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

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    Our second day in Tokyo started with lunch at L'Effervescence.  I've been curious about this place for the last few years as many friends had raved about it, so I figured I owed it to myself to check it out on this trip.

    My Birdbrain Cousin has already been here before in the evening, but thankfully she is happy to return for lunch.

    I asked for some water, and what came was 栗林の仕込水 from Kuribayashi Brewery (栗林酒造).  This is the same water used to brew sake by the brewery, and I understand that sometimes breweries supply them to their customers.

    One thing that I take notice of, which I take as an indication of service staff's attention to detail, is whether the staff notice that Hello Kitty is left-handed.  The service staff here noticed very early on, before we even got our first dish.  That's very impressive.

    Our welcome drink was a mix of sake and Barolo Chinato, which would explain the bitterness on the palate.

    Almanach des gourmands~ crabe séiko, chou-fleur / yuzu, sake - you've got cauliflower purée at the bottom, Sherry vinegar gelée, female snow crab (せいこ蟹)), and finally crab foam on top.  This was delicious but came with a slight hint of bitterness on the finish.

    Sake and yuzu sorbet - this was nice and refreshing with the acidity from the citrus, and the alcohol from sake was pretty obvious.

    Comme le chausson aux pommes#35~ foie de lotte de mer, champignon, truffe noire - I finally had a chance to try the famous "apple pie"... which came inside a paper container resembling what one sees from McDonald's...

    This was pretty much bite-sized... or maybe two bites.  The filling was a combination of smooth and creamy monkfish liver, mushroom purée, and black truffle.  Certainly a delicious mouthful (or two).

    Étoile polaire~ noix de St. Jacques au sashimi, vinaigrette de citron vert et échalote, miso blanc, radis daikons - what a stunning dish!  Very thin slices of raw Hokkaido scallops, presented with white miso and lime vinaigrette along with thin wafers of pickled radish.  The sweet scallop worked well with the slightly acidic pickles and vinaigrette, while the miso added some umami.  Very clean and pure flavors here.

    Un point fixe~ navet cuit entier et persil, jambon basque de porc et brioche - a signature dish for the restaurant.  Apparently this is always on the menu, and the preparation does not change.  What does change with the seasons, however, is the taste of the turnip itself.
    The turnip from Chiba Prefecture was soaked for 4 hours (did our server mean simmered/slow-cooked?) and pan-fried with butter.  There was definitely a bit of spiciness coming from the fall turnip.

    Automne, embrassement~ mérou grillé au charbon, purée de celeri rave, huile au lardon torrefié, maitake, noix de ginkgo - the grouper from Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県) was very tender but also springy at the same time. Served with a celeriac sauce, maitake (舞茸), ginkgo nuts, and pickled shallots which added some acidity.

    Un pays entre mers et montagnes~ canard de Kyoto rôti et sauce à la brandade, betterave, poireau negi, chou noir - the Kyoto duck came with both a piece of breast as well as leg.  Served with a brandade sauce as well as beetroot purée - the latter of which was removed from Hello Kitty's and my plates.  Interesting to see cavolo nero here.
    Nice execution on the breast.  The leg came with very yummy and chewy fat.

    Retour à la maison~ châtaigne, raisin sauvage, pomme, glace au thé au sarrasin torréfié - inspired by Mont Blanc, with sauce made from grilled apples. The ice cream was made from Tartary buckwheat tea (韃靼そば茶), and the flavors were not as strong as I had imagined.

    Chestnut mousse wrapped around chestnut compote and wild grape sorbet.  We have a total a 4 textures of chestnuts here: chips, mousse, compote, and powder.
    Mignardises, thé matcha, "World peace" - a series of bite-sized mignardises came on a plate.  First we have the chocolate dacquoise.
    Gateau marjolaine

    Mochi with dried persimmon and red bean paste (餡子)

    The chocolate lollipop came with black sesame and lime filling, along with some pop rocks at the bottom.

    Needless to say, the matcha was made to order tableside.

    "World peace" - made with peanut milk and shochu (焼酎), and inspired by a drink served at State Bird Provisions.
    I normally don't drink at lunch, but it's been pretty obvious over the last few days that I'm dining with two very thirsty ladies... and Champagne was requested.

    Ulysse Collin Les Roises, dégorgée le 16 février 2015 - nice and plenty of toasty oak on the nose.  A little bit of straw.

    Our parting gift was a small slice of pound cake, made with mushrooms and nuts.

    We were very full and need to walk a little, so I asked the ladies for permission to take a detour.  Our destination would not exactly be a place frequented by tourists...

    As a teenager growing up in Tokyo - and living in Setagaya Ward (世田谷区), I often met up with friends in front of the statue of Hachiko (ハチ公) outside Shibuya Station (渋谷駅).  I knew he was a famous dog, but this was pre-Internet and I didn't exactly read up on his story.  I did more research after watching Hachi: A Dog's Tale, the Hollywood adaption of the moving story of the loyal dog. Then I happened to re-read stories about him a few weeks ago, and realized that Hachiko is buried in Aoyama Cemetery (青山墓地) next to his owners Ueno Hidesaburo (上野英三郎) and Sakano Yaeko (坂野八重子).  As the location is marked on Google Maps, I decided that I wanted to pay them a visit.

    It was a lovely day out, and there were plenty of trees inside the large cemetery, so I treated it as a casual stroll.  Soon we spotted Hachiko's tombstone, which had a little area bearing people's gifts.  There were a few dog figurines, flowers, and coins from around the world.  More than 80 years after his death, it's clear that Hachiko is as beloved as ever.

    I clapped my hands and bowed my head as a sign of respect, whispered a prayer, and left one of the pound cakes I took from L'Effervescence.  I hoped that Hachiko would enjoy it.  I also left coins from Taiwan as well as Hong Kong to add to his collection.  Hello Kitty and I left with our eyes moist.

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    I needed one high-end sushi meal on this trip, and had originally been wanting to visit a 3-star long on my checklist.  When the Palate Hotel concierge surprisingly failed to come through, I asked for suggestions from the foodie community, and based on my past experience, Sushi Masuda (鮨ます田) was recommended to me.

    Unfortunately as the reservation was made rather late, we were not able to get ourselves seated at the counter.  We had to make do with table seating in a private room on the side.  This would be my first experience in eating in a top sushiya without seeing the chef put the pieces in front of me.

    As was the case at lunch today, staff here paid a great deal of attention to detail... and noticed that Hello Kitty was left-handed even before they brought us the sake.

    Monkfish liver and blowfish (鮟肝と河豚) - the monkfish liver was very rich in flavor, and I was quite surprised when the chef asked us to wrap the thick and chewy slices of blowfish around the silky monkfish liver, along with spicy grated radish.

    Female snow crab (せいこ蟹) - this would be my third straight meal of having this, but I ain't complainin'!  Instead of shredded crab meat, we have meat from the legs together with the ovaries (内子) and the eggs (外子).

    Very delicious, but curiously topped with some creamy Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) on top.

    Tilefish simmered in sake (甘鯛の酒煮) - very tender as expected, and came with some minced spring onion on top that was kinda salty.

    Pomfret (真名鰹) - nice and juicy.

    Mullet roe wrapped in mochi (餅とカラスミ) - kinda interesting to have a piece of cured mullet roe (カラスミ) sandwiched between two thin slices of mochi, then wrapped in nori (のり).

    Tuna roll (鮪巻き) - the tuna looked a lot more fatty than just lean tuna... and in fact tasted like it was chopped up, with a very soft texture.  The vinegar in the shari (シャリ) was very pronounced.

    Marinated squid (烏賊の塩辛) - very rich and heavy in terms of flavor...

    Thread-sail filefish (皮剥) - the neta (ネタ) was thick and a little chewy, but that slice of fish liver on top was very, very nice...

    Squid (墨烏賊) - just loved the thickness of the cut and the texture.

    Lean tuna (あかみ) - needless to say this was very, very soft.

    Medium-fatty tuna (中トロ) - of course the neta (ネタ) on this one melted in the mouth... The temperature of the shari (シャリ) was still nice and warm.

    Fatty tuna (大トロ) - this could have been a slice of beef for all I know... Just look at that marbling.

    Gizzard shad (小鰭) - nice acidity here.

    Japanese tiger prawn (車海老) - served with some tomalley.  Very sweet.

    Clam shell (蛤) - clearly a few levels below what I remembered enjoying at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎).

    Japanese halfbeak (細魚) - surprisingly big, with nice crunchy texture.

    Yellowtail (鰤) - soooo, soooo fatty and melt-in-the-mouth.

    Salmon roe (イクラ) - one of my favorites since childhood.

    Conger eel (穴子)

    Egg (玉子焼き) - very sweet and spongy.

    I decided to order a bottle from one of my favorite sake breweries...

