter watercress.

    1964 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne en magnum - a little green and vegetal, grassy.  Could it have been a little corked?  Acidity still here.  Somewhat elegant but a far cry from the other magnum from 4 years ago.  Served about an hour after decanting.

    Saltbush lamb: tenderloin, sweetbreads, eggplant, chickpeas, Ras el hanout yoghurt - I really should stay away from lamb tenderloin, as I find it a little too lean and doesn't give me the same joy as eating fattier lamb chops.

    A pair of Hermitage comes next, followed by a red Burg…

    1970 Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle - very ripe nose, a little stewed prunes, savory like black olives and soy sauce.  Served about 45 minutes after decanting.

    1978 Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle - a little medicinal, slightly dusty, pencil lead.  Nice, lean and slightly austere.  Savory, smoky and very toasty.  Funny how my tasting notes for this bottle are similar to the one from the ex-chateau bottle last year…  Served after 3½ hours in decanter.

    1995 DRC Grands Échézeaux - despite the Specialist questioning the dubious source of the wine, this drank just fine.  Nice and lovely nose, with plenty of fruit.  Pretty elegant.  A little alcoholic on the palate.  Served about an hour after opening.

    Black sesame: panna cotta, macadamia sponge, soy milk, miso ice cream - loooved the black sesame, but maybe it overpowered the subtle flavors of the macadamia sponge…  Interesting to see miso used, and it was pretty savory.

    Petit fours

    125 Years of Bruichladdich - distilled in 1970 and bottled in 2006 at the natural cask strength of 40.1%.  This is the style of Bruichladdich that I first fell in love with… sweet and caramel on the nose.  Not a hint of peat even though it's from Islay.  It's been a few years since I acquired this bottle, and it seems the angels had been pretty greedy of late and taken a little more out of the bottle than I expected!

    VERY drunk after an evening like this… and surprised I made it home in one piece.  Despite the Specialist's warnings, it appears that I DID fall asleep at the dinner table…

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  • 07/16/13--03:49: Amber in the sky
  • Last week while we got together to watch his movie, Gru Tigger told me to "save next Tuesday's lunch" with him.  When I asked him why, he just replied cryptically that it would be "something quite nice".  I figured he'd tell me what was going on when the time was right.

    I got an email from Tigger a couple of days later, asking me to send over a copy of my ID card and a passport photo.  For about 2 seconds, I thought this might have been a scam email… but not many people would know how Tigger addresses me.  I pinged him on chat and asked him why he needed those things from me.  The answer came in the form of an invitation from VistaJet to lunch aboard one of its planes.

    I know that some time ago, Tigger had been responsible for hooking up VistaJet with Chef Richard Ekkebus from Amber, with the aim to provide catering onboard their fleet.  We've all had our fair share of bad airplane food, sometimes even in First Class.  This was an interesting partnership and would allow customers flying private to have delicious food onboard worthy of Amber's two Michelin stars.  Now THAT's something unique!

    So… at the appointed hour late this morning, I got picked up by Tigger along with Hong Kong actor MW, who's a big aviation nut and flies his own chopper.  It was the slowest ride I've ever taken in Mrs. Tigger's car, but we still arrived at the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre much too early for our lunch, so we hung out in the lounge watching the plane being loaded, and waited for the other guests to arrive.

    At one point the plan had actually been for us to take off and serve lunch while airborne, but this was canned as it was still raining a little and the skies were likely to be a little choppy.  We would instead go back to the original plan of having lunch on the ground, then take off for a short flight to Macau to drop off some of the guests.

    The Bombardier Challenger 850 was outfitted to seat 11, with an additional bed in case a nap was in order.  I ended up sharing a table with MW, who was as charming as one would expect.  Our neighbors were a colorful couple on their way to visit their casino business in Macau, and I had a lot of fun chatting with them about food and travel.

    Nothing says luxury travel better than to start with some bubbly! 2002 Dom Pérignon had very heavy oak in the nose, which was kinda surprising.  Toasty, flinty and lemony.

    We soon got some nibbles:
    Crispy pizza bread with aubergine, bell pepper and anchovies

    Cucumber "dirty martini"

    A little something to go with the bread…

    Can you imagine having delicious, fresh bread on a plane?  When was the last time you had half-decent bread in the air?

    Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar - Richard's signature dish, but one that for many reasons I have never had the opportunity to taste… until now.  And it was divine.  The lobster jello and custard were absolutely delicious, melt-in-your-mouth… and of course the sea urchin and caviar were wonderful, too!  How is it possible that it's taken me this long to be introduced to the brilliance of this dish?!

    Crispy seaweed waffles - silly me… Didn't realize that these were meant to accompany the sea urchin.  I ended up munching on these on their own.

    2008 Antinori Tignanello - surprisingly accessible for a young wine.  Smoky, oaky, black fruits, grilled meats and a little savory.  Full-bodied with good tannins here.  Would have been better if served at a lower temperature.

    Lozère lamb: shoulder, slowly braised with garden herbs, roasted bell pepper confit, lemon yoghurt and pickled kyuri cucumber in a tomato broth - slow-cooked meat is always tender and tasty, and this was no exception.  Very yummy with plenty of spices.  The acidity from the yogurt and pickled cucumber certainty would work well on desensitized palates up in the air.

    Once we were done with our main course, the tables were cleared so that we could strap ourselves in for our short flight to Macau.  I think very few of us have ever flown on a jet between the two cities, so I felt very privileged.  The flight time can actually be as short as a few minutes, although we ended up looping around a little as dessert and coffee were served while airborne.

    Cherries and Manjari chocolate, prepared in different textures - the cherries were succulent, paired with chocolate mousse, served in a chocolate hemisphere and topped with a crispy lid.  Yum.

    Petit fours: marzipan tablet, rose macaron, hazelnut chocolate and chocolate truffle

    I downed my espresso pretty quickly as our short flight quickly came to an end and we landed in Macau.  We bid farewell to the couple and stepped out onto the tarmac to stretch our legs a little.

    Unfortunately, once on the ground we ended up getting stuck in Macau for a while.  Hong Kong is a busy airport, and it does take some work to wrangle a landing slot once your schedule goes out of whack.  We did finally end up taking off after more than an hour on the ground…

    It took us all of 5 minutes (or less, I think…) to get to Hong Kong International Airport, but we were merely passing above… because Tigger was sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit, and had asked the pilots to fly around Hong Kong so he could look at his house from above.  Sheesh!

    Well, we did get a pretty nice view of Hong Kong.  We were flying reasonably low, and got a pretty good look at the interesting mix of concrete jungle and real green jungle.  After doing a big loop around the south side of Hong Kong, up past Tseung Kwan O and Sai Kung, we doubled back and landed before we were in danger of losing our slot.  Smooth and perfect.

    This was quite an experience today.  While we didn't have our tastebuds dulled by the cabin pressure from dining at 35,000 feet today, I have no doubt that Richard would have done an equally exceptional job if we were actually airborne.  The exciting partnership between VistaJet and Amber brings a unique product offering to the market, and I know this will be a tremendously successful effort.  Wishing VistaJet, Richard and the team from Amber the best of luck!

    Of course, a big "Thank You" to VistaJet for the invitation, but I guess the real brownie points go to Tigger...

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  • 07/19/13--08:17: Bling-bling Krug
  • Besides my love of food, there is a reason why the Growing Boy keeps growing - my group of kind and generous friends, who for reasons unknown to me seem to enjoy dining with me.  Some of them are generous enough to buy me dinner for one reason or another, and birthday (regardless of how belated) is as good a reason as any.  This was meant to be a quiet weekend, and up till Thursday morning I had absolutely no plans whatsoever.  However I've learned long ago that things can change very quickly.

    In spite of his unflattering moniker, BM has always been a kind and considerate person at heart - when you peel away the layers.  For as long as I can remember, I have never failed to receive a greeting from him on my birthday.  As we weren't able to get together last month, and owing to him wishing to settle a bet with some other mutual friends, he very kindly invited us to dinner at the Krug Room the very first evening after it re-opened following its renovation.

    A few weeks ago Chef Uwe Opocensky had chastised me on Twitter about my eating spree, after I had told him that I was "on a diet" and didn't want to eat too much.  Well, tonight I was definitely going to be eating too much, and I blame BM and Uwe for that entirely...

    My first reaction when I walked into the new Krug Room was "HOLY BLING!"  It's now meant to resemble a luxury railroad dining car, and in place of the roses in tubes above our heads we now have crystal chandeliers... BM jokingly said that the place now reminds him of my beloved Caprice, and I think he's got a point there...

    As is customary for this particular package - and there are several options on wine - we start with flutes of Krug Grande Cuvée upon arrival.  It's my go-to Champagne and I've always enjoyed this particular non-vintage blend, but not tonight.  Tonight I could barely smell anything, other than noticing that it has a yeasty, heady mousse.  For some reason they decided to flood the room with a floral fragrance, not unlike what one finds in many hotels and stores nowadays.  Well, unfortunately this turned me off before dinner even started.  Do I just have really bad luck when it comes to Krug?  Why must the beautiful nose of these wines be killed by some offending fragrance?  And unlike my last experience, this time I couldn't simply move to another part of the room to escape the fragrance.  It was EVERYWHERE...

    Soon we were hit with a couple of nibbles to start us off...

    Cep Gruyere - I know the menu board says "Gruyère", but did they not mean "gougères"?  Anyway, this was full of shroomy flavors from the ceps.  Yum.

    Branches - this beautiful floral arrangement included bread sticks that resembled branches.  Pretty chewy and delicious, either on its own or...

    ...with this very yummy herb dip.

    Oyster - the Shigoku oyster was served with apple/lemon gelée and apple sorbet.  Not such a fan, as I thought it was way too cold and a tad too sour for my taste.

