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

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  • 12/07/13--02:17: Junk food day
  • Two weeks after the last time I hit my new low in terms of weight - and subsequently rebounding after numerous cheat meals - I've finally brought my weight down enough to hit a new low.  I honestly can't remember the last time I weighed this little... probably would have to go back 4 or 5 years, maybe more.

    So it was entirely appropriate that once again, I found myself at I Love Lubutin's home for a little gathering.  The last time I was here, my weight had also hit a new low that very morning after jogging, and subsequently bounced up after indulging in yummy food...

    I was running errands and arrived pretty late... and I was starving by the time I showed up at the door.  When you're on a diet, you never wanna be at a point where you starve... becos what happens next becomes animal instinct...

    The Jabugo Cinco Jotas jamón was taken out of the storage closet and set up on the jamonero once more.  The Worm Supplier brought out 3 different types of knives, and set about carving up the leg...  I did have some jamón, but limited my intake.  Still very tasty and love that sweetness.  Sipped on a glass of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label, which I am always happy to drink.

    Then it was time to dig into Susan's amazing Thai-style chicken wings.  I cannot begin to tell you how long it's been since I last had deep-fried food like this.  Sure, I've had fried food as part of some cheat meals, but not outright indulgence like this.  Literally finger-licking good.  As I said to the gang, there's a reason why this is the dish that graces the cover of Susan's cookbook.

    What came next hasn't happened in at least 4 months.  I ate junk food.  Not just fatty stuff or breaking my no-snack habit for Pierre Hermé's Ispahan macaronslike last time, but real junk food.  I discovered some corn potage-flavored Doritos while shopping for food at lunch last week, and immediately snapped up a couple of bags.  I had originally wanted to wait a little longer before breaking into these, since they're good till April 2014, but... I figured today would be as good of a day as any.  These were soooooo goooooood!!  Breaking open the bag releases the aroma of sweet, creamed corn.  Taste-wise they definitely tasted like cream of corn soup, and I found myself unable to stop once I started munching.  The Japanese have outdone themselves!  Gotta go and grab 10 more bags or something...

    The Worm Supplier very kindly baked us an apple pie, with Braeburn apples and (hopefully) no worms.

    The crust was wonderfully flaky, and probably one of the best I've had in recent memory.  I allowed myself a little bit of crème anglaise, with all the pretty-looking vanilla seeds.  Heaven.

    Finally we had some homemade pistachio ice cream, also thanks to the Worm Supplier.  Made with a combination of pistachio oil and pistachio nuts ground by hand, this had to be the most intense pistachio anything I have ever tasted, not just ice cream.  Interestingly, besides the toasted flavors of pistachio nuts - which rendered a slightly bitter taste - there was a distinct fragrance and flavor of almonds that reminded me of marzipan.  Soooo yummy.  And non-diary so.... less fattening??

    A very happy way to spend an afternoon.  Everything was off-limits to a diet, but at least I kept the portions in check...

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  • 12/08/13--07:52: One.more.Tang
  • Year end is always busy season for the MNSC boys, as half the birthdays are bunched up in the last quarter.  Two weeks after our last mind-blowing tasting, we're back sitting at the same table and, surprisingly, sharing it with the wives.  Time to tone down the conversation... =P

    Juliano played host and called us to China Tang (唐人館), the new outlet opened by the foodie tycoon. Normally I would have waited a little before visiting a place this new, but I was actually curious to see how it positions itself versus the other Tang cousins around town.  I'm a big fan of Island Tang (港島廳), and apparently this is meant to sit slightly higher up on the scale...

    We started with some nibbles and appetizers:

    Pan-fried Shanghainese dumplings (上海生煎包) - not a fan.  The dough was just too soggy, mushy and stuck to my teeth, and that ain't the way it's done in Shanghai.

    Tofu skin with XO sauce (XO醬鮮腐竹) - these were OK, and with the slightest touch of heat.  But I didn't see any trace of XO sauce...

    Marinated cordyceps mushrooms (涼拌蟲草花) - pretty interesting.  Noticeably spicy.  Mixed with different mushrooms and diced garlic.

    Pan-fried beef pocket with jus (灌湯牛肉餅) - not a fan.  Similar issue with the dumplings, but slightly better.  With onion mixed in with the beef.

    Then we each got a plate bearing 5 different appetizers:

    Roast suckling pig (化皮乳豬件) - this was OK, but I'm just happy to eat any piggy.

    Vegetarian goose (潤澤上素鵝) - this was decent, with finely diced shiitake mushroom.

    China Tang barbecued pork (唐人館叉燒) - not as good as what I'd get at Island Tang.

    Deep-fried tofu cubes (椒鹽蜂巢豆腐) - the sesame seeds were a nice touch.

    Pork and spring onion rolls with garlic (蒜泥白肉卷) - not bad, but the garlic ain't exactly wine-friendly...

    I don't eat shark's fin, so I gave up my bowl of stir-fried shark's fin with egg white (鮮蛋白炒海虎翅).  Surprisingly, no one picked up my bowl...

    Deep-fried de-boned duck coated with taro crust (荔茸香酥鴨) - this is a far cry from the delicious creation at Island Tang.  Was there any duck in here at all?  I could taste the taro, and I got the piece of green bell pepper (or shiitake mushroom, depending) at the bottom, but duck?  Hmmm...

    Traditional Peking duck (老北京傳統掛爐烤鴨) - apparently they've gotten themselves a license for a charcoal (or was it wood-fired?) oven, so they can make a proper Peking duck the traditional way.  The skin was not bad, but then again, I'm no Peking duck connoisseur...

    The meat was pretty decent.  The pancakes were beautifully thin.

    Crystal king prawn (油浸大玻璃蝦球) - it's been a while since I last had a really good crystal king prawn, and tonight this was very, very good.  Lots of flavor here, and I didn't get an MSG or baking soda attack.

    Crispy beef brisket (脆皮牛腩) - nice, fatty beef brisket lightly battered and deep-fried.

    Tofu skin with black truffle (黑松露千層腐皮) - nice and fragrant.

    Kale in sizzling claypot (啫啫芥藍煲) - with some pretty large dried shrimp (蝦米) and minced pork in shrimp paste.  Nice of Juliano to stink up the room for us.

    Langoustine with e-fu noodles in superior broth (上湯小龍蝦炆伊麵) - very decadent to have this whole langoustine, but soooo damn tasty!  I wish I could have picked up the shells and licked the deep-fried batter off, but that would have been a little too much...

    Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (煲油鴨腊味飯) - of course we had to have this... and only my fifth time in the last month across 3 different restaurants.  I could smell the rose wine (玫瑰露) from across the room as the staff was mixing the soy sauce into the rice.  Yum.  I was already pretty full, so I refrained from taking any additional rice crispies.

    Now we were ready for dessert, starting with some petit fours... The walnut cookies (合桃酥) were very, very good.

    Muscovado sponge cake (黑糖糕) - this seemed to be better than what I had at Island Tang a few months ago.

    Birthday buns (壽包) - we're celebrating Juliano's birthday, and you can't do without these birthday buns.

    Finally we ended with some fruit.

    The line up of wines tonight:

    1983 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet - caramelized nose, a little sweet on the edges, a little oaky, some Chinese licorie.  Slightly acidic finish.  Later on a little nutty.  About 1½ hours later, showing sugary bubblegum notes.  Nice and rich on the palate.

    Flight 1:  opened for 1 hour before serving.
    1978 DRC Échézeaux - beautiful nose, really sweet with black cherries.  A little plummy towards the end.  Sweet like candy, with a hint of savory black olives underneath the layer of sweetness.  An absolutely beautiful wine, with floral, rose petal notes.  97 points.

    1978 Chave Hermitage - richer and denser on the nose but still light on the body.  More animal notes, slightly meaty, bloody, iron and minerals.  A little smoky but more closed.  92 points.  Some of us were not surprised that this wine was a little disappointing, although the bottle we drank in Jean-Louis Chave's cellar was - of course - perfect.

    Flight 2:
    1990 Cheval Blanc - opened for 2 hours but decanted for 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to serving.  Minty, smoky, nice and smooth on the palate but not light.  Grassy and green notes, with lead pencil.  95 points.

    1990 DRC La Tâche - opened for 2 hours but decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Sweet, a little exotic, coconut butter, plummy.  94 points.  Disappointed that this didn't show.

    Flight 3: opened 2 hours prior and decanted for an hour
    1990 Pichon Baron - sweetish, seeming a little cooked, with green pepper.  A little dusty and dirty.  93 points.

    1990 Gruaud Larose - oaky, lead pencil, green pepper, plastic, sharp, a little moldy, stinky, smoky.  A little corked.  90 points.

    1990 La Mission Haut-Brion - smoky, savory with tea leaves.  Very nice and classic.  96 points.

    Many thanks for Juliano for serving such great wines, and happy to have tried out China Tang!

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  • 12/11/13--03:07: The long lunch
  • For the last few years I've been getting invitations to join some friends for a "long lunch" in mid-December.  A bunch of wine lovers take half a day of work, get together and unwind as we close out the year.  Unfortunately for one reason or another, I've never been able to attend in past years.  This year, though, I decided that I needed a break from work... so I put my hand up and asked the boss for a half-day off.

    I arrived at Hong Kong Wine Vault and headed for the rooftop.  The weather turned out to be real nice today, and as the sun came out the temperature actually got pretty warm.  More than 20 of us gathered at lunch today, including most of the MNSC boys.  The Ox had arranged for the Press Room to cater the event since there were barbecue grills on premise, and we had plenty of food to go around.  I nibbled on some corn on the cob, yummy, fatty lamb chops, sliders, barbecued chicken wings... but kept my food intake in moderation.

    The three co-hosts had all celebrated their 40th birthdays this year, and were rolling out some birth vintage wines along with others.  Some of the guests brought along other interesting bottles, and as usual some of us went downstairs to dig out more bottles from our cellars as the day progressed.  This would turn out to be a real eclectic mix...

    2010 Jean-Marc Boillot Puligny-Montrachet - oaky, toasty, lemon citrus on the nose.  Nice acidity on the palate.

    1973 Maison Roche de Bellene Volnay 1er Cru Santenots - savory like black olives, ripe, a little stewed fruit and slightly tired.  Lovely and interesting ruby color.  Almost took it for a dark rosé...

    1973 Chave Hermitage Rouge - violet and floral nose, with farmy and bacon fat notes.  Very lovely and drinking well.

    1973 Latour en jeroboam - what a beautiful wine!  Minty, smoky, earthy, tea leaves, dried herbs... Very fresh and vibrant.  Smooth on the palate but by no means light and diluted.  A little acidity on the back palate.  Wow!  This is meant to be ex-château stock from an auction house, and it really shows!

