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

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    I'm back in Taipei for a couple of days, spending some quality time with the Hungry Hungarian.  After hitting Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) with him and inspecting my flood-damaged apartment last night, I managed to catch about 3 hours of sleep before dragging my ass out of bed.  It's his first trip to Taiwan, and he deserves to enjoy a sumptuous local breakfast.

    Which was why we met up at Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿), as it's close to where he was staying.  And relatively near my apartment.  Yes, it's touristy... but it wouldn't continue to be popular if it couldn't deliver the goods.  And deliver they did.

    After getting a little more sleep after the satisfying breakfast, the Hungry Hungarian and I met up for lunch at RAW.  This was the first time I've been able to book a table myself via the restaurant's website, as the process got a little easier recently after the restaurant implemented a pre-payment policy.  But since I could only book for a table of three, I decided to invite Richard from MUME along.

    I'm a nobody and an infrequent visitor, but of course Richard was recognized as soon as he walked through the door.  And no one was expecting us today...

    Earl Grey, bay leaf, eeg (伯爵茶, 月桂葉, 鵪鶉蛋) - a nice presentation to start us off.  This was a modern take on the classic tea egg (茶葉蛋), with quail egg in place of the usual hen egg, and Earl Grey tea in lieu of Chinese tea.

    The tea fragrance in the egg wasn't overpowering, and not too smoky.  The crispy potato bird's nest was nice.

    "Escargot", nagaimo, yuzu pepper (海王螺, 山藥, 柚子胡椒) - the "sea escargot"/whelk was supposedly done à la Bourguignonne... I found the texture and flavors to be fairly nice.  The whelk shell carried broth that had a ton of finely diced yuzu (柚子) rind, and the pepper was almost a little too strong.

    Crab, ping po, celeriac (秋蟹, 鳳眼果, 芹菜根) - thin sheets of celeriac was sprinkled with different types of powder and herbs, and came with a grainy purée made of phoenix eye fruit (鳳眼果) which tasted somewhere between chestnut and pumpkin.  There were also droplets of an acidic sauce on the flat surface.

    The crab meat was mixed with crab fat, pomelo, salmon roe, croûtons, and I thought the crab tasted a little bit of turmeric.  Overall a refreshing dish.

    Giant clam, fish lardo, chowder (巨蛤, "醃肉", 巧達湯) - the clam chowder came in a giant clam shell, and included mussels as well as droplets of different oils, and some bacon foam.  This was then poured from the shell onto the plate, next to the vegetables.  And I'm glad to see more vegetables here... with leeks (accented with some dark powder), button mushroom slices, pearl onions, and some baby cabbage (looked like Brussels sprouts) - the last of which came bearing Brussels sprouts jelly that tasted acidic.  I thought the clams were very tasty, and overall this was decent.

    Thin slices of rye bread were topped with lardo made of swordfish belly, which were very salty and a little smoky.  This was interesting...

    Cascara, buckwheat, taro (咖啡櫻桃, 藜麥, 里芋) - in keeping with the message that "nothing is wasted" that the restaurant seems to want to deliver, the chefs have decided to create something with cascara - the fruit that is normally discarded after extracting the coffee bean inside.  It's used make a tea to accompany the taro.  On the side we also have a espuma dip for the taro made of brown rice, topped with some ground buckwheat.

    The taro was baked with coffee beans and coffee leaves, and came with what looked like a thin slice of smoked cheese on top.

    RAW tofu, maitake, whey (RAW豆腐, 舞菇, 豆清) - I had seen others post videos about this, and now I've got a big block of the tofu in front of me.  The tofu is made in-house from organic soy beans grown locally, and they've decided to add in diced bits of truffle.

    Honestly, this strip of tofu was too big.... considering the total amount of food. I guess I'm also too jaded to be oohing and aahing over the addition of truffle bits.  And I totally didn't get why the whey from making the tofu was added to the dish.  It was separated as a byproduct of making tofu for a reason, so why put them back together?  Was it meant to be like that cheese/whey starter I had on my last visit?  I know they want to stress that "nothing is wasted", but this just seemed too contrived.

    At least the pile of shrooms on the side was a nice surprise... as I almost mistook the enokitake (えのき茸) that came with maitake (舞茸) for noodles.

    Aubergine, cobia, furikake (白露茄, 海鱺, 沙茶) - the thin slices of lightly-seared cobia delivered some nice charred flavors on the edges.  Underneath lay a charcoal-grilled eggplant, whose skin had been removed before being stuffed with some burnt miso.  There was some sauce made with fish broth, then sprinkled with some furikake (振り掛け).

    I didn't think the farmed caviar from Taichung brought a lot to the dish, but I didn't mind it. As it turned out, there was more caviar being used as "glue" to hold the tuile in place than was in the quenelle.  And speaking of tuile... it was made with purple potato, but somehow they decided to add the burnt skin of the aforementioned eggplant into the mix.  That left me scratching my head a little...  or maybe my palate was just too shitty to "get it".  Once again, the "waste-not" philosophy seemed to take center stage and felt contrived..

    Beetroot, plum, berries (甜菜根, 蜜李, 梅果) - they purposely left out the main ingredient in the description, and asked us to guess.  So I told them that I think they killed Big Bird from Sesame Street...  It came with a slice of pan-fried foie gras, along with redcurrant, blackcurrant, and blackberries.

    On the other side, we've got very thin slices of my favorite dreaded beetroot - together with some slices of plum - topped with red amaranth flowers and dehydrated berries.

    As it turns out, this was ostrich raised in Changhwa Prefecture (彰化縣)!  So I wasn't too far off the mark..  Very nice execution... with a black crust on the outside.

    Azuki bean, red shiso, purple rice (老鷹紅豆, 紅紫蘇, 紫米釀) - kinda like a Mont-Blanc, except that the cream was made with azuki beans instead of chestnuts.  Served with a quenelle of almond ice cream, and tuiles made into the shape of autumn leaves.  A little bit of purple glutinous rice, Job's tears, and red perilla leaves as garnish.  Actually, this reminds me a little of Ta Vie旅's "Les Feuilles Mortes".

    Taiwanese pineapple cake (鳳梨酥) - always a treat.

    Walnut and date (核桃椰棗糕)

    Since this was lunch, I only took a glass of wine. I enjoyed this a lot a few months ago so I thought I'd order it again.

    2015 PUR n° 7 Énergie - more ripe and oxidized than I expected, perhaps it's been open for a while.  Some mineral notes.  Later on a little bit of floral fragrance.

    Before we arrived today, we had already gotten word from chefs and friends who found the current menu disappointing.  Truth be told, this was probably my least favorite menu out of the five that I have tasted over the last 3 years.  While we all agreed that there was no single dish today which was terrible - and all the dishes tasted fine - there was also a glaring lack of any upside surprise or "Wow".  On my previous visits, there was always something which made my eyes open wide with excitement, but there wouldn't be today.

    I was still very grateful for the opportunity to try this menu, and also for the company.  I know Chef Alain Huang tries very hard and has done much for the restaurant, and with each menu the creations can be hit-or-miss.  Hopefully I'll be a happier camper next time.

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    We had about 2 hours to kill between our long lunch and an incredibly early dinner, and I seriously needed help in digesting lunch, so the Hungry Hungarian and I parked ourselves at Fika Fika Cafe so that I could have a second cuppa in about an hour... and to while away the time.  While my friend took a simple espresso for the injection of caffeine to keep away the jetlag, I took a Yirgacheffe that was served two ways.

    Fortunately we were just a couple of blocks away from dinner, and when we showed up at My灶 at 5:30 p.m. after walking in a drizzle, I really wasn't hungry at all...  And trying to order Chinese food for two people really sucks.  I knew I wouldn't be able to try all the dishes that looked appealing to me... Incidentally, the English translations of the dishes' names are pretty interesting.

    Each table had a little plate of sliced green papaya marinated in passion fruit sauce.  This was nice, and the acidity whetted my appetite somewhat.

    Omelette w/a crunch (菜脯蛋) - the Taiwanese classic, with diced bits of preserved radish that adds a nice crunch - as well as some salty flavors - to the fluffy omelette.

    The tubes (四季肥腸) - the restaurant had sold out of 蒼蠅頭, which was given the name of 'lord of flies' here, so they recommended this instead.

    As the Chinese name suggestions, this was simply a combination - albeit slightly unusual to me - of string beans and pig intestines.  The intestines have been cut into strips before being deep-fried, giving them a crunchy texture.  Stir-fried together with garlic and chili.

    Crispy pork chop (My灶排骨酥) - it's been a long time since I last had Taiwanese fried pork chop, which usually comes coated with batter.  Here the pork has been chopped into chunks, then served with a pile of deep-fried garlic along with diced spring onions and chilis.  Very heavy-handed in terms of flavors here, but that was to be expected.  I also liked the fine shreds of deep-fried taro on top.

    Braised pork rice (滷肉飯) - one does not come here without ordering this Taiwanese classic, and against the advice of A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei, the Hungry Hungarian and I shared a bowl.  But what a glorious bowl this was!

    I had dragged my friend to one of numerous branches of Formosa Chang (鬍鬚張) last night to try their braised pork rice - which I really like because they only use pork fat and skin.  This was the same style... without any ground pork - but so much better!  If only I had more stomach space... I would never have shared this bowl, but taken it all for myself!

    With our bellies full, I took my friend to the famous Shilin Night Market (士林觀光夜市).  We needed to spend some time standing upright and walking around to aid digestion.  I picked up a couple of T-shirts while our visitor shopped for a cover for his phone... all the while being amazed at the fact that many of these stalls where people play games trying to win prizes can still manage to survive in today's age of smartphones and video games.

    We had one last stop to make before I bid my friend goodbye. For a number of years now foodies around the world have been enamored with the bao... or the so-called Chinese hamburger.  Well, I couldn't pass up the chance to introduce my friend to "the OG"... the Taiwanese guabao (割包).  And there's no better place than Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包), just across the street from National Taiwan University.

    It's been a while since I was last here, so I was a little surprised at the five choices on offer here: fatty, lean, half-and-half, half-and-half with more fat, and half-and-half with more lean.

    And OF COURSE I went for the "all fat (肥肉)"!  Love the mixture of braised pork fat, pickled mustard greens (梅乾菜), coriander, and peanut powder.  I can't tell you how much I've missed this...  I could feel my stomach jut out as I'm halfway through this, but I powered through and finished the damn thing.

    So I've been stuffing my face for the last 15 hours, and I really don't want to think about eating again for a while... So I bid farewell to my friend, wished him good luck on his travels down south as well as around the region, and I look forward to seeing him in another city soon.

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  • 11/02/18--23:22: Revisiting an old favorite
  • I have been back in Taipei for a day and a half, and have yet to see the Parental Units... and this was after all the work they put in to clean up the flooding in my apartment earlier this week.  Little Aunt was in town, so we all met up for lunch at Mao Yuan (茂園餐廳).  I used to come here when I worked nearby, but it's been a few years.

    Like a lot of local Taiwanese places, the ordering is done right in front of the counter housing the collection of fresh seafood and other ingredients.  This is also where the "menu" is...

    Steamed chicken (白斬雞) - dad always feels that we must order steamed chicken whenever we dine at a decent Taiwanese restaurant, but the truth is that while I like free range chicken for their flavors and meat that's not soft and mushy, the chicken here has tougher and chewier texture than I would prefer.  And today it was also more salty than I cared for.

    Steamed pig's liver (粉肝) - I ordered this for mom, even though I knew this wouldn't pass muster with mom just by looking at the color of the whole lobes of liver.  The color was too dark, which meant that the texture was going to be on the firm and dense side.  But still OK.

    Braised pig trotters and intestines (滷豬腳拼大腸) - actually, dad was the one who ordered this up... not me.  But I couldn't be happier, since both of these ingredients are among my favorite things to eat.

    Deep-fried slender sprat (酥炸丁香魚) - I couldn't resist ordering these once I saw them.  I don't spend a lot of time around fish markets in Hong Kong, but I really haven't seen them around.  So when I'm back in Taipei at a place like this, I make sure to get myself a hit...  These were so fresh and tasty.  Perfectly crispy on the outside.