    Kokuryu Daiginjo Ryu (黒龍 大吟醸 龍), 30BY - much more dry than expected upfront, but also more concentration than expected.

    I gotta say that I was pretty happy with the experience tonight, despite not sitting at the counter.  The shari (シャリ) came to our table at a good temperature, and I did appreciate the stronger dose of rice vinegar.  I'm glad we were able to come here.

    After dinner, we accompanied My Birdbrain Cousin to the Mega Don Quijote (MEGAドン・キホーテ) flagship store in Shibuya.  For some reason, there was a statue of Hachiko (ハチ公) inside the store... but I guess they're not the only retailer to do this.  I managed to pick up a few different boxes of Kit Kat while the ladies did their shopping for cosmetics and stuff.

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    After we got up this morning, Hello Kitty and I went a little bit further than the convenience store downstairs for her morning coffee.  She has been following the Instagram account behind Reissue for a while, and she didn't object when I suggested that we get our latte on the other side of town.

    At first glance the pricing for a cup of coffee seems pretty steep, but what one pays for here isn't an ordinary cup of coffee.  This place is famous for their latte art - which can be either 2D or 3D.  Hello Kitty and I each showed George an image, and he went to work.

    So... my cup came with a 3-D rendition of our dog Kuma, interpreted from a picture where he was crouching down looking for a butt-scratch.  Hello Kitty, to my surprise, wanted one of Korilakkuma (コリラックマ) showing us her butt...

    Here's another look at Korilakkuma.  George actually posted a picture of it on his IG account.

    The space is pretty nice and relaxing, with an old leather couch in front of bookshelves displaying the vinyl collection as well as a couple of turntables and vacuum tube amps.

    Having gotten our morning dose of caffeine, we made our obligatory stop at Kiddy Land for (what else?) Rilakkuma and Gudetama goodies.  Then we looped around the eastern side of Omotesando and walked over to our lunch venue.

    Florilège sits in the basement of a building, where diners sit at a large, C-shaped counter facing the central, open kitchen.  Like L'Effervescence, it's a place highly recommended by a number of my friends, and I actually did have opportunity to share one of Seventh Son (家全七福)'s famous suckling pig with chef owner Kawate Hiroyasu (川手寛康) last month.

    Sweet potato - the "sweet potatoes" have a crispy batter on the outside, with purple and yellow sweet potato mash inside.  They were smoked with houjicha (焙じ茶) and buried in a pile of leaves.

    Scallops, konbu - basically a "millefeuille" with alternating slices of scallops and radish (or turnip), with perilla leaves, dill, and konbu (昆布) powder.  Garnished with flowers and finger lime. Served with a cylinder of sweet fromage blanc and acidic lemon citrus cream on top.

    The scallops were basically raw, and very sweet.  I was ever so grateful that the finger lime didn't deliver too much overpowering acidity.

    The steamed bun was made with sake lees (酒粕).

    Sustainability: beef - apparently the beef comes from older cattle around 7 or 8 years old, and the beef seemed almost raw, and we wondered whether it was slow-cooked.  It also tasted reasonably salty like it had been salted or cured.  There was smoked mashed potatoes which came pretty runny and creamy, along with beef consommé that had been thickened.  We've got a mixture of herbs like parsley, chervil, and tarragon on top.

    Shiitake-mushrooms - wrapped inside the cabbage was Japanese softshell turtle (スッポン), with some oscietre caviar on top adding some flavors from the sea.  We also had wild shiitake topped with some sansho leaves (木の芽).  Served with some turtle soup.

    Pacific saury - this was an extra dish from Kawate-san.  Pacific saury (秋刀魚) had been rolled up and topped with some salmon roe, and dressed with purée of chrysanthemum greens (春菊) and sauce made with the liver of Pacific saury.  Very, very tasty... with strong flavors coming from both the fish and the liver.  The green shoots on top were a little earthy, and I wondered whether those were pea shoots.

    To share - we were first shown this guinea fowl before it was taken away for "further processing"...

    When this came back, there were clusters of "miso rice" on top, which turned out to be glutinous rice cooked in miso.  There was some jus, dashi (出汁) sauce, as well as Korean perilla (荏胡麻) sauce.

    Take a look at that delicious layer of fat underneath the paper-thin, crispy skin.  And the meat?  O-M-G.  It was soooo tender that I wondered whether I was eating tofu, but it wasn't mushy like those crappy Hainanese chicken rice I keep having in Singapore.  It also wasn't dry, which is sometimes the case.  A damn good dish.  Hello Kitty was very, very impressed.  So was I.

    Tarte tatin - we've got caramelized apples at the bottom, and vanilla ice cream "snow" frozen by liquid nitrogen on top.  I think Hello Kitty was happy...

    Gift: Amazon cacao - this was practically a Japanese-style omelette, except that it was made of chocolate.  Wonderful caramel filling in the middle, and came with an espresso sauce as well as chantilly.  Lip-smacking good.

    Candied cape gooseberry.

    No surprise that the ladies wanted to drink... so I dutifully picked out a bottle of Champagne.

    2011 Chartogne-Taillet Chemin de Reims, dégorgée en juin 2018 - you knew this was a chardonnay, and definitely pretty powerful on the palate... not light at all.  Toasty notes and a good match with the food.  Once in a bigger glass, the nose turned fragrant and floral.

    This was a very good lunch with many hits.  It's no wonder that this was Hello Kitty's favorite meal so far... and an incredible bargain, too!  I could see why this place has been so popular.  Many thanks to Kawate-san and the team for taking such good care of us.

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    After stuffing ourselves at lunch, we decided to be lazy and went to Odaiba (お台場) by taxi instead of taking the train as originally planned.  Our destination was the MORI Building Digital Art Museum, so that we could visit the teamLab Borderless art installation that is earning rave reviews from everyone I know who has visited.

    We entered the space in groups, and it was just about pitch black when the bunch of us rushed in.  We knew there were different rooms showing different themes, and we kinda just rushed into one of them like headless chickens without even checking to see which theme it was...

    Once we were in Borderless World, we were absolutely stunned.  I had seen pictures on social media, but being immersed in the sights and sounds personally was a completely different experience.  Everywhere I looked, people were awestruck at the beauty surrounding us, and everyone had their phones or cameras out to try to record their experiences.

    Even though this was a weekday afternoon, there was A TON of people here... which made it difficult to take pictures or film without having lots of bystanders in the frame.

    We spent the most time inside Borderless World.  As there were almost no signs telling you where you are, it was difficult to figure out which way to go through the exhibit.  This was also the intention of the creators - to allow people to roam freely.  So we went through Flower Forest, Animals of Flowers, Light Vortex, and finally Athletic Forest, where kids and adults alike were playing, walking around, jumping on trampolines and coming down slides.

    But the most stunning - and also the most crowded space - was Crystal World.  One is asked to download an app which allows the user to send commands in order to light up the LEDs with different patterns.  Unfortunately due to the high number of people trying to do the same thing, I'm not sure it worked for me...  But the lightshow was still beautiful.

    I would have wanted to spend more time here, but we needed to get back to the Palace Hotel Tokyo so I could pick up wines for dinner, and we weren't sure if we could flag down a taxi here, so we took the train back and rushed over to Shibuya for our early-ish dinner.  Thankfully we weren't very late...

    Adenia was one of the options recommended by H-man for our gathering tonight, as our old favorite La Ruée vers l'or is apparently no more.  The atmosphere is a lot more casual, and as the evening went on, I realized the same could be said of the cuisine.

    But for me, it was good enough to be able to get together with this gang... Cow, Chicken, and H-man.  We have known each other for more than 20 years, and I'm happy that they are still willing to see me whenever I'm in town.

    We started with some appetizers:

    Chicken breast ham - this was OK.

    Pâté de campagne - actually not bad at all.  I wish I had more stomach space.

    Smoked salmon

    Caesar salad with lardons

    Crescent sweetlips (胡椒鯛) - served with a minced burdock sauce.  This was OK.

    Lamb short loin, Gorgonzola sauce - this was OK.

    The beef that came was overcooked and dry.  Pretty sad.

    Sorbet with granola - I can't even remember what this was... maybe mango?

    The highlights of our gatherings - other than the conversations - have always been the wines.  Traditionally the bottles came from both H-man's and my cellars.  Tonight we also had a contribution from Chicken which, unsurprisingly, was Aussie.

    1990 Alain Robert Blanc de Blanc Réserve Le Mesnil, en magnum - very smooth on the palate and a little sweet.  A bit toasty on the nose, with nice notes of sweet grass, and almost some coffee.

    1990 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune - big and beautiful nose, with lots of petrol, white flowers, and herbs.  Really fucking awesome and fragrant floral nose.