    Hand - a playful nibble I tried out a few months ago.  A tiny lump of caviar sits on top of a melba toast, stuck to one's hand with a dollop of sour cream.  Lick in one mouthful.

    Clam - Japanese razor clam on a bed of potato (and pea?) cream, garnished with leeks, dill and flowers.  The razor clam was one of the best I've had in recent memory, although it's pretty hard to top the beautiful creation from Philippe Rochat

    Chicken - I heard about this from a couple of friends who attended Krug Room Echoes, the series of popup previews staged recently.  The skin of a whole chicken was roasted into a delicious piece of crispy "chip", and diners are encouraged to use the accompanying scissors to cut off bits for themselves.  Well… I could have just grabbed the whole thing and nibbled on it by myself… and in fact probably ended up polishing off easily 40-50% of it…

    2000 Krug - nose a little toasty.  Acidity higher here.

    Vivaldi - Krug Room Echoes was staged in conjunction with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and apparently they thought Krug reminded them of Vivaldi's Le quattro stagioni.  So instead of artwork such as Warhol's Marilyn Monroe like last time, we are now eating music.

    I can't quite remember which was which, so I'm gonna assume that the pumpkin purée at the top right corner - garnished with poppy seeds - is Spring.  The pea mash garnished with mint leaves is Summer.  The bell pepper purée at bottom left is Fall; and the empty branches garnished with caviar has got to be Winter.

    The tree trunk and branches is cauliflower and truffle purée; and the soil is made with bread crumbs and shredded black truffle.  The "cherry" is actually a very smooth foie gras pâté encased in gelée.  Another masterpiece from Uwe.

    Afternoon tea - we were presented with two levels of nibbles much like one gets with afternoon tea, except the treats were mostly savory.  There were 6 different items on offer:

    Pea marshmallow - didn't like the texture of this… way too soft and mushy.

    Pumpkin marshmallow - slightly firmer but still too mushy.

    Beet root marshmallow - the best texture out of the three, and the flavors were more prominent, but the ones I had back in May still had better texture.

    Caviar and crab croque monsieur - pretty interesting.

    Seaweed and oyster macaron - with oyster "ganache" that was full of metallic flavors.

    Foie gras and chocolate opéra - pretty good.

    Grapes - they may look like grapes, but were actually chunks of ripe and sweet melon.  Served with very thin slices of jamón ibérico, although I thought they looked and tasted like prosciutto

    Scallop - French diver scallop, with chicken consommé and shredded truffle.  As he has done in the past, Uwe poured sea water on dry ice so that we could smell the ocean.

    Of course the scallop itself was very nicely done.

    Summer - the summer soup had cucumber panna cotta at the bottom, which partially dissolved once the tomato essence was poured on top.  Served with basil, perilla leaf and a flower that tasted somewhat like garlic…

    Morocco - we were first presented with a plate of gold foil… and Uwe apologized as I had told him about my disdain for chefs using this in their dishes.

    The sea bass came wrapped in cellophane and had been cooked with dates, figs, pistachios, almonds, saffron, asparagus and cauliflower.  Definitely very Middle Eastern flavors, like a tagine or even reminds me of the halwa I had in Oman.

    We were then instructed to transport the sea bass out of the bag and onto the plates, mixing with the ingredients sitting on top of the gold foil.  Very delicious and wonderfully fragrant.

    Krug Rosé
    Kiev - this ain't like any chicken Kiev I've ever had…  As expected this has been deconstructed into cubes of chicken, chicken liver, herbs, bread crumbs and garlic powder.

    Chicken jus was poured into the bowl, and we were asked to use our wooden spoon to mix the ingredients as much as possible.  Wonderfully delicious and fun to eat at the same time.

    Lawn - the beef from Britain was dry-aged for 84 days.  Delicious, and served with foie gras mousse and deep-fried strands of potato on the side.

    Cheese cake - the little lump of Babybel was actually a very yummy cheesecake.

    Together with the crumble, it really was just like eating a piece of cheesecake!

    The Brick - finally we get our chocolate fix… A piece of opéra served with coconut sorbet, raspberry sorbet, sponge cake, marinated cherries, a pair of pliers made from chocolate… all served on a chocolate "brick".  The cherries were really delicious, and so was the brick… which was basically a layer of chocolate-covered corn flakes.  Oh and there were some chocolate-coated coffee beans, too.

    This was an absolutely wonderful meal… but way, way too much food.  We ended up packing the chocolate bricks because it would have been such a waste to chuck them, and the pliers were given to those who have kiddies at home.

    A big "Thank You" to BM for his generosity.  And yes, I got killed by Uwe again…  Will I ever be able to have his food without bursting?!

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  • 07/20/13--08:52: Hodgepodge Japanese
  • After an evening of stuffing myself, I got together with the Specialist and BFF for a casual dinner.  Any  gathering with the two of them meant some serious drinking, and we ended up at Nadaman (なだ万) in the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel.  I had always found the food at the Hong Kong branch of Nadaman to be decent but nothing special, but we apparently have an "in" here and things would be more special tonight.

    We arrived late and the restaurant was pretty busy, so it was a while before we had anything substantial to nibble on.  There were a couple of starving mouths in our little private room… not to mention some very thirsty ones.  I was a little under the weather and decided to restrain myself thanks to my pounding headache.

    It's not surprising to find some chilled tomatoes as our amuse bouche...

    …but I'll bet one would be hard pressed to find jamón ibérico on offer at many other Japanese restaurants!

    Soon after we found ourselves facing a small hill of deep-fried prawn heads.  Not exactly what I needed tonight, and certainly not in this quantity!  Given that one of us is allergic to prawns and another isn't as hungry as she usually is, guess who ended up consuming the bulk of this?  As someone commented online, it looks like we slaughtered "a whole village"…

    We had some sashimi to start us off.  I told the chef that I didn't want any tuna, so I got a few other things:
    Striped jack (縞鰺) - pretty firm and crunchy today.
    Flounder fin (えんがわ) - pretty crunchy, too.
    Squid (イカ) - nice and firm.
    Sea urchin (雲丹)
    Scallop (帆立貝) - very nice and sweet.

    A trio of sushi came next:
    Yellowtail amberjack (平政)

    Salmon roe (イクラ)

    Raw shrimp (甘蝦)

    Striped jack collar (縞鰺かま)

    Pan-fried sirloin - not sure where the beef came from, but this was sooo fatty it melted in my mouth.  Very yum, but grain-fed for sure.

    Stir-fried vegetables - done teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) style, with some cracked black pepper.

    My capacity for wine was severely diminished tonight, so I only managed to taste the first two bottles of the evening while the ladies went on to the third…

    1996 Salon - I was pretty skeptical about drinking this tonight, since every other time I've tasted this wine before I ended up thinking the wine was too young and not ready.    The Specialist wanted to try regardless, and as it turns out the wine has mellowed a little.  Still very young and fresh, with a heady mousse and a little bit of toast.

    1997 Dominus - drinking very well tonight.  Nose of pencil lead, a little grilled meats, very nice and sweet berries, a little hospital disinfectant, smoky and minty.

    It was getting late and I needed to catch up on my beauty sleep, so I bid farewell to the ladies and hightailed it outta there...

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  • 07/22/13--07:42: Another stuffing session
  • Just 3 days after completely stuffing ourselves at our last unplanned gathering, the old gang met up again for the dinner that was planned a few weeks ahead of time.  I had booked a room at Megan's Kitchen (美味廚) for the 7 of us, but due to people being out of town and under the weather, the 5 of us ended up trying to consume a feast meant for 6.

    I really loved the food here from a couple of dinners I had last year, so I made sure to order some of the same dishes while replacing other dishes that may clash with wine.  Not surprisingly, many of these aren't exactly healthy…

    The appetizers sextet (六福喜臨門) showed up soon after we took our seats.  I was starting to get pretty hungry...

    Pan-fried eggplant (醬燒茄子) - not as heavy as the usual 魚香茄子 but oily and tasty enough.
    Marinated jellyfish (爽脆海蜇)
    Braised beef shank (鹵水牛腱) - not bad.
    Deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚) - OK, but not as good as I remembered.
    Deep-fried tofu cubes (黃金豆腐粒) - not bad but a little more "moist" and "wet" compared to my last visits.

    Century eggs (溏心皮蛋) - the alkaline flavors were pretty strong and pungent, so I chose not to finish my half of the egg.

    Cucumber with chili sauce (拍青瓜) - not part of the original 6, and not sure why they used chili sauce... and it tasted a little Korean but not as thick as gochujang.

    Deep-fried prawn toast (脆炸鮮海蝦多士) - still pretty yummy, but somehow a tad below the quality of what I had last year.  Also served without the heads on the side tonight.

    Braised abalone with kailan (碧綠蘭度扣鮮鮑) - pretty good, actually... The fresh abalone had a pretty springy texture and the sauce was pretty yummy.  The kailan (芥蘭) had been peeled and the texture was very crunchy.

    Pan-fried ox tongue with honey marinade (香煎美味蜜糖汁咸牛脷) - OMG this was about as good as I remembered... I can eat a whole plate of this, and in fact one of these days I may just do that.  Perfect balance of texture... tender yet slightly charred and crispy on the outside.  Loooove that layer of honey marinade, and of course the half-cooked onions underneath were yummy, too.

    Steamed brown-marbled grouper (清蒸生猛海老虎) - not a fan.  The fish had the distinctive muddy flavors which I hate, and I thought it was a tad over-cooked.

    Deep-fried stuffed chicken wings (糯米飯釀脆雞翼) - this was probably the best version I've had so far... For some reason the chicken skin was a lot fattier/greasier than I remembered, and the flavors of the diced Chinese preserved sausage (臘腸) really shone through tonight.  In the future maybe I'll just have this and the ox tongue...