    Steamed grey mullet with salted winter melon (鹽冬瓜蒸豆仔魚) - a fish with tender flesh, and very nice when steamed with salted winter melon. I didn't mind the bones when I can eat something like this... another fish not found in restaurants in Hong Kong.

    Stir-fried white water snowflake (炒水蓮) - I love this vegetable, because I (almost) only get to have it in Taiwan.  And not surprisingly served with pickled manjack fruits (破布子).  I've always loved the crunch.

    Blanched cuttlefish (燙軟絲) - you don't need to do much when you have fresh ingredients... just a quick blanching would do.  And those slices of cuttlefish were so tender and sweet... perfect with the accompanying garlic and chili sauce.

    This was a lot of food for the four of us, and here's where I had a problem with the restaurant.  I understand that restaurants wanna make money, and the more dishes you order, the more money they'll make.  But restaurants should also try to make their customers happy, and when restaurant staff try to upsell or push customers to order... I have a issue.

    The serving of steamed chicken was clearly much too big for the four of us.  I would have appreciated the staff suggesting that they change us to a smaller order.  I also only wanted one grey mullet because I wanted to try more dishes, but the staff felt I should have gotten more of them - and even suggested that we order one per person.  That got me a little pissed off.

    In the end, it was just a casual family meal, so I didn't make a big deal out of it.  I was just happy to have been able to grab some simple food back in my hometown.

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    Having returned from my short trip back home, it was time to hit a couple of my favorite places with chefs visiting from Japan.  The Great One wanted to take Goh-san (from La Maison de la Nature Goh) out while on his first trip to Hong Kong, and she kindly invited me to tag along to Neighborhood.  I had met Goh-san on three previous occasions when he was collaborating with Gaggan at the GohGan events, but I had never dined at his restaurant in Fukuoka.  Alongside a couple of other new friends, there would also be another chef whose restaurant has earned a place on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, which I have also not dined in...

    The menu, of course, was omakase, and I was looking for The Man in White T-shirt to pull some rabbits out of the hat.

    Culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli"

    Saucisson de "Noire de Bigorre" 

    Monkfish liver bouillabaisse - I love it when I get bouillabaisse here!  Tonight the distinctive flavors of fennel stood out, and just look at that chunk of monkfish liver!

    Steamed local shrimp - Hello Kitty was ecstatic when these small cocottes were brought out, as they were filled with different types of shrimp from local waters.  I actually like my shrimp on the small side, so these were just perfect for me.

    Smoked eel potato salad / white truffle - this has become a staple on the menu over the last few months, and of course shaving white truffle on top doesn't hurt. 

    Fried Padron peppers / pepper jack - I still haven't had a spicy one, after having Padrón peppers here numerous times.  Maybe that's why the kitchen sprinkled piment d'espelette on top of the pepper jack cheese...

    One could not possibly miss the tray of fresh porcini sitting on the bar counter.  To quote Luke Skywalker: "Look at the size of that thing!"

    Porcini / roe deer - a nice combination of fresh, thin slices of porcini with carpaccio-like slices of roe deer that has been slightly cooked around the edges.

    Salt-baked virgin mud crabs - The Great One practically squealed with delight when she saw these...

    ... because having virgin crabs meant the abundant roe is still soft.  Come to think of it, I did forget the check the bellies of the crabs to confirm...  In any case, these were damn tasty and sweet.

    Deep-fried porcini - breaded and deep-fried.  Still succulent and fragrant. 

    Porcini / abalone - so, so good!  The chunks of abalone were pan-fried, and they were nice and tender while retaining their bite.  How interesting that sansho leaves (木の芽) were used!

    The plates came with a pan-fried egg with sunny side up - and would you look at that reddish-orange color of the yolk!  There was some 'mystery meat' underneath the egg, which really did make The Great One squeal with excitement.  Then we had more white truffle shaved on top of the whole thing.  Yum.

    Salted baked Coucou de Renne - normally the salt-baked chicken uses local Ping Yuen chicken (平原雞), but The Man in White T-shirt decided to do something different today and used a French import instead.  The texture seemed a little firmer.  As usual this was served over a bed of rice, and today we've got chestnuts and girolles in addition to the giblets - all served with a creamy sauce and shaved white truffle on top.  This was as good as any other time I've had the dish, but I could only manage to take in one piece of chicken...

    Tarte tatin - I skipped the truffle Brie and Comté so I could have a little bit of room for this beautiful tarte tatin, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Those of us who are winos brought a few bottles to dinner. We were surprisingly civil...

    2007 Mugnier Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale, en magnum - cool fruit, a little on the lean side.

    1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - very ripe and mature but still fresh, with good acidity.  Sweetish on the palate, and a little round and almost viscous.

    2012 Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières, en magnum - nice and toasty, with mineral notes.  Some ripeness on the palate.

    2014 Ganevat Grusse en Billat - beautiful wine, with mineral and pear notes.  Good acidity here.

    2001 Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese No. 9 Zwischen den Seen, from half-bottle - fragrant with honey, orange blossom, and marmalade notes.  Very rich and sweet, but there's some acidity here.

    Goh-san sneaked away to take care of the bill at the end of dinner. When we found out what he had done, two of us had to explain to him - me in my broken Japanese - that Chinese people get upset when others (especially visitors) sneakily pay for the bill.  We thanked him for his generosity (and for his yummy omiyage (お土産) from Fukuoka) but told him sternly not to do it again.

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    Half a day after stuffing ourselves, a few of us reconvened at Seventh Son (家全七福) for a pig-out session. We were joined by Chef Kawate Hiroyasu (川手寛康) from Florilège, who had just landed in town for a couple of days' vacation. His is yet another restaurant on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list which I had yet to visit, but thankfully I already have an upcoming reservation...

    A couple of dishes had been pre-ordered by The Great One, so The Man in White T-shirt and I figured we would just add a bunch of dim sum items - as Goh-san had expressed interest in trying dim sum during last night's dinner.

    Gold coin chicken (金錢雞) - The Great One pre-ordered this classic, which has neither gold nor coins.  The round medallions of chicken liver, char siu, and cured pork fat (冰肉) are roasted on a skewer, and a hole appears in the center when the layers are removed - thus giving the resemblance to old Chinese coins.  This was nice, but ideally the thickness of each layer should have been at least double of what we got...

    Honey roasted crispy eel (蜜汁燒鱔) - didn't taste much muddy flavors today.

    Steamed prawn dumplings (七福鮮蝦餃)

    Steamed squid in curry sauce (咖喱蒸土魷)

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - this was the pièce de résistance, so we asked the two visiting chefs to pose for a picture...  I think the chefs enjoyed the piggy... from the crispy, wafer-like crackling to the short, stubby legs.

    Steamed pork dumplings (蟹皇蒸燒賣)

    Steamed vegetarian dumplings (花素蒸餃) - a replacement for the other dumpling that they ran out of.

    Tofu skin rolls in satay sauce (沙爹銀絲卷) - not bad at all.

    Steamed riceflour rolls with barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒腸)

    Fried wontons with crab and chives (韮王炸蟹盒) - pretty damn good.

    Spring rolls with shredded chicken (雞絲炸春卷) - always reliable here.  So crispy and delicious.

    Deep-fried chicken kidney mixed with egg custard (雞子戈渣) - we told the chefs upfront that the custard is made with, among other things, chicken testicles.  Goh-san must have been wondering why we (or some of us, at last) are so obsessed with testicles, as it's the second meal in a row where he's been served some 金玉...
    Deep fried frog legs with garlic and chili (椒鹽田雞腿) - I told Goh-san that he was eating Keroppi... Anyway these were about as good as I've always had it.

    Pan-fried radish pudding (香煎蘿蔔糕)

    Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe and tofu (豆腐蝦子柚皮) - I didn't realize that The Man in White T-shirt had pre-ordered this... and it was a new experience for the visitors.
    Walnut cookies (核桃酥) - always one of my favorite desserts here.  Just leaves a beautiful fragrance in the mouth.

    Black sesame roll (懷舊芝麻卷) - another dessert I always order.  I showed our visiting chefs the proper way to eat "film (菲林)", and soon they were getting asked to pose for pictures and videos.  Kawate-san even tried to eat it like he would slurp ramen...

    Steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (欖仁馬拉糕)

    Leaf wrapped glutinous dumpling with red bean paste (豆沙蘋葉角) - basically steamed mochi (餅) or daifuku (大福).

    Steamed lotus seed paste bun (蓮蓉金沙包) - with salted egg yolk wrapped in lotus seed paste.

    This was a lot of food, but the 8 of us managed to pretty much polish it off.  I'm glad that Goh-san finally made his first trip to Hong Kong, and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

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    Birdiegolf's birthday is coming up, so the Specialist decided to round up a few of us for a "birthday do", while using it as an excuse to pop open a few bottles.  Not sure why I always get the job of picking (or at least suggesting) the restaurant, but I guess I'm used to it by now.  After going through the list of restaurants that are BYO-friendly, we eventually settled on On Dining.

    Which was just as well, since someone had nudged me recently about going there, and telling me that Philippe misses me.  It is true that I have neglected an old friend for far too long, and it was time to see what he's up to.  Besides, it's game season... so there's bound to be something interesting.  I pinged Philippe and asked him to set me up.

    Foie gras cannoli - funny, they don't look much like cannoli... but whatever.  The flat pastry 'biscuits' were really sweet.

    Smoked salmon roe with cream - definitely a bit smoky.

    Smoked roe cone - with avocado.  The filling was a little smoky and fishy.

    Le caviar: king crab, lobster jelly caviar, sea urchin - this would seem to go very well with our Champagnes.  King crab at the bottom, with a layer of lobster jelly on top, then covered with oscietra caviar and finally with a few tongues of sea urchin on top.  Oh yeah, there's gold foil, too.

    But it didn't work.  The flavors from the crab were good, but something was very off.  I couldn't figure out whether it was the lobster jelly, or the combination of the caviar and the jelly... but this was bitter.  And not just a little.  It was noticeably unpleasant.  So much so that 5 of the 6 of us noticed.  Which was really a shame.

    La Saint-Jacques: roasted scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, honey and lime vinaigrette - the Hokkaido scallops came with a scallop emulsion.  This tasted fine, and even better with the shavings of white truffle on top, but what the fuck was all that gold foil doing there???

    Le black cod: black cod, shitake, daikon, langoustine bouillon, miso - the cod had been marinated in miso, and came served on a bed of sliced shiitake (椎茸) and cubes of daikon (大根).  Very nice and clean flavors here..  The cod was a little sweet and the texture was pretty nice.  Loved the langoustine bouillon.

    La truffe blanche: tagliolini, Parmesan cheese, shaved Alba white truffle - I was a little surprised that the white truffle wasn't shaved in front of us, but as the staff lifted the cloches the wonderful fragrance filled our lungs... so I guess it wasn't all bad.  But the pasta was a little soft for my taste, and definitely under-seasoned.  Other than that, this was a delicious dish - especially with so much flavor coming from mushrooms.

    Le lièvre a la royale: hare "a la royale", spatzle, chestnuts, foie gras, grapes - the seasonal specialty that Philippe wanted me to have.  This was a pretty thin slice, but it was certainly enough.  Classically stuffed with foie gras, and drenched in a sauce made with blood, liver, and other organs.  Just wonderful.  So rich but so satisfying.  I lapped it all up greedily, but not everyone could handle it...

    The spätzle came with chestnuts and foie gras.  Sooooo damn good.

    We couldn't come here and not have cheese, so we collectively picked out five of them to share.

    Mont d'Or - sooooo ripe.  Sooooo delicious.  Couldn't have asked for better. 

    Cabri ariègeois - it's been a while since I last had this, which is a goat's milk equivalent of Mont d'Or.  Unfortunately this wasn't nearly the same ripeness.

    Comté, aged 48 months - I'll always be happy having this... Just wonderful.

