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

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    It's Saturday night in Singapore, and that usually means dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Ho.  Mrs. Ho, as always, requested we avoid any fine dining venues.  Hello Kitty, for her part, requested we check out The Naked Finn - which had been recommended by our friend Chubby Hubby the last time we were in town.  So off to Gillman Barracks we went...

    But first, we visited the kiddies at the Ho residence, and even managed to pet the bunny again... all the time snacking on some charcuterie Mr. Ho brought back from France and sip on some bubbly.

    2005 Louis Roederer Cristal - floral nose.  Easy to drink, but otherwise unremarkable.

    Once at the restaurant, we chose to pick items à la carte instead of going with their set menus, and also took advantage of a couple of their specials shown on the board.

    Water spinach (Ipomea aquatica) "kang kong", chilled, blanched, tossed in calamansi juice, dried shrimp and fried shallot grapeseed oil - I was a little surprised (and a tad annoyed) initially when this was the first dish to show up at our table.  Normally kang kong should be one of the last dishes to arrive, but then I realized this was meant to be taken like a salad.   It was a refreshing way for me to eat water spinach, and the acidity was pretty remarkable.  The fried shallot oil, of course, filled the mouth with a wonderful fragrance.

    Wild-caught New Zealand littleneck clams (Austrovenus stutchburyi)), flambéed in white wine, drizzled with fish sauce and fried shallot grapeseed oil - this was a total surprise, and these guys kinda hit this one out of the park.  These were so, so, soooo tasty!  The fried shallot grapeseed oil that's been drizzled on them clams iz DA BOMB!  And no salt was added in the cooking process because the clams themselves had enough flavors.  Hello Kitty said that these reminded her of the amazing scallops we had at Princess d'Ân Nam Resort and Spa in Vietnam, and I definitely agree.   For someone who had never cared for clams, we were amazed to see Mr. Ho dig into these, and then order up a second plate because he just couldn't get enough.

    Wild-caught gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus), sous-vide in kombu and grilled on cast-iron griddle - these were pretty decent.

    Queen crab rice vermicelli "beehoon" - a seemingly simple dish, but this one was all about the purity of flavors.  Nothing but some snow crab (ズワイ蟹) legs from Hokkaido, deep-fried beehoon (米粉), then just pour the clear crab broth on top and watch the rice vermicelli soften as it soaks up the broth.  Such clean flavors!

    We were presented with condiments for our dishes.

    Wild-caught 'baby' Indian squid (Uroteuthis duvauceli), grilled on cast-iron griddle with grapeseed oil - these were really, really fresh and delicious.  Considering that they're about 1/3 of the price of the gloomy octopus, I know which one I'd order in the future!  And yes, we did order a second plate of this...

    Scallop roe and skirt otah - now THIS was very interesting...  Instead of just being a fish paste/mousse, the kitchen has decided to dice up the roe and skirt of scallops and mix them in.  So in addition to the traditional flavors of otak-otak, you've also got little chewy bits here and there.  Very nice.

    Broadbanded thornyhead "kinki" - I can't resist ordering up kinki (喜知次) when I see it on a menu, and this came in at about 250g.  Deep-fried until crunchy, with upturned scales - similar to how fine dining establishments work with tilefish (甘鯛) - that are just sooo delicious.  Served with its own liver marinated in ponzu (ポン酢).

    Farmed giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), grilled on sea salt, served with salted egg yolk dip - these were pretty big and decent, but I'm not sure if they're significantly better than what's available at numerous seafood restaurants around town.  The salted egg yolk dip, though, was interesting - and probably a healthier way to do this rather than smothering an entire prawn with salted egg yolk.

    House-made Naked chendol - I can't resist having chendol when I'm in town, so I ordered one up - my second of the day.  The coconut ice was delish, the gula melaka syrup was thick and rich, but the pandan jelly was a little too chewy and tough... probably had been chilled a little too much.

    I felt bad about only drinking Mr. Ho's wines whenever we have dinner together, so I decided to carry a couple of bottles from my cellar.  I was ever so grateful that both drank well tonight.

    1996 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune - such a classic dry riesling, with petrol, flint, and lemon notes.  Very good depth of flavor here.  Beautiful!

    2013 Peter Michael Chardonnay 'Mon Plaisir' - very sweet nose, with plenty of tropical stone fruits and vanilla.  So buttery and fragrant.

    This was a really good dinner.  Just good, honest cooking using well-sourced ingredients.  Dishes were well-priced, and we were pleasantly surprised by the service from our waitress.  I think I've introduced yet another restaurant that Mr. and Mrs. Ho would enjoy returning to...

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    In addition to all the nice meals I planned with friends on this trip, I left a little bit of time to explore some local eats.  I was determined to check out a few dishes that I had been sorely missing while being away, and did a little research to figure out where the popular stalls serving the respective dishes are.

    I started by going back to Tiong Bahru Market (中峇魯市場).  This is one of the more famous - and touristy - hawker centers.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the not-so-melodious vocals of an uncle playing on keyboards - right in front of the escalator.  Later on we would realize that he wasn't the only uncle busking today...

    Our first order of business was coffee, and I ordered up a cup of kopi for Hello Kitty and a kopi-C for myself from 238 Coffee.  I do have to admit that the roast was noticeably heavier, but this resulted in lovely aromatics once you add in the evaporated milk.

    I also got in the line in front of Jian Bo Shui Kueh (楗柏水粿) for their signature offering of chwee kueh (水粿).  These simple steamed rice puddings were very fluffy and broke apart easily.  Without much flavor of their own, it's all about the accompanying preserved radish - which is oily and heavy.  They do taste better with some chili sauce.

    While here, I met up with a couple who are friends of another couple based in Singapore, and we had some pretty interesting conversations.  I look forward to catching up with them again, hopefully over some nice bottles of wine...

    Before leaving the market, I also stopped by HarriAnns as they have a stall here.  I've been a fan since discovering their nonya kueh a couple of years ago, and try to stop by one of their outlets to pick up some whenever I'm in town.

    Of course I got myself some rainbow lapis sagu.  I have always loved lapis sagu since I was a kid, and enjoy eating them by peeling off one layer at a time.  Their version just looks so pretty.

    Because it's Mother's Day, they sold out of their "regular"ondeh-ondeh by the time I asked.  What was left were boxes of an "assortment" of ondeh-ondeh - which alternative fillings like azuki bean paste and even cheese (YUCK!)  Only one was filled with the traditional gula melaka. Me no likey.

    We went back to check out of the InterContinental Sinapore as I was switching hotels, then it was time to grab some lunch.  My second stop of the day was Sungei Road Laksa (结霜桥叻沙) at a food center on Jalan Berseh.  I had been wanting to check this place out for a while, and was pretty excited to finally have the chance.

    I watched the their interesting routine while waiting in line.  All the bowls had been pre-filled with thick and round beehoon (米粉), and the lady then proceeded to scoop the laksa broth from the large pot - reportedly heated with charcoal.  Two ladles of broth, then carefully straining the noodles as the broth is poured back into the pot.  Two more ladles before straining again; then one ladle before straining; and finally the broth is poured over the noodles before the toppings are added.

    So this was the famous laksa.  The stall only provides a spoon, not chopsticks, since they cut their noodles into short segments - reminiscent of the style of Katong laksa.  Also in the bowl were slices of fish cakes, a rather generous helping of blood cockles (血蚶), and chiffonade of fragrant laksa leaves.  Sambal is added on the side of the bowl.

    The broth was certainly flavorful, but thankfully it wasn't too heavy on the coconut milk.  I'm not a fan of blood cockles, but I wanted to see how this bowl was meant to taste.  Was it the best laksa I've ever had?  Perhaps not, although I'm no authority on laksa.   But it was tasty enough, and I didn't mind too much as I didn't have to wait too long for it.

    This was a hit-and-run, and my next stop was Tekka Market in Little India.  There were a few famous stalls I could have hit, but as I had limited stomach space, ultimately I went to Yakader Muslim Food for my biryani fix.

    Dum briyani mutton - honestly, I was a little surprised that the basmati rice wasn't more spicy and the flavors more intense, but the rice grains had good texture.  I thought I needed more of the masala, though... and I ended up spooning the dal on the rice for added flavor.  I probably didn't need the egg, but the acidity in the achar helped to balance out the dish.  Thankfully the mutton was very, very tender... and certainly tasty.  It's tough to find good biryani in Hong Kong, so I was pretty happy.

    I was pretty full by this point, so I placed my tray in the halal section of the return area, and went back to my hotel.  I'm glad I got to check a few things off my list this morning...

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    For a long time now I have been enamored with cooking which tries to modernize traditional cuisines by bringing new twists to classic dishes while keeping the familiar flavors, and they are often among my favorite restaurants to discover.  Over the last few years in Singapore, more and more chefs have emerged who are planting the flag for modern Singaporean cuisine - or "Mod Sin" - and I'm slowly getting around to try them.

    Labyrinth has been on my hit list for the last couple of years, as I found the pictures being shared on social media intriguing.  My interest level only went up after Chef LG Han's restaurant earned a coveted Michelin star.  So I made sure to allocate a slot for dinner on this trip, and asked my friend L to join us.

    We were running a little late, and didn't have much of a choice except to walk brisky from Marina Bay Sands across the Helix Bridge to the Esplanade Mall.  We were the last table to seated, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant was full.

    There's a map on the table showing the source of the ingredients for dinner.  This I like very much, as it demonstrates the chef's commitment to sourcing locally.

    Also on the table is a deck of postcards, which tells the story of each dish on the menu.  At the end of the meal, the guests were presented with a deck to take home.

    Our first bite would be a tea leaf smoked quail egg, injected with Oolong tea (烏龍茶).  This was certainly smoky, with a sweet and fragrant aftertaste which proved to be pretty long.

    We were also given  a cup of kombucha.  I'm generally not a fan of these, so this was just OK for me.

    "Nasi lemak" cheong fun, chicken skin, ikan bilis and egg yolk gel - this wasn't bad. The rice flour wrapper came stuffed with egg yolk and sambal, topped with deep-fried anchovies, crispy duck (I thought the menu said chicken?) skin, and cucumber.

    Braised baby abalone, homemade oyster sauce and fatt choy tart - the tender baby abalone came with a very rich and sweet homemade oyster sauce, along with a touch of citrus.  The "bird's nest" was made with hair moss (髮菜), and was very crispy, ethereal, and crumbled under little pressure. 

    Heartland waffle, local duck liver pate and goji berry jam - the flavors of foie gras were very much front-and-center inside the pandan-flavored waffle, accompanied by the sweetness of the jam. 

    Ah Hua Kelong lala clams, XO sambal, deep fried wonton skin and Chinese spinach - these la la (啦啦) clams come from a local fish farm near Sembawang run by Ah Hua Kelong.

    Now this reminds me of the famous clam tart I had at Noma Tokyo a few years ago... Arranged neatly together on the pastry and held together with some clam juice gel.  The clams themselves were nice and chewy.  I couldn't quite understand, though, why the chef put the sambal on the side and then proceeded to sprinkle a good amount of black pepper on top.  I suppose each contributed slightly different aromatics and sensations...

    Labyrinth rojak, Edible Gardens herbs, natural stingless bee honey and campedak sorbet - underneath it all was a scoop of sorbet made with jackfruit - one of my favorites tropical fruits.  There were apparently 13 different types of "fruit" (herbs, flowers, and leaves, in reality) from Edible Garden City and mixed with hei ko (蝦膏) - a local fermented prawn paste.  Finally, some raw honey from stingless bees on Batam was drizzled on top.  Amazingly, the honey was light, not as thick and viscous, and had noticeable acidity.

    "Ang moh" chicken rice, home-milled rice flour, grandma's chili sauce and braised chicken - of course any Mod Sin chef worth his sambal will want to tackle chicken rice...

    Presented as a dumpling whose wrapper was made with rice flour, the contents included diced braised chicken, diced chicken fat, chicken stock, and ginger.  Served with a strained rice porridge of some sort on the side, with mushroom and chili paste.