    1971 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese - initially the nose was absolutely beautiful, with classic petrol and white flowers, slightly more ripe and marmalade than expected.  But there was also a little bit of straw and wet cardboard, so we weren't sure whether this was lightly corked or just reductive.  There was still plenty of toasty notes, though.

    1995 Cheval Blanc - smoky, beautiful, classic Bordeaux, with toast and almost coffee.  After an hour, some green bell pepper notes.

    1996 Penfolds Bin 707 - smoky.  Initially much sweeter and riper with typical Aussie nose.  Later it became less ripe and slightly more dry on the palate.

    In spite of the underwhelming food, it was great to be able to catch up with old friends. I only wish we had more time together. I think I'll need to schedule more time with them in the future.

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    I had no lunch plans today.  Or so I thought.  Hello Kitty was off visiting her old friend, and My Birdbrain Cousin was off doing her own thang... so I was left to my own devices.  I was planning on strolling over to grab my favorite ramen later, and still lying around in the hotel bed, when The Dining Austrian ping me.

    It was 11:10 a.m. or so.  Would I be able to join him for lunch at 12:00 p.m.?  I thought about it... and as I hadn't actually cleaned up, I figured I may be about 10 minutes late to lunch.  As it turns out, due to unforeseen circumstances, my friend was going to be about 40 minutes late himself.  This, of course, would be a cardinal sin at Japanese restaurants...  and today we would be reinforcing the stereotypes of rude gaijins who show up late.  Thankfully we have a third person, who would be on time...  As I would find out later, the restaurant's website specifically reminds foreign guests that they should be on time.

    I showed up at Kimoto (紀茂登) between 15 to 20 minutes late, apologized to Kimoto-san for my tardiness, and sat in front of the 8-seat counter with 9 place settings for this meal.  I was trying to be respectful and kept my Sony A9 in my bag at my feet, and made sure to keep my phone on my lap so as not to scratch the beautiful (and incredibly expensive) Japanese cypress counter.  Well, as I found out later by reading the restaurant's website, they specifically ask people not to bring their SLRs...  Strike two.  So it appears that I am that annoying gaijin, after all...  But hey, at least my A9 was silent and didn't make any noise disturbing other customers.

    As I had arrived late, Kimoto-san has already started service.  The welcome drink of cold-brewed Oolong tea (水だし烏龍茶) had already been put aside for me, and we were now on the first course.

    Female snow crab with rice (せいこ蟹飯) - YASS!  I've been having this seasonal delicacy at just about every single Japanese meal on this trip, so I wasn't surprised to see せいこ蟹 on the menu.  I was, however, rather surprised to see it served with rice at the start of the meal.  In any case, this was absolutely delicious, because how could it not be?!

    Interesting that there were three little propagule (零余子) on top of the rice, which probably came from either Japanese yam (山の芋) or Chinese yam (長芋).  I had never seen them before, but they certainly had a texture that was similar to yam or potato.

    Bottarga tempura with ginkgo nuts (生カラスミ天婦羅  銀杏) - I'm not sure I've ever had mullet roe served as a tempura (天婦羅) before.

    The texture was very soft and wet, which means this was relatively fresh and not seasoned/dried. 

    Japanese snow crab dumpling with wood ear (ズワイ蟹の真薯  生キクラゲ) - whereas many other shrimp and crab dumplings are made with lots of shrimp or crab paste, this one was almost entirely fresh snow crab meat... And that was one big piece of fresh wood ear!  I also love that the turnip was so tiny compared to the leaves growing out of it...

    I really do love the お椀 course in kaiseki meals, as it always showcase very delicate and pure flavors, and almost always features the beautiful fragrance of yuzu (柚子).

    Wild blowfish sashimi and milt (天然河豚のお造りと白子) - I would have had no problems eating the blowfish from Awaji (淡路), except for the fact that there was also fish cum underneath.  Of course this was a big FUCK NO for me, so I offered my bowl to the others... and The Dining Austrian was only too happy to inhale it.

    Charcoal grilled horsehead tilefish and Ise lobster (白甘鯛炭火焼 伊勢海老炙り) - the horsehead tilefish (白甘鯛) was served as a really thick cut, and it was incredibly tender.  The chargrilled skin was amazingly fragrant.  This was meant to be taken with wasabi.  The Ise lobster was lightly grilled so that it was partially cooked on one side while still raw, and the lobster had already been seasoned.  I gotta say... this was a damn good dish.  Top ingredients, flawless execution, delicate and pure flavors.

    Charcoal grilled snow crab leg (ズワイガニ焼き) - served with a dashi (出汁) on the side for dipping, although I didn't think the dashi was necessary.  We were also advised to add 2 or 3 drops of sudachi (酢橘) juice to the dashi and to drink it.

    Simmered snow crab meat with tomalley - I'm not sure that a more awesome dish could be made from crab.  The shell of the snow crab - with all its tomalley - was placed on the charcoal grill so that a mix of tomalley, crab meat, and what I suspect was dashi could be simmered.

    Soooooo, soooo awesome.

    When we were done, we were given a little bit of dashi as well as a tiny bit of sake, so we could drink up all the leftover tomalley...

    Roast Mallard duck (真鴨の焼き) - the Mallard duck from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) came with a big pile of green leeks on top, which were incredibly delicious.

    The execution on the duck was pretty nice, even though I would have also been happy had it been a little more rare.  Absolutely delicious combination with the jus and the leeks.  Oh, and the fatty skin... Slurp!

    Turnip simmered in konbu dashi (昆布出汁蕪) - this was just beautiful in all its simplicity.  An almost perfectly-shaped turnip, peeled, and simmered in konbu dashi (昆布出汁).  There was nothing else to the dish, as the chef's intention was to showcase the purity of the turnip's flavors.  The dashi actually accentuated the sweetness of the turnip.

    Miyazaki beef chateaubriand (宮崎牛のシャトーブリアン) - lovingly grilled ever so gently.  Very soft and melt-in-your-mouth. But the most amazing thing was the salt-marinated black peppercorns (胡椒塩漬け) that came as a condiment for the beef.  These tasted fucking amazing, and we even put a few peppercorns on the bowl of rice we were enjoying with the beef.

    Marinated napa cabbage and salt-dried kelp (白菜の漬物  塩昆布)

    Blowfish porridge (ふぐの雑炊) - very lovely and comforting towards the end of the meal.

    At this point, Kimoto-san suddenly pulled out a bottle of 1980 Yquem, popped the cork, took a sip, then stuck the bottle back into the fridge. The three of us decided that we would have a glass, so we each enjoyed a small glass of the nectar.

    1980 Yquem - obviously botrytized nose, very ripe with lots of honeydew melon.  A little astringent on the back palate, with a long finish.

    Milk pudding with vanilla and salt (バニラと塩の牛乳プリン) - with almond crumble on top.  Yum.

    Chestnut kinton (栗金団) - very warm and tasty with bits of sweet chestnut inside.

    Matcha (抹茶)

    Konpeito (金平糖) - comes in both salt and ginger flavors. 

    It was time to move on, so we asked for the bill.  It's not unusual for a restaurant in Japan to hand you a piece of paper with just a single number written on it, and today at number was JPY 225,000.  For the three of us.

    I stared at that number for a few seconds as the sticker shock hit me.  OK, so I didn't ask The Dining Austrian how much lunch was going to cost, and I was in such a rush to get here that I didn't do any homework.  The others realized that the price included alcohol - most of which I did not touch - so I was in effect subsidizing them.  But even taking out the alcohol portion, lunch today probably cost on the order of JPY 60,000 or so - which was the most I have ever paid for a meal in Japan... by a very wide margin.

    Granted, I'm a total amateur and this was my first experience at a top end kaiseki restaurant - whose level came in above even ones with three Michelin stars like Kanda (かんだ), Yukimura (幸村), and Ishikawa (石かわ).  I have not yet had the pleasure of dining in kaiseki temples like Kyoaji (京味) or Matsukawa (松川), or Kitcho (吉兆)honten in Arashiyama (嵐山)... so I guess my past experience - none of which involved winter dining with the seasonal delicacies I had today - placed my expectations for a bill roughly half the size.

    To be fair, the ingredients we got today were top-notch and featured a lot of seasonal specialties.  There were four courses featuring Japanese snow crabs, and two featuring blowfish - including expensive fish cum.  So purely from an ingredient level, I figured it was entirely reasonable to be charging these prices.  I just didn't know the meal was gonna be so luxe... and ever so thankful that the restaurant takes credit cards.

    But in the end, I was very happy with lunch.  This was undoubtedly the best meal I had on the trip, and with the price I paid... also the most memorable.

    After bidding the others farewell, I rushed over to Ueno Station to meet up with Hello Kitty.  We wanted to check out the Munch: A Retrospective exhibition at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (東京都美術館).

