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

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  • 01/01/14--23:52: Japanese new year feast
  • Believe it or not, despite having spent a few years growing up in Japan and having eaten Japanese food for most of my life, I've never had the celebratory meals taken during the first few days of the year known as osechi ryori (御節料理).  It had never been a big deal to me, and I never remembered to make reservations at Japanese restaurants until it's too late.  This year, though, I decided that things were gonna be different.  I was determined to tick this off my to-do list.

    I was too lazy to do research on which Japanese restaurants in town were offering decent osechi... I didn't ask my Japanese friends, nor did I bother to read this post...  It was New Year's Day, and I had just stepped into the apartment after flying back from Taipei... My knee-jerk reaction was to call up Nadaman (なだ万) and put myself on the waiting list for lunch the next day.

    I arrived at the appointed time, and the friend I roped in for lunch had already decided she didn't want the special set, so she ordered some sushi instead.  I thought the new year kaiseki (初春懐石) was a little too elaborate for lunch - not to mention a little expensive - but since it was the reason why I was here in the first place... I went ahead and ordered it anyway.

    Appetizers (祝肴) - as expected, this is the most elaborate part of the meal, with lots of little nibbles presented very nicely.  They were:

    Rolled egg cake (伊達巻) - very pretty, and tastes good.
    Sweetened black bean (黒豆松葉刺し) - always enjoyable.

    Salmon and squid sushi (紅白手綱すし)

    Boiled mustard flower with dried sea urchin, crab and vegetable cake (菜の花  系雲丹  蟹袱紗焼)

    Fish cake (紅白蒲鉾)

    Simmered abalone, herring roe (鮑柔らか煮  数の子) - interesting combination, with soft and tender abalone at the bottom while the herring roe is deliciously crunchy.

    Prawn and egg yolk (海老黄身月冠) - this was the top half...

    Herring rolled with kelp (鰊昆布巻) - I preferred the bottom half much more... with the umami coming from marinated kelp.  I'm also a big fan of Japanese marinated herring.

    Sesame curd with sea urchin (胡麻豆腐  生雲丹  べっこう餡) - the sesame tofu was very tasty.

    Picked radish and carrot, salmon roe, sea kelp (紅白なます  イクラ  結び昆布)

    Soup: traditional clear soup with brown rice cake, chicken, mushroom, greens, carrot, yuzu-citron and gold leaf (御椀:雑煮椀  古代餅  鶏  亀甲椎茸  鶴菜  日の出人参  柚子  金箔) - this was so-so.  I didn't care for the rice cake, because it was a little too big, and a little too charred from grilling.  I didn't understand how a grilled rice cake could benefit from being soaked in a bowl of soup, which turned its crispy exterior soggy.  I left most of the rice cake in the bowl.

    Sashimi: sea bream, tuna and striped jack (造里:祝い鯛  鮪  縞鰺  あしらい) - my friend was kind enough to take the tuna off my hands.  The traditional red and white color scheme is carried through to this course, too...

    Sea bream (鯛)

    Striped jack (縞鰺)

    Simmerd dish: taro, pumpkin, carrot and chicken ball (多喜合:里芋  竹の子  梅人参  鶏つくね  青味)

    Vinegar dish: crab meat, cucumber and sea weed in vinegar sauce (寿の物:ずわい蟹  打ち胡瓜  若布) 

    Grilled dish: grilled giant yellowtail with teriyaki sauce, served with mashed sweet potato and chestnut, vinegared celery (家喜物:鰤照焼  栗金団  セロリ甘酢漬け  揚げ稲穂) - this was OK.  But the surprise came in the form of "poprice"... The rice on the stalk was done popcorn style, and even lightly seasoned.  Very nice!

    I really liked this little bowl with a cooked chestnut surrounded encased in a pile of sweet potato mash.  Very, very sweet.  Very, very yummy.

    Rice dish: steamed rice with red bean, soya bean soup and pickles (食事:紅白飯  赤出汁  香の物) - I ate a little each of the white steamed rice and the red glutinous rice, in keeping with the red and white theme.  I was already very full.

    The miso soup (赤出汁) was OK.

    Dessert: sweetened red bean soup with starch dumpling (デザート:白玉ぜんざい) - very classic.