    In this case, unfortunately, it didn't work for me.   I no longer eat Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore, because there are no fresh chickens in this city, and the locals now prefer their chicken soft to the point of being mushy.  This was the same story inside the dumpling, as the chicken was powdery and mushy.  The wrapper was mushy, too.  But L loved this dish.

    Grandma's fish maw soup, yellow tail snapper fish cake, textures of fish maw and tofu puree - the fish cake is cut into thin slices and arranged in the shape of a flower, garnished with pea shoots and tendrils.  Beneath the fish cake was a layer of tofu purée with fish maw.

    Then the soup was poured on top, partially destroying the "flower" in the process.  This was indeed a comforting dish as Chef Han described, as the flavors were very familiar, as were the gelatinous texture of the fish maw and the viscosity of the soup.  The crackling on the side was made of barramundi fish maw, with some smoked paprika sprinkled on top.

    Local wild caught crab, signature chili ice cream, egg whites and salted mackerel - I vaguely recall that the chili crab ice cream is one of Chef Han's signature dishes, and was pretty excited to try it.

    The chili ice cream came topped with local flower crab meat, ice plant and curry leaves, and salted mackerel powder.  There were kway teow (粿條)-like ribbons which were not actually noodles, but made of egg white that normally shows up in the sauce for the crab.   The croûtons resembled the deep-fried mantou (饅頭) often ordered on the side to dip into the chili crab sauce.   Dressed with Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) which delivered a beautiful fragrance.

    I love deconstruction, and I loved this dish. I'd have another one of these in a heartbeat.

    Nippon Koi Farm silver perch, herbal pepper broth, ulam rajah and textures of black garlic - this is a twist on the traditional bak kut teh (肉骨茶), but instead of using pork ribs, we have silver perch from Nippon Koi Farm.  The black chicken broth was definitely more Malaysian in style, with the ulam rajah bringing prominent herbal and medicinal notes, and the black garlic purée was pretty nice.  Garnished with a youtiao (油條) puff, and a mango flower that reminded me of unripe green mangoes.

    Uncle William's quail, satay espuma, muah chee and pearl onion - the first thing I noticed about this dish was the claws attached to the legs... and how they were presented.  The birds come from William Ho at Lian Wah Hang Quail Farm.

    This was meant to be "quail satay"... where we pick up the quail by its legs then dip the thighs into the satay espuma made with peanuts.  We've got ribbons of cucumber, pearl onions, and deep-fried mochi (餅) to represent the traditional condiments which come with satay.  Pretty interesting.

    The quail breast was supposed to be "medium rare" - which would please most of the Asian audience - but I would have preferred them rosé.  A little dry for my taste.

    "Lost grain" fried rice, white bait, dried scallop and local "dashi" - the rice used is apparently a strain of Thai Hom Mali which was "lost" and not planted for 70 years.  The crispy white bait was very nice, although unfortunately I did not get any rice crispies in my bowl like Hello Kitty...  Good wok hei (鑊氣) for sure.

    Bean to bar, artisanal dark chocolate and 8 year aged Shaoxing wine - this was pretty interesting.  The dark chocolate from Fossa Chocolate is mixed with dark soy sauce for the ice cream, which creates an interesting blend of umami, bitterness, sweetness, and acidity.  Adding aged Shaoxing wine to the mix was certainly an interesting twist.  A sprinkle of cocoa nibs came on the side.

    Clam leaf snow, rosella meringue and textures of grapes - very refreshing right after a rich dessert.  There were thin slices of grapes, pomegranate seeds, and cubes of red dragon fruit underneath.

    These were the clam leaves which give off a purple color when boiled.

    Soy bean curd, bird's nest, yuba, burnt yogurt espuma by Hay Dairies goat milk and sago - somewhat interesting take on the traditional douhua (豆花).  Lots of different textures in the bowl, from the soft yogurt to fluffy bean curd to the powder on top, to slightly firmer bird's nest, to the sago cooked in gula melaka, and finally the slightly chewy yuba (湯葉).

    Cristal de Chine caviar, kaya ice cream and Sing Hon Loong toast - a much more interesting and satisfying dessert compared to the last one.

    The sandwich made with caramelized buttered toast from the old school Sing Hon Loong Bakery (新丰隆面包厂) came with kaya ice cream in the middle, along with a little bit of Kaviari Kristal caviar (from Lake Qiandao in China, hence "Cristal de Chine").  Served with goat milk powder and egg yolk cured in light soy sauce.  I haven't had my kaya toast yet on this trip, but this was a worthy substitute...

    Finally the "festive petit fours"...

    Durian macaron - so, sooooo happy!  Of course I got to take a second one, since Hello Kitty would rather die than eat this.  And no, I wasn't allowed to kiss her afterwards...

    Banana pastry - filled with mashed banana and gula melaka.

    Pandan sponge cake - a little plain and disappointing.

    I gotta say... this was a pretty good dinner.  Naturally not every single dish was a hit, but there were quite a few of them.  And modern interpretations and deconstructions of traditional dishes is right up my alley - made better by my familiarity with many of these dishes.  Even L was impressed.

    After such a long and filling dinner, it only made sense that Hello Kitty and I took a casual stroll back to our room at the Marina Bay Sands, admiring the view along the way.  The work part of my trip starts tomorrow morning...

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    I'm meeting up with Chubby Hubby while I'm in town, and he very kindly invited me to dinner at the brand-spanking-new Straits Clan.  The building used to house the New Majestic Hotel until it closed down and was converted to the private members-only club that it is today, and the official opening was less than 2 weeks ago.  So I changed my original plans for tonight to get an early peek.

    We started with a drink upstairs, and ordered a cocktail that triggered something in me.  I think this was an old fasioned, but it had the words "gula melaka" in front.  And I'm like Pavlov's dog when it see those words...  Don't think the chocolate was necessary...

    The satays were pretty good.

    We then moved downstairs to the dining room in the back.  The menu was pretty short, but there were certainly items that stood out.

    To start with we did not get a basket of bread.  Instead, this amazing delicious youtiao with squid ink came. Crispy and flaky.  And let's face it... it IS deep-fried dough.  That automatically makes it yummy.

    As if the youtiao wasn't good enough on its own, they came with these little pats of balacan butter.  Move over, Bordier seaweed butter... you just met your match!

    Spanish octopus, fish curry mayo, curry leaf pesto, fingerling potato - this was pretty nice.  The dots combined together made for some good curry flavors to accent the nicely grilled octopus tentacle.

    Five spice Challans duck, cucumber soy, sour plum, yuzu nai bai - the duck had crispy, blackened skin.  The five spice rub was pretty obvious.  It wasrosé in the middle, a little overcooked at the edges.  The quenelle of sour plum purée was pretty interesting, as was the mashed potato with chives.  The kitchen had cut cucumbers into very long and thin strands of "spaghetti", and seasoned with a little soy sauce.  Overall this was a pretty good dish.

    I was debating between two desserts, so my host made it easy for me and got me both...

    Kaya profiterole, white chocolate, ginger, calamansi - thankfully we only asked for one of these...

    Instead of dark chocolate, the ginger and white chocolate sauce was poured on top.  With brown butter and sour plum, as well as calamansi purée.  Delicious and satisfying.  Second night in a row where I'm having a kaya ice cream "sandwich"...

    Durian custard millefeuille, Whisky and chocolate ice cream - so, so, soooo happy to be having a durian dessert for the third day in a row!  Bits of durian custard with sea salt were strategically placed between layers of thin, crispy pastry, and I just love the flavors.  The chocolate ice cream on the side was made with Whisky that was pretty damn peaty.

    I brought a bottle of nice wine, but unfortunately this wasn't enough, so my host kindly opened a bottle from the wine list...

    2004 Kistler Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen - unfortunately this was overripe and waaaay too oxidized.  Nose was sugar, sweet, and caramelized.  Worked horribly with both the octopus and the youtiao.

    2014 François Bertheau Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - sweet and fruity with black cherry, eucalyptus, and dried herbs.

    A nice and relaxing meal, and I was happy to have caught up with Chubby Hubby, even though I did feel like the "plus one" tonight...

    The night was still young, so Hello Kitty and I grabbed a drink at Atlas.  This place has gotten some attention since it opened a little more than a year ago, and besides the stunning Art Deco interior, Hello Kitty really wanted to come and check out their gin collection.

    The "gin tower" looked pretty impressive.

    I grabbed a gin and tonic made with De Boergen Holland Gin.  This was a little disappointing, as I didn't get much out of it other than some anise.

    Hello Kitty's gin and tonic, made with Crazy Monday Gin, was much better.  There was a prominent nose of cardamom, which was lovely.

    This was a school night so we kept it very civilized.  I still had another day at the conference tomorrow...

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    It has been a few years since Sébastien moved to Singapore to take up his post at Oncle Joël's restaurants, but I had never managed to pay him a visit on Sentosa due to scheduling conflicts.  But since we met up recently in Hong Kong over dinner, and I was introduced to Chef Kim Joinié-Maurin, I figured it was high time that I checked the place out.  So I ended up overruling Hello Kitty on her request to dine at Odette, and we took a ride to Resorts World Sentosa.

    I stepped out of the elevator at Hotel Michael, and was greeted by Sébastien immediately.  He gave us a quick look of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon - which was closed this evening - before seating us inside the fine dining, 3-macaronJoël Robuchon Restaurant.

    We were offered a glass of complimentary bubbly to start our dinner:

    Pierre Péters Cuvée La Perle - a blanc de blancs.  Nice and caramelized nose, lovely fragrance, with yeasty notes.  Ripe and rounded on the palate, with good acidity and lean on the back end.

    We had been eating quite a lot over the last few days, and I had another weekend of heavy eating coming up, so we chose not to take the full dégustation menu.  We opted for the combination which offered us 2 entrées and 1 plat to try to keep it "light".  I should have realized that it was never gonna happen...  not when you know the people who run the restaurant...

    As this is a "fine dining" branch of the Robuchon empire, you have the classic trolley service here - just like they do in Macau.  First up was the bread and butter trolley.

    They do a pretty good job of scraping butter from the mound.  I was told that they use either Ponclet or, as was the case tonight, Pamplie.

    I chose two pieces from the trolley: the baguette epi aux lardons and the pain au lait à l’encre de seiche.

    But first, a surprise from the chef, who came to welcome us.  Vegetable tart with guacamole and seasonal spring vegetables.  We had breakfast radish, haricot vert, carrot, and Japanese micro tomato.

    Next up was our amuse-bouche, which was tomato gelée topped with white asparagus espuma, Japanese micro tomatoes, croûtons, and piment d'Espelette.  Very refreshing and tasting very much of the spring.

    Le caviar impérial et le king crabe rafraîchis d’une gelée de crustacés, légèreté de chou-fleur - this was a kind surprise from the chef, as it certainly was not on our menu.  Always a pleasure to have this extremely classic dish, and tonight there were 60 "dots" of cauliflower cream with corresponding parsley chlorophyll "nipples" on top.  Absolutely love the shellfish gelée with the cauliflower cream, and of course together with the king crab and Impérial caviar from Sologne.  It is pretty much perfect.

    L'Asperge blanche sur une émulsion végétale au miso, feuilles de shiso et piment d'Espelette - there were two cooking methods for the white asparagus, and the textures were pretty interesting.  The blanched parts were so, so soft... as if no fibers existed and it was just a tube of Jell-O...  The black garlic dots and the miso dots nicely complemented the asparagus.

    L'Œuf de poule mollet et friand au caviar impérial et au saumon fumé - another stunning-looking dish, also with Imperial caviar, but this time on a crispy, deep-fried hen egg.  Served on a bed of sour cream, with small cubes of smoked salmon.

    The runny yolk had a beautiful color.  I took some of my bread to wipe my plate clean.

    Next came an extra fish course for each of us, again with compliments of the chef. 

