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

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  • 08/29/13--08:45: My 3,000-calorie dinner
  • Less than a week after my last dinner here, I'm back at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) for another 10 courses.  A friend is in town from Taipei and our host insisted on coming back for this dinner.  Not wanting to have the same dishes twice in less than a week, I pleaded with Takano-san - the restaurant's assistant manager - to have the chef arrange a different menu for us.  Fortunately the chef was agreeable, and only 4 out of the 10 courses tonight were identical to what I had last time.

    Mixed salad of "KEGANI" crab and sea urchin, topped with black vinegar jelly of chrysanthemum ("北海道毛蟹"のうに和え 菊の花の黒酢ジュレと共に) - similar main ingredient but slightly different from the first course last week.  There is definitely some crab roe (蟹味噌) in the ball of shredded crab meat, and in fact the inspiration behind the chef's creation of crab meat, roe, sea urchin and black vinegar apparently came from the local yellow oil crab (黃油蟹, female mud crab) - except that all the parts still come from the Japanese horsehair crab.  In addition to the chrysanthemum there are also chunks of avocado, strands of ginger (in keeping with the Chinese theme of pairing crab roe with black vinegar and ginger), and cucumber.

    "Sweet corn" steamed "a la minute" on corn egg custard with "Kobashira" clam (蒸したてろうもろこし "小柱" と "とうもろこしの茶碗蒸し" と共に) - I had this last week, and this bowl was almost as enjoyable as the one I had last week.  Wonderful sweet corn, eggs from Kyushu (九州), and those amazingly fragrant spring onions!  I think the chef gained another couple of fans of this dish.

    Pen shell, "Kurumaebi" shrimp and abalone with summer vegetables seasoned with wasabi and sudachi ("平貝" "車海老" "蝦夷鮑" と夏野菜の和え物) - the shell was huge and a natural serving utensil for the dish.  The pen shell was actually a little hard and chewy but not quite crunchy.  Of course the abalone was very delicious... The dish came with seaweed, okra, baby corn.

    Charcoal grilled "Kinki" in premium "Ichiban Dashi" soup (引き立て一番出汁への想い 炭火焼 きんきのお椀) - pretty much as good as what I had last week.  That ichiban dashi is just so clean and pure...and delicious in all its simplicity.  The charcoal grilled kinki was just melt-in-your-mouth...

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - there were 3 types tonight but I gave up my fatty tuna (中トロ) to the boys.
    Olive flounder (平目)
    Octopus (鮹) - still love the way this is sliced, scored and blanched shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) style, but execution was a little off tonight.  This was noticeably colder rather than being a little lukewarm last week.

    Sukiyaki with "Matsutake" mushroom ("炭火焼松茸" と "和牛サーロイン" のすき焼き) - RyuGin's wagyu sukiyaki has always been one of my favorite dishes on the menu, and tonight it was even better with the addition of some incredibly fragrant Matsutake mushrooms.  Having them lightly grilled on charcoal has really brought out the delicate but wonderful perfume.  Of course the scallion sprouts and lightly caramelized onions all contributed to the dish...

    ...but the sukiyaki simply isn't a complete dish until you put the soft-boiled egg on top, puncture the yolk sac and let the bright orange yolk slowly ooze out and blend in with the sweetish sauce and cover everything...

    "Iwagaki" oyster ("岩牡蠣" 青海苔の香り) - O-M-G!  This oyster from Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県) was GINORMOUS!  (Do I sound like a 15-year-old Valley girl now?)  I was blown away when I saw what was on the plate in front of me...

    ...and I had to take a picture of it using a wine cork as a size reference... Honestly, this oyster was ridiculously huge.  I should have asked them to bring out the shell so we could see how big it was...

    While the mantle was a ever-so-slightly chewy, the rest of the oyster was perfectly soft and creamy.  It has been decades since I last ate an oyster which came anywhere close to this size... This was topped with a mix of seaweed, butter, soy sauce and sudachi lime (酢橘).  Very tasty, I must say.

    White shrimps and egg yolk on steamed rice ("白海老" の玉子かけ御飯) - seemingly simple and looks like comfort food, and it was!  Diced glass shrimp (白海老) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県), a sprinkle of sesame seeds and finely chopped spring onions, an egg yolk and some seaweed over a bowl of white rice.

    But the real pleasure, again, was in poking the yolk sac and mixing up all the ingredients so that every mouthful was full of goodness. Oh yeah, those spring onions were just amazing...

    A little cup of sencha (煎茶) was served (and refilled numerous times) to cleanse our palates before desserts arrive...
    RyuGin Specialty -196°C "Candy Peach" and +99°C "Peach Jam" (-196°Cの桃飴 +99°Cの飴炊き桃) - yes, I had this last week, but given that it's such an awesome dessert, I didn't mind having more of that yummy peachy stuff one bit.

    Fruit tomato poached with "Umeshu" (フルーツトマトの梅酒煮) - I had something almost exactly the same earlier this year, but this time there was a layer of tomato-flavored agar on top, and the sorbet was made with plum wine (梅酒) tonight.  The tomato was incredibly ripe and the flavors were incredible... like a mini-explosion in my mouth.

    Finally, a cup of matcha (抹茶) to send us on our way.

    As our host insisted on treating us for dinner, I naturally volunteered to bring the alcohol.  I had actually brought 3 bottles but, upon learning anything that is not red wine or white wine would be charged HKD 1,000 for corkage, decided not to open my lowly bottle of Egly-Ouriet Champagne...

    1990 Nicolas Potel Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - initially too cold so the nose was somewhat muted.  Some toast and good, round fruit in the nose.  Medium acidity but the finish was rather short and disappointing... other than the obvious alcohol.  Later on as the wine opened up the sweetness became more apparent in the nose.  I had slightly higher expectations but this was a more elegant expression.

    1997 Kistler Pinot Noir Cuvée Catherine - sweet, a little sharp alcohol, black cherries in the nose.  After 17 years this has finally softened somewhat, and has become drinkable, but you can still feel the tannins there.  After a while there was a little bit of forest and sous bois.  An enjoyable wine, but like the Potel I had expected slightly more.

    This was definitely way, way over the limit for me... since normally I'm feeling full after about the 6th course.  To have done in twice in the space of a week was certainly not what I had planned... I was half-joking with some friends about taking in 3,000 calories for dinner, but if you really think about it - not that I'm a nutritionist or anything - it's not too far-fetched.  10 courses, perhaps averaging 250 calories per course.  (The 3 eggs alone throughout the dinner would come to about 450 calories.) Plus one-half to two-thirds of a bottle of wine for an additional 400-500 calories.  Did I just have 3,000 calories for dinner?  In all likelihood, yes.  

    Let's not do this again for a while...

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  • 08/30/13--08:51: Starry, starry night
  • OK, so we were sitting indoors on a cloudy night in Hong Kong, and Don McLean was nowhere in sight… but the evening was nevertheless filled with "stars".  On this night, a small group of us gathered in one corner of the crystal chandelier-filled dining room of Caprice, our beloved Michelin 3-star restaurant, to celebrate one of the stars of the Hong Kong dining scene - Chef Vincent Thierry.

    After 8 years in Hong Kong - and having helped set up Caprice from scratch and elevating it to 3-star status after Michelin's arrival in Hong Kong - Vincent has decided to move on to newer challenges.  A few of us came to the restaurant last month but failed to catch him, so we were very happy to be here tonight as tomorrow would be his last day here.

    I arrived to find our menu for the evening on the table.  I had sent a message to the chef asking him to put together something special to remember him by, and was curious to see which dishes would be chosen to represent "classic Caprice"…

    Éclair with creamy jamón ibérico filling - Mimolette powder on top.  Tasty filling, soggy éclair.

    For the first time ever, I took my bread at Caprice without my beloved Bordier butter.  Everyone was shocked, but I am on a nutritional dietary program after all!  Bordier will still be there in a few months' time…

    Fine de Claire oyster, apple celery and sour cucumber, Sologne caviar - the contrast with the oyster I had last night was pretty glaring, but this was really enjoyable.  You've got thin slices of cucumber wrapped around the oysters, some apple and celery root coulis with French Sologne caviar on top, and some sour cream on the side.  Oysters, Champagne and caviar… this is the life!

    Tourteau crab tiramisu, fruity marinade, tandoori spices and sweet pimento - "This is in the book!" Susan declared excitedly.  Of course she is talking about her cookbook A Celebration of Food, to which Vincent contributed the recipe for this dish.  We were only too happy to taste a dish that Vincent must have felt could speak for him.  The savory crab meat worked well with the blend of mango, papaya and piquillo peppers, as well as the layer of marscapone on top.

    Langoustine lasagne, veal sweetbreads and chanterelle mushrooms in shellfish bisque - for many of us this has become our favorite dish at Caprice, and it would have been unimaginable for us to celebrate Vincent without it.  It was perfect tonight.  The flavors from all the varied and different ingredients came together, and I remembered how dazzled I had been the first time I tasted this.  Worthy of using the bread to mop up the bisque...

    Line caught sea bass, carrot mousseline and fondant cabbage in curry infusion - again, the execution was impeccable.  The sea bass was tender and succulent while the skin was crispy and fragrant.  The quenelles of carrot mousseline were amazing - better than some of the carrots I have eaten - and the baby carrot itself was even better.  No, I don't want to know how much butter was used to get the mousseline to that smooth texture.  My only complaint is that I didn't get enough of the fondant Savoy cabbage...

    Iberico pork rack, chorizo polenta and onion chutney in soubise sauce - Vincent brought this out and told us that he was doing this for the first time, and if it didn't work it would be the last time he served it… We all gasped at the sight of this beautiful rack...

    I was lucky to have gotten a bone, whereas my neighbor was accused of being a "bone stealer" by her husband.  The pork was sooo tender… and thankfully there was a little more fat this time around.  The onion chutney was wonderful, and the polenta tasted amazing with the smoky flavors of chorizo.  Soubise sauce was… superb.  While I normally would have clamored for even more fat, this was good enough for me on a diet.  Oh and I thoroughly enjoyed gnawing on the bone.  Woof!

    Caprice cheese cellar - the amazing selection was brought out and laid next to me, and I took in the fragrance from different types of cheese while the others picked what they wanted, one by one.  When it was finally my turn, I again surprised everyone by taking only two…

    Comté, 4 years - I asked for just the shavings that had collected around the big chunk.

    Coulommiers fermier - a few others had gotten slices of this, but I asked only for the gooey pool of liquefied cheese… and made the others a little jealous.  After all, this was the best part!

    Virgin mojito, berry panaché, frozen lime chocolate, minted strawberry sorbet - I guess this was meant to be a deconstructed strawberry mojito, but I didn't quite get it... OK there was some lemon meringue with mint, strawberry sorbet with mint... Well at least it's fruity and "light".

    Bergeron apricot, peanut biscuit, apricot mousse and iced peanut butter - this was better than the first dessert, because it's been a while since I came anywhere near peanut butter.  Starting from the bottom: apricot coulis, sablé breton, sponge cake, apricot mousse, peanut butter ice cream, apricot marmalade and finally a squiggly meringue.  Still don't understand the obsession with using sponge cake these days...

    Vee and I both brought wines for dinner, and I was ever so grateful that he decided to bring a backup bottle as we needed it tonight...

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Rosé Grand Cru, dégorgée en Novembre 2009 - toasty, flinty with strawberries.

    2004 Roulot Meursault Les Narvaux - flinty with a smoky finish.  Nice acidity balance.  Softer and not overpowering.

    1996 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Ermite - when we asked for the wine to be served, I saw the two sommeliers sneak off out of sight with the decanter… which looked a little suspicious.   The reason? Il était un petit bouchonnée… I'm not very sensitive to TCA so I asked Vee for his opinion, and he thought it was every so slightly corked.  There was pine needle and forest in the nose, but no finish to speak of.  I had brought this bottle because I wanted to offer a glass to Vincent, but obviously didn't go through with it.

    2003 Comte Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée La Colombière - pretty alcoholic on the nose.  Very sweet nose with black cherries.