    Blanched bean curd sheets and leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯鮮腐皮莧菜) - finally something a little healthier...

    E-fu noodles with beef in black truffle sauce (黑松露牛肉伊麵) - OMG... dishes with black truffle sauce usually are pretty good value for money in terms of the amount of flavor they pack, and this was no exception.  Two mouthfuls after I started digging into my bowl, I found myself hitting a wall and suddenly feeling very full.  Unfortunately, there was no way in hell that I was gonna stop and not finish this bowl of delicious noodles, with minced beef, diced onions and black truffles.  Everything else be damned... this was too good to give up!

    Chilled sago cream with mango and pomelo (美味廚楊枝甘露) - pretty good actually.

    I brought 2 magnums for dinner tonight, but as a friend dropped out at the last minute and another was driving, we decided to just open one of them.

    2001 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet en magnum - nice toasty nose, with grilled corn and lemon.  Ripe with good acidity on the palate.

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  • 07/24/13--08:49: Just ain't the way it was
  • At long last, something we have been dreading for a while is about to happen.  Chef Vincent Thierry - who has overseen the kitchen of my beloved Caprice ever since its opening - is leaving Hong Kong for bigger and better things.  Over the years we have come to enjoy many wonderful meals and delicious creations from his team, including this mind-blowing lunch with a tailor made menu.  Naturally a few of us decided to visit the restaurant one more time before Chef Vincent's departure to the Land of (Fake) Smiles… We also know that it wouldn't be long before Jeremy, too, would leave us...

    We had been reading about the latest New York Times' review of Daniel, where two reviewers booked separate tables on the same evening to see whether the familiar face would receive significantly different treatment from the unknown face.  The whole gang of us have profiles within the computer system at Caprice, and are lucky enough to receive special treatment when we visit.  However at the risk of sounding like complete spoiled brats, we have noticed that things haven't been the same recently…  Somehow, in very subtle ways, the atmosphere isn't as warm and welcoming as we have become accustomed to.  I guess it's only natural when there's a reasonable amount of staff turnover and you've got fewer familiar faces around...

    Having said all that, I was fortunate to have bumped into Sebastien as soon as I went through the door. Ever with a smile on his face, my mood was lifted instantly.  I was also happy to see my friends, who have arrived and were busy posting an all-important picture…

    Our evening started with the first amuse bouche, which were paninis with tomato, ham, (Gruyère?) cheese and green olives.

    Our second amuse bouche came in an egg shell, filled with black truffle gelée, quail egg, white bean mousse, pancetta, black truffle coulis and topped with a piece of croûton.  It's hard not to like the egg and truffle combination…  Really hard…

    Before we move on to our starter, though, the kitchen sent out something else… Ever since Catalunya opened a few months ago, the bikini has been all the rage around town.  Imagine my surprise when this showed up at our table: black truffle panini, Spanish ham and mixed green leaves.

    This version, of course, was way, way better… instead of black truffle sauce, you've got a layer of fresh Australian black truffle slices.  Yum.

    Langoustine lasagne, veal sweetbreads and chanterelle mushrooms in shellfish bisque - I ordered this because it's an old favorite of mine ever since I first tried it more than 3 years ago.  Tonight, however, I had the most disappointing version.  One of my langoustines was mushy, which isn't something I expect from a restaurant with 3 stars. I also felt that the shellfish bisque was terribly over seasoned tonight.  Normally I would want some bread to soak up the delicious nectar, but tonight I needed to rinse my tongue with water.

    Iberico pork rack, buttered savoy cabbage and black truffle in natural jus - I did a double-take when this arrived… in fact there were two of us who did.  We thought we'd ordered the pork rack, but where was the bone?!  Cutting out the bone, the fat and leaving us with the lean hearts wasn't cool… we LIKE the fat!  I do have to say, though, that what was left was incredibly tender and succulent for what it was.  Perfect execution.  But please leave me with more fat next time and not just a thin sliver, especially since this was ibérico!  In the end, the two of us both enjoyed the savoy cabbage more than the pork…  Needless to say the black truffle slices and the jus were delicious.

    We were all too full, so we passed up both cheese and dessert - something almost unprecedented for this lot.  I nibbled on some chocolates and caramels while trying to finish off the wine…

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - drinking exactly as it should… with nose of smoke, ripe fruits and grilled meats.

    As it turns out, neither Vincent nor Jeremy were in the house tonight, which was a little disappointing.  Ludovic, Sebastien and team did take pretty good care of us, but it just didn't feel the same.  It wasn't just the food but the atmosphere itself.  We would want to go back one more time while Vincent is still in town, but we're coming up to the end of an era - at least for a few of us.

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  • 08/01/13--18:31: Don't wanna grow no mo'
  • When I first started this blog, I called myself a "growing boy" in reference to a line from Die Hard which listed out all the ingredients of a Twinkie and called it "everything a growing boy needs".  I'd always joked that I was still growing horizontally, even though it wasn't quite true...until the last couple of years.

    In the months leading up to my (second) failed attempt to escape Hong Kong, I was doing a whole series of birthday and farewell dinners - and my weight hit an all-time high.  After 6 months of living in Taipei, owing to a combination of fewer big meals with friends (thanks to having no friends and also nowhere to eat in Taipei) as well as eating mom's kick-ass yet healthy cooking at home, I found myself about 5 kg lighter than my peak weight.  The Growing Boy had shrunk - while doing less exercise - and I was pretty happy about it.

    The latter half of last year saw a reversal of fortunes.  As I was preparing for a move back in Hong Kong, I started to put on a little weight while still in Taipei.  Needless to say things got a lot worse after I physically moved back to Hong Kong, and a couple of binge weeks in particular were responsible for dialing my weight back up.  7 months after coming back to Hong Kong, I got on a scale and almost had a heart attack.  Not only did I gain back all 5 kgs that I lost, but I had put on an additional 3 kg!  I'd hit a new high, and this ain't the kind of new high you'd wanna be hitting more than once...

    That was a wake-up call and prompted me to do something about it.  I started eating healthier, and there were a lot more salad lunches to at least bring my veg intake up to a more reasonable level.  I started working out with a trainer, although admittedly there were notable gaps between a few sessions.  I started to limit the number of big meals out per week, since I know it was those binge weeks - where I was out for big meals every single night in a week with no break in between - which were responsible for pushing my weight up.  I became a party-pooper and started saying "No" to friends when they asked me out to meals.

    But the needle on the scale (figuratively since it's digital) didn't move much.  I'd probably lost somewhere between half to one kg, although I would hope that I'd gained an ounce or two of muscle after my training sessions.  The real baffling and annoying observation is that my waistline actually expanded.  My shirts and belt felt tighter after all of this.  What the hell is going on?!

    Two months ago while attending a conference for work, I met up with a client whom I hadn't seen for about 6 months.  It took me a few seconds just to match what my eyes were seeing and the face and body shape I had been accustomed to seeing for the last few years.  He had lost so much weight he was pretty much a new man.  Apparently he had gone to see a nutritionist and combined his dietary change with regular exercise.  That meeting left a deep impression in my mind, and I asked him for information on the nutritionist.

    I finally got off my fat ass and contacted the nutritionist firm (it turned out to be a chain) for an initial consultation.  I also met up with my client again, and for the second time I failed to recognize him immediately.  He had lost more weight since our last meeting.  Going from 200 to 150 pounds is no small feat, and he very kindly shared his experiences with me along with some advice about pitfalls to avoid.

    Tomorrow I'm formally signing up and starting my weight loss program.  I'll be doing it for 3 months (as opposed to the suggested 7 months to reach my ideal/target weight) along with another 6 weeks of "maintenance".  I told the consultant that I'm not willing to give up everything, but will be happy to limit myself to 2 big meals out per week with friends.  This will of course include wine, which themselves will add a few hundred calories to the meals.

    Two meals per week which may be blog-worthy means the next 3 months (or maybe more) will see no more than 8-9 posts per month on this here blog.  It also means less time spent on this, and more time for other (more meaningful?) pursuits.

    But before I start, I had to go get my favorite luncheon meat and egg sandwich (餐蛋治) at my favorite daipaidong (大排檔) in Central - Yue Hing (裕興).  As I said underneath their awning in the pouring rain this morning, I savored the flavors of this particular sandwich as I know it would be a while before my next one... and a while before my next glass of iced milk tea (凍奶茶) with all that sweet syrup and extra calories I don't need.

    I'll be dining out with a friend and drinking some wines tonight, but starting tomorrow, there'll be some noticeable changes in my diet...  Let's see how it goes.  Wish me luck!

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  • 08/02/13--08:29: Another smoky evening
  • It's no secret I'm a big fan of David Lai and his restaurants, but one outlet which I've never been to has been Kushiyaki Beco (串焼 べこ), the JV between David and Satoru Mukogawa of Sushi Kuu (寿司喰).  So three years after it opened (the anniversary party was held earlier in the week), I finally got a chance to go when the Specialist requested kushiyaki/yakitori for dinner.

    I arrived and was led upstairs to a table by the stairs, which placed us pretty much directly above the cooking area.  This would be really interesting, as I couldn't for the life of me focus on the nose of the wines we had brought... I seem to recall a somewhat similar experience just two weeks ago...

    Knowing that we didn't want our dishes coming at once, I cautioned the Specialist and we ended up ordering in rounds.  We do have two bottles of wine, so the food had better come staggered so that we can stretch out the evening!

    Ox tongue (牛タン) - David had recommended this, although we would have gotten it anyway!  Thick cut and delicious.  Great texture and flavors.  Should have gotten more of these!

    Short rib (カルビ) - paled in comparison to the tongue.  We had higher expectations but this turned out just OK...