    To be very honest, I knew almost nothing about Edvard Munch other than his iconic work The Scream - and one of the four extant versions is here at the exhibition.  It was interesting to find out how his career progressed, and how drastically his style changed once he received some help for his mental issues.

    The highlight of the afternoon for me was undoubtedly my purchases of goodies featuring Pikachu posing as the protagonist in The Scream...

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    After kicking off the evening with some great sake, we moved to Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara (炭火焼肉なかはら) for dinner.  Hello Kitty had wanted some beef on this trip, and we were trying to choose between yakiniku (焼肉) and steak.  Since we chose to have teppanyaki (鉄板焼) in Toya, we decided to have yakiniku in Tokyo.  Seeing that Nakahara-san is part of a foodie group I belong to and his restaurant is beloved by members of that group, I figured I owed it to myself to check it out.

    The Man in White T-shirt found out that we were going to dine here, and offered to contact Nakahara-san on our behalf so that we could be seated at the counter in front of the boss.  Unfortunately we ended up with a late addition to our group to make it a party of 5, and there were only 4 seats at the counter, so we didn't have the boss cooking for us after all.  残念...

    We chose the most expensive menu option, which was the Special Course that includes the "legendary tongue", 7 cuts of meat including "hormone (ホルモン)", and 1/4 of a steak cutlet sandwich.

    The full-length version in 4K is here.

    Our amuse was a take on vichyssoise, with potato foam with wagyu consommé jelly and corned beef

    Yukhoe (육회) - pretty nice and soft...

    Legendary tongue (幻のタン) - this actually consists of three different parts of the tongue - first the base of the tongue (タン元), then the front of the tongue (タン先), and finally the underside (タンゲタ).

    The base of the tongue (タン元)  came as a thick cut, scored, and is the crunchy part.

    The front was cut as thin slices, and the underside came with sinews.

    Next came the house salad, which include 17 different types of vegetables from Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県).

    Sirloin (サーロイン) - very, very meaty in the mouth, and marinated in a sweet tare (たれ).

    Hangar steak (ハラミ) - a little chewy, but very juicy and full of meaty flavors... as expected.

    Shoulder triangle (肩三角) - this came as a thicker cut than they way it is served at Yoroniku (よろにく).

    Tri-tip (友三角) - fatty, with a nice and bouncy texture.  Also in sweet tare (たれ).

    Eye of knuckle (シンシン) - a reasonably thick cut for this, and leaner than expected.  Very nice meat flavors.

    Oxtail soup - apparently this was simmered for 50 hours... I loved the milky flavors, as well as the kick from black pepper.

    Colon (シマチョウ) - taken with ponzu (ポン酢) and grated radish (おろし).  Very bouncy and fatty.

    Rumen (ミノ) - taken with yuzukosho (柚子胡椒).  Very crunchy.

    Beef cutlet sandwich (牛カツサンド) - this has become de rigeur at places serving yakiniku or steak. Yes, it was pretty damn good... which begs of question of why we only get 1/4 of the sandwich...

    It was time for carbs at the end of the meal, and we were offered a choice of gyudon (牛丼) or cold noodles... or both.  Naturally I chose both.

    Gyudon (牛丼) - what's not to like about this???

    Cold noodles - this is kinda like Korean naengmyeon (냉면)... and the texture was pretty nice and chewy.

    Can't do without kimchi and pickles...

    Pistachio ice cream - the staff decided that we should have a little bit of tequila with our ice cream, and poured some on top...

    This was a damn good meal.  A lot of different and interesting cuts of beef, and I wish that we could have had Nakahara-san cook them for us personally.  Next time, I guess...

    P.S.  I found out later in the evening that my good friend from Taiwan had already eaten a full dinner at a restaurant with Michelin stars BEFORE joining us for this beef fest... Now THAT is impressive!

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    One of my obligatory stops on any trip to Tokyo is Tamanegiya (酒たまねぎや).  Ever since my first visit in 2010, this has become my go-to place for sake.  It's not for everyone... it helps to be able to converse in Japanese with Master, and one really needs to have an appreciation of good sake.  Oh, and keep in mind that Master is a right-wing nationalist, who has admittedly toned things down a little in recent years - at least judging from the decor within the bar.

    So while I have - against the wishes of some people who want to keep this a secret - disclosed the name of the venue on this here blog in the past, I have also cautioned my friends against coming here thinking that they will automatically have a great time drinking great sake.  After all, we did have the incident a couple of years ago where two assholes from Hong Kong - who were supposedly well-versed in Japanese culture - came and pissed off Master so much that he posted about their behavior on Facebook.  We definitely don't need fuckwits like them ruining it for the rest of us.

    All of our dinners in Tokyo on this trip start late, so I was originally afraid that I wouldn't have time to come over after dinner for my usual round of drinks.  But I made an effort to come tonight before dinner, since the two venues aren't far away from each other.

    When the three of us walked through the front door after 6:30 p.m., Master was alone.  Apparently he was only expecting a few regulars who had booked for a little later, so surprisingly he was expecting a slow Friday evening.  That was just fine with me.

    Azumaichi Junmai Daiginjo Shizukushibori Tobintori Senbatsushu (東一 純米大吟醸 雫搾り 斗瓶取り 選抜酒), 27BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 39%.  Nice nose of banana, almost floral, elegant, a bit of honeydew, a little fermented rice in the nose.  Sweet and smooth upfront, then dry and spicy later.

    As usual, Master served up some snacks for us.  We started with some stewed fish head with ginger.

    There are always some tomatoes. I didn't ask him where these came from.

    Bijofu Junmai Daiginjo Yumebakari Time (美丈夫 純米大吟醸 夢許 Time), 29BY - seimaibuai of 30%. A koshu (古酒) aged for 3 years.  Nose showed a little cotton candy, peach, tropical fruit.  Very elegant.  Initially smooth and light on the palate but ended dry.

    Master was kind enough to pour us a tasting portion of the non-aged Yumebakari so that we could taste the two side-by-side.

    Bijofu Junmai Daiginjo Yumebakari (美丈夫 純米大吟醸 夢許), 30BY - seimaibuai of 30%. Really lovely nose with banana and floral notes.  Nice and smooth, with slightly fermented notes.  Sweet on the attack then showed a hint of spiciness.

    Yeah, Yumebakari Time was definitely the more elegant of the two.

    Hatsukame Show Special (初亀 鑑評会出品酒), 29BY - floral nose.  Good depth of flavors, which showed more of a dry mid-palate but not spicy.  One of 34 bottles made.

    After stuffing ourselves with awesome yakiniku (焼肉), we went back to Tamanegiya for the second time tonight. DaRC and Ro Ro were already seated at the bar, and the place was packed.  I just had to do my traditional vertical tasting of Isojiman Nakatori...  And once again Master was kind enough to open fresh bottles of all 4 vintages.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 26BY - best of the four.  Really elegant, sweet, fragrant.  Softer and a little sweet on the palate.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 27BY - nose of banana.  Dry on the palate with good depth.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 28BY - lots of melon notes and really sweet on the nose.  Almost like melon soda.  Still a little sharp on the nose.  Nice depth on the palate.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 29BY - really fresh, lots of musk melon, really sweet.  A bit young and some sharp alcohol on the nose.

    Miinokotobuki Junmai Daiginjo Kannokura (三井の寿 純米大吟醸 寒乃蔵), 30BY - seimaibuai of 40%.  Light and sweet on the nose.  Really ripe banana notes and starchy sweetness.  Pretty sweet on the attack, a bit dry in the middle.

    Another wonderful evening spent here... and grateful that Master stayed open past his regular hours to accommodate us.   He also sent us away with a bottle each of the Bijofu unfiltered sparkling that the brewery custom made for him... which is always fun to drink.

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    It's our last day in Japan, and there are a few loose ends we needed to tie up.  As soon as it opened, I popped over to my favorite sake shop so that Hello Kitty could buy the bottle of sake that she absolutely loved last night.  Of course, I was also happy to pickup a pretty rare but not-so-expensive bottle of aged sake from a brewery I love...

    ...which left us with a very big problem.  I kinda went crazy in the last few days, and we now have 12 bottles of sake to take home.  Fearing that we wouldn't be able to fit everything in our 3 suitcases, we hurriedly hopped over to the shopping mall under Tokyo Station to buy ourselves a new piece of luggage.

    Quite fortuitously, we ran into the 5th anniversary of the Gudetama Festival at Tokyo Character Street (東京キャラクターストリート).  There were lots of goodies on sale, plus a few displays where one could take pictures.  I had known about this before we came to Japan, but had forgotten all about it once we got busy... so we were very happy to have run into it on our last day.  Hello Kitty was definitely a happy camper.

    We rushed back to check out of our hotel, and called one of those new taxis with lots of room to fit our luggage.  We would need to repack so that the weight is more evenly distributed across our 4 suitcases...