    This was a near-perfect evening… Timothy had taken very good of us in Jeremy's absence.  While I often enjoy the more modern and creative side of cuisine, I would happily return time and again to Caprice for Vincent's updated classics.  There have been many cherished memories here, and time and again Vincent, Jeremy, Sebastien and team have brought smiles to our faces and joy to our lives.  Caprice without its founding chef de cuisine would surely be losing a part of its soul, its DNA.  We were all sad to have Vincent leave us, but happy for him to embark on a new adventure.

    I'm not in the habit of collecting chefs' autographs, but tonight was truly special and the end of an era for us.  Definitely something to remember…

    P.S.  I have refused to step foot in Thailand ever since news broke about the government's treatment of the Rohingya refugees a few years ago.  At this point, the only thing that would get me to break my boycott just might be the thought of visiting one of Vincent's new ventures...

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  • 09/01/13--01:00: A Mexican Feeding
  • Even though I've already had my two cheat meals this week - and they were big meals, too - I left home today for a third, semi-cheat meal.  I'm pretty determined to keep to my program, and the only reason for me to stray and take on more calories than I wanted was for a good cause.  Feeding Hong Kong was holding their first Secret Supper Club event, and it was held at Brickhouse.  The proceeds go to Feeding Hong Kong, and there would be a raffle drawing so that they could raise a little more money for the charity.

    I would have supported Feeding Hong Kong no matter where they were doing this venue, but the fact they were doing it at a place I hadn't been to was certainly a plus.  So I reserved two seats, called up my Favorite Birdbrain Cousin and told her she was coming with me, and that was that.

    The restaurant is hidden in the same alley way through which one accesses Fa Zu Jie, and I had a little trouble finding it at first.  Thankfully I ran into Mrs. Tigger who pointed me to the alley.  Within moments we found our seats and settled in.

    Being a Secret Supper Club event meant that one does not find out about the menu until arrival, and it certainly looked like a lot of food to me…

    Guacamole and salsas: fresh daily-made guacamole and salsas, organic stone ground chips - no surprise that this was the first item to arrive at our tables.  The chips were pretty tasty, and fairly bland until you hit one of the grains of salt.  The guacamole was not bad, but I thought the salsa was a real winner.

    Tuna tostada: yellowfin tuna sashimi, pickled cucumber, chipotle mayo, habanero mustard, crispy challots - pretty decent, actually.

    Scallop tostada: roasted corn salsa, chimichurri, pikcled onion - also pretty good.

    Peruvian ceviche: yellowtail, apple, dicon radish, orange, avocado, yuzu-lime dressing - this was pretty good… the orange wedges and the yuzu-lime dressing provided the acidity.  Nice to have it with the chips.

    Home beet fries: deep fried roasted beets, sweet chilli mayo, green onion - I needed to fulfill my veggie quota for the meal, so I took a few pieces but removed the thin layer of batter on the outside.  I liked it more than I thought I would.  Didn't touch the mayo, of course...

    Bandéra di Mexico: organic tomato, smoked chipotle vinaigrette, pickled onions, queso fresco, avocado, fresh tortilla strips, crisp chili chips - this was pretty delish… Nice organic multi-colored tomatoes.

    Mexican-style street corn: sweet corn, chilli, mayo, lime, queso - corn on the cob!  Nice touch with the queso, and a tiny little bit of kick.  Between the tortilla chips and this, I'm definitely getting a bit of the grain ration for this meal.

    Madera pollo: citrus-brined chicken, pico de coliflor, salsa verde, grilled spring onion - meh.  The chicken was definitely overcooked and dry.  I sliced up chunks and put them on the tortillas.  I definitely didn't need the baked beans…

    Finally, we were told that each of us could choose 3 tacos, even though I was reasonably full.  So Birdbrain and I shared 3 of them between us.

    Fish taco - not a fan.  The little piece of fish was dipped in what looked like tempura batter and deep-fried.  I didn't understand why there were pieces of potato. The fish taco at Ted's Lookout was waaaaay better.

    Pork taco - lots of filling here, which was basically slightly spiced pulled pork.  Unfortunately a little on the dry side.

    Vegetarian taco - chunks of cauliflower, feta cheese and salsa verde.  This was alright, but by now I was a little too full so I just picked at the filling without eating the tortilla.

    There was free-flowing alcohol, and Birdbrain was ordering one margarita after another.  Me?  I drank tap water the whole time…  The things you do when you're on a diet…

    When time came to draw the prizes for the raffle, Gabrielle asked my 3-year old godson Bear to do the drawing.  Bear became the youngest donor to Feeding Hong Kong last year when, at the ripe old age of two, he donated the money he received from all of us for his second birthday.

    Mrs. Tigger was joking that having Bear do the drawing was the fairest arrangement of all, because he simply couldn't read the number printed on the ticket stubs… Of course, he had no idea what happened when he ended up drawing a winning ticket for himself…

    This was a pretty fun time… it gave me a chance to celebrate all the good work at Feeding Hong Kong had been doing over the last couple of years, and also gave me a taste of the Mexican fare at Brickhouse.  I'm really looking forward to attending more of these supper club events!

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  • 09/02/13--20:55: Shrinking Boy, after 30 days
  • So it's been 30 days since I went on my nutritional diet / weight-loss program, and I thought I'd do an update with my experiences and thoughts.  Let's start with the headline number...

    Weight lost to date: 2.3kg.
    Actually my lowest weight during the 30 days was a week ago, when I was down 3.1kg from my starting weight.  Unfortunately my 2½ cheat meals since then - including that 3,000-calorie dinner - have pushed me back up.

    Some people have been surprised at how little weight I had lost, as there are plenty of other "diets" around where one loses a lot more weight very quickly.  My thoughts on this is that I prefer to do things gradually, without putting my body through shocks, and this would enable me to sustain and continue to trend.  This isn't just a short-term thing to drop my weight down quickly - it's more of a lifestyle change.  The key is to be able to maintain it and keep the weight off.

    You don't have to starve to lose weight
    The question most often asked is "Do you feel hungry?" The answer is NO.  Believe it or not, I'm eating A LOT of food.  It's just that the food has very little fat.  My 5 portions of grain for lunch amounts to 3 large slices of toast, 1 2/3 bowls of rice, 5 short cobs of corn or 2½ large cans of corn.  Add a little protein and the vegetables that I would normally eat - and keeping in mind that you're asked to drink 8 glasses of water a day - and you can see how there is very little time during the day when I actually feel the hunger pangs.

    I started with just regular wheat toast and soon switched to wholemeal bread, which has a lot more dietary fiber.  The fiber keeps me full, especially when it soaks up the water, but gets passed through the system without being absorbed.

    Cutting intake is the key
    With one exception, my weight went up every time after a cheat meal.  My weight went up even after I went out for a 45-minute jog, because the calorie intake of one of my outings is just staggering.  While I have no way of accurately measuring the exact calories, and not every meal is going to be the same, it's not inconceivable that I'd be taking in 2-3,000 calories for these dinners once wine is included.  Given that I would have already consumed a total of around 1,000 calories for breakfast and lunch - and that's by following my current program and not dining out at regular restaurants - my total intake for the day could be 3-4,000 calories.  That's 1-2,000 calories more than what I am probably burning on an average day.

    To be able to burn off the extra calories from a single meal like this, I would need to jog at a slow pace for 1½ to 3 hours.  Just to get back even.  If I wanna lose weight and actually burn off the fat that's already in my body, I would have to exercise even more.  How many of us have 2-3 hours a day to spend on exercise?  Better off to have fewer of these big dinners...

    When I lost 5kg in the space of 7 months after moving back to Taipei, it wasn't because I exercised more.  In fact I exercised less because I gave up my gym membership.  The simple reason is that I stopped eating out so much - I had very few big meals out with friends, and for the first 5 months I mostly ate mom's cooking at home.  I was taking in a lot fewer calories, and certainly a lot less fat.

    Exercise is still important
    Having said all that, I realized that I'm not going to be able to get my weight down without upping my exercise schedule.  My weekly session with the personal trainer wasn't having a visible impact, although I'm sure it helps over the long run by firming up my muscles.  I've now started to jog twice a week for 45 minutes at a time.  That may not be enough to burn off my excess fat stored in my body, so I may need to work out even more.  Time will tell how much I really need to do.

    So what exactly have I been eating?
    Canned tuna - on many days this has been my source of protein.  It's not exactly delicious, but it doesn't need any preparation.

    Lots of vegetables - typically I take in half a pack or about 150g of fresh veggies per meal, and just steam or blanch them with no seasoning.  The natural sweetness of kailan (芥藍) or choy sum (菜心), for example, is good enough for me.

    Fruit - I have a daily fruit ration, so I'm eating fruit everyday - and most of it has been an apple a day.

    No fat / low fat dairy products - no fat yogurt and low fat processed cheese… not quite the same.

    Almonds - I need to take some fat with each meal, and 6 almonds provides me with 1 portion of fat.

    Other than my cheat meals, I've really not eaten out very much, since it can be a real pain trying to figure out how to stay within the boundaries at restaurants.  There's simply too much salt and oil when dining out, and tough to order dishes while keeping the ratio of different food groups in check.

    Something I've managed to figure out is that doing the set lunch at Linguini Fini works well, particularly on days when I'm cheating at dinner.  I start with a simple green salad with no dressing, and then get the pomodori pasta.  The pasta is made in-house, cooked al dente, and served with a delicious tomato and basil sauce.  I'm sure there's a good amount of olive oil in there somewhere, but I don't mind going over the limit a little with this.  I hit my grain, vegetable and fat quotas with this, and leave the protein count at zero.  As my cheat meals will surely have a lot of protein, I simply reallocate my quota from lunch to dinner.

    Well, I've got 2 more months to go in my weight-loss phase, so I'll do another update in another month or so.

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  • 09/06/13--07:58: Lobster heaven
  • The Twisted Sisters are in town from Shanghai, and it's been over a year since I last saw either of them, and even longer since I saw the two of them together.  I got the call last week about their visit, and was asked to pick a place for our get together.  Since the preferred cuisine was "Western", I didn't even hesitate before picking up to phone to book a table at On Lot 10.

    This would be my lone cheat meal this week, as I really needed to get back on track after last week.  After checking with my visitors and asking them to choose the one dish they would want to pre-order, I sent the request over to David.  I also reminded him that, as I'm still on my diet program and I was only coming with two visitors who couldn't pack leftovers home, that we would likely not need too much food.

    We became a party of four earlier today, and I was thinking that we could take on a liiiiittle more food but still didn't wanna go crazy.  After picking a couple of starters, I was informed that there would be a couple of other things that David had arranged, so we already had enough food…

    Homemade pâté - I've had David's pâté before and always liked it.  I didn't ask for the ingredients this time, but it tasted pretty good regardless.  I just love the taste of liver.  The marinated Spanish chili peppers were a little spicy, and the radish is always good.

    Scallop crudo artichoke heart, Parmesan emulsion and truffle - this was pretty nice.  Sliced scallop carpaccio on top of a bed of diced artichoke and carrots, with shaved black truffle and finely chopped chives.  The Parmesan and milk foam, along with olive oil, added the final touches.

    Mesclun salad

    Baby geoduck - absolutely delicious, with plenty of butter and spices.  Felt so good to eat something cooked in butter…

    Soupe de poisson, rouille and parmesan - hmmm… we didn't get any rouille on the side tonight.  But the soup itself was already delicious, just lightly spiced with piment d'espelette.

    On Lot 10 paella - I asked David to prepare this for us, not knowing exactly what kind of seafood would be in the pan when it showed up.  The last time I had it there were two big flower crabs along with sea urchin, and I've seen other friends get crabs on top of theirs recently.

    So imagine my reaction when David brought the pan in and told us we would be having lobster tonight.  While the regular menu also serves up lobster, we were getting not just a soft-shell Maine lobster, but also a soft-shell French homard bleu.  What a treat!  I've seen David post pictures of lobsters that have just molted, but I've never actually had soft-shell lobsters before myself.  Now I managed to have not one but two of them together!

