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

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  • 03/28/18--01:54: Hits and misses in Macau
  • We've been attending events associated with Asia's 50 Best Restaurants over the last few days, and it's very tempting - for someone like me, especially - to stick to the fine dining establishments inside the casino hotels here.  Apparently The Great One felt the same way, so we made plans to escape and explore the rest of Macau a little...

    While I did sample some of the finger food being served at the party after awards ceremonies last night, The Great One spent some time filing her article right after the announcement and Gaggan's press conference.  So she came back to the pool deck starving, and as lots of people were going out for supper, we figured we'd go and grab a bite, too.

    I had long heard about mud crab congee (水蟹粥) as one of the famous supper items in Macau, but I have never had the stomach space for it when in Macau.  So I was pretty determined to get me some tonight.  After consulting KC's Macau dining guide, the 5 of just jumped into taxis and headed for Yat Gor Gourmet (一哥美食).

    I was in the second taxi to arrive at the restaurant, and I found myself facing this...  They were filming the cook who was making steamed rice flour rolls (腸粉).

    So it was only appropriate that we started with Yat Gor pulled rice flour rolls with pig's liver (一哥拉豬肝腸粉).  I asked for it to be served with both sesame and plum sauces in addition to soy sauce, so this packed the full wallop of flavors.  The rice flour rolls were very thin and soft.  Nicely done.

    Next came a plate of stir-fried manila clams in black bean and chili sauce (豆豉).  This came piping hot and steam was still rising from the plate.  Needless to say this was gobbled up in no time.

    Deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚) was something that a couple of ladies at the table had never had before, so we felt the need to introduce them to this soft and juicy delicacy.

    Finally we have the pièce de résistance... mud crab congee (水蟹粥).  This was a pretty big pot for the 5 of us!

    I had never heard of "water crab (水蟹)" before, but apparently when mud crabs (青蟹) going through molting, their bodies absorb water while their new shells are still soft.  By the time their shells harden, their bodies still retain the water that has been absorbed, and they known as "water crabs".

    These mud crabs were pretty small, so it took some effort to get to the meat inside the shells.  With plenty of chopped spring onions, pickled leafy mustard stems (榨菜), shredded ginger, and lettuce.  My stomach warmed quickly and a sense of satisfaction spread throughout my tired body.  As The Great One said: "That hit the spot."

    With our bellies full - and I wasn't that hungry to begin with - The Great One and I headed back to our rooms at Wynn Palace to get some sleep, while the young ones moved to China Rouge at the Galaxy for the after-party with the chefs.

    After The Great One finished her meeting today, a few of us went outside the hotel for some Macanese and Portuguese eats.  I had narrowed it down to two choices for The Great One: a popular place near our hotel in the residential area (Antonio) or a hotel with an outdoor deck overlooking the beach (Pousada de Coloane).  While The Great One had originally decided on Antonio, somehow she was persuaded into changing her mind.  So we hopped into taxis and headed to the southern tip of Coloane.

    After we climbed the stairs, we arrived at the restaurant at Pousada de Coloane.  It's a charming little hotel overlooking Cheoc Van Beach.  Sitting on the deck, we could feel the ocean breeze, hear the sound of the waves in the distance, and actually hear birds chirping.  This would make for an idyllic afternoon...

    The job of ordering from the menu was left up to me (surprise, surprise...) - with some input from the rest - so we took a selection of what I thought would be classic dishes to try.

    Camarões picantes ao alhinho - in addition to the usual abundance of olive oil and chili, there was a surprising level of acidity.  The prawns were, not surprisingly, so-so.

    Ameijoas à bulhão pato - the clams didn't seem fresh, and I gave up after my second spoonful.

    Pastéis de bacalhau - very disappointed at how little bacalhau was used.  This was mostly a ball of fluffy mashed potatoes.

    Bacalhau à brás - one look and I knew this was wrong.  The thin sticks of deep-fried potato were meant to be crispy, but the way they served it meant that the wet scrambled egg got the potatoes soggy.  Yes, the flavors were still there, but the texture was all wrong.

    Legumes salteados com alho - The Great One remarked that this was the best dish from the meal...

    Leitão assado à Portuguesa - this came way too quickly, so obviously this little piggy hadn't been roasted fresh for us.  Haokoufu complained about the crackling being chewy, and I couldn't blame her...

    Frango grelhado à Africana com molho picante - FAIL.  I'm not an expert on the famous Macanese dish of African chicken, but I'm pretty sure this was the worst version I have ever had.  The chicken had actually not been cooked in the sauce, as it should have been.  Instead, the sauce was simply poured on top of the chicken, so the chicken meat had very little flavor itself.

    I apologized profusely to the group for leading them astray.  Antonio surely would have been a better choice, and either Miramar or Fernando's were better beachfront restaurants.

    Given the short distance to our next stop, the hotel staff recommended that we take the bus instead.  After a few stops, we got off at Coloane Village and headed for the famous Lord Stowe's Cafe - where The Great One and I sat down to have a cup of coffee while snacking on their famous Portuguese egg tarts.

    We didn't linger long before catching a taxi back to our hotel.  We needed to pick up our luggage before heading to dinner at a famous private kitchen...

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    With the festivities around Asia's 50 Best Restaurants over, it was time to pack up and go home.  But for some of us, we still had one last, highly-anticipated dinner to take in before boarding the ferry back to Hong Kong.

    Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜) is a place I had heard about from The Man in White T-shirt as "next level Cantonese cuisine"... whatever that means.  This was of course confirmed by Chef Tam at Jade Dragon when I visited him in January, as he was the person who introduced the place to Mr. White Tee.  So a couple of us had planned to tag along to a group dining here tonight.

    The list of attendees grew quickly, and Chef DaRC, The Great One, and I were asked to splinter off to a second table and fill it with our own friends.  We gradually contacted friends who we knew were gonna be in Macau for the festivities, and soon we had our "kiddie table" filled with people who had never been here.

    The place is actually housed upstairs in an apartment building, so the bunch of us who arrived with our luggage in tow were kinda holding up the elevator traffic for residents who live in the building.  But I'm sure they knew what was going on when a bunch of foreigners suddenly show up...

    And this would be turn out to be a star-studded evening.  With us tonight were 6 chefs from 5 different restaurants on this year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, a former Asia's Best Female Chef, as well as two regional chairs from The World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy.  Plus a straggler like myself.  Two real "chef's tables".

    I was already in Macau and had drunk the Champagne I brought last night, so I had to rely on the kindness of friends for some alcohol... Gee... I wonder where the magnum of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs came from??

    When one comes to a place like this, one encounters dishes that are so old school and uncommon nowadays that if there was no one around to explain the story behind each dish, most of us would have no idea of the kind of skill required for the execution.  Thankfully those of us at the kiddie table got a lesson from Spam Bro, with the occasional annotation from The Man in White T-shirt.

    Crispy chicken (炸子雞) - this is normally served much later during the meal, but for some reason the kitchen decided to split one chicken between the two tables and used it to whet our appetites... Yes, this chicken was damn good.  And the skin was paper-thin and crispy.

    Pan-fried prawn toast (蝦多士) - the chef obviously used tiger prawns for these giant prawn toasts.

    While I happily bit into it and enjoyed the golden-brown toast, Chef DaRC was somewhat critical of the fact that the prawns and the pieces of toasts underneath had curled up - which he jokingly referred to as "spastic" - as he felt that the solution to achieve a better presentation was simple enough.

    Stir-fried spinyhead croaker rolls (炒獅頭魚捲) - as explained to us by Spam Bro and The Man in White T-shirt, the difficulties in executing this properly are as follows: 1) getting one's hands on spinyhead croakers (獅頭魚) of this size; 2) filleting the fish properly, given the tenderness of the flesh; 3) rolling and stuffing them properly such that they don't fall apart during cooking; 4) stir-frying the rolls at high heat to properly seal the exterior and to impart wok hei (鑊氣); 5) making sure that the Chinese lettuce didn't overcook and begin sweating.

    I gotta say that this was pretty damn good.  The croaker was very tender, while bits of Cantonese duck liver sausage (膶腸) delivered the richness of foie as well as a little fragrance from the Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露).  There was also the fragrance and crunch from toasted Indian almonds (欖仁) stuffed inside.  There was also a generous sprinkling of dried flounder powder (大地魚粉) over the whole dish.

    Deep-fried crispy crab cake (金錢蟹盒) - now THIS has got to be my favorite dish of the evening, and likely many others felt the same way.  Just one look at these "ravioli" is enough to get me drooling...

    The raviolo is made not with flour but 2 layers of back fat (豬膘油), stuffed with crab meat, crab roe, shiitake mushroom, water chestnuts, yellowed chives, and coriander.  Every mouthful tasted heavenly.  Then again, why wouldn't it be when every mouthful contained deep-fried pork fat?!

    Speaking of fat... this was what it looked like.

    The menu included braised shark's fin, but as I don't eat it, I left my bowl on the Lazy Susan.  It was agreed that whoever finishes his/her bowl first would be entitled to my bowl.  I wasn't the least bit surprised when Chaxiubao inhaled the contents of his bowl in about 1 minute and 59 seconds, as he was the one who made the suggestion...

    Stir-fried frog's legs with kailan (玉簪田雞) - this was another dish I hadn't seen before, and also involved some serious skillz...

    The meat from frog's legs were removed from the bones, then tied around steps of kailan (芥蘭) as if one were tying ribbons around a twig.  Once again, the execution needed to be on point to ensure optimal doneness on both the frog's legs and the kailan.  The result?  Crunchy kailan with very tender, almost silky smooth frog's legs.  Stir-fried with dried flounder powder (大地魚粉) and lard... which was how it came to glisten so beautifully under the lights.

    2014 Recrue Des Sens Love and Pif - a little cloudy, almost a little fizzy with some pungency.  Not my kind of shit.

    Braised winter melon with ham and crab meat (蟹肉科甲瓜) - thin slices of Chinese ham were sandwiched between thick layers of winter melon in order to get the flavors into the melon.  Topped with giant mud crab meat, and certainly some corn starch in the sauce.  Not exactly a delicate dish in terms of flavor...

    Crispy chicken (炸子雞) - and now each table gets its own chicken.  And what a beautiful chicken it was!  Just look at the beautiful, paper-thin skin that was perfectly crispy.

    Our resident ass queen demanded once again that we save the chicken ass for her...

    Braised snapping turtle (紅燒水魚) - this was, quite frankly, too much for us.  The adults from the other table were surprised how much of the pot we had left after a while, but the truth was that the seasoning was simply too heavy.  There wasn't enough shiitake mushrooms nor roast pork - just a lot of braised garlic.

    Sweet and sour pork with young ginger (子薑咕嚕肉) - we asked for extra young ginger, and they were delicious.  Ribeye (肉眼筋) was used here, and the texture underneath the crispy batter was very tender and springy, with a little fat.

    Rice with steamed pork patty and salted fish (鹹魚肉餅飯) - it's great to finish with something as simple as steamed minced pork patty, and of course here the pork was hand-chopped and tenderized with the back of a cleaver (likely double-handed action with two cleavers) instead of being minced by machine.

    And it goes perfectly with some salted fish that had also been steamed.

    Stir-fried leafy mustard with garlic (蒜蓉炒水芥)

    Chilled mung bean soup with kelp (凍海帶綠豆沙) - after being in Hong Kong for more than two decades, I have finally gotten accustomed to having mung bean soup - which is taken sweet - with savory kelp and rue (臭草).  This was pretty good.

    Birthday buns (壽包) - Chef Tam from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) joined us in the middle of dinner - having come straight from his kitchen - and brought us these wonderful treats.  Loved the combination of egg yolk and lotus seed paste.  Not sure whose birthday it was, though...

    This was a very, very good dinner, and I was happy to have gotten another lesson on this branch of Cantonese cuisine from knowledgeable friends.  I couldn't say whether it was truly "next level" or not, but I'd come back in a heartbeat.