    There was a glass of sake that was poured at the beginning of the meal, without any announcement whatsoever.  I guess the sake must be pretty shit, then... if the staff didn't bother to tell me what it was.  Oh, and it was completely unremarkable.

    To be honest, this was a pretty disappointing meal.  No, nothing failed badly, but then again very little was memorable - other than the poprice and sweet potato mash.  This wasn't exactly a cheap meal, and I would have been happier with about ⅔ of the amount of food at a lower price point.  Not exactly value for money.  Not surprisingly, my friend complained about the quality of her sushi... given that it's January 2nd and Tsukiji probably wasn't open yesterday...  Well, at least I've ticked this off my list and won't need to do it again... and certainly won't be doing it at Nadaman...

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  • 01/06/14--06:48: Backdoor cousins
  • It's now January and I've gone off the reservation for the last 3 weeks.  I'm happy to see that I haven't gained back all that much weight, but it's time to get back to my diet.  I'm loosening the screws a little this time around, but I'm still gonna try to keep to no more than 2 cheat meals a week.

    Tonight's dinner, however, was unplanned.  I've already got my two cheat meals later on this week, so I wasn't very eager to join my friend Susan for one of her restaurant reviews.  It was gonna be somewhere Chinese, so I threw out a trio of high-end Chinese restaurants which had opened within the last 6 months.  The one place that Susan hadn't reviewed?  The new branch of Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂魚翅酒家) in Central - just a couple of minutes from my office.  Ask and ye shall receive, so there was no way for me to back out of going to dinner...

    Sun Tung Lok, of course, is historically famous for being the place where countless wealthy diners splurged on expensive ingredients such as shark's fin, abalone and bird's nest.  These days the restaurant still retains the word for shark's fin in its name, although it doesn't say so in English.  Our gang had a little chuckle about this.  A year ago, two of us joined Susan for a review of a new branch of another restaurant whose English name did contain the words "shark's fin".  When the South China Morning Post published a link to that review on this day EXACTLY a year ago on one of its Facebook pages, it unleashed a wave of fury from self-righteous, moronic readers who were mostly expats.

    These people bitched, screamed and complained about the SCMP "promoting" shark's fin.  But they were complete MORONS.  Why?  Because I'm 200% sure that NONE OF THEM bothered to read the actual review.  All they saw were the words "shark fin" in name of the restaurant, and they exploded and hurled insults.  If they had bothered to click on the link and actually spent 2 minutes to read the review, they would have realized that at no point in the review was shark's fin mentioned.  Guess what?  We didn't order any!  I refuse to eat shark's fin, and I'm pretty damn sure the SCMP wouldn't have paid for it anyway!  It's amazing how many people in this world don't actually use their fucking brains...

    Anyway.  I was the first to arrive after my little wine tasting, and almost immediately started to get a whiff of the overpowering air freshener being pumped through the dining room.  Why the fuck would a fine dining restaurant do this?!  The dining experience isn't just about what goes onto the tastebuds... the Chinese talk about the complete package of color, fragrance and flavor (色, 香, 味俱全).  So what's the rationale for filling my lungs with that much air freshener?!

    It took the Worm Supplier and Kung Fu Panda some 10 minutes to go through the menu and figure out what dishes to order, as they tried to avoid repeating dishes they'd already had during their review for the other branch, while trying to order some of the same dishes they'd had at The Boss (波士廳) - the restaurant where, despite being situated just one floor below this one, the entrance is on the opposing side of the building.  The connection?  Part of the kitchen team at The Boss came from Sun Tung Lok.

    Ox tongue in XO chilli sauce (XO醬鹵牛脷) - just as tender as I remembered.  Pretty yummy, but still more chili sauce than XO sauce.

    Deep-fried stuffed crab claw with minced shrimp paste (百花炸釀鮮蟹鉗) - not bad... Hey, it's battered and deep-fried.  'Nuff said.

    Braised pomelo skin with dried shrimp roe in abalone sauce (鮑汁蝦籽柚皮) - the texture was very soft, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth.  There was no bitter after-taste.  However, as the pomelo skin wasn't braised in the sauce, it was a little bland on its own.  The abalone sauce was ladled on, and the surprising part was that the shrimp roe didn't come with the sauce, but was sprinkled on as the very last step before serving.