    Le turbot en écailles de jeunes courgettes, sur un velours de romesco et condiment olives et amandes - I had a bite of this from Hello Kitty's plate.  I remember seeing green courgette"scales" on a fish dish presented at Eleven Madison Park, which Chef Daniel Humm has said was an hommage to Frédy Girardet and Joël Robuchon.  Very nicely done, but while turbot is considered a classic, high-priced fish in French or European cuisine, I do find it a little "boring"...

    L'Amadai japon "bouillabaisse" relevés d'une rouille aux saveurs meridionales - for me, the chef sent the tilefish with its upturned scales deep-fried till crispy.  This is the type of fish that I prefer over turbot any day... as I love the tenderness of the flesh as well as its flavor.  Having it sit in a pool of bouillabaisse was even better.

    Le porc ibérique "la plume" caramélisée au aoja, jeunes pousses de légumes grillées, sauce au poivre noir "Sarawak" - ibérico pluma is a great cut, and is served rosé here.  Deliciously tender, with egg mimosa, capers, ceps, pearl onions, turnip, carrots, dill, leeks, asparagus, and maitake (舞茸) mushrooms on top, and drizzled with Sarawak pepper sauce.  Very happy.

    Pommes purée - didn't have a lot of stomach space, but did try a couple of spoonfuls of the classic side dish.

    1999 Canon-la-Gaffelière - 40 minutes after decanting, showing smoke, ripe fruit, and lovely cedar notes.  A little pencil lead after an hour in decanter, and 1½ hours after decanting the nose turned pretty sweet.  Still some tannins here, but drinking pretty well.

    Our second trolley today would be le chariot des fromages.  There was, sadly, much less variety than what I'm used to seeing in Macau, but good enough for tonight.  Not sure what's going on with the lights below the Mimolette...

    So we asked for some 24-month Comté from Alléoss, which were lighter, with less salt, and more creamy.  The 24-month Mimolette from Bernard Antony was full-bodied and salty as expected.  I took the Époisses de Bourgogne from Gaugry because it's one of the few still made with unpasteurized milk, but it wasn't ripe at all.  The Mont d'Or from Antony, in contrast, was very ripe and nice.

    The third trolley would be the ice cream trolley, which unfortunately came bearing only two options.

    Mango sorbet - thankfully mango was one of the two choices, and this was VERY good.

    Trolley #4 was the le chariot des desserts, but I was pretty full at this point.

    Tarte au fraises de bois - I couldn't resist when I saw this.  A layer of wild strawberries, and each one of them turned out to be really ripe and sweet.  This must have been my lucky night!

    The last trolley tonight was, of course, the mignardises trolley.  I chose two little bites.

    Couldn't remember exactly what the flavors were in this macaron...

    An apple with cream and Calvados inside.

    This was a very good meal, as one would expect.  Very happy to have had the trolley service here, too.  Too bad we didn't end up ordering a bird so that we could watch Sébastien show us his carving skills once again...  Many thanks to my friend and Chef Kim for such an enjoyable evening, and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

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    A few days after eating my way around Singapore, I'm back home in Taipei for the first time in almost a year.  The Dining Austrian is making his very first trip to Taiwan, and of course I would be his chaperone for this short weekend detour.

    We didn't have a booking for lunch today, as I was gonna wing it and perhaps take my friend to my favorite beef noodle soup joint.  When the Prince of Napa decided to join us for lunch, I sensed some resistance regarding paying for those expensive noodles.  So we came up with a compromise and decided to check out Shi Dahua Noodles (史大華精緻麵食) - a place I had heard about from friends.

    We started by grabbing a few side dishes, which included marinated kelp (醃海帶), vegetarian goose (素鵝), pickled lotus root (醃蓮藕), and pickled cucumber (醃黃瓜). I thought the lotus root may have gone off a little, so I stopped eating it after the first bite.

    Three different soup bases are offered, along with a combination of three different toppings.  I went for the middle-of-the-road braised stock.

    Braised beef noodles with three treasures (紅燒三寶麵) - the three treasures are beef, beef tendon, and honeycomb beef tripe.  I thought the soup base was just OK - it was neither very rich nor very bland.  The noodles were very thin, and lacked any bite that I was looking for.

    The beef was tender enough, though... with some tendon.

    The others got their bowls with the mala (麻辣) soup base, and probably got a little more enjoyment out of them.  Oh well...

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    After sipping some coffee in the afternoon and checking out the views from the Taipei 101 Observation Deck, The Dining Austrian and I met up for dinner at MUME.  It has been almost 3 years since I last had a taste of the dishes put together by Richie Lin, Long Xiong, and Kai Ward - not counting Gert de Mangeleer's pop-up last year.  So I was curious to see how the cuisine has evolved.

    Richie apologized beforehand about not being in the restaurant tonight, but nevertheless put together a tasting menu for us.

    Caviar tartlet - the sturgeon caviar actually comes from a local source near Taichung, and underneath the layer of caviar was milkfish (虱目魚) cream. 

    Milkfish tartlet - the spring roll pastry shell was filled with Iron Buddha tea (鐵觀音)-smoked eggplant purée, pickled chayote (佛手瓜), and topped with deep-fried ginger.

    Soft poached oyster, local greens, cucumber, seaweed butter - the Gillardeau oyster was delicious, and came with seaweed butter which ended up being too rich and salty.

    There were diced pickled cucumber which delivered some acidity to balance out the richness, but it wasn't enough.  The fried shredded baby kale on top was also on the heavy side in terms of flavor.  I'd be happier eating this dish in the winter, but right now it was just a little too much.

    Prawn, shaved yam bean, prawn head sauce, Ricotta snow - first we see a beautiful "flower" made of thin discs of what I thought were daikon (大根) radish, even though the menu stated otherwise.  A pile of frozen Ricotta "snow" was then dusted on top.

    Underneath we found some prawns, dill, wolfberries, and a prawn head sauce that was very pungent.  I noticed the presence of lemongrass flavor, and it turned out to be local mountain litsea (馬告).  Very interesting combination between the cool, light, and refreshing ingredients at the top and the heavy-hitting stuff below.

    Wagyu tartare, clam mayo, confit egg yolk, preserved daikon, nixtamalized Taiwanese quinoa tostada - after visiting the Noma Mexico pop-up last year, Richie and team were inspired to make their own tostada, and this was the result.

    Country sourdough with smoked beef fat butter - the smokiness of the butter was honestly somewhat overpowering...

    Mume salad, 20+ types seasonal vegetables, fermented black beans - so... the salad stayed on the menu.  We've got grapes, fiddlehead ferns, pickled cucumber, betel palm flowers, arugula, roasted white asparagus, cherry tomatoes, multi-colored tomatoes, breakfast radish, turnip, daylily, chervil, and different flowers.

    Initially our waitress described the fermented black bean sauce as being "refreshing", which made me scratch my head.  When she mentioned the presence of kumquat (金桔) sauce later, I realized this was the "refreshing" element, not the black bean sauce...

    Emperor grouper, aromatic broth, engawa, parsley and lemon thyme - this was one thick slab of fish fillet!  And the execution was perfect... very tender, but at the same time with a good amount of springy firmness coming from the 帝王斑.  The broth made with sake was lovely, with both acidity from lemon as well as umami from kelp.  Mountain litsea lent their lemongrass fragrance once again.

    Koji aged beef short rib, maitake, coffee - the coffee on the charred crust was a little overpowering, and the maitake (舞茸) was a little on the flabby side.

    The marbling of the short rib was nice, and overall this tasted fine.

    Cucumber, yogurt mousse, celery granita, lemon verbena - the combination of cucumber sorbet, yogurt mousse, celery granita, and the meringue sprinkled with cucumber powder just seemed perfect.  It was incredibly refreshing, with clean and pure flavors.  Absolutely perfect for a hot summer day.

    Taiwanese chocolate, longan, coffee, walnut - sorbet made with 62% Taiwanese chocolate and, yes, mountain litsea.  Served with longan cooked with whisky, along with walnuts as well as coffee meringue and caramel chocolate frozen with liquid nitrogen.  That lemongrass fragrance sure works wonders with the chocolate!

    I grabbed a bottle from my near-empty wine fridge in Taipei so we wouldn't be dry...

    1997 Bringer Merlot Private Reserve Bancroft Ranch - a little musty at first, slightly overripe, with fragrant cedar notes.  A little disappointing.

    We had a really good time tonight. A couple of the dishes could maybe use some tweaking, but all in all the flavors were good in each and every single one.  The cuisine has certainly gotten more interesting compared to my first visit 3 years ago, and I'm very pleased for Richie and co.

    The Specialist happened to be in town this weekend with BFF, and we agreed to meet up for a drink or five at The Terrace at the Humble House Taipei.  The ladies had an extra bottle of Champagne which they did not wish to carry back to Hong Kong, and since corkage was a mere TWD 500, it made perfect sense to have a drink at their hotel.

    2006 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - very toasty and fragrant nose. Lovely.

    2008 Louis Latour Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts - a little dusty and toasty.  A pretty shitty bottle.

    2007 Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru - much better, with plenty of lovely fruit.

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    As a globetrotting destination diner coming to Taipei for the first time, it was only natural that The Dining Austrian wanted to check out RAW.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is notorious for being one of the toughest to score a table, and thus far I have yet to succeed in booking a table via their website.  The Dining Austrian clearly had the same experience, so I resorted to asking for help.  Thankfully, help came through this time...

    Freshest, Taiwan, milk (凝乳, 脆皮湯葉, 乳清) - this was the first dish to arrive, but somehow nobody bothered to explain exactly what it was...  I guess the menu description was self-explanatory?

    The tart was topped with the solid cheese curd from making cheese, but presented as shaved powder...

    ...while the bottle contained whey, and the foam on top was almost floral.

    We found out that we were supposed to drink the whey while having a bite of the cheese, so that the components could be combined back together in the mouth.  But since no one came to tell us before we started eating...

    Prawn, mioga, peas (胭脂蝦, 茗荷, 甜豆) - we were told that this was meant to be a "sushi reformation".  Yes, the char-grilled prawn head on the side was delicious.  The prawn tartare was mixed with "sushi rice" and placed inside the wrapper, and was meant to be paired with pea purée (in lieu of wasabi), red quinoa (in lieu of soy sauce), and myoga (茗荷, in lieu of ginger)... Although technically, one does not have ginger with sushi... as pickled ginger is used mostly as a palate-cleanser - at least in traditional edomae (江戸前) sushi.

    I hadn't planned on drinking at lunch, even though the question had been raised earlier.  The wine list packed with bongwater natural wines piqued the interest of The Dining Austrian, and we decided to ask for a recommendation.  Apparently the restaurant doesn't stock half-bottles but will open up a bottle and sell a carafe.  So we decided to take them up on it.

    2015 PUR n° 7 Énergie - very aromatic and floral, with tropical stone fruits.  Almost fatty and oily, thick and round on the palate.

    Enoki, scallop, smoked basil (金針菇, 熟成干貝, 煙燻羅勒) - the scallops were lightly salted and air-dried overnight in a similar fashion as the Japanese ichiyaboshi (一夜干し).  The process was meant to dehydrate the scallops and intensify the sweetness.  Served with grilled white and golden enoki (榎茸) mushrooms, smoked basil vinaigrette, and topped with Taiwanese golden oscietra caviar from Taichung (incidentally, the same producer as the one supplying MUME).

    The thin slices of scallops seemed sweeter, and while the dish tasted delicious, it was also very rich and oily, full of umami, and smoky thanks to the enoki.  Not exactly a light summer dish...

    French, onion, soup (洋, 蔥, 湯) - at first we only saw the grilled onion, but it was removed to reveal the bread shell underneath, with Gruyère and black pepper at the top.  Then baguette was shaved on top of the shell.

    Inside we have onion purée, onion "milk?", melted cheese...  Basically a deconstructed French onion soup, and a very, very good one at that.  The flavors were all there, and my comfort and happiness level shot up.  My favorite dish today.