    Time passes quickly when you're having fun!  While The Great One and I thought that the 5 hours we had budgeted from the start of the dinner to the departure of our ferry back to Hong Kong would surely be enough, in reality we barely made it thanks to the difficulty in finding a taxi. 

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  • 03/28/18--23:20: Saito without Saito
  • I have never been privileged enough to sit in front of Saito Takashi (齋藤孝司), let alone step into either the current or the old address of Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう).  Truth be told, I don't go back to Japan that often - certainly not as often as many of my friends.  And whenever I do go back to Tokyo, sushi isn't always at the top of my dining priorities.  So perhaps it isn't surprising that I have yet to be able to "tick the box" on this one.

    So I was pretty excited when word spread last year that Saito-san was opening a branch here in Hong Kong.  I was even more excited when I learned that the local partner was none other than the group responsible for highly-regarded Japanese restaurants such as Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Ta Vie旅, and La Bombance.  Having maintained a good relationship with chefs at those restaurants over the years, I was given the privilege of being among the first group of people to pre-book my preferred dates during the soft-opening period - which started 2 days ago.  So I booked 3 dates within the space of about 2 weeks.

    Chef DaRC and I dutifully showed up about 10 minutes before noon, as we had been advised to arrive early so that service could start promptly at 12:00 p.m.  It would appear, though, that not everyone got the menu... as three ladies-who-lunch showed up only after we've had our first couple of bites.

    Only half of the U-shaped counter is currently open, cutting the seat count to just eight.  Itacho (板長) Kobayashi-san would be the only itamae (板前) for now.

    We started with a pair of otsumami (おつまみ).

    Monkfish liver (鮟肝) - very soft, very creamy... and kinda melted in the mouth.  Good depth of flavor here, while the sauce was surprisingly sweet.  Lovely fragrance from the yuzu (柚子) zest shavings.

    Rosy seabass (喉黒) - lightly grilled.  The fish itself is very fatty, and the texture was very soft.  Delicious.

    We then moved on to the main part of the meal: sushi.

    Baby sea bream (春子鯛) - first thing we noticed was that the taste of vinegar in the shari (しゃり) was reasonably strong.  The temperature of the rice was also relatively warm.  I also wondered whether the sea bream itself got some vinegar treatment.

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - we often see golden alfonsino being torched to melt the fat, but this was served raw.  The fat was still there, of course, so the texture was still soft and delicious... but of course firmer than fish that had been lightly torched. 

    I chose not to tell the restaurant about any dietary preferences. I knew this meant that I would be served bluefin tuna, and I made the choice to try tuna here - as I did when I dined at top sushiya like Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎) and Sushi Mizutani (鮨 水谷).  Perhaps after the first few meals, I will tell them to serve me something else.

    Lean tuna (あかみ) - nicely seasoned.  Very tender.  Very tasty.  Curious about what seemed to be very fine grains of (salt?) crystals on top.

    Fatty tuna (大トロ) - we were told this was 大トロ, but it certainly didn't look like what we're used to seeing.  I guess it just didn't have those large striations of fat which often separates the slice of fish into several parts.  There was a good balance between the acidity in the shari and the fat inherent in the neta (ねた).

    At this point I noticed that one of the pieces served to the diner next to me had a grain of rice fall off.  While this wasn't a mortal sin as, say, finding bones in your sashimi... it was nevertheless not something I would expect here.  I did notice that Kobayashi-san's squeezing motions were rather delicate - like he was gently cupping the shari and neta together.

    Squid (墨烏賊) - now THIS was very interesting.  The slice of squid was fairly thick, and together with scoring and aging, this had the effect of making it chewy on the unscored bottom while the top was almost in a state of being semi-liquefied.  The was the first piece where I actually tasted the wasabi.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - topped with a dab of asatsuki (浅葱) and minced ginger.  This was a pretty thick cut, but the texture was very nice and soft.

    Clam shell (蛤) - the very best clam sushi I've ever had was at Sukiyabashi Jiro, and this one was very, very different.  Yuzu zest was shaved on top of the tare (たれ).  When I picked it up with my fingers, the shari almost fell off...  This clam was much thicker than I had expected, and way more chewy.  In fact, it took some serious effort to chew on it and cut it up with my incisors, but at the same time I loved how springy it was and how much it resisted the force coming from my teeth.  Nice umami here, and great balance.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹) - I recognized the box that the sea urchin came in, and sure enough, this came from Hadate Suisan (羽立水産) in Hokkaido.  Really, really creamy.  But I would expect nothing less from this particular sea urchin, from this particular source.

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) - easy to see how the sea urchin tongues had started to liquefy... so no surprise that it was creamy and melted in the mouth.

    Conger eel (穴子) - very soft texture, with a slightly stronger dab of wasabi.

    Miso soup - yes, I took a picture of the soup.  At this point I heard the Japanese couple snigger at me for taking pics of the soup, and in an instant my blood boiled... and had we been at another establishment, I might have cursed at him in Japanese.  I felt like reminding him that he comes from the people whose national pastime is はい!チーズ! while flashing an idiotic smile and making the peace sign.  They were also responsible for creating the stereotype of the camera-toting tourist.  What's more, he himself was taking pictures of the food with his smartphone.  SO WHAT GAVE HIM THE FUCKING RIGHT TO LAUGH AT ME?!  うるせーな、馬鹿野郎!死ね!

    Chopped tuna belly roll (トロ巻き) - fatty tuna was diced and wrapped around two long strips of takuanzuke (沢庵漬け).  Beautiful

    Egg (玉子焼き) - this was undoubtedly the most unique piece of tamagoyaki I've ever had.

    The texture was so almost like Jell-O... and it was so much fun to play with it with my fingers trying to lift it up.

    I normally don't drink at lunch, but I knew DaRC was itching a little, so we each took a glass of white wine to pair with our sushi...

    2014 Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly - served by the glass and obviously too oxidized.  Good acidity, a little green apple, and a little spicy like pimento.

    This was a very good meal - at least for me - and delivered quite a few surprises.  Of course, not having ever sat in front of Saito-san himself, I have no basis for comparison... but based on today's lunch, I would be more than happy to come eat this any day - provided that I could actually make more reservations.  Word is that they're already booked solid till about mid-May...

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  • 03/29/18--08:36: They knew who we were
  • A dinner was arranged for a couple of friends who were in town, and since we could always use an extra mouth at a Chinese meal, I happily agreed to join them at Xin Rong Ji (新榮記).  The restaurant had been open for about 3 months, apparently, and this would be my first opportunity to get a feel for this import serving cuisine from Taizhou (台州), Zhejiang Province (浙江省).

    Upon arrival, it was immediately apparent to me that the restaurant knew exactly who we were.  I spotted 2 bottles of DRC as soon as the staff opened the door to our private room, compliments of the restaurant owner.  Hmmm.... now what exactly did we do to deserve this treat?

    Strawberries - these were pretty good, and a great way to start us off... especially with the bottles of Champagne we popped.

    Broad beans with spring onions (蔥香川豆) - pretty good.

    Jellyfish head in Sichuan pepper sauce (花椒汁海蟄頭) - the jellyfish heads had very crunchy textures, and the cucumbers were very fresh.  Very good. 

    Homemade sausage with cuttlefish sausage (墨魚香腸拼自製香腸) - the iberico pork sausage was a little too salty for me.  The other sausage was stuffed with diced cuttlefish and octopus ink.

    Golden brown cutlass fish (黃金脆帶魚) - the line-caught cutlass fish from the East China Sea was very crispy and very good.

    Whelk with marinated garlic (生蒜螺頭) - the whelk was crunchy as expected, but those slices of raw solo garlic (獨子蒜) marinated in vinegar were damn strong and spicy!

    Sweet potatoes (蜜汁紅薯) - these were huge! And their golden color - plus the fact that they were glistening under the light just got my saliva flowing... I loooove sweet potatoes, and I wish I had a bottomless stomach and could devour all of them.  As it was, I had to settle for just one slice in the middle - which turned out to be very soft and intensely sweet.

    Yellow croaker porridge with shepherd's purse (薺菜黃魚羹) - yellow croakers were my favorite type of fish growing up, and it always reminds me of mom's cooking. They cooked this with black wood ear fungus, bamboo piths, and fish maw.

    This was very good.  Thick and starchy, and benefited from some collagen from the fish maw.  The fragrance of the diced shepherd's purse (薺菜) was something I missed.  To me, this is just comfort food that makes me happy.

    Roast Peking duck (北京烤鴨) - kinda surprised to find this on the menu here...

    So what we got was the "first serving" of skin with some meat.

    The pancakes were pretty thin, and we each got our own set of condiments.

    Home-style pomfret (家燒鯧魚) - the slices came with thick cuts of chewy rice cakes, and the cloudy sauce flavored with soy sauce tasted very much like how mom used to make it.

    Sweet potato noodles with sea anemones (沙蒜燒豆麵) - the thick and round glass noodles were made from sweet potatoes, and came with a rich sauce packed with flavors - which almost tasted like zhajiangmian (炸醬麵).

    There were also bamboo as well as chunks of sea anemones inside, the latter of which I didn't much care for.

    Razor clams with chili (辣燒長街蟶) - these mini-razor clams from the town of Changjie (長街鎮) in Ningbo (寧波) are considered a delicacy, and came buried in a layer of dried chilis.

    Home-style stir-fried vegetable stems (家燒菜蕻) - with some Chinese bacon.

    Braised spring bamboo shoots with toothed bur clover (草頭紅炆春筍) - the bamboo shoots were, to my surprise, not too tough and fibrous.  I had seen how humongous they were as I walked in, but they must have cut away a ton of it and just kept the tender parts in the middle. 

    Spicy braised softshell turtle (湘味甲魚) - also with bamboo shoots.  Not a fan.

    Tofu with salted pork (刀板香鹹肉鹽滷豆腐) - the baishuiyang tofu (白水洋豆腐) comes from the city of Linhai (臨海市) within Taizhou, while the daobanxiang (刀板香) salted pork is a specialty of Anhui Province (安徽省).

    The tofu has similarly intense and smoky flavors like the ones I've had at Jiang Su (江蘇薈). These completely puts the tofu that we consume regularly to shame.  Came with more bamboo shoots as well as some pretty big dried shrimps.

    Wontons with longjaw grenadier anchovies (刀魚餛飩) - the way the wontons (餛飩) were served was just like how my grandma did it... with dried seaweed, preserved leafy mustard stems (榨菜), dried shrimp, and soy sauce in the broth.  The difference here is that the broth was apparently made with mineral water, and the wonton filling was made with longjaw grenadier anchovies (刀魚) from the Yangtze River - which is an expensive delicacy.

    Steamed green dumplings (青餅) - the glutinous wrappers were made with father-and-son plant (父子草), and stuffed with red bean paste.

    Double-boiled foxnut with peach resin and osmanthus (桂花桃膠燉雞頭米) - not really a fan of foxnut (雞頭米), but peach resin (桃膠) was basically in jelly form, and was pretty refreshing served chilled.

    I didn't know the full list of attendees before I showed up, and assumed that Chef DaRC and I would be the main contributors in terms of wine.  I was wrong, and we ended up with a ton of alcohol...

    Henri Guiraud Fût de Chêne MV10, dégorgée le 18 Novembre 2016 - yeasty, ripe, somewhat floral.  Nice.

    Jacques Selosse Rosé, dégorgée le 11 Mai 2010 - very ripe and more oxidized as expected, yeasty.  Good depth on the palate and long finish.

    2014 Josmeyer Fleur de Lotus - very floral and tropical nose with sweet lychee, elegant on the nose.  But a little hot on the palate, and also overripe with a slight bitter finish.

    2010 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Vergennes Cuvée Paul Chanson elevé et mis en bouteille par Lucien Le Moine pour El Bulli - tons of toasty oak with mineral notes.  Drinking beautifully.

    1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - unfortunately the first bottle I brought was very slightly corked, but tasted OK on the palate if too oxidized.  Thankfully the second bottle was very fresh and youthful, especially considering that it had been aerated for 2 hours prior to serving.  Showed lemon and polyurethane notes.  Beautiful and smooth.