    1992 Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Grandes Ruchottes - mature, caramelized nose, sweet with Chinese licorice notes.

    1973 Tortochot Chambertin - nice and sweet fruit, acidity a little high, a little savory.  Long and spicy finish.

    1998 Bouchard La Romanée - minty, a little potpourri, perhaps fermented without de-stemming?  Good power here, but needs more time.

    1998 Jean-Jacques Confuron Romanée-St-Vivant - fresh, fruity, pine needle notes.  Lovely and open.  Much more ready than the La Romanée.

    1975 Ducru-Beaucaillou - sweet, grassy, smoky.  Pretty open.

    1963 Averys Romanee St. Vivant - nose of leather, animal and sweet fruit.

    1971 Maison Leroy Echezeaux - a little savory with a little fruit.  Not open yet and gone too quickly.  My contribution.

    1994 Rayas en magnum - fruity, sweet, cool fruit, pine needle, potpouri, a little ripe.  Drinking very nicely.

    Macallan 18 Years, distilled in 1973 - really beautiful and nutty.  The old style of Macallan.

    1998 Yquem en demi-bouteille - polyurethane, honey, apricot and nutty.

    1981 Rayas - leather and animal notes.  Very nice.

    1987 Guigal La Turque - so much bacon fat, sweet and round.  Drinking beautifully.  Awesome.

    1990 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses en demi-bouteille - a little tight, not great. sharp alcohol with shiitake mushroom notes.  A pity that this was drunk just after opening, without proper aeration.  My contribution.

    1996 Domaine Leroy Romanée-St.-Vivant - forest, sweet fruit, beautiful, nice with dried herbs.  Pretty rich and powerful.

    1997 Gaja Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo - smoky, nice concentration, drinkable now and very nice on palate.

    This picture was taken about halfway through the afternoon, so not all the bottles were in the picture...

    ...and this was a nice little pile of corks...

    I arrived at 12 noon, got home at 7pm, went straight to bed and slept for 11 hours...  Let's see what happens next year.

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    Another month has gone by pretty fast, and time for another dinner with Mo' Unni.  It seems we are taking turns picking the venues, and she's decided to check out 121BC.  To be honest, I vaguely remember hearing about it (among the dozens of restaurants that had opened recently) and had no idea what the place was about - as I'm a total ignoramus and don't keep track of restaurants beyond the Not-So-Fragrant-Harbor.  But hey, Mo' Unni wants, Mo' Unni gets.

    Upon arrival, I was led to our seats in the middle of the lone, long communal table.  I'd done a little research beforehand, so I knew this place was extremely casual.  Even so, I didn't expect it to be essentially a bar... which is what it really is, more than a restaurant.

    We scanned the chalkboard on the wall for the dishes they have available today.  This is a night out with No Fish, so the sardines and mullet are off the table... and we picked non-fishy items instead.

    Octopus, potato, olive - pretty good.  The octopus tentacles were very tender, and tons of smoky and charred flavors here.

    Roast peppers, white beans, anchovy, breadcrumbs - this was pretty good, too... Interesting that this was like a crumble thanks to the breadcrumbs.  The roast peppers were nice, but biting into a piece of anchovy was a little wake-up call...

    Rotolo braised beef cheeks, roast pumpkin, sage - gotta say... this was pretty damn good for my first rotolo.  The braised beef cheeks were very tender, the pumpkin was very sweet, and the deep-fried sage added a little something extra.  The only issue is that the pasta was getting a little soggy sitting in the bowl.

    Balsamic pork ribs, radicchio, cannellini beans - the portion was pretty big, with three reasonably big ribs.  Flavor-wise coating the ribs in balsamic was a good call, but the execution fell slightly short.  The exterior was a little too burnt and dry, while there was so much fat inside that it was impossible to be anything but tender.  I couldn't believe myself when I started to cut out some of the fat... What has my diet done to my head?!

    All-in-all, I thought the food was pretty good, and the prices were very reasonable.  It's not hard to see why this place was packed.

    So why have I decided never to go back?

    I went to the restaurant tonight carrying my own bottle of wine, as I normally would.  It is a rare occasion that I would buy wine off a restaurant's list, given that my collection can easily last me another 20 years and I would want every opportunity to try to run down my inventory.  It's a given that I always bring wine to dinner (and sometimes lunch).  One fine dining restaurant that is glaringly missing from this here blog is L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong, for the simple reason that they don't allow guests to BYO.  The last time I had dinner there was back in 2007.

    As a former investor in a restaurant, I fully understand that the margins and profits are on the B side of the business rather than the F side.  I do want restaurants to make money, so unlike some of my friends who balk, I am always happy to pay corkage.  I appreciate it when restaurants give me a break on this and waive some or all of the corkage, but when push came to shove... I'll always pay for the privilege to bring my own wines.

    So I waived one of the staff over and inquired about the corkage, but I wasn't at all prepared to be told that it would be HKD 500.  Huh?!  WHAT-THE-FUCK?!

    Yes, I have on numerous occasions paid HKD 500 per bottle for corkage.  I'm used to doing it at restaurants like Caprice, Amber, and other fine dining restaurants in 5-star hotels.  There have been occasions when I've forked out HKD 4,000 or more for corkage in a single evening.  That's absolutely fine, because at restaurants like Caprice, what I'm getting are the use of Riedel Sommerlier hand-blown crystal glasses, Riedel or other crystal decanters, and the service of properly trained sommeliers like Sebastien who knows how to handle just about any wine I bring in.

    But here I was, sitting at a communal table rubbing shoulders with strangers, in a totally cramped environment while half the joint was sitting on bar stools, where the place was so loud that I couldn't even hear myself, never mind my dining companion sitting across from me.  I was certainly not gonna get to use hand-blown crystal glasses, and I couldn't even tell if the wine glasses others were using were crystal or potash.  Maybe there was one on staff, but I didn't see anyone who looked like a sommelier on the premises.  So why does this place have the gall to think that they deserve to charge the same level of corkage as Caprice or Amber?!

    My blood was boiling now.  To keep it in perspective, the most expensive dish on the food menu cost HKD 220.  So they were gonna charge me more than twice that, and for what?!  What, pray tell, would be the value-add that they could possibly provide for that price?!

    Years ago I almost walked out of Duke's Burger when they wanted to charge me twice the cost of a premium burger for corkage, and I wasn't the least bit sad to see the place close down.  If I had been the one choosing the venue tonight, I would certainly have walked out in search of another place with a friendlier corkage policy.  But this was Mo' Unni's choice, so I stayed and bit my tongue.

    I tucked my bottle of wine away, and sternly told the staff - more than once - that we weren't having any wine.  I would have happily paid HKD 250 or 300 for corkage and let them make some money off me on the B side, but now I was determined that they would make ZERO off me.  And they will never make another dime off me in the future.

    Judging by the buzzing crowd and the fact that every other party was having wine, I'm sure they'll do well financially.  I'm sure they couldn't care less about losing me as a customer, as plenty of others are only too happy to fight for a seat.  The restaurant owner has the right to charge whatever they want, but I, as a customer, also have the right to choose where I spend my hard-earned money.  And I choose to do it somewhere else.

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  • 12/13/13--01:03: Losing mojo
  • It was supposed to be our last lunch with him.  There had been persistent rumors that Jeremy Evrard, our beloved mâitre d' at Caprice, would be leaving Hong Kong.  We had recently heard that Jeremy would be leaving at the end of the year, so we hurriedly booked a table at our beloved restaurant so we could see him one last time.

    I was greeted at the door by a hostess who knew me by sight, which is always a nice touch.  Once I stepped foot in the restaurant, I saw Peter and was immediately relieved.  Another familiar face who could take care of us.  But there was no sign of Jeremy, the person we had come to see, and we were sad to learn that he was taking the day off.

    The plan had been to do a cheese lunch, but with Jeremy MIA we eventually decided to stick with the set lunch and have cheese in lieu of dessert.  I do have to say, though, that there weren't many dishes on the set lunch menu that jumped out at me... and minutes later I would be accused of being a "copycat" by No Fork Use as I ordered exactly the same dishes as she did...

    "Crispy puff pastry" with Mimolette powder and creamy jamón ibérico filling - not bad, but the éclair was not very crispy.  I had to chuckle when my chef friend at the table commented that it tasted like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers...

    Wild mushroom consommé, forestière ravioli and beetroot reduction - I ordered this with memories of the wonderful consommé that No Fork Use and I had at Amber.  Not exactly as I expected... as I expected multiple, smaller ravioli given the use of the plural form of the word.  The beetroot reduction was smeared on the bowl, and part of it blended with the consommé.

    To be honest, the raviolo tasted really Chinese.  It's as if my mom made a dumpling (餃子) with pork, shiitake and other mushrooms, but mom's dumpling would have been a little softer.  The consommé had tons of intense, mushroom flavors and was slightly more heavily seasoned than the one at Amber.  Very nice, though.  My untrained palate wasn't able to pick up any beetroot, but maybe I was meant to have rubbed the raviolo with the reduction...

    The kitchen sent out something unexpected, and we all thought the kitchen had made a mistake with our orders!  As much as we appreciated getting extra dishes from the kitchen, in reality this interfered with our plans today of having cheese...

    Chilean seabass with carrots and Brussels sprouts fricassée - have to say that I'm not a fan.  These days I find Chilean seabass incredibly boring and bland, and the kitchen didn't do a whole lot to infuse it with flavors.  The steamed carrots and Brussels sprouts were OK, although I didn't think that the cumin-laced tomato purée tasted like curry fishballs like some of my dining companions...

    Braised wild boar shoulder, taglierini pasta and seasonal vegetables - no surprise that 3 out of the 4 people at the table voted for this... the lone exception being the chef who knows where to get his own boar.  These were brought to us in Staub coccottes, then plated table-side.

    But this was also a little disappointing.  Yes, braising had made the meat tender but it was simply too dry.  I wasn't expecting pork belly fattiness - there were actually cubes of lardon on top - but could they have done something to keep the moisture in?  The pearl onions were a nice touch, the croûtons were OK, and the pasta... about as expected from Caprice.

    We were all pretty full thanks to the extra course, so the four of us asked for two cheese plates.  Of course the staff would be overly generous with the portions, knowing we are huge fans of their cheese cellar...  Here's a sample:

    Anneau du Vic-Bilh - been a while since I had this goat's cheese.  Acidity not too strong here.


    Brin d'Amour - ended up not touching it.

    Époisses de Bourgogne - very ripe now, and salty as expected.

    Fourme d'Ambert - didn't touch this, either, as I was staying away from les bleus today.

    Vacheron Mont d'Or - oh so yummy...