    Caviar aubergine, silver fish, crispy noodles (田樂燒, 吻仔魚, 香脆麵) - we were first presented with this "bento box", which was made with porcelain instead of styrofoam (YES!!!)

    There was a block of crispy "instant" noodles inside the box, while we were also presented with a cocotte containing local crayfish and langoustines baked on a bed of coarse rock salt along with star anise, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns...etc. 

    After taking the crayfish and langoustine out of their shells, I finished the dish by adding the condiments from the plastic packets (OK, deducting points now for not being environmentally friendly...) - the tiny whitebait (吻仔魚); aubergine caviar; a mixture of chicken jus, spinach purée, and liquid lard; chili powder; and shrimp powder.

    I gotta be honest here... I'm happy to be able to play with my food and DIY and all... but this seemed like entirely way too much effort for a dish.  

    2015 Agnès et René Mosse Les Bonnes Blanches - nose much more muted.  Hot on the palate and burns a little going down.  Not a fan.

    Corn, sorghum, gnocchi (水果玉米, 高粱, 麵疙瘩) - the thin slices of corn - which were fused together - came with some popcorn and Japanese sea urchin on top. 

    But the real story below was a soft-boiled egg, gnocchi, crunchy corn nuts, maybe some dried shrimp, and a spicy sauce made with local bottarga.  I love sweet corn, and I usually react to any dish with bottarga like Pavlov's dog, but I didn't quite "get" this dish.

    Sturgeon, puff rice, garden greens (鱘龍魚, 鍋巴, 春蔬) - the 7-year-old sturgeon came in very thin slices and were arranged around the side of the bowl - kinda like how blowfish (河豚) is served in Japan.  The broth that was poured on top was made with the bones of the sturgeon, and there were supposedly around 15 different types of spring vegetables in the middle.  This was apparently meant to mimic shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), and turned out pretty nicely.

    We were shown the aged Cherry Valley duck from Yilan (宜蘭) that would be our next course.

    Cauliflower, Cherry duck, seaweed (白花椰, 櫻桃鴨, 海藻) - the duck came with cauliflower purée, pan-roasted cauliflower, hazelnuts, and "caviar" made of balsamico.  On top of the duck breast was a thin layer of pickled kelp and pan-fried duck foie gras.  And there seemed to be some shredded duck leg with the cauliflower.

    Unfortunately, the duck here was cooked for the typical Taiwanese customer, which was to say that it was fully cooked.  I would have preferred my birds rosé, but it was not to be.  The sweetbreads were also a little overcooked.

    2014 Jean Laborde Saint Joseph La Ferme des Sept Lunes - really ripe and almost jammy, with a hint of green.  Almost floral honey notes.

    Taiwanese pineapple tart - I always liked this version, which is chilled.

    We were asked about our tea and coffee orders at this point.  Normally I would refrain from drinking coffee until after I've finished dessert, and certainly not before I have finished any wine still left in my glasses... so I asked for coffee to be served after dessert.  The Dining Austrian did the same.  But our coffees showed up a few minutes later anyway...

    Next came some strawberries which appeared to be dehydrated...

    Fermented rice, purple rice, toasted rice (米麴, 紫米, 米香) - the strawberries were then shaved onto our dessert.  On the left side seemed to be a rice pudding, below which was a layer of cracker with strawberries.  Sprinkled on top was a little bit of toasted rice puffs as well as purple rice.  On the right hand side we've got sago with strawberries, topped with rice ice cream.

    Two petits fours followed, with chocolate truffles with longans (龍眼) hidden amongst a pile of dried longans.

    We also had thin slices of porcini mushroom, with a tea-flavored chocolate truffles sandwiched between two slices.

    Our long lunch lasted over 2½ hours, and gave my two friends their first taste of the cuisine at RAW.  As The Dining Austrian remarked, the level of sophistication here is quite high, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Many thanks to Chef Wave for taking good care of us.

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    On the day that the Michelin stars were announced for the inaugural Taipei red guide back in March, just about no one expected Michael Ellis to go beyond announcing the two restaurants receiving two stars.  The minute he told the crowd that a new 3-star was born, there was collective shock in the audience.  The words "WHAT THE FUCK" came out of my mouth while I watched the live stream of the event from my desk in the office.

    When it was announced that Le Palais (頤宮) had won the extremely coveted three stars, I probably shouted "WHAT THE FUCK" at least a half-dozen times. I have some history with the very same restaurant, although admittedly it was quite a few years ago.  After all, this was the the place which served us such incredibly crappy seafood - think frozen, treated with baking soda, or possibly something worse - that mom and I didn't think we would ever return.  It was yet another validation of my opinion - shared by many in the region - that Michelin simply didn't know Chinese food.  Their choice was simply laughable and deserved ridicule.

    Shortly after the announcement, The Dining Austrian went into action.  SOP dictates that he make a trip to check out any newly-anointed three star restaurant in the world, and this one in Taipei would be no exception.  Well, I would have no excuse not to join him on his adventure, as Taipei is both my hometown and a short flight away.

    And when he had trouble booking a table via the restaurant's website, I decided to ask my friend Big Mac for a favor.  Sure enough, he got us a table for dinner tonight with seemingly little hassle.  So I assembled a fitting crew to join The Dining Austrian and I - including The Prince of Napa - for a little attempt at 踢館.

    Big Mac pre-ordered 4 of the signature dishes which needed advance notice, and although they seemed a little repetitive, I was loathe to cancel any of them.  And no, we did not take the "Michelin 3-star tasting menu" - which cost a ridiculous USD 250 per head.

    Barbecue pork (頤宮叉燒皇) - this was their "crispy char siu (脆皮叉燒)", with a caramelized honey glaze on the outside.

    The cut is actually pork collar, so there is some marbling which made the texture very tender.  Not bad at all.

    Cantonese style crispy roast duck course (火焰片皮鴨三吃) - so this is the famous "flaming Peking duck"... OF COURSE we had to order this, if only for the show and the chance to take a video...  As usual, an entire duck is divided into several servings - in this case 3 of them.

    Wrapped with romaine lettuce and cheese (蘿蔓起士卷) - we didn't want to have this option, but the staff made a mistake and served some to us.  Not a fan.  The pancake wrappers here are on the thick side, and these were a little dry.  The cheese inside was also dry and bland.

    Wrapped with traditional spring onions (傳統青蔥卷) - the traditional way was much better, with spring onions and hoisin sauce (海鮮醬).

    Duck meat - the rest of the duck was cut into thin slices.  Not surprisingly, the breast meat was a little on the dry side, but dipping into the master stock (滷水) at the bottom of the bowl helped a little.

    Crispy roast baby duck (先知鴨二吃) - these baby ducks from Yilan (宜蘭) were generally between 26 to 28 days old.

    This was much more delicious than the Peking duck we had moments earlier.  There were apparently several pieces from the breast area where one could the soft cartilage.  Very tasty.

    Duck soup (酸菜鴨架湯) - the second serving of the baby duck was done as a soup, with pickled mustard greens (酸菜) and tofu.  Loved the refreshing acidity, and I think The Dining Austrian enjoyed this, too.

    Deep-fried marble goby (油浸筍殼魚) - I've loved marble goby since I was a kid growing up in Singapore, as it was the popular fish served in many seafood restaurants.  I don't see them much in Hong Kong, so I took the opportunity to order one up tonight.

    This was done pretty well.  Loved the crispy exterior, and the soy sauce seasoning. 

    Crispy deep-fried chicken (君品吊燒炸子雞) - yes, this would be the THIRD bird we pre-ordered for our meal... But the crispy chicken (炸子雞) is such a Cantonese classic that it's a good way to measure to skill of the chef.  This was pretty decent, and I liked it better than some of the versions in Hong Kong - such as the one in Lung King Heen (龍景軒), itself the very first Chinese restaurant to receive 3 stars - where they over-season the chicken.

    Sautéed loofah with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms (肉鬆雲耳燜絲瓜) - loofah is one of my favorite vegetables, so I figured we should try the dish recommended to us.  Not a combination I would have thought of, but it was decent.

    Wok-fried rice noodles with crab meat and eggs (強哥炒米粉) - the rice vermicelli was very, very thin, and obviously stir-fried at very high heat to achieve the desired wok hei (鑊氣).  This was very good.

    Cantonese fried noodles with seafood (廣式海味炒麵) - this dish simply HAD to be ordered, because it was this very dish, 6 years ago, that came with seriously shitty prawns.  Well tonight they did better.  I didn't expect the freshest of seafood for the price they were charging, but at least the giant prawns - which were much bigger tonight - weren't translucent and artificially crunchy.

    Deep-fried cheese pastry (炸豆腐奶) - this was a treat from Chef Ken Chen (陳偉強), and came filled with two types of cheese inside.  Certainly tasted like deep-fried mozzarella sticks...

    Well... I gotta say that compared to 6 years ago, tonight's dinner was miles better.  All the flavors were as they should be - other than the silly Peking duck wrap with cheese.  But 3 Michelin stars???!!!  C'mon...  When I have never considered Lung King Heen to be worthy of its 3 stars, this place is certainly not gonna come even close.

    But of course... who the fuck am I compared to the all-mighty Michelin inspectors?!

    Even though it's Sunday night and I have a 7 a.m. flight the next morning, we decided to bring a few bottles...

    1999 Amour de Deutz - fairly mature now, good balance between the ripe sweetness and acidity on the palate.

    2008 Hugel Riesling Schoelhammer - big nose with lots of petrol.  Needed time to fully open up.  Most certainly the best offering from Hugel.

    1995 La Conseillante - smoky and lovely.  Tannins have softened up nicely.

    1986 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - smoky, minty, pencil lead, and still lively.  The acidity of the soup brought out the fruity notes and sweetness.  Very nice.

    1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - still have plenty of acidity, with lemon and citrus notes, and almost green apple.

    1990 Joh.Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese - sweetish but still got acidity.  Big nose of plastic with some white flowers.

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    V was home alone and in need of some company on a Friday night, so it was time to deliver on my promise to take him out to dinner.  Rather than our original plan to get some meat-on-a-stick, I decided to look for something else.  Getting a table on a Friday night is a challenging proposition - especially when it's on short notice.  I took a chance and contacted Chef Jim Löfdahl at Frantzén's Kitchen, asking whether there was any chance to fit us in.  As I would find out later by chatting with Jim, they have actively reduced the number of covers, so I guess that's why it became possible to squeeze the 2 of us in at a late seating.

    First thing I noticed was that the chopstick rests had changed.  Thankfully the menu format has not, and we ordered up a number of dishes to share between us.

    Sea urchin tart - this was a daily special that Jim showed us, with 2 different types of sea urchin... Hokkaido aka uni (赤雲丹) as well as something from the Pacific coast of Russia.  These sit on top of a purée of eggplant and fermented soy beans inside a pumpkin tart crust, with strips of nori (海苔) seaweed as garnish.  A good start to dinner.

    Chawanmushi - this was a chilled chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) made with cauliflower and milk instead of eggs, served with fermented mushroom juice, and topped with herring roe and some lemon thyme.  Good depth of flavors from the cauliflower, and the mushroom was certainly noticeable.  A little acidity here, too.

    "Swedish sushi" - the one dish I always order here, but tonight this was particularly good.  The roe deer was as good as ever, but the acidity from the cep mayo was noticeably stronger tonight.  Pungent, fermented flavors were also a notch above normal, so I'm guessing we have the shaved foie gras to thank for that.  Perhaps I really should have ordered 3 of these... as I said I would on my last visit.

    "French toast" - it's been more than a year since I last had this, and this time around the truffle on top came in the form of thin slices of shaved Italian summer truffle.  The aged cheese tonight delivered pretty strong flavors.  Yum.

    Truffle tea - served on the side of the French toast.  Definitely savory and full of mushroom flavors.