    1994 DRC Echezeaux - two bottles courtesy of the restaurant owner.  Aerated more than 1 hour prior to serving.  Still some sweet fruit in the nose, with a whiff of floral notes.  Pretty dry and somewhat grippy.  OK considering the vintage.

    2005 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Cannubi - exotic herbs and sharp alcohol in the nose.  A little rich, and very tannic.

    2005 Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi - aromatic and much more elegant compared to the Marchesi di Barolo.  Also softer and less tannic.

    2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion, en magnum - aerated for more than 2½ hours prior to serving.  Very nice with smoky notes.  Smooth on the palate.  Classic claret.

    2014 Gut Oggau Joshuari - minty, peppery, pimenton, pine needle notes.  Showing cool fruit.  Reminds of Loire reds like Chinon but also a little of Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage.

    This was a lot of food... and a lot of wine. The dishes were somewhat familiar to me, yet many were eye-opening.  Good to see that the restaurant cared about ingredient sourcing, which was educational for me.

    When it came time to settle the bill, we were informed that in addition to treating us to two bottles of wine, that the meal itself would also be on the house.  This seemed a little excessive (and certainly a little uncomfortable for me), and eventually we agreed to leave a tip for the staff.  Many thanks to the restaurant owner for the kind treat - for which I was most certainly undeserving.

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    Last night I got a ping from Ricardo asking for recommendations for dim sum breakfast.  Virgilio Martinez and Pía Léon were in town checking on the progress of their upcoming restaurant - which would be located across the street from my office - and they wanted to go somewhere traditional for an "authentic" experience.  In addition to Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室) that Ricardo was considering, I also thought that Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) could be an interesting alternative.  After all, Alain Ducasse did tag along when I took the Foodalist there for lunch with the owners.

    Ricardo thought that things might be better if they had a local with them, so Hello Kitty and I dragged our asses out of bed this morning and met the visitors in the lobby of their hotel.  After presenting them with the two options - each with its pros and cons - it was decided that we would enjoy the tranquility of Luk Yu a little more...

    It was around 9 a.m. and already a line of chauffeur-driven cars were parked outside the restaurant.  Being nobodies, we were immediately stopped by the doorman - who motioned for us to take the side entrance to go upstairs.

    One orders by ticking off a list, and I jokingly handed it to Ricardo...  The dim sum here is pretty old school, with many items not seen on other menus around town - with the exception of Lin Heung down the street.

    Deep fried spring rolls with shredded beef (牛柳絲春卷)

    Crispy fried wontons (五柳脆雲吞) - came with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce that our visitors liked so much... that they ended up dipping lots of items in it.

    Steamed fried rice with shrimp wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮蝦荷葉飯)

    Steamed spare ribs in Chinese bean sauce (柱侯蒸排骨) - interesting to see this come with chu hou paste (柱侯醬) instead of the usual black bean sauce.

    Steamed shrimp dumpling (笋尖鮮蝦餃) - the wrappers were surprisingly thin and delicate.

    Steamed pork "shumai" topped with pork liver slice (釀豬膶燒賣) - an iconic dim sum item this place is known for.  In the old days only rich people could afford to have dim sum which came with large slices of pig's liver.  Even today, this decadent treat seems a little out of place...

    Steamed shrimp "shumai" (脯魚蝦燒賣)

    Steamed "fun guo" with shrimps and bamboo shoots (家鄉蒸粉菓) - pretty nice.

    Steamed beef "shumai" with hand chopped beef (鮮牛肉燒賣)

    Shrimp and BBQ pork pie (蝦仁鴛鴦酥) - never seen this before.

    Puff pastry with BBQ pork and fish (叉燒石斑夾) - never seen this anywhere else, either...

    Steamed mushroom stuffed with shrimp paste (百花釀鮮菇) - very nice.

    Deep fried sesame cookies with lotus seed filling (香麻笑口棗) - very crunchy on the outside.

    Cantonese egg tart (崧化雞蛋撻) - old school with puff pastry crust.  Just the way I like 'em.

    Steamed water chestnut and osmanthus cake (桂花生蹄糕) - our visitors seemed to like this.

    Steamed bun with mashed lotus and egg yolk filling (香滑蓮蓉包) - Pia seemed to like this.

    While it is Pia's first trip to Hong Kong, it seems that they do enjoy eating dim sum in Lima - so they're not entirely unfamiliar.  I liked watching them try out each dish, and also enjoyed watching the interaction between them.

    We were done but Ricardo had his heart set on introducing Pia to some steamed brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕), which they didn't have today.  So I suggested that we stroll down to Lin Heung, which also allows our visitors to get a glimpse of what they passed up today.

    By the time we arrived - which was now past 10 a.m. - there were of course no available seats... never mind an entire table.  I ventured solo into the crowd, trying to run down a push cart bearing the sponge cake so I could buy one for takeout.  No luck.  And I had no idea when the right cart would be coming out of the kitchen... so we gave up and left.

    After taking our visitors to Chan Yee Jai (陳意齋) so that they could bring some traditional local snacks back home, we said our goodbyes and wished them a safe trip home.  Hopefully we'll see them in June when ICHU opens around the same time that Central opens at their new location...

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  • 04/02/18--23:00: No soup picture today
  • I'm back at Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう) Hong Kong after a mere 5-day absence. This was an extra date that I had booked by mistake but was loathe to give up, and incredibly I had to ask - and get rejected - by around 10 friends before I finally realized who I should ask to join me.  Mrs. Birdiegolf would never say 'no' when it came to sushi...

    I sat in the exact same seat as I did last week, and today the restaurant provided me with an extra napkin so I could rest my camera on the beautiful counter - made from Japanese cypress (檜) from a tree that had been 400 years old - instead of nestling it on my lap as I did last week.

    Before we started, I was asked whether I wanted to substitute other neta (ねた) in place of bluefin tuna.  Yes, that would be nice... but I didn't want to cause too much trouble for Koba-san, so I left it up to him.

    Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - this was delicious.  The crab meat seemed to have been cooked with a little sake, along with some tomalley (蟹味噌).  Loved the fragrance while it was still warm.

    The only problem was that I found 2 pieces of shell with the crab meat... and one of them was rather large. 

    Rosy seabass (喉黒) - is it possible that this piece in front of me today was even more fatty than the piece I had last week?  Very, very juicy and tender.  Sooo delicious.

    On to the sushi portion of our lunch...

    Baby sea bream (春子鯛) - yes, the first piece still brings with it a jolt of acidity - both from the vinegar in the shari (しゃり) as well as the neta (ねた).  Besides the couple of drops of juice from sudachi (酢橘), I suspect that the fish itself was marinated in vinegar the same way sushi chefs treat gizzard shad (小鰭).

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - surprised to find that Mrs. Birdiegolf was not a fan.  I think her piece had some sinews which made it more chewy.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - this was a pretty thick cut, and even with the aging this was a little more crunchy than I had expected.  This was also the first piece where I actually started to taste the wasabi.

    Lean tuna (あかみ) - so I still got one piece of bluefin tuna, but it was fine.  This one came from the waters around Kyoto, and was very tender.  The wasabi in this piece was a little stronger.

    Japanese glass shrimp (白海老) - this was my substitute while everyone else got fatty tuna (大トロ). The aging made the texture soft and veered a little towards mushiness.

    Squid (墨烏賊) - this delivered quite a nice surprise last week, and this particular piece was still excellent.  I just love the fact that the thick piece of squid was crunchy at the bottom and tender on top... thanks to the scoring and aging.  With a few drops of sudachi.

    Japanese tiger prawn (車海老) - I watched as the assistant brought out a whole plate of these and began removing the shells while steam was still rising.  This was still a little warm when served.  Very sweet.  Very tender but still has enough bite.  Wasabi was certainly noticeable here.

    Clam shell (蛤) - tare (たれ) was very sweet, as expected, but the wasabi threw me a little.  Once again the texture was wonderfully chewy, but at times I wondered if it was too chewy... and whether someone older would have difficulty cutting the clam into smaller pieces with their teeth.

    The other problem for me - which was a little worse than my experience last week - was that the shari began disintegrating as I tried to lift the piece with my fingers.  I quickly put it down and used my chopsticks instead.  Must make a mental note in the future to always use chopsticks for this.

    When I saw the next piece being prepped, my immediate reaction was "WHERE IS THE UNI FROM HADATE???!!!"  I guess we weren't worthy for it today...  Sniff...

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) - a nice consolation prize for the missing purple sea urchin (紫雲丹).  Mrs. Birdiegolf didn't care for the temperature of the sea urchin, which was icy and cold as it had just come from the chiller.  But I actually found it pretty refreshing, and loved the liquefied, creamy texture.

    Conger eel (穴子) - someone was very happy...

    The soup arrived, and Mrs. Birdiegolf jokingly encouraged me to take a picture of it, since no one was here today to belittle me.  Ya know what?  I'm not taking a picture of it.  Nope.  Not gonna do it.  Hmmph!

    I was a little puzzled next when I saw Koba-san making a roll that didn't seem like an individual handroll... as the nori (海苔) was much too big.  I got even more puzzled when he started putting marinated kanpyo (干瓢) on it, because... surely he couldn't be serving us kanpyo roll (干瓢巻き)?!

    Futomaki (太巻) - thankfully this turned out to be a little more interesting... with conger eel, tiger prawns, egg custard, and cucumber in addition to the marinated calabash.

    Egg (玉子焼き) - not sure whether it's because they saw I had difficulty picking up the very fluffy and slippery egg custard last week, but today Koba-san decided to cut it into two smaller pieces.  This way each piece became easier to pick up with my fingers.  Yum.  But as a result I didn't get to play with my food... Pout.

    It seems they've still got a few minor kinks here and there, but this was another happy meal for me.  More importantly Mrs. Birdiegolf was happy - after the first two pieces of nigiri (握り).   She will, of course, want to return with Mr. Birdiegolf at the earliest available date... while I wait for my first dinner experience next week.

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  • 04/05/18--23:37: Hairy Ronin
  • Tonight was meant to be a chance for Hairy Legs and I to catch up.  He had originally asked me to drop by Caprice for some cheese and wine, but a last minute change of plans saw the ladies join us at Ronin.  Hairy Legs has never been there, so even though Hello Kitty and I were just there 2 weeks ago, I figured we should just go along.  After all, I've never had a bad meal there.

    Since we took the 8:30 seating tonight, both Matt and Elliot were in the house.  I had just seen Matt at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards last week, and I'm guessing Hairy Legs and Matt at least got to shakes hands back then.

    I didn't want to take the full tasting menu because it is just too much food, and I was afraid that many of the dishes may overlap with what I had two weeks ago.  So I picked out a few key dishes I wanted, and asked Matt to put together the rest for us.

    Once again, we started with some kale flower, dashi, yuzu.

    Senposhi oyster, red shiso vinegar, sudachi - the oysters are from Senposhi (仙鳳趾) in Hokkaido.  This was a little briny but also sweet.  The red shiso (紫蘇) vinegar granité delivered a good dose of acidity, and the shaved sudachi (酢橘) zest brought along beautiful citrus fragrance.

    Kumamoto oyster, mozuku, apple, ginger vinegar - in comparison, this was surprisingly plain and flat - completely different from my experience two weeks ago.  None of the ingredients delivered much flavor.

    Botan ebi spot prawn sashimi, sea salt, sudachi

    Shima aji striped jack sashimi, wasabi, soy

    Itoyori threadfin bream sashimi, garlic soy, spring onion - these were very tasty, and pretty smoky.

    Tai sea bream sashimi, karasumi, yuzu - it's been a while since I last had this, and I looooove karasumi (カラスミ)...

    Saba mackerel smoked sashimi, persimmon, vinegar - this is always good... with the sweetness from persimmon balancing the flavors of mackerel.