    Mimolette, aged 12~18 months

    Époisses - au lait cru, from Gaugry.  Wonderful ripeness.

    Chestnut and yuzu mousse, vanilla ice cream, kumquat jelly - this was alright.

    Petits fours - chocolate, passion fruit jelly, pistachio financier, choux pastry.

    This being a gathering of the alcoholics, naturally we brought our fair share of wine. And the staff was more than ready for us with their excellent wine service.

    1999 Billecart Salmon Le Clos Saint-Hilaire - nose was nice and open, with good ripeness and maturity on the nose.  Really fragrant.  Very ripe on the palate with good acidity.

    1996 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé Plénitude 2 - very smooth, light fruit, with some toast.  Very nice on the palate.  So easy to drink.

    1997 Dominus - smoky nose, with pencil lead, a bit of leather, capsicum, oaky and cedar.  Relatively lean for a Napa cab with a hint of sweetness on the finish.  Drinking very nicely now.

    1998 Cheval Blanc - decanter for an hour.  Surprisingly this was sweeter than Dominus, but leaner than La Mission.  Pretty fragrant with woody notes.  Later showed lovely and fragrant sweet fruit, with good ripeness.

    1998 La Mission Haut-Brion - decanter for an hour.  Surprisingly, this was also sweeter than Dominus, with vanilla notes.  Still tannic with acidity in the middle and on the finish.  After two hours this was pretty lean and smoky.  A classic claret.

    1990 Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes - popped and poured.  Lots of ripe fruit in the nose, almost a little stewed, with a hint of chalk.  There was also ripeness on the palate, but it was a little lean in the middle.  Smoke and grilled meat notes.  After 40 minutes or so showed a hint of hospital disinfectant.

    2000 Beychevelle - 30 minutes after opening, showing coffee and smoke, with some sweetness, a bit of grass and cedar.  A lovely wine.

    It was good being back here after such a prolonged absence, and always interesting to catch up with the Alcoholics.  Many thanks to Philippe and the team for putting up with us.

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  • 11/10/18--07:43: Stuck on the Ashes of Time
  • This dinner has been waiting to happen for a long, long time.  More than 2½ years after my first visit, I finally found occasion (and company) to re-visit VEA.  Vicky Cheng's cuisine has been getting a lot of attention lately - due in part to the constant, heavy marketing assault by the PR - and I had been keeping track of all the dishes that I had not been tasting.  So I convinced the Film Buff - who originally introduced me to the restaurant - to accompany me.

    We were once again seated on high chairs in front of the counters, because they are meant to be the best seats in the house.  I had a real issue with this last time, as I kept having to get out of my chair to take pictures of the food.  Now that I've switched to a camera with an articulating screen, things were a little easier tonight.

    As usual, there was a whole slew of snacks to start us off:

    Corn and sweet potato chip

    Red capsicum chip

    Bread stick

    Fish skin - the dehydrated fish skin came topped with diced abalone that had been slow-cooked, abalone liver purée, coriander, pickled chilis, and covered with a layer of dashi (出汁) jelly.  The fish skin itself was really nice, and the abalone was certainly tender, while I didn't notice any kick from the chili.

    Deep-fried cuttlefish with salt and pepper - our server stressed that no MSG was used in this dish, but some lime zest was shaved on top.  Crunchy texture, and certainly nicer than what one usually finds at local seafood restaurants.

    Quail egg - marinated (or should it be pickled?) in Japanese vinegar and soy sauce, before being smoked with apple wood. 

    “Without the Two of Us (分分鐘需要你)" - next came a dish that infuses the first of many of Vicky Cheng's childhood memories.  Apparently this is the latest variant of a dish that is always on the menu, and was inspired by the classic tune by George Lam (林子祥).  The lyrics mention salted fish and bok choy (白菜), so these two ingredients are always featured in each variant. 

    The palmiers came on a a bed of leaves presented in a music box playing the namesake song.  The pastries had bits of salted fish hidden in the folds, and came with some bok choy purée, spring onions, and coriander.  This was a little on the greasy side, which wasn't surprising to me given my previous experience.

    The accompanying tea is made using dried bok choy, carrots, and water chestnuts.  It was pretty sweet, and reminded me of simmered radish with dried shrimp.

    Mantis shrimp, smoked cauliflower, uni, pistachio - the puff pastry at the bottom came with mantis shrimp and mantis shrimp jelly, which was then topped with a layer of Hokkaido sea urchin mixed with pickled onions and chopped pistachio.  Finally a layer of mantis shrimp and smoked cauliflower mousseline.  To make the dish truly Instagrammable, we've got tiny perilla flowers and leaves neatly arranged on top.

    Threadfin "ma yau", Sichuan chili oil, fermented cabbage - the seasonal fourfinger threadfin (馬友) was pan-fried until crispy on the skin side, then served like Sichuan-style "Chinese sauerkraut fish (酸菜魚)", with baby Napa cabbage fermented for two weeks mixed with rice crispies (鍋巴), cabbage juice as well as fish head stock and Sichuan chili oil.

    While the execution of the fish was fine, I found the hot and sour sauce to be rich and creamy, and totally delicious... with good crunch coming from the rice crispies.

    On the side there is a "salad" of different types of citrus fruits, longans (龍眼), celtuce stem, fennel, radish, sansho leaves (木の芽), dill, and perilla leaves.  While Vicky explained that the salad was meant to counterbalance the spiciness of the sauce, I found it fanciful and unnecessary - even as someone who isn't capable of handling very spicy food.  If I found the dish to be too hot to handle, I'd just take a few more gulps of water.

    Roasted sea cucumber, flowery crab, egg white, 22yrs Hua Diao wine - FINALLY!  After seeing gazillion pics of this dish on social media, it was finally my turn to try it.

    The spiny sea cucumber had been braised before having its top turned crispy.  It was served on a bed of steamed egg white, then our server proceeded to add a sauce made with the stock of flower crab and chicken fat - before using a perfume atomizer to spray a measly amount of 22-year-old Huadiao (花雕) wine on top.

    The sea cucumber was actually stuffed with a mousseline made with flower crab.  I gotta say that this was pretty tasty... with a good contrast of textures between the crispy top layer and the gelatinous nature of braised sea cucumber.  This reminded me a little of the signature sea cucumber from Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡).  As for the combination of flower crab, chicken fat, and Huadiao?  Well... The Chairman (大班樓) has been serving this up since 2009, so by now we are all familiar with how they all come together.

    Fish maw, caviar, quinoa - instead of the "regular" Taiyouran raviolo I've already tasted last time, I opted for one of the two "premium" alternatives which came with an additional HKD 780 supplement.  I was really curious about how Vicky would do fish maw, even though I would have preferred that it didn't come with the now-ubiquitous caviar...

    The 10-year-old African fish maw braised with fish stock was tender, and our server proceeded to mix some chives, quinoa, and caviar from Lake Qiandao (千島湖) into the emulsified fish stock before drenching the fish maw with it.

    Thankfully the deep-fried Chinese crullers which came with the dish wasn't as greasy as the one I had last time.  But as someone who grew up eating these for breakfast, I am only happy when they're made à la minute.

    It's a shame, though, that the dish came lukewarm... because otherwise it was rather tasty.

    Drunken pigeon, salt and pepper tofu, goji berry, bean curd - the leg was barbecued over charcoal with a sweet (coconut?) glaze that tasted like Chinese five spice.  On the plate we've also got pickled wolfberries, salt-and-pepper deep-fried tofu, a tofu skin roll, and pumpkin purée.

    The execution of the pigeon breast was faultless, and it was marinated in Chinese wine as "drunken pigeon".  But honestly I couldn't taste the alcohol at all.

    The sorbet was made with these candied apricots which are iconic in this part of the world.  More childhood memories from Vicky.

    Kagoshima wagyu, fox nut, XO chili jam, fried rice - I joked that we were having pizza for our next course...  The wagyu carpaccio came with pickled ginger and ginger flower, a variation of garlic which included black garlic, garlic wafers, and garlic flowers, then chives and olive oil.  This was OK, but I didn't really get it.

    The grilled eggplant was deglazed with sorghum vinegar, and came with puffed barley and tomato confit.  Kinda interesting.

    The fried rice was made with fox nut (雞頭米), glutinous corn, and X.O. chili jam, and crispy beef fat.  This was pretty good, because... how could it not be when you've got crispy fat?!

    By the way, how exactly did these three separate elements tie in together?

    Japanese persimmon, mandarin, ginger, shiso - once again we have a "variation" of the ingredient.  There were persimmon slices marinated in ginger and vanilla syrup.  Then there was the persimmon sorbet stuffed inside a tube of mandarin jelly, which sat on top of some panna cotta with salty butter crumble.  You've also got fresh mandarin wedges, along with salted and semi-dried persimmon and crispy perilla leaves.  As if this wasn't complicated enough, the dish was finished with ginger and mandarin ice cream that was freeze-dried in liquid nitrogen.

    By this time I felt bewildered, and wondered how all these ingredients and their flavors all tied together.

    Baked chestnut, grass jelly, evaporated milk, pork salt - I see this and immediately think of Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song.  Well, Christmas may be still some time away, but 'tis the season for chestnuts... and these were roasted with coffee and muscovado.  I love that they were served up in a brown paper bag, just as they would be on the street.  Yet another childhood memory, no doubt.

    Meanwhile, we have a chestnut brûlée with pork fat that was quite smoky.  Around this we've got pearls made of grass jelly (涼粉), wholewheat sponge cake, and condensed milk ice cream that I found too frozen and hard. 

    Vicky came over with a box and played candyman... and served up yet another childhood memory - candy and coconut wrap (糖蔥餅).  He placed strips of candy "scallions" on pancake wrappers, added coconut ice cream and a powder mix with sesame and desiccated coconut, and wrapped it all inside the ubiquitous brown paper bag.  Yum.

    Rose marshmallow and Oolong tea.

    The mignardises still come in this multi-level spherical box.

    Condensed milk mochi

    Mango sago pomelo - sago is presented as a crispy cracker.

    Cocoa and preserved mandarin cake - this was very interesting... Instead of the "usual" combination of orange and chocolate, we've got the Chinese preserved mandarin peel (陳皮) providing some savory notes.

    Salted duck egg madeleine

    We were pretty civilized and only opened 3 bottles, including a pair of 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape I wanted to taste side-by-side.

    1995 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, dégorgée en 2006 - kinda toasty nose.  Mature on the palate with nice depth.

    1998 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - opened for 1½ hours, then decanted 15 minutes prior to serving. A little more open on the nose, more opulent.  A little sweet on the palate.

    1998 Roger Sabon Le Secret de Sabon - opened for 1½ hours, then decanted 15 minutes prior to serving.  More smoke on the nose, and almost a little savory.  Good depth on the palate and seemed more clean, and certainly more cool fruit.  Appeared younger and more reserved than the Célestins.

    The Film Buff and I discussed our thoughts about this dinner, and while the dishes were reasonably tasty, we both felt that Vicky hasn't reached that breakthrough moment... and is still stuck at The Ashes of Time (東邪西毒) stage.  The dishes are still way, way too complicated - with too many elements which don't necessary come together to make things better meaningfully.  Echoing another comment I heard earlier in the week, "He tries too hard".  A few days ago, another friend wondered out loud whether these complicated dishes - sometimes featuring certain premium ingredients which appear eye-catching on social media - are driven by aggressive marketing campaigns designed to generate buzz.

    A prime example would be the persimmon dessert tonight.  Look, I get that a chef wants to showcase different textures of the same ingredient, so you have it marinated, made into a sorbet, salted, and semi-dried...  I'm OK with that if you end up showing me the purity of the flavors - the way Malcolm Lee of Candlenut gives me 5 different textures of coconut.  What I didn't need was adding 3 different variations of mandarin, 2 different variations of ginger, then throw panna cotta and butter crumble into the mix, before trying to dazzle me (it didn't work, by the way) with liquid nitrogen.  We call that 花拳繡腿 in Chinese.