    Oven-baked bone marrow- with smoked parsley purée, Finnish sturgeon oscietra caviar, sour cream made with 5% cream and lemon, and powdered seaweed.  Naturally the bone marrow was very rich and fatty, and while the parsley purée was a little on the salty side there was good acidity, too.  This, in fact, reminded me of the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad pioneered by Fergus Henderson at St. John and subsequently copied the world over.
    Knäckebröd - nowadays they don't give you the knäckebröd until after you've finished the snacks, but that beurre noisette is still the most irresistible thing in the house.  We were pretty restrained, though, and only went through two servings...

    "Seven Gardens" - V wanted a salad, so this is what we ordered.  What I didn't tell him, though, was that this wasn't necessary the lightest dish...  Drizzled on top of the vegetables that came from seven separate farms was melted butter made in-house from cream that had been left to ferment for 2-3 days, then churned and had some buttermilk retained for acidity, and finally infused with sansho (山椒) pepper.

    Besides the string beans, cucumber, asparagus, potato, mashed potato balls, rhubarb, button mushrooms, purple string beans, cooked beetroot, cooked turnip, eggplant, haricot vert, baby corn, and more was a pile of very toasty and crunchy deep-fried fish scales.

    Yes, this was probably one of the richest salads one would ever taste...

    Skrei - I loved skrei when I first had it here, so naturally I would order it again.  Tonight it sat in a puddle of goat cheese-infused beurre blanc drizzled with seaweed oil and sprinkled with rosemary powder.  On top of the deliciously browned and succulent fish which had been slow-cooked were little chunks of pickled turnip, some spinach, and a topping of trout roe (JB told us they were salmon roe).

    Needless to say, the beurre blanc was extremely rich... and not exactly fitting for the scorching summer we are now in, but it did come with a ton of acidity.

    Blue lobster - another daily special.  The homard bleu from Brittany came with a 62°C egg, micro-herbs, fava beans, sauce made with lobster and veal stock, plus fermented cabbage juice.  There was also a sprinkling of truffle bits as well as other crunchy bits on top.  Pretty nice.

    Steamed turbot - slow-cooked at low temperature, with sauce of fermented white asparagus, with green and white asparagus, green peas, dried mint leaves, and powdered herbs.  The turbot was, of course, silky smooth and delicious, but once again the sauce was on the rich side.  The presence of pine shoots - which came with some acidity - was rather interesting.

    "Hot-pot" - I'm guessing that V ordered this for the veggies... This came with small cubes of Te Mana lamb instead of wagyu inside the "wreath", but no less tender and delicious.  The wreath was a combination of kale, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and mushrooms.  The cabbage and truffle bouillon in the middle made the dish.

    I was surprised that V wanted to taste all three desserts on offer, but I was more than happy to go along!

    Sorbet from frozen and dried herbs - this was by favorite of the three.  A sorbet made with, among other things, matcha (抹茶), lemongrass, and coriander.  Topped with oil made with pine shoots, then sprinkled with powder made with fresh as well as crystallized mint.

    This was soooo refreshing that it was the perfect balance for the rich dishes we had just consumed.

    Thyme ice cream - Jim's version of pavlova, with tomato jam at the bottom, bee pollen, birch tree oil, meringue, and chrysanthemum petals.  Also very nice.
    Smoked ice cream - this seemed a little different from the version I had last year... and the restaurant is calling it "2.0".  They have added some pecan foam just below the melted chocolate dome.  The smokiness of the whole thing was still very nice, and I still love the strong flavors of cloves in the salted fudge.

    We brought 2 bottles tonight but since 1 of them turned out corked, we ended up ordering a bottle of bongwater natural wine from the list.

    Paul Déthune Cuvée à l'Ancienne, dégorgée en janvier 2012 - initially not getting much from the nose, but the palate was pretty nice with good acidity balance.  Slightly dry and a little toasty.  Showed a good amount of maturity and depth of flavors after warming up a little.

    1985 Bouchard Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus - definitely TCA with telltale wet cardboard nose.  Madeirized.  Grassy.

    2013 Guiberteau Saumur Clos de Guichaux - dry with crisp acidity.  Minerals, a little oak, lemon, and some white flowers.  Long finish.

    We we very, very happy with dinner tonight.  The flavors were all there, and remained distinctive even when you have a mix of different ingredients.  V was happy to have made it here for the first time, and hopefully we can come back together soon.  As usual, many thanks to Jim and JB for taking good care of us.

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  • 05/13/18--04:18: Droning Boy: Marina Bay
  • This was my first trip to Singapore since I acquired my drone, and I've been dying to fly it around the landmarks around Marina Bay.  I've got a fairly busy schedule on this trip, so I figured that the only time I could fly it would be in the mornings this weekend.  Well, the weather was absolutely gorgeous yesterday but we chose to sleep in.  And it started raining this morning...

    [4K version of the video is available here]
    Thankfully the skies cleared up in the afternoon, and after checking into Marina Bay Sands, I decided to take advantage of some time before dinner to get some flying done.

    I generally stick to the local rules regarding drone usage, and thankfully the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has a pretty detailed map showing all the No-Fly-Zones in the country.  But that wasn't quite enough, as many parks around the city also prohibit the use of drones... so in the end I consulted the helpful for a very detailed map - which allows the user to turn each rule on or off.  I also checked with the local DJI Facebook group for guidance.

    I ended up taking off from a parking lot next to the Bay Grandstand, and made sure my drone stayed over the water of Marina Bay the whole time, as well as below the 200 ft ceiling. Thankfully there wasn't any interference in this area, and I decided not to risk things by trying to fly to Gardens by the Bay.

    I didn't fly for very long, as we needed to go back to our room to change for dinner, but I was glad to have caught the golden reflection of the sun off the glass façade of Marina Bay Sands as it was going down.

    Perhaps on my next trip, I'll get a better look at Gardens by the Bay...

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  • 05/28/18--08:02: Austria vs. France
  • The Prince of Napa pinged me a few weeks ago to see if I'd be up for a blind tasting dinner tonight.  He is showing an Austrian winery which makes pinot noir (or is it spätburgunder?), and wanted us to bring some red Burgs to face off with the Austrians.

    I wasn't the least bit surprised to see Hong Kong Cuisine 1983 (壹玖捌參) as the chosen venue, and it was a pretty good place to take the Stiegelmars from Juris.  A menu was pre-arranged by our resident regulars.

    Chilled burdock with cordyceps sinensis and Japanese seaweed salad (涼拌牛篣蟲草花) - not a fan, as somehow the vinegar didn't really work well with the combination of burdock, cordyceps mushrooms, and seaweed.

    Marinated duck tongues (滷水鴨舌) - a treat for our Austrian visitors.  These were pretty good, and the spices in the master stock (滷水) marinade were pretty evident.

    Cuttlefish in spicy sauce (麻辣墨魚頭) - this was pretty damn spicy, at least to me.  And came with slices of raw garlic on top of spring onions, coriander, and of course chili.  Not exactly wine friendly...

    Double boiled porcini soup with conch and pork (牛肝菌螺頭燉豬腱湯) - pretty decent.

    Wok fried Boston lobster with salty egg yolk (金沙波士頓龍蝦) - having had a similar dish here in the past made with prawns, I was ever so glad that there wasn't an excessive amount of salted egg yolk sauce.  As a result, this was just right.

    Scrambled egg with crab meat and shredded fish maw (桂花蟹肉炒花膠絲) - I am grateful that many restaurants no longer use shark's fin, and here they do it slightly more upscale by using shredded fish maw instead of glass vermicelli.  This was done at pretty high heat, but to be honest I didn't care for the texture of the fish maw in the mix... especially when the strips were so thick.

    Upon learning that there was fish maw on the plate, our visiting wine makers told us that they actually use the bladder from a certain type of fish as a fining agent. 

    Crispy golden boat with fried sole fillet in black bean sauce (原條龍船豉汁方利球) - this was a winner.  The little chunks of sole fillet were very succulent and tender, and came covered in black bean sauce that was pretty damn tasty.  The best part of the dish, of course, came in the deep-fried bones and wings of the sole that doubled as a serving vessel.  We took these apart piece by piece and just enjoyed the crunch as we bit into them...

    Golden crispy chicken with preserved bean curd sauce (南乳脆皮雞) - the chicken was surprisingly good.  The skin was crispy as expected, but there was also good depth of flavors.  Everything seemed just right.  In fact, I'd pick this over many, many crispy chickens around town.

    Fried rice with conpoy and egg white (瑤柱蛋白炒飯) - this was alright.

    Sweetened soup with peach resin, snow fungus and red dates (桃膠銀耳雪棗糖水) - this was very refreshing, as the chilled peach resin and snow fungus helped cool down the temperatures in the body as well as in the mouth. 

    Fried sesame purple sweet potato balls stuffed with mashed salted egg yolk (紫薯金沙球) - this was surprisingly good.  The exterior was deliciously crispy and packed with fragrant sesame seeds, while the purple sweet potato mash was elevated by just a little big of salted egg yolk.

    But enough about the food.  Tonight was all about the wines.  We started with a white from our Austrian friends:

    2016 Juris Sauvignon Blanc - pretty fruity and tropical, stone fruits, flint.  Ripe on the nose as well as on the palate, with a bit of acidity to balance.  Nose was fairly big but a a teeny bit pungent.

    Then the reds were served at random in flights, and we had to guess whether the wine was Austrian or French.

    2009 Lucien Le Moine Corton Renardes - served 1½ hours after opening.  Pretty sweet and ripe on the nose, with coconut and almost bubblegum notes.  Around 2 hours after opening there was almost a hint of coffee.  Tannins still here.

    2013 Juris Pinot Noir Setzluss - ripe and fruity, also a hint of coconut.  About an hour after opening showed some smokiness, and almost toasty and coffee.

    2011 Juris Pinot Noir Hochreit - served about an hour after opening.  Very sweet on the nose and especially on the palate, almost a little jammy.  A bit more animal and leather notes here.  2011 saw an extended growing season. My favorite from Juris.

    2008 Dominique Gallois Charmes-Chambertin - served 1½ hours after opening.  Ripe and stewed fruit, a little savory, with slightly higher acidity.

    1999 Domaine des Lambrays Clos des Lambrays - served 1½ hours after opening.  Good fruit here, and softer on the palate.

    2014 Dubreuil-Fontaine Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Vercots - very cool fruit, a little eucalyptus, maybe a little stemmy.  Perhaps needed a little more aeration.

    2009 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvée Cœur du Roy - served 2 hours after opening.  A hint of toast, a hint of leather at first, pretty smooth on the palate.  Showing a little more smoke and heavier toast, as well as fragrant wood notes.  Leaner on palate.

    2002 Michel Magnien Clos de la Roche - served 2½ hours after opening.  Minty, maybe a bit sulfur.  Pungent and not well-integrated nose, with huge toasty notes.  Later on the nose opened up a little more and showed some fruit.

    2012 Juris Pinot Noir Haide - served 2½ hours after opening.  Very young and fresh, lovely, with lots of dried herbs and pretty sweet.  Not quite integrated, and almost showing Chinese medicinal herbs like ginseng.  From Dijon clone 114 planted in 1980s.

    2004 Domaine des Lambrays Clos des Lambrays - served 3 hours after opening.  Nice and ripe.  Pretty open.

    2006 Prieuré-Roch Vosne-Romanée Les Hautes-Maizières - toasty and ripe nose.  Fragrant with a hint of stewed fruit.

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  • 05/28/18--22:56: No dim sum for me
  • Mama Bear is back in town for a few days, and since she was still suffering from jet lag, we agreed to meet up for lunch near my office.  I had always been curious about the quality of dim sum at Restaurant de Chine (中華匯館), so I figured I'd take this opportunity to check it out.

    Once Mama Bear picked up the menu, she decided that she would prefer not to have dim sum, but order from the regular menu instead.  As she is the visitor, I gave her carte blanche on ordering.

    Drunken pigeon with Huadiao wine (花雕醉乳鴿) - this has always been good.  The pigeon meat was certainly tender, and the flavors from Huadiao were nice and strong.

    Crispy frog leg with spicy salt (椒鹽田雞腿) - Mama Bear was a little surprised at the size of these frogs' legs, because she's been too used to the tiny ones served by Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  There was a lot of crispy batter here...