    Coulommiers fermier - nice and liquid.  Yum.

    Comté - easily our favorite cheese here at Caprice.  Today we got a lot of it, and they looked like slices of bamboo shoots...  Nice with full flavors from aging, but not too salty.

    Cabri Ariégeois - not as ripe as it could be, but we were happy to have asked for some.

    Now I was really full, and that's despite having had a long time to digest.  It was good to be back at Caprice after such a long absence, but I think it sorely needs its new chef.  Good news is that the new chef is meant to arrive in Hong Kong tomorrow, so I look forward to coming back when he's all settled in.

    Meanwhile, we must pay another visit and say goodbye to Jeremy, before it's too late.

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  • 12/14/13--00:02: A hazy shade of winter
  • I've been remiss in keeping in touch with some friends, and haven't seen them in over a year.  I finally found some time to round them up for lunch today, and figured we should go have some dim sum at Above and Beyond (天外天).  I figured since a couple of us were on the Dark Side, we could meet up over here once in a while.

    We were up on the 28th floor, with a nice view over Hung Hom and Victoria Harbor.  Unfortunately the skies were very hazy today, and it wasn't the usual beautiful view.

    We ordered mostly a series of dim sum items, and ended up adding when particular items weren't enough to ensure each of us could have a taste.

    Steamed fresh shrimps and bamboo shoots dumplings (筍尖鮮蝦餃)– these were pretty good and juicy.

    Scallop, pumpkin and sweet corn dumplings (南瓜金粟帶子餃)– nice to have that golden hue in the skin from pumpkin, but the actual pumpkin flavor was pretty faint. I also expected a little bit more from the combination of corn and scallop.

    Mushroom and vegetable dumplings with truffles (翡翠松露野菌餃)– very nice and plump, full of shroomy and veggie goodness.

    Crispy shrimps rice flour rolls (脆皮鮮蝦腸粉)– I remember these from my first visit, and they were really yummy. So yummy, in fact, that we ordered a second plate.

    Deep-fried shrimp mousse stuffed with scallops and pear (梨香龍皇太子千絲酥)– pretty delish, which isn’t surprising given that it’s deep-fried to a crisp. The filling of shrimp mousse was also good, although it was a little light on the pear.

    Deep-fried prawn toasts (黃金蝦多士)– not bad at all, and inhaled in one bite.

    Century eggs with chilli and garlics in black bean sauce (豆豉虎椒伴皮蛋)– the friend who ordered this thought the century eggs were too strong and chemical, so I didn’t touch it. The chilli pepper was OK.

    Steamed coral crab with glutinous rice (紅蟳米糕)– I ordered this again as it’s always been tasty. The gang buried themselves in crab, which was fresh and finger-licking good. The sticky rice was, expectedly, a little on the mushy side thanks to the steaming and all the roe and other crabby goodness, so all the flavors soaked through. Absolutely yum.

    I didn’t have any of the dessert from the menu, because I had brought along a couple of little treasures to share with the gang… from Pierre Hermé.

    Truffle blanche et noisette– my absolute favorite offering from the Fat One, which I used to hand-carry back with tender loving care from Paris during this season. Really thrilled to have PH stores now in Hong Kong so that I could get it without traveling, but I do have to say that these don’t seem to be as fragrant as the ones I used to buy from Paris.

    Foie gras et chocolat– another seasonal offering which I’ve had only once before.

    Foie gras goes very well with raspberries, and it’s no surprise that creamy foie also goes well with rich chocolate in the ganache.

    I didn’t think we had over-ordered, but I was pretty full by the end. I was happy to have gotten together with my old friends – some of whom I’ve known for close to 3 decades – and to hear some of the good news they had to share. It was definitely a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon on a dreary day!

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  • 12/15/13--07:47: Goin' off the reservation
  • A friend of mine pinged us out of the blue a couple of days ago, announcing that he was back in Hong Kong for a few days and that he would like to get together with us for dinner.  While I haven't seen him in a while and always enjoy dining with him, this is kinda bad news for me.

    I'm about to go on a week-long trip to Singapore, where I'm just gonna hang out with friends and just eat.  It's no longer about having a couple of cheat meals next week - I'm totally going off the reservation - and tonight's meal just gets me started one day early...

    Since the cholesterol sandwich was no longer an option, I suggested that we meet at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓).  These guys have earned themselves a well-deserved macaron, and I was excited about going back after my first visit 2 months ago.

    Our friend's moved to Korea for the last couple of years, and we got to talking about how, when you move to other countries, it's always the really cheap and local Cantonese stuff that you miss... because it can't be found elsewhere.  High-end Cantonese isn't an issue in many countries, but just you try ordering a simple plate of good char siu...  With that in mind, we decided to go for some of the more homey dishes tonight.

    Deep-fried bean curd with spicy salt (椒鹽脆豆腐) - uh... methinks they were a little overzealous with the frying...  I don't need my tofu to be THAT crispy...

    Smoked chicken with jasmin (茶燻雞) - pretty nicely done.  Always love the smoky flavors, and the chicken itself was very tender and moist.

    Scrambled egg with 'kei wai' prawns, century egg and spring onions (蔥花皮蛋基圍蝦炒滑蛋) - a homey dish with a twist.  Absolutely looooved this!  Adding century eggs into the mix made a delicious dish even better.  All I need is a plate of dish and 2 bowls of rice... and I'll be a happy man.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - not as mind-blowing as when I had it the first time, but still pretty damn tasty with those crunchy cubes of lotus root.

    Mutton brisket casserole with tofu skin, winter mushroom and winter bamboo (枝竹雙冬燜羊腩煲) - a classic winter dish to warm you up.  This was pretty good... and really fatty!  I had to cut out some of the fat...

    Stir-fried pea shoots (清炒豆苗) - 'tis the season for this delicious veggie, and one might be hard pressed to find something like this in Seoul.

    Deep-fried spare ribs in Champagne (香檳肉排) - kinda interesting... a different type of sweet and sour.  In fact more sweet and fragrant.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved pork sausage and liver sausage (生炒糯米飯) - pretty good, but a little too wet and soggy for me.  I would have preferred the individual rice grains to be more dry and chewy.

    We were all kinda full, but couldn't resist having some dessert - especially after we saw our neighbors having theirs delivered!

    Deep-fried sesame balls (燈影煎堆) - these marvelous golden globes looked simply amazing.  While they looked like they were just full of hot air (and they were), I really don't wanna know how much oil the thin layer of dough had actually absorbed in the deep-frying process...  I think this may be the reason why my stomach felt a little queasy a couple of hours later...

    Crispy egg pastry glazed with honey (蜂蜜金絲脆麻花) - damn good, but I didn't need any more deep-fried food tonight...

    Steamed "longevity buns" with lotus paste and salty egg yolk (低糖蛋黃蓮蓉壽桃包) - not sure I noticed that I was "low sugar"... Pretty damn good, too.

    We brought along a few bottles tonight, but not surprisingly this was a weak crowd... even with our Korean friend around.

    2005 Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières - a little toasty, pretty buttery, sweet and grassy on the nose.  Very ripe on the palate, full-bodied with a long finish.

    2007 Cloudy Bay Te Koko - really smoky and oaky, pipi de chat, some green apple.  Very pungent and in-your-face with sulfur.

    I was pretty full and satiated, and it looks like I went off the reservation a little early...

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    So here goes... My week in Singapore.  Why am I here?  Well... I guess I just wanted to be somewhere else other than Hong Kong, and be away from the office for a few days.  There are a lot of friends and family I can visit in Singapore, and I haven't seen enough of most of them for the last few years.  Of course, there's always food - a good selection of both international fine dining as well as the local stuff.

    I arrived late in the afternoon, after a long and slightly tortuous journey - during which I made an unintended stopover at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I HATE stopping over in Bangkok, because they won't let you get off the freakin' plane.  You are stuck on the plane for more than an hour, during which time the cleaning crew come and do their work, and you're not allowed to roam around and can't even use the toilets.  I didn't look carefully enough before booking the cheap tickets online, and this is what I get.

    Anyway, I got settled into my relatives' nice apartment with a gorgeous view overlooking Keppel Island and Sentosa, and when dinner time rolled around, led them to Thanying at the Amara Singapore Hotel for their first taste of this old Singaporean favorite.

    I deferred to the elders for ordering, as I know they're not as adventurous as I am, and only requested 1 little appetizer...that failed miserably...

    Miang pla-tu - this is an appetizer where you're meant to mix and match the ingredients as you'd like, and wrap it all in a leaf along with the sticky sauce made with palm sugar and tamarind.  I mixed in pieces of fried mackerel, peanuts, galangal, lime...etc.  Not bad.

    Gai hor bai toey - doesn't get more stereotypical farang than this... deep-fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaf.  These pieces were huge, and very tender and moist.  Very yum.

    Tawd Mun Kaopod - FAIL.  These corn fitters were totally not what I was hoping for.  There just wasn't enough corn kernals, and was just a pile of mushy dough.  I was more dreaming of these beauties I had in Bali last year...  I needed to take responsibility for ordering this crap, so I ended up stuffing myself with them...

    Gaeng keow wahn gai - this chicken green curry was not bad.

    I never knew one was supposed to have salted fish with green curry, but then again, just because I spent a few summers and Christmas vacations in Bangkok doesn't make me an expert on Thai food.  These were actually kinda tasty on their own.

    Pla kao sam ros - mmm... this deep-fried boneless grouper wasn't what the elders were expecting, since the hot and sour sauce was in a bowl on the side, instead of the whole fish being soaked in it.  I didn't really see a problem with this, since it kept the fish itself fairly crispy.  I thought the fish was not bad, if juuuust a little on the dry side.  But the sauce itself was nothing to write home about.  Ho hum...

    We were too full to have dessert, and decided to go for a walk along the beautiful waterfront park.  I'll be jogging along that path a few times this week to burn off all the calories I'm taking in!

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    I woke up this morning feel physically drained, so I allowed myself the luxury of not hauling my ass out of bed to jog off the calories.  I guess I'll do that tomorrow morning, after a heavy day of eating today...

    I putzed around the apartment in the morning, spending a little bit of time with my aunt who's putting me up.  Eventually I headed out for a very pretty late breakfast, riding out to the middle of Singapore island to find one of the things I just can't get outside of Singapore and Malaysia - decent roti prata.

    The last time I went to The Roti Prata House on Upper Thomson Road was almost 10 years ago, just before I moved out of Singapore back to Hong Kong.  It's been touted by many to be among the top roti prata outlets in town, and I have fond memories of the place.  On a trip two years ago, I was just about to get into a taxi to head there when a last-minute phone call from a client derailed my plans.  I've been hankering to go back ever since.  I'm a creature of habit, and I knew exactly what I wanted even before I walked in.