    In some ways, we both agreed that the two young chefs named Vicky in this town (Cheng and Lau, the latter of Tate Dining Room and Bar) are very similar in their approach.  Both have included plenty of Chinese elements and flavors into their dishes, incorporating their own memories to make their respective cuisines very personal.  Both chefs place heavy emphasis on aesthetics and presentation, and in some ways it starts to border on theatrics.  Both manage to churn out very "Instagrammable" dishes, but as the Film Buff and I discussed, sometimes they are just too fanciful and feels too contrived.

    When we look at world-class chefs who have risen to the top of their game, more often than not their dishes look deceptively simple while the various elements come together seamlessly.  We keep mentioning Sato-san from Ta Vie旅 as an example, and certainly Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan qualifies with his "Simplicity is not simple" mantra.  We wonder when the younger generation would reach their "Eureka!" moment...

    But hey... both Vickys have their legions of fans, and their restaurants don't seem to be short of customers who happily upload pictures of pretty dishes to social media.  So what the fuck do I know, eh?

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    Mr and Mrs Cane finally found time to catch up with us, and I had to make good on my promise to take them to Petrus.  I have been preaching about Ricardo Chaneton's cuisine over the last 18 months to anyone who would listen, and I'm glad that more of my friends are giving this young chef a chance to show them his stuff.

    As usual, I sent off the list of Mr. Cane's dietary restrictions to Ricardo.  We've been lucky so far, as all the restaurants in which we have dined together have been careful.  I told Ricardo that he could keep the element of surprise and not show me the menu in advance, as long as he is aware of what's off-limits.

    Rooftop bouquet, gooseberry vinaigrette, Colonnata lard - I love that Ricardo has his hydroponic garden on the rooftop of the hotel, and it's wonderful that the powers that be gave him the freedom to do it.  The greens were still bundled together with a ribbon of lardo di Colonnata, but the "dip" today was made with gooseberries, olive oil, and white balsamic.

    Butternut textures, clementine, Hokkaido sea urchin - so Ricardo has chosen to show us different textures of butternut pumpkin in the forms of slices, purée, and seeds.  A few dots of gel made from Corsican clementine provided a bit of acidity and citrus fragrance, and of course the tongues of Hokkaido sea urchin were creamy and sweet.  The borage leaves - no doubt from the garden upstairs - added a nice little extra je ne sais quoi...

    It took me a little before I realized that the poppy seed sourdough bread comes to the table in similar fashion to the way that bread is served at Mirazur - although this one didn't come with a poem.  But the bread was totally delicious, and Mr. Cane couldn't help himself.

    Galician octopus carpaccio, grapes, rosemary condiment - the slices of Galician octopus came with pretty nice texture, and the slices of grapes provided some refreshing sweetness.  The dots of rosemary cream were pretty strong.  As delicious as this was, it unfortunately clashed with the Puligny-Montrachet... and brought out a lot of metallic and even a bit of strong "fishy" flavors.

    Duck foie gras terrine, navel orange and three-spices - this was supposed to be the dish for Mr. Cane, but I'm thinking that Ricardo forgot that foie gras classifies as an organ...  So the rest of us got a taste of the dish.  The terrine was very smooth, and there was the distinct flavor of cumin.  Here we've got variations of the navel orange, from a simple wedge to gel to dehydrated wafer, and finally powder.  Oh, there was also a strip of orange jelly down one side of the terrine.

    Heirloom roots ragout in "cocotte", old Parmesan cheese bouillon - in a move that is a clear departure from many chefs in town, Ricardo said he wanted to show us a dish that was "very humble but from the heart".  No bling-bling premium ingredient here... just 12 different kinds of root vegetables which had been cooked separately with butter, garlic, and thyme.  The liquid from the cooking process were infused with some Parmesan and turned into a bouillon.  We've got parsnip, celeriac, salsify, heirloom carrots from Annie Bertin, two different types of sweet potatoes, ratte potatoes, radish, and turnip.  Oh, and we've got some kind of beetroot, too... On top are herbs from the restaurant's own garden, including Swiss chard and watercress.

    I really loved this dish.  It's all about the purity of flavors from the ingredients, without a lot of fancy tricks to manipulate it or to dress it up.  Hello Kitty enjoyed it, too... except the beetroot of course.  But one problem with the dish is that the volume of food is simply too much.  When you have so many different types of root vegetables, even balls that look small would add up.  I started feeling full after finishing this dish.

    Corsican meagre, Jerusalem artichokes, Piedmonte hazelnuts - the texture and execution of the meagre was fine, but I found it a little under-seasoned.  It came with roasted Jerusalem artichokes as well as a few chips, and some crushed hazelnuts.

    We were shown two pigeons which had been roasted, so we knew what was coming.

    Miéral pigeon, Roquefort, blueberries, turnip - the leg of the pigeon has been cooked confit, and came with some blueberries, turnip, mizuna (水菜), poppy seeds, and a bitter purée.

    The Bresse pigeon breast was very nicely done, but I found the Roquefort sauce a little too strong for my liking.  Still, it's always good when pigeon is on the menu.

    Parsnip and coffee soufflé - while others got the "regular" soufflé with passion fruit, Ricardo decided to send us something that he was testing.  I can't say that I tasted much of parsnip, but the coffee was pretty nice... and as Hello Kitty noted, when the coffee flavors don't slap you in the face, you know it's made with real coffee instead of extract.

    Mont Blanc - this is the season for Mont-Blanc, and tonight this came with a quenelle of white truffle ice cream that was just... delicious.  The salted caramel on the side was nice, too.

    I brought two bottles of wine to help us along...

    2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles - good acidity on the palate, almost crisp, with a hint of roundness on the palate.  A little toast on the nose, flint, and lemon, with a slight hint of butter.

    2009 Stigler Freiburg Schloßberg Spätburgunder Großes Gewächs - opened for 1½ hours without decanting.  Really lovely with cool fruit, black cherries, sweet but not quite honey-level.  Eucalyptus, fragrant oak, dried herbs.  Slightly bitter finish.

    Hello Kitty and I really liked our dinner. This didn't have the razzle and dazzle of what many restaurants in town offer, but what you get is simple, honest, and most importantly - delicious.  It's interesting that Ricardo insists that as a French restaurant, priority be given to using French ingredients - while supplementing from their own rooftop garden.  The good thing is that Mr. Cane is now a fan... after having stayed away from the restaurant for a number of years.

    I'm really, really looking forward to my next meal here, as Ricardo has promised to serve up Venezuelan French cuisine - or was it French-style Venezuelan?  I'm sure I would love it.

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  • 11/19/18--23:26: Goldfinger
  • This meal has been in the works for 3 months, and I'm grateful that Agustin Balbi at HAKU is such a good sport, and willing to indulge me in this ludicrous request.  Before getting into what I had for lunch today, let me backtrack to about a year ago...

    I paid my first visit to HAKU over a year ago, and came away thoroughly unimpressed.  I was particularly peeved by the signature dish which featured gold foil on top of a pile of caviar, tuna belly, and raw beef - which I felt was just thrown together for no reason other than to sparkle on Instagram.  After ranting on this here blog, I became known as the guy who hates gold foil, and friends have been poking fun at me ever since.  This even included Agustin presenting me with a softserve covered in gold foil on a subsequent visit...

    I first saw a video posted by Nusret Gökçe a.k.a. Salt Bae about 3 months ago.  After cooking a piece of beef he proceeded to roll it on a plate sprinkled with gold flakes. He then followed up with a picture of a piece of beef which had been completely covered in sheets of gold leaf.  As a joke, I forwarded these posts to Agustin, and told him that's what I wanted.  His reply?  "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED"

    So we chatted back and forth about it, but I never got around to setting a date for it - partly because of my pretty full feeding schedule, but also partly because I needed the right partner in crime.  At a meal earlier this month, I asked The Man in White T-shirt whether he would accompany me for the stunt... and he said "yes".

    Which is how we ended up here today at lunch.  Unbeknownst to me, the restaurant's hardworking PR was also entertaining a visitor from Norway who we have contact with... and with whom I was just trading messages mere minutes before arriving at the restaurant!

    We started with a series of welcome bites.

    Quail egg - battered and deep-fried kushiage (串揚げ)-style, with black garlic purée, salt, and chervil.

    Monaka (最中) - with some egg yolk, a layer of salmon roe, and some chives on top.  The curing of salmon roe was just right and not too salty.

    Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) - crispy puff pastry at the bottom, with crunchy cabbage and katsuobushi (鰹節) flakes on top.  It really did taste like okonomiyaki.

    Consommé - made with dried mushrooms, kelp (昆布), jasmine tea, and crunchy stems of enoki mushrooms (えのき茸).

    Then came the sashimi platter (刺身盛合せ) platter.  I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of the whole ensemble, because the presentation is just so, so pretty!

    John Dory (的鯛) - from Fukuoka.  Served with shaved karasumi (カラスミ) and yuzu (柚子) zest, olive oil, and chives.

    Spear squid (槍烏賊) - dressed with smoked soy sauce, scallion sprouts (芽ネギ), yuzu pearls, and soy sauce pearls.  I gotta say that the "pearls" worked very well.

    Golden threadfin bream (糸縒り鯛) - with some ponzu (ポン酢), salted kelp (塩昆布), and some red perilla leaves.  The fish and fatty and tender, almost melted in my mouth.  The kelp had a nice bite to it.

    Striped bonito / akegarashi (歯鰹 / あけがらし) - smoked by putting hot charcoal directly on the fish.  Topped with some akegarashi and myoga (茗荷).  This, too, was very soft and melted in the mouth... in fact it was softer than the golden threadfin bream. 

    Hokkaido uni / brioche / hanaho - well... yet another of Agustin's signature dishes which I have seen numerous pictures of.  And it certain is a dish made for Instagram, with all those pretty perilla flowers (花穂) on top.  Underneath the sweet and creamy tongues on Japanese sea urchin - just above the toast which was supposed to have a consistency between brioche and pannetone - was some butternut squash purée to add some moisture.

    Pretty nice lah...

    Ise ebi / cauliflower / Kristal caviar - at the bottom of the cup were croûtons, which were buried under some cauliflower purée that had been cooked with some konbu, and some smoked and dried cod roe (fleur de maviar), plus sauce made from the head and shell of the Ise lobster (伊勢海老).  On top of the two chunks of Ise lobster was a dollop of smoked Kaviari Kristal caviar.

    To be honest, both The Man in White T-shirt forgot that there were croûtons at the bottom... so even though we had dug with our spoons, we didn't quite get everything in the same mouthful.  In fact, I only got to the croûtons when there was no lobster and almost no caviar left.  So we didn't get the full effect, which was perhaps why I didn't quite understand why the coûtons were there.

    Amadai / soy beans / chorizo / konbu - the tilefish (甘鯛) was cooked by pouring hot oil over it, which also has the effect of making the scales crispy.  The texture of the fish was, of course, wonderful as expected, but I felt that the fish was probably cooked without any seasoning... and could have used some.  Goldfinger probably was counting on the sauce for flavoring, as it was done with roasted fish bones, chicken wings, soy sauce, and a little yuzu.  The little cubes of chorizo - made with meat from 4-year old Dorado Graditano pigs and pimenton de la vera - seemed a little more spicy than usual.  The puffed quinoa added a bit more texture, while the yuzu zest shavings and perilla leaf chiffonade added some nice fragrance.

    Agustin started the prep for the next dish without giving me a heads up.  By the time I realized what was happening, he had already transformed into Goldfinger.

    BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR!  Rubia Galega from Vacum, coming from cattle that was 16 years' old and dry-aged for 100 days.  And lovingly wrapped in gold foil by Goldfinger.

    Rubia Galega / Jerusalem artichoke / moromi miso - the execution of the beef was pretty good, although the crust was a little harder than I had expected.  Served on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke batonnet, and topped with some Jerusalem artichoke chips.

    Besides the jus, there is a little dab of moromi miso (醪味噌).  But I didn't think it was needed.

    Since it's a workday and this was lunch, I chose not to take the wine pairing from sommelier Wallace Lo. It did look very interesting and clearly a lot of thought had been put into it. But when it came to the beef, I did ask to taste the two wines paired with the beef course.