    Deep-fried Bombay duck with spicy salt (脆炸九肚魚) - there was a good amount of batter here, too.  And while the Bombay duck was as tender as I expected, it was nevertheless a little too greasy for my taste.

    Sautéed river shrimp with olive seed (清炒河蝦仁) - this was, again, not what we expected.  There was a little more batter than I would prefer, and there was certainly a little more seasoning than usual.  Then there was the presence of those toasty Indian almonds (欖仁), which just seemed so out of place.

    Pan-fried bean curd with celery in chili sauce (辣煮家鄉豆腐) - this was surprisingly good.  The thick and starchy sauce was spicy but also came with good acidity, and I wondered whether there was a little fermented tofu (腐乳) added.  Good crunchy texture from the celery as well as the wood ear fungus (木耳).

    This was a lot of food, but Mama Bear was hungry!  Glad to have caught up with her, and it will be a while till we meet again...

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  • 05/31/18--08:40: La La La La La Latour
  • Unbelievable as it may be, we are gathering on the last day of May for the very first MNSC tasting of the year.  The Ox was hosting and we're back to Amuse Bouche for its tasty food, reasonable pricing, and excellent wine service.

    We started with some saucission to accompany our bubbly aperitif.

    Amuse bouche - the smoked salmon tartare came with some good acidity, and outshone the little dollop of caviar on top.  Jamón ibérico on the side.

    Maine lobster medallion, tasty bulgur and forgotten roots on a coral emulsion - the lobster tail was fine, but goddamn that lobster claw was VILE!  It had definitely gone off and just tasted FOUL.  Blegh!  I was too polite to spit it out.

    Smoked and sauteed fresh French morel mushrooms flavoured with thyme parsley, La Bigourdane bacon - this, on the other hand, was beautiful.  Wonderful and deep flavors of mushrooms, with strong, smoky flavors and delicious little chiffonade of bacon.

    Timbale of mezzi tufoli stuffed by creamy frog legs, morels and black truffles - this was OK... The frog legs were nice, but the mezzi tufoli - which wasn't great to begin with - came stuffed with chunks of chicken purée with herbs steamed together with the pasta.  Even the little bit of truffle sauce on the side couldn't save it.

    Homemade fine duck pie stuffed with Jabugo ham, foie gras, green cabbage and a natural jus - I'm a big fan of pithiviers, and this looked promising when it arrived.

    Inside we have a nice, big chunk of foie gras surrounded by a mix of duck, jam, and finely ground truffle.  This was solid and beautiful.  Hands down the best dish of the evening.
    Roasted Aveyron rack of lamb and fondant of breast in a fine crust of pine nuts, lemon and parsley, ratatouille tian and boulangère potatoes - the lamb rack was slow-cooked before roasting, and the crust was pretty nice... especially with some lemon zest to deliver some kick.  The breast was first braised then roasted, and came with a layer of delicious lamb fat.  The tian of ratatouille was nice, and there was a little bit of caramelized onion jam on top of the potatoes.

    Philippe Alléosse 36 months aged Comte and truffled Brie de Meaux, served with apricot, cherry jam and quince paste - normally I'd be happy about the Comté, but tonight I was seduced/suckered into loving that truffle Brie de Meaux...

    But an MNSC dinner is mostly about the wines, and tonight our host delivered a stunning lineup of a vertical of Bordeaux's famed Château Latour.

    2004 Paul Déthune, dégorgée en janvier 2012 - nice and lovely nose, with some caramelized sweetness and mineral notes.

    1973 Leroy Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes - very sweet on the nose, plenty of vanilla and almost marzipan, also marmalade.  High acidity on the palate with oxidation.  Drinking beautifully.

    First flight: popped and poured in decanter just before serving.
    1964 Latour - very minty, savory, with a hint of black olives, plus sweet fruit on the nose.  Palate was dry.  Also some stewed fruits and smoke.  91 points.

    1966 Latour - more minty than the '64, also more green and vegetal, grassy.  Nose was much cleaner, with lead pencil and graphite notes, and very big and smoky.  94 points.

    Second flight: decanted for 3 hours prior to serving.
    1982 Latour, ex-château - a beautiful wine.  Smoke, coffee, pencil lead, sweet fruit, fragrant, a hint of grass.  But also a little chalky and dirty.  A little leather but slightly stinky, with a hint of hospital disinfectant.  98 points.

    1988 Latour - smoky, leaner than the '82, with more green pepper, and a bit cloudy.  93 points.

    Third flight: decanted more than 4 hours before serving.
    1990 Latour - older and more elegant, some leather, smoke, and fragrant nose.  A little riper and softer on the palate.  95 points.

    1996 Latour - minty, leaner, a bit of smoke, but really dusty and chalky for some reason, even after changing glasses.  93 points.

    Bonus: popped and poured.
    1953 Latour - nutty, a little marzipan, pretty sweet, maybe a little tonka bean, minty, and smoky.  High acidity.

    Many thanks to our generous host for the amazing wines. It's not often that one gets to taste a pristine bottle of 1982 Latour, and it was beautiful tonight.

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    The people who have managed to successfully import a number of premium Japanese restaurant concepts into Hong Kong in the last few years have notched another one on their belt.  Yakiniku Jumbo (焼肉 ジャンボ) soft-opened last week in Hong Kong, just downstairs from my office.  Chef owner Nanbara Norimitsu (南原範充) is in Hong Kong for a few days as part of the opening, and we were lucky to have a lunch arranged where he cooked a number of special dishes for us.

    The restaurant doesn't start lunch service until Monday, so we were the only customers in the house.  The local partner was on hand, and we got a tour of the space.  We were then seated in the main private room and introduced to Nanbara-san.  I was surprised to see Koya-san, who is apparently local chef in charge.  He was the chef for La Bombance Hong Kong, but he left his post some time ago.  I now know that he had been training with Nanbara-san in Japan for this position...

    We got a glimpse of some of the ingredients we would be tasting...

    Assortment of kimchi (キムチ三種) - The Man in White T-shirt opened the beautiful lid of his box, and immediately remarked that it contained "my favorite".  Sure enough, there's plenty of gold foil inside...

    Tairagai (平貝) - the pen shell came with some caviar on top - Imperial from Sologne sourced from La Maison Nordique - the same as Robuchon.  The sea urchin came with creamy and tender tofu skin (湯葉) underneath.  We also have edamame (枝豆) and cape gooseberry (ほうずきトマト) on the side.

    Wagyu beef nigiri, served with shin ro-su (黒毛和牛握り) - don't these thin slices look beautiful with their marbling?

    After grilling, they were wrapped around a ball of shari (シャリ) made of brown rice (玄米).  This was one delicious nigiri (握り)!  Any time you've got liquefied fat dripping onto and getting absorbed by rice, that's a formula for surefire yumminess.

    Mystery meat - we were also served a cut of meat which, to our surprise, nobody knew where it had come from.  What we do know was that, whichever part of the cow it had come from, it was lovingly cooked over the grill for almost 20 minutes.

    The texture was so interesting... really soft and buttery in the center, yet still crunchy on the exterior.  This was an eye-opener for me, and a real treat.

    Salt came in very beautiful small vessels...

    Maki kalbi (巻きカルビ) - yes, more marbled beef, PLEASE!

    Dipped in a light vinegar sauce.

    Zabuton sashimi, sea urchin (ザブトン、生うに) - the chuck flap came with a sweet marinade but was served raw, together with sea urchin from Hokkaido (北海道), as well as some spring onion sprouts (芽ねぎ). The chuck flap was soooo soft and buttery, and the sea urchin seemed especially sweet. Everything just melted in the mouth... simply decadent!

    Noharayaki (野原焼) - a specialty of Yakiniku Jumbo, and reportedly created at the request of a regular customer who wanted a dish that went down well with rice.

    The egg came already separated, with the intact yolk accompanied by egg white that had already been whipped up.  We were supposed to break the yolk and mix it together with the egg white...

    Finally, the thin slice of sirloin was rolled up and placed in our bowl, and I turned it over a few times to coat the egg over the beef.

    This was AMAZING.  Hello Kitty called this "cow on a cloud", thanks to the fluffy egg white.  It had a good amount of charring, and I'll freely admit that when I burped shortly after I wolfed this down, I could still smell the charring on the beef...

    Watercress salad (クレソンサラダ) - not bad at all for a salad, with some pine nuts for added fragrance.

    Rump (ランプ) - oh yes... this is always a tasty cut of beef.

    And certainly tasted wonderful.

    Shin shin (シンシン) - these slices came from the knuckle of the hind legs.

    Again, simply beautiful and melted in the mouth.

    Chateaubriand (シャトーブリアン) - this cut is almost a beautiful sight to behold...

    Nanbara-san lovingly grilled these two thick cuts over the fire, resting them for a few minutes before finishing them back on the grill. The total process took more than 20 minutes.

    These cubes were so soft and tender they felt like cotton balls in my mouth...   Taken with salt and wasabi.

    Wagyu beef rice with truffle (うしご飯、トリュフ) - finally, we have the rice in the pot, covered with a layer of beef and some spring onion shoots. 

    After Nanbara-san mixed the rice and beef together, Koya-san shaved some summer truffle on top of the rice in the bowl.  We had been advised to keep the leftover egg mixture from Noharayaki, and that became the extra sauce we poured into our bowls...  What's not to like when you've got all this in the bowl???!!!

    Yes, I just had to take a picture of the miso soup...

    Peach sherbet, melon, cherry (メロン、さくらんぼ、ももシャーベット) - the sorbet was OK, but the cherries were so ripe that they seemed almost liquid inside.  Needless to say, the melon was very ripe and sweet... and almost liquid-like near the center.

    Chef DaRC kindly brought a bottle to share. Meanwhile, my Californians were locked in my office upstairs...

    2006 El Desafio de Jonata - pretty ripe and sweet on the palate.

    This was an incredible lunch.  Every single cut of beef was beautiful, including our "mystery meat".  Many thanks to Nanbara-san and his team, as well as the powers that be for the special arrangement.  And thanks to The Man in White T-shirt for making sure that I eat two yakiniku meals today...

    Only four hours till my yakiniku dinner!

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    So... about 4 hours after I finished a long and delicious yakiniku (焼肉) lunch, I found myself back in front of another grill.  I had made plans to come to Nikushou with Mr and Mrs Birdiegolf a few days before today's lunch got fixed, but I couldn't exactly cancel dinner.  So... Hello Kitty and I would be eating our second yakiniku meal of the day.  Thankfully I arranged everything through Spam Bro, and he was on hand to cook the beef for us.

    Of course, the first picture everyone takes when they come here - even before the food arrives - is of the cute cow-shaped chopstick rests.

    We started with some Amela tomatoes (アメーラトマト) from Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県).

    Also with some white corn (白いとうもろこし) from Hokkaido, which was very crunchy and starchy.

    White asparagus with scallops and Japanese glass shrimps - above the bottom layer of French white asparagus were slices of Hokkaido scallops, topped with some Japanese glass shrimps (白海老) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) and a sauce made with onions, perilla leaves and olive oil, along with Japanese micro tomatoes.  Nice and refreshing, with good amount of acidity here.

    Beef katsu sando (牛カツサンド) - made with Hida (飛騨) beef.

    This was very nice and tender, thanks to the marbling and strips of fat.

    Simmered abalone with taro stem - the 4-head abalone from South Africa was simmered in dashi (出汁), and served with some sugar snaps as well as taro stem (芋茎).  Needless to say the abalone was nice and tender, and a little fragrance from yuzu (柚子) made it better.

    The tongue came thick cut and had a nice, springy texture. We were advised to dip the end closer to us - which was more tender - in the barbecue sauce.  The other end was dipped in the lemon-based sauce.  Delicious.

    Chuck tender (トウガラシ) - from Matsuzaka cattle (松坂牛). This came in a thicker cut than I expected.