    Flower crab, uni, mitsuba, sudachi - OK, SO I'M AN IDIOT.  Having just had this with Hello Kitty two weeks ago, I initially asked for just one serving of this for the four of us - thinking that Hello Kitty and I would just nibble.  I promptly got scolded by Hello Kitty, so I turned around and asked Matt for a second serving ASAP.  The ladies got to share one while Hairy Legs and I shared the second serving - and I let him take most of it.  It is no wonder that this most Instagrammable of dishes is also the crowd favorite.

    Hamachi yellowtail sashimi, daikoku, watercress, yuzu kosho - haven't seen this dish before.. The young yellowtail was fine, but our focus was on the daikoku shimeji (大黒占地), which do look like ceps.  The seasoning and use of greens were also interesting.

    Hotaru ika firefly squid, urui, karashi miso - YASS!  Firefly squid (蛍烏賊)!!!! They're in season now and I LOOOOOVE them.  They're perfect as-is without any seasoning, or without being cooked at all, as they pack a serious amount of flavors.  Here the kitchen has served them with diced young plantain lilies (ウルイ) as well as crispy rice puffs. YUM.

    Ebisu snapper nanban, daikon, jalapeno, kumquat, vinegar - very interesting to have the Japanese soldierfish (恵比寿鯛) done as nanban (南蛮漬け), and loved the combination of acidity as well as a little spiciness.

    KFC sawagani crab, yuzu, sesame - always very cute, aren't they? With a "Korean fried chicken" sauce.

    Ruby snapper karaage, pickled jalapeno tosazu - totally did not expect the fish to be this size when I ordered it... Pretty nice, but getting kinda full by this point.

    Kagoshima beef, negi, maitake, sukiyaki egg yolk - we didn't have this dish on my last visit, but I simply couldn't let Hairy Legs walk out of here without trying this.  The tender and thin slices of beef are always so satisfying, especially when served together with maitake (舞茸), shredded spring onions, deep-fried garlic, and raw egg yolk mixed in.  Oh and that sukiyaki (すき焼き) sauce...

    Udon, wild shrimp, chorizo, tomato miso - our last act would be this udon.  This was my last dish from 2 weeks ago and I was already very stuffed by then.  Tonight I was in slightly better shape, so Hairy Legs and I managed to polish it off.  The flavors here were pretty heavy, but I think Hairy Legs appreciated and enjoyed it.

    In terms of drinks... we started off with a cocktail before moving on to the two bottles of wine we brought...

    2014 Arnaud Ente Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts - nice and toasty, buttery, beautiful.

    1998 Artadi Grandes Añadas - sweet nose, a little vanilla, a little smoky.  Opened up nicely after 1½ hours.

    We then moved on to some Suntory Hibiki 21, which I definitely didn't need... never mind two of them...

    Anyway... Always fun to catch up with Hairy Legs.  Thinking next time we should do Yardbird together after Hairy Legs finishes service.  That would be the first time for both of us...

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    My friend Uwe has opened yet another branch of Beef and Liberty in Hong Kong, and this time it's located in the restricted area of Hong Kong International Airport.  Apparently, the lease stipulates that they must introduce dishes which are unique and only served at that location, so Uwe has come up with a couple of interesting offerings based on classic dishes beloved by locals.

    So it was that I strolled over from my office to the LKF branch of Beef and Liberty tonight for a quick tasting - because I wouldn't say 'no' to an invitation from an old friend.

    Macaroni cheese breakfast toastie - the inspiration came from the now-classic Hong Kong breakfast set of macaroni in soup, fried egg, ham, and toast on the side.  Uwe decided to put them all into one dish, and used thick toast to make it extra special.

    In between the crunchy slices of thick toast were two types of cheese as well as béchamel.  Nice and sinful.

    Char siu burger - a porky burger inspired by the beloved Cantonese roast meat dish of char siu (叉燒), except there's no barbecued pork here.

    With a cross-sectional view, it is easy to see the thin slices of bacon - which have been marinated in a mix of honey, garlic, sugar, and pepper.  The flavors here are, honestly, a little too heavy.  There was a ton of coriander and spring onions on top, along with a small amount of red peppers.  While I generally like the fragrances coming from these herbs, in this case I thought it was a little much.

    The pork patty was made with Scottish pork, but here is where my personal preference (I no likey rosemary) got in the way of me enjoying this.  Why was rosemary used here?  I understand that rosemary is a common herb used in pork patties or sausages in Western cooking, but if the inspiration came from char siu and you've already got this rather intimidating mound of Asian herbs like coriander and spring onion... why was it even necessary to throw in a very Western (and therefore foreign to Asian cooking) herb like rosemary?

    One final complaint - and this was discussed at our table - was that the ingredients and flavors were so heavy here... that the small amount of carbs from the bun just wasn't enough for balance.  Either give the diner a bigger bun or cut down on the seasoning/marinade.

    Hong Kong milk tea crème brûlée - these mugs and saucers emblazoned with the Black and White brand logo are ubiquitous in Hong Kong chachaantengs (茶餐廳), and often come with milk tea inside.  So it's actually a very nice touch to serve this dessert in these mugs.

    Beneath the top layer of caramelized sugar is a custard made of milk tea.  The tea was brewed with a blend of Earl Grey as well as Chinese "black tea", allowing it to deliver a rich depth of flavors as well as complexity in fragrance.  This was VERY good, but simply too rich after I stuffed my face with that burger...

    Way too rich of a "tasting" meal tonight... which didn't help as I dragged my butt back to the office for a couple of hours of light reading of legal documents.  Next time I fly out of Hong Kong International Airport, I will have this tough decision to make: "Popeye's? Or Beef and Liberty?"

    P.S. A few hours before I came to this tasting, Hello Kitty grabbed lunch at the Beef and Liberty branch at the airport.  She came away impressed with the El Cabrón burger and wanted me to pass on her compliments to Uwe.

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  • 04/13/18--08:22: Impromptu sushi
  • My plans for today went through some changes in the last 36 hours.  My original plan was to hang with Fergie and the kids tonight while popping a few bottles from Napa, but I chose to "fly airplane" when another friend suddenly wanted to catch up.  I guess I'll have to make it up to the kids later...

    After some back and forth, we finally settled on late dinner at Sushi Imamura (寿司処 今村).  It's an old favorite I used to frequent more than a decade ago, but these days it's largely neglected by my friends from the "foodie crowd".  It's always been good, though, whenever I have chosen to go back there.

    Given that I'll be doing another sushi place for dinner tomorrow, I originally wanted to take a smaller set tonight.  But somehow it didn't work out that way... as I didn't want to have only sushi and give up on otsumami (おつまみ).

    The staff did come and ask us about our dietary preferences, so I dutifully told them that I didn't want tuna of any kind.

    Cockle (鳥貝) trimmings - with white miso, flying fish roe (飛び子), radish chiffonade, and greens.

    Mozuku (モズク) - lots of vinegar, a little grated ginger.

    Filefish (皮剥) - crunchy texture, dipped in soy sauce with filefish liver and finely diced spring onions.

    Squid (墨烏賊) - very thick cut here, which delivered a good amount of bite.  Served with shavings of yuzu (柚子) zest.

    Whelk (つぶ貝) - dipped in fragrant sesame seed oil.

    Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) - with firefly squid (蛍烏賊) on top.  Seasonal and sooooo delicious.

    Botan shrimp (牡丹海老) - with tomalley and crunchy bits made of shrimp roe.  The tomalley had pretty strong flavors and tasted like kanimiso (蟹味噌).

    Ark shell (赤貝) - from Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県).  Surprised to taste the vinegar in the shari (しゃり).

    Striped bonito (歯鰹) - the marinated tataki (敲き) was definitely a little smoky, and came with new onions.

    Japanese black-bluefish (黒ムツ) - lightly grilled and served with yuzukosho (柚子胡椒), along with a piece of nori (海苔).  I decided to wrap the nori around everything and shoved it all in my mouth... before being told by Imamura-san that I was meant to shred the nori and sprinkle it on top,...

    Gizzard shad (小肌) - more fatty than I had expected.  Nicely done.

    Tea-bathed sea cucumber (茶ぶりナマコ) - very crunchy and came marinated in ponzu (ポン酢), along with chopped spring onions and marinated grated radish (辛子おろし).

    Fukusayaki (袱紗焼) - despite how it looked on the outside, this was not your average tamagoyaki (卵焼き) with shrimp and fish paste.  This came with diced bits of vegetables and fish inside.

    Grilled great amberjack (間八)

    Wagyu with sansho flowers (和牛 花山椒) - Imamura-san wasn't sure exactly where the beef came from, but it was somewhere in Kyushu (九州).  The surprise was the sansho flowers (花山椒) on top, which were so fragrant and delivered that numbing, tingling sensation on the tongue.

    The beef was very marbled and tender.  Delicious.

    Firefly squid (蛍烏賊) - these were a little bigger than I had expected, and the marinade was on the sweeter side.

    Yellowtail amberjack (平政) - my substitute for fatty tuna. 

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - from Fukuoka (福岡).  A little more depth of flavors.

    Barracuda (魳) - my friend brought me some smoked soy sauce from Japan, and she wanted Imamura-san to try it.  He figured that it may work with a white fish, and served up this bowl of shredded barracuda marinated in kelp (昆布締め) with Japanese leeks, then drizzled soy sauce on it.  Not bad.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹) - I saw that Imamura-san still had this from Hadate Suisan (羽立水産), so I made sure we were getting it.  Very creamy, very sweet.  Yum.

    Conger eel (穴子) - surprising amount of bones here.

    A trio of desserts brought our dinner to an end:

    Pink strawberry

    Matcha pudding

    Azuki bean pudding

    We brought along two bottles of nice sake we had been wanting to drink...

    Dassai Beyond (獺祭 磨き その先へ), BY 26 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) not disclosed.  Good depth of flavors, medium dry with long finish.  Nose was rich in fermented rice notes.  Very clean.

    Kokuryu Daiginjo Junmaishu Ishidaya (黒龍 大吟醸純米酒 石田屋), BY 27 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Pretty smooth and soft, much lighter on the palate at first.  Slight hint of dryness and a bit dry on the finish.  After warming up this was much better, with a lot more depth.

    Good to catch up with my friends after a long time, and glad to see that Imamura-san is still delivering the goods for his guests.

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    It's Babu's birthday today, so when pre-booking opened up for Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう) Hong Kong, I made sure to secure a booking for tonight.  As long as she was gonna be in town, I would make sure that we spend some time together and treat her to some good Japanese food.

    There are two seatings of 2 hours each for dinner, and the restaurant makes it a point to remind diners to arrive a little earlier so that service could start at the appointed time.  In spite of this, there always seems to be one group of people who takes a liberal interpretation when it comes to time - and arrive late.  Unfortunately for us, tonight would be no exception.

    The 8 seats at the counter were taken up by two separate parties - Babu, Hello Kitty, and myself; and a group of 5.  Four people from the other group apparently trekked over from Macau, and ended up waiting a good 20 minutes for their diva friend living in Hong Kong.  Since Koba-san would not begin service until the entire party has been seated, that meant the diva's friends could only watch while the three of us started enjoying the delicious morsels being sent our way.

    Mackerel bozushi (鯖の棒鮨) - I finally got a chance to try this, having seen pictures of it for quite some time.

    The mackerel wrapped around the rice came with a thin layer of kelp (昆布), which made me wonder whether the mackerel itself had been marinated next to the kelp as kobujime (昆布締め).  In any case, this was an incredible first bite, as it just melted in my mouth.

    Steamed abalone (蒸し鮑) - very tender.  Very flavorful.  Babu was happy.

    Octopus (蛸) - as expected, this was very tender.  What I did not expect was how sweet the marinade was.

    Pen shell (平貝) - this came straight from the grill and was very, very hot, and it was tough trying to hold it in my hands while taking a picture...  Slightly more chewy than I had expected.

    Uni trio (雲丹三種盛り) - it's tough not to be giddy when you see the chef plating something like this... especially for anyone who loves sea urchin.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹), Hokkaido - from Hadate Suisan (羽立水産) in Hokkaido. One of my absolute favorites when it comes to sea urchin.  Love how sweet and creamy this is.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹), Kagoshima - a little more salty, more depth of flavors.