    2011 Alexandre d'Almeida Buçaco Reservado - very nice.  Smoky with dried herb notes.  Full-bodied and dry on the palate.

    Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi "Ventennale" -very complex on the nose, very oxidized, wonderful fragrance.  Dry on the palate, like a dry Sherry or Madeira.

    Seasonal mushrooms / yolk / Koshi Ibuku rice - mushrooms such as girolles, maitake (舞茸), shiitake, and enoki came from France, China, and Japan.  The rice was cooked in soy sauce and dashi (出汁).  This was so, so, so delicious.  I wish I had room for another bowl or three.

    Mikan textures / meringue / sorbet - the Japanese mandarin (みかん) from Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県) was served with different textures... as fresh wedges, with chiffonade of mandarin peel cooked in syrup, a quenelle of sorbet, and finally the mikan was frozen and then shaved on top.  Served with some meringue.  This was very refreshing, and perfect.

    Satsuma-imo / honey miso / Japanese whisky - the Japanese sweet potato was cooked with honey and miso, and came with little balls of cream (?) made of Kahlua.  The vanilla ice cream was topped with some caramel gel flavored with Japanese whisky, while the whole dish sat on a bed of crispy chocolate crumbs which incorporated a little bit of Pop Rocks... but at least the popping was a little more subtle and I didn't feel like smacking Goldfinger...

    Matcha warabimochi (抹茶わらび餅) and nougat - the latter came with lots of peanuts.

    Yuzu tart

    I must express my gratitude to Agustin Goldfinger for indulging in my ridiculous request.  He clearly has a good sense of humor and can take a joke.  However, I'm not sure I succeeded in my goal to shit glitter...

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    We are heading towards year end, and that means a few more MNSC dinners are coming up.  Tonight it was Juliano's turn, and he invited us back to Kaiseki Den by Saotome (懐石  さおとめ).  This place has been consistently serving up high quality kaiseki (会席料理) for quite a while now, so it's always good to come back.

    Kobako crabmeat with julienne (先付:香箱蟹 ジュレ掛け) - it's that time of the year again... when we get these snow crabs (ズワイ蟹) laden with goodies - crab meat, tomalley (蟹味噌), ovaries (内子), and eggs (外子).  All covered in a layer of jelly scented with shaved yuzu (柚子) zest.  Wonderfully refreshing and packed with flavors.

    Searedn A5 Hida beef sirloin, lotus root mochi with sesame sauce (飛騨牛  A5サーロイン炙りと蓮根餅  胡麻ソース) - the slice of sirloin was draped over a chunk of deep-fried mochi (餅), and came with a sesame sauce mixed with vinegar jelly.  Finally there was some almond shavings and finely diced spring onions.  Pretty nice.

    Grilled pork marinated with miso, jumbo nameko mushroom (梅山豚味噌漬炭焼き. ジャンボなめこ) - two pieces of pork here... including a fatty piece of belly.  The leaner piece came with a little dab of sansho (山椒).

    Wagyu tenderloin shabu shabu, kujyo spring onion, shiitake mushroom, maitake mushroom (椀物:北海道  香深浜産蔵囲利尻昆  牛ヒレしゃぶしゃぶ  九条葱  椎茸  舞茸) - I could never complain about shabu shabu with Japanese wagyu.  The soup was distinctively smoky, and the spring onions carried pretty strong flavors.

    Chef selection sashimi platter (造り) - there were four different types of sashimi.  Of course I chose to give up my pieces of fatty tuna (トロ) to the others...

    Salmon roe with jelly
    Swordfish (目梶木)
    Abalone (鮑) - nice and tender.
    Sashimi : wagyu sashimi (造り:牛刺身) - this came with little dabs of wasabi as well as minced raw garlic.  The latter was a little too strong.  But the thin slices of beef, of course, simply melted in the mouth.

    Chef selection sushi (お淩ぎ) - as was the case last year, we had wagyu nigiri sushi... the first of which came with white truffle shavings.

    Then we had one with some caviar on top.

    Pork shoulder with Shogoin radish soup, taro, Kujyo spring onion (旬菜: 梅山豚  肩ロース  京都聖護院大根スープ仕立  里芋  柚子胡椒  九条葱) - this came with a surprising amount of sansho (山椒) pepper.

    Not sure why we got a chicken wing, but whatever...

    Charcoal grilled A5 Hida beef chateaubriand (主菜: 飛騨牛  A5  シャトーブリアン炭火焼き) - given that this restaurant used to be called Wagyu Kaiseki Den, it's no surprise that the main event is Japanese wagyu.  This bloc of chateaubriand looked beautiful after grilling.

    And the doneness was simply perfect.  Wonderfully tender.

    Wagyu rice with truffle rice (食事:和牛  トリュフ 土鍋ご飯) - the rice here always comes in a clay pot, and tonight it looked like a premium version of gyudon (牛丼)... made even more luxe by shaving white truffle on top.

    The only way to make this even better was to add a soft-boiled egg into the mix.  Just look at how sinful that is!  So, soooo satisfying.

    Sweets: grilled apple (甘味:焼リンゴ) - pretty decent, actually.

    Houjicha ice cream (ほうじ茶アイスクリーム) - very nice.  Good concentration of the tea flavors.

    Warabi mochi (抹茶わらび餅)

    As with any MNSC dinner, the focus is squarely on the wines that we blind taste. And Juliano prepared quite a series of treats for us.

    1989 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - buttery, sweet, seemingly so smooth and viscous just on the nose without actually tasting.  Grassy notes with marmalade.  Beautiful, but slightly too warm.  Second pour showed more coffee and toasty notes.

    First pair: opened 1 hour and 45 minutes prior to serving.
    1978 Roumier Bonnes Mares - grassy, a bit stinky, with leather and smoke.  Acidity was high on the palate.  Was this corked? 

    1978 Guigal La Landonne - more animal notes, and more concentration here, along with higher acidity on the palate.  A little stewed fruit, minty, and still got some tannins here.  96 points.

    Second flight: opened 2 hours prior to serving except Clos de Tart, which was opened just prior to serving.
    1983 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze - sweet but not quite open, acidity was apparent.  With second pour 45 minutes after first pour, sweeter on the nose.  95 points.

    1983 Mommessin Clos de Tart - surprising coconut notes.  Later also showed high acidity.

    1983 Rayas - very nice.  A little burn rubber, but much more open.  96 points.

    Second flight: opened 3 hours prior to serving.
    1999 Claude Dugat Griotte-Chambertin - still a little tight and not too open. 

    1999 Claude Dugat Charmes-Chambertin - smoky, chalky, stinky.  Improved later with meaty notes.

    Many thanks to our generous host.  Some of these wines are pretty tough to come by nowadays...

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  • 11/29/18--07:23: Birthday humping
  • It was 2 years ago that a bunch of us gathered in an industrial warehouse in the boonies for a double birthday celebration.  The meal was so memorable that quite a few of us kept reminiscing about some of the interesting cuts of beef that we were tasting for the first time... while never getting around to going back there.  So what better excuse is there than another celebration for the two birthday boys?

    This time around, though, transport was made easy by hitching a ride with friends.  And it wasn't raining like it was two years ago.  So the ride to Pride Team Limited (傲嚐) was smooth and easy.

    As was the case 2 years ago, our dinner started with a number of cooked dishes before moving on to the main event of hotpot...

    Chilled abalone (凍食鮑魚仔) - never a bad thing to start with these, although they were a bit more chewy due to the serving temperature.

    Deep-fried squid and tofu in salt and pepper (椒鹽鮮魷豆腐) - deep-fried food with lots of deep-fried garlic and chili on top.  'Nuff said.

    Deep-fried sillago (油浸沙追魚) - very, very tasty.

    Giant tiger prawns pan-fried in premium soy sauce (豉油皇大花蝦) - seeing as I was the last one to pick up a prawn, I was left with the midget of the bunch... whereas The Man in White T-shirt had a specimen whose head seemed bigger than my prawn...

    Next up was the hotpot, which came with a soup base made of ox bones and corn.  The spread of different cuts of beef we had was pretty impressive.  This time around I didn't bother asking what each of the cuts were...

    Top shoulder blade (ミスジ) - always one of my favorite cuts of beef, especially in yakiniku (焼肉).

    Beef shank (牛𦟌) - butterfly cut.

    I think this was a plate of hanging tender...

    ...and not sure what this was...

    But this... THIS was why we were here tonight.  BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR! The hump (牛駝峰) on the back of the cattle.  Tonight the hump wasn't as marbled as what we had 2 years ago, but it was still damn good... with a great texture after cooking in the hotpot.

    崩沙腩角 - once again we had the pre-cooked cartilage/tendons bits around the area between the brisket and the short plate.  These were thrown back into the hotpot and tasted wonderful.

    Sternum cartilage (牛白肉) - and we were also very, very happy to have this again.  Such a rare treat, and so crunchy!

    We also had the combination of beef meatballs and cuttlefish balls, both of which were very tasty.  The soft texture of cuttlefish paste with crunchy bits of cuttlefish encased inside was pretty nice.  The black pepper flavors in the beef balls were outstanding.

    A hotpot wouldn't be complete without throwing some noodles into the mix at the end, and scoop up all the goodies at the bottom left behind.  We got a few packs of Demae Itcho (出前一丁) and went to town.  You would not believe the number of people giving instructions on how instant noodles should be cooked...

    And since this was a birthday celebration, we had a Royal Milk Tea Mousse Cake from Lady M.  No surprise that we couldn't finish the cake after a huge meal, so we left some for the boss and the staff.

    We got pretty buzzed 2 years ago, and this year it almost looked like we would get completed wasted when this was the bottle count... especially when we STARTED with the 交叉窿! 

    Remy Martin XO Special, believed to be from late 1980s or early 1990s - unbelievably fragrant on the nose, floral notes such slowly floated across the table after opening.  Very, very smooth on the palate now, and doesn't burn going down - the way it would with a younger Cognac.

    Hatsukame Junmai Daiginjo Kame (初亀. 純米大吟醸. 亀), BY27, from isshobin - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Very fragrant and fruity.

    Kamonishiki Junmai Daiginjo Tojo Yamadanishiki 35 (加茂錦  純米大吟醸  東条山田錦35), BY29 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.  Really fragrant nose.  More intense and concentrated on the palate, with fermented rice notes.  Very nice.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Spring Breeze 42 (磯自慢  純米大吟醸 スプリング・ブリーズ 42), BY29 - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 42%.  Fragrant, cleaner and more focused on the nose, with banana notes.  Very nice but not as rich and mature as the Kamonishiki.

    Kokuryu Daiginjo Ryu (黒龍  大吟醸  龍), BY29, from isshobin - very clean nose.  Much drier on the palate.

    2009 Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi, from magnum - drinking beautifully.  Really ripe and sweet on the nose, with lots of sweet vanilla, coconut, and oaky notes.

    2010 Quintarelli Rosso Ca' del Merlo - still too young and not really open after breathing in bottle for 5 hours.

    Thankfully we left a couple of bottles unopened, but everyone had a great time, anyway. We also shared some of the 交叉窿 with the chef, who enjoyed it almost as much as The Man in White T-shirt.  I was sorely missing Nicky Tse, who did not make an appearance tonight. Oh well, maybe next time!

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  • 11/29/18--22:44: When a chef makes you cry
  • A friend was kind enough to pick up a bottle of gin for Hello Kitty while on a trip to London, and we agreed to meet up for lunch so that I could take delivery.  Sushi Shin (鮨辰) is a place he frequents, and since I had only been there once back in 2010, I was happy to catch up with him there.

    My friend arrived a few minutes before I did, and I found him seated at the counter.  I imagine the chef already knows what he goes for, and he's informed the chef about my no-tuna policy.  Off we go with some sashimi.

    Young yellowtail (ハマチ) - smoked with cherry wood.

    Splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) - torched.

    Monkfish liver (鮟肝) - always love how creamy and rich this is.