    Kopi tarik - you just can't do prata without a teh or kopi tarik.  It's been too long...

    Plaster - my favorite variation, with an egg "plastered" in the middle of the prata.  Nom nom nom... and of course the curry is all-important.  I don't think I got enough.  Should have asked for more...

    You don't trek all the way out here just to have one lousy prata... but given I was due to have lunch in a couple of hours, I figure I couldn't go overboard, so I ordered a plain prata.  Not bad, and in fact drier and crispier than plain ones elsewhere.  Unfortunately I ran out of curry so I couldn't soak it thoroughly.

    Satiated, I made my way back to the apartment and waited for the next meal... which was naturally a late lunch, and once again brought me back to an old favorite.

    I used to hit Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh (亞華肉骨茶) on Havelock Road every single time I came to Singapore.  The routine in those days was I'd fly in from Hong Kong on the last flight on Friday, land just before midnight, drop my bags off at the hotel by 12:30 and head straight to Velvet Underground  to party until they kicked us out at 2am (or was it 3am?).  Then we'd walk over to Ya Hua, have some bak kut teh (肉骨茶) for supper and then head home (the hotel room in my case) to sleep.

    I never went to the other Ya Hua - Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha (歐南園亞華肉骨茶) - at the PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex.  Well I've never been this close to it, so I figured I'd hit it for lunch.

    Spare ribs soup (排骨湯) - I didn't realize this place offers two different types of ribs, as the other Ya Hua sure never did.  I went for the spare ribs, and actually ticked the box that says "lean" on the order sheet (again not an option that is available at the other outlet).  Naturally the meat was a little overcooked, as bak kut teh isn't actually about the meat but all about the soup.  And the soup had the familiar mix of spices which include a heavy dose of garlic and pepper.  Love that kick in the back of my throat.  Every once in a while the waitress would come over and pour extra soup in my bowl.

    Fried dough stick (油條) - out of habit I would always order Chinese crullers to dip into the soup, even though they're usually a little soggy.

    Chrysanthemum greens (茼蒿) - love this veggie and don't have it enough.

    All washed down with a glass of cold barley water (薏米水).  Happy happy.  Burp.  Now I would have a few hours' break before the highlight of the day...

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    Dinner time rolled around, and I met up with a some foodie friends from Singapore.  At the organizer's suggestion we went to Candlenut, which had reopened and attracted polarizing reactions among lovers of Peranakan cuisine.  The chef's more modern take on the venerable Peranakan cuisine meant a lighter touch with the sauces and spices, and naturally elicited strong reactions from the traditionalists.  As for me... I'm always up for checking out modern takes on traditional cuisine, and in fact prefer chefs with enough creativity to stir things up a little.  Besides trusting my friend's palate, this place also came recommended by Aun at Chubby Hubby - and I definitely trust HIS palate.

    My friend had arranged something special with the chef, which included 13 savory dishes and 5 desserts.  I was kinda starving as I arrived at the restaurant, so this was music to my ears!

    Kueh pie tee - we were given empty pastry shells in the shape of chef's toques...

    ...which we then stuffed with a mix of braised turnips, pork bely and dried shrimps.  Chilli sauce optional.

    Very tasty.  One bite.

    Ngo hiang - I've always loved this deep-fried tofu skin roll stuffed with all sorts of goodies like shrooms, pork and shrimp.  This did not disappoint.

    Winged bean salad - one doesn't see winged beans often, and I do like this ingredient.  Served with cashews, mint, coriander, chilli, lemongrass and what I thought were deep-fried little fishies (ikan bilis?) even though the menu said prawns.  Very nice.

    Assam sotong - walau! how can assam be so black one?!  Squid ink definitely doesn't feature in traditional Peranakan cuisine, but these little baby squids sure were tasty!

    Babi pongteh - these pieces of pork belly were definitely very tender, and the sauce from preserved soy beans was ever-so-slightly on the salty side.

    Chap chye - interesting stew of veggies like cabbage, mushrooms...etc.  Did not expect the glass vermicelli, but it was a nice touch.  Sauce was rich enough for me to serve over rice.

    Sambal stir-fry kang kong - a little lighter than your typical kangkong belacan.

    Sambal petai prawns - tiger prawns in sambal and "stinky petai beans", which weren't stinky to eat.  I hear, though, that the stinky effect comes later...  Anyway, I thought this was pretty good.

    Assam fish - pomfret fillet served with lady fingers, tomatoes and eggplant.  Well... I was the last to try this so I got my okra, tomatoes, pineapple and eggplant... and NO FISH.  Boo hoo...

    Buah keluak beef short rib - the 120-day grain-fed beef short ribs were very tender.  The buah keluak's signature flavors were there, but the sauce wasn't as thick as the traditionalists would have it.  Definitely felt the lighter touch with this dish, and the presentation with the chiffonade of (what I assumed to be) chilli peppers definitely adds a modern feel to the whole thing.

    Beef shin rendang - very tender, unlike the cheap versions where they cook it till the beef dries out and becomes chewy.  Wonderfully aromatic and tasty, with the unmistakable flavors of roasted dessicated coconut.  The chiffonade of lemongrass adds even more fragrance to an already beautiful dish.  Given the lack of decent options in Hong Kong, this is definitely the best rendang I've had all year - maybe for the last couple of years.

    Satay ayam - the chicken thigh was incredibly tender and succulent.

    The sauce was made with pineapple in addition to the usual peanut base, and the result was very tasty.

    Yellow coconut curry of blue swimmer crab, wild ginger, pineapple, baby ladies fingers kaffir lime - whatever this is, it ain't Peranakan... at least according to my friend who's a quarter Peranakan.  In fact, it tasted suspiciously like David Thompson's crab curry I had earlier this year.  It was very, very creamy, velvety and delicious.

    We paused for a while after the onslaught of savory dishes.  One thing about Asian restaurants... everywhere you go, they tend to hit you with all the dishes at once.  We probably had 9 or 10 of them in the space of 15 minutes, leaving me with little time to savor them in between hurried snaps of photos.

    Then came our 5 desserts - all at once.

    And within seconds of tasting the first spoonful, Candlenut became my favorite Peranakan restaurant.  Period.

    Chendol cream - OH-MY-GOD!!!  Chendol has been my favorite Southeast Asian dessert since childhood.  I also absolutely adore the incredibly creamy custard pudding (プリン) from Pastel (パステル) in Japan.  This is basically a combination of the two, where the usual coconut milk has been transformed into the creamiest coconut pudding.  Add gula melaka to anything and I'll love it.  Imagine all that put together in one little glass.  You wanna see me have a Meg Ryan moment from When Harry Met Sally?  Feed me some of this.

    Durian soup - the second reason why Candlenut has won me over.  OK, it's been a while since I've had my durian fix, but this was exceptional.  My friends agreed.  Loved the added touch with the feuilletine.

    Banana caramel pudding - I love anything caramel, so what's not to like here?!  And that gula melaka ice cream... See above.

    Buah keluak ice cream - I love it when someone has the cojones to use an ingredient like buah keluak and make an ice cream out of it. Combining it with 80% Valrhona chocolate and salted caramel gives something totally in-your-face in terms of flavors.  Sprinkle chilli flakes and pour on some warm chocolate espouma.  Very rich. Very yum.

    "Milo Bar" w Valrhona 41% chocolate, spiced nuts and puff rice, condensed milk creme chantilly - not bad, but probably the weakest dessert tonight.  The Milo Bar has been deconstructed, and you needed to have all the ingredients together in your mouth to be able to reconstruct the familiar taste.

    Yes, we drank wine with Peranakan food.  And WHY YES!  I DID carry these wines all the way from Hong Kong to Singapore, just so I can drink them at dinner.  Some of us are particular about what we wanna drink with our dinner, but I don't expect people who aren't wine lovers would understand.

    1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett - nose of lemon, white flowers, flint, slight hint of petrol.  Definitely some acidity on the back palate, a little ripe, almost a little bitter.

    1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - nose a little more closed at first, with some petrol, flint, some orange marmalade.  Perhaps slightly riper on the palate than the kabinett, but no significant level of sweetness.

    To finish off, I brought a box of Pierre Hermé macarons to dinner.  Yes, I hand-carried them from Hong Kong.  Because I wanted to give my friends a treat.  I didn't have any for myself, though... I had had enough calories for the night.  Oh and while they were busy chomping on them macarons, I finished off the last of the chendol cream and durian soup... MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

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  • 12/18/13--07:46: Makan 2013 Day 3: Iggy pop
  • The fine dining leg of my trip begins tonight, with a long-overdue return to Iggy's.  I went to Iggy's a couple of times between 2005 and 2006, and liked the modern, more innovative style of cuisine.  I was not surprised to see it receive accolades in the subsequent years, but I never had many chances to return due to my absence from Singapore.  This trip, though, I thought it was high time I revisited the place and see if it's still as good as it was.

    Two out of three of us tonight are on diet (well... I'm temporarily off the reservation this week), so we chose the shorter menu with 6 courses.  We figured it would be enough to allow us to judge the overall quality of the cuisine.

    Wakasagi, dill salt, tomato beer - not sure what, if any, the connection between the two was...

    It's been sooo long since I last had wakasagi (ワカサギ) in Japan, and I've always loved these deep-fried fishies.  Interesting that it should be served with dill, which isn't used in Japanese cuisine much.

    The "beer" is actually tomato essence, which was light and refreshing.  The only thing is I thought it was a liiittle salty.

    Smoked eel, blood orange, avruga, silver - the eel parfait was pretty nice, and I didn't mind the smoky flavors being a little too subtle.  The blood orange purée had nice flavors and helped balance out the salinity of the caviar.

    Tuna belly, pinot noir, yam, garlic oil - this was pretty good.

    The tuna belly (I didn't ask what kind of tuna) was obviously a little fatty.  There was brunoise of what I thought to be bamboo shoots on top, finely chopped spring onions as well as spring onion sprouts.  The garlic oil was very fragrant, and the pinot noir provided some acidity against the fatty elements.

    Cappellini, sakura ebi, konbu, shellfish oil - oh yeah, this was yummy.  I love sakura shrimp (桜海老) but I would have preferred them to be a little drier.  Nevertheless this was a bowl of seafood goodness, and it was gone in no time.

    Maori Lakes lamb saddle, risotto, tomato puree, grelot onion, wang tai miu, turmeric oil - the lamb was pretty good.  Very tender, with the right amount of fat, and that nice "lamby" flavor from the fat.  The execution was just about perfect.  The risotto with tomato purée was delicious - despite borderline mushiness - because one side of it was charred like Chinese rice crispies (鍋巴) or socarrat of a paella.  There was a little bit of so-called "emperor's vegetable (皇帝菜)", which is supposed to be the same as chrysanthemum greens (茼蒿), but I thought it tasted more like pea sprouts (豆苗).