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) - from Hokkaido.  Flavors definitely more briny and medicinal.

    Monkfish liver (鮟肝) - the slices tonight seemed a little bit thicker than what I had on my first visit, and of course putting this in my mouth was nothing short of pure bliss.  The sweet marinade was so delicious that I wanted to lift up my shallow bowl and drink it... and of course the sprinkle of shaved yuzu (柚子) zest added some beautiful fragrance to it all.

    Rosy seabass (喉黒) - as delicious as it was on my two previous visits.  Very, very tender... and succulent.

    The sushi portion of our dinner starts...

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - the first piece of nigiri always makes one notice how warm the shari (しゃり) is...

    Baby sea bream (春子鯛) - I noticed tonight that the rice grains were rather firm and more chewy than I had remembered from my last two visits.

    The staff was kind enough to arrange to switch out the two pieces of tuna for me - the benefit of having a long-standing relationship with a restaurant group who keeps track of your preferences.

    Japanese glass shrimp (白海老) - the usual texture for this neta (ねた), where it started to liquefy a little.  Started to notice the wasabi in this piece.  My substitute for lean tuna (あかみ).

    Cockle (鳥貝) - clearly aged so that the texture was very, very tender... still with some crunch.  Somehow got a little dab of wasabi on my tongue.

    Clam shell (蛤) - with my experiences from the last two visits, tonight I decided to pick this up with my chopsticks instead of my fingers.  Still very, very good.

    Squid (墨烏賊) - a piece that was a highlight for Hello Kitty... and I totally understand.  The combination of textures between the top and bottom is superb, and a few drops of sudachi (酢橘) juice on top with salt was just right.  But here I definitely felt that the rice was more firm and dry than before.

    Japanese tiger prawn (車海老) - tonight I finally noticed how much Koba-san was cutting from the tail of the prawn, and it was a shame.  Very, very sweet and delicious - and the tomalley was especially flavorful.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) - this has come to be one of my favorites here... The horse mackerel has been aged to the point where it was so soft, and so, soooo good... Practically melted in my mouth.

    Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) - we get another serving of Japanese green sea urchin, only this time from Nemuro (根室) in Hokkaido.  Very sweet and creamy.  Served as a gunkanmaki (軍艦巻き).

    Conger eel (穴子)

    Futomaki (太巻) - this is really growing on me.  With egg, cucumber, tiger prawn, conger eel, and rehydrated dried calabash (干瓢)... what's not to like?

    Egg (玉子焼き) - very soft and pudding-like.

    Rihaku Daijinjo Tobingakoi (李白大吟釀斗瓶囲い), BY28 - nice with good fermented rice flavors, with good depth. Very round on the attack, then gradually builds up to a dry finish. After warming up this became a lot more dry, and showing some acetone notes.

    Other than thinking the rice was a little on the dry side, the food was very good tonight. Babu was very happy, and Hello Kitty was glad that she was able to get back to Hong Kong just in time for this.

    But unfortunately, we were a little bothered by our neighbors.  Normally, another guest's tardiness would be none of my business, but these people clearly hadn't been to enough of the top sushiyas in Japan - some of whom would turn you away for being late.  And their tardiness meant Koba-san had to work ingredients for the two groups separately, which has the effect of disrupting the flow of service.  And that, in turns, affects our experience.

    The food snob in me also took issue with the fact that more than one of their group couldn't spell the name of the restaurant.  Basically, they came to eat at a restaurant with arguably the most difficult reservation to score, and couldn't even have enough respect for the chef and proprietor to learn the name of the place.

    Halfway through the sushi portion of the dinner, the aforementioned diva - who may or may not be a has-been third-rate celebrity -  announced that she was full and wanted Koba-san to stop giving her rice.  WHAT.THE.FUCK?  You fucking came to a sushi restaurant - undoubtedly one of the best in town - and you bitch about having too much rice?  Why the fuck did you even come here?!

    Next thing you know, her friend started wondering whether they were gonna get some vegetables for dinner.  HELLO?!  Has no one been to a proper sushiya?!  Or did you get lost on your way to Tokio Joe?

    A couple of more pieces in, our diva mentioned that while she has difficulty eating too much rice, she has an easier time with sweet potatoes and bananas.  All I wanted to do at that point was to suggest to her that she go and 食蕉.  But that wouldn't have been very polite, would it...?

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  • 04/20/18--08:51: Where the wild things are
  • We're long overdue for a catch up with Winnie the Chew and the Zhongmeister, as they had been spending time in Japan recently.  When I proposed getting together, suddenly the choice of venue became clear to my friend - she requested that we go to Uwe.

    She certainly wasn't the first to make this request.  There is, apparently, a special menu that exists for me only... or so my friends believe.  But it has been quite a few months since my last visit, and Uwe made sure to remind me of it tonight.

    Farmer's hands - Uwe used to serve something similar at the Krug Room and the Mandarin Grill + Bar, and he's kept his relationships with local suppliers for his vegetables.  As usual, the "first course" here is a veritable feast in and of itself.  All the vegetables were locally foraged or farmed.

    Courgettes - this immediately reminded me of Chef Mingoo Kang's beautiful dish at Mingles in Seoul.  But the execution here was completely different.  The strips of courgettes tonight were a little more firm, and not translucent like they were in Seoul.  This also came on a bed of tomato salsa and chive oil, with a few drops of 25-year-old balsamico added.

    Salad with smoked eggplant - nice and smoky. Pretty dark in terms of color.

    Okra with spicy sweet corn purée - totally didn't expect the corn to be so spicy... but it was good!

    Vine-ripened tomatoes - with rocket pesto, nasturtium, basil.

    Wild tomatoes - LOOOOOVED these cute little tomatoes, which were babies of the same tomatoes above.  Really sweet and vibrant flavors that pop.  The "soil" underneath the cage was fermented shiitake mushrooms.

    Carrot and breakfast radishes - with herbed butter.  Sourced from Yi O Farm on Lantau Island.

    New potatoes -with Japanese mayo and shiitake soil. With a few drops of argan oil.

    Escargot - smoked and pretty nice, with garlic croûtons.  There are always snails in the garden, right?

    Steak tartare with foie gras terrine - pretty delish.  With wood sorrel and onion blossoms.

    Bone marrow candle - with sourdough bread, as usual.  Better with a little salt on top.

    White asparagus, firefly squid, caviar - as usual, Uwe gets his white asparagus from his mother in Germany.  It's still new in the season, so while these were pretty damn sweet and delicious, there was a slight tinge of bitterness.  Served with a small dollop of caviar - Kaviari Kristal, I presume - and my favorite firefly squid (蛍烏賊) from Japan.

    Topped with sauce made of asparagus, Japanese cream, firefly squid heads, and chive oil.  Absolutely gorgeous.

    Peas with morels - the morels were stuffed with a little bit of chicken, and on the plate we've got pea mash, peas, pea flowers, and pea tendrils.

    All the elements of spring.

    Hokkaido scallops - here we have a special treat from Uwe.  Back in January, I had been amazed at the size of the scallops being served at Robuchon au Dôme.  Well, these babies came from the same source.

    I was so happy to see these scallops!  Look how big they were inside!  Especially the giant coral... and it would seem that mine was female.

    And this time, they were cooked very simply - and served with an emulsion flavored with lemon for acidity.  The execution just about mi-cuit.  Oh and my scallop seemed to be the thickest of all.  So, sooooo happy to have this!

    Homard bleu - I had seen a picture being posted on the restaurant's Instagram account today, so I suspected that we might get this tonight.  With tomato gratin and edible flowers.  If I were to be entirely honest, I found this a little disappointing.  The texture was surprisingly soft, and didn't have the bite I was looking for.

    Claws with tomato sauce.  These were also very soft, almost a little mushy.

    These were apparently a cross between lemon, calamansi, and lime.  Very interesting flavors, and nice when squeezing a few drops on top of the lobster.

    But the most amazing part of this dish wasn't the French blue lobster.  It was, in fact, this bowl of local greens on ice.  The romaine lettuce was absolutely beautiful.  Very sweet and pure.  I would want to eat that everyday... The little green "coriander caviar" were also pretty amazing.  We know about coriander seeds as a dried spice, but these fresh, green ones were so fragrant... perhaps a little floral, but actually tasted like soap or dishwashing detergent.

    Welsh lamb from Rhug Estate - we really didn't need more food by this point, but we knew we would finish with a meat course.

    These lamb chops were really beautiful, with some caramelized onion purée and dill flowers on the side.  I couldn't finish the second piece...

    The neck of the lamb came served with new potatoes and wild pepper leaves.  Fatty and delicious.  I wish I could have had space for more.

    Lantau forest / Black Forest - Uwe laid out this spread on the table, and pointed out that the right-hand-side could be combined together to make a Black Forest cake.  The left side of the spread call came from Lantau Island.

    Wild blueberries - these were so amazing!  I thought they looked like blackcurrants, but apparently these were foraged blueberries from the wild.  They didn't taste like the blueberries we know, but I would say they were closer to blueberries than blackcurrants... as the acidity wasn't there.  Popping them in my mouth and feeling the liquid centers burst was pretty fun.

    Wild mulberries - I love mulberries, and so was pretty happy to have these.

    Strawberries - these were also local, and pretty delish. 

    Wild honey - there were two types of wild honey tonight, with this being from Lantau Island and another from Lamma Island (?).  Definitely tasted very different... with strong pollen fragrances in the latter.

    Then the Black Forest part:

    Japanese cherries - pretty good.

    Black Forest cake - adding the Japanese cherries, Japanese whipped cream, and some chocolate leaves on top of the chocolate cake turned this into the popular dessert.  Very nice.

    The Zhongmeister and I each brought a bottle, and we ordered a bottle off the very reasonably-priced wine list.

    1975 Chateau Musar Blanc - obviously aged and oxidized when one looks at the amber color.  Caramelized nose with a little acetone and plenty of marmalade.  A little hot and alcoholic.  A lovely treat.

    2007 Pazo Señoráns Selección de Añada - flinty, mineral, a little savory.  Toasty.  Still some freshness here with lemon citrus.

    2002 Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards - decanted for 2 hours prior to serving.  Very fragrant nose, a little floral, woodsy, almost tropical with exotic spices, coconut butter.  Absolutely beautiful after 3 hours in decanter.  Silky smooth but still got the concentration and some tannins.  Wow!

    Once again, Uwe nearly succeeded in killing me with dinner.  One thing he does keep succeeding, though, is to surprise me with beautiful ingredients which he consistently turned into delicious bites.  I'm so blessed to have a good friend like him.

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  • 04/23/18--07:29: The last flowers of spring
  • Since I bailed on dinner with Birdiegolf a week ago, I decided to make it up to them by meeting up this week.  I had seen Godenya (ごでんや) post about their seasonal ingredients, and I figured we needed to get ourselves there STAT.  Thankfully they're no longer booked out a month or more ahead, so I was able to get us seats with two weeks' notice.

    The four of us were the only ones in the main dining room, so we had Goshima-san's (almost) undivided attention.  This time around, in addition to the English as well as the Japanese menu, the restaurant now has provided a third piece of washi (和紙) - with a list of ingredients and sakes showing their origins superimposed on a map of Japan.

    Cockle clam, sakura salmon, sakura leaf (鳥貝  桜鱒  桜葉) - our starter was marinated in cherry leaves to impart some of the flavors.  The cockle from Mie Prefecture (三重県) was very, very soft.  The cherry salmon from Aomori Prefecture (青森県) was very flavorful, with a hint of the cherry leaves.

    Odayaka Junmai Ginjo Unfiltered Unpasteurized (穏 純米吟醸  うすじごり 生), 2017 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%.  Served at 11°C. Very much like Shanghainese fermented rice (酒釀), slightly hot and alcoholic, and very fruity.