    Botan shrimp (牡丹海老) - from Hokkaido, and served with a sauce made of its own tomalley.

    Bonito (鰹) - smoked with straw, and skin was torched.  The minced garlic on top was pretty damn strong.  Very nice otherwise.

    Salad - just some greens taken with the sesame sauce (胡麻タレ).

    Then came the sushi part of the meal.  Looking back at my one and only visit years ago, I actually didn't have any sushi!

    Pacific saury (秋刀魚) - nice and fatty.

    Madai (真鯛) - this was the first sense that I got which showed me the chef uses more wasabi than I'm used to.  My friend had reminded the chef that he doesn't want wasabi on his sushi.

    Ark shell (赤貝)

    Sweet shrimp (甘海老)

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - pretty decent.

    Rosy seabass (黒睦) - pretty nice, and came with spring onions and grated radish (おろし).

    Flounder wing (縁側) - torched to melt the collagen.  So yum.

    Calabash roll (干瓢巻き) - the chef had temporarily forgotten my no-tuna policy, and made a whole fatty tuna and scallion roll (ネギトロ巻き) for the two of us to share.  After he realized his mistake, my friend took the entire roll and the chef made me a substitute - although I would argue that I got the short end of the stick with this particular substitution...

    The roll was cut into four pieces.  I took half of the first piece in one bite, and immediately my sinuses got cleared.  The chef had put so much wasabi (or was it a mixture of wasabi and horseradish?) that I couldn't taste anything else.  By the time I finished the first piece, I was hard time paying attention to whatever my friend was saying to me.

    I decided to try a second piece.  Same thing.  The kick of the wasabi just built up cumulatively, and by this time my eyes were starting to water and I tried very hard to focus to stop tears from coming out.  I also tried not to show any sign of the pain I was feeling.  I took another bite of piece #3 and gave up.

    Egg (卵)

    (Coffee and almond?) ice cream

    Had it not been for the massive fuck up with the wasabi at the end, this would have been a perfectly decent meal.  The style is very local and not really Edomae (江戸前) or other Japanese style, but I knew that going in.  Unfortunately, I just can't forgive this FAIL with the wasabi... as I just couldn't believe that any seasoned chef could have slipped up so badly.

    But hey, the restaurant has been a local favorite ever since it opened, and has done very well without my business all these years, so why the fuck does my opinion matter?

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    We're off to spend a week in Japan, and I'm returning to Hokkaido for the first time in almost two decades. 

    We had time to kill at New Chitose Airport, so we hit the Calbee+ to snack on some potato chips that had just come out of the deep-fryer.  We picked the double cheese as well as the bacon asparagus flavors.

    After a journey of almost 11 hours, the three of us finally arrived at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa.

    As we arrived just after 7pm and many of the restaurants in the hotel take their last orders at 8pm or so, we hurriedly asked staff at the front desk to book us into one of the Japanese restaurants.  Much to my surprise, we were able to get seats at Shoan Kogetsu (祥庵 こげ津) - the restaurant serving sushi.  I had been resigned to taking the set menu at Toji Sanka (杜氏賛歌), but it turns out they were full.

    We were led to a private room as there seemed to be no room at the counter.  I knew this would have an affect on the quality of the sushi we were getting, but we didn't exactly have a choice.  For service, were also assigned someone from China - a sign of things to come during our stay.

    The ladies didn't want to eat too much, so we chose to forgo the sushi sets and cherry picked our favorites à la carte.

    North Pacific giant octopus (水蛸) - this apparently came from the head of the octopus, which was marinated in miso and spring onions.  Nice and chewy.

    Mozuku (モズク)- nice to have something a little acidic to whet our appetites, although since our my last proper meal was about 8 hours ago... my appetite didn't really need any help.

    Herring roe (数の子) - softer than I had expected.

    The ladies had been pretty excited about starting our trip with some of Hokkaido's famous crabs, so we had ordered up a whole Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹).  Unfortunately we were told that they had run out of stock, which was understandable as it was almost time for last order.

    Grilled scallop with butter (帆立バター焼き) - this was pretty good, but I was hoping for the scallop to be a little bigger...

    Steamed abalone (鮑のやわらか煮) - now THIS... THIS WAS THE SHIT!  This was one of things we wanted in Hokkaido, and it certainly did not disappoint.  The whole abalone came with a sweet, red miso with citrus flavors.

    And it was so, soooo soft... Just beautifully cooked.

    We each picked out the different sushi we wanted, and no surprise that I had the most number of pieces...

    Rockfish (そい) - not sure which type of rockfish this was as the menu simply said "local rockfish", but this was kinda chewy with a good amount of bite.

    Conger eel (穴子) - yes, like every other piece of sushi that came together on a big plate, this was already cold.

    Seared kinki (炙り喜知次) - how could I not order up broadbanded thornyhead when in Hokkaido?  Of course this, too, was cold.  But the fat was still liquefied from the torching process, and the smoky flavors were nice.

    Squid (烏賊) - a thick cut with a chewy texture.

    Sailfin poacher (八角) - a curious-looking fish whose colloquial name comes from the octagonal shape of its cross section.  This came as a pretty thick cut, so the texture was pretty crunchy.

    Botan shrimp (牡丹海老)

    Mackerel (鯖) - I am now realizing that the neta (ネタ) here is usually cut pretty thick, and with this piece the skin was a lot thicker than what I'm used to... with almost a crunchy texture.  A little smoky, and the vinegar wasn't very strong.

    Surf clam (北寄貝)

    Abalone (鮑) - it's been years since I last had abalone sushi, and now I remembered why... This was soooo hard and crunchy, and so tough to chew on.  Not enjoyable at all.

    Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - they didn't have a whole crab to serve us, but they did have little bits of leg for sushi.  OK lah...

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - pretty good lah... but nothing like the top produce I'm getting used to.

    Born Chogin Junmai Daiginjo (梵 超吟 純米大吟醸), 30BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 20%.  Mostly sweet on the attack but dry in the middle and on the finish.  Good concentration mid-palate, and definitely turns dry and spicy (辛口) towards the end.

    I didn't have much expectations for this meal, so I guess I wasn't really disappointed. We were just happy to have been able to eat a proper meal, given our late arrival and the fact that this hotel doesn't have room service.  The main event will come tomorrow.

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    So after my early morning droning session and a pissy breakfast, it was time for the main event.  The whole reason we planned an 8-day trip to Japan is so that we can dine at Michel Bras Toya Japon.  Everything else before or after this lunch is ancillary.  Collateral damage.

    Why did I suddenly get the urge to come here?  Earlier this year someone had mentioned the possibility that Michel Bras would not renew their contract with the Windsor Hotel Toya.  So I hatched this plan to come and try the cuisine before the end of the year.  Of course, I now know that Michel Bras will continue to be here at the hotel, while Arashiyama Kitcho (嵐山吉兆) was the restaurant which did not renew their contract.

    We arrived at the restaurant and were led to a table by the window, with fantastic sweeping views of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) and the hills and mountains surrounding it.  This is why, for many, it is best to come to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner - as there are few lights after sunset and the view would be mostly dark.

    We take the Rencontre menu, which includes the iconic gargouillou.  We started with a series of snacks:

    Tomato and sesame crackers

    Coque-mouillettes - creamy scrambled eggs with roots from the garden, and today it was diced celery topped with herbs.  The "soldiers" made of buckwheat and sesame were used to dip into the egg.

    Tarte aux ceps - very nice.

    I knew that the restaurant always tries to be hospitable by baking the name of the guest onto the loaf of buckwheat bread.  Unfortunately, the Japanese at the hotel mixed up Hello Kitty's name, and ever since yesterday she has been addressed by the wrong surname... which, naturally, meant that My Birdbrain Cousin and I have been asking Hello Kitty why she's such a Ho.

    The butter comes embossed with the Bras logo.

    Bread and fennel soup - with tiny cubes of diced pickled cucumbers.  Lots of acidity in those pickles.

    Sesame bread with Cinta Senese ham, pumpkin discs, and azuki paste - the azuki (あずき) paste seems to have been mixed with some liver, as both My Birdbrain Cousin and I tasted it.

    Duck confit - below the large white bean and the layer of gelée, the confit was soooo smooth it almost seemed like a purée.  Lovely.

    Cumin and paprika chips with zucchini cream

    Today's classic; gargouillou of young vegetables, seeds and herbs, touch of reine des près oil - the Hoobastank song started playing in my head when the dish arrived.  A dish that has been copied by countless chefs worldwide, but of course no one else would dare call it gargouillou.

    All the vegetables, herbs, and flowers come from the restaurant's own garden, and they inlcuded white turnip with purple edge, a green turnip with pink edge, bean sprouts, radish, kaffir lime leaves, nasturtium, ice plant, cooked tiny baby cabbage, cooked cabbage, cabbage purée, mint, radicchio, cooked cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, white sesame, black sesame, cooked shallots, carrots, cooked pumpkin, cooked romanesco, green turnip, fennel, perilla, frisée, grilled Jerusalem artichoke, and cooked ham... among others.

    Back from a trip; squid grill marqued, maitake coated with chimichurri, choripàn seasoning - the locally-caught squid was scored with a criss-cross pattern before grilling, and came with a sprinkle inspired by Argentinian choripán featuring crunchy bits of bread crumbs and chorizo... along with some borage flowers.  The texture was beautiful.  Then we also had maitake (舞茸) on the side with some chimichurri.  A very, very delicious dish.

    Hunted in Hokkaido; the piece of deer just roasted, wild roquette salad paste and Akane apple touch, sanded Jerusalem artichokes and civet sauce - I wasn't the least bit surprised to see Hokkaido deer on the menu.  The compote of Akane (あかね) apple was very, very delicious.

    Deer is usually pretty lean with a firmer texture, so I thought this was pretty nicely done. 

    Aligot - instead of the usual mashed potatoes, of course we would have aligot!  I honestly can't remember the last time I had this... maybe a few years ago at my friend's restaurant in Taipei.

    Honestly, of all the things that I ate today, this was the one that almost brought tears to my eyes.

    From here and far; cheeses from France and Hokkaido - I was initially a little surprised at the (relative to other top French restaurants I frequent) smallish selection of cheese, but quickly realized the reason behind this.

    Young Hokkaido cow cheese - not exactly like Brie as had been described.  Texture was more solid and actually had some gamey flavors along with acidity.

    Hokkaido goat cheese - even more dense than the cow cheese, and much more gamey, acidic, and salty.

    Hokkaido blue cheese

    Laguiole - of course they had to serve this one.  Very nice.

    From the original idea of a coulant in 81; warm biscuit plums coulant, plums kernel ice cream and orange juniper niac - the other iconic dish which Michel Bras invented that has been copied by everyone and their dog is the coulant / warm-centered chocolate fondant.  It was created in 1981 and it only took me until 1994 to have my first bite in Paris.

    I loved this.  The almond biscuit came with liquid plum inside, and came topped with a scoop of plum kernel ice cream.  Very yum.

    Canailleries; cones filled as you desired - My Birdbrain Cousin had been eyeing the cart with all the cones, and she was so happy when it was finally wheeled in front of us so that we could choose from 5 different flavors

    Buckwheat - with a sprinkle of buckwheat.

    Polenta mousse - with a bit of cream and a popcorn on top.

    Not sure what this was, but could have been made from balsa or balsam fir?  With a drizzle of caramel on top.

    The shot glass contained a combination of aquavit, pineapple syrup, and milk foam.  It reminds me of the fruit milk (果汁牛奶) from Wei-chuan (味全) that I used to love as a kid growing up in Taiwan.

    Whisky bon bons - with a little bit of whisky inside.  I should have dropped mine into my coffee...

    2003 Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge - very ripe on the nose, almost over-ripe.  A little sharp and alcoholic, but opened up nicely after 15 minutes with a bit of leather on the nose.  Beautiful notes of violet after an hour. 

    This was a very nice meal, certainly worthy of the two macarons given by the Rubberman.  We met Chef Simone Cantaflo in the kitchen, who was trying to sneak in a few touches from his native Italy.  We really enjoyed our experience here, especially as we had a fantastic view of Lake Toya while we dined. We were so, so happy to be here and I hope it showed.