    Ball in the bunker, cereal, passion fruit, ginger, milk ice cream - creative in terms of presentation.

    Breaking the shell of the golf ball reveals a passion fruit center. The "sand" added lots of crunchy texture on top of the milky ice cream.  A little bit of ginger kept it interesting.

    Hinoki chocolate box - blood orange jelly, black truffle macarons, and white chocolate with pop rocks inside.  I thought the pop rocks resurgence had died down a couple of years ago, but I guess I was wrong...

    Yes, with the Specialist present, we all carried our own wines from Hong Kong.

    1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - pretty heavy toast, lots of toasty corn.  Pretty ripe and a little sweet on the palate.  Acidity is definitely on the low side.  Later on very sweet and buttery.  What I would expect from Coche-Dury.

    1996 Les Forts de Latour - very solid and classic Pauillac, with lots of smoke, pencil lead, a little earthy, a little sweetness on the palate.  Very nice concentration.

    1982 Beychevelle - a little muted at first.  After more aeration the nose was a little smoky and a little grassy.  Drank reasonably well after being shaken up on the plane.

    Overall this was a pretty good meal.  No failed dishes, and certainly all the ingredients were premium and tasted good.  But the one thing that was glaringly lacking was "Wow!" For a number of years, this place was voted the "best restaurant in Asia"... by a group of obviously Singapore-centric voters.  Today, though... it's got serious competition from not just elsewhere in Asia, but on its home turf.  I guess I'll go and try some of the other places in town before thinking about returning...

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    I rolled out of bed and decided to take a break from jogging this morning, which meant I was able to shift my eating schedule a little earlier.  I decided to head to one of my old favorites for breakfast.  Ever since the late 90s, every trip to Singapore has involved a visit to Killiney Kopitiam, and it's a ritual that I intend to keep to.  They may not have the best kaya toast in town, but I've been going there for so long there's really no need for me to switch.

    I hopped into a cab and headed for the "original" shop on Killiney Road.  I'm due to have a big lunch, so I passed up the opportunity to get my nasi lemak fix this morning in favor of something "lighter"...

    French toast - I always get this when I come here.  One piece of battered and fried toast, and you melt a pat of butter over it, then lather it up with the shop's kaya.  Wonderful stuff.  Of course they never give me enough kaya...

    Bread toast - a more popular choice, and it's nice that this gets cut up into bite-sized chunks that you can pick up with your fingers.  Love that little pat of butter melting in my mouth!

    Kopi C - gotta drink these coffees with condensed milk and sugar every time I'm in Singapore.  Just loading up on the sugar.

    Got my breakfast in, so I'm all happy.  To get something specific from a particular location, it wasn't at all surprising that the one-way cab fare I paid to get to the restaurant was more than 3 times the price of my breakfast.  But that happens a lot here in S'pore.

    I was pretty excited about our lunch today.  I was trawling the Chubby Hubby site for ideas, and came across Aun's post on Violet Oon's Kitchen.  Seconds after seeing the picture, I was sold.  I called and reserved a table for us.

    We arrived at noon, which was a little early.  The space was clean and comfortable, decked out like a tropical version of the classic French brasserie - replete with descriptions of dishes on mirrors on the walls.  This was nice, and now I was looking forward to the food.

    Ngo hiang - this is a classic that I always like to try, and here they've cut the roll into pieces before deep-frying.  This made the entire surface area crispy, but also meant a whole lotta oil has been soaked up.  The stuffing is very tasty and tender inside, but I'm not sure I prefer this version... A little too heavy for me nowadays.

    Dry laksa - now THIS is why we've come... to try the dish that Chubby Hubby was raving about, since the message from his post seemed to be "get thee to Violet Oon's" or something thereabouts.

    Verdict?  YUM!!!!  I love Singaporean laksa (sorry, Penang...) and this is a great variation of the traditional soupy bowl.  Instead of a bowl of soup laden with spices and coconut milk, it's all condensed into a "pesto" that coats the noodles.  You've got prawns, fish cakes and tau poks... and topped with chopped laksa leaves.  Heavenly, and not quite as heavy as a full bowl of soupy laksa.  Oh I'd trek over to Bukit Timah any day for a bowl of this!

    Black pepper prawn pasta - I love how they've taken another Singaporean national dish and transformed it.  For those loving the fiery burn of a mouthful of black pepper, this dish is for you.  As with any spicy dishes, the heat gradually builds up on your tastebuds, and in the end all I tasted was black pepper and olive oil.  Very satisfying in that sense.  I guess the arugula is just garnish...

    I was kinda full already, thanks to the laksa, but was also determined to try dessert.  I shoulda taken a look at the cakes on the counter before ordering the kuay beng kah with gula melaka and coconut cream.  That's one BIG slice of tapioca cake!  And it ain't no chiffon cake full of air, either.  But hey, drench something in gula melaka and I'll slurp it up... but I only managed to take down about 1/3 of it before giving up and packing the rest.

    With our bellies full and needing to walk off some of the calories, we flagged down a cab and headed to Gardens by the Bay.  This is a new attraction that came up post-2008, and somehow I had never been really excited about wanting to see it, although I was more than happy to tag along with the Specialist and BFF.

    We entered the first of the two domes - Flower Dome - after the staff scanned the barcodes on our tickets straight off my iPhone.  The air-conditioned space felt a little chilly at first as we adjusted to the lower temperature inside.  I have to admit that I found the space to be amazing.  To bring together all these different species of plants from all over the world and having them housed in a dome with limited space... Most of these are completely new to us, as we don't live and haven't travelled to some of these parts of the world.  Some of these trees are very tall and have taken decades to grow, and I'm sure it took serious effort and a team of highly-trained specialists to care for them.  Very, very cool.  I brought along a couple of lenses and had a field day with my camera.  Poor Specialist and BFF had to put up with me...

    Next was Cloud Forest, another interesting experience.  One is greeted by a waterfall immediately after entering, and then walk around the central "mountain" until it's time to take an elevator to the top.  From there you walk on walkways that circle around the "mountain", which gives you a pretty unique experience as you look at plants and trees from different perspectives.

    Our legs were getting a little tired, and my Basis was telling me that I'd taken more than 9,000 steps for the day.  We made our way back to the entrance and grabbed a taxi back to our respective accommodations.  Dinner's coming up in a couple of hours...

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  • 12/19/13--07:58: Makan Day 4: flying pigeon
  • I'd heard about Gunther's for a long time, as Chef Gunther Hubrechsen had done a stint at Les Amis a number of years ago.  People in foodie circles have been talking about this place for a long time, but once again, I haven't had a chance to visit due to my absence from Singapore.  That would change tonight.

    I did zero research before stepping foot in the restaurant tonight, so I was surprised to find out that the menu was all à la carte.  Our server wanted to introduce us to the specials of the day, so he brought over a huge tray bearing the fresh ingredients available - which kinda reminds me of steakhouses like Morton's...

    Two of us wanted pigeon for our main course, but our server informed us that there was only one pigeon left - as the rest had "flown away" - so only one of us got what she wanted.  The rest of us settled for sharing a chicken between us.

    Our amuse bouche was prawn tempura.  Ho-hum... and it was lukewarm.

    Cold angel hair pasta, Oscietra caviar - this, apparently, is THE signature dish... and I was told not to miss it.  Well, it was delicious alright.  What's not to like when you mix chopped chives and plenty of truffle oil?  Chill the pasta for a refreshing taste.  To be honest, I'm not sure how much the Oscietra added to the dish... other than to the cost.  The pasta would have been just as tasty with only the truffle oil and the chives...  Pretty happy to have done this.

    Deep-fried egg and white truffle - it's white truffle season, and I figured I'd get an egg with some shaved truffle on top.  I didn't expect the egg to be deep-fried, although there was nothing wrong with it other than not being a classic preparation.  The problem I had was with the service.  I'm used to having my truffle shaved table-side, and for some reason Singapore just doesn't get it.  This is the second consecutive evening where white truffle came on a dish pre-shaven.  It may seem like a small matter, but it's simply not something that a top restaurant would do - in my not-so-humble opinion.

    Cocotte of French chicken in hay - this was meant to be shared by two, but I think there was enough chicken to feed at least three.  Naturally the hay imparted a nice fragrance to the bird.

    I got one of the drumsticks to start, served with a little bit of hibiscus sauce, truffle jus, mash and buttered leeks.  The chicken was very tender and moist.  Very yum.

    Roasted pigeon with crushed candied elements and hibiscus sauce - I got a little piece to taste.  Pretty nicely done, too.

    But we have a problem with this... One of us didn't get do have pigeon because we were told that only one portion was available.  We later saw a whole different pigeon appearing on the platter that was presented to a table next to us.  And the pigeon made another appearance at a third table later.  So our server lied to us.  Again, not something I would expect from a so-called top restaurant.

    I had one more serving of the chicken, which was prepared as roast chicken with parsley oil.  This came with some spices such as Sichuan peppercorns smeared on the skin, which made it a little spicy.  There was also a little bit of pear purée beneath the chicken.  Pretty delish, too.

    I was pretty full from all that food, so I passed on dessert while the Specialist got her crêpe suzette "flambée sous vos yeux".  I did want some coffee, though, so I ordered a French coffee, Grand Marnier, "flambée sous vos yeux".  The Grand Marnier was first headed up with a cigar torch...

    ... then I was surprised to see the Grand Marnier - already flaming - poured into a wine glass and continued to burn as it was swirled around...

    Finally the coffee was poured in and topped with cream.  Yum!

    Petit fours came and I took the green macaron, which had matcha (抹茶) cookies but I couldn't place the ganache...

    I was, of course, ecstatic to see canelés... and these were really good.

    Crispy exterior with moist interior.

    The flow of wine continues, and we brought another three bottles to the restaurant.  These were taken away from us at the door, and the reds were decanted at our request.  We were a little surprised, though, that the decanting didn't take place "sous vos yeux" as my coffee was, since any trained sommelier wouldn't think of doing anything different.  This really shouldn't happen at a "top restaurant", and the Specialist and I were both a little annoyed.

    Jacques Selosse Exquise (dégorgée à 15 Juin 2009) - toasty, smoky, very much caramelized with the richness of cane sugar.  Sweet and rich on the palate, as it's a sec with higher dosage.

    1996 La Mission Haut-Brion - smoky, earthy, minty, cedar, mineral, a little grassy.  Still pretty tannic.

    2002 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - a little coffee and chocolate at first.  Sweeter on the palate, full-bodied, good concentration.  Later on coconut butter came out.