    We must have looked like refugees or shopaholics, because we had soooo much luggage!  My Birdbrain Cousin had 50kg with her, while Hello Kitty and I somehow ended up with 80kg between us.  Thankfully one of us had status on the airline, and the staff was very helpful in finding a solution for us to avoid paying excess baggage fees...

    Having gotten rid of our heavy luggage, it was time to grab some lunch.  I had done some research on where we could eat inside the International Terminal at Haneda International Airport, but unfortunately the branch of Tsuru Tontan (つるとんたん) had a long line of people waiting for seats, and we didn't have the luxury of time... so we simply went a couple of shops down and sat down at Katsusen (和豚 かつ仙).

    Japanese pork loin cutlet set "Matsu" (和豚 ロースかつ膳 松) - I generally choose the loin over filet, because I don't see the point of eating deep-fried pork chop if you don't like the strip of fat down the side...  And I got the bigger portion, too.  This was decent.

    Having filled our bellies, we headed for our gate and bid Tokyo farewell.  I won't wait nearly as long to take my next trip, and I am eagerly looking forward to that one special meal at a temple of sushi next spring...

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  • 12/08/18--07:52: After service bongwater
  • A few months ago while strategizing about the menu for my wine dinner at Caprice, sommelier Victor Petiot very kindly offered to share with us a very special bottle of bongwater - the very first vintage made of the wine.  He subsequently had the bottle transported from France, and we have been looking for a suitable date to pop the cork ever since.

    So what better time to do it than right after I return from a week-long eating (and drinking) trip to Japan?  I literally just dropped off our luggage - along with a ton of sake - and headed back to Central.

    I actually didn't have anything to eat on the plane, so it's been almost 8 hours since lunch.  Thankfully Hairy Legs and the team put together a small selection of charcuterie and cheese.  This was like manna from heaven to me at this point...

    Pastry chef Vivien Sonzogni also served up a wonderful hazelnut soufflé, with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream on the side.

    But the focus tonight was squarely on the wines, and Hairy Legs, Victor, and I all contributed bottles.

    1999 Ganevat Les Vignes de mon Père - beautiful nose.  Definite oxidation here and maturity, with pain grillé, marmalade, a bit of straw, and some sweetness on the nose.  Kinda like a dry Sherry or a Boal.  Definitely acidity on the palate here.   What a privilege to be able to taste the very first vintage of this wine!

    1998 Grange des Pères - almost like a Bordeaux, smoky with ripe fruits, woodsy, oaky, and tobacco notes.  Drinking beautifully now.

    1997 Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance, en demi-bouteille - tons of honey, raisins, some botrytis, and a bit of acetone.  Very dark amber in color... kinda brown, actually.

    1990 Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Rochefort Les Rayelles - big nose with lots of plastic.  Not sure that I like it.

    This was a fun evening... and I can't believe that I didn't even get a break from eating and drinking after a week in Japan!  But hey... I can't really complain too much, can I?

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  • 12/09/18--07:42: A very American evening
  • I've been back from my eating trip to Japan for less than 24 hours, and I'm already on my second wine tasting.  Tonight Lord Rayas was hosting his MNSC dinner for the gang, and we convened in the Grill Room of the Hong Kong Country Club for a relatively casual meal.

    Smoked mackerel with seaweed - the mackerel was diced and marinated, and came with cubes of diced pickles.  This did not work well with our Champagne...

    Pan-fried organic free range eggs with Alba white truffles - simplicity is best.  Yum.

    Classic French onion soup, gratinée with Gruyère - not bad at all.

    USDA certified prime beef striploin, antibiotic-free, no added hormones - I wanted a smaller piece of beef, and seeing that this was free of antibiotics or hormones, it seemed to be the logical choice.

    I asked for rare, and this was somewhere between rare and medium-rare.  Good enough for me.

    Lord Rayas surprised us tonight by pulling out wines that are atypical for MNSC tastings - meaning that they were mostly not French, and some of these wines haven't been seen in our tastings for more than a decade... or ever.

    1973 Charles Heidsieck Brut - nose of mushrooms, marmalade, a little savory and salty plum.

    First flight: opened for 45 minutes before decanting for 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to serving.
    1997 Dalla Valle Maya - pretty concentrated, sweet on the nose, minty, pencil lead, with almost a hint of vanilla.  97 points.

    1993 Dalla Valle Maya - more closed than the '97.  A little more dry on the palate at first, but later on showed a little ripeness, and more woodsy notes.  Half an hour after serving this turned very smoky.  94 points.

    Second flight: popped and poured.
    1994 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - pretty ripe fruit, a hint of burnt rubber.  Dry on the palate with some acidity and some tannins.  94 points.

    1994 Le Pin - alcoholic.  Exotic spices, almost pine needle and dried herbs, smoky, a hint of chalk, and pretty sweet on the nose.  Still tannic.  93 points.

    1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia - sharp nose with leather and coconut notes, and really sweet on the nose.  Turned a little smoky 30 minutes after serving, with more leather and grilled meat notes.  Still ripe and sweet.  96 points.

    Third flight: decanted 3½ hours prior to serving.
    2003 Harlan Estate - color was really black.  Metallic, minty, exotic herbs.  Ripe and very sweet on the palate, with a little sharp alcohol.  Still going strong 1 hour after serving, and showing a little medicinal nose.  93 points.

    2004 Harlan Estate - metallic, ripe and sweet nose.  Really opulent and jammy.  93 points.

    What an amazing selection of wines! I love me some Napa cabs, and these were definitely some of the best from the Valley.  Many, many thanks to Lord Rayas for his generosity.

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  • 12/11/18--06:39: 14 hands and 17 stars
  • I was invited to attend the gala dinner held tonight following the announcement of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau 2019, which took place at the Grand Hyatt Macau.  I arrived rather late to the cocktail reception, as I was waiting in vain in my hotel room for housekeeping to deliver me an iron.  I finally gave up and wore my wrinkled shirt under my tux jacket, but thankfully nobody noticed...

    These gala dinners have always been big productions, and it appears that this year the hosts have taken things up a notch, as the production seemed more sophisticated than last year.  The biggest problem remains the lighting, as the multi-color stage lights change both in intensity as well as hue.  That makes for tough photography since I stick to "natural lighting"... and have chosen to take the small point-and-shoot camera instead of my trust Sony A9.

    This time we have dishes presented by 6 chefs - 5 of whom now with 3 Michelin stars at their flagship establishments - as well as the amazing Pierre Hermé.  I can no longer refer to him as "The Fat One" the same way a certain friend used to, because he's clearly gone on a diet and slimmed down significantly.

    By the way, I wish the organizer would stop using Marcus Kwok as the event's MC.  He's really hopeless at pronouncing the names of the headlining chefs, what with "Ah-lane Ducasse", "Ah-lang Ducasse", and "Pierre Ermm"...  These chefs are world famous, and they deserve enough respect not to have their names mangled by some wannabe celebrity who couldn't even be bothered to learn the proper pronunciations. He's getting paid to do this gig, forchrissake!

    As was the case in previous years, a video showcasing the inspiration behind each dish is shown prior to the dish being served.  This year they've also picked a specific piece of music to be played while the servers come out and lay down the plates.

    Poached Gillardeau oyster No. 3, shellfish tartare, sea water jelly, ginger cream and lemon confit from Menton, by Fabrice Vulin of The Tasting Room - this was pretty nice.  Perfectly safe choice to serve something already cold and can be plated at leisure.  Flavors were fine.

    The music being blasted while the dish was being presented was "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat.  I absolutely love this song, but I was kinda surprised by the choice, and wondered whether there was any significance to this song...

    G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon - a little toasty.

    Masa toro caviar, by Masa Takayama of Masa - I kinda stared at this for a few seconds, thinking "Is this it?!" 

    I know the chef wanted to play it safe by serving a cold dish to the few hundred attendees, and I know that the two main ingredients are considered "luxe", but there doesn't seem to be much point in dragging a world-famous chef halfway across the world just to we could have this...  Dammit, this was even simpler than what Kanesaka Shinji served at the first gala dinner.

    The venue blasted a version of Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" that I didn't recognize.  They probably figured they would play something from a Japanese composer to go with a dish served by a Japanese chef... 

    2012 Lucien Le Moine Corton-Charlemagne Blanc - yup... they got the name of the wine wrong on the menu.  Lovely and toasty nose, roasted corn, lemon.  Nice acidity but there is also ripeness on the palate.

    Fish maw in rabbitfish soup with crab meat roll, by Kelvin Au Yeung of Jade Dragon - the fish maw was pretty damn thick, and much bigger than I had expected.  The fish stock had been thickened, and I thought it was pretty good.  The flavors of the crab meat was pretty decent. 

    But what the hell do I know about Cantonese food?  My good friend KC sitting next to me had a completely different take on this dish... and rated it a lot lower than I did.