    P.S. This was the view from my bathroom stall...

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    After kinda managing to catch the sunset, we stayed in at the Windsor Hotel Toya and had dinner at Windsor Out of Africa, the teppanyaki (鉄板焼) restaurant that received a macaron.  Like most of the hotel's nicer restaurants, this was also located on the top floor, with views over Lake Toya.  The place was apparently inspired by the movie Out of Africa, so the restaurant is decorated with animal motifs, and they seem to be playing 3 tracks from the movie soundtrack on repeat...

    As I had expected, we didn't get much of a view in the evening... now that the daily fireworks over Lake Toya has stopped. I decided to splurge and get the Out of Africa menu - the most expensive out of the three offered.

    Amuse (最初の一口) - the meal didn't start well.  Aside from some marinated mushrooms with peppercorns, there was a small piece of toast with fish cum on top.  Thankfully Hello Kitty stepped in and helped me.

    Teppan steamed king crab, sautéed Hokkaido hydroponics mustard spinach, "Toya" extra virgin rapeseed oil (風味豊かなタラバ蟹の蒸し焼き 函館大沼産 水耕栽培の小松菜のソテー 洞爺湖町阿部さんの菜種エクストラバージンオイル) - pretty good.  This kinda helped make up for the lack of crab at dinner last night.

    Today's seafood bouillabaisse - I was sooo looking forward to this, but in reality the broth was too light and clear.  Too "refined".  I've been too spoiled by The Man in White T-shirt in this department, so now I find this kind of bouillabaisse weak...

    Hokkaido abalone, abalone liver sauce and seaweed (北海道 函館産 蝦夷あわび 肝のソースと海草を添えて) - yes... we are here in Hokkaido to eat crab and abalone... so I had both.  This was pretty tender but came with a springy texture, so this wasn't as soft as what we had last night.  The liver sauce was cooked in butter and tasted rather salty.

    Pan fried vegetables (焼き野菜) - beans, shiitake, and Chinese yam (長芋).

    Suprême "Wagyu" beef steak sirloin (霜降り黒毛和牛サーロイン) - all three of us chose sirloin when it came to steak.  I guess we wanted it a little fatty... 

    I asked for mine to be done medium-rare, and it was just about right.  Very, very tasty.  Very fatty an tender, too.

    Bean sprouts (もやし)

    King crab garlic fried rice (タラバ蟹の焼き飯) - I wasn't gonna be happy with the regular garlic fried rice, so I paid up to have some Alaskan king crab added to the mix.  Yum.


    Desserts at teppanyaki meals are traditionally taken in a separate area away from the grill, so we moved to the lounge facing Uchiura Bay (内浦湾).

    Raspberry sorbet and fruits - some of the fruits like kiwi, pear, and persimmon seemed to have been marinated in alcohol.

    This was a decent meal, and we were very happy to have gotten our first hit of Japanese beef.  But honestly, the service here was rather poor.  The hotel seems to have a disproportionate number of trainees, and many of them come from China - which kinda makes sense given the not-insignificant number of guests from that country.  But as trainees, they haven't quite gotten the hospitality part yet.  Neither our amuses nor our desserts were served with any explanation - the trainee just plopped them down in front of us and walked away.  That's not really acceptable at a restaurant with a Michelin star - even though the Michelin star is only about the food itself.

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    We were up and at 'em early again this morning, trying to catch the sunrise that we missed yesterday.  I don't usually get my ass up this early, but Hello Kitty seemed determined to catch the sun coming up over the mountains, so we bundled up, grabbed our cameras, and went outside while it was still dark.

    There was still some cloud cover above the mountains, but the light turned out to be pretty nice once the sun rose... especially when it illuminated the top of Mount Yotei (羊蹄山).  Someone had made a tiny little snowman and placed him on top of the fence, so Hello Kitty and I tried to take snaps of him against the rising sun.

    I had told the ladies that we should take a "drone selfie" before we leave, so I took them to the parking lot where I was flying my drone yesterday, and launched from the same spot.  My newly replaced drone had only been hovering at a low altitude for a couple of minutes before it suddenly lost GPS signal and started to drift away over the cliff.  Fuck!  This was my second episode in as many days, and I panicked for a brief moment.  Thankfully the drone maintained connection with the remote control, so I was able to maneuver the drone back above the parking lot - where it regained GPS signal.  We managed a couple of selfies as well as short videos, then packed it in.

    It might still be early, but the old fogeys staying at the Windsor Hotel Toya are up and about.  Which meant that restaurants serving breakfast were fully-occupied.  As we had a bus to catch, the decision was made to get to the grand hall serving breakfast buffet.  So I grabbed a small selection of goodies and tried to chomp quickly, while trying not to be sad about missing my morning onsen (温泉) session with a view.

    We arrived at the JR Sapporo Station after a 2-hour train ride, and wheeled our luggage around the corner to the JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo.  Of course they wouldn't give us our rooms until the official check-in time of 3 p.m., so we left our luggage at the hotel and went to the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market Crab Curb Market (札幌市中央卸売市場場外市場) looking for lunch.

    We did some souvenir shopping at Kitano Gourmet (北のグルメ) as mom placed her order to me over the phone, and after looking around on Tabelog for some options around the area, we decided to buy some seafood from the shop and dine at the in-house restaurant Kitano Gourmet-tei (北のグルメ亭).  Both Hello Kitty and My Birdbrain Cousin insisted on having a whole crab for lunch, and the latter wanted us to take down a whole Alaskan king crab... with just the three of us.

    First up was some raw sea urchin soaked in salt water (塩水生雲丹), which came from the Kuril Islands.  Very yum as expected.

    I saw some huge surf clams (北寄貝) in the tanks below, so we picked out three of them and had two served raw.

    We also had the restaurant grill one of the clams.  This actually brought out the sweetness of the clam meat.

    Then came the Alaskan king crab - a small one at "just" 1.8kg or so.  Can't complain when the crab is just fished out of the tank in front of you...

    Even for someone who loves tomalley as much as I do, there are limits... I honestly couldn't finish this... and there was more inside the apron... which My Birdbrain Cousin nibbled on.

    I left the claws to the ladies, and Hello Kitty picked up the big one.

    I was pretty damn stuffed... and totally forgot to order up one of the live squids swimming around in a tank downstairs.  Oh well... at least the ladies were happy they got their crab!

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    We're only in Sapporo for one night, so knowing me... it's not surprising that I chose to dine at one of three restaurants awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 2017 Michelin Guide Hokkaido - a special edition which has only been published twice.  Hanakoji Sawada (花小路 さわ田) was promoted from 2 to 3 stars, and I wanted some kaiseki (会席) during our week-long trip, so this was the first restaurant I ended up booking.

    We had pre-ordered the most expensive set menu, since this was our first visit and the price differential wasn't all that significant.  With the more expensive options, we were guaranteed to have crab.  As is typical, there was no printed menu since the dishes consisted of whatever ingredients were fresh and in season on the day.

    Chinese yam with salmon roe and tonburi (長芋  イクラ  とんぶり  出汁ジュレ) - the main ingredient here is the cube of minced Chinese yam (長芋), which comes with a dual texture that is both crunchy (from tiny little bits inside) and soft (from parts that's almost purée-like).  On top we have some salmon roe as well as some perilla flowers.  The whole thing was surrounded by some dashi (出汁) gelée which was clearly made with ponzu (ポン酢) and citrus.  

    The most interesting part of the dish was the tonburi (とんぶり), which are the seeds of summer cypress (箒木).  Apparently it's considered a delicacy in Akita Prefecture (秋田県) and is sometimes referred to as "land caviar".

    I thought the dish showed great balance between the salty salmon roe, savory as well as acidic gelée, and the very mild sweetness from Chinese yam.   There was also a great contrast of textures, too.  And being the first dish of the evening, it started us off on a very cool and refreshing first step.

    Corn tempura (玉蜀黍天ぷら) - we're in Hokkaido, and this area is famous for its corn.  I love corn, and this has been deep-fried, so what's not to like?  Although... I gotta say it was a little more greasy than I had expected.

    Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - simply cooking here.  Just the purity of the flavors from the crab itself on display.  I didn't even bother with the lemon.  Oh and the tomalley (蟹味噌) was delish.

    Eggplant, miso, and sea urchin (茄子田楽 雲丹) - apparently a signature dish here.  The cold Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) contrasted against the warmth of the grilled eggplant, with a touch of sweet miso in between.

    Blowfish sashimi (河豚お造り) - believe it or not, this was my first time eating blowfish... as I never had the urge to tempt fate.  After all, I didn't think any food was worth dying for.

    Honestly... it was as I had expected.  I didn't get much flavor out of the translucent slices of fish, and while there was enough bite in terms of texture, the only flavors came from the spicy grated radish and young spring onion sprouts.  Oh and the fatty skin was pretty spring and bouncy, so that was more interesting than the "meat".

    Grilled tilefish (甘鯛焼き) - impeccable execution.  Just look at those crispy scales on the skin.

    Next came two pieces of nigiri sushi (握り寿司).  First was Japanese flying squid (真烏賊), which came in a thick slice that provided enough bite, but it was still soft enough.  A little shaving of yuzu (柚子) zest delivered a lovely fragrance.

    Tuna belly (トロ) - yes... in Japan when I am not asked about dietary preferences, I will shut up and eat tuna - even though I know for sure that it will be bluefin tuna at high end restaurants.  Needless to say, this was very tender and delicious.

    Sukiyaki (すき焼き) - with Hokkaido beef, over some tofu and black-eyed peas (大角豆).  Very tender, of course... and some sansho (山椒) powder.

    Crab rice (蟹飯) - very delicate flavors.  Which is another way of saying "I don't think there was enough crab in the rice"...

    Handmade soba (黒松内産の十割蕎麦) - Hello Kitty's choice of carbs, and better than the rice.  The cold soba had great texture.

    The pickles were pretty decent, as was the soup with tofu puffs.

    Gunma Meigetsu apple sorbet (ぐんま名月 シャーベット) - the core of the apple was removed and replaced with apple sorbet. Very delicious, and I almost ate the entire apple, too.

    We continued our sake session tonight, and here all the sake is sold in multiples of go (合).  I ended up ordering two gos of each sake...  Instead of the standard wooden boxes which measure each go, they used alternate vessels befitting a high-end establishment.

    Hakurakusei Junmai Daiginjo (伯楽星 純米大吟醸) - with seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Sweet on the attack, soft in the middle but turns dry and spicy.

    Chitosetsuru Daiginjo Kissho (千歳鶴  大吟醸  吉翔) - with seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Surprisingly sweeter than the Hakurakusei on the palate, as it comes with Japan Sake Meter (日本酒度) of +6 instead of +4.  Slightly dry on the finish.  Much smoother and more viscous, with more fermented flavors and good depth on the palate.

    This was a very nice dinner, with no real complaints about any of the dishes. And I knew that we wouldn't see this kind of reasonable pricing once we got to Tokyo.

    As we were pretty full from dinner, we decided to walk back to our hotel along Sapporo Ekimae-dori (札幌駅前通り), thinking we would get to see the seasonal lights up along Odori Park (大通公園).  Wouldn't you know it, we got to the park at 9:59 p.m... and they turned all the lights off at 10:00 p.m.!  Just as I was raising my camera to start taking snaps.

    We ducked into a few FamilyMarts along the way so that Hello Kitty could look for the elusive, mythical shrimp croquette sandwich she enjoyed on a drunken night 2 years ago.  No sign of it anywhere... but we have a few more days left in Japan.

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    Another day, another early morning transit.  We're off to Tokyo today, so after checking out of JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo, we rolled our luggage around the corner to JR Sapporo Station and got on a train to New Chitose Airport.  Due to an unfortunate issue with the ticketing machine, we were unable to buy tickets with reserved seats... and as it was morning rush hour, we ended up standing up for the whole 40-minute ride to the airport.  Oh well...