    Blue crab, ark shell, mango, sansyo flower (渡蟹  赤貝  マンゴー  花山椒) - BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR... I heard there was "drunken crab" here, and got very curious.  Would it be like Shanghainese drunken crab (醉蟹)?  The Japanese blue crab from Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県) was marinated for 4 days in a mixture of young sake and aged sake (古酒) - the latter because it has similar oxidative aromatics and flavors as Chinese yellow wine like Shaoxing wine (紹興酒).

    Served together with orange-colored crab tomalley (蟹味噌) that we mistook for sea urchin.  The sweet chunks of local mango worked well to temper the alcohol as well as bringing some tropical, fruity fragrance.  Of course, the highlight of the dish had to be the sansho flowers (花山椒), which are only around for a couple of weeks each year... and we're in the last few days of the season.

    You've got a great combination of textures - from the crunchy Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) ark shell with bite, to the mango, then on to the raw blue crab, and finally the creamy tomalley.  A real beautiful dish both in terms of the symphony of fragrances and flavors, as well as the combination of textures and mouthfeel.

    Ryu Bizen Omachi Junmai Nama (隆 備前雄町 純米 生), 2017 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%.  Sake meter value (日本酒度) of +7. Served at 14°C. Dry on the palate, and gradually builds up to a long and strong finish.

    Young ayu, firefly squid, lily, chawanmushi (稚鮎  蛍烏賊  百合根  卵  出汁) - YASSS!!! More of my favorite seasonal ingredients!  We've got a delicious young sweetfish (稚鮎) from Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県), along with two firefly squid from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) - the latter of which was full of yummy goodness.  We've got some lily bulb buried in the steamed egg custard, but the beauty lay in the sansho leaves (木の芽) used to lend their citrus and peppery fragrance.

    Suginishiki Natural Kimoto Junmai (杉錦  自然醸造  生酛純米), 2016 - Sake meter value (日本酒度) of -11. Served at 18°C. In addition to the sweetness we also have surprisingly high acidity together.  More rounded on the palate, and very aromatic.

    Scampi, salted sea cucumber guts, canola flower, rice vermicelli (赤座海老  このわた  菜の花  ビーフン) - this was a nice surprise.  I didn't expect to see thin rice vermicelli (米粉) that one finds on southern Chinese menus.  Mixed in with the noodles was the salted guts, and some lightly-grilled Japanese lobster from Sagami Bay (相模湾) off Miura (三浦).  The Japanese lobster was cooked mi-cuit, with some lovely smoky flavors.  Garnished with some canola flowers, red perilla leaves, and perilla flowers (穂紫蘇).  Somewhat surprised that the flavors weren't heavier.

    Kaiun Junmai Unfiltered Unpasteurized (開運 無濾過純米 生), 2017seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%. Served at 13°C.  Sweet on the attack, then spicy and dry in the middle.  Very rounded on the palate, with some fermented rice in the nose.

    Hard clam, shirogai, uni, seaweed, parsley, bamboo shoot (蛤  白貝  雲丹  パセリ) - WOW!  This was not your average steamed clams, and was damn delicious!  On the clam shells we have clams from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), great northern tellin (白貝) from Hokkaido (北海道), and purple sea urchin (紫雲丹) from Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県) all mixed together and enveloped in a mash made of finely diced parsley and shallots.  Steamed together with clam juice and sake.  Really loved the fragrance left in the mouth by parsley and shallots.

    Abe Kameji Junmai Daiginjo Unpasteurized (阿部亀治  純米大吟醸 生), 2016seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%. Sake meter value (日本酒度) of +5. Served at 43°C.  Warm and comforting, with some acidity.

    Abarone, liver, butterbur scape, morel mushrooms, rice (鮑  鮑肝  蕗の薹  モレルマッシュルーム  米) - a perennial favorite of mine.  The abalone from Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県), as usual, was served atop a bed of mushroom risotto - and included some pine nuts for extra fragrance and texture.  The abalone liver sauce was as delicious as ever, but tonight the kitchen also added the wonderful fragrance - along with a hint of bitterness - of the butterbur buds (蕗の薹).  Yet another way to remind us that spring is here.

    Tamagawa Gohyakumangoku Yamahai Junmai Unfiltered Unpasteurized (玉川 五百万石  山廃純米  無濾過  生), 27BY -  seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 66%.  Served at 17°C.  Aged for 1 year at room temperature at the brewery, then aged a further 2 years by Goshima-san.  Nose was a little oxidized like Chinese yellow wine, showing savory notes like soy sauce.  On the palate almost some coffee notes.

    Kinme-tai, tai shirako, ostrich fern (金目鯛  鯛白子  こごめ) - Hello Kitty and I immediately noticed the presence of fish cum on the menu, and I asked for mine to be removed from the dish.  The splendid alfonsino from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) was char-grilled and had a nice, smoky fragrance along with a hint of Sichuan peppercorn (花椒).  Besides the tender, delicious fish and the seasonal fern, what really made the dish for me was the broth.  It's got some umami from the nori (海苔), and the combination of soy sauce, sake, and mirin (味醂) gave it a nice acidic touch that wakes up the palate very nicely.

    Taketsuru Junmai Hattan (竹鶴  純米  八反), 26BY - seimaibuai 65%. Served at 47°C.  Showing a darker color.  Very dry on the palate, oxidized and savory.

    Sakura shrimp ochazuke (桜海老  茶漬け) - interesting that the ochazuke (お茶漬け) actually wasn't made with green tea, but with dashi.  I was wondering why the sakura shrimp (桜海老) was so, so incredibly full of flavor... when Goshima-san told me that they had been deep-fried in oil which had previously been used to fry the heads of those Japanese lobsters.  No wonder the shellfish flavors were so intense...

    Almond, ice, strawberry (アーモンドアイス  苺) - there were nice and toasty bits of almonds in the ice cream. The ice cream itself wasn't very sweet, and when combined with a "sorbet" made with the unfiltered sake - bringing some acidity, fermented flavors, as well as some bitterness from the alcohol - along with strawberry granité, this made for a refreshing and well-balanced end to our meal. 

    The sorbet was made with Chiebijin Love Pink Junmai Unfiltered (ちえびじん  桃色にごり  純米原酒), which was brewed with red yeast and has a sake meter value (日本酒度) of -20.

    I was very happy with the meal tonight.  Lots of seasonal ingredients available for only a short time, and I was glad to be able to taste them.    I really should come here a little more often...

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  • 04/25/18--08:43: Au revoir, Nicolas!
  • So the time has finally come - a time that I have been dreading since late last year.  Nicolas Lambert - my favorite pâtissier in Hong Kong - is leaving Caprice.  He's been in Hong Kong for 3 years, and it was time for him to see another part of the world.  After all, he's just picked up the title of Asia's Best Pastry Chef Award, sponsored by Valrhona, as well as the Best Pastry Chef Award from T.Dining.

    Nicolas had been traveling around a lot, and I wanted to make sure that we saw him one last time before his departure.  He was only going to be back in town for 3 days, so Hello Kitty and I grabbed Chef DaRC - who had his first taste of Nicolas' creations at the lunch table with me - and we made arrangements with Hairy Legs to hit Caprice tonight.

    We were fortunate to have the chef's table to ourselves.  Hairy Legs knew that our focus tonight was on the desserts, so he put together a couple of savory dishes without trying to overwhelm our stomach capacity...

    We started with two nibbles:

    Crispy tube with cream, lemon, sea urchin, and dill

    Pita with chicken curry mousse

    I couldn't resist taking some bread tonight... especially the challah with chilies.  Of course, the sesame roll was as tempting as ever.

    White asparagus velouté, Hokkaido sea urchin, caviar - the chilled velouté was refreshing as expected; the sea urchin sweet and creamy.  I assumed the quenelle was Shadi Caviar from La Maison Nordique.

    Anguille fumée, brunoise de légumes et Caviar Shadi - the smoked eel was fine and had enough seasoning, veering towards the Japanese side.  The brunoise at the bottom came with a little miso to deliver some sweetness.  But the caviar on top was completely unnecessary, and in fact pushed the whole dish into salty territory - where it became imperative to have the vegetables in the same mouthful for balance.  The only upside of having the caviar was the interplay between the little pearls and the little cubes of vegetables.

    Homard bleu with morels, asparagus, chicken jus, Comté foam - this was lovely.  The quality of the French blue lobster was top-notch, and there was plenty of bounce in the texture.  Morels and asparagus remind us it's spring time, and the Comté added some more richness to the dish.  Classic and hearty flavors.

    Then came a small chunk of beef, presented on a lotus leaf...

    The Australian filet was cold-smoked with Japanese cherry wood, and served on a bed of fava bean fricassée, then topped with mixed mushrooms and drizzled with a foie gras and cream sauce.  The beef was delicious, although we found the texture more mushy than we would have liked - and we suspected that the beef had been cooked sous vide.

    Hairy Legs loves using argan oil, and we found the dish glistening as a result.

    A small cheese plate came bearing Abbeye de Citeaux, Comté, Lingot de Cocagne, and Fourme d'Ambert.  I nibbled.

    Our pre-dessert was a mango sorbet with Thai milk tea foam.  The mango was Filipino, and the cha yen (ชาเย็น) foam was made with the original blend of Cha Tra Mue (ชาตรามือ).  Bits of chocolate under the sorbet and diced mango hidden at the bottom complete the delicious "palate cleanser".

    Fraisier Gariguette - with yuzu (柚子) cream, white chocolate biscuit, yuzu sorbet, topped with crumble, mint leaves, and silver leaf.  Beautiful.  The citrus fragrance from the yuzu was apparent immediately.

    Guanaja cream - Guanaja dark chocolate, cocoa crumble, sea salt, cocoa sorbet, covered in foam made with milk, coconut, and Malibu, and garnished with coconut and chocolate wafers.  WOW!  Beautiful!  Love the interplay between chocolate and coconut.

    Croustillant au café, biscuit aux noix, chantilly caramel café - the coffee and caramel chantilly came studded with walnut biscuits and coffee crisps.

    This was just a whole lotta caffeine goodness.  What's not to like about coffee and caramel together?!

    Trilogie de chocolat: crispy feuillantine, Namelaka white chocolate, Guanaja and Tanariva chantilly - by now this is one of Nicolas' signatures.  A symphony of three different chocolates, presented with varying textures.  A heavenly treat for any chocolate lover.

    Mini madeleines, à la minute

    Petits fours

    We would, of course, bring a couple of bottles for the evening - especially as we were at the chef's table and hanging out with Hairy Legs.

    2011 Roulot Meursault 1er Cru Clos des Bouchères - lean, flinty, with classic toasty notes.  After 2½ hours it started to open up, and the finish became more refined.  Needs time both in the cellar as well as after opening.

    1992 Bryant Family - served 1½ hours after opening.  Beautiful, so fragrant.  Smoky and jammy at the same time, with cedar notes.  So well integrated, so smooth on the palate.  Wouldn't have pegged it as a Californian in a blind tasting.

    1989 Clos Naudin Vouvray Moelleux Réserve - notes of acetone for sure, with a whiff of straw.  Orange blossom, honey, pollen.  Reasonably sweet on the palate.

    We had only brought 2 bottles between the 3 of us, so Hairy Legs pulled out a bottle and asked us to taste it blind. It turned out to be from his area...

    This was a lot of fun, and we got to share a couple of glasses with Nicolas as we wished him the best of luck on his journey. As it turned out, Chef DaRC would be stopping by St. Petersburg later this year, so perhaps they will see each other soon enough. In any case, Nicolas will be sorely missed by many in Hong Kong...

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    My mission to spread the word about Ricardo Chaneton's cuisine at "the new Petrus" continues, and tonight I managed to convince the Film Buff to join me.  Like many others, his last visit to the restaurant - under a different chef years ago - was not memorable... but he was willing to give the restaurant another try.

    Our amuse bouche tonight was lobster with smoked herring roe, borage leaf, and finished with oil extracted by pressing black olives from Aix-en-Provence.  There seemed to be little bits of diced fruit mixed in... some type of melon, perhaps?