    Chicken meatballs (つくね) - I found this a little unusual, as many other versions come in one long piece, while we've got 3 meatballs here.  The other unusual aspect is that the surface was much rougher, and while the texture was always crunchy and chewy thanks to the chopped up cartilage inside, the minced chicken itself was also more chunky and fatty than I expected.  Different, but not bad.

    Chicken thigh (鶏もも) - actually this was better than the short rib...

    Baby sardine cracker (たたみイワシ) - I love it when the Japanese invent snacks like this... a thin, crunchy cracker made of itty bitty tiny sardines... Soooo unhealthy, but soooo good!

    Chicken soft bone (鶏軟骨) - not bad, but my favorite chicken cartilage is still the deep-fried version at Irori (いろり)...

    Tri tip (うちもも) - OK, so it would be totally unfair to compare this with the last piece of tri tip I ate... at Restaurant André in Singapore.  My first bite was nothing special - although the meat did have a higher amount of beefy flavor - until I came across a tiny bit of charred fat with my second bite.  THAT little bit of fat was pretty heavenly, and reminded me of the awesomeness of what I had in Singapore.

    We can't exactly be having meat all night, so an order was put in for some stir-fried vegetables.  Seasoned with black pepper and shredded bonito.

    Asparagus (アスパラガス)

    Grilled rice ball (焼おにぎり) - I wasn't exactly hungry, but felt I needed some carbs since nutritionists would want me to have a balanced diet...  This was a little under-seasoned for my taste, so I added some soy sauce (bad boy!) and shichimi (七味).

    We didn't need any dessert, but the manager offered us free ice cream... The Nikisaku Ice (二期作アイス) from Kochi Ice (高知アイス) was pretty awesome.  It's made with rice harvested around Nankoku City (南国市) in Kochi Prefecture (高知県).  The individual rice grains are embedded in the smooth and creamy ice cream, providing an interesting texture and bite.  It wasn't long before I greedily lapped up every last bit.

    So what were we drinking that I was desperately trying to appreciate through the smoke?

    Jacques Selosse V.O. (dégorgée le 28 Avril 2009) - ripe and mellow, with toasty nose and straw, marmalade and caramelized sugar.  Version Originale is a blanc de blancs made from 3 successive vintages.  Can I just tell you how much I love what Anselme Selosse does?

    2002 Pontet-Canet - ripe and fruity, smoky, grilled meats.

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  • 08/04/13--08:19: Shrinking Boy, day 1
  • I woke up a little earlier than planned on the first day of my nutritional program, and tossed in bed a little deciding that I should kick start my metabolism earlier.  I had shopped for the ingredients for today's meals last night, so it would be a snap to put together my breakfast.

    I'm meant to consume 1 portion of dairy, 3 portions of grains, 1 portion of meat and 1 portion of fat for my brekkie, and during and after my "orientation" yesterday, I began learning how to translate those portions into real food.  The end result?

    I brought my brekkie out on the patio and took in the beautiful view.  This is my third weekend housesitting for the Tiggers, and it's tough to get tired of this view!

    Anyway… here's breakfast: 1 glass of plain soy bean milk (no sugar added, of course!) which counts towards my 1 portion of meat/protein; 2 slices of wheat toast, which is my 3 portions of grains; 1 small tub of no fat yogurt (apparently only 50 kcals), which is my 1 portion of dairy; and 6 plain almonds, unsalted, which is my 1 portion of fat.

    Normally I don't eat plain toast, but I guess I can wash it down with the soy bean milk.  The no fat yogurt - which claims that less than 1 gram of sugar has been added - was diluted and a little bland.  I guess I'm not used to the texture (in spite of the chunk of mango) nor the flavor (or lack of)…

    Breakfast of champions, this is not.

    After reading a little on the patio, napping and enjoying the wonderful cool breeze, lunch time rolled around and it was time to try out the pre-made meals for the first time.  I have a bunch of meal-in-a pouch from the program, meant to be low fat and low calories, and all I needed was to to add a few things around it.

    For lunch I'm allocated 5 portions of grain, 3 portions of meat, 1 portion of vegetables and 1 portion of fat.  I tore open the pouch, poured the contents into a bowl and nuked it.

    My lunch today: chicken stew with shiitake, which takes up 2 portions of meat and 1 portion of fat; 3 slices of wheat toast, which is almost 5 portions of grains; 1½ slices of low fat cheddar cheese, which is an extra portion of meat/protein; and a bunch of baby asparagus spears.

    I was pretty surprised at the sight of the stew… as it looked like there was starch used in the sauce.  At the same time it also tasted of alcohol, and I wonder if rice wine was used to cook it.  I suppose it was best taken with some rice, but toast would work, too.

    In the middle of the afternoon, I took in an Envy apple to fulfill my quota for 2 portions of fruit.

    I decided to mix things up a little for dinner, as I'm also meant to consume 5 portions of grain, 3 portions of meat, 1 portion of vegetables and 1 portion of fat.  No pouch meal for me tonight, but I'll be eating out of some cans…

    Dinner:  1 can of sardines in brine, which is equivalent to 3 portions of meat; 2 slices of wheat toast, fulfilling 3 portions of grains; 3/4 of a can of unsalted corn, which I'm thinking should take up at least 2 portions of grains; some baby corn, which fulfills my 1 portion of vegetables; and 6 almonds for my 1 portion of fat.

    I was lucky enough to take in dinner with an awesome view of the sunset.  The food may not be gourmet, but the views I've been getting with my meals today have been nothing short of 5-star!

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  • 08/09/13--00:31: A lunch worth cheating for
  • A few weeks ago I heard from my contact at Fruit Media again, and the reason for the call was a little surprising.  Apparently the PR person responsible for a restaurant had wanted to invite me for a tasting, but as not many PRs in town know me personally - and this lady realized that I had been profiled by the Fruit Media last year - she decided it may be best to reach out to me in this roundabout way.

    No, I had not been to the trio of new restaurants which had recently been opened.  However, I have invariably enjoyed myself at ALL of the restaurants under the same group, and that includes some very high-profile outlets with macarons.  Yes, I would be interested in trying out whichever new place they chose… but I was starting to develop a cough, and it's never good manners to cough on our dining companions - and especially your hostess.  I asked for a rain check.

    Having recovered only recently, I accepted to invitation to lunch at Rozan (魯山).  It's day 6 of my new nutritional plan and I'm doing my first cheat.  As there will be a few more cheat meals next week, I am ever so grateful that this meal could be scheduled for this week and not crammed into the next…  I had warned my lovely nutritionist about this meal, and she tried in vain to convince me to stay within the strict bounds of the meal plan she had prescribed for me.  No way, Jose!  Not with this meal.

    I was running late thanks to an issue at work, and while en route I received a request not to mention Fruit Media's name at the door of the restaurant.  Apparently the famous Sifu was lunching at the restaurant and sitting right next to us (there are only 16 seats after all…), so my dining companions did not wish to create any tensions with this VIP.  I dutifully obliged.

    It's strictly omakase here, and not surprisingly skewed towards the higher end of the pricing scale.  I introduced myself to my hostess and eagerly waited for the food to arrive…  I did tell the restaurant not to give me any (bluefin) tuna as I'm more determined than before not to consume any, ever since I found out that the annual haul of bluefin tuna in southern Taiwan has declined to about 2% of the volume 14 years ago.

    A trio of amuses bouches arrived to kick us off:

    Marinated horse mackerel (鯵たたき) - with chiffonade of perilla leaves (紫蘇), sesame and marinated in vinegar.  A welcome change to the usual versions I see around town.

    Mozuku in vinegar with snow crab (もずく酢 ずわい蟹) - always refreshing to start with something cold and acidic in the summer, and the snow crab leg was nice and sweet.  Also with cucumber slices and little chunks of Japanese yam (山芋).

    Whelk (磯海螺貝)

    We then move on to the series of sashimi

    Righteye flounder (鰈), plain and marinated in kelp (昆布締め) - ummm… FAIL… for the plain flounder.

    For only the second time in my life - the first being at Xuan Sushi (玄鮨) in Hong Kong last year, and curiously it was also in my flounder - I found bones in my sashimi.  When I used my fingers to yank the tiny nuisance from the fish in my mouth and slowly placed it on the dish in front of me, Chef Masa was embarassed and apologized.  When I placed a second piece on the plate, he was mortified.

    And he should be.  For the uninitiated like myself, it seems a rookie mistake that a seasoned chef couldn't possibly make.  As flounders are usually served at the start of the sequence in a meal, this means that when you make a mistake like this, you are starting the meal on the wrong foot.  In the case of Xuan Sushi, I have never had the desire to return after that experience...

    Personally I have never been able to appreciate the beauty of kobujime (昆布締め), as the additional flavors coming from the kelp are just too mild after just 1 night.  My untrained palate needs something a bit less subtle.

    Greater amberjack (間八) - very nice.

    Geoduck (海松貝) - generally not a fan of this delicacy, so maybe that's why I forgot to snap a picture… but it was nice and very crunchy.

    Miso black cod (銀鱈 西京焼き) - a dish that I only order from a couple of places these days.  This was a pretty thin slice, but done oh-so-well.  The edges are deliciously charred and crispy.  I was relishing the sensation of crunchy bits between my teeth.  Nicely paired with chopped radish and tiny bead-like tomatoes.

    And now for the nigiri sushi (握り寿司)

    Splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) - I think it's still the right season for this, and this has got to be the best piece of kinmedai sushi I can remember.  Perfectly fatty, soft and melt-in-your-mouth.  I'd happy take this over fatty tuna (トロ) any day.

    Red seabream (真鯛) - very nice, with a sprinkle of seaweed salt (藻塩) on top.