    David gave us a chance to compare the two lobsters side by side, and asked me to think about which one I liked better.  Well… there was never gonna be any doubt which one I'd prefer…  It has nothing to do with the fact that homard bleu comes at a higher price, and I believe the gap has recently widened thanks to a big increase in catch numbers for Maine lobsters.  Homard bleu simply delivers flavors that are much more intense, and while the Maine lobster is meaty and delicious in its own right, it just pales in comparison.  There were also nice chunks of lobster tomalley, which I happily gobbled up.

    We were of course unable to finish the darned thing, so the leftovers were packed up and given to the Sister's friend living in Hong Kong.

    Sauté spinach

    Bacon roasted brussel sprouts - yum… and with b-a-c-o-n…

    This chocolate cake has many layers, including coffee.  Not bad.

    The cherry crumble was pretty good, too.

    We were a bunch of lightweights tonight, and only managed to finish 1 bottle of bubbly.  I guess that helps me keep the calorie count down…

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru - savory minerals, a little like hard cheese, with caramelized and cane sugar.

    What a treat!  I dunno when I'll get a chance to get soft-shell lobsters again like I did tonight.  If only it had been an ordinary night without my diet program… Slurp...

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    For years now people in Hong Kong have complained about the sanitary habits of their northern brethren.  Starting from the first wave of Mainland tourists who arrived in tour buses heading straight for Disneyland, there were numerous photos and reports about how they used drinking fountains to wash their feet, how the parents just pulled down the pants of their kids in public whenever nature called…etc.

    Things seemed to have gotten worse as time went on, with kids peeing (or worse) in the middle of restaurants, on the subway (I sat next to a mother who whipped out a plastic bag and let her son pee into the bag, within arm's reach of me), and doing a lot worse.  Incensed Hongkies have taken to posting pictures on the internet to name and shame the uncouth and uneducated masses from up north.

    Bashing the Big Sixers or Strong Countrymen for their "disgusting behavior" is an activity that some Hongkies do gleefully.  However, are the sanitary standards of locals really that much better and beyond reproach?


    I'm a finance geek, and have spent the better part of the last two decades working in Central and Admiralty - the traditional financial heart of Hong Kong.  Most of my time here have been spent in Grade A offices that command some of the highest rents in the city.  Having worked almost exclusively for foreign investment banks, commercial banks and private banks means that most people around me are highly educated, with tertiary and post-graduate degrees from some of the best institutions of higher learning around the world.  Investment bankers are criticized as an overpaid bunch.  Just about everyone on the floor earns 6 figures and you've got your fair share of people raking in 7 figures. In Dollars.  And I'm not talking about Hongkie Dollars, either.

    So why do I keep finding myself in some really disgusting toilets?!

    I do not think for one minute that there has ever been one single person on any floor that I have ever worked on who was an uncouth farmer.  So why do I keep finding toilets which were not flushed properly, with tons of toilet paper still stuck inside, and sometimes with the wet and dirty toilet paper hanging out of toilet bowls?!  What kind of a person goes to do their business in the toilet, makes a disgusting mess, and then refuses to clean up after themselves??  Were they not taught by their parents or their teachers?!

    Before you go acting judgmental  and blame certain segments of the population, I will come out and say that I don't think the problem is necessarily attributable to only Mainland Chinese, or Hong Kong Chinese, or whoever.  The floors I work on have traditionally had a hodgepodge of Asians, Europeans, Americans, Latinos… basically from every corner of the world.   And I do believe the problem is wide spread.   I've had colleagues tell me that they refuse to shake hands with the Caucasian boss because the guy never washes his hands after relieving himself.

    For the last few months I've had countless experiences where, upon pushing open the door to a stall, I find myself facing a disgusting situation.  I've wanted to scream expletives not just on the spot, but shout it out on Facebook or social media for everyone to hear.  I just can't believe that, in the 21st Century, in a Grade A office building at the heart of one of the major financial hubs in the world, with all these supposedly highly-educated people working around you, that people can't even flush the fucking toilet properly!!!

    For the people guilty of perpetrating this disgusting behavior, yinz gotta be ashamed of yourselves.

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  • 09/14/13--08:16: The chef who smiles not
  • It's been a while since Fergie and I last met up for a meal, and I thought it'd be a good idea to meet up tonight - just hours before he's due to start a diet and exercise program for a second time.  The last time he did the program he lost a chunk of weight, so I'm hopeful that he'll be able to do the same this time around.  Since he's not planning on cheating like me, I guess it will be at least 3 months till our next meal together…

    This being a "last supper" of sorts, I deferred to him to choose the venue.  I M Teppanyaki isn't something that would normally pop up on my radar, but I'm more than happy to go along and see what they can do.  There were two different set menus, and we decided to pair up so that we can mix and match, trying everything available.

    Appetizer (先付) came as a trio:

    Clam with a reddish sauce that was a little sweet.

    Spinach (ほうれん草) with enoki mushrooms (榎茸), shiitake mushrooms (椎茸) and topped with bonito (鰹) flakes

    Shrimp (Botan shrimp 牡丹海老?) with perilla (紫蘇) flowers - the shrimp was pretty tasty, and somehow the combination of shrimp, soy sauce and a sip of Champagne transformed the bubbly into something that was sweet with caramel flavors.

    Prawn with crustacean essence (車海老のシーフードソース風味) - ooooh yeah, I got the head...

    Abalone with crustacean essence (あわびのシーフードソース風味) - from South Africa.

    Silver cod fish meuniere (銀鱈のムニエル) - with clams, peas, cherry tomatoes, shimeji mushrooms (しめじ) and onions.

    Lobster with cream sauce (オマール海老のクリームソース)

    Hokkaido scallop with crustacean essence (北海道産帆立貝のシーフードソース風味) - done mi-cuit.

    Chef's salad (シェフ サラダ) - sometimes I wonder why people bother putting a few pieces of greens on a plate and calling it a "salad"… it's more like garnish… Are the ingredients so expensive that the restaurant cannot afford to give us something more substantial?  This does not a Caesar salad make.

    Foie gras with fruit and teriyaki sauce (フォアグラの照焼ソース季節果物添え) - very well done.  Nicely charred outside but soft in the middle.

    Veggies - pumpkin, shiitake mushroom and asparagus.

    U.S. prime rib (米国牛リブロース) - a communication error with the chef meant that one person's request for "medium" resulted in all of us getting our beef done as medium… Sigh…

    A5 Japanese premium beef (特選A5黒毛和牛) - much better since this was done as "medium rare", and more marbled.

    Miso soup (味噌汁) - made with lobster shell.

    Fried rice with sardine and ginger (しらすと生姜の炒飯) - I'm glad Fergie asked the chef to do this version, because the regular fried rice at teppanyaki restaurants can be pretty boring.  The kick of the ginger is immediately apparent, although I had to dig a little to find the baby sardines…  Very delicious.

    Seasonal fresh fruit (フルーツ) - very ripe and sweet Japanese melon and grapes.

    2003 Dom Pérignon - toasty nose.  Very ripe on palate, to the point it was a little bitter.  Ripe citrus.

    1997 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne - golden hue… looking a little oxidized.  A little oaky in the nose, and a little bitter on the palate with marmalade.  Short finish.  Kinda disappointing.

    1998 Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis from half-bottle - nose of acetone, botrytis, orange blossom and honey.  Nice pairing with the foie gras, as the acidity of the wine cuts the fat.

    2000 Joseph Phelps Insignia from magnum - a little smoky with some soy sauce and savory nose.  A good amount of sweet fruit.

    The food here was well-executed, although it's difficult for teppanyaki to be exciting for me.  The last time I had an enlightening experience was years ago in Tokyo.  Service was OK, and while the restaurant now has a liquor license, they very kindly decided not to charge us corkage because our reservation was made before their license came through.

    Earlier today I was watching a TV program when I caught a glimpse of Rafa, the proprietor behind Rafa's in Roses, Spain.  When I went to Rafa's for lunch all those years ago after dinner at elBulli, my friends and I noticed that he didn't smile the whole time we were there… He was focused on cooking the fresh seafood a la plancha, and didn't interact with any of us or showed any emotion.  On this particular program, he had pretty much the same expression while cooking…

    Tonight's experience was more or less the same.  It's interesting to see that the front of the menu devoted some space to highlight the chef's philosophy, stating that "I also deeply treasure my interactions with diners…"  Say what?!  Like Rafa, I didn't see a smile on Chef Mok's face the whole time I was there, and there was certainly no interaction with us.  Maybe he was just too busy, continuously cooking for the 14 covers seated around his station.  Maybe he thought we were loud and annoying and hoped that we would just behave like the old fogeys at the other end.  Maybe "circumcision" wasn't exactly a kosher topic for dinner.  In any case, smiles were off the menu tonight.

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  • 09/16/13--08:04: All's well that ends well
  • As I look back on this evening, I realized that I couldn't have hoped for a better ending.  Some things just aren't meant to be, and life sometimes just has a way of working itself out.  OK, I should stop babbling…

    I was meant to check out Chachawan with Mo' Unni.  The place had created a certain amount of buzz over the last few months, although I paid it little attention.  I don't go out of my way to try out new places, but I figured I'd go along when Mo' Unni brought it up.  By last night, though, I was having some reservations about this place.

    First of all, they serve Issan cuisine from northeastern Thailand, which is meant to be more spicy than the "regular" Thai cuisine that the average farang is familiar with.  I can handle some heat, but have serious doubts that I would enjoy dishes so hot that they warrant the placement of warning highlighted in all caps on the menu.  Another issue came about after reading a couple of people's reviews online, I realized that the best dish on the menu might be their salt baked sea bass.  My dining companion is also known as No Fish, so what exactly would be order?

    All that became academic when, upon arrival at the unmarked 206 Hollywood Road, I found the gates pulled shut.  Upon inquiry with staff at neighboring 208 Duocento Otto, I was informed that Chachawan doesn't open on Mondays.  Since the place doesn't take reservations, neither of us have bothered to do much research on it… Oops…

    Stranded without a backup plan, I suggested we check out Café Malacca.  This is one of my cheat nights, and I wanted to make sure the extra calories I took in were worthwhile.  While I'd never been to Café Malacca, my Malaysian and Singaporean friends universally recommended this place.  I figured the risk of disappointment would be low.

    The place is casual, and the menu compact, but all the essential favorites are there.  We had no trouble picking out what we were both hungry for.

    Beef and chicken satay - pretty good, actually.  I was surprised to find some cumin on the beef, which made it a lot tastier.

    Malay fried chicken - actually pretty tasty.  It's been a while since I had fried chicken…

    Penang char koay teow - very nicely executed, with noticeable wok hei from being fried at high heat.  Love the little slices of sausage.

    Singapore laksa - this may not have packed a lot of heat, but it was tasty enough for me.

    Sambal belachan kangkong - gotta order this dish when you see it… A nice amount of heat and all those wonderful flavors from belachan.  My veg quota for the night.

    I washed down the dishes with a glass of calamansi drink.  I could have been just as happy with some barley drink or chin chow, but it's pretty difficult to find a nice glass of calamansi in town… and this certainly did not disappoint!

    When we sat down, we saw the display placard on our table promoting two new desserts - one of them being ice kacang.  Our eyes lit up at the sight of this, and we decided to share a bowl.  I was surprised at how fine the shaved ice was… very smooth and velvety.  I grew up on traditional shaved ice, which is a lot rougher but more familiar and therefore comforting to me.  Of course, there's no one "right" flavor profile for ice kacang, since everyone uses a slightly different combination of ingredients… Even though there's the obligatory red beans, some grass jelly (青草) and sugar palm seeds, something just didn't taste that familiar.  Oh well… but it was pretty satisfying nonetheless.

    Mo' Unni and I were pretty happy campers at the end of the evening.  No, she didn't get her Thai food fix, but we had a relaxing dinner over some pretty yummy food.  Absolutely nothing to complain about here… and now I know where I can go for some comfort food!

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  • 09/18/13--00:52: No photo no service, no go
  • I'm back in Taipei to spend time with family during Mid-Autumn Festival, and decided to take the opportunity to catch up with old friends.  I missed the opportunity to catch up with Big Mac on his last trip to Hong Kong, so I figured I should deliver some moon cakes to them during the festive season.  Lunch reservation was made at Shoraku (匠楽), and I was kinda looking forward to checking the place out, having heard a few friends sing their praises.