    Top shoulder blade (ミスジ) - from 33-month-old Kobe cattle (神戸牛).  The charring on this was pretty nice.

    Rump necktie (ネクタイ) - this is apparently part of the rump that yields about 300g per cattle.  This cut from Kobe cattle was marinated for 3 hours. 

    The rice was cooked in the pot with soy sauce dashi (醤油出汁).

    Served on rice, and with summer truffle shavings on top.

    While one would think the rice comes at the end of the meal, that wasn't the case here.  We also got what Spam Bro called "ice cream"... which was a slice of filet from Hida cattle - served raw and cold - wrapped around some raw sea urchin.  Yes, it did melt in the mouth... almost. 

    Chuck flap (ザブトン) - also from Hida cattle.  Very tender as expected, but rather on the salty side with the seasoning.

    Sirloin (サーロイン) - from Miyazaki cattle (宮崎牛).  Spam Bro originally was gonna give me just the beef without any rice, but in the end I couldn't resist... and asked for a nigiri-sized ball of rice.  Methinks I got a pretty big nigiri...

    I did skip dessert, though...

    We brought a few bottles to wash down the delicious, fatty beef...

    Born Gokuhizo Daiginjo (梵 極秘造大吟醸), BY29 - fragrant nose with banana notes.  Lovely.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - served an hour after double-decanting.  Nose very muted, with a hint of grass, a little earthy, and minty.  Finally opened up a little 2 hours after first serving.

    2000 Pichon Baron - served an hour after opening.  Smoky, ripe fruit, fragrant with cedar notes.  Tannins are still here and a little grippy on the palate.

    Many thanks to Spam Bro for taking good care of us. Bummed that my enjoyment was somewhat dented by the fact that I was never hungry to start with.  Next time I will try the beef curry... Meanwhile... time to diet!

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  • 06/04/18--07:14: Remembrance, 29 years on
  • A few weeks ago I received a kind invitation to attend a pop-up in Macau by a chef from a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars.  Normally this would be just my thing, but this time I chose to decline for two reasons.  The first one being that I didn't want to take time off from my current very busy schedule at work.  The second one - which was probably more important to me - was that I wanted to attend the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the massacre on June 4, 1989.

    I don't come every year.  In fact, this was just the fourth time I have taken the time to come here.  But somehow, this year, it seemed imperative that I announce my presence.  The last few years have seen the crowds dwindle, in part thanks to the misguided sentiments of Hong Kong's university student unions.  If the youth of Hong Kong don't understand why it's important to commemorate this tragic event, then it's up to us old farts to come and remind them.

    Although we all know today to be the 29th anniversary of the massacre - and this to be the 29th candlelight vigil - it is also important to note that it is the 21st candlelight vigil since Hong Kong's sovereignty reverted back to China.  Yes, it is remarkable that we are gathering in memory of the dead on Chinese soil... and this is one of only two locations within the borders of the People's Republic of China where one can do this without fear of being thrown into a dark jail.  One Country, Two Systems is still alive... for now... although I wouldn't say that it's "alive and well".

    In contrast to years past, I chose to come in from Gate 14 of Victoria Park - just next to the Tin Hau MTR Station.  After all, I wanted to be as close to the main stage as possible, and this just made so much more sense.  We arrived more than 45 minutes before the formal festivities started.

    As soon as we exited the MTR station, we came face to face with a slew of activists representing various political parties and factions, touting their messages and asking for money.  Agnes Chow Ting was a face I recognized, but I ignored Demosistō and all the other parties.  I also ignored whoever was on a bullhorn telling people that no bloodshed occurred in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 - and that we've been fed a pack of lies by foreign media.  Well, actually, I wanted to wring that woman's neck, but decided it wasn't a good idea today.

    There was the usual singing of songs.  Not being a regular, I didn't know any of them, and I didn't take a copy of the program with the lyrics printed on them.  It wasn't until afterwards that I realized that one of the songs which are repeated at these vigils year after year is "Blood-stained Glory (血染的風采)", a patriotic song originally written about fallen soldiers of the People's Liberation Army after the Sino-Vietnamese War.  It has been sung by a number of people including the current Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), but the version broadcast by the organizers of the vigil is sung by Wang Hong (王虹).

    As usual, a replica of the Monument to the People's Heroes (“民主烈士永垂不朽”紀念碑) was erected and placed in the middle of the football fields, and we bowed respectfully as part of the program.  A wreath was laid in front of it as the crowd paid their respects.

    The organizers played a number of video clips featuring people whose lives were affected by the massacre, including one of the Tiananmen Mothers (天安門母親) - the poor group of women whose children were killed as part of the military suppression, but who are forbidden by the authorities to mourn the deaths of their loved ones.

    The organizers also had a special section on Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who had sadly passed away while serving his prison sentence since the last commemoration.  His wife Liu Xia (劉霞) remains under house arrest.

    As usual, I chose not to take an actual candle - or an LED one - for the vigil.  Instead I relied on the trusty app on my phone.  I may not have the same effect in pictures, but it's certainly more environmentally friendly.

    We stayed for just under 2 hours tonight, as I didn't have much interest to sing along with the crowd.  I've made the effort to be here to pay my respects, and kept my promise never to forget what happened 29 years ago.

    I'll be back next year for the 30th anniversary.

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    I don't remember exactly when I first learned of Anthony Bourdain's existence.  I had heard about an amazing book called Kitchen Confidential, and in early 2005 I bought a copy through Amazon.  Not only was it insightful and entertaining, but it was literally life-changing.  By that I meant it had changed some of my dining patterns.  I no longer ordered the seafood special - especially on Mondays - and I stopped eating mussels almost completely.

    It was also around the same time that I first saw a couple of episodes of The Cook's Tour - his first TV show.  As I was planning an eating trip around Spain - including a pintxos bar crawl and dinner at the legendary elBulli - his episodes on San Sebastien and the special entitled "Decoding Ferran Adria" were particularly key.  My friends and I hit the same pintxos bars he did in San Sebastien.

    Over the next decade or so, I followed his footsteps through the new(er) TV series Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.  I loved that he traveled the world to eat and to discover different cultures, and some of the locations were pretty exotic - or at least off the beaten path.  Before embarking on a trip to a new country or region, I would often check whether he's done an episode there, and mark down the eateries he visited. 

    This was a double-edged sword.  He introduced great places to eat around the globe.  As his popularity increased and more people followed in his footsteps, some of these spots saw such an influx of tourists that prices rose and locals stopped eating there.  Cheap eats like Warung Ibu Oka and Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice now have long lines thanks to him.  No doubt the proprietors are grateful to him for making their businesses flourish.

    Over time, though, the show became less about where and what he ate.  Food was still part of his show, but increasingly it was more about the people he met, the cultures (of which food was certainly a part of), and the conversations he had with the locals.  I still checked his episodes to see where he ate, but I no longer expected to come away with 5 choices of dining options.  That was OK, because his shows were still entertaining and enlightening - just in different ways.

    I bought Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on DVD.  And when I got myself into the Apple ecosystem, I bought seasons on iTunes.  It was the only show I religiously followed, and I kept my TV tuned to Discovery TLC mostly because of him.

    I loved watching him.  I loved that he was flawed and admitted his failings.  He wasn't someone who tried to exercsise total control over his public image in order to appear perfect - the way Beyoncé and Jay-Z reportedly do.  He told you about his addictions in his very first book.  He had very strong opinions, and he wasn't afraid to tell you what he really thought.  He had wit, and sarcasm came out of left field whenever you least expected it.  He was irreverent and shot his mouth off ALL THE TIME.  I reveled in the jibes he took at Guy Fieri, Rachel Ray, and numerous others.

    But his overall message to his viewers was to go out, explore other cultures, and try new foods.  He was the honored guest that many a table (or sometimes in places without tables), and graciously accepted his hosts' offerings - famously eating a warthog poop chute.  Obviously not everyone needs to go that far, but as a famous chef and personality he was feted by many and had access to the best tables in the world.  He could have sung the praises of the best fine dining restaurants, but what he loved most - as he happily explained - was to be sitting on a low plastic stool, in front of a low table, on the side of a street, facing a bowl whose contents he didn't quite know.  "This is what you want," he proclaimed. And thousands, if not millions, wanted whatever he wanted, too...

    Unlike a few of my friends, I never had the pleasure of meeting him or sharing a meal with him.  Nevertheless, I felt connected to him, and saw him as a cool guy I wouldn't mind breaking bread sharing a bowl of noodles with.  He was a world traveler who has seen quite a lot of the world - whose grueling schedule no doubt took a toll on his personal relationships - with many a story to share.  He just seemed that open and inviting, and we all wanted to hear the stories he had to tell.

    But he's gone now.  I'm still in shock.  I don't know how.  I don't know why.  And in all honesty, it doesn't really matter.  The only people it really matters to would be his loved ones and those closest to him.  No doubt he was a complicated person, and many of us have our demons.  I hope those demons are gone now and that he has found peace.

    It felt right to open a bottle of wine and toast him, but my selection at home was rather limited tonight.  So it was that I chose a bottle of bongwater which, as it turned out, drank incredibly well.

    2007 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Bassenon - popped and poured.  Very fragrant nose, with lots of animal, leather, grilled meats, smoke, forest, cedar, sweet fruit, and floral notes from the viognier.  Beautiful.

    Even though I never knew him on a personal basis, he will be deeply missed.  I am eternally grateful that he has chosen to be a part of our lives, even if it's only remotely via our TV, computer, or mobile screens.  I, for one, believe that humanity is the better for it.  As many have already mentioned, Tony was one of the great storytellers, and I'll be watching episodes of No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and the Layover for weeks and months to come.

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  • 06/11/18--08:46: One night in Burghood
  • The Man in White T-Shirt very kindly invited me to dinner at his restaurant tonight.  Apparently a journalist from French TV is in town, trying to figure out why we Asians love Burgundian wines so much.  So the boss rounded up a few of us for a "roundtable" dinner at Neighborhood.  To be honest, I wasn't sure that I belonged at the table, since there were many lovers of Burgundy in this town more qualified to have a conversation about the region.  But, hey, if the boss wants me there...

    So 7 of us sat around a table and talked wine.  Burgundian wines.  Why do we love them?  Why are prices going through the roof?  What are people looking for?

    Meanwhile, The Man in White T-Shirt arranged a series of delicious eats for us.  I'm not sure what the journalist and the shooting crew got to eat, but I'm sure they enjoyed their food, too...  Better yet, they got to drink some of the wines after they finished their work.  I gotta applaud their professionalism for declining our offers of wine during shooting...

    Pancetta / culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - it's always good to start with these.  The pancetta was wonderful, but the culatello from black pigs was even better.

    The raw oyster came with finely diced shallots with a spicy dressing that reminded me of tom yum.  But unfortunately it was also revolting, because I think mine got contaminated with some dirt.  It took a lot of effort for me not to spit it out, and I ended up forcing myself to swallow it...  Yuck.

    Fried padron peppers / dried flounder fish salt - these have always been popular, but tonight the dried flounder salt seemed a little bland for some reason.

    Fukuoka Mochida tomato / white anchovies - beautiful!  So happy to have this again.  The tomato wedges from Mochida Farms (持田農園) in Itoshima Peninsula (糸島半島) inside Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県) came with white Cantabrian anchovies, a hard-boiled egg, and drizzled with olive oil and cracked pepper. 

    Pigeon eggs 'œuf mayo' / black truffle - a new version of the dish, with mayo and Microplane-shaved truffle.  Yummy as always. 

    I saw a box of these ovoli on the bar counter, and I knew we would be in for a treat.

    Ovoli mushroom / eggs / anchovies - underneath the thin slices of ovoli and bits of anchovies were a couple of sunny-side up eggs.  Just a beautiful combination together with some herbs.

    Frog legs meuniere - we couldn't leave here without having frog's legs... especially when there's soooooo much butter bubbling in the cast-iron bowl.  So, so, soooooo good.