    Whelk (海螺貝) - nice and crunchy.

    Tiger prawn (車海老) - nicely done.  Pretty sweet.

    Baby gizzard shad (シンコ) - I usually like my young gizzard shad (小鰭), but this is even younger at 5cm or smaller.  What a treat!  Chef Masa gave us 6 pieces wrapped around the rice (シャリ), which was absolutely awesome.  Filleting this is soooo manually intensive, as 150 pieces (meaning 150 tails of baby gizzard shad) will yield just 1kg.  Reminds me of all the energy the staff at Jamonísimo in Barcelona has to use up cutting the jamón into 5g slices…  The fillets are wrapped in kelp to impart flavor and preserve their moisture.  I wouldn't mind devouring a few more pieces of this…

    Northern sea urchin (北紫雲丹) - this, boys and girls, was the pièce de résistance - the item I was invited to come taste.  This sea urchin from Hokkaido's Yagishiri Island (焼尻島) is pale in color, which earned its nickname of white sea urchin (白雲丹).  Absolutely delicious.  Fatty, plump and delicate.  Thank you, ma'am, may I have another?

    An expensive delicacy, this is.  And the restaurant buys only the best, taking the "middle lot no.1"… A box containing 550g apparently costs the equivalent of HKD 2,800.

    Rosy seabass (喉黒) - lightly torched to melt the fat.  Very silky. From Choshi (銚子) in Chiba Prefecture (千葉県).

    Calabash roll (干瓢巻き)

    The conger eel (穴子) was served two ways, as is done at my favorite establishments:

    with salt - so light and fluffy it melted in my mouth.

    with sauce - stronger flavor here.

    Egg (卵) - made with shrimp.  Nice and bouncy like a カステラ.

    Finally there was some tofu ice cream, a single grape and watermelon.  A simple way to finish.

    Other than the misstep at the start, this was a very delicious meal.  My thanks to the restaurant for their generosity, and of course to the people of Fruit Media for helping to make the connection - as well as for their lovely company.  I broke my diet and had way, way too much protein as well as fatty items I shouldn't have had.  There'll be hell to pay for the next couple of days…

    P.S.  I was getting a little frustrating during lunch as I knew I wasn't getting the colors right on some of the fish.  It wasn't until after I got home that I realized while I had taken the test shot to set custom white balance, I never actually switched from auto white balance on the dial… No wonder the colors are all wrong!  I guess I was still a little frantic from being late and neglected this crucial step...

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  • 08/13/13--08:29: Île Saint Jacques
  • I'm having the first of my three "cheat meals" this week, and for most of the afternoon all people could talk about was whether the typhoon was coming close enough to Hong Kong to warrant the raising of the No. 8 Signal.  While most people in the city were hoping for a unscheduled holiday, I for one did not want the typhoon to hit us too soon.  When I got a call in the afternoon to reconfirm my dinner reservation, the tone at the other end of the line seemed to be: "With the typhoon coming, are you sure you still want to come to dinner?  Can y'all please cancel so we can all go home early?"

    Well, there was NO WAY I was gonna give up this dinner…

    As I arrived at Island Tang (港島廳), I was relieved to find that there were others already seated in the main dining room.  In fact over the course of the evening, the restaurant would be about 2/3 full - not bad for a rainy, windy night when I was checking for weather updates with my phone on an hourly basis.  But what was meant to be a party of five ended up being a foursome for most of the evening, as one of us had a little trouble flying in from Taipei and arrived 3 hours late…

    Of course we would have to start with the signature honey glazed signature barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒)!!  It's hard to find a better version in town, and I just looooove the marbling of the fat!  My nutritionist had suggested that I spit out the fatty bits of char siu when I have it, but I told her that it was not possible here…

    I put the first piece in my mouth and just took a few seconds to enjoy the soft, fluffy sensation as I gently applied pressure to it with my teeth and my tongue… I was in heaven.  THIS is what I live for…  and no, I didn't stop at one or two pieces… I had four.

    Roast pigeon leg stuffed with preserved liver sausage (潤腸燒釀鴿腿) - we were drinking some red Burgs tonight so the manager recommended this dish.  Of course it worked fantastically well with the wines.  This came out piping hot, and I had to be careful when taking my first bite… as there was a lot of heat trapped inside.

    This was some succulent pigeon!  And of course the liver sausage inside was delish, too!  The fragrance of the Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) used to make the sausage just melded seamlessly with the red Burgs.  Absolutely fantastic.

    Crispy wagyu beef cheek (脆皮和牛臉) - frankly a little disappointing.  I think the slices are way too thin… With beef cheek you need bigger chunks to appreciate the collagen.  This just didn't do it for me.  Lightly battered and fried means bad for me diet…

    Baked silver cod with Peking scallions (京蔥燒焗銀鱈魚) - I remember liking this dish from an earlier visit so I ordered it again.  Pretty good.  The exterior has a slight crispiness to it while the cod is of course very tender and moist.

    Deep-fried de-boned duck coated with taro crust (荔茸香酥鴨) - this has been off the menu for the last few years but I asked Remy ahead of time if the kitchen could do this for us.  Soooo happy that I did.

    The duck was both crispy (at the bottom) and succulent in the middle, with some of that yummy duck fat coming through.  The layer of taro? Heavenly.  You've got a mix of soft taro mash topped with a layer of deep-fried, fluffy crust.  To die for.  I definitely had my fair share of this dish, too… since I was the one who ordered it!

    Braised oyster mushrooms with vegetable (百靈菇扒菜膽) - gotta get some veg in, although this definitely wasn't enough…

    Pan-fried rice vermicelli with diced chicken, black truffle and wild mushroom (黑松露野菌雞粒煎米粉) - after the delicious fried rice from my last dinner, I wanted to order it again… but was told that they're now doing it with rice vermicelli.  This was also very yum… in a slightly different way.  The deliciously fragrant filling was sandwiched between layers of crispy and dry rice vermicelli.  Slurp.

    I wasn't gonna take any dessert, but there was a piece of leftover muscovado sponge cake (黑糖糕) so I decided to take it.  Not impressed.  A far cry from what we can get in Taiwan, and wasted calories in my opinion.

    But in reality, we met up tonight to drink some vino.  I was trying to be considerate to my friend's health and thought that 3 bottles would be enough for 5 of us.  I couldn't have been more wrong… even with just the four of us…  That was a decision that neither my friend nor the Specialist is likely to let me forget for a while…

    Jacques Selosse Substance, dégorgée à 20 Novembre 2007 - I brought this for my friend who loves Champagne, as he loved the same wine I brought to an earlier dinner.  This was another beautiful bottle, showing a lovely, aged nose thanks to the solera system of blending back to 1986.  So much honey, caramelized sugar, Chinese licorice, sugar cane and desiccated coconut in the nose.  Very complex.

    I was gonna bring a bottle of Clos Saint Jacques - which had actually been given to me by the Specialist as a birthday present.  The Specialist decided to match it with another bottle from the same vintage but a different producer, so that we could do a side-by-side comparison of the two.  What a good idea!  And a very nice gesture from the Specialist.

    2004 Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques Vieille Vigne - very clean and pure.  Lots of strawberries and raspberries, a little bit of sous bois?   It smelled as if I was walking in strawberry fields.  What a lovely surprise!  Not decanted nor breathed prior to drinking.

    2004 Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques - more intense and concentrated, with animal and leather notes on top of the fruit, along with mineral and savory notes that are almost like black olives.  Also very sweet and delicious.

    The Rousseau was of course delicious as expected but the Fourrier provided the surprise of the evening… and at less than half of the price of the Rousseau, I know which one I'd pick!

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  • 08/15/13--08:56: Principal Atherton
  • It's been 2 months and we're overdue for another MNSC dinner.  The date for the dinner was chosen months ago, and as it turns out, this was the one night when Jason Atherton was playing guest chef at the Principal.  Given that the principals behind the restaurant are members of our lil' gang, it made perfect sense that we would do the dinner here tonight.

    As usual I was thankful that we were in the private room and somewhat isolated from the rest of the guests, although I'm sure the table right outside our door - including my friend KC - probably heard from than an earful over the course of the evening.  Well... this is how it's always been for us, wherever in the world we go...

    Our convenor is making a habit of being late to dinner, so we got ourselves some bread to pad our hungry stomachs.  I do need some carbs since my nutritionist is prescribing 5 portions of grains for dinner... and these yummy ones come from Grégoire at Bread Elements.

    Pork scratching with purée of apple: apple, sage and herbs - OK, so this was definitely NOT on the nutritionist's list of permissible foods... but who the hell cares?!  I'm cheating tonight.  I looooove pork rinds, but this was a little too big and became awkward to eat gracefully... and I didn't want to break it up with my hands and scatter all the espelette powder everywhere.  Pretty nice and interesting.

    The black truffle and garlic roll came around with the next course, and I've now had my 3 pieces of bread...

    Chilled pea and sudachi lime soup, with chilled squid and ink aioli - the bowl arrived without any of the soup...

    ...which was then poured in front of us.  I loved the added touch of acidity and fragrance provided by the sudachi (酢橘), as it worked well with the sweetness and flavors of the peas.  The little cubes of squid were cooked in an 80°C water bath - which made for some interesting texture - and the ink aioli gradually mixed with the pea soup...

    English breakfast - there are a number of new-fangled versions of English/Spanish breakfasts around, deconstructing the various elements into something else.  This was a pretty cool presentation, and also very delicious.  Potato espouma, tomato purée, diced mushrooms and bacon bits on top.  SLURP.

    Carpaccio of scallops: lemon peel purée, frozen pink grapefruit, black olive and sea herbs, radish (1st try) - loved the sweet taste of the scallops, especially with a light touch of acidity from the lemon peel purée.  The sprinkle of black olive dust added the savory side to the flavor profile.  The small radish provided a little crunchy texture while the larger piece was slightly softer.  A very tasty dish.