    I had requested for a Japanese venue because I wanted the ability to order sushi à la carte, and I figured Big Mac would also appreciate the ability to do portion control… given that he's recently lost a ton of weight and is on track to slim down further.  Unfortunately I was told that we'd have to follow the lunch set… which inevitably leads to too much food…

    I really don't get restaurants that forbid customers from taking pictures.  Are they that insecure about their dishes?  I understand why it is generally frowned upon in Japan, but I just don't get it elsewhere.  The last place that didn't let me take pictures in Taipei just had mediocre food and was vastly over-rated.  You won't find me going back there since there are too many better alternatives in Taipei.

    So I was a little annoyed that the menu here states that photography is forbidden.  I was even more annoyed when I was reminded by the staff multiple times about this as I handled my iPhone while taking notes and what not.  As I'm taking pictures of every single meal (even snacks) during my 3-month diet program, this means I had to leave this meal blank.  That's just annoying.  So I decided to post a black background in place of what should have been a nice picture of their food.

    Anyway… lemme save half the rant for later and talk about what we had…

    The amuse bouche was block of sesame tofu (胡麻豆腐) topped with some sea urchin (雲丹), and paired with chayote shoots (龍鬚菜) and some shrooms.

    Slices of olive flower (平目) from Rishiri Island (利尻島) came with some spicy grated radish (おろし) and ponzu (ポン酢).

    A trio of seafood came on a platter, consisting of:
    White whelk (白海螺貝) from Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県)

    Hokkaido horsehair crab (毛蟹) with vinegar jelly and perilla flowers - a nice balance between the sweet, tender crab meet and the acidity of the jelly.

    Raw prawn (車海老) from the Pescatores (澎湖) served with tofu skin (湯葉).

    Sashimi platter came next with quite a few selections, although I gave away both pieces of fatty tuna (トロ) as I don't eat bluefin tuna.  The remaining pieces were all excellent, including striped beakfish (石鯛),  torched red sea bream (真鯛炙り), greater amberjack (間八), squid  (烏賊), sweet shrimp (甘エビ), ark shell (赤貝).

    The simmered bowl (煮物) came next, with half an Ezo abalone (蝦夷鮑), a slice of fish cake with bits of octopus encased inside, julienned matsutake mushroom (松茸), a deep-fried taro ball, some salmon roe (いくら) and a piece of sansho leaf (木の芽) on top.

    The grilled fish was rosy sea bass (赤鯥) from Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), topped with some mentaiko (明太子) sauce.  The fish was very juicy while the texture was a little chewy and springy.  Very nice.

    Then came 4 pieces of nigiri sushi (握り寿司):

    Crimson seabream (小鯛)

    Rosy seabass (赤鯥) - torched to melt the fat.

    Chicken grunt (伊佐木)

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) from Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島) - torched and tasty.

    There was also a tiny bowl of rice, with some minced fatty tuna and spring onions (ネギトロ) that I gave away, sea urchin and salmon roe.

    I normally don't touch the miso soup (味噌汁) because of the salt content, but today there was an oyster in the bowl so I took that in.

    For fruit we had a slice of very ripe melon (マスクメロン), a half slice of pear, and a little cherry tomato.

    Finally there was a soy milk pudding (豆乳プリン) topped with some green tea jelly (抹茶ゼリー), azuki bean jelly (小豆ゼリー), green tea sauce and a sprinkle of brown rice crispies (玄米).  Not bad.

    Well, the food itself was pretty good.  High quality ingredients, pretty good execution.  Unfortunately, I won't be returning to this place because they just piss me off.  The no photo policy already put me in a bad mood before the meal even started.  Then we got shoddy service.  No, they don't know us here, but that doesn't give them the right to ignore us and cater only to other customers they know well.  Our server dropped off a particular dish at our table, then proceeded to chat with the regulars at the next table without announcing what he's given us.  WTF?!

    And it didn't help that there was a group of model/celebrity yummy mummies sitting at the counter, who were clearly the focus of attention for the chefs and staff.  The result?  I had to ask several times for someone to explain what we were having.  Service like that means you don't get repeat business from me, no matter how good the food is.

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  • 09/23/13--08:29: Lobster with Bird
  • I wasn't supposed to have another cheat meal so soon, but the little bunny typhoon messed up my dinner plans last night.  I was meant to have met up with My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin and her parents, and would have chosen some place Chinese so I could be a good boy and stay within the boundaries of my diet.  No such luck.

    While I would have preferred Chinese and ordered a big bowl of rice with some blanched veggies, Birdbrain insisted on going to On Lot 10.  I was hoping that there wouldn't be a table available, but the girl got lucky and actually got a table for us.  That meant I would definitely make this a cheat night, since there's no way I could ever keep to my diet with David's food… Damn!

    I let Bird do the ordering, but warned her about having "eyes that are bigger than her stomach" - 眼睛比胃口大.  I don't think my warning had any effect… and thankfully I insisted that one main course would be enough for us.  I had asked David to decide whether we should have the daily fresh seafood or the paella, and David had chosen to serve us his very special paella… which never ceases to blow me away each time I have it.

    Kintoa ham, pickled quindilla peppers - always happy to have the ham here, although I stayed away from the peppers tonight.

    '21 day' foie gras confit, beetroot marmalade - I think it's the first time I've ever had David's foie gras torchon… and I love it.  The beetroot marmalade on the side was surprisingly devoid of the usual earthy flavors.

    Scallop crudo artichoke heart, Parmesan emulsion and truffle - I enjoyed this on my last visit, and I wasn't disappointed tonight.  Everything just goes so well together… both in terms of textures and flavors.

    Carabinero red prawn, house made spaghetti and coral reduction - for the first time since… hell, I can't even remember… I passed up the head of a carabinero.  Two reasons: my aunt also loves prawn heads and I gave it up in deference to her, and I also haven't been sucking out the goodness of any prawn heads since my program started.  I was happy with half of the tail that was already tasty enough, and was tempted enough to use a little bread to soak up the yummy (but too salty for my diet) reduction… and a little surprised by the fiery kick.

    Soupe de poisson - I love the soup here and the flavors tonight seemed a little stronger than usual.  Texture-wise I think this also thicker than usual… and I started to wonder whether I was tasting added flour, or did my bowl really have that much "sediment".  My clam, though, did seem to be just a liiiitle bit "off".

    Lobster paella - well, David never just serves us plain old "lobster paella"… he'll always have something a little more up his sleeve.  Tonight what we got was made with French homard bleu, with both lobster coral and lobster roe, along with local free-range chicken and chicken liver.  Wow…

    Oh blimey!  I don't think I've ever had lobster roe before… The little round black eggs of the girl lobster turns red after cooking, and made everything so perrrrrty… The homard bleu was of course VERY tasty, the chicken very yummy, the chicken liver just as yummy as the chicken itself.  I couldn't resist nibbling on the lobster coral, which Bird eventually discovered as well…  Soooo decadent!

    Bacon roasted brussel sprouts - Bird and my aunt both like Brussels sprouts, so that is what we ordered.  Very tasty… especially with strips of bacon!

    Green peas and baby vegetables - also very yummy, with what looked like petit pois, baby carrots, baby radish, pearl onions, bacon and chervil.

    I was full and passed on dessert, but Bird being Bird… she couldn't exactly pass up the chocolate and hazelnut cake, could she?!

    Unfortunately for us, my wine of choice for the evening failed us miserably...

    1997 Vincent Girardin Corton Charlemagne - this was completely oxidized and showed a deep, golden hue.  The nose showed caramel, Chinese licorice and mineral notes.  Very ripe on the palate, and also a little tart.  Not really enjoyable.

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  • 09/26/13--08:56: Dinner with prince charming
  • I'm not a celebrity gawker, nor am I easily impressed by the titles carried by aristocrats and royals, but I was most happy to accept an invitation to dine in the presence of a prince tonight.  My gracious hosts were Sotheby's and Domaine Clarence Dillon, and the dinner was meant to be a warm-up in advance of next week's auction featuring a parcel of wines shipped directly from the Domaine.  While there were undoubtedly some guests who were most excited about meeting a prince, for me the real stars tonight - with all due respect to Prince Robert of Luxembourg - were the wines.

    It was certainly a privilege and honor to be able to taste ex-château stock of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, especially from some of the best vintages from the last century.  I had been looking forward to attending this dinner ever since I found out from the Specialist that an invitation was forthcoming.  It would, in fact, be the high point of my social calendar this month.

    I arrived at the appointed hour and mingled with members of the Wine Department as well as other guests whom I know socially - steering clear of Prince Robert, who undoubtedly was entertaining the more important guests of the evening.  Dinner would not start for a while, and despite being a little hungry, I decided to be a good boy and refrained from nibbling on the canapés.  When it came time for us to take our assigned seats, I was a little embarrassed when Prince Robert came around to shake my hand… apologizing for not having had a chance to speak with me earlier.  Now I felt like I was being anti-social and rude… a street urchin in contrast to my gracious host - who displayed all the marks of a well-mannered aristocrat.

    2011 Clarendelle Blanc - very ripe, very aromatic, with lots of oak, vanilla and citrus.

    Alaskan crabmeat tower, green beans, potatoes - I am most curious about the composition of the foam on top of the tower, because it pretty much stayed intact for a long time… from before everyone took their seats through to the introductory remarks by Prince Robert and Serena Sutcliffe.  I do have to say, though, that this was reasonably yum.  A good start to dinner.

    2009 La Clarté de Haut-Brion - a very big nose with toasty notes, sweet, buttery corn and lemon.  Rich and fat, very ripe and hot on the palate.  Pretty enjoyable, actually.

    Marinated tuna with haricots verts and sorrel - I wasn't expecting a bloc of raw tuna this size, but it turned out to be very tasty.  The garnish on the side was especially flavorful.

    2009 La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc - opened for 3 hours prior to serving.  A very big wine but much more elegant compared to the first two wines.  Seemingly thinner at first, with a fragrant nose showing citrus notes, nice and buttery, toasty, almost a little pipi de chat from the Sauvignon Blanc, a little sweet around the edges.  A beautiful and complex wine.

    2009 Haut-Brion Blanc - much more showy than its sibling, displaying citrus, more pipi de chat thanks to a greater proportion of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend, petrol and muscat grape.  Very ripe on the palate but with good acidity balance.

    Baked pigeon pastilla on mushroom sauce - not quite the pastilla that I was expecting, but this was nevertheless reasonably tasty, with classic chopped almonds and Mediterranean spices among the diced pigeon and mushrooms.  The aubergine sauce on the side was nice, too.

    2009 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion - double-decanted for 6 hours prior to serving.  Really sweet, almost a little jammy, with a hint of smoke.  A very delicious wine that is somewhat ready to drink, but obviously this was a little young…  I would love to revisit this wine in another 10 or 20 years.

    Roasted pork belly with peas and lettuce - I honestly can't remember the last time I had pork belly… and relished this rare opportunity in the middle of my diet.  I can't even begin to describe my level of happiness as I cut up the bloc into slices and shoved each piece into my mouth, applying pressure with my teeth and tongue until liquid fat started oozing out…  A little chunk of heaven.

    2000 La Mission Haut-Brion - double-decanted for about 3½ hours prior to serving.  Ripe on the nose and a classic claret on the palate.  A little mineral, savory like black olives, with animal and grilled meat notes.  Delicious.

    1990 La Mission Haut-Brion en magnum - double-decanted for about 3½ hours prior to serving.  Definitely prominent notes of brett, very savory with lots of black olive tapenade, earthy, mineral, cigar notes, but still have some of that sweet fruit core underneath it all.

    Slow cooked wagyu beef cheek with red wine raisin sauce - soooo yummy… Tender and yielded to the knife just like buttahhh!  The raisin and pumpkin mash worked so well with the beef cheek…  This disappeared from my plate in no time.