    Otoro tartare, Gariguette strawberries, dill and white balsamic - OK, Ricardo asked me about allergies ahead of time, and I said "just the usual".  I did not ask whether this was bluefin or yellowfin, but I'll assume the worst and treat this as bluefin - which Hello Kitty and I actively avoid whenever possible.

    Having said that, this was delicious.  The very fatty tuna belly had melted somewhat after being diced up, and came with not just slices of fresh Gariguettes but what seemed to be crunchy bits of freeze-dried strawberries.  Very interesting.

    King crab warm salad, aloe vera, ginger, cucumber and Oscietra caviar - there was something familiar about the flavors of the Alaskan king crab... something that seemed "Asian"... then I realized it reminded me of the way Chinese people stir-fry crab with ginger and spring onions.  The cucumber flower and herbs came, of course, from the rooftop garden.

    Fario trout from Roquebillière - France, escargots and herbs sauce - the brown trout came from just outside of Nice, and was very, very tender.  Some trout roe was served on mashed potatoes, which were pretty nice.  A few escargots were hidden underneath the trout, and these were surprisingly under-seasoned.  The tarragon sauce seemed to come to a little anise flavors.  

    Morels, white asparagus, fava bean and vin jaune - YUM!  Besides the tips of white asparagus on the plate, little bits of them have also been stuffed inside the morels, along with what seemed like finely diced green asparagus... or was there also broccoli?  The fava beans, new potatoes, and mushroom purée complete this "vegetarian" dish - along with what tasted like chicken jus with vin jaune.

    Grilled monkfish and veal sweetbread, confit Menton lemon sauce and veal jus - I had seen pictures of this dish, and always wondered how the two ingredients would work together.

    As it turned out, the monkfish and the sweetbread had similar textures - both were bouncy and springy.  With shavings of Menton lemon zest on top, I cut the block into strips so that I would have both proteins in the same bite.  What was even more interesting, though, was having the Menton lemon sauce on the monkfish along with the veal jus on the sweetbread in the same bite... and it somehow worked together.

    The "crumble" on the side was apparently made by pan-frying sweetbread trimmings, gradually reducing the size of the bits and going through repeated rounds of frying.  Interesting idea.

    Aveyron lamb saddle, green asparagus, petit pois and kumquat - Ricardo brought out this beautiful hunk of lamb saddle, and we were just salivating over it...

    And it was beautiful.  Thanks to the beautiful layer of fat underneath the not-quite-crunchy crackling, the lamb was deliciously gamey.  Naturally the asparagus on the side was beautiful and delicious, as were the petit pois.  The real surprise?  Those paper-thin wafers of kumquat, which brought a nice touch of zing that none of us expected.

    In the middle of enjoying our lamb, Ricardo brought out the pieces of kidney, which came with very finely diced raw onions that had been marinated in what may have been vinegar.  The acidity here really helped neutralize the very strong and pungent flavors of the kidney.

    Thin chocolate layer, Mascarpone mousse and praline ice cream - this reminded me of the dessert I had here about 8 years ago.  So we've got thin wafers of white chocolate, followed by wafers of milk chocolate, with a Marscapone mousse center.  Served with a scoop of delicious hazelnut ice cream, along with a few dots of salted caramel.  Pretty nice.

    Petits fours - chocolate and hazelnut crunch, mini tarte citron, strawberry sphere, and a chocolate and passion fruit macaron.

    We each brought along a bottle to stay within the 2-bottle allowance.

    1997 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots - popped and poured.  Beautiful right off the bat, with a big, toasty nose.  Attack slightly on the acidic side, but very smooth and elegant on the palate.  Lemon citrus notes.  Never dipped from the plateau the whole time.

    1981 Penfolds Grange - served about 2 hours after opening without decanting.  Nose very minty, sweet, lots of coconut, tropical spices, and fragrant woodsy notes.  Even after nearly 40 years, the alcohol is still apparently in the nose... with a hint of sharpness.  Overall, though, a beautiful wine... and exactly what you would want from an old Grange... which is to say that the tannins and alcohol have softened with age, but the wine was still youthful and lively.

    About an hour after we started dinner, who should I see walking in but Hairy Legs and Nicolas Lambert... being seated at the most secluded - and most romantic - table in the house.  So I sent over 2 glasses of the Grange.  In exchange, we got 2 glasses of one of the reds they were drinking...

    2001 Sassicaia - pretty smoky, fragrant, with cedar notes.  Still alcoholic with some fruit, and still pretty tannic.  Later on this fell apart in the glass, and there was nothing but smoke.

    This was a pretty good meal, and Hello Kitty liked the dishes tonight more than her last visit.  The Film Buff was very pleasantly surprised, but given that he had a very good meal at Mirazur 2 years ago, perhaps it wasn't so surprising after all...

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  • 04/30/18--06:42: Little birdy
  • I'm meeting up with a visitor from overseas tonight, and one of the places she had wanted to hit while in town was Yardbird.  As it turns out - thanks to the no reservations policy - I have never been to Yardbird in all these years.  When I mentioned this to Matt Abergel a few months ago, he suggested that I drop by either right around their opening time of 6 p.m. or late in the evening.

    So I made plans to meet up with my visitor just before the restaurant opened its doors.  There were about 15 of us at the door, and after the doors opened, the two of us found 2 well-lit spots at the bar.

    We were given the drinks menus first, and we ordered glasses of a sake that was more sweet and elegant.

    Yoshinosugi no Tarusake (吉杉野の樽酒) - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 70% and Sake Meter Value of 0.  The nose showed fermented flavors, and actually delivered strong notes of lychees.  Slightly dry on the attack, but softened mid-palate to become mild and elegant.

    We ordered a few skewers of what we thought were the popular items, along with some things we didn't want to pass up.

    Sweet corn tempura, sea salt, pepper - I was a little surprised that this showed up first, but hey... nothing wrong with that since I love corn.  Corn fritters are just up my alley.

    This was exactly what I wanted - kernels of sweet, crunchy corn, held together by batter that's been fried to golden brown.  A sprinkle of shichimi (七味) added some spice and brought out the sweetness of the corn.

    (chicken) oyster, sea salt, lemon - I had just read The Great One's review of the restaurant, and knew that they have sot-l'y-laisse on the menu.  I love these things, but I had never been served them with skin on.  Of course, they were every bit as tender as I had hoped for... and the crispy skin on top was just icing on the cake.  Should have gotten more of this.

    (chicken) wings, sea salt, shichimi - these were a lot drier than I had expected.  Nice and very crunchy, but perhaps I do prefer my wings a little more juicy.

    (chicken) skin, sake, sea salt - these slices of chicken skin were so pretty... and perfectly grilled.  Crispy and satisfying.

    (chicken) meatball, tare, egg yolk - very, very good... as I would expect.  Delicious texture with some cartilage (and leeks?) inside.  Of course this came with a delicious tare (たれ) and a raw egg yolk.  It was so good that we kept it to dip other bits of chicken in it.

    (chicken) thyroid, sake, garlic - I figured these sweetbreads would probably be pretty good, and indeed they were.  Very springy and tasty.

    (chicken) tail, sea salt, sake - unlike someone who shall remain unnamed, I don't go gaga over chicken ass.  But I gotta say... these are some of the finest asses I have ever seen.

    Mentaiko udon - I've always liked the udon I had at Ronin, and figured this would be just a good.  The texture was still great, with lots of bite.  There was a good dose of acidity, but I still found the mentaiko (明太子) sauce to be a little too salty.

    KFC, yuzu, chili, lime - our waiter recommended we take a half order of the "Korean fried cauliflower", and that turned out to be a good call.  The cauliflower was battered, deep-fried, and covered in a spicy and tangy sauce.  Very, very good.  I wish I had room for more.

    Soba ice cream - the only dessert being served here.  Nice fragrance from the toasted buckwheat powder being sprinkled on top, but otherwise unremarkable.

    Midway through dinner, someone was finally seated at the empty seat next to me. It was none other than Chef Daniel Calvert from Belon, who had just gotten himself a spot on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  He was stopping by before going on to dinner across the harbor.  Many of my friends have been raving about his cooking, but I have yet to visit the restaurant - for reasons that we are both aware of.  Being the kind person that he is, he proceeded to extend an olive branch and an invitation to visit him.

    We were pretty full, but my visitor had expressed interest in trying out Cantonese desserts, so we walked to Yuen Kee Dessert (源記甜品專家).  The first generation had apparently started the business around 130 years ago, and this has been my go-to place to bring visitors.

    Walnut cream (清香核桃露) - probably my dessert of choice when I'm here, as this is not as widely available as other options.

    I had a pretty good evening, and we were both happy that we had finally visited Yardbird.  I'll just have to look for another partner in crime who can go with me early...

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  • 05/01/18--08:48: 3 Frenchies
  • Sébastien was in town for a few days from Singapore, and as it's been a few years since I last saw him, we agreed to meet up for dinner.  I wasn't the least bit surprised, though, when he requested that we go visit The Man in White T-shirt at Neighborhood.  We were joined by two of his friends - both Korean French - so I turned out to be the only one at the table not fluent in French...

    A few dishes had been planned for us by the boss, so we just picked out a couple of small things to start with.

    Culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - while we were waiting for the dishes we ordered, The Man in White T-shirt got busy hand-slicing this for us.  This comes from black pigs and is very flavorful, and paired very well with the Champagne.

    Jumbo Dutch oysters - plenty of seawater here, and somewhat briny in terms of flavors.   And they were big.

    Pancetta - we saw The Man in White T-shirt hand-slicing from this big roll, and this was the result.  What's not to like about cured pork fat?!  Very nice with cracked black pepper.

    Fried firefly squid - I can never get enough of firefly squid, and I just had to order this when I saw it on the menu.  Simply delicious!  Crispy exterior while retaining the soft interior. 

    Frog legs meuniere - these were very, very big frogs' legs.  Cooked in tons of butter and sprinkled with piment d'espelette.  So, so good.

    White asparagus / leeks - these spears of French white asparagus were very, very big.  Cooked together with leeks in chicken stock, and served with shaved summer truffle and crushed hazelnuts.  So, sooooo beautiful. 

    Scarbreast tuskfin - I don't think I've ever had these scarbreast tuskfin (石馬頭魚) before, but then The Man in White T-shirt has introduced me to quite a few species of fish over the years.  Given that 休漁期 officially started today and fishermen aren't going out for fresh catch, only three of these was available for the four of us... but that was still plenty.

    The benefit of eating with people who work in restaurants is that they know how to portion and serve up the dishes.  We put Sébastien's skills to the test...

    The flavors of the fish itself were wonderful, and certainly more interesting than turbot.  Very nice texture, too.  The fish was pan-fried with their thin scales on, then the provençal-style sauce was added.  I am normally not one to go after olives, but the ones on my plate were really something.  The two people who had worked for Alain Ducasse could certainly see the inspiration.

    Noir de Bigorre pork chop - I had originally wanted something else, but was told that the boss had reserved this for me instead.  None of us were about the complain when we saw this beautiful hunk of fatty pork!

    This was then cut up and served on a bed of wild rice pilaf, with giant morel mushrooms - some the size of dinner spoon bowls - along with a single egg.

    But there was a lot more to the rice than initially meets the eye!  There were, in fact, bits of boudin basque mixed in.  This made our chef friend pretty happy, as he grew up in Pays Basque.  Well, I was pretty damn happy, too!  The combination of fatty pork, morels in cream sauce, blood sausage, runny egg, and wild rice was simply awesome!

    Saint-Marcellin "La Mère Richard" - I noticed 2 packets under the glass dome bearing the familiar logo of La Mère Richard when I arrived, and knew immediately that they had to be Saint-Marcellin.  This was very, very ripe and runny.  Just beautiful.  And since one of us grew up in Lyon...

    Canelé - for regulars like myself, we have always known that this place serves up some of the best canelés in town.  Tonight we had two first-timers who were raised in France - one of them who is the chef de cuisine at a 3-star restaurant - marveling at the fact they were eating these really well-made canelés in a small and unassuming restaurant hidden in a back alley in Hong Kong.  To them, the crunchy exterior, the moist center, the flavors of the alcohol in the batter... everything was just as it should be.