    BUT... a few seconds after I had finished with everything on my plate, Chef Atherton walked in and announced that he was coming to add the finishing touches to the dish.  WTF?!  How come nobody told us?!  Half of us had already finished the damn thing...  So Chef promptly commanded that replacement dishes be brought out, and he dropped some grapefruit juice into liquid nitrogen to freeze it, then ladled the frozen pulp on top of the scallops...

    Carpaccio of scallops: lemon peel purée, frozen pink grapefruit, black olive and sea herbs, radish (2nd try) - honestly, I didn't get it.  The frozen pulp only deducted points to the original dish, not added.  First it drastically lowered the temperature of the ingredients in my mouth, whereas I thought it had been perfect without the pulp.  Then the added acidity threw the flavor balance out of whack, so that I could no longer taste the combination of sweetness, mild acidity and the mild savory notes from the black olive dust.  I was now mainly tasting some cold, somewhat acidity grapefruit pulp.  The harmony was gone.

    Roasted blue Scottish Lobster, girroles, artichoke and Iberico ham ragout - yes, Pineapple, they spelled "girolles" wrong on the menu, but it doesn't matter.  The lobster was AWESOME.  I don't know how else to describe it.  The lobster was fresh and had the right amount of bite and bounce.  There were girolles and cubes of ibérico chorizo, and the delicious sauce was made with chorizo.  It didn't take me long to inhale the claw and the tail of the lobster.  This was seriously good.

    Roasted Charolais duck, beetroot and potatoes, smoked beetroot juice, cabbage purée - perfect execution.  I loooove duck, and yes I ate the fatty skin, too.  This time Chef Atherton came in fairly quickly to drizzle smoked beetroot juice and duck jus on the plate, before any of us had a chance to touch anything.  Yes, I like my duck pink and a little bloody.  There was also compressed pear (which didn't taste so compressed after cooking), slices of beetroot and purée.  A most excellent piece of duck that also disappeared from my plate in no time.

    Peanut butter, pickled cucumber, pineapple - this was delicious!  Cubes of cucumber and pineapple served with some pressed peanut butter powder, and a surprisingly sweet scoop of cucumber sorbet, with a hint of ginger to give some kick.

    Nuances of red: yoghurt ice cream, raspberry, orchids and elderflower - the yogurt ice cream was pretty good, and the combination of apple, raspberries, elderflower jelly, hibiscus and orchids added both acidity and sweetness.  A very good finish both visually and taste-wise.

    Petit fours: salt and vinegar macarons with chocolate ganache, Oreo macarons, mango and passion fruit jelly

    It was Curry's turn to host tonight, and after the unexpected line-up he presented last year - when we expected a Jayer vertical for the entire evening but didn't get a single bottle - we all had high expectations for this big birthday do...

    1999 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - VERY toasty, some lemon citrus on the nose.  Acidity was rather high but very ripe on the palate at the same time.  What a totally awesome wine!

    First pair:
    1984 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Brulées - opened for 1 hour prior to serving.  Very sweet nose, with strawberry jam and a hint of lychees.  Clearly an oldie as the palate was a little light, with slightly high acidity.  Delicious and very enjoyable.  94 points.

    1987 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Brulées - opened for 1 hour prior to serving.  Very dusty, musty, stinky, animal notes, savory like black olives, minerals and metallic nose.  Second pour was better than the first.  90 points.

    Second pair:
    1985 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes - opened for 1½ hours prior to serving.  Really sweet and ripe strawberries and tangerine.  Awesome and beautiful.  My kind of wine.  So surprised that this was a Ponsot.  96 points.

    1985 DRC La Tâche - opened for 1 hour prior to serving.  More muted nose, with minerals, mint and a bit of forest.  Why did this not show like the Ponsot?!  Can't believe this wine underperformed...  94 points.

    Third pair:
    1985 Roumier Bonnes-Mares - opened for 1 hour prior to serving.  Forest, floral, minty.  Really sweet and beautiful.  94 points.

    1990 Roumier Bonnes-Mares - opened for 1½ hours prior to serving.  Stronger notes of forest, leather and animal.  As enjoyable as the '85 but in a different way.  94 points.

    Fourth pair:
    1989 Rayas - decanted for 2½ hours prior to serving.  Burnt rubber nose, stinky.  I never got much else out of this wine... not very enjoyable at all.  88 points... and that's being generous.

    1989 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - decanted for 2½ hours prior to serving.  Forest, resin, dates, with some sweetness in the nose.  92 points.

    What an absolutely wonderful evening!  The food was fantastic.  Other than the frozen grapefruit bit, I could not find fault with a single dish, from the canapé to the last dessert.  I haven't had the pleasure of visiting Pollen Street Social, but if Jason can do this in Hong Kong with a few chefs he flew up from his restaurants in Singapore, he has definitely set the bar pretty high!

    One must also give thanks to the generosity of Curry, who showed us a group of truly amazing wines - quite of few which surprised on the upside!  The bottle of '84 Jayer Brulées just goes to show what an amazing magician Henri Jayer was... to be able to make such a delicious one in a disastrous vintage.  Wow!

    As I mentioned somewhere else earlier... THIS is definitely an evening worth cheating on my diet for!!

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  • 08/16/13--23:09: Like A Boss
  • A few months ago someone from the office picked up a flyer/coupon about a new restaurant near the office named The Boss (波士廳).  They were impressed by the pictures on the flyer, and the claim that the restaurant was "created by the founder of Michelin Guide 3 Stars Restaurant (米芝蓮三星餐廳幕後班底精心策劃)".  Since I'm so used to people in the F&B industry over-inflating their associations with famous restaurants and chefs - especially when it comes to places with macarons - I naturally dismissed this claim without looking into it.

    A few weeks ago my friend Susan was doing a review for the South China Morning Post, and asked me to join the gang at lunch.  I was into my salad phase at the time and turned down her kind invitation.  Turns out that they all thought the place was very good, and some of the gang have since gone back to get more helpings of the food.  Apparently the chef is ex-Sun Tung Lok (新同樂)...

    Not wanting to let my discount coupon expire at the end of the month, I rounded up the troops for another meal scheduled for later this month.  Things quickly got out of my control and the gang decided to do it at lunch today.  Well, that doesn't really work for me... I've already got 3 cheat meals this week, and this can't be #4!  I reluctantly agreed to the lunch, but decided that I would control myself and try to stay within the boundaries of the diet... as much as possible.

    Steamed rice flour rolls with barbecued pork (黑豚叉燒腸) - the char siu is finely diced, and this was pretty good.

    Steamed barbecue pork buns (黑豚叉燒包) - they aren't the giant ones but I think just the right size.

    This was pretty good... and happens to be on the "allowed" list.

    Steamed spicy shrimps and pork dumplings (螞蟻上樹餃) - this was very good.  The chili and Sichuan peppercorn powder really picked up the flavors.  Couldn't resist having a second one.

    Steamed rice flour rolls with spring roll (春風得意腸) - rice flour roll wrapped around deep-fried spring rolls with shredded radish filling.  The flavors of the radish was pretty pronounced, and I definitely tasted the bitterness which was unexpected.  Normally I'd be all over this but I allowed myself only one piece today, since deep-fried food is a no-no.

    The Boss shrimps dumplings (波士蝦餃皇) - probably the best har gau I've had in a long, long time.  The shrimp inside was really crunchy with lots of bite/bounce, and I didn't taste any baking soda.  Of course I really didn't need to know that they use lard to make this...  Thanks a lot, ILL!

    I decided to be a good boy and skipped the spring rolls...

    Baked prawns with vermicelli and homemade sauce in casserole (奇香粉絲蝦煲) - they didn't have any crabs at lunch today, so prawns were substituted.  This was a shame, because I really didn't like the taste of the prawns.  There was something very off about the taste that I just couldn't pin down... I wanted to say that I tasted chemical, but I wasn't sure whether it was some type of spice that I just didn't care for.  Anyway... I tried two of the prawns and the second one was only marginally better than the first.  The vermicelli, though, was delicious as I had expected.

    Deep-fried chicken pieces with homemade shrimps sauce (大澳蝦膏炸碎雞) - the gang had raved about this dish from their last meal, and it was definitely pretty kick-ass.  I was only gonna allow myself one piece of the chicken, since it was deep-fried with skin and all... but the piece that Susan picked for me was actually the ass... so I allowed myself to pick a second piece.  VERY yum, thanks to the shrimp paste.

    The chicken came with cucumber sticks on the side, and since we didn't order any veggies and I needed to fulfill my veggie quota for this meal, I ended up eating most of the cucumber...

    Baked chicken with rock salt sauce (古法鹽焗雞) - this had to be pre-ordered and the test was to see if it matched up with the version from Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室).  Well... I was never enamored with this style of chicken, but I guess it wasn't bad.  I allowed myself one piece of chicken skin and took the skin off the second piece... and stayed with white meat this time.

    Kung Fu Panda was a little late today because she had stopped by her favorite purveyor to pick up a supply of imported fruits and things.  She very generously shared these Ivory Star white peaches with us.  Very delish.

    This was a pretty good meal overall, especially the dim sum items and the chickens.  I think I have to come back another day to try out more dishes.  One problem with the meal?  I didn't have enough grains/carbs so I left the restaurant only half-full...  Gotta remember to order a bowl of white rice next time.