    1989 Haut-Brion - what an amazing wine!  The ex-château stock was so incredibly young, and so clean and pure.  A little savory, meaty, smoky, dried herbs and cedar, with good amount of sweet fruit.  But this youngster wasn't yet fully open and showing 100%, although there was absolutely no question that this was, in fact, a perfect wine.  What I wouldn't give to be able to taste another example of ex-château stock of this wine in… oh, another 20 years!  Like Serena I, too, noticed that the wine's got some damn good "legs"…

    1982 Haut-Brion en double magnum - obviously more mature despite the larger format.  Showing notes of cedar that was just so fragrant, so sweet, with just a hint of brett, savory black olives and leather saddle.  This wine was drinking beautifully tonight, and I stuck around towards the end and got myself a second pour… and probably should have asked for a third pour, too…

    French apple tart - no, this ain't no tarte tatin… but still reasonably yummy.

    Clarendelle Amberwine - not exactly a complex sweet wine, but nevertheless showed classic marmalade, pineapple and botrytis.

    I had a wonderful time tonight.  To be honest, I didn't have much expectations for the food tonight, but could find little fault with the catering from the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  The wines, of course, were in perfect condition and simply stunning.  I must thank my gracious hosts for the privilege of attending the dinner.

    P.S.  Although I did not have to opportunity to meet them, it was heartwarming to see two representatives from Médecins Sans Frontières among the guests tonight.  Prince Robert has teamed up with Linley of London to design 15 beautifully-crated limited edition cabinets capable of housing 8 bottles of wine along with silverware.  These cabinets are being auctioned off over the years to benefit MSF, and the one slated for the upcoming auction will contain the 1935, 1945, 1959, 1961, 1975, 1989, 1990, 2009 vintages of Haut-Brion, and the auction lot will also contain 6 bottles each of 2010 Haut-Brion and 2010 Haut-Brion Blanc.  In fact, all of the 8 remaining bottles of 1945 Haut-Brion that have never left the château will be auctioned off as part of these cabinets.  That is quite amazing, and I salute Prince Robert for supporting such a worthy charity.

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  • 09/28/13--01:54: Watchmaking for idiots
  • A few days ago I got a call from Tigger telling me to block out my schedule for this morning.  Through his connections to Richemont, he had arranged for a group of us to attend a "watchmaking class".  Given my interest in watches (well, I was pretty interested until recently…) he very kindly invited me to be part of his group.  So it was that I dragged myself out of bed on a Saturday morning, dispensed with my planned morning jog and hauled my somewhat-tired behind to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

    Richemont had taken down an entire floor of the new wing and put on this massive "Watches and Wonders" exhibit, showcasing all of their brands.  As part of this big show, there are a couple of these watchmaking classes.  Initially I thought this would involved the group of us watching some watchmaker putting a movement together, but I couldn't have been more wrong…

    We entered one of the rooms at the far end of the building, and I saw that individual stations had been set up for each one of us.  So we were each going to have to do the work ourselves!  Immediately tension rose in the room, as peer pressure started to set in.  What if everyone else finished the task but somehow I screwed up?  Would I look like an idiot in front of everyone?  OMG please please please don't let me fuck this up…  Like little kids at school, a few of us quickly claimed our seats at the back of the class… Nah… I ain't no teacher's pet.  Not sitting in the front row for sure.

    Our instructor Gianfranco Ritschel gave us an introduction to the basics of the mechanical watch movement, and after making sure we were mentally prepped, started to lead us step-by-step through the process to disassemble the ETA 6497-1 movement in front of each of us.  This was a large calibre, 78(?)-part and 17-jewel movement originally developed for pocket watches in the early part of the 20th century, with a relatively slow 18,000 vibrations per hour.  It may not have any "complications" as far as I can tell, but the prospect of working on it for the first time was still pretty daunting!

    A few rules of thumb:
    - pick up the movement by the stem, or maybe by the sides if absolutely necessary
    - never touch any moving parts with your fingers.  Pick them up with tweezers only
    - secure the movement with the clamp while you work
    - sit with both arms firmly resting on the table for steady hands
    - use the dome or the plastic stick when working with parts that may accidentally fly away

    After being instructed to release the energy stored in the barrel, we began disassembly by first removing the balance bridge along with the balance spring.  The balance spring is probably the most delicate part of the movement, and the one person within our group who actually has experience fiddling with mechanical watch movements ran into trouble here… and ended up tangling his spring while trying to remove it.  One elimination and six survivors after 2 parts…

    Removing the train wheel bridge reveals the center, third, second and escape wheels.

    After an intense hour, during which we all tried very hard to make sure that nothing went flying, we finally finished the disassembly.  All of our moving parts are now laid out in the compartments of our tray, although by now I had lost track of which parts came from which location…  The naked movement rests on the clamp.

    Gianfranco decided to give us a little coffee break so that we could relax a little, and then it was time to move on to the tougher part of the workshop - assembly.

    On the bridges side of the movement, the barrel and center wheel go in first…

    …then we add on the barrel bridge.

    Flipping to the dial side, we re-introduce the setting lever, winding and sliding pinions before sliding in the winding stem.

    After putting in the yoke and the yoke spring - the latter of which was particularly difficult as the little bugger has a tendency to fly off - we add the minute wheel, and setting lever jumper on top to secure the yoke spring.  The crown can now be pushed and pulled to set the time.

    For those with sharp eyes, the fingerprints on the dial ain't mine.  They were there before I got here.

    Flip back to the bridges side, and now the click spring (another tricky little bugger that could fly off), the click, the crown wheel and ratchet wheel go in.  Now we can wind the watch by turning the crown, and the energy is stored in the barrel.

    Next we put back the trio of wheels - third wheel, second wheel and escape wheel - along with the pallet, then secure everything with the train wheel bridge and pallet bridge.

    We are now left with one more step before assembly is complete - adding back the balance wheel assembly.  Given our friend's experience earlier on, we were all very apprehensive about this final step, which actually required making sure the following four things were done correctly:

    1. slide the balance wheel underneath the center wheel (and the third wheel?)
    2. one end of the assembly has to line up with the jewel at one end of the pallet bridge
    3. the other end of the assembly has to fit between the two prongs of the fork at one end of the pallet
    4. the hole in the balance bridge must line up with the hole in the pallet bridge

    Sounds like it requires a certain level of dexterity, no?  Definitely a tall order for someone like me…

    Gianfranco gave us a demonstration of this last and crucial step, advising us to anchor our right arm to the table and keep it still while grabbing the bridge with tweezers.  Instead we should use our left arm to change the position of the movement, while we try to carefully lower the balance spring with the right arm via vertical movements only, then wiggle the spring into place by adjusting with our left arm.

    Well, I went back to my station and promptly forgot everything Gianfranco said.  I didn't immobilize my right arm and introduced horizontal in addition to vertical movements.  But as luck would have it, I think I got it after a minute or so.  Miraculously, the second I dropped the assembly into place the balance wheel started turning, as energy stored in the barrel was released.  In our little unspoken competition, I finished only shortly after Mrs. Tigger.

    After Francisco confirmed that everything was correct, I lifted the final screw with my tweezers and set about securing the balance bridge - the final task before declaring victory.  It was then that I nearly suffered a heart attack.  The tiny screw wasn't firmly secured between the prongs of the tweezers, and went flying off somewhere.  Expletives started to fly in my mind - and perhaps audibly, too.  How the hell would I look for a tiny screw on the dark, carpeted floor?!  Gianfranco had just finished telling us earlier that no real watchmaker's workshop would ever have a carpeted floor, and now I'm totally screwed… or actually, not screwed…

    Seconds later, the second miracle of the day (for me) happened.  I found my missing screw on the lower level of my station.  How it could have gotten there after flying off was beyond me, but I wasn't about to question this miracle.  I happily picked it up with my tweezers and, with a few turns of the screwdriver, finished my assembly.

    Like obedient school children, we each got up to accept our certificate of attendance for the workshop.  It doesn't mean that we're now ready to be watchmakers, but at least each of us - with a little help from our instructors, and some more than others - has successfully completed the disassembly and re-assembly of a relatively simple mechanical watch movement.

    We adjourned for a lovely lunch courtesy of Richemont, and I actually think I managed to stay pretty true within the boundaries of my diet.

    Of course we wanted to see some cool stuff at the exhibition, so Carson Chan from Bonhams took us to Roger Dubuis, where we got a chance to handle their new Excalibur Quatuor - a monster of a watch with four balance wheels to counter the effects of gravity.  We were able to see this in rose gold as well as titanium, but of course the all-black titanium version is waaaay cooler…  The sound made by this bad boy was pretty unique, like the engine room of a ocean liner.  It's got to be the loudest watch I've ever heard.

    We moved over to Vacheron Constantin, where Nicolas Brindjonc had arranged for us to view some of their bespoke pieces as well as their grand complications in their Atelier Cabinotiers.  We were introduced to their latest and greatest achievement - a watch with 18 complications that has yet to be manufactured.  We also got to handle the Tour d'Ile, a watch with 15 complications introduced in 2005.

    But I'm pretty sure that the watch that everyone wanted to take home was the Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 - the thinnest minute-repeater any of us had ever seen.  Simple and understated, I think it's the ultimate statement of class.  Having just gone through working with the ETA 6497-1 hours ago, the thought (and sight) of a minute repeater whose movement is only 3.90 mm thick is pretty mind-blowing… much like the Jaeger LeCoultre Calibre 101.

    This had been a pretty awesome day.  Many thanks to Carson, Tigger and of course Nicolas from Richemont.  I'm still a novice when it comes to watchmaking, but I can say that I'm no longer an idiot… I think...

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  • 09/28/13--08:19: Private dining, almost
  • I did something terrible that I haven't done for a long, long time… In fact, I don't even remember the last time I did something like this.  I double-booked myself.

    Two weeks ago I had arranged to meet some friends for dinner tonight.  As I had been busy traveling to Taipei for Mid-Autumn Festival, and then gotten busy preparing for my board meeting with the boss, somehow it slipped my mind.  And it didn't help that I wasn't responsible for booking the restaurant for our gathering, so the event failed to register and I never put it in my calendar.

    A few days ago, I discussed dinner plans with another couple.  I wasn't very eager to go out for another meal, as I had already reached my weekly quota of cheat meals with the Sotheby's dinner.  My extremely kind and considerate friends decided that they would entertain me at home and cook up some simple vegetables and rice, so that I could stay within the boundaries of my diet.

    So imagine my absolute horror when, while checking out some amazing pieces from Vacheron Constantin at Watches and Wonders this afternoon, I received a message reminding me that dinner had been booked at Kazuo Okada per my suggestion.  I realized right then and there that no matter what happens, I was going to have to look like a jerk and cancel on someone.

    I decided to stick with my friends who made the reservation at Kazuo Okada, as I had booked them first.  I apologized profusely to the friends who were entertaining at home, and stopped by to deliver some contraband I smuggled in for them.

    1971 Hasenklever Bonnes-Mares - nose a little dusty, but that could have been the glass.  Some black fruits like plums, a little leather.  Nose was somewhat decent but palate was very short.  Then again, I had just drunk some coffee so my tastebuds were not functioning anyway…

    Having delivered the package along with the mea culpa, I joined the other set of friends and headed across the harbor.  It's been a few years since I was last in Hung Hom, and I was utterly amazed by Winnie the Chew's ability to navigate the streets…

    It was past 8pm when we stepped inside the restaurant, and found ourselves to be the only customers of the evening.  Another couple arrived a little later, but didn't seem to be having dinner and left shortly.  Wow!  The last time I had the restaurant all to myself was during my 6-month move to Singapore nearly a decade ago, when so many decent and upscale Western restaurants seemed to be devoid of customers.

    Given that this was an "extra" cheat meal, I figured I'd better be good and order the cheaper of the two kaiseki sets, having read that the chef's kaiseki set was the "extensive" set.  Well, it turns out that both sets have the same number of courses, and differs simply in the quality of ingredients used.  Oh well…

    Flash smoked salmon with nuta sauce (瞬間薫製サーモン) - this is apparently a signature dish here, and I could see why.  We could smell the smoke coming through the pores, and removing the cover instantly filled the air with intense cherry wood smoke.