    Aromatic crab in casserole (奇香將軍蟹煲) - the crab was pretty good, but this dish has always been about the vermicelli.  Unfortunately the Taiwanese vermicelli here was a liiiitle too soggy.  The wonderful fragrance came from a combination of Thai basil, peppercorns, garlic, shallots, scallions.  I had seconds... and thirds...  I think we all preferred the cheaper, drier version next door.

    Braised ox tail with skin and shitake mushrooms in casserole (草本炆鮮牛尾) - it's been a long time since I've had oxtail with the skin still attached, and I was really happy to have the chance again.  This was delicious... and a little exotic since it was made with shrimp paste.  Lots of very soft and yummy gluten, plus shiitake mushrooms.

    I loved taking a little piece of the very end of the tail...

    We ordered a bowl of egg noodles so that we could put it into the casserole and just use up the delicious sauce.  Yum!

    Wok-fried sliced chicken with assorted mushrooms and deep-fried chicken bone (農場雞二食: 鮮菌炒雞脯, 蝦醬脆炸骨, 翠蔬) - the gang was so impressed with the deep-fried chicken with shrimp paste next door that this just had to be ordered for comparison.  The deep-fried half of the chicken here was battered first, which was a little different.  The shrimp paste-flavored batter was certainly tasty.  The other half of the chicken was less impressive.

    I was too full to have dessert, so I called it a night.  Food-wise this was a pretty good meal - no big complaints about the food.  Just wish they'd tone down the air freshener...

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  • 01/09/14--07:17: Expensive menu change
  • It's the start of January, and that means it's time to celebrate a couple of birthdays with the gang.  No prize for guessing that the restaurant of choice was Fook Lam Moon (福臨門)...  What was different tonight, though, was that our resident VIP wasn't able to join us.  With BM out of commission, only a couple of key items were pre-ordered, and the enviable task of deciding what we were eating fell onto my shoulders.

    I decided that we should have a menu change, and order a bunch of dishes that I like but don't get to eat with this crowd.

    Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - de rigueur.  As good and enjoyable as it ever was.

    I did allow myself to take a piece or two of the meat tonight.  It's been a while...

    Baked stuffed crab shell with onions and fresh crab meat (釀焗鮮蟹蓋) - it's been a looong time since I last had these.  I really do love the version they do here - with plenty of onions to add texture and different flavors.  No silly curry powder added here, so you can take the sweetness of the fresh crab on its own.

    Deep-fried sliced pomfret (古法炸鯧魚) - one of the gang's favorite dishes, and it's been a while since we all had it.  I'm happy just to have this on its own, without the mayo.  It's just awesome when you see giant slices like these... real satisfying.

    Stir-fried lobster with black beans and green peppers (豉椒炒龍蝦球) - it's been a real long time since I last had this, and it's been one of my favorite dishes here.  I have always loved how fresh and sweet the lobster meat is... and how the flavors are brought out by the black beans and peppers.  But... I've never checked the cost of the lobsters before, and it quickly dawned on me why the gang never orders it - it's too damn expensive!  This dish alone was about 1/3 of the cost of dinner...

    Long braised beef brisket and tendon in casserole (炆牛筋腩煲) - this has always been very good here...

    Steamed chicken with 'Kim Wah' ham wrapped in fresh lotus leaf (荷葉雲腿蒸雞) - I've never had this preparation before, and it was kinda disappointing.  Yes, the chicken was moist, with mushrooms and ham, but it just wasn't anything special... and I think the crowd had expected more from the lotus leaf.  Oh and I'm still scratching my head about why FLM chose to put down 'Kim Wah' in English while calling it 雲腿 in Chinese... since the town of Jinhua isn't anywhere near Yunnan Province...

    Pea shoots in superior broth (上湯豆苗) - since the old man complained about having "tough" veggies at our last dinner, we decided to stick with these young and tender pea shoots so that he'd have nothing to bitch about...

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - gobble gobble gobble... Gotta get enuf of this while they serve it in season.

    Home made egg noodles in Fook Lam Moon's stock and served with shredded 'Kim Wah" ham (上湯生麵) - it's a birthday.  Gotta have noodles...

    Yolk and sesame paste birthday buns (蛋黃麻茸壽飽) - two different fillings.

    Sesame seed paste and yolk

    Lotus seed paste and yolk

    Can't celebrate birthdays without a little vino.  So I brought a little something.