    Oh, and I didn't recognize the music they played while serving the dish... and didn't think of finding out with the use of Shazaam.

    2010 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc Le Meal - this was more attractive than expected, with lots of oak, lots of toast, resin, and more mature.  Lots of depth on the palate, with a little bit of bitterness in the middle, with some ripeness and sweetness. 

    Cookpot of blue lobster, potatoes and black truffle, by Alain Ducasse - FAIL.  There was no flavor in the black truffle chiffonade, which made me wonder whether they had been over-steamed... or just simply poor quality.  The worst part about the dish?  The lobster wasn't fresh.  When you can taste ammonia in your shellfish, you know there's a big problem with the ingredient.  And I wasn't the only one who tasted ammonia.

    They played "Nwia" by Valentin Stip while serving the dish, and it sounded like a series of water droplets.

    2014 Matrot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru La Quintessence - this was OK.

    Steamed sea bass fillet in fermented bean sauce, by Chan Yan Tak of Lung King Heen - we all agreed that this was a successful dish.  Brother Tak used what we all thought was cod, which was more fatty and harder to overcook.  Then he wrapped it in lotus leaves and put it in a steamer - both of which served to keep the moisture in as well as the temperature warm.  So the end result was a relatively juicy fish served at a good temperature.  In fact, I could see steam rise up when I removed the lid of the steamer.  The use of black bean sauce, chili, and dried herbs also added good flavors.

    They played "Relève" by Avia while serving the dish.

    2015 Henri Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Estournelles St-Jacques - ripe fruit.

    Charcoal grilled Kagoshima beef ribeye and charred cabbage, black truffle with "jus corsé", by David Kinch of Manresa - another very safe choice from the chef using a premium ingredient.  The blistered cabbage was delicious, and the truffle on top of the beef actually tasted like truffle...

    The thing to do is to use a well-marbled beef like this one from Kagoshima, so that it helps to reduce the chance of execution failures such as overcooking.  And this beef was delicious.

    "Notion" by Tash Saltana was the music chosen to accompany the service.

    2008 La Fleur-Pétrus - smoky, earthy, nice and smooth on the palate now, but still got plenty of concentration.

    Truffle, by Pierre Hermé - the master at work.  Cracking open the truffle-like chocolate shell reveals a combination of hazelnut cream, hazelnut paste, whipped cream with hazelnut, hazelnut syrup-soaked sponge cake.  Served with shaved black truffle.  Just perfect.

    It was perhaps fitting that they chose "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by the Eurythmics to accompany the service.  I was also amazed at the length to which the service was choreographed.  There was a "director" standing near my table, and based on his signals - which were timed to coincide with specific points as the music played - the servers moved into position, paused, and laid down the plates.  That was damn impressive!

    2002 Doisy-Daëne - lovely nose of honey, marmalade, with botrytis and some acetone.

    I was ever so grateful that we didn't have to put up with some asshole who thinks he can cook and calls himself Chef Nic.  I wondered if Alain Ducasse cancelled his appearance tonight just so he wouldn't have to watch that shitshow again...

    Overall this was a pretty decent dinner.  As I have said in previous years, it's really, really tough to cook for a few hundred people, and it challenges the chefs to come up with something that would still be at ideal serving condition by the time it reaches the diner.  It's easy to see which chefs have given a lot of thought to their dishes.  And kudos to the culinary team for their execution. 

    Many thanks to the powers that be for the kind invitation, and for providing me with a bed to sleep in so I wouldn't have to rush back home after the dinner.

    While many others went off to Wing Lei Palace (永利宮) for an after-party catered by Chef Tam Kwok-fung (譚國峰) and his team,  I decided that eating more food tonight wasn't a good idea.  So I ended up hanging out with Hairy Legs and the team from Caprice, who were celebrating regaining the third star.  They were clearly very, very happy, and it was good to spend some time with them.

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    It's year end, so that means my friendly neighborhood prime brokers are taking turns to treat me to lunch.  I've barely gotten back to Hong Kong after a late night in Macau, and I needed to be sociable and continue binging on food.  I wasn't surprised when they chose Mott 32 as the venue...

    I let our hosts do the ordering, and it seemed that they were pretty hungry... because we ended up with a ton of food!

    Barbecue pluma Iberico pork, Yellow Mountain honey (蜜汁頂級西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - this was, of course, what this restaurant is famous for.  It was certainly tender and tasty.

    Daily soup

    Cold free range chicken, Szechuan peppercorns, chili sauce (口水雞)

    Cold free range chicken, coriander, black truffle (黑松露伴走地雞) - a little on the bland side.

    South Australian scallop, garoupa, caviar and gold leaf, egg white dumpling (金箔黑魚籽賽螃蟹餃) - those caviar on top were made of vinegar.

    Garoupa, chopped chili, pea sprouts dumpling (剁椒海斑豆苗餃) - this was pretty nice.

    Crispy triple cooked wagyu beef short rib (醬烤三弄和牛肋骨) - very tender, and a very popular dish.

    Signature smoked black cod (煙燻黑鱈魚) - very tender and tasty, indeed.  But the large amount of smoke was injected inside the plastic cloche minutes before serving, so the smokiness was only superficial.

    King prawns, black pepper, garlic, soya sauce (蒜香胡椒蝦球煲)

    Wok fried giant garoupa fillet, sarcodon, fennel (黑虎掌菌鮮茴香炒龍躉球) 

    Wok fried pea sprouts with crab meat (蟹肉炒豆苗) - not sure why we needed the crab meat - along with all that starch - with the veg, but at least it tasted good.

    Diced seafood, conpoy soup dumpling (乾蒸瑤柱灌湯餃) - I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to order up one of these for each of us... as it is usually pretty gigantic.  If I didn't feel stuffed before, I sure did after this dumpling...

    Fried rice, diced prawn, Iberico pork, asparagus in Yeung Chow style (揚州炒飯)

    Wok fried kale, dried shrimp, minced pork, shrimp paste (馬拉盞蝦乾肉碎芥蘭煲) - pretty heavy-handed in terms of flavors, especially coming at the end of the meal.

    The eight of us were absolutely stuffed, but I was very grateful to have this opportunity to catch up.  It's only my third time here, and I was brought here by my prime brokers twice... so clearly this place is popular with the business lunch crowd.  Glad to have had some decent food, but considering the feast I was about to have for dinner, I probably should have cut down on my intake at lunch.

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    I've been waiting for this dinner for a long, long time.  My favorite private kitchen relocated a few months ago, and somehow I haven't managed to return for more than half a year.  As the weather has turned cold and the snakes have fattened up for the winter, it was high time that I came back.  So I rounded up the usual suspects for a feast.  It's been so long since I was last here that I didn't even bother changing anything on the menu that the chef proposed...

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - it's been a while, but I'm always happy to have these giant prawns.

    The texture was good, with that nice balance between crunchiness and tenderness.

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - another one of my favorite dishes here, but tonight this was a little wet.  Still love the springiness of the stomach tip.

    Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - another one of our favorite dishes, full of the classic luxe ingredients in Cantonese cuisine - minus shark's fin, of course!

    I love all the gelatin on the plate coming from fish maw, pig's tendon, and spiny sea cucumber.  While the dish was still very delicious - and we needed some steamed rice to soak up all the thick, gelatinous sauce - I found my piece of spiny sea cucumber to be undercooked... meaning it wasn't as soft and melt-in-your-mouth as usual.

    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - and THIS, of course, is why we came.  This is the favorite snake soup among all the versions I have tasted - including the version from Chef Lee Yuk-lam (李煜霖).  The knifework is so fine, and the flavors here pack a punch without being too salty or heavy.  I told myself before dinner that I was only going to have one bowl... but that didn't happen.

    Steamed wild sole (清蒸海方利) - one always gets a piece from the back as well as a piece from the wing.  The execution was on point tonight.

    Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - the chicken here is always good, regardless of which preparation one chooses.  The added benefit of having salt-baked chicken is that the giblets come along for a ride... and I love giblets.

    Stir-fried pea shoots with liver sausage (膶腸炒豆苗) - it was love at first sight for me... when I had this dish for the first time 2 years ago.  Pea shoots are absolutely beautiful when they are in season, and smothering them in a gravy made of Cantonese liver sausage is nothing short of sinful.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - winter is my favorite season to come here, in part because of this dish.  Every year I long for the cold season when chefs around town start to serve up their preserved meats and sausages, and this glorious fried rice starts to show up on menus.  I did keep to just a small bowl tonight...

    Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶)

    Naturally, we brought a few bottles to dinner, but ended up being pretty civilized in terms of consumption.

    2015 Kongsgaard Chardonnay - very ripe, very sweet, almost vanilla and candy.

    2004 Perrot-Minot Mazoyeres Chambertin Vieilles Vignes - this was OK, but not particularly memorable for me.  Still a little tannic.