    Once the smoke has cleared, we find two slices of torched salmon wrapped around green scallions, sitting on some nuta (ぬた) sauce made with white miso (白味噌).  Some finely shredded strands of radish (大根) and deep-fried potato (ジャガイモ) are placed on top. Both the smoking and torching imparted intense smoky flavors to the salmon, and the fact that it was only lightly cooked meant it retained a nice, succulent texture.  A very good start to the meal.

    Cured mackerel and seared squid vinaigrette sauce (〆鯖と炙り烏賊 白酢かけ) - the top layer of the dish consisted of a cooked prawn (車海老) and sliced eggplant (茄子) sitting on a very thin wafer of lotus root (蓮根).  Fortunately the prawn was nicely done and not overcooked.

    Below the lotus root sat pieces each of mackerel (鯖) that had been cured in kelp (昆布), along with slices of squid that had been finely scored before being torched, all sitting on this sauce (白酢) made from soy pulp, sesame and vinegar.  I could have sworn that our waiter actually told me that the mackerel was bonito (鰹)…  In any case I thought the mackerel and squid were pretty yummy, especially that smoky flavor again on the squid.

    Scallop shijyo ~mushroom sawani style soup~ (帆立真丈 茸沢煮椀) - the giant ball in the middle was made h both scallop paste as well as diced scallops encased inside.  This was actually pretty tasty. The bowl was filled with lots of different mushrooms like shiitake (椎茸), maitake (舞茸) and enoki (榎茸), and garnished with capsicum slices and radish sprouts.

    Today's sashimi (本日の造り) - the olive flounder (平目) slices were pretty thick and chewy, which was a refreshing change from the usual.  The splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) pieces had the skin ever so lightly grilled to impart that smoky flavor.  Nice with the yuzu soy sauce (柚子醤油).  Interestingly, in addition to the usual shredded radish there was also some very finely shredded pumpkin, which actually wasn't as sweet as I would have expected.

    Chef's choice shinogi (凌ぎ) - a single piece of torched rosy sea bass (赤鯥) sat on top of the rice, with salmon roe (イクラ).  Rosy sea bass definitely needs to be torched to bring out all the flavors.  Nice.

    Deep fried tilefish and grilled pike mackerel with chestnut sauce (甘鯛揚げ浸し 秋刀魚塩焼き栗ソース) - the waiter called it the "chestnut combination", since chestnut was served in several ways here.  There was also ground chestnut powder as well as deep-fried chestnut chips.

    The tilefish was deep-fried and served with shredded burdock (牛蒡) on top, onion and chestnut halves.  Decorated with a leaf from the chestnut tree.

    The pacific saury (秋刀魚) was rolled up tightly and grilled, and served on a bed of chestnut purée.  Garnished with pickled ginger shoot and ginkgo (銀杏) nuts.

    This “chestnut" was a very interesting creation, and earned brownie points for the chef in my book.  While the center was indeed a piece of chestnut, the burr which appears to have cracked open was made with white fish gelatin and green tea somen (茶素麺).  How creative was that?!

    Duck tempura with simmered Japanese radish negi thick sauce hot pot (鴨天婦羅と大根 小鍋仕立て 葱餡かけ) - this was the only dish that failed this evening.  First of all, why bother to batter and deep-fry duck?  Leaving that aside, this came in a pot over a flame, and the flame was just too damn strong and ended up overcooking the duck.  I asked the waiter if he could help me put the flame out, and his initial response was to suggest that I wait for the flame to die down by itself.  When I complained and insisted, the staff took it away and returned it to me without the flame.

    Unfortunately, the duck had been way overcooked by now, and was dry and tough inside the batter which had turned mushy thanks to the scallion sauce that was poured into the bowl.  The one saving grace was the radish, which had been cut in one long ribbon and rolled up in the middle of the pot.  The eggplant cubes and cherry tomatoes didn't seem to add to the dish.

    Japanese oyster rice (牡蠣御飯 みそ汁) - this was pretty decent, as the oysters were tasty and the rice pretty fragrant yet subtle.

    Chef's dessert (本日の甘味) - slices of persimmon (柿), a monaka (最中) with red bean paste, and some marscapone with coffee ice cream.

    We decided not to open the bottle of Champagne my friends brought, since I wasn't in the mood to drink a lot.  So we ended up order a small bottle of sake, and as it turned out the restaurant chose not to charge us for it.

    Dassai Sparkling 50 (獺祭 スパークリング50) - interesting that in addition to a sparkling wine, this was also an unfiltered sake (にごり酒).  Nose of banana, fermented rice and yeasty notes.  Pretty sweet on the palate as expected.

    I had heard some good things about this place, and in the end I was not disappointed.  The food was very solid, and the chef certain showed a good amount of creativity.  I am definitely looking forward to coming back here, and I'm also looking to try out sister restaurants Messina and Yu Lei (玉蕾).  Now if only this place wasn't such a pain to get to...

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  • 10/01/13--06:14: Party with blackfoot
  • I'd been looking forward to this day for a while.  After months of hard work (and lots of mullah being spent in the process), I Love Lubutin's new pad is finally ready.  Given that it's also around the time of her birthday, this housewarming and birthday party got me pretty excited.  An extensive menu was planned and circulated, and I looked forward to a fantastic home-cooked cheat meal.

    Half the gang had already arrived and was already busy prepping our lunch.  We had collectively bought a whole leg of Jabugo Cinco Jotas jamón as the housewarming gift, and Kung Fu Panda was busy slicing it up when I walked in.

    It was indeed a beautiful sight… a whole leg of jamón ibérico de bellota set up on a jamonero, with some of the fat and skin already trimmed off, and the fat starting to liquefy and dripping down…

    Several people tried their hand at slicing the jamón, although I think Kung Fu Panda delivered a plate of the most beautiful and even slices.  The Cinco Jotas jamón was actually a little sweeter than I remembered, and although most of the pieces I ate today were relatively lean, the few that carried the wonderful fat were simply heavenly.

    Jamón ibérico is best paired with Sherry, and Kung Fu Panda very kindly supplied us with two bottles.

    Península Palo Cortado Solera Reserva, from Lustau - walnut, toasty, a little yeasty, perhaps.  Long finish.  While I'm happy to drink Sherry at "room temperature", like wine I am mindful that "room temperature" in Asia isn't the same as what it is in Europe…

    Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado - sharper nose with stronger alcohol, also more intense nose and more grapey.

    The Worm Supplier brought over a big collection of bread from Bread Elements, which made a very impressive line up…

    ...but I decided to start with the pan con tomate first, which was pretty awesome with a sprinkle of Maldon Salt.  But let us not forget the awesome bread…

    Next on my list was the squid ink roll, which was probably a little more salted than the others, and definitely had the ink flavor.  Yum.

    Next I moved on to some French figs, which many others were oohing and aahing over.  I don't know if these were the best figs I've ever eaten, but they were pretty good for sure.

    After munching on some more jamón, we were served a batch of mini burgers.    The patties were very tasty, as was the onion confit.  The choice of bun was a curious one, as they were very much on the sweet side and hardened after toasting.  Nevertheless, I managed to inhale this in about… oh… two bites.

    Given that there would be around 10 of us, I brought a magnum of red to lunch... but didn't expect that there would be NO drinkers today!  I think we only finished 1/3 of the magnum, and most of that was drunk by myself... Boo hoo...  I hope I Love Lubutin saved the rest for cooking.  Cooking with some France red wine made by La-Fite would be SO GRAND!

    2002 L'Evangile en magnum - aired for 1 hour prior to drinking.  Smoky, pretty sweet and ripe prunes, dried herbs, cedar and potpourri.  After 2 hours the sweetness really came out and dominated.

    With the savory part of the meal over, I finally got my hands on some of Susan's awesome kougin amanns, the recipe of which appears in her book.  Normally I'd go bananas over these, but given that I'm on my diet program, I decided to stop after just two of them.

    Finally, we had Susan's tarte tatin, which was a little wetter today than usual, but still delicious.  I dispensed with the crème and just had the tarte on its own.

    Even though I wasn't stuffed - and probably could have taken in more food if someone twisted my arm - I was pretty satisfied and happy.  Many thanks to all the chefs/elves/slaves who helped put this meal together, and I'm glad I did my morning jog before lunch to burn off some of the calories!

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  • 10/03/13--08:42: Seventh on Sixth
  • Tonight's dinner was a highly anticipated event, as the venue chosen by the birthday boy was on the top of my list of new restaurants to try - Seventh Son (家全七福).  As long-time fans of Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), it was naturally sad for us to see the brothers split with each other, but the result is that we now have a third outlet in the Wanchai area serving cuisine that is comparable to FLM.  Nominally it was BM's birthday dinner, but in fact we were kinda celebrating 3 birthdays together.  I'm glad BM ended up booking us a room here.

    Upon my exit from the elevator on the sixth floor, I was led through a maze of corridors, passing trolleys loaded with supplies, dishes…etc.  Not exactly classy or grand for a high-end restaurant targeted at the city's elite, and tonight our neighbors in the next door included one of the city's most recognizable tycoons.  The decor here was a little bare, I thought…

    I was just around 15 minutes late, and two starters were already on the table:

    Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - unlike at Fook Lam Moon, the frog legs we got here were full-sized pieces, providing a more satisfying sensation of having meatier chunks in one's mouth.  Unfortunately, this also meant they're no longer as crispy and yummy as the FLM version.  BM made a comment to the staff, and moments later we got a second plate that was a little better.

    Sautéed pig tripe (炒肚尖) - not as refined as the version from Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), but I supposed the bigger pieces here are more "homestyle"…  The tripe was reasonably crunchy, and the peppers were actually a little spicy.

    Poached fresh 'kai wai' shrimps (白灼基圍蝦) - I thought these were OK, but BM wasn't entirely happy.

    Long boiled soup of the day - today we had 青紅蘿蔔瑤柱燉豬蹍湯, with radish, carrots, corn, conpoy and pork shank.

    This was really delicious - the sweetness of the ingredients came through.  As much as I liked this, I kept to just one bowl…

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - this is one of the signature dishes at FLM, and the dish I measure all other roast suckling pigs against, so I was very curious to see how this would match up.

    Well… this was pretty good, but not as good as FLM.  The crackling was paper-thin alright, but didn't have the same crunchiness.  I allowed myself 3 pieces and didn't touch the other parts of the pig.

    Steamed Hong Kong grouper (紅斑) - of course we'd have to have two of them… This was one delicious fish, but I thought it was just ever so slightly over-steamed.  I'd give it somewhere above 90 points, but admittedly perfection is difficult to achieve… and not often encountered.

    Steamed duck stuffed with egg yolk (蛋黃八寶鴨) - this looked pretty damn good when it came to the table...

    …and was also pretty tasty.  The chestnuts and egg yolk stuffing are perfect for the fall season.

    Pomelo rind braised with abalone sauce (鮑汁柚皮) - there are three options for pomelo rind, and BM chose abalone sauce over shrimp roe and flounder (大地魚) sauce.  I thought this was pretty good - no noticeable fibers or bitterness.

    Noodles with beef shank and bean sprouts (銀牙牛蹍麵) - not a fan. The alkaline flavors of the noodles were simply overpowering.  Why a restaurant of this quality couldn't take the trouble to rinse the noodles with water before serving is beyond me.

    I was pretty full and happy to have some mixed seasonal fruits, but Winnie the Chew had other ideas.  Sesame rolls (芝麻卷) are nicknamed "film rolls (菲林)" by locals because of their resemblance to rolls of film, and one can actually unravel them in the same way.  These were pretty good, but I found a couple which were rolled up rather sloppily…

    This being a birthday celebration and all, I thought I'd bring a few bottles along to get the evening going…

    Krug Grande Cuvée - riper on palate than expected.  Should have used white wine glasses for this…

    2002 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - drank about an hour after opening.  Pretty sweet on the nose, with some forest notes.  After 2 hours, the nose opened up further and sweetness was even more prominent.  Palate-wise I had expected a little more, especially on the finish, although there's nothing wrong with it.

    2003 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - drank without too much aeration.  Pretty sweet nose, with lots of strawberries and black fruits.  Later showed a little toffee and potpourri.  Still plenty of tannins here after 10 years.