    2001 Alvario Palacios Les Terrasses from magnum - sweet on the palate and very forward.  Spices, woody, a little smoky, and a little potpourri in the nose.  Still got plenty of concentration but not tannic.

    1970 La Lagune - ex-château stock purchased from Sotheby's.  Opened 30 minutes before decanting.  A little savory on the nose, a little smoky.  Initially the nose was a little muted, an opened up after 20 minutes after decanting.  Very smooth on the palate.  Towards the end showed minty nose with tea leaves.

    A very good dinner, and I surprised myself by over-ordering... as the waitress kept suggesting dishes.  Next time I'll control myself for our wallets' sake!

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  • 01/11/14--07:46: Skanky and spicy
  • I was invited by some friends tonight for a casual gathering at their home. Dinner involved two things that don’t feature often in my eating habits – hotpot and spicy food, so things would be a little different for a change.

    The hotpot was already bubbling on the table top, but it would have to wait. Our hostess was making fish filets in chilli oil (水煮魚)– a famous Sichuanese dish that I don’t normally eat because it’s deathly spicy.  She was in the kitchen stir-frying a pile of chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and a whole lot of other stuff. The fumes coming out were pretty incredible.

    And it WAS spicy. Our hostess used two types of fish, and the giant grouper (花尾龍躉) had a nice layer of fat underneath the thick skin. In addition to the chilli and peppercorns, there was also a combination of bean sprouts, pickled mustard (榨菜), mung bean noodles (粉皮)…etc. Not only did my tongue and mouth burn, but my nose immediately started running… and I ended up having hiccups for a while – a reaction I sometimes have when my body can’t take the spice…

    Once I had my initial bowl of this, I tried to douse my tongue with cold water and waited for my taste buds to recover. Then it was time to start dunking food into the boiling soup base from Dong Lai Shun (東來順). The lamb dumplings (羊肉餃) were surprisingly not very lamby, but pretty good nonetheless.

    I was pretty happy with the various cuts of lamb, though… They definitely had the lamby flavor, and in fact I wished they were even more “skanky/lamby (羊騷味)”… Yup, my tastes run pretty heavy (as they say in Chinese, 重口味) when it comes to lamb or mutton.

    There was also “lamb bacon”…

    Besides the usual accompiment of tofu, corn, chrysanthemum greens (茼蒿) and other veggies, we also ended up with what seemed to be inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん) and veggie-flavored noodles.

    We were in luck when it came to dessert. The creators behind Mara Js Pâtisserie were in the house, and we were treated to some of their goodies… like this yummy palmier that it took about 5 seconds for me to inhale.

    I also couldn’t resist the Florentines… which were made with so much butter that my olfactory senses were flooded … as the molecules gushed up into my nose from the back of my throat. Yeah I couldn’t keep my hands off of a second one…

    Finally, there were some chocolates and these amaretti from somewhere in the Mornington Peninsula. Slurp.

    But what does one do about alcohol when the food on the table is lamb hotpot or something spicy enough to put one’s taste buds out of commission? I had wanted to bring some mature German Rieslings, both for the lower alcohol and for the higher sugar content… but changed my mind in favor of something to match the hotpot.  I thought it'd be fun to bring a pair of aged wines from great vintages, which aren't expensive but difficult to find nowadays.

    Sotheby’s Champagne Blanc de Blancs (élaboré par R&L Legras)– very fresh, fruity, yeasty with crisp acidity. The Zalto Champagne glass seemed to have delivered a more focused nose.

    Rien (梨園)– very sweet pear liqueur, and very “fragrant” thanks to the essence/extracts/flavorings added. Not sure which type of pear this was, as Hita Pear (日田梨) could be any of 8 cultivars.

    1978 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde– served 10 minutes after opening without decanting. Lovely floral nose with bacon fat, sweet fruit, a little yammy. After 40 minutes the wine started going downhill. The palate was very soft, but there’s still plenty of life in this wine.

    1985 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde– served 1 hour after opening without decanting. More minty, more concentration here, showing cooler fruit, riper and sweeter on the nose. For some reason this declined drastically later, turning really dusty and kinda nasty. Needs to be drunk within 1½ hours of opening.