    2000 Bahans-Haut-Brion, en magnum - decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Still tight, with a bit of smoke.  Oaky with good concentration.

    1982 Cos d'Estournel - decanted for one hour prior to serving.  Very nice and fragrant, with open nose showing smoky notes.

    Very, very happy to be back here tonight after a long absence. I really do need to come back more often!

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  • 12/12/18--22:23: I Ding you ah!
  • Another day, another lunch treated by a friendly neighborhood prime broker.  I was kinda surprised when they chose Ding's Club (鼎・會館), but intrigued as I've largely stayed away from the hype surrounding restaurants featuring Steve Lee Ka Ting (李家鼎).  After all, I didn't grow up watching him on TV, and while I'm happy that he's found a second career, I was in no rush to check out whether he can really cook...

    As there were only 4 of us, we tried to take things easy.  Emphasis on the word "tried".

    Barbecued pluma pork in flame, Ding's Style (秘製火焰叉燒) - this was flambéed while we watched.

    Pretty fatty for sure, but that's never been an issue for me...

    Wok-fried de-boned pig trotter, mashed ginger, chili, crispy garlic (避風塘無骨豬手) - there was no universe in which I would fail to like this dish.  Crispy, fatty pig trotters covered in a layer of deep-fried diced garlic and chili.  Yes, the flavors are pretty in-your-face, but damn!

    Wok-fried green kale, minced pork, XO sauce in sizzling casserole (兩味芥蘭煲) - technically this was a veg dish, but it wasn't exactly on the light side... with pork floss and XO sauce.  Very, very tasty.

    Crispy marinated wagyu beef cheek (脆皮和牛臉) - and to continue with our string of not-exactly-light dishes... the tender beef cheek was battered and deep-fried.  Nice.

    Fried rice, shrimp, crispy rice, conpoy, egg (桂花黃金炒飯) - pretty nice.  Decent wok hei (鑊氣) here.

    Chilled red dates pudding, dried konjac (蒟蒻紅棗糕) - pretty ho-hum... and the color certainly didn't look very appealing.

    Not exactly what I had in mind when I asked for a light lunch... but I gotta admit that the food wasn't bad at all.  It's not fine dining, but I thought most of the dishes were pretty well-executed and the flavors were good.  Maybe Ding can cook, after all...

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  • 12/13/18--07:42: The autumn forest
  • I've been a terrible friend.  I have only paid a single visit this year to my friend Uwe Opocensky's eponymous restaurant this year, and he's been very patient... waiting for me to visit.  I did manage to catch up with him a few weeks ago over dinner, and I figured it was time to make a visit to Uwe before year end.  So I roped in The Great One and, to my surprise, the Kat decided that he wanted to come along.

    Candle and tea - we started with the bone marrow candle, and we soaked up the liquid with some sourdough bread.

    Next we ripped open a package and extracted a tea bag, which we placed into a lovely porcelain cup.  The soluble bag - made of wild mushroom gelatin - contains wild mushrooms and herbs.

    Then consommé is poured into the cup, the bag dissolves, and we are left with a very mushroom-y tea.  A great way to start our meal by warming the stomach.

    During this season, Uwe always hangs a tree upside down from the ceiling, but tonight there was an extra tree that gets wheeled around to each table...

    Mushroom tree - Uwe thinks he's found the only tree of its kind, from which he can harvest special mushrooms...

    After harvesting, the foie gras mushrooms are plated on top of some pickled chanterelle mushrooms, which themselves sit on a bed of venison tartare.  Arranged around the central pile were fallen leaves, edible sand, roasted salsify, and black termite mushrooms. The pickle juice gave the tartare a nice dose of acidity.

    We had some brioche logs on which we could spread the foie gras.

    Celeriac and chestnut - the celeriac is baked in hay in salt.  Part of it is served as a ball, then the rest is puréed and plated with fresh chestnuts.  Of course, a little bit of cheese and black truffle grated with Microplane doesn't hurt... dressed with some truffle sauce.

    Pumpkin - a Japanese pumpkin grown in Tai O, roasted for 3 hours.  After the flesh was extracted, Uwe added some Comté cream, pumpkin seed oil, shaved white truffle, nasturtium, and grated Comté on top.  Very fragrant, very delicious.

    Red prawn - YASSSSS!!!! I love, love, love red prawns.  The tail was just sooooo delicious, and there was a small dot of sauce made from fermenting prawn heads and shells.  Yes, it was almost like Marmite. 

    But I was happiest sucking on those giant prawn heads, and thanks to Hello Kitty, I managed to enjoy two.  So I decided to scoop the contents of one of the heads and spread them on top of my sourdough bread.

    Trout - the cherry salmon (桜鱒) from Hokkaido came served three different ways.  First up was the belly as sashimi, with condiments such as sea salt, homemade XO sauce, hibiscus salt, homemade shichimi (七味).

    Second serving was balik which had been grilled and smoked.  For some reason these came with avocado on the side, but I preferred just the fish by itself.

    Finally, we have the grilled fish head.  Very yum. For me, at least...

    Quail - these quails from Bresse were aged for 2 weeks.  Smoked over hay for about 40 minutes before being hung over open fire and cooked for 45 minutes.  The glaze came from fermenting the wings.  Very, very nice.

    Mieral duck and venison - the mallard duck from Mieral came with the duck's heart seasoned with Sichuan pepper.  The venison came from Rhug Estate.  Blackberry and dark chocolate sauce.

    The duck was nearly perfect, and came served with a kumquat along with some artistic expressions... made with chocolate and cep powder.

    The pithiviers was done with Comté, Japanese Hokkaido potatoes, and some tasty shallots.

    I have always loved Uwe's grandma's red cabbage, and I was so happy to have it again.

    Tarte tatin - with some vanilla pods and a cinnamon stick on top, along with some star anise.

    Made with Bramley apples.  Classic and delicious.  Hello Kitty was a happy camper.

    I've always loved the vanilla ice cream with smoked caramel, and even better with rum raisins on top.

    Apple strudel - a proper strudel made using a recipe from Uwe's mother.  Nowadays, though, I will always remember Colonel Hans Landa telling Emmanuelle Mimieux "Attendez la crème!". And so I did...

    Nice petits fours

    We started with some Champagne, and moved on to two reds we brought along.

    Ulysse Collin Les Maillons, dégorgée mars 2018 - lovely nose of red fruits, full of ripeness.  Nice depth on the palate.

    2006 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° - really alcoholic, a little too sharp, very ripe fruit but not too sweet.  Nice aromatics on the nose.

    2006 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon - ripe and minty on the nose.  So much concentration here, and still got the tannins.

    We had a very good time.  Food here is always honestly delicious, without much razzle dazzle.  So happy to have come back just before Christmas.

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    A few days ago a receive a message from a dear friend, asking me whether I would be available for dinner tonight.  She and her husband had booked their places at the winter dinner hosted by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, but she has since decided to run off to a concert instead.  Would I be so kind as to keep her hubby company?

    I had just returned from an 8-day binge fest in Japan a mere 6 days ago, where I've gorged on two big meals each day.  I've dined out 5 out of the 6 nights since my return.  I really didn't need to have another night out.  But I knew that my friends were being kind in extending this invitation, so I decided to take my friend's place at the dinner table.

    I arrived at the Hong Kong Country Club a few minutes after the official start of the dinner, and hovered next to the seating chart by the door while speeches were delivered on the stage.  It took me a while to find my table, and I was rather surprised to be seated at the Romanée-Conti table... I would quickly discover that Alexandre Abel - the current winemaker at Domaine Ponsot - and Chef Simon Rogan were among those seated at my table.

    Marinated scallop and Scottish langoustine terrine, seaweed, salicorne, chive oil, sea urchin - not bad at all.  I don't think I've had this type of spongy terrine in a long time, and the small chunks of langoustine encased inside weren't bad.  Kinda surprised to see salicornia on the plate here.

    2014 Marc Colin Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly - nice bit of toast, oaky, lemon.  Lovely on the palate and quite full-bodied.  More toast notes came out later, along with acidity.

    Pavé de saumon à l'oseille - not to toot my own horn, but I was probably one of the few people who recognized the origins of this dish - if the reactions around my table was any indication.  It is, after all, one of the most famous dishes that made a name for the Troisgros brothers... and one of the early classics which exemplified nouvelle cuisine.

    I've never had the original version during my visits to Maison Troisgros, so this would have to do.  The doneness on the salmon was pretty nice.  And I loved the light cream sauce with that acidity from sorrel.

    2014 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes - heavier toasty nose.  Cleaner and more focused on the palate.  Beautiful and showy, with a big dose of acidity.