    Black truffle vegetables casserole "Mr. Ducasse" - of course, we also need some veg.  So we've got a mix of turnip, breakfast radishes, fennel, carrots, endives, peas, smoked lardons, and shaved truffles.

    Beef tripe gratin - always one of my favorite dishes here. Perfect with the paprika... or was it piment d'espelette?  Anyway, there was certainly a kick here which I thought was a tad too much for the wines.

    Poached white asparagus / oyster sabayon - these were pretty damn big white asparagus, and they worked very well with the oysters as well as the creamy and acidic sabayon - kinda like hollandaise.

    Giant grouper jaw - now THIS was amazing... and it wasn't the first time I've had it here.  The lower jaw of a giant grouper weighing at about 100 catties, this was first braised then roasted.  The result was something akin to kokotxa.

    The meat came with plenty of collagen, and had a beautiful, springy texture.  Served with saffron risotto.  Superb.

    80 day dry aged Spanish Rubia Gallega bone in loin - another one of the signature dishes here.  I took just one small piece, but absolutely loved the flavors from the extended dry-aging of old cattle.

    Truffled mashed potatoes - I only had enough stomach space for one spoonful...

    36 mo. Comte "Bernard Anthony" - well... it's actually from Bernard Antony...  OF COURSE it was delicious.

    Tarte tatin - I was full, but this was too awesome to pass up.  So, so, sooooo good.  Took a slice home to Hello Kitty.

    Canelés - the perfect way to end a meal here.  These are some of the best canelés in Hong Kong, and I had two...  The crunchy exterior is just so amazing considering the humidity in this weather.

    As good as the food was tonight - as it always is - the point of the gathering was about the wines from Burgundy.  For just 7 of us, we sure had a lot of bottles!

    2012 Patrick Javillier Corton-Charlemagne - nice and toasty.

    2005 La Pousse d'Or Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret - more mineral, some toast, a little lean on the palate but also rounded on the finish.

    1959 Joseph Pontinet Meursault Pinot Blanc - very toasty, huge nose, lots of coffee, toffee, really big nose of pain grillé. Absolutely beautiful.  My favorite white of the evening.

    2015 Bernard Van Berg En Busigny Blanc - very closed and muted at first. Lean on the palate. Nice, elegant, clean. But reality is that it shut down and was disappointing. Acidity still there, so the wine wasn't dead. 3 hours after opening, nose showed some Anjoy pear, iron, and minerals.

    2016 Laurent Ponsot Corton-Charlemagne Cuvée du Kalimeris - flinty, tropical stone fruit, floral, pretty ripe and sweet. Beautiful.

    2010 Arnaud Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres - toasty minerals on the nose, good acidity on the palate. Beautiful.

    2002 Coche-Dury Meursault - nice and toasty, with some flint, but not as huge as expected. Good balance between acidity and ripeness on the palate.

    2010 Confuron-Cotetidot Echezeaux - minty with sweet fruit.

    1949 Moillard-Grivot Corton Bressandes - savory, lots of mushrooms, mature.

    1995 Domaine Ponsot Griotte Chambertin - not bad at all. Eucalyptus and some ripe fruit.

    2011 Dujac Echezeaux - for some reason this seemed very muted.

    1979 Lupé-Cholet Echezeaux - very mature, with plenty of black olives, leather, and almost a little stewed fruit.

    2004 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée - absolutely beautiful and exactly what I expected from this wine. Very floral, lots of leather, and toast. Soooo seductive still.  Undoubtedly my favorite red of the evening.

    This was a fantastic evening, with wonderful dishes from my favorite restaurant in town, and a whole range of delicious Burgundian wines spanning from 1949 to 2016.  We're told that the program will air on French TV in September, so we will plan our next gathering then...  Many thanks to The Man in White T-Shirt for the wonderful treat.

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    It's that time of the year again, and Hello Kitty is treating me to dinner.  We had talked about going back to Amber to try their Amber Classics Menu before the restaurant closes for renovations later this year, and this seemed like a good occasion for a visit.  After all, it's been way, waaaaay too long since I last had Richard Ekkebus' signature Hokkaido sea urchin dish...

    As Hello Kitty had made the reservation under her name - which now requires credit card guarantee thanks to "no shows" - the staff did not realize that Prima Donna was coming tonight... so Richard was pretty surprised to see me.  It was good to see him, and for some reason he seemed 10 years younger compared to when I last saw him early this year.    He must have been refreshed by his holiday back home.

    We had told the staff that we were taking the Amber Classics Menu, but Richard was very kind as always and asked whether we were willing to let him make some arrangements for us.  We ended up getting a few extra dishes from the current degustation menu.

    Eggplant caviar with basil - with some surprising acidity here.  Spread over the sourdough.

    Salty: celery topped with soy-marinated black bean, dried capers - the big chunks of celery were very refreshing with totally cool, summer flavors.  The black bean purée was alright.

    Sour: lemon meringue - nice and tart, with a soft center.

    Bitter: endives with orange Campari jelly - certainly very bitter, with a soft and creamy center topped with citrus zest.

    Sweet: Jerusalem artichokes three ways - as chip, cream, and leaf.  Sweet, indeed...

    Umami: egg custard with fruit tomato compote, topped with seaweed cracker - the texture of the custard was too hard tonight for my liking.

    Duck foie gras: Chupa Chup with beetroot and raspberry, topped with crispy gingerbread and sea salt, 2005 - ah yes... This certainly counts as a classic item. 

    The smooth beetroot and raspberry coating kept the creamy foie gras center hidden.  Still delicious and fun to eat after all these years.

    Kristal schrenki caviar: and vodka foam, a la russe with crispy buckwheat crêpes (15g of caviar) - the first dish that Richard sent us from the kitchen to try.

    Hidden underneath the layer of Belvedere Vodka foam - topped with, we were told, egg yolk cream and egg white mayonnaise  (in reality meringue) - were 15g of caviar farmed in China, along with some finely chopped garlic (or so we were told, although I thought it was onion). In all honesty, I found the vodka foam slightly bitter, and really needed the very toasty buckwheat crackers on the side to balance things out.   

    While this was certainly more creative, I think I actually prefer the straightforward decadence of the last caviar dish... 

    New Zealand scampi: in organic tomato and watermelon 'nage', with espelette chili and coriander, 2008 - this dish was created during the early days of the restaurant when I wasn't such a big fan, so I only had a different version featuring pork belly.

    This was excellent and almost my favorite dish of the evening.  The lightly-cooked scampi came in sections, with watermelon discs sandwiched in between, and surrounded by a nage made of tomato, watermelon, and (reportedly) strawberries.  Topped with some scampi caviar, olive oil caviar, coriander, and edible flowers.  A beautiful mélange of flavors - with sweetness and acidity to work with a bit of umami.  A chilled dish that was so refreshing in the summer heat.  Heck, even looking at the bright colors brought instant happiness.

    Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, Kristal schrenki caviar and crispy waffles (15g of caviar), 2006 - oh my dear friend, how I have missed you!  It's been more than 2 years, but I gotta be honest... you looked a little different tonight.

    While the components were all there, the ratio between them has changed.  Richard told me a while ago that he felt the new version was now "perfect" with more caviar, but I will respectfully disagree.  Yes, I am well aware that I'm voicing an opinion that more caviar doesn't make the dish better.  To be sure, it was still a beautiful dish, and I loved every mouthful.  But I wish there were a few more tongues of Hokkaido sea urchin lending their creamy flavor, and that the layer of lobster jello were thicker to deliver a little more umami.  Yes, I realize that I'm just nitpicking here...

    One final gripe: why was Richard so stingy with the gold foil???!!!  Doesn't he know how much I love it?

    I always used to eat the crispy seaweed cracker separately from the caviar and sea urchin, because I could never wait to dig into the dish, but tonight I did find that the combination was beautiful.

    Aori cuttlefish: ribbons confit in kombu infused extra virgin olive oil with sweet peas, wakame and shallots, buttermilk emulsion, plankton dust and torroro kombu - the second dish that Richard sent out for us to try, and a real beauty it was!  The bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) came rolled up in a tube, already sliced into sections and scored into ribbons.  I absolutely loved the bouncy, springy texture.  The buttermilk emulsion delivered a nice dose of acidity along with creamy richness, while the kombu (昆布), the kombu-infused oil, wakame (若布), and tororo kombu (とろろ昆布) provided plenty of umami.  And then we have the small, sweet peas adding their (what else?) sweetness into the mix.  Wow! 

    Kuro awabi black abalone: with a spiced chickpea compote, stewed tomatoes, crunchy celery stalk, braised pork chin and crispy pancetta, 2014 - yes, I remember when this dish was introduced.  The abalone was, of course, nice and tender.  The combination of spiced chickpea and tomato was pretty interesting.  The little cubes of pork chin and thin slices of crispy pancetta lent their fatty goodness to the dish.  The only thing which marred the dish for me was the hint of star anise.

    Hakoo Farm Miyazaki wagyu beef: strip loin; dusted with dried red onion skin and dulse seaweed powder, red pearl onions with black currant in a shiraz reduction, 2017 - it's hard to imagine that this dish has already become "classic" when it only came about last year.  The Japanese beef from Miyazaki was perfected executed, and certainly no fault could be found with the ingredient itself.  The acidity from the blackcurrant and shiraz reduction helped balance out the fatty beef.

    Buffala buratta: with 'fleur de sel' Amao strawberries, Amela Rubins cherry tomatoes and bronze fennel - the third and final dish Richard treated us to, and this was also a hit with us.  The burratamousse in the middle was surrounded by powdered mozzarella, a mix of diced Amaou (あまおう) strawberries and Amela Rubins (アメーラルビンズ) cherry tomatoes, topped with strawberry granita.  There was a good balance between creaminess and sweetness, and very refreshing. 

    Abinao 85% chocolate: soufflé with cacao sorbet, 2006 - unlike the last dessert, this was rich and sinful.  A deliciously sweet chocolate soufflé, into which I added the bitter cacao sorbet and cocoa nibs. 

    Hello Kitty had noted in her booking that this dinner was to celebrate a birthday, so the kitchen sent us a delicious chocolate cake.  We chose to have it packed up to go, since there was no way we could enjoy this right now...

    Cucumber sorbet - with refreshing minty flavors, and a baby cucumber/cucumber flower garnish.

    Carrot and amanatsu mikan (甘夏みかん) pâté de fruit

    Banana and yuzu tart - I tasted mostly the citrus acidity, and didn't get much from the banana...

    Ginger chocolate - the foamy meringue on top did taste of ginger, and there was a layer of caramel in the middle.

    They upped their coffee game recently, and now offer tableside pour over service.  I chose the Yirgacheffe 'Grade 1', which was medium roasted.  John came to explain the meticulous way this coffee was going to be brewed, with 333ml of water being poured over 20g of coffee grounds to yield around 290ml of coffee.  I gotta say that this seemed to be a heavier roast of Yirgacheff than what I'm used to drinking at home, so I didn't get the same level of acidity and lightness.

    In terms of wine, we started the evening by ordering a glass of Champagne from the wine list.

    2008 R et L Legras Saint-Vincent - nice and full-bodied, with a lovely, fragrant nose.

    Given that this was a "birthday dinner", I chose to bring a bottle of wine from my birth vintage.  Unfortunately I did not realize until after the first couple of sips that I had brought the wrong wine.  In fact, I don't even remember buying this wine... as I had assumed that I had only its more famous cousin in my cellar.  John must have been wondering why I even bothered to bring such a pedestrian bottle to the restaurant... when the corkage they were charging was more than the cost of the bottle itself.

    1970 Paul Jaboulet Côte-Rôtie Les Jumelles - a little stewed prunes showing in the nose, with savory black olives and soy sauce.  Also a hint of chalkiness.

    This was a very, very good dinner. I was very happy to have had another chance to enjoy my beloved (and dearly missed) Hokkaido sea urchin dish, and also glad to have had a sampling of the new dishes coming out from the kitchen. Many thanks to Richard for the extra goodies, and thanks to the team for looking after us.

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