    Sooo… the food was pretty good, but didn't quite measure up to FLM, yet.  Of course it's still early days, and hiring good restaurant staff appears to be mission impossible in Hong Kong these days.  I'd say Brother Seven's new venture is delivering about 80% of the quality of Brother Five's Fook Lam Moon, but time will tell whether he could catch up.

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    Now that I've gone through two months of my nutritional program, it's time to do another update!

    Weight lost to date:  5.0kg.
    I'm a little annoyed, because just two days ago I had lost 5.8kg.  Unfortunately, since my morning weigh-in that day I decided to gorge myself on tons of yummy food at a housewarming party, and my body ended up retaining some extra water.  I'll be taking in some food rich in potassium to help me drain out that extra water weight…

    So my weight loss seems pretty steady - about 2½ to 3kg a month.  If I can keep this up for a couple of more months, I'd have no trouble hitting my short-term target of losing 10kg.  I'll figure out what to do next once that target is reached.

    My health has improved
    A few days before my last update, I went for a simple blood test to figure out some simple statistics.  The results were a little surprising to me:

    • Cholesterol - my last blood test was more than 3 years ago, and at the time I wasn't at all surprised that my cholesterol level was over the line, by about 20%.  This time my total cholesterol was about 10% below the threshold of 200 mg/dL, so clearly this diet has done wonders just after a month.

    • Triglycerides - I don't remember this coming up in my last blood test, but here I'm also pleasantly surprised.  My measurement of 85 mg/dL is pretty far from the 150 mg/dL threshold, so I'm pretty happy about that.

    • Glucose - the first unpleasant surprise here.  I'm just over the line here, and I've never had any issue with this.  I'm wondering if it has something to do with the fact that I drew blood in the morning after two consecutive nights of having rich food and plenty of wine.

    • Uric Acid - another unpleasant surprise where I never expected trouble, and I'm also a little bit over the line here.  After a few seconds, though, a little light bulb went on inside my head.  Since starting this program, I'd been drinking a big glass of unsweetened soy bean milk everyday for breakfast, as my 1 portion of protein.  That would certainly push up my uric acid level.  My new fondness of having wholemeal bread apparently is also bad for my uric acid level.  So I decided to cut them out of my diet.

    My new toy: Basis B1
    Since I started jogging, I wanted to have something to track my heart rate and running distance/paces.  I came across the Basis B1 band, and after doing some research decided that it would be my choice of fitness monitor. I've worn it for about 10 days now, and I'll put up a separate post about it later.  So far it's been kinda fun.

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  • 10/07/13--08:02: Back to the usual
  • Today was a pretty busy day for me, both work-wise and cheating-wise.  My friendly neighborhood prime broker hosted an investor conference for us, and I spent the day playing the role of a broken record, telling different groups of prospective clients throughout the day why my boss is Da Man.  I think it got to the point where even the boss was tired of hearing me sing his praises…

    But it wasn't all bad today.  There was plenty of good food around, and boy, do our prime brokers eat well!  We spent our lunch hour in their staff cafeteria, and I saw people going for seconds (and thirds) of baked Alaskan king crab legs, deep-fried mantis prawns and other delicacies.  They even managed to bring in a small team of elves from that world-famous export from my hometown - Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) - who made xiaolongbao (小籠包) to order right in front of us!  That was pretty impressive, coz I don't think Din Tai Fung makes house calls for just anybody…

    Unfortunately I'm still trying to stick to my diet, so I only cheated a little by having 1 basket of xiaolongbao - which had 4 dumplings (and 4 portions of fat against my meal allowance of 1).  These may not have been the best or the prettiest dumplings I've ever had from them, but I was plenty satisfied.

    The rest of my lunch consisted of food that stayed within the boundaries of my diet - udon (うどん), corn, celery, cucumber and green peppers.  Boring stuff, but I needed to save some quota for dinner…

    After the last meeting was done, we were shipped back from the Dark Side for dinner at Cipriani.  It's been a couple of years since my last visit, and I was kinda missing the food.  As it turns out, our set menu included some of my favorite dishes at this place!  Hoooray!

    Sea scallops with prosciutto and frisee salad - OK… so not the healthiest of options given that the scallops were wrapped with prosciutto…  Execution was OK, as the scallops were still tender but not quiet mi-cuit.

    Baked tagliolini with ham - this is my go-to dish at Cipriani, and I haven't had it for a few years.  I was sooooo happy to see this!  It's been a while since I last had something baked with cheese and cream… Gobble gobble gobble…

    Grilled tiger prawns alla Veneziana - a pretty healthy dish that put me above my protein quota, but got me my veg.

    Classic vanilla meringue cake - O-M-G… Have I been missing this!  Like the baked tagliolini, I never fail to order this whenever I'm here.   I've bought so many of these whole cakes to takeaway, and also managed to introduce it to people like Tigger and ILoveLubutin along the way.  INHALED.

    Well, that was a pretty good way to wrap up the day, and I even got to spend some time hobnobbing with prospective clients.  Must thank my friendly neighborhood prime brokers for treating me so well...

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  • 10/09/13--08:46: The first of autumn
  • Remember that 3,000-calorie dinner (actually two within the space of a week) I had not so long ago?  Methinks tonight's dinner definitely blew that away… by a very wide margin…

    The last time we met, my friend the Krug Lover and I discussed the possibility of booking the Krug Room so he could try it out.   He was pretty excited at the prospect, so I checked with Uwe on the next available date and - after ruling out an earlier date because of a pre-existing conflict - settled on tonight. I figured we needed a reasonably big crowd, so I asked Krug Lover to invite a few of his friends while grabbing a couple of mine.

    I arrived at the Mandarin Oriental, got upstairs and walked through the Chinnery as I normally would.  I wasn't expecting to be stopped by a bouncer, who informed us that the room wasn't ready.  They were preparing a surprise for us, and we would only be allowed to enter the room once everyone has arrived, as we needed to be surprised simultaneously.

    So I was dutifully led back outside, where we were seated in the bar section of Mandarin Grill + Bar, and served our first glass of Krug while waiting for the whole gang to get here.  Unfortunately, that was gonna take a while because My Favorite Cousin was running pretty late.  So I sat down and took a few sips of Krug Grande Cuvée

    When transpired next was nothing short of surreal.  Krug Lover and his wife greeted the couple they had invited, and it turned out the husband is the very client whose dramatic weight loss had inspired me to embark on my current diet!  What a small world!  Tonight would be the third time we met up within the last week.  So… there would be two of us cheating tonight…

    Finally, with the arrival of My Favorite Cousin, we were finally ready to enter the room.  The door was pushed open, and this was the scene that greeted us:

    I immediately regretted my decision - out of sheer laziness - not to bring my wide-angle lens tonight.  I would have loved to take some real artistic shots of this setup.

    Uwe came in and told us that we have found ourselves in the middle of a forest in autumn.  Earlier in the day he mentioned that we would be getting a preview of his new menu, and it turned out tonight was the first evening it was be served.  What a privilege!

    Once we took our seats, this is what I saw in front of me… a TON of dried leaves spread out on the table, so that most of the tabletop had been covered.  Four pumpkins were strategically placed, as were glass vases with plant arrangements.

    Pumpkin: savory / crouton / marshmallow / iberico / seeds - we opened up the tops of the pumpkins to reveal the finger food inside.  The slice of jamón ibérico sat on a piece of croûton.  The pieces of pumpkin were scored, roasted with vinegar, and stuck with pumpkin seeds.  Yummy.  Finally there were pumpkin-flavored marshmallows.

    Branches: pumpernickel / malt / herb butter - this was familiar from my last visit.  Malt and pumpernickel bread sticks made to look like branches, and actually very delicious on their own.  Even better with that killer herb butter on the side…

    Cep gougère - another old favorite from the previous menu.  Wonderful flavors of ceps, and perfect for the fall.

    Picnic : home cured / foie gras / pickle / mushroom - there are usually lots of goodies in a picnic basket, and so it's no surprise that there is a full spread on the table…  First up is an edible forest floor, featuring both some white mushrooms and girolles, slices of black truffles with truffle vinaigrette, and some greens.

    Next we have some home-cured pork: cooked ham, air-dried ham, salami and mortadella.  All very yummy.

    Foie gras was molded into the shapes of mushrooms and snails.

    Then we have a few jars with pickled goodies.  There were these smoked quail eggs…

    …and some sour pickled cucumbers

    …and pickled girolles.

    Well, our forest picnic was over, so we were asked to sweep all the dried leaves off the marble table onto the floor.  It's not often that one is asked to make a mess at a fine dining establishment…  Proper placements were subsequently brought out.

    Tartare: smoked / beef / salad leaves - veal tartare with sherry and vinegar sauce, wrapped in greens like a ssam.  Gone in two bites.  Or was it one?

    Crab tacos: king crab / avodaco / celeriac - how interesting that the taco shell was made from a thin slice of celeriac!  Gone in another two bites…

    Consommé: tea / bag / gold / custard - so Uwe's playing with our food again… A pewter (at least I think it was) cup was set in front of us with a "tea bag" inside.

    Actually there was a layer of mushroom custard at the bottom, and the "tea bag" containing flowers and gold leaf sat on top of the custard.  We waited patiently as the chefs came to put the finishing touches…

    As the consommé was poured in, the "bag" melted and released the contents, making an infusion in our cups.  The wonderful marriage of mushroom custard and consommé is something Uwe has been doing for a while.

    Lobster: cauliflower / leek / onion - very tender and succulent, with both cauliflower and parsley mash on the side, as well as what I thought was parsley foam on top.

    Amadai: soufflé / oxtail / Bordelaise - aaaahhh… Uwe's amadai (甘鯛) with the layer of crispy, curled-up scales.  And of course the little potato puff that's meant to play the part of "chips" in fish and chips.  This time, though, he combined it with some organic oxtail done in sauce bordelaise.  I thought the combination was pretty damn good.

    Turbot: whole / potato / leek - a while ago Uwe showed up and gave us a look of the turbot that we would be having tonight.

    After roasting, the fish was brought back to the table, where the chefs proceeded to divide it up into individual portions…

    But before serving, Uwe sliced off one of the "fingers" from the Buddha's hand (佛手柑), and proceeded to shave some of the deliciously fragrant rind on top of the turbot.

    Et voila! My slice of the turbot.  Very nicely done, with some jus from the turbot mixed with olive oil.  I thought the flesh was pretty pretty and reasonably tender, but tough and unfair to compare it with Cantonese steamed fish.

    We mustn't forget the sides!  The creamed leek was simply DIVINE!  I knew this was killing but diet, but couldn't help spooning more of it onto my plate.  OH-MY-GOD!!!

    Not to say that the new potatoes weren't good, but I only like my potato to come in three forms, and this ain't one of them.

    Pork: belly / breakfast / egg - Aaaahhhh… Uwe's "bacon and egg" dish.  One portion was made table-side to demonstrate the process.  A duck egg was fried on the hot pan, and jus was added in addition to some lucky sorrel.  Then the iberico pork belly, of course!  Gobble gobble gobble…

    Beef: candle / calotte / mushroom - despite the fact that most of the group have not been to the Krug Room before tonight, we all learned very quickly that "nothing is as it seems" in this room, and just about anything on the table is edible.  So when this candle showed up in front of us, my friend quickly asked: "Is this edible?" And of course it was!  Made with bone marrow and fat, I ended up slicing up a teeny bit of it for a taste.  Yup, tasted exactly the way I expected… with that amazing richness only fat and marrow can deliver.

    This was a whole piece of calotte, or ribeye cap, carved table-side.  It was very tender, tasty and done perfectly.  Unfortunately I was way too full at this point, and could finish only half the chunk.  I felt really bad about wasting such a beautiful piece of meat.

    The sautéed mushrooms were pretty good, but perhaps just a tad too much salt.

    Uwe brought out the mashed potatoes and said that he wanted to give Monsieur Robuchon some competition.  Whoa!  Them's fightin' words!  This was a pretty good effort… close, but no cigar.  I felt the graininess was just a little more noticeable on the tongue.