    I was typing in my tasting notes for Araujo, and was writing "somewhat perfumed" when I stopped myself.  No, it wasn't the wine that was perfumed.  It was the couple of old fogeys at the table next to me who were wearing cologne!  Aiyah!!!!  These guys were drinking wine, too, so why did they wear that annoying cologne?!

    At the end of the evening, I have to say that the food here was pretty good.  Gunther serves up "simple, honest food" like he says he does, without being overly fancy and delicate.  If we had brought along more whites, I would have loved to try out some of his daily catch - including skate wing, homard bleu and giant carabineros.  Next time...

    Feeling the need for more alcohol, we stopped by Lantern, the poolside bar on the rooftop of the Fullerton Bay Hotel.  We were there for one reason - to try out a new Champagne cuvée...

    Moët and Chandon Ice Imperial - ripe on the palate, with marmalade.

    I dunno who came up with the idea of making a Champagne that's meant to be drunk on ice.  Apparently this was made as a demi-sec, with a lot more dosage, and therefore needed to be watered down.  My only reaction was "WTF"...  Our waitress brought us plastic goblets (apparently since we were drinking poolside), a plastic bucket filled with ice that was meant to be put inside our goblets, and some mint leaves which we could add to our bubbly.  All this tells me is that this ain't a bottle of serious Champagne, and it's being sold for more than Moët's Brut Imperial.

    Never again...

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    Tonight was my eagerly anticipated return to Restaurant André.  Mr. Ho and I were completely blown away by the food on our first visit back in May, and the Specialist had arranged for this to be her last dinner in Singapore - since it was meant to be the highlight of her trip.

    I was a little apprehensive, however, as a friend from Hong Kong told me that when he visited a few months after my visit, the menu he had was largely the same as mine.  Would I be having the same dishes again tonight, 7 months later?

    The answer was a resounding "YES".

    Popcorn and vanilla - same as last time, a little soggy.

    Chicken masala - paper-thin wafer of chicken skin.

    Lobster sandwich - still very tasty.

    Like last time, a few of these came in a box with that wonderfully delicious chocolate soil.  I insisted on taking some of the soil home.

    Potato bravas

    Porcini crispy - it's amazing how tasty this paper-thin wafer can be.

    Fish and chips - something new but similar.  Very nice.

    Pineapple/ olive/ gin tonic - this was new.  I had to confirm with our server that this was meant to be gin and tonic, because none of us were able to get that.  Instead the chunk of pineapple pretty much dominated the flavors.

    Charcoal deep-fried dough stick - the sticks were probably colored/flavored with squid ink.  We were supposed to pick out the edible pieces from the pile of charcoal...

    ...and dip into the dip made with squid, garlic, aioli and piquillo peppers.

    Then the octaphilosphy courses began:

    Puréte: Seafood on arrival/ wile herbs/ kelp coulis/ legumes - pretty much the same as last time, except for one of the fishies being different.

    Sweet shrimp - with sansho leaf (木の芽).


    Moules de buchot - with courgette and perilla flowers.

    Needlefish (針魚)

    Abalone - with pickled shallot.

    Moules de buchot with wild herb coulis

    Sel: Gillardeau oyster/ sea corals/ Granny Smith apple mousse/ caviar - this was one of the dishes that blew us away last time, and it was just as good.  The acidity of the Granny Smith achieved a perfect balance with the brine of the oyster.  However, while I was more than happy to have this again, the upside surprise and "wow factor" was gone.

    I still love the presentation though... with the bunch of caviar (both sturgeon and olive oil), mushrooms, chives and Granny Smith apples making up a sea of "corals".

    Sud: Heirloom tomato/ white peach/ sea urchin risotto - yup, same as last time... and the dish is split into two separate presentations.

    Mackerel with prawn emulsion, sea bass, raw greater amberjack (勘八) over sea urchin risotto.  The prawn emulsion was pretty nice.  The risotto tasted more like sushi rice (シャリ), with the acidity of vinegar.  The plate was also decorated with tiny dots of parsley cream.

    Heirloom tomatoes, persimmon, radish, tomato sorbet, Champagne vinaigrette, Japanese seaweed. I had issues with the staff regarding this very dish last time, because they didn't know all the ingredients - especially the fish.  This time they didn't introduce the fish to us.  When I asked another server, the reply was that this was needlefish (針魚). WTF?! I may not be able to recognize this white fish by sight, but I'll bet a million dollars it ain't needlefish.  We just had needlefish two courses ago, and is this guy seriously trying to tell me that these two are the same fish?!  Looking back at my notes from the last dinner, I'm guessing it's flounder.  We were told that the sorbet was tomato, but there was definitely something else that was much sweeter.  Was it persimmon as the server told us, or white peach as the menu stated?!  Total confusion...

    Texture: Homard bleu/ 'airy' gnocchi/ St. Jacques crème anglaise - this was the other dish that totally blew us away last time.  The French blue lobster was just soooo tasty, with perfect texture that is just oh-so-slightly crunchy while still tender and succulent.  The flourless gnocchi were indeed very "airy" and melted in my mouth.

    Artisan: grilled topinambour/ fresh truffle/ wild mushroom/ malt vinegar ice cream - pretty interesting new dish for me, and probably served with the same chocolate soil with garlic.  I think the mushrooms were trompette de la mort, and there was a nice layer of onion compote at the bottom.  Combination of different textures, temperatures of the ingredients, and mixture between sweet and savory flavors.

    Unicité: barigoule artichokes/ kisu/ olives/ tomato confit - a new dish this time.  The Japanese whiting (鱚) was made into a roll and stuffed with whiting mousse and tartare, and had a distinctively sweet flavor profile.  The artichoke in barigoule sauce was pretty good, and the tomato and black olives further confirmed the provençal roots of the dish.  Garnished with sorrel leaves, a slice of Granny Smith apple, and some butter foam.

    Mémoire: warm foie gras jelly/ Perigord black truffle coulis - wonderful dish that I didn't mind having again.  French chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).  Perfect for the winter - even though it's not exactly cold in Singapore.

    Terroir: tri tip/ black garlic tapenade/ wild beets and berries - same ingredient, different preparation.  The tri-tip was wonderfully tasty and fatty, and perfectly charred on the outside.  With beef jus, Swiss char that had turned color, different types of beets and a beet-flavored wafer.  There were also raspberries and black berries, and one of the black berries had been roasted to create an different texture.

    Now come the onslaught of desserts...

    Wild berries shaved ice/ honey ice cream - HUH?!  What was printed on the menu was completely different from what we had...  This was bitter almond mousse, muscat grape jelly and melon soup.  The layer of muscat jelly also had actual grapes, and the Japanese melon was incredibly fragrant and sweet.  Looove this wonderfully refreshing new dessert.

    "Snickers" - same dessert as last time.  Still very tasty, but no surprises.

    Bûche de Noël - it's almost Christmas, so we got a little something extra...

    The log was made with layers such as chocolate sponge cake, black cherries, chocolate mousse and kirsch bavarois.  On top of the "bark" there were bits of pistachio sponge cake, juniper berry jelly and mushroom crystalline.  Very, very yum.  I especially like the red peppercorns for a hint of spiciness.

    And the petit fours arrive...

    Strawberry sangria chupa chups - with a touch of cinnamon, I think.

    Sencha and macha marshmallow - interesting that they actually used two different types of Japanese tea for different flavors.  The macha (抹茶) was obviously more intense compared to sencha (煎茶).
    Chestnut madeleine - had to take it apart and look for the chestnut pieces before confirming that it's really chestnut.  The butter simply overpowered everything else...

    French Earl Grey crystalline - I thought there was something else floral besides the bergamot, and asked one of the staff.  He told us that because it's French Earl Grey, they used lavender.  Somehow I don't trust him...

    "Popcorn" chocolate - yup, pop rocks AGAIN...

    We saved the best wines for tonight, and skewed them in favor of bubbly/whites due to the seafood-oriented menu.

    2000 Krug - very toasty, nutty nose.  Acidity was pretty noticeable despite the very ripe palate.  Really, really didn't work with the mussels.

    2004 Ramonet Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet - ripe on palate, but turned really metallic with caviar.  Initially served in smaller white wine glasses, the nose improved once we changed to larger glasses.

    1986 Lafleur - very ripe on the nose, almost a little stewed, with soy sauce, smoky, minty, slightly earthy notes.  Very beautiful.  Soft on the palate, with higher than expected acidity.

    The food was very good tonight.  I was more than happy with the quality of the ingredients, the combination of flavors, as well as the execution.  So why did we leave the restaurant not the happiest of customers, unlike my experience last time?

    For me at least, there was one element that disappointed me which my friends did not share.  André Chiang is without a doubt one of the most talented and creative chefs in Asia today.  But when you visit restaurants of this quality helmed by creative chefs, one's expectations naturally go up - especially on repeat visits.  I was expecting to have some dishes repating tonight, but the result was much worse than I feared.  Five out of eight "snackings", six out of the eight "octaphilosophy" courses, one of three desserts and three of five petit fours were exactly the same.  I was more than happy to have a couple of the same dishes again - especially the oysters and the lobster - but I wasn't expecting to be repeating 70% of the menu at a restaurant supposedly known for the chef's creativity.

    Admittedly some of us are very picky customers, but we all had issues with the service tonight - and that covered multiple fronts with each and every one of the front-of-house staff.

    I'd always been a pain in the ass when it comes to knowing the different ingredients of a dish, and this is especially important for me at restaurants where it often is a symphony of flavors.  At a restaurant of this caliber - whether by reputation or by the prices charged - I expect the staff to know the dishes well.  On both visits, there were occasions where the staff got the ingredients wrong or left some key ingredients out (such as the fish in the vegetable part of Sud).  The worst part tonight was that we were given printed copies of the menus - and at least one of the desserts was completely wrong.  So what's going on here?  That would never have happened at Caprice, Amber or Pierre in Hong Kong.  Do they not care to get things right because 1) they think their customers don't care, or 2) they think their customers don't know any better, so whatever they say is fine?

    The service was also poor in another aspect.  On two separate occasions, some of the ladies left the table.  On at least one occasion the staff knew that the guest would not return to the table for an extended period of time.  Yet when it came time to serve the next course, all four portions were delivered to the table in spite of one or more empty seats.  No one bothered to ask if they should hold back the missing guest's portion until they return - the food was just left on the table.  By the time one of the guests returned, her tomato sorbet from Sud had melted into a puddle.  Not a single staff cared that the guest was returning to a dish that was either too warm or too cold.  That would not have happened at a restaurant of a similar price point in Hong Kong or another major cosmopolitan city.