    1990 Rayas Pignan– initially seemed a little dusty because of the glass. A little alcoholic at one point, but there was a good amount of sweet fruits here. Naturally this was lighter than the Guigals.

    Number One Drinks Company 1990 Hanyu (一番 羽生)– surprisingly peaty and medicinal for a Japanese whisky. Single cask at 55.5%.  Bottled in 2007.

    A nice and fun evening... and I fell asleep at the table...again.  I guess nothing ever changes...

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  • 01/12/14--07:04: Everything but the duck
  • I'm in Beijing for a short business trip, attending a conference organized by a former employer.  As part of the overall program, I'm attending two dinners hosted by my prime broker, and Peking duck feature prominently at both dinners...

    First up tonight is DaDong Artistic Conception Food (大董中国意境菜) - a branch of which I had hit on my last trip to Beijing.  The location tonight was within a shopping mall, and was in fact within walking distance from the Peninsula Beijing.  Pretty convenient for me.

    We unrolled the scroll that was our menu tonight, and my jaw dropped at the number of courses we were going through tonight with the Winter Tasting Menu (冬趣).  I'd better not finish everything put in front of me tonight then...

    Crispy mushroom in tomato (蕃茄脆菇沙拉) - the tomatoes were stuffed with mushrooms, which was interesting and actually tasty.

    Goose liver hawthorn (山楂鹅肝) - half of these were hawthorn (山楂), and the other half were foie gras pâté made to look like hawthorn - much like the foie gras lollipops at Amber.

    Sweet pork ribs at snowy river (江雪糖醋小排) - typically artistic presentation.  The sweet and sour pork ribs were pretty decent.  The staff came to sprinkle the "snow" onto the slate.

    Pickled chicken (脆皮咸鸡) - not a fan.  The skin was crunchy like jellyfish, and the meat was a little on the dry side.

    Fruit salad with traditional Beijing gezhihe (花开咯吱) - the one I took had mango on top.

    Arugula salad with Parmesan cheese (斑马臣干酪拌芝麻叶)

    Traditional Beijing snacks (北京小吃六款) - I'm not sure if we were really served these...whatever they were!

    Stewed matsutake with spring water in stone pot (石锅泉水松茸) - definitely got the delicate fragrance of matsutake mushrooms (松茸).

    Sauteed crab meat with roe and egg white (蛋羹秃黄油) - steamed egg white custard with hairy crab roe on top.  Very sinful...

    Beef with green lemon and sea salt (青柠松露盐煎牛肉) - the beef itself was pretty good, and there was an interesting combination of fragrance and flavors from the green lime, sea salt and black truffle.  The beef was rolled in the salt/lime dip just before serving on each person's plate.

    Stewed flounder, deboned (侉炖比目鱼) - creative presentation, and taste-wise this was OK.  Stewed in cellophane.

    Chef Dongs fried prawns with spicy sauce (董氏宫保虾) - this was OK.

    Brussels sprouts with tender green pea (抱子甘蓝炒嫩豆) - pretty tasty and sweet.

    Sauteed bean sprouts (清炒豌豆尖)

    DaDong [superlean] roast duck (大董[酥不腻]烤鸭) - not bad, but I've never liked DaDong's duck.  It's too dainty, too "refined".  It's like the nouvelle cuisine of Peking duck, and I don't like it.  I want my Peking duck fatty, in big pieces.  I wanna see that liquid duck fat ooze out as the chef slices up the bird.  I wanna feel the liquid fat drip onto my tongue as I put pressure on the crispy skin with my teeth.  I don't want my duck to come in little slices, like it's about to go into a wok for stir-fry.

    Sweet glutinous dumplings in coconut (椰汁汤圆) - black sesame filling.  Mmmmm...

    Sugarcoated fruits dandelion (蒲公英糖葫芦) - the cotton candy is meant to look like dandelions, I guess... There's a hawthorn (山楂) at the center of it.

    That was a lot of food!  Most of it was pretty decent, and a lot of thought has been put into the presentation and all.  I rolled myself back to my hotel room, and hoped to digest most of it before dinner tomorrow...

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  • 01/13/14--06:59: More Peking duck
  • My second and last night in Beijing on this trip, and once again my friendly neighborhood prime broker arranged a dinner with Peking duck.  We were shipped off in batches to Duck de Chine (全鸭季) - the Peking duck restaurant within the complex known as 1949 - The Hidden City.  The complex was formerly a factory and research facility set up in 1949, and this was converted into an F&B complex.  The historical feel of the place was maintained, and looked a little out of place in the sea of tall, concrete-and-glass buildings surrounding it.