    Poularde de Bresse vapeur - the chicken had a very smooth texture, and came very tender.  There was a little bite on the skin, with a slight springy texture.  The basmati truffle rice, not surprisingly, was mushy.  I was intrigued by those long, thin julienned red strips... which had the acidity like Japanese pickled ginger but had a texture closer to celeriac.

    2007 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux - cool fruit.  Drinking nicely and served at a good, chilled temperature.  Slightly tight on the palate but not bad.  A hint of leather on the nose with some ripeness.

    Roast Mieral pigeon, root vegetable gratin, fondant potatoes, caramelized shallots - Mieral pigeon is always nice, as long as the kitchen doesn't screw up.

    And the kitchen certain did the job perfectly.

    2007 Claude Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St Jacques - reductive nose with toasty corn, grilled meats, and almost a little stinky.  Some eucalyptus, and almost a little like Côte-Rôtie.

    Individual beef Wellington, baby vegetables, thyme and red wine sauce - not bad at all, but as Simon Rogan noted, the classic version would have been made with mushroom duxelles.

    2007 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche - very pretty nose, sweet, fruity, floral.  Lighter and more elegant.

    Caramélia and tonka bean mousse sphere - I actually really liked this dessert, despite the silver foil on top.  The tonka beans certainly delivered their distinctive aromatics and flavors, and beneath the mousse were buried chunks of honeycomb crunch.

    Cannelés Bordelais - I love canelés, but why did these have to be made with pop rocks???!!!

    Besides the usual, seemingly neverending rounds of "La laa, la laa...", we were entertained by a group of singers throughout the evening.

    This was a fun evening, and it was good to run into friends who are Chevaliers.  Many thanks to my friend for giving me the chance to have a sex change for the evening and pretend to be her...

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    It was Dr Poon's turn to host his MNSC dinner, and we convened at the I Hate the Handover Hong Kong Club.  Unfortunately he chose to put us in the Jackson Room, so I was forbidden to take my bag or my camera up with me.  We were also forbidden to use the phone above the dining table, so there would be no pictures today...

    I started with some homemade tagliolini, Bordier butter, chicken jus, and Grana Padano.  This came with some white truffle shavings on top.  Nice.

    We also shared two different cuts of beef.  The USDA natural fed, hormone-free ribeye was beautifully fatty, with lovely charring on the outside.

    The Kagoshima striploin was definitely more chewy on the edges with the tendon.

    The Dungeness crab cakes came with a flower-shaped ratatouille on top, along with some piquillos.  It was delicious but the flavors were a little simple, as there wasn't much inside other than the crab meat, and not much spices were used.

    Our host was his usual generous self, and we were treated to some real treasures tonight.

    1993 Michel Niellon Chevalier-Montrachet - high acidity here but not too sharp.  Mature and very ripe on the nose, with toasty notes.

    First flight: opened for 1 hour prior to serving.
    1982 DRC Grands Echezeaux - beautiful and floral nose, fruity and elegant, with intense sweetness almost like honeydew.  Slightly less elegant after a few minutes in glass, but still great.  97 points.

    1993 DRC Grands Echezeaux - more powerful with a much bigger nose of leather.  Stemmy and almost a bit stinky.  A hint of savory black olives, then a bit of green pepper.  95 points.

    Second flight: opened 2 hours prior to serving.
    1993 Lafleur - classic and smoky nose, with spicy green peppers.  Dry on the palate.  Very nice.  95 points.

    1993 Screaming Eagle - rich and open, sweeter on the nose, with oaky notes and a hint of rubber and eucalyptus.  Sweet and ripe. A bit sharp and alcoholic, and some acidity on the palate.  98 points.

    Third flight:
    1937 Latour - opened 30 minutes before decanting and serving. 60 minutes after opening, showed a really minty nose, almost medicinal, savory, funky, and almost like fermented shrimp... with a hint of coffee? 93 points.

    1949 Latour - opened 2½ hours prior to serving. So beautiful!  So smoky with cedar, oak, and tobacco notes.  Pretty sweet at first and showed a little higher acidity later.  97 points.

    1959 Latour - opened 2½ hours prior to serving. Much leaner, greener, grassy, green pepper, smoky.  High acidity on the palate with some tannins.  93 points.

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    Two years ago, the four of us had a blast bringing fancy wines to a cheap-and-cheerful chain restaurant - taking a piss (as the Brits would say) and enjoying a shit-talking, gossip session.  We decided to do that again tonight, and the quartet descended on Spaghetti House once again.  We had hoped to attract a fifth member to our gathering, but alas, even my promise of a bottle of Montrachet failed to entice the snooty Fergie...

    I was the first to arrive, and found ourselves a corner table away from the rest of the crowd.  We were going to be loud, and the expletives emanating from our table was most fucking certainly not gonna get a G-rating.

    Deluxe gold cheese fondue - THIS.  Baby, this is what you came for.  We had this 2 years ago, and this year they've jacked up the price by 30%.

    We started with some 24 months aged Comté cheese (at least we think they are Comté this time...), Italian prosciutto ham, "Spanish prosciutto beef" (WTF is THAT???), along with some fresh fruit.

    We dipped the grilled New Zealand premium rib eye into the melted cheese...

    This selection included diced hash browns shaped like stars, cubes of baguettes, turkey meatballs, cubes of smoked ham, smoked bratwurst, portobellos, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and pipe rigate. We had a lot of fun dipping these into the cocotte.

    We also got some chicken wings in honey lemon sauce.  These weren't so good...

    Baked pipe rigate with ham and double cheese - this was OK.

    Of course we brought a few bottles tonight, and seeing as Fergie wasn't coming, I took the Monty off the table and brought something else that was interesting - including some bongwater. Of course, I was trumped by g4gary in the interesting department...

    Blue Nun 22K Gold Edition - this was slightly sweet on the palate.

    But of course, one really needs to see the gold flakes floating in the bottle to appreciate how amazingly bling this is...

    Pithon-Paillé Grololo - a little pungent, stemmy, reductive nose, with leather and potpourri notes.

    2015 Château de Meursault Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Peuillets - black fruits, pungent, a bit of sulfur, with sweet fruit underneath.

    We had a great time.  There was, as expected, a ton of peanuts and popcorn thrown around the table, and I made sure to dress appropriately for the occasion...

    Looking forward to our next session together!

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  • 12/19/18--22:56: Nothing but the pig
  • The Man in White T-shirt pinged me, and asked whether I was available for lunch today.  A chef friend is back in town and wanted to go have that pig at Seventh Son (家全七福).  Truth be told, I really didn't want to have another meal out, especially since I was already scheduled to come back here in 3 days' time... to have the same suckling pig.  But I also know that I wouldn't have a chance to catch up with our friend if I didn't show up today, so I reluctantly joined for lunch...

    Once I arrived at the restaurant, I realized that there were only 4 of us...

    Gold coin chicken (金錢雞) - well, 12 divided by 4 means... that each of us will take down 3 of these "cholesterol sandwiches"!

    The stacks of round medallions include chicken liver, char siu, and cured pork fat (冰肉).  Surprisingly, there were also small bits of pickled ginger hidden between the layers.  These were just as satisfying as they've always been, and The Man in White T-shirt decided to stack two of these together so that they would be the same height as the ones from Manor Seafood (富瑤海鮮酒家) - which is still my favorite version of the dish.

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - well... there were only 4 of us to take down this pig, so we focused on efforts on this.  I just couldn't believe that we really tried to do this with just the 4 of us...  Of course, the crackling was as good as ever, and we made sure that our visitors each got to chomp on a leg.

    Our chef friend loves bongwater, so it was no surprised that he brought along a bottle to share with us...

    2011 Domaine des Vignes du Maynes Pouilly-Fuissé - ripe and mature.  Definitely showing marmalade on the palate.

    I was ever so grateful that we didn't order anything else, because there were enough calories taken in today... 

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  • 12/22/18--06:35: Pierre Hermé's festive 2018
  • It's the festive season again, which means Pierre Hermé was once again offering seasonal macarons.  I try to buy these every year, as some of these can be really special.

    Jardin fruité - a new flavor comprising of lime zest and red fruits compote.  I could definitely pick up the lime flavors through the tiny bits of candy on one side. 

    Truffe blanche et noisette - the perennial favorite.  But somehow the fragrance of white truffles wasn't as amazing this year as in the past.  Still love the crunch and fragrance of the hazelnuts, though.

    Noisette et foie gras - the recipe was changed this year, and foie gras is no longer paired with chocolate.  As a result, the flavors from the foie gras became much more prominent, much to my surprise.

    Caviar Petrossian - I was so enamored with these when I found them last year that I just had to buy them again.  I'm pretty sure they weren't made with beluga, but those distinctive caviar flavors - savory on top of some sweetness - is just so irresistible.  I didn't notice any walnut eau de vie, though...

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