    I had told Sébastien that he didn't need to bring any wine for tonight, but of course he did anyway... so the four of us found ourselves with 6 bottles on the table!

    1990 Fleury - very ripe and caramelized, yeasty, lovely.  Mature with good depth on the palate.

    2010 Lucien Le Moine Corton Blanc - pretty ripe and caramelized, with a little marzipan and lemon.  Good acidity balance.

    1999 Rayas Blanc - initially very tight and alcoholic.  Took a while to open up in the decanter.  Damn ripe on the palate, with acetone and a little polyurethane.

    2002 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - good acidity balance, still some tannins there, but not very open.

    2010 Rayas La Pialade - I would have pegged it as a Prieuré-Roch.  Incredibly beautiful and fragrant nose, with plenty of rose and floral notes, almost lychee, leather, and a little smoke.

    This was a fun evening.  Naturally the food was great, and our first timers were impressed with the quality of the produce as well as the execution and flavors.  That, of course, was not exactly news to Sébastien and I...

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  • 05/01/18--22:37: Missing the goose
  • It's been quite a while since I last stepped foot in Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), my favorite place for Cantonese roast goose, so I figured I could drop in for a lunch.

    Rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose (馳名脆皮燒鵝瀨粉) - I've really missed this.  I love the thick rice flour noodles, even if they do tend to flail around when I pick them up and often splatter soup on my clothes.  The skin of the goose is always very flavorful, with enough seasoning and fragrant 5-spice.  It's also crispy enough while the layer of fat underneath provides a good deal of satisfaction.

    Normally I'd order this with the drumstick, but as prices have skyrocketed over the years, now I am happy with just the other parts of the goose - at around a 40% discount to the drumstick.

    Blanched morning glory (通菜) - asked for it plain, without the fermented tofu sauce (腐乳) usually accompanying it here.

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    It's been another couple of months since a few of us got together for some Aussie wines, and this time my friends wanted to try out a Cantonese restaurant that they had heard about.  I had been to Stellar House (星月居) once last year, but came away with mixed feelings due to a few disappointing dishes.  I was, however, willing to give it another try.

    I wasn't responsible for booking either of my meals here, and we were seated in a private room both times, but I was a little annoyed that à la carte is not an option here.  Instead, a menu is proposed by the restaurant with a minimum spending amount of HKD 6,000 - regardless of the number of diners and whether or not the party is seated in a private room or in the dining hall.  As there were only 5 of us tonight, suddenly this was no longer a "casual" meal.  At this price, my expectations are bound to be high... and they certainly weren't met last time.

    Double-boiled soup with fish maw and conch (花膠淮杞響螺湯) - this has always been pretty good, although I still think the fish maw is meh.

    Deep-fried crab claws in salt and pepper (椒鹽鮮蟹拑) - not what I had expected, as there was a reasonable amount of batter here.  Very tasty, though... both the batter as well as the crab meat itself.  I did find a few small pieces of the shell in the batter.

    Wild brown-marbled grouper two ways: stir-fried fillets with vegetables (黃皮海虎斑兩味:菜遠炒球) - I always think that stir-frying a premium fish is a waste, but restaurants keep serving them up.  I do have to say, though, that this was pretty decent.  The thick slices of grouper were still pretty tender.

    Stir-fried vegetables with dried conpoy and bamboo piths (瑤柱竹笙扒翡翠) - this was very, very good.  The pea shoots were delicious, as was the conpoy thickened with starch.  One of the highlights tonight.

    Wild brown-marbled grouper two ways: stir-fried head with ginger and spring onion (黃皮海虎斑兩味:薑蔥頭腩) - from my last visit, I knew this place does a pretty good job with frying fish heads, and they did not disappoint tonight.  Very satisfying to try to get inside every nook and cranny to get at the meat and gelatin.

    Pan-fried king prawns with soy sauce (豉油皇香煎大蝦) - I rejected the restaurant's initial suggestion for crystal king prawns, since they were pretty disappointing last time.  These pan-fried prawns - with shells on and seasoned with soy sauce - were better.  At least the flavors from the soy sauce was good.

    Crispy young pigeon (紅燒脆皮妙齡鴿) - now THIS was arguably reason enough alone to come here.  The pigeon was the one dish that I remembered vividly from last time, and it was the one dish I really, really looked forward to tonight.

    And it was fantastic!  Just as good as I remembered from last year.  So, so, milky!  For a bird that doesn't feed on milk, it always amazes me how much this tastes like a mammal that was still suckling on its mama's teat.  So, soooo juicy and succulent.  The skin, of course, was beautifully crispy - having been marinated in 20-year-old master stock (滷水).

    My friend made sure to order extra, and I very reluctantly had a second bird... after The Great One turned it down.

    Fried rice with dried conpoy and ginger (瑤柱薑粒炒飯) - I didn't care for this.  There was simply too much ginger which overpowered everything.  And I was already pretty full by this point.

    Jujube soup with lotus seeds, lily bulb, and longan (紅棗蓮子百合圓肉糖水) - not bad, but I was so stuffed at this point.

    We were pretty good tonight and only popped open two bottles.

    1997 Clarendon Hills Astralis - served 1 hour after opening.  Smoky, stewed fruit, with some sweetness in the nose.  Some acidity here.  After 1½ hours the nose became more Aussie, with more sweet fruit and tropical notes.

    1999 Penfolds Bin 389 - very coconut and sweet nose, classic Aussie.

    This was certainly a better meal than my first, but other than the amazing pigeon and perhaps the crab claw and vegetable to some extent, I'm still trying to figure out what would make me come rushing back here... 

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    After taking a break last year, I'm back in Singapore again for an annual conference.  As usual, I am spending the weekend meeting up with friends and hitting a few dining spots.  Thanks to my flight getting delayed, my original plans to meet up with a friend for drinks had to be rescheduled.

    This morning as I was catching up on Instagram stories, I saw that my friend visited a new bongwater natural wine bar.  Naturally (pun intended) I got curious, and since she posted a picture of their list, I decided to scan through it to see if I recognized any names.  Lo and behold (pun not intended originally), there was something listed whose production is pretty small - and the price being charged was somewhere around a 30% premium to the wine's retail price.  I knew immediately that I had to hit this place tonight.

    After dropping off our luggage, we grabbed a taxi and headed to Le Bon Funk.  We were lucky to grab a well-lit table - one of only two, I believe - as it had just been vacated.  I asked for the wine list and immediately pointed to the bottle I wanted.

    Sommelier Josée Yeomans brought over the bottle and extracted the cork.  I asked her to pour the wine into a decanter, knowing that the wine needed lots of help to aerate.  She also brought us an ice bucket, and left the decision of whether to ice the decanter up to me.  Thumbs up.

    2004 Ganevat Les Vignes de Mon Père - a little flinty, dusty, and a little pungent at first.  After 20 minutes in decanter, a hint of honey emerged on top of citrus.  More than an hour later, toasty notes started to come out.

    We were also a little peckish, so a couple of small plates were ordered up:

    Marinated squid - the squid was shredded into thin strips, and their texture became incredibly soft with just a touch of springiness.  Drenched in a onion and tomato sauce and served on pre-cut toast.  This was pretty decent.

    Deep-fried gnocchi with aioli - these were damn good...  They almost reminded me of the crispy rice flour rolls with X.O sauce (X.O醬煎腸粉) from Chef Siu Hin Chi (蕭顯志).  The aioli was pretty heavy on the garlic and basil - so it was almost like a pesto cream.

    When the bottle of wine ran out at midnight - which was also the official closing time of the bar - I decided to go for supper.  I had heard about JB Ah Meng (新山亞明小廚) for years, but somehow never managed to make it here.  Thankfully the place was half-empty as it was past midnight when we arrived.  As there were only two of us, we were pretty limited in terms of what we could order...

    J.B. san lou meehoon (新山三樓米粉) - we took the small size, but this was more than enough for the two of us.  The rice vermicelli has been browned until it was crispy on one side, and certainly looked drool-worthy.

    This came with diced shrimp, egg, and a small pile of Chinese spinach in the middle.  Plenty of wok hei (鑊氣).  Delicious on its own, but miles better with some sambal mixed in.

    White pepper crab (白胡椒蟹) - we got the smallest crab available, but this was sufficient for a fix.  The signature white pepper crab came with a ton of white pepper, and almost overpowered my palate.  Thankfully I could still kinda taste the sweetness of the crab meat, and I was ever so happy that this came with plenty of crab tomalley and roe.

    I was kinda surprised to see aiyu jelly (愛玉) on the menu, so I ordered it.  Instead of shaved ice, this came with large, boring ice cylinders.  Accompanied with classic lime syrup.

    It was getting kinda late, and our bellies were definitely full.  Time to hit the sack...

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    One place I must hit each time I'm in Singapore is Candlenut.  I have been a big fan of Malcolm Lee's ever since my first taste of his modern Peranakan cuisine back in 2013, and I've been known to gobble up 3 of his desserts on my own in a single sitting.  Even though my last dinner 2 years ago wasn't as good as my previous visits - thanks to their move to a newer, more expensive location resulting in smaller portions - I still wanted to go back.  After all, I needed my dessert fix...

    I'm not a believer in tasting menus when it comes to certain Asian cuisines, so I definitely wasn't going for the Ah-mah-kase.  The three of us picked a few options à la carte.

    First, a basket of crackers while we waited for our dishes to arrive.

    And the dishes arrived in quick succession... very Asian-style service, and something that annoys me to no end.

    Wing bean salad, baby red radish, lemongrass, cashew nuts, prawns, calamansi lime dressing - this is always a good choice, and the rest of the dishes here can be pretty heavy and rich.  Love the ikan bilis, and the calamansi dressing delivered a good amount of refreshing acidity.

    Candlenut buah keluak fried rice, sunny side up - when fliedlice is the second dish to arrive at the table, you know the restaurant doesn't really care about the diner's experience.  If we were having this meal at a hawker or a casual eatery, I might not complain too much.  But these guys have moved to plush digs and gotten themselves a macaron, and this level of service isn't acceptable.

    In spite of this, the dish was certainly delicious.  Naturally the buah keluak delivered its intense flavors, and the dish was well-executed.  I ended up eating a big chunk of it as the ladies found it too rich.

    Wild caught baby squid, squid ink, tamarind, fried shallots, chillis - these had very nice, marinated flavors... almost meaty like little sausage links.  Good acidity from the tamarind.

    Westholme wagyu beef rib rendang, serunding, turmeric leaf - Malcolm's rendang is always my favorite dish here, and even though it's shrunk a lot in size, the flavors were still there.  And I'm always thankful that the meat is never overcooked and tough.  Love the kaffir lime leaf chiffonade.

    Chap chye, braised cabbage, black mushroom, pork belly, lily buds, black fungus, vermicelli - pretty heavy for a veg dish, and there seemed to be plenty of flavors from dried shrimp.

    Neither of the ladies are dessert lovers, so I decided to be very restrained and only had two desserts for myself.  And I made sure to tell the service staff that I wasn't sharing...

    Candlenut's classic chendol cream, pandan jelly, gula melaka - I could stare at a picture of this all day and drool.  One of my absolute favorite desserts in the world, and certainly my favorite rendition of the classic chendol.  The coconut custard was as fluffy as ever, and I can never get enough gula melaka.  The pandan jelly today, though, was a little too soft and powdery for me... 

    Mao Shan Wang ice cream, durian puree, kueh rose - I love, love, love the durian ice cream here, and it was always made better with some purée as well as small bits of feuilletine.  But today I had an issue with the new "kueh rose", as the flavors were somewhat off to me.  Maybe it was done with palm oil or something... but I thought it was a little pungent and unpleasant.

    After stuffing myself with Peranakan food, I went next door to the Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar and plopped myself down at the table outside.  I was meeting a Facebook friend for the first time, and we enjoyed a few drinks on this hot and sunny afternoon.  Not a bad way to relax...

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