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  • 08/18/13--02:34: A perfect Sunday afternoon
  • A few weeks ago I was pinged by Felix from QLI as he prepared for his trip to Asia.  We had discussed some time ago about getting together for a meal, and he suggested that we do lunch at Amber.  Having recently become a big fan of Chef Richard Ekkebus' cuisine, I was of course only too happy to oblige.  As it turned out, this would be my third cheat meal of the week…

    I arrived to find Richard and Felix already deep in conversation.  The menu had been pre-arranged, and I was of course very much looking forward to whatever Richard would throw at us, which would of course blow my calorie intake for the next 2 days or so…

    We started with some canapés and amuses bouches...

    Watermelon with sangria and blood orange peel - nice to start with something sweet.

    Pita bread with aubergine caviar, bell pepper and anchovy - always liked this particular nibble…

    Foie gras lollipops - will I ever get tired of having these?  Probably not.

    Jamón ibérico croquetas - with a yummy, hot liquid center and a single flake of fleur de sel on top.

    Sweet corn velouté with truffle foam and crispy bacon - topped with some chives, and the corn comes from Hokkaido.  I was surprised by how salty this was, since my mind was expecting to be hit with the sweetness that is typical of Japanese corn… In reality this probably wasn't over-seasoned, but my palate had been used getting little or no salt during my diet over the last 2 weeks…  Absolutely delicious!

    Now the lunch starts to get serious…

    "Pineapple" tomato, cherries, fresh almonds, niçoise olive salad - these tomatoes actually come from France, and are served with itty bitty slices of what seemed to be cherry gelée, with dots of black olive purée.  A very refreshing dish for a warm day, and this was only part 1 of the dish…

    Clear gazpacho, stragiatella di buffalo - the waitstaff removed the top part of the plate to reveal part 2 underneath.  Little balls of buffalo milk cheese and gazpacho are garnished with chunks of tomato, slices of cucumber and radish, tomato-flavored cannelloni along with Japanese Amelia tomatoes, and those tiny bead-like tomatoes I had at Rozan (魯山) last week.  While part 1 was simple and pure, the flavors were much more intense and powerful for part 2.

    Bellota baguette soufflé - these amazing airy and crunchy little baguettes were served on the side, wrapped with tasty slices of jamón ibérico and topped with preserved tomato.

    Langoustines, charred but kept raw, ricotta in a kyuri cucumber, Granny Smith and jalapeño marinade - the langoustines were absolutely delicious.  Garnished with a piece of brioche, slices of turnip confit, cucumber flowers and cannelloni made with cucumber and filled with ricotta.  I didn't quite pick up the jalapeño but the acidity from Granny Smith apples was certainly there, along with the richness coming from the olive oil caviar.

    Royal palm heart, shaved over black winter truffle, mitzutako and paimpol coco bean stew - here's what the dish looked like before the onslaught of black Tasmanian truffles…

    …and after being smothered by truffle shavings.  One doesn't often find heart of palm at restaurants like this, so this was a nice surprise.  The chopped pieces of chewy North Pacific giant octopus (水蛸) added a Japanese element to the dish, while the stew with black truffles, mushroom and Coco de Paimpol was squarely French.  Of course, the black truffle shavings were nothing short of heavenly.

    "Takaba" grouper, poached with "tête de veau", barbecued bell pepper purée, seared baby squid and summer vegetables - Richard's known for sourcing a lot of ingredients from Japan, and this is the first time I've come across the seven band grouper.  The texture of the fish was pretty soft and silky.  The jus was made from both fish and vegetables, with a fairly high acidity and garnished with green soy beans and dollops of bell pepper purée.  Interesting that this was served with very thin slices of tête de veau, but I love it!  Baby squid, baby asparagus and pea shoots complete the dish.

    The next dish came out looking like this… Were we about to eat a hunk of clay?  Notice the stamp with numbering...

    Sébastien the restaurant manager proceeded to break apart the clay with a little wooden hammer - much like the way a beggar's chicken is extracted.

    'Hugo Desnoyer' veal, tenderloin wrapped in black winter truffle and lardo, cooked in clay, seasonal vegetables, black truffle potato gnocchi - so this was underneath the clay…  A wonderfully tender and moist piece of veal… from the famed butcher in Paris.  That it was wrapped in a layer of delicious lardo di Colonnata just made it that much better.  And of course a layer of black truffle, plus all those truffle shavings, just upped the "Wow" factor.

    My first bite, however, was not of the beef but of all the garnish on the side.  Felix and I both agreed that we would have been perfectly happy to just have the garnish as a dish on its own.  That's how delicious it was.  The gnocchi with slices of truffle, asparagus, green soy beans, turnip… was just full of flavor.  Yum.

    French unpasteurized cheeses, matured by Marie Quatrehomme - the cheese trolly was wheeled to our table side, and I picked the following:
    Summer Gruyère - this was intensely flavored and really good.

    Mimolette - judging by both the rind as well as the flavors, this was relatively young but delicious.

    Selles-sur-Cher - not too ripe and more solid than what I'm used to.  Love the acidity though.

    Camembert - this was unlike any Camembert I've ever had… The rind was washed with Calvados, and this produced a much more mature and intense flavor.  Yum!

    Fourme d'Ambert

    Peach, poached in Champagne, with extra virgin olive oil, lemon thyme and organic lemon sorbet - pretty yummy, with nice flavors provided by the Champagne sauce and acidity from the sorbet.

    These financiers were served on the side.  Very citrusy and yummy.

    Black winter truffle, rice pudding with Bourbon vanilla ice-cream - how is it possible to not like this?!  You've got the rice pudding flavored with the aromas of both the black truffle and the vanilla… yummy vanilla ice cream, then topped off by a solid slice of black truffle.  Wow!

    Normally I would have taken an espresso or a double, but Felix wanted the Blue Mountain brewed with a siphon.  The coffee grounds were incredibly fragrant, and the resulting coffee was very aromatic yet delicate.  Perfect.

    Petits fours - six different treats.

    Felix is a big wine geek, so I offered to bring 2 bottles to lunch.  Both were Californian, and I knew he would be able to appreciate them fully…

    2004 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge - I was late in getting to the office by about half an hour, so the wine was only opened and decanted 45 minutes before I got to the restaurant.  As it turned out this wine really needed more close to 1½ hours of decanting time, as I had been doing before.  Without sufficient aeration the alcohol was too sharp in the nose, much like paint thinner.  This faded gradually. Very sweet and caramelized on the nose, a little like cotton candy, with lemon, straw and finally toasty notes after 2 hours.  Drank reasonably well but slightly disappointed.

    1999 Sine Qua Non Pinot Noir The Ox - Richard's a fan of Sine Qua Non, and at my last dinner I had promised to bring another bottle on my next visit.  This wine surprised on the upside.  Didn't taste like a Californian Pinot at all… Very classic Burgundian, like a cool climate wine.  Mushroom and black cherry notes, and pretty sweet on the nose while not very sweet on the palate.  Quite elegant.  Very sad that this was my last bottle.

    What an incredible way to spend Sunday!  Amazing food from one of the best restaurants in town, with some nice wines to match.  While I would have been happy to shell out a good amount of my hard-earned dinero as I normally do, Richard was kind enough to treat us today.  I felt a little bad, but I'm sure I'll find a way to repay his kindness.

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  • 08/21/13--00:30: Bespoke diet lunch
  • I'm having lunch with the neighbors today, and On Lot 10 was suggested as the venue.  In all these years I don't think I'd ever been there for lunch, and given Scubagolfer's pretty positive review not long ago, I thought I'd go check it out.

    Trying to stick to a strict dietary program wreaks havoc with your social life and engagements.  Not having been to the restaurant for lunch means I have no idea what could be on the menu.  I don't want to get to a restaurant only to find out that I can't order the right type of stuff to stay within the boundaries of the program!

    Fortunately, I do know the boss at this particular establishment.  So I pinged David and ask him to help prepare something for me.  He's seen my photo album on Facebook documenting my daily meals, so he understands the situation I'm in.  I asked for a simple pasta with some meat or seafood, plus the ability to have some veggies on the side.  All low fat and low salt, of course.

    We were handed the simple lunch menu after we got ourselves seated.  I was informed that the kitchen had prepared something special for me, and I was very curious to see what "diet food" would look like in David's restaurant.  On a previous occasion, my request for yummy food with low cholesterol/fat didn't exactly work out the way I had hoped for…

    I didn't think I was gonna get enough grains/carbs, so I started with a slice of bread.

    I took the tuna salad from the set as my starter.  The tuna was certainly a lot tastier than the canned tuna in mineral water that I've been having for the last couple of weeks.  The haricots verts, potato and red onions gave me some of the veg I needed for this meal.  Of course I asked the kitchen to hold the dressing, but cracked some ground pepper on top to make sure it wasn't completely bland…

    My special pasta turned out to be oxtail ravioli with asparagus, carrots and sugar snaps.  Honestly this looked waaaay too delicious to be a simple diet pasta, but it has everything I asked for: carbs for grain, meat for protein, and more vegetables than I expected.  And it tasted absolutely delicious, with flavors that are classically David.  The raviolis were filled with shredded oxtail and herbs like tarragon. I'm sure my nutritionist would not approve of the rich sauce, but it was a little too late to protest.  A very sumptuous dish.

    While I didn't have a chance to taste it, my neighbors seemed to have enjoyed their barramundi fillets.  Maybe I'll try that next time.

    A single espresso completed my simple yet very delicious lunch.

    As always, my gratitude to David for always putting up with my unreasonable requests.  This was a nice break from my usual bland lunch...

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  • 08/23/13--08:11: Lukewarm and weak
  • It's Friday night, and time for another cheat meal.  The Alcoholics were having a mini-gathering in honor of a guest from out of town, and we picked Bistronomique for some of David Lai's yummy food.  As I got off the taxi on Davis Street and made my way around the corner, I suddenly wondered if David was the new King of K-Town as far as food is concerned.  With the new Bistronomique Boucherie occupying a space between Bistronomique and Boulangerie Bistronomique, the branding and message is loud and clear.