    The menu, of course, was preset... so I waited for the onslaught of dishes.

    Fried abalone mushrooms (手撕杏鲍菇) - deep-fried shredded shrooms.  What's not to like about crispy shreds?

    Broad beans and preserved vegetables (榄菜豆瓣)

    Duck liver terrine on toast (鸭肝酱) - of course it is entirely appropriate that a duck restaurant would serve foie gras terrine.  Pretty good, too.

    Sweet and sour ribs (糖醋小排)

    Double-boiled wild mushroom soup with bamboo fungus (竹笙野菌汤) - I agree with my fellow diner that this tasted better than the matsutake soup from last night...

    Beijing roast duck "duck de chine" style (全鸭季烤鸭) - I dunno what "Duck de Chine style" means, but what I do know is that I like this a little better than "DaDong style"...  At least the slices are bigger and there seemed to be more fat here.  Much more up my alley.  And more those who came here looking for duck... at least the duck came during the first half of the dinner, instead of at the end like last night...

    Pan-fried king prawn w/ soy sauce (豉油皇煎大虾)

    Sweet and sour garoupa (酸甜老虎斑) - yes it is a traditional dish in Chinese cuisine, but you can't tell me that this wasn't chosen because of the large percentage of laowai among diners tonight...

    Fried angus beef tenderloin w/ black pepper sauce (黑椒安格拉斯牛柳)

    Gongbao mixed wild mushrooms (宫保菌菇)

    Sautéed broccoli w/ garlic (蒜茸西兰花)

    Fried rice w/ duck meat and veggies (田园鸭丝炒饭)

    Sweetern red bean soup w/ lily bulb (红豆沙) - yes the red beans were 'sweetern'...  Nice mandarin rind flavors, though...

    Two ducks in a row, but I'm still underwhelmed.  Do I need to go back to Quanjude (全聚德) for a more satisfying duck?!

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  • 01/17/14--01:31: Disney with Bear
  • More than eight years after opening, I still hadn't been to Hong Kong Disneyland.  I never felt to urge to fight with the Mainland Chinese crowds that I was bound to be surrounded by, and my last visit to a Disney theme park was back in 2001 at Tokyo DisneySea - where I stood in line for hours just to get on a ride for a few minutes.

    But I have a godson now, and he's a HUGE fan of Mickey Mouse.  So on a car ride back to his house last December, I told the little fella that I'd go to Disneyland with him to see Mickey.  To which he replied: "ARE YOU OK?!"

    I was left speechless while his mama laughed her ass off.

    Today I made good on that promise, taking a day off from work so we can go on a "weekday".  Tigger had a meeting in town, so we didn't get under way until a couple of hours later than initially planned.  We did manage to get their before noon, though...

    We figured it'd be easier for us to grab lunch first, so we stopped at the Main Street Corner Cafe, where I took a simple Reuben for lunch.  I kinda enjoyed this ginger and pomelo Coke, and that popcorn milkshake thingy Tigger had would just have to wait for my next visit...

    Without bellies full, we set off to do the things the Bear usually enjoys.  A visit to Disney wouldn't be complete without saying hello to Mickey, so we took that off our list first by visiting the Fantasy Gardens... Oh and he also said hello to Goofy.

    We then spent some time waiting in line to ride the Cinderella Carousel, followed by Dumbo the Flying Elephant.  I gotta say it's been a loooong time since I was last on a ride...  Bear also wanted to see Mickey's PhilharMagic, but I decided to stay outside and watch the stroller...  Yup, part of them godfather duties...

    Then it was almost time for the Flights of Fantasy Parade, so we made our way to the roundabout and waited for it to start.  I gotta say... after seeing the parade and how many children and adults it entertained, I understood why Disneyland is the "Happiest Place on Earth".

    After watching the parade, we finished off by taking one last ride on the Orbitron.  Bear was in charge of the joystick that controlled our altitude, and we had a few bumps along the way...  Unfortunately our schedule was kinda tight, so we left Disney and headed back.  I still had 3 stops to make for the rest of the day...