    With "Snickers", at least one of our four portions had toppled over by the time it reached our table.  This is exactly what happened to my millefeuille at Pierre in Hong Kong, and again is something that just shouldn't happen at a restaurant of this caliber.  If the dish falls apart and the presentation is ruined, you should bring it back to the kitchen and get it fixed, instead of serving it to the customer.  Otherwise, why bother with the presentation at all?

    Finally, I have to single out the Japanese sommelier for his poor attitude.  Yes, we brought our own wines, so even if the wines turned out faulty we would not have been able to return them.  But it is still standard practice for the sommelier to offer a glass to the customer for tasting - before the wine is poured for the whole table.  With the second bottle, the sommerlier actually came and said: "No need to taste, just pour?" Why he would make that assumption is beyond me.  Of course we wanted to taste it first!  For the last bottle, the sommelier actually didn't even bother asking us... he just poured from the decanter.

    Oh yeah... he also decanted the Lafleur away from us.  What assurances do I have that what he poured from the decanter was actually the wine that we brought?!  The whole reason why a sommelier ALWAYS decants the wine within sight of the customer is to eliminate any suspicion of switching - so that the customer knows that what he or she is drinking is in fact the very wine that he or she ordered or brought.  That the offending sommelier came from Japan - where the standard of service is traditionally so high - was even more surprising to us.  Fortunately the Specialist knew her wines and identified the bottle she brought...

    This was such a shame!  Tonight's dinner could have blown us away in the same manner like my last visit, as I was absolutely unable to find fault with the food.  Instead one of the most talented chefs in Asia was completely let down by his front-of-house, and marred what would otherwise have been a fantastic meal.

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  • 12/23/13--07:24: A fighter till the end
  • It's the final MNSC dinner of the year, and it's down to the wire... not just the two-way race at the top, but also the three-way mêlée for last place.  No one wants to distinction of finishing last and being stuck with secretarial duties for next year, so there was a lot at stake.

    Pineapple loves the food at Hong Kong Club, so we're back here for another edition after that bunch of 60-year-old wines three years ago.  The problem with coming to Hong Kong Club is that they sometimes hassle you about the bag that you're carrying, insisting that you check it at the door.  As there was a likelihood of not being able to carry my camera up to the dining table, I decided to leave my gear at home... and rely on my trusty lil' iPhone instead.

    Caesar salad, shaved Parmesan, focaccia croûton

    Marbled goose liver terrine, Ibérico ham and fig, Kenya bean and truffle salad, walnut oil dressing - the fig was very yummy, and I was surprised to find that the ham was supposed to be jamón ibérico.  It was good to get some veggies in with the salad, but the winner was definitely the goose liver terrine.  Spreading it over toast sticks with some gelée and a very ripe and sweet slice of melon underneath was just... Slurp!

    Linguini pasta, wagyu beef bolognaise, porcini ragù, Parmesan - the pasta was overcooked and flabby.  I honestly don't see the point of using wagyu if you're gonna make it into a bolognese sauce... The saving grace here was the very tasty chunk of porcini.

    Whole roast American prime rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, runner beans and sautéed cabbage - what a nice hunk of meat!  Beautifully roasted.  I hesitated a little but did not ask for an end cut.

    The center was still red and juicy, while the edges were nicely charred with more flavor from the seasoning.  I don't normally go for big pieces of beef, but I gotta say that I really enjoyed this well-executed piece of meat.  The Yorkshire pudding was excellent, with bits of rosemary in the batter.  The cabbage and especially the runner beans were cooked to the point of mushiness, but oh well... gotta fill my veg quota of the day!

    Homemade Christmas pudding, brandy butter and sauce - I never was much of a fan of Christmas pudding, but I guess this was OK.

    I was pretty stuffed, especially since I'm not really used to chomping down on big hunks of meat, but found myself strangely unable to stop...  At least I cut out most of the fat, but in the end I didn't force myself to finish the ribeye.

    So with the final tasting of the year, Pineapple was once again very creative with the lineup - something I've grown to appreciate over the years.

    At a tasting that I missed around a decade ago, Pineapple put all the decanters on ice, and apparently everyone thought the Third and Fifth Growth wines tasted fantastically well.  It would appear that he was up to his old tricks again tonight...  Although to be fair, we do tend to drink our reds too warm here in Asia.

    Pol Roger Brut Réserve, disgorged at least 12 years ago - nose was really grassy, almost a little moldy, caramelized, very ripe, with Chinese licorice (甘草), kinda plummy, and a little sharp.  There were still a reasonable amount of bubbles here, so it didn't feel that old, and certainly not something that was disgorged 30-40 years ago as it would have oxidized further.

    First flight: opened 1 hour 15 minutes and decanted 45 minutes prior to serving
    1971 Lafleur - fruity and forward, more raisiny, opened up amazingly for just a whiff before muting down again.  Slightly higher acidity here and lighter.  Pretty exotic, stewed nose, with blackcurrant.  95 points.

    1978 Lafleur - really beautiful, minty, open and fragrant nose.  Smoky, slightly earthy, classic Bordeaux, grassy, leathery, with a little brett.  96 points.

    Second flight: opened 2 hours and decanted 1½ hours prior to serving
    1975 Lafleur - minty, open and wonderful nose, smoky.  Later on savory like soy sauce.  93 points.

    1979 Lafleur - smoky, forest, potpourri, coconut butter, toffee, a hint of burnt rubber on the nose.  Ripe and sweet on palate.  95 points.

    Third flight: opened 3½ hours and decanted 2½ hours prior to serving
    1990 Lafleur-Petrus - a little smoky, a little pungent but beautiful nose.  Slightly sharp, and a little savory.  94 points.

    1990 Lafleur - a little ripe, a little muted at first.  4½ hours after opening the nose was much sweeter, but still a little bit sharp.  95 points.

    1990 Petrus - a little green pepper, smoky, cooler fruit and not as ripe.  94 points.

    This tasting managed to shift the rankings at the bottom of the pack, and our resident martial arts enthusiast turned out to be the evening's biggest loser - but went down fighting gallantly.  Here's to another year of dodging bullets...

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  • 12/24/13--07:53: Christmastime for orphans
  • It's Christmas Eve, and once again I'm in Hong Kong instead of being with my parents in Taipei.  The good thing about this year, though, is that I'm not in the middle of a fund launch, and won't have to go back to the office in the middle of dinner... like I did last year!

    This year I decided that I would spend Christmas Eve with my DearestFavorite Birdbrain Cousin, who's also got nobody to spend it with.  After all, it IS a time for family gathering!  Not wanting to fight the crowd and pay outlandish prices for all those special set dinners, I decided that it would be best if we just did something casual at home.  I also haven't seen Wolfie for a couple of years, and this would give me a chance to spend some quality time with the mutt.

    Since this is Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day, I didn't wanna spend a lot of time and effort cooking, though, as we'd both still be working during the day.  So I checked with my friend David from On Lot 10 to see if I could get one of his roast chickens to takeaway.  I was ever so thankful that David obliged me...

    The taxi driver must have hated me all the way from the restaurant to my cousin's apartment, because the smell of the roast chicken was simply incredible.  I got hungrier and hungrier by the minute, while I kept a close eye on the chicken during the bumpy ride.  I couldn't wait to arrive at my destination and to dig in!

    Roast Mierval Bresse chicken - this was such a thing of beauty!  Stuffed with garlic and herbs inside, this was one incredibly fragrant and tasty chicken.  I didn't hesitate to go straight for one of the drumsticks and strip it clean with my teeth, then proceeded to take off both wings.  Yum yum yum!

    Birdbrain eats like a whitey, so I left her with all the breast meat.  Wolfie's also been raised on chicken breast like his owner, and he was lucky tonight that the meat didn't come from a big bag of frozen strips...

    Sautéed Brussels sprouts with Taiwanese sausage - kinda interesting since Taiwanese sausages are super sweet.  The Brussels sprouts were definitely overdone, having been sautéed then sent into the oven... so they were pretty mushy.  I didn't really care, as I needed my daily veggie and just devoured this.

    Roasted pumpkin and carrots

    Jamón ibérico - not very fatty, but wonderfully yummy with that combination of both sweet and savory flavors.

    Pâte - ho-hum.

    We nibbled on some strawberries and black cherries, but what I was really waiting for were the Pierre Hermémacarons that my Favorite Cousin had in her fridge...

    Truffe blanche et noisette - not bad, but each new macaron seemed to be less and less fragrant this season...

    Infiniment rose - methinks Birdbrain should have bought Ispahan...
    Chocolat et foie gras - pretty good, but this one seemed more savory than the others I had this season.
    Envie - love the violet and blackcurrant.

    A pretty good spread for the two of us, I think.

    I also brought over two bottles for us, and I think we did a pretty good job with them...

    1991 Opus One - minty, leather, plummy, a little earthy, smoky and grilled meats.

    2005 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard - very ripe on both the nose and the palate, toasty, marmalade, and a little buttery on the finish.

    I'm glad the two of us were able to spend some quality time together, and I was also glad to see Wolfie after being away for the last couple of years.  By the looks of it, he seemed to have worn himself out during the evening with us...

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  • 12/26/13--00:36: Random Boxing Day lunch
  • I Love Lubutin finally has a day off from work, so we decided to do lunch together.  She suggested that I pick "somewhere that I normally wouldn't go", and the original thinking was to venture far away from the center of town.  For a variety of reasons, we ended up in Causeway Bay, and were walking towards somewhere when I started throwing out random restaurant names in the neighborhood.  Red Pepper Restaurant (南北樓) was one of the names I shouted out, and somehow that seemed to stick...

    We always joke that Red Pepper is a "gweilo restaurant" that one only goes with expats and tourists... much like American Restaurant (美利堅餐廳).  In fact, the only time I was there must have been at least 7 or 8 years ago, and I DID go with a bunch of expats.  None of my local friends, and certainly no "foodie" friend, ever talk about going there... since the food isn't really "authentic" and the decor looks like it belongs in a Chinatown.  Like American Restaurant, the clientele is predominantly expats and tourists.  I must have walked past it a hundred times during all these years, and never once had the urge to push the doors open and walk in.

    But hey, it fits the description of "somewhere I don't normally go" perfectly, so why not?!

    There were only two of us, so the number of dishes we could reasonably order was limited.  We ignored the "Chef's Recommendations" and picked a few dishes we thought were particularly "American Chinese"...

    Fried prawns with pepper and cashew nuts (宮保蝦球) - I dunno why they didn't label this "kung pao" since it's a name familiar to most Americans and possibly other expats and tourists.  Anyway, this wasn't too spicy, so I was able to take it.  Served with deep-fried perilla leaves.