    We needed some coffee and breakfast, and this seemed like our last chance to grab some ramen (ラーメン) in Hokkaido.  Unfortunately we were at the airport waaay too early, and there was only one shop open at this hour in the Hokkaido Ramen Dojo (北海道ラーメン道場) in the domestic terminal.  Given our tight flight schedule we decided not to risk things by waiting for other shops to open, and parked ourselves down at Menya Kaiko (麺屋 開高) - which has a few shops around Hokkaido.

    Corn and cheese ramen (十勝コーンチーズ麵) - we're in Hokkaido, so what could be more iconic than ramen with corn (and cheese)?!  I have no idea what kind of cheese was used, but it didn't matter.  And no, this was not a particularly great bowl of ramen... and I needed plenty of water to rinse my palate afterwards.

    After we went through security, we realized that there were outlets near our gate which offered more appealing options, such as seafood rice bowl (海鮮丼) or sea urchin rice bowl (雲丹丼).  Well... at least we checked ramen off the list for someone...

    We checked into the Palace Hotel Tokyo just after 1 p.m., and time to grab a late lunch.  It was unseasonably warm today and beautiful outside, so we decided to take the 20-or-so minute walk from our hotel to Ginza, passing by ginkgo trees whose leaves have turned beautifully golden.

    Hello Kitty had requested that we have some Japanese curry on this trip, and while there seemed to be a decent curry shop just a block from our hotel, I decided that Sanchome No Curry Ya San (3丁目のカレー屋さん) looked more interesting.  Located in the basement of a small building, I knew we had come to the right place once we walked through the doors.

    It was now 2 p.m. and we arrived just before last order at 2:15 p.m.  There was only one option available by now,  which just happened to be the one I came for.

    But first, we needed proper cutlery for our meal - in this case a mini shovel.

    Beef curry with baked cheese (焼きチーズビーフカレー) - THIS.  This was what I had in mind when I chose this place.  Not only was the curry made with more than 20 types of spices, it was topped with a layer of cheese and baked in the oven.

    I chose "normal" for my level of spiciness, and was completely satisfied.  The curry rice was filling but I didn't feel stuffed.  It was just right.

    There was also a little choux cream for dessert.

    The most amazing thing about this place, though, was the audio setup.  Besides the two big, classic Altec Lansing speakers on the floor, there were a few more speakers on the walls.  There was a turntable set into a massive platform, with a large mixing board next to it - along with the requisite vacuum tube amp, CD player, other gadgets for sound optimization... etc.  We were entertained with Vivaldi and J.S. Bach while we enjoyed our curry.

    On top of the 15 or so components, there was also an acoustic guitar and a professional microphone on stands.  So I'm guessing there would be live music in the evenings, perhaps.  This turned out to be such an interesting curry shop!

    The café/shop of Hidemi Sugino is just on the next block, so we stopped by the take a look after lunch.  He was part of the winning team for the gold medal at La Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in 1991, and was also voted Asia's Best Pastry Chef in 2015 for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  I figured I could pick up a few things and bring them back as presents.

    We walked over to Ginza and made a stop at Uniqlo so I could pick up some cotton T-shirts to change into.  I had been dying in this 24°C weather in my cashmere hoodie as I had run out of lighter clothes over the last few days... and was so relieved to be wearing something lighter.

    Next we went to check out GINZA SIX across the street, as it was still under construction during our last trip to Tokyo.  They were featuring works from French artist Nicolas Buffe - who had designed some boxes for Pierre Hermé in 2016.  Pretty nice.

    I needed a little break, so we went back to the hotel to rest up while I gave some serious consideration to buying a very expensive and exclusive set of sake...

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  • 12/01/18--18:16: Droning Boy: snowy Hokkaido
  • I dragged my ass out of bed a little after 6 a.m. in spite of my lack of sleep yesterday.  One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to take some shots of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) from the air, and I had gotten my drone fixed just in time before we flew here.

    I went out the front door of the Hotel Windsor Toya, and after a short walk trying not to slip on compacted snow, I realized that the hotel parking lot would be a good spot for me to take off.  I unfolded my portable landing pad, tried to secure it on a pile of snow flattened by a bulldozer, and launched my drone into the sky.

    This was my first time trying out the panoramic mode on the DJI Mavic Pro, and the functionality only came out about a year ago.  I was pretty excited to check out the spherical panorama mode, where the drone positions itself to take 34 pictures which can later be stitched together on the app itself.  I also took some wide, horizontal panorama shots.

    I focused on shooting video for my second flight, and pushed the drone towards Nakajima Island (中島) in the middle of Lake Toya.  I was almost over the edge of the lake, at a distance of around 2.5 km, when I decided to bring the drone home.  There still seemed to be a healthy buffer between the estimated time remaining on the battery and the minimum time for the drone to fly straight home.

    But the wind was picking up, and it seemed the drone was fighting the wind as it tried to come home.  I quickly saw the buffer disappear, and I started to wonder whether there would be enough juice to bring the drone home.  Panic ensued, and my heart was racing pretty fast as I began to think that the drone wouldn't make it back before the battery died.  Given that I was on the edge of a cliff, that means I probably wouldn't be in a position to recover the lost drone.  Shit, shit, shit!

    Thankfully the drone made it back to me, with an estimated 8% of battery life left.  This was the second time I came close to losing the drone from pushing it too far, and I decided to take it easy on the next two flights.

    After standing out in the freezing cold for about 2 hours, without any fuel or hot drink, I decided it was time to head back for a hot shower.  I asked Hello Kitty to run down to the restaurant before they stop the last order at 9:30 a.m.  I needed a hot shower to thaw myself out, and I tried to get it done quickly.  As I was drying my hair, I got a message from Hello Kitty at 9:25 a.m. that I needed to get to the lounge ASAP, as she and My Birdbrain Cousin had asked the staff to save me a Japanese breakfast set.

    I got to the lounge entrance at 9:34 a.m., only to be told by the staff that I cannot eat there.  I could see the ladies seated at a table, and asked to join them.  The staff refused to let me enter.  Knowing from experience that arguing with the Japanese is futile, I quickly went to Gilligan's Island (yes, I know...) for an American-style breakfast.

    Besides the usual viennoiserie, I got myself an omelette made the Japanese way, along with sausage, bacon, and boiled seasonal vegetables.  I declined the glass of sparkling wine.

    This was most certainly not the satisfying breakfast that I was hoping for.

    So here's the thing.  I've lived in Japan for a few years, and I understand the Japanese way of doing things... which is to say everything is done by the book.  They are sticklers when it comes to following the rules, and they don't much care for or understand how to work their way around limitations.  Many are as straight as an arrow and refused to bend.

    I arrived at 9:34 a.m., which was 4 minutes past the time for last order.  I didn't make the cut-off time.  I get it.  He had every right to refuse me service, going by the book.  But what I don't get is that... here's a guy who works in the hospitality industry.  He was informed of my impending arrival beforehand.  The restaurant wasn't running out of food.  He could have easily served me that breakfast, but he simply refused to do it out of principle.  And in so doing, he chose not to be hospitable - and failed in the most basic aspect of his job.  He could have had a very happy and satisfied customer in me, and he chose to have a pissed off hotel guest instead.

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    We're having kaiseki (会席料理) dinners two night in a row, and tonight in Tokyo I chose Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十) - which held the coveted 3-star status from Michelin from 2008 to 2014.  We were lucky to get counter seats for the late seating, so we had a little more interaction with Chef Okuda Toru (奥田透).

    No menu here as everything was seasonal.

    Marinated tilefish, salmon roe, and shiitake (先付: 甘鯛昆布締め  イクラ  椎茸) - the tilefish (甘鯛) has been marinated by wrapping it with kelp to impart a little more flavor.  This was placed on top of slices of pretty big shiitake (椎茸), then we've got some salmon roe as well as tonburi (とんぶり) on top.  I was surprised to find crunchy bits of celtuce in my bowl, which the Japanese call ちしゃとう.

    Female snow crab (先付: せいこ蟹) - a seasonal delicacy that is being served across high-end kaiseki restaurants.  I've only ever had the version they serve at Kaiseki Den by Saotome, which comes chilled with gelée on top.  Tonight I would get to have a warm version, covered by a layer of the eggs from the female snow crab.

    Digging inside the shell, we have the familiar mix of snow crab meat, tomalley (蟹味噌), ovaries (内子), and of course the eggs (外子).  This was absolutely delicious.  I was so, sooooo happy... as were the ladies.

    Japanese tiger prawn dumpling with abalone mushrooms (椀物: 車海老真薯  鮑茸) - for the お椀, we have a nice prawn dumpling in the light and delicate broth, along with abalone mushrooms, a tiny little turnip, and some shredded Japanese spikenard (独活) stem that was pretty crunchy.  I loved the cubes of yuzu (柚子) rind.

    The flavors of the dumpling were a little more eggy than I had expected.

    Red seabream (真鯛) - wild from Awaji Island (淡路島).  Got a nice bite.

    Fatty tuna and sea urchin (大トロ  雲丹) - the fatty tuna belly was actually smoked, while the sea urchin from Hamanaka (浜中町) came with some fleur de sel on top.  We were instructed to mix them up before enjoying.  And enjoy we did.  Loved the smoky flavors of the tuna.

    Steamed abalone and lotus root (蒸物: 鮑  蓮根) - the abalone came from Awaji Island (淡路島), and curiously tastes kinda like clams tonight... perhaps because it was undercooked and still kinda crunchy.  Served with crunchy lotus roots and drizzled with abalone liver sauce.

    We were sitting nearest to the charcoal grill, so we got to watch some grilling action as we ate...

    Grilled broadbanded thornyhead (焼物: 喜知次) - succulent and delicious, of course.  Served with grated radish (大根おろし) and nukazuke (糠漬け) vegetables.

    Simmered vegetables (炊合: 蕪 海老芋 三つ葉) - we've got turnip (蕪), shrimp taro (海老芋) from Kyoto, shredded carrots, and mitsuba (三つ葉).  The shrimp taro is as smooth and silky as I remembered, and the mitsuba brought its very distinctive flavors to the dish.

    Beef shabu shabu (強肴: 牛しゃぶしゃぶ) - the source of this Tajima beef (但馬牛) was Ohta Farm (太田牧場) in Kobe, so this beef is referred to as Ohta beef (太田牛).

    The slices of beef were thicker than I expected, and they were dunked into the pot of boiling stock - made with soy sauce and wild mushrooms which had just arrived from Hokkaido today.

    These were delicious, served with a tiny dab of wasabi.

    Mackerel bozushi (食事: 鯖の棒鮨) - DAYAM!  This thing was MASSIVE!  And the mackerel was so fatty and crunchy!  I absolutely loved this!  So, soooo happy!

    Crab soba (凌ぎ: ズワイ蟹 生姜麺) - the soba was made with ginger, and came with some tofu skin (湯葉), snow crab (ズワイ蟹), and crab tomalley.  The ginger flavors in the noodles were meant to match the flavors of the crab.

    Le Lectier with herb gelée (水物: ル・レクチェとハーブジュレ) - the Le Lectier pear from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) was very delicious, and came topped with some herb gelée garnished with pomegranate seeds.

    Houjicha pudding (菓子: ほうじ茶プリン) - O-M-G.  I love プリン, and I love houjicha (ほうじ茶).  So what's not to like about this?  Especially when it was sooo soft and smooth it also tasted like it had been liquefied.

    Sake is once again served per go (合), but I decided to take things easy tonight and not order so much...

    Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo (黒龍  純米吟醸), 30BY - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.  Very smooth, very light and easy on the palate, with fermented rice flavors.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Blue Bottle Tsuneda (磯自慢 純米大吟醸  ブルーボトル 常田), 30BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Much cleaner and smoother than the Kokuryu.  Sooo smooth and sweet on the attack, as well as in the middle, but a little dry on the finish.  Some nice depth of flavors here.

    This was a wonderful dinner.  Other than the abalone, which I found slightly less satisfying, every single course was delicious.  Good, seasonal ingredients showing off their flavors, and great execution.  Can't really ask for much more, can I?

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