    So.... after my very first experience here, I gotta say it was about what I expected.  Tigger decided not to pull his usual strings, so we didn't bypass the lines and got to have the "real experience".  I dutifully lined up patiently, but I had to fend off Mainland Chinese parents who were cutting in line.

    Their kids would cut in line first, then they followed suit.  When I confronted one mother about her cutting in line, she verbally apologized but said that it's because she needed to follow her child.  Huh?  WTF?!  Shouldn't you be teaching your child some manners?!  You should be telling your child that it's wrong to cut in line, and physically restraining your child and go back to where you were.  Oh and this mother knew she couldn't cut in front of us, but of course she didn't go back to where she was, either.  She just stayed right behind us.  I wonder why other people in line don't bother to tell her to go back?

    And you keep finding kids and adults to push past you to join their friends and family further up ahead.  Does a single one of them ever utter a word of "sorry" or "excuse me" as they shove you aside?  Of course not.  You are just an obstacle in their path, like a tree branch that they brush aside.  You don't apologize to branches and leaves, right?

    So yeah, it's about what I expected.  A whole new generation of Mainland children growing up without being taught basic manners.  I suspects their parents weren't taught those manners themselves.  Of course I'm not saying it's true of everyone, but I'm seeing enough of it here today - and from my travels to China - to draw that conclusion.  I heard locals behind me complaining about the behavior of the Mainland Chinese, and there's no doubt that there is a lot of discontent.

    But at the end of the day, my job was to accompany my dearest godson on his trip to Disney, and from that perspective my mission had been accomplished.  He had a reasonably good time, and that is all that matters.

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    The wine auction circuit started again today, with 3 auction houses holding simultaneous auctions in Hong Kong.  These days I've stopped going to the Acker and Zachys auctions, and I dutifully showed up at Sotheby's bright and early.  I was pretty surprised to find the room very full at just a quarter past 10 a.m., as I had expected the other auctions to be busier.

    The auction started with some "leftover" lots from some of the auctions last year... especially those which were ex-château.  The largest consignor today offered a good collection of 1982 Bordeaux... notable for both its breadth and depth.  It seemed that any '82s - even those from Fifth Growth or unclassified châteaux - found ready buyers.  Quite a few wines had parcels of 10 cases or more.  And there were plenty of other older vintages on offer, and all of them were snapped up.

    But the highlight of the day was one special lot - the Macallan M Decanter - Constantine.  The whisky is a blend of "a handful of casks dating from the 1940s to the early 1990s", which is kinda vague as far as descriptions go.  The selling point here is that it is housed in a 6-liter imperial decanter created by Lalique, and is one of only four in the world.  All four are apparently named after Roman Emperors - with Caesar, Justinian and Augustus being the other three.

    This was a charity lot, with 100% of the hammer price going to local charities in Hong Kong.  Sotheby's is also donating part of the buyer's premium to the same charities.

    With no reserve and an estimate indicated at between HKD 2 to 4 million dollars, the eyes of the world were on this lot.  Shortly before the action started, I noticed a few of my friends popping in from the auction next door.  Then I noticed Jeff Zacharia from Zachys was standing by the entrance as he, too, wanted to witness the bidding for this lot.

    A few weeks ago the Specialist was fretting about whether people would actually bid for this lot.  Sure it's pretty rare, but it was also gonna be one incrediby expensive bottle.  The pressure was on.

    But she need not have worried.  Absentee bids meant the bidding actually started at HKD 2 million, and the action turned out to be between two guys in the room.  As the auctioneer, Bob gave each bidder ample time to decide whether or not to go to the next increment, as each increment was a whopping USD 25,000 equivalent.  Eventually the hammer fell at HKD 4 million, which made the total purchase price HKD 4.9 million inclusive of buyer's premium.  That's more than USD 628,000, and set a new world record for a single bottle of whisky.

    The rest of the auction went without incident, and I ended up picking up several cases of aged Burgundy for my friends and I.  A few of the MNSC boys realized at the tasting yesterday that I would be here today, and asked me to bid on a few lots on their behalf...  Auction duty today...

    This time there were a larger number of wines served at auction:

    2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin - yeasty, a little toasty, with lemon citrus.

    1982 Pichon Baron en double magnum - smoky, earthy, lead pencil and some fruit