    For some reason I never realized that there was more to Boulangerie Bistronomique than meets the eye… at least mine.  The stairs on the side actually lead to not just a kitchen but a dining space above.  Now that the renovation has been completed, this space is now handling the overflowing customers from Bistronomique.  Some of the dishes are prepped in the Bistronomique kitchen, then brought around the corner and finished in the kitchen here.

    It took the four of us a bit of time to put in our food order, as we seemed more intent on catching up after many months.  It's been quite a while since I was last here, and while the menu has expanded significantly, it was comforting to see that my favorite dishes have remained.  We ordered everything to share but I ended up skipping some of the dishes tonight, as I wanted to focus my calorie quota on the things I liked best.  The ladies probably found this behavior a little strange, coming from me….

    Green salad with radish - I ended up having half the bowl as I tried to load up on my veggie quota for the meal.  I couldn't get rid of the offending vinaigrette, though…

    Herb-crusted bone marrow - remembering from my last visit that there were two halves of a long bone to each order, I placed two orders and declared that I wasn't sharing one of them.  (Yes, OCD is quite apparently here…)  I was therefore shocked to find four of these bone sections now comprise one order…

    I dug out the marrow and placed them on slices of mini baguette - having bread to soak up the fat is by far the best way.  I was in heaven.  I ended up having three of these… and almost took a fourth because no one else wanted any more…

    The kitchen sent out a dish for each of us and the staff simply said this was "ravioli".  Well yes, I can see it's ravioli… but what's inside?  I detected the familiar, slightly metallic flavor of offal, perhaps liver.  Turned out to be chicken liver ravioli.  Very yum.  Very sinful.  Very bad for my diet.

    Crispy suckling pig - we did a double take when this arrived at our table, as we didn't expect it to look like this…  Il Professore said they looked like quesadillas, and I kinda had to agree!  I ended up with two pieces since half the table decided not to have any.  There was a thin layer of meat beneath the crackling and fat.  While I love the taste of everything, the crackling was a little difficult to cut.  I probably should have picked it up with my hands and ate it as if it were a quesadilla

    Truffled Bresse chicken - we had pre-ordered this with David, and they brought it to us to have a look while the chicken was still whole…

    …and minutes later the big pan was laid down on the table after the dish was finished in the kitchen.  Honestly, this was somewhat disappointing.  While the chicken itself was tasty, the meat succulent (even the white meat) an the fragrance of the truffle alluring, the whole thing was under-seasoned.  There was simply not a lot of flavor once you got past the skin.  I'm the guy who's been on a low-salt, low-oil and no sugar diet, so if I feel the dish is under-seasoned, I'm curious to see what others would think…  As it turns out, Il Professore had the same comment, as he usually doesn't eat the skin.

    Gruyère bacon macaroni gratin - can't resist this, but the macaroni was a little mushy tonight.

    Buttered green beans - pretty yum.

    Spinach - pretty tasty, too.

    There was still a lot of food left on the table, so we passed on dessert while the others nibbled on some cheese.  I, of course, chose not to partake as I was already way, way over my quota…

    The food this evening was a little disappointing.  While everything was pretty delicious, just about all of the food came to our table lukewarm.  Nothing was piping hot.  The complaint was first raised by the Specialist and it clearly affected her appetite, and I have to concur.  All the food could have been a lot hotter…

    The other disappointment this evening was how weak we were.  This is the Alcoholics we're talkin' about, and we have a Korean guest!  (No stereotyping here in this space…)  For the four of us to struggle to finish 5 bottles was just… sad.  I blame the Specialist for not restraining herself at happy hour before dinner.

    2005 Agrapart Minéral Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut - a much bigger nose than I expected, very toasty, alcoholic.  Ripe and acidic on the palate at the same time.  Nice.

    1992 Bryant Family - double-decanted 2 hours before drinking.  Initially the nose wasn't Californian at all, showing medicinal notes along with black olives.  There was still fruit here underneath the smoky nose.  Gradually the sweetness emerged, but the wine was no longer tasting very vibrant and fresh, but rather showing a little age.  A little disappointed.

    1997 Dominus - coming from a better vintage, this was sweeter and riper than the Bryant Family.  There was also brett and medicinal notes, with higher alcohol on the palate.  The bottle I tasted just last month seemed a little better.

    2002 Masseto - decanted for more than 2 hours before drinking.  Initially the nose was very smoky and Bordeaux-like, but then became a little more exotic, with green pepper notes.  Nose became sweeter with time.  Pretty concentrated on the palate.

    1990 Vieux Château Certan - first whiff showed piment d'espelette, strangely enough… Then green pepper and tobacco smoke.  Acidity was higher than I expected.  Slightly disappointed in this bottle…

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  • 08/24/13--08:00: Comfort kaiseki
  • I haven't seen the Tiggers for over a month, and I finally got a chance to see them today.  As I had already been naughty last night, and was about to break my diet again tonight, I reluctantly turned down Tigger's invitation to lunch at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  Looking back I kinda regret turning them down, because I would have been there for my godson's first Michelin 3-star meal…

    Dinner time rolled around and we made our way back to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟).  This place has fast become the Tiggers' favorite Japanese restaurant, and who can blame them when they were blown away by things like the deep-fried sakura shrimp over rice on their first visit?!

    It's now late summer, so the menu has changed again to take advantage of the seasonal ingredients.  The staff brought out some corn and soy beans to show us, so I guess we'll be having some of those tonight…

    "Kegani" crab with summer vegetables seasoned with wasabi and sudachi ("北海道毛蟹" と "夏野菜" のお浸し すだちと山葵の香りで) - in addition to the leg of the Japanese horsehair crab, there was also a lump of shredded crab meat that had been mixed with what tasted like tomalley (蟹味噌).  Also in the bowl were shredded cucumber, eggplant, baby corn, scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ), seaweed (のり) flavored with some wasabi (山葵).

    "Sweet corn" steamed "a la minute" on corn egg custard with "Kobashira" clam (蒸したてろうもろこし "小柱" と "とうもろこしの茶碗蒸し" と共に) - Tigger declared that he "can eat this all day", and I understood what he meant.  This was simple comfort food made with deliciously fresh ingredients.  The corn from Nagano  (長野県) was really crunchy and incredibly sweet, the abductor muscles of the clams were pretty sweet themselves.  There were some really milky tofu skin (湯葉) along with the sweet corn and egg custard.  Add some finely chopped scallions on top and you've got an incredibly yummy bowl.

    Simmered "Ezo" abalone with "Kombu" puree sauce ("煮蝦夷鮑" 利尻昆布のソース) - the delicious abalone was simmered with some kelp from Rishiri Island.  The sauce on the side was made with kelp and egg yolk.

    It was really tender and yummy, and I think part of that was due to the knife skills which scored the abalone.

    Charcoal grilled "Kinki" in premium "Ichiban Dashi" soup (引き立て一番出汁への想い 炭火焼 きんきのお椀) - I looove broadbanded thornyhead/kinki (喜知次) as it's one of the most succulent and tender fish from Japan.  Tonight they grilled it with binchotan (備長炭) and I definitely got a whiff of the charcoal nose. Love the Japanese leeks and the piece of winter melon.  Of course the 一番出汁 was really yummy.

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - the selection of three tonight were:
    Olive flounder (平目)

    Bonito (鰹) - this was totally delicious.  Very tender and tasty.  I'm wondering how the chef managed to age it perfectly…

    Octopus (鮹) - I've never had octopus this way… sliced, scored and then blanched in a shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)… with sauce made with ground radish that was both spicy and sour.  Very nice.

    "Wagyu" beef and "Uni" sea urchin on simmered "Aka" eggplant ("とろける赤なす" "和牛サーロイン" "極上生うに" お添えて) - interesting combination, although I must confess that I chose not to have the two main ingredients together in the same mouthful.  The sea urchin from Hokkaido was very tasty, and worked really well with the grated radish.  The wagyu sirloin was as good as it gets, and the eggplant (apparently from Kyoto) was pretty yummy.

    Charcoal grilled large eel ("大鰻" の炭火焼) - these Taiwanese eels were pretty big!  Nice and crispy, with just the right amount of sauce.  The sansho (山椒) powder was totally awesome!  Only top quality sansho gives you that numbing sensation on your tongue together with the refreshing citrus lime fragrance.

    "Soy Beans" Edamame rice with scallop, Okara and miso soup with tofu ("大豆をめぐり"枝豆と帆立の御飯、おから、豆腐の味噌汁) - another simple and comforting dish, although I thought the rice was a tad overcooked and wet.

    I never knew that soy pulp was something that was taken as food by the Japanese, but I thought what was served tonight was pretty tasty.

    Of course we can't forget that miso soup and tofu are also made from soy beans...
    RyuGin Specialty -196°C "Candy Peach" and +99°C "Peach Jam" (-196°Cの桃飴 +99°Cの飴炊き桃) - oh this was REALLY good… actually better than the strawberry version and possibly the apple version I had in Tokyo.

    The peach jam was soooo sweet and packed full of… peachy flavors.  Love it!

    "KYOHO" Grapes with Fragrant Jelly and Light Mousse of Almond Milk (長野県産巨峰のジュレとエアーイン杏仁豆腐) - the last dessert is sometimes anticlimactic here… Yes, the grapes were very tasty, but the jelly was a little too subtle.  The almond jelly/mousse was also a little too subtle.

    2006 Kongsgaard VioRus - no surprise that there were no floral notes left, as the wine has gone through aging.  Very ripe, kinda alcoholic, with a pretty short finish… other than the alcohol.  Toasty nose and a little sweet.  Meh.

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