    Dried fried string beans with minced pork (干扁四季豆) - no surprise that the kitchen didn't spend much time frying the beans until they're drier... Only once in my life have I ever come across something that is remotely close to what mom makes.  Would have liked a little more garlic.

    Diced chicken with bean sauce (醬爆雞丁) - also came with perilla leaves, and a dark "brown sauce"... The chicken was tender, and I was a little surprised to see chopped celery in addition to spring onions.

    Sichuan hot noodles (擔擔麵) - the dan dan noodles came with a very red-looking soup, which should have been a warning about the amount of heat it was packing.  I, of course, ignored it and slurped quickly... and had the chilli burn the back of my throat.  The noodles were good, though...

    I was pretty full, and I'm glad we didn't order any rice.  None of the dishes were bad, but then again, none of it was particularly tasty.  I'm glad we did this today, but I don't think I need to come back for... oh, say, another decade?

    I Love Lubutin seemed unsatiated, so we trekked over to Danish Bakery (丹麥餅店) for a snack.  I've been wanting to check out their hot dog for a long, long time... and finally got the chance today.  The bun's exterior is a little drier compared to the ones at Wing Lok Yuen (永樂園), and the mayo-based sauce doesn't have the same degree of tanginess.  But satisfying nonetheless.  Taken with a cup of hot coffee, this was the perfect finish.

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  • 12/29/13--06:17: White truffle for mom
  • I was getting mentally ready for my Christmas Eve dinner, sitting around in the office, when an idea popped into my head.  Why not bring some white truffle home to mom?  It's in season and would make a very special treat for her.  I could c°ook something simple at home, and just shave the little tuber on top.

    But it was 5pm on Christmas Eve... Hong Kong was going to be closed for the next 2 days, and I was flying home on the 27th.  Where would I get a white truffle on such short notice?

    Fortunately I was on my way to On Lot 10 to pick up my dinner, so I asked David if he could spare me a small truffle.  Being the nice guy that he is, he very kindly obliged me.

    Believe it or not, I've never bought truffle before.  I first talked about doing it more than a decade ago, but somehow never got around to actually doing it, so I didn't have any experience with taking care of one.  I'd seen people bury them in risotto rice inside air-tight containers, so I set out to get myself those two things.  I unwrapped the cellophane and tissue covering the little treasure, and buried it in a full jar of carnaroli rice.  I picked up a few simple ingredients that were missing from my very empty fridge in my vacant apartment in Taipei, and with a little help from mom, put together a simple dinner for the parental units.

    Fettucine with butter sauce, shimeji mushrooms, 62° organic egg and white truffle from Alba - FAIL.  This failed on so many fronts it's not even funny.  If there was any doubt about whether the statement "I'm not a good cook" is true, I think this just about settles it.  Mom thinks I got the proportions between butter and milk wrong (I was scared to use too much butter), and I also under-seasoned the sauce.  I also cooked too much fettucine for us, which meant there wasn't enough mushroom.

    It was probably wrong of me to bury the truffle in a big jar packed with carnaroli, as it probably sucked up too much moisture and made the truffle too dry.  I also had the wrong shaver for the truffle, making the job much more time-consuming.  Added to the fact that I forgot to pre-heat the plates, this meant the pasta got cold fairly quickly, and we didn't get enough fragrance from the white truffles.

    Prosciutto de San Danielle - this was OK, and we had it AFTER the pasta.  But mom complained that this wasn't as tasty as what she has at home...  Next time I'll probably slice it up and put it in the pasta itself, like Philippe did at Upper Modern Bistro.

    Mom also made a big salad, which we enjoyed after the pasta...

    There were more macarons from Pierre Hermé, but I left most of them to mom and only took the PX.  Pretty interesting with the raisins inside.

    Naturally I opened a bottle of wine to go with dinner.  Unfortunately I didn't have any Barolos or Barbarescos lying around in Taipei, so I picked something a little more unusual...

    1996 Turley Zinfandel Aida Vineyard - plummy, berries, a little sweet vanilla, sous bois, forest, minty.  A little alcoholic.  A lovely wine.

    This wasn't the most delicious dinner that I made tonight, but at least it was edible and I didn't burn my food...  I think the parental units appreciated the fact that I tried to cook them dinner, and it's the thought that counts... and I got to use my SousVide Supreme again after about a year.

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  • 12/30/13--01:07: Dirty duck
  • It's my first trip back to Taiwan since 3 months ago, and since that time Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project has moved from Kaoshiung (高雄) to Taoyuan (桃園), and is now parked in Keelung Harbor (基隆港).  I kinda regret not heading down to Kaoshiung to see him back in September, so I was most certainly not gonna miss seeing Ducky in Keelung!

    I took the train from Taipei Main Station (台北車站), and got off when the train reached the end of the line at Keelung.  The train station is right next to the harbor, and I saw a yellow blob right after stepping outside.  Within 3 minutes I was at Keelung Maritime Plaza (基隆海洋廣場) and facing Ducky.

    For the last few days I had seen news reports about how dirty Ducky's gotten.  Keelung is a narrow harbor with lots of ships passing through, and the wet weather over the last couple of weeks meant all that pollution got stuck on Ducky's body.  Crews have been working hard to scrub Ducky clean, but it hasn't been easy.  Sure enough, large areas were still kinda blackish, and one half of Ducky's face was cleaner than the other half...  Poor Ducky, got so dirty after only 10 days...

    But it doesn't matter how dirty he is, Ducky still smiles and greets everyone who's come to see him.  And with the same innocence that just brings a smile to my face.

    I hang around the Plaza and snap a few more pics of Ducky from various angles, making sure that the copycat "KEELUNG" sign is in the background for some of them.  Now that my mission has been accomplished, it was time for lunch...

    The Keelung Temple Night Market (基隆廟口夜市) is only a couple of blocks from the harbor, so it was a natural destination for me to find some chow.  And I had a very particular item in mind...

    You can't come here without biting into a nutritious sandwich (營養三明治).  I do believe it to be a nutritious and balanced meal, as it pretty much covers all the basic food groups:

    Grains from the deep-fried bread, protein from ham and soy egg (滷蛋), vegetables from the cucumber, fruit from the tomato, and oil/fat from the generous dollop of Taiwanese-style mayo (not to mention the fat absorbed by the bread in the deep-frying process...)

    After that yummy goodness, I walked around and found myself a seat at Wu's Crab Soup (吳記螃蟹羹).  I keep coming back here for the oily glutinous rice (油飯).

    I also got myself a bowl of crab soup (螃蟹羹), but at least today I didn't have I Love Lubutin around to spill a ton of white pepper into the bowl like last time...

    With my belly full, I strolled back past Ducky once again, thanked him for coming to Taiwan and bringing happiness to thousands of children and adults alike, and made my way back to Taipei.  An epic dinner awaits...

    P.S.  The day after my visit, poor Ducky suddenly ripped at the seams and blew up.  I'm sooooo glad I got to see him on this trip!

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  • 12/30/13--07:01: Gathering the clan
  • Tonight was a very special evening.  There hasn't been a gathering of my clansmen (and clanswomen) of this scale since... EVER!  The last time there were a good many of us in Taipei at the same time was more than a decade ago, when grandma passed on.  Tonight we almost achieved a full count - only one cousin was missing.  Some of the cousins were meeting for the very first time... and the youngest in my generation has already graduated from college.  A decade ago we went from three generations to two.  We are now happily back to three generations, as the latest addition to the family came a couple of years ago.

    For a gathering of this size, it's a no-brainer that we're gonna do Chinese.  Since our youngest cousins have never set foot in Taiwan, it seemed appropriate to do this over a Taiwanese meal.  The Orchid Room (蘭花廳) at Brother Hotel (兄弟飯店) has long had a reputation for delivering quality Taiwanese fare, although I honestly can't remember my last meal there myself.  This would be a good opportunity to check it out.

    One of the banquet menus was chosen, as there were 16 of us... As it turned out, I didn't think it was particularly Taiwanese...

    Mullet roe and the seven fairies (烏魚子七仙女) - classic Taiwanese fare on an appetizer platter, including mullet roe, cuttlefish, marinated jellyfish, goose, vegetarian goose... etc.  I can't believe that my Birdbrain Cousin felt that my original arrangement wasn't pretty enough, and dared to stick her chopsticks into my food... Sheeesh!

    I passed on the braised shark's fin (三鮮燒魚翅), since I refuse to eat shark's fin.

    Wok-fried tiger prawns in tomato sauce (乾燒大明蝦) - I can't remember the last time I had this dish... served with a thick and dry sauce with ketchup, diced onion and garlic.  My Favorite Cousin reminded me that there were a couple of loose heads left behind on the plate, so I picked up an extra head and dutifully sucked out the contents.  Yum.

    Braised fish (紅燒馬魚頭) - not sure what kind of fish this was... but it was not bad.  Once in a while, it's nice to have something other than Cantonese-style steamed fish.

    Stir-fried sweet potato leaves (炒地瓜葉) - love this veggie.

    Braised abalone with meat balls (彩球燴鮑片) - interesting take on meat balls, with chopped water chestnut inside and wrapped in omelette strips.  Sliced shiitake mushroom and abalone are a good match, and of course there's lots of starchy sauce!

    Stir-fried scallops and sea cucumber (帶子炒烏參) - this was OK.  The sea cucumber was still crunchy, as they certainly weren't gonna braise them for hours like mom does.  The scallops were surprisingly done mi-cuit...

    Stir-fried seasonal vegetables with lily bulb and wolfberries (枸杞百合扒時蔬) - the leafy mustard (芥菜) wasn't too bitter.

    Glutinous rice with giant mud crabs (大沙公伴米糕) - classically Taiwanese.  The crab was pretty good, even if there wasn't any roe.  And the sticky rice... well what's not to like?!

    Chicken and mushroom soup (花菇燉全雞) - can't go wrong with chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms.  Comfort food.

    Steamed taro stick (芋頭條) - made with a mix of taro and sticky rice, and filled with red bean paste.

    Red bean soup (紅豆湯) - with sago and finely chopped taro.

    Naturally I was the wine supplier for the dinner, and even my Favorite Cousin told her dad not to bother bringing any...

    1995 Jos. Joh. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - petrol, white pepper, flint.  Very sweet on the palate.

    2002 L'Evangile en magnum - minty, a little pungent, perhaps sulfur?  Smoky, coffee and potpourri.

    The food wasn't fantastic, and neither were the wines, but it didn't matter.  This was a momentous occasion, and I can see that everybody was happy to be here tonight.  Sixteen adults and a toddler - eleven of whom were born with the same family name.  Something like this isn't easy to orchestrate for a family like ours - scattered across six countries and four continents - and I wonder if we'll be able to do another gathering like this again... anytime soon.

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