    But the caramelized onion gratin was sooo unbelievably yummy.  If I could have taken more, I would have kept spooning it into my mouth… like the creamed leek.

    The savory part of the meal was finally over… and we can now start on the first of our three desserts!

    Cheese cake: Babybel / cake / digestive - I liked this the last time I was here, and devoured it in no time.    Yes, that's the creamy part of the cheese cake made to look like Babybel, with some digestive cookie crumbs.

    Peach: stone / raspberry / vanilla - Uwe's take on peach Melba.  The "peach" was a candy shell that needed to be broken to get to what's inside…

    …which was a mousse made with raspberries and vanilla.  The "stone" was of course edible, and there were bits of raspberry frozen with liquid nitrogen.

    Finally, our table was cleared one more time, and everything - include the wine glasses - was taken off the table.  Uwe and his chefs were ready to do another masterpiece, much like Krug on the Moon that I had so much fun with a few months ago.  We all squeezed together at the far side of the room while the chefs painted on the silicone canvas…

    Autumn: mushroom / tree / coffee / blueberry - so this was the "grand dessert", the masterpiece.  We're back in the autumnal forest.  Remarkably, there was something here that wasn't edible - the tree trunks.  But everything else was.

    This time it was cep and caramelized milk pudding that was solidifying in front of us, and Uwe had to check to make sure that enough time had elapsed.  Pretty cool.

    The "moon rocks" of old are still really yummy, and My Favorite Cousin - who is a chocolate fiend - kept digging her spoon into it.  If it would have survived the trip back home, I'm sure she would have packed it in a doggie bag.

    I stayed away from what I thought was the sponge cake, but was told that it was actually harder than expected.  The "mushroom" was actually made with a "biscuit" that wasn't quite half a macaron.

    The chocolate pine cone had chocolate caramel inside, but the chocolate fiend insisted that I be the first to poke at it and check it out.

    The killer, of course, was the black truffle chocolate truffle.  How do you not like this?!

    With this crowd, there's always plenty of wine.  Krug Lover had complained in the past about me not bringing enough wine, so I made sure there was no chance of that tonight.  I am grateful to Uwe for making an exception and allowing us to BYO.  I made sure we brought magnums so there was plenty to go around...

    Krug Grande Cuvée - we started with two glasses of this.  Toasty, oaky, a little yeasty.  Nice and mature on the palate.

    2004 Didier Dagueneau Silex, en magnum - somewhat pungent, pipi de chat, a little green apple and pretty heavy toast.  Not bad but I was kinda hoping for better.

    2000 Krug - a little yeasty and bready.  The palate was kinda not ready at first, and was a little bitter.  Opened up nicely when it warmed up.

    1994 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Orée, en magnum - I was very worried about this, since the last time I brought out a magnum from the same case, the nose was fine but the wine was declared dead by my host.  So I asked my friend to come over and check out the wine before we went to dinner.  Once again the nose was fine, but the palate was barely there.  We decided the wine wasn't corked, and brought it to dinner to see how it would drink.  Well, after a couple of hours of aeration, the nose had prominent acetone and botrytis notes, which was surprising.  Still not much of a palate, though…

    2007 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine Collignon, elevé par Faiveley, en magnum - arguably the best wine from the Hospices de Beaune.  Really sweet nose, fruity, a little exotic coconut butter, floral like frangipani.  Dried herbs.  A lovely wine.

    1995 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles - very nutty, like pecans, honey, orange blossom.  Very sweet on the palate.  Absolutely delicious.

    This was an amazing evening.  Once again, I felt my stomach was about to burst, very much likes the Knights Who Say Ni…  Why does Uwe try to do this to me every time?!  I think my friends all had a good time - I know I certainly did.  Now let's see how long it takes me to recover from this meal...

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  • 10/12/13--06:32: Tim ho haam
  • Grandma and Grandpa Bear are back in town after a long trip abroad, and I haven't seen them in a while.  Given their complaint about the lack of decent food on their trip, it's no surprise that they wanted to go for some good local Canto fare.  So off to Tim's Kitchen (桃花源小廚) we went, and ordered up a few favorites.

    Roast crispy baby pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔) - tonight's not meant to be a full cheat meal, so I allowed myself just one piece of the sinfully fatty pork belly.  This was OK, but I've certainly had better.

    Deep-fried whole fresh crab claw with peppercorn salt (椒鹽炸原隻鮮蟹鉗) - I pre-ordered all three versions of the crab claw, and ended up picking the deep-fried version for myself.  It's not my favorite version, but it's good to have it every once in a while.  The sweetness of the crab meat inside is highlighted by the salty and slightly spicy batter, and the tiny bits of red chilis adds an occasional kick.

    Supreme Snake Bisque (太史五蛇羹) - the season has just started, and we wasted no time in ordering up a bowl.  I don't go around town trying out everyone's snake soup, but the version here is almost my favorite.  The bowl is not full of starch but contains lots of "real" ingredients.  I did think, though, that tonight it was a little saltier than I remembered.  Coriander, kaffir lime leaf chiffonade and deep-fried crispy dough completed the bisque's flavors and added even more texture.

    Braised tofu with black mushrooms (紅燒豆腐) - the Tiggers' go-to dish at just about every Cantonese restaurant.  I tried in vain to scrape off the layer of starchy "brown sauce" covering the tofu pieces…

    Sautéed beef tenderloin with ginger and spring onion (薑蔥炒牛𦟌) - not a fan. The beef shank (not tenderloin as incorrectly translated) had obviously been treated with baking soda for a more springy texture.  It was also a little on the salty side.  One little piece was enough for me.

    Poached leafy amaranth in supreme soup (上湯浸莧菜) - the leafy amaranth was very young and tender.

    Sautéed fresh sliced garoupa fillet with fresh asparagus (鮮露筍炒海青斑球) - this was OK.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved pork sausage and liver sausage (生炒糯米飯) - one of our favorite dishes here, and tonight this was done pretty well, as each individual rice grain was still chewy.  It was, unfortunately, a little small for us, but we were told there wasn't any more…

    Fried noodles in superior soy sauce (豉油皇炒麵) - the portion for this turned out to be pretty big, and very nicely done.  I think Tigger probably took half the plate.

    1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Auslese 96 - a little flinty, petrol, with orange blossoms on the nose.  Palate was actually very well-balanced with plenty of acidity there.

    I was pretty full, and certainly exceeded my allowance for the evening.  Most of our favorite dishes were still pretty good, but I do have to say I found things a little over-seasoned tonight.  My tongue had a slight tingling sensation that normally comes from having food with MSG, so from that angle I wasn't very happy.  Oh well...

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  • 10/13/13--08:45: A taste of national fortune
  • We had another full house at MSNC tonight.  Fortunately for me, our host dispensed with his usual choice of venue and booked somewhere that was new to me, which also necessitated him to forgo wearing his favorite flip-flops to dinner.  For some reason, I never made it to Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) - neither the original location in iSquare nor its new "branch" in Wanchai.  It's already been a few years, and actually long enough to earn the location on the Dark Side a macaron.

    I arrived a few minutes early and found myself alone with Dayliao.  About a minute later I realized Pineapple was in the next room, as I started hearing his voice coming through the partition.  Apparently he got a little worried that our host wasn't serving enough wines tonight, and decide to send over a bottle of Le Pauillac de Château Latour - the third wine of the château.  Such generosity…

    I was a little hungry, and since we were still waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive, I decided to snack on some candied walnuts.  Not exactly kosher for my diet, but then again this IS a cheat meal after all...

    I skipped the usual century eggs and pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑), since that was sure to screw with my palate for wine.  Instead I started with deep-fried bean curd with spicy salt (椒鹽脆豆腐).  These were very good… crispy exterior with a little bit of deep-fried minced garlic and chili to tickle the tip of my tongue.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - this was totally awesome.  There was a ton of finely diced cubes of lotus root, which made the whole thing really crunchy - one had to make a real effort to chew.  Meanwhile the minced pork that held it together was pan-fried to perfection, bringing out that wonderful fragrance.  Yum.  I loved this but only allowed myself 1 little patty.

    BBQ suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - Fook Lam Moon is known for their amazing suckling pig, so naturally ya can't come here without trying it out, too.

    I think the crackling is pretty much on par with FLM… Three wonderful pieces today.

    Unlike the other night, I allowed myself a little piece of meat today… Very tender with a layer of glistening oil…

    Some time during the middle of dinner, the door opened and three little girls showed up in the doorway, chiding us for using foul language.  Turns out the cuties were Pineapple's nieces, so naturally we all pointed the finger at Pineapple as the offender…  Yes, there usually are a lot of expletives flying around when the boys get together, which is the reason why we always get a private room...

    Steamed crab claw with white egg and Huadiao wine (花雕蛋白蒸肉蟹鉗) - Wow!  This was very, very nice… and now I've had crab claw two nights in a row.  The fragrance from Huadiao (花雕) was very alluring, and the slight bitter flavor actually brought the sweetness of crab meat more out in the open.

    Braised goose web and pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦子柚皮炆波蘭鵝掌) - the goose web was wonderfully soft and just about falling off the bones.  The pomelo skin was nice, too, with a ton of shrimp roe.  In fact I chastised the waitress for trying to take my plate away.  There may seem to be nothing but bones left on my plate, but I tilted it so I could pour the starchy sauce with all the shrimp roe into my spoon.  I fed myself two spoonfuls.

    Smoked chicken with jasmine (茶燻雞) - our ever-thoughtful host decided that, since we all had such super wine tasting abilities, that we didn't really need to smell the wines to figure out what they were.  Once this dish was brought to the table, it was basically the end of the blind-tasting part of dinner.  This was amazingly smoky and fragrant.  And the smoky flavors went more than skin-deep, so some of it reached the meat, too.  Delish.

    Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - FLM always had one of the best versions of sweet and sour pork in town, and it looks like the chefs here also do an awesome job.  Yes, it's bad for my diet because it's deep fried, with batter, and with that thick, starchy sauce.  But it was so damn good I had to take more than one piece… or was it three?  And of course it was only natural for Pineapple to photo bomb my pic of the dish with pineapple…

    Stir-fried kailan with ham (火腿炒芥藍) - I kept picking up pieces of dried ham to accompany my bowl of white rice…

    Steamed birthday buns (蒸壽包) - as the dinner was meant to celebrate Dayliao's birthday, he ordered up a bunch of these yummy buns.

    The filling was perfect - sweet lotus seed paste plus salty egg yolk.  The "skin" was nice and fluffy.

    So what exactly was the line up that our generous host had in mind for us, such that we needed reinforcements in the form of the third wine of a Bordeaux château?

    Flight 1:  opened one hour prior to serving
    1985 Mouton-Rothschild - earthy, pretty sweet, dried herbs, a little coffee, tobacco, cigar nose.  Palate a little on the light side.  93 points.

    1985 Dujac Clos St-Denis - nose much more open, oxidized a little, a little caramelized, very plummy, almost like Chinese preserved plum (話梅).  Sweet like jujube.  Very nice.  94 points.

    1985 Margaux - smoky, more vegetal like green pepper.  Minty with potpourri notes.  Very nice, and more body here.  92 points.

    Flight 2: opened for 2½ hours prior to serving
    1991 Vogüé Bonnes-Mares - very weird nose at first.  Stewed prunes, cough syrup, really sweet and a little meaty.

    1991 Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - nose a little muted at first.  Also smelled and tasted like cough syrup.  Nose still a little sharp.  Got better with more time.

    1991 Mugnier Musigny - another cough syrup, this time cherry flavor… also a little potpourri.

    Flight 3: opened and decanted for 3½ hours prior to serving
    1994 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - metallic, mineral, herbs, sweet, alcoholic, a little chalky on the nose, and slightly off on the palate.

    1994 Harlan Estate - a little ripe, minty, smoky, a little stewed.  Still fairly tannic here but acidity relatively high.

    Wow… this was such an enjoyable evening!  The food was excellent, and of course the wines were very special and tasty.  Many thanks to our generous host, and I'm glad I finally had occasion to check out Guo Fu Lou.  Now looking forward to the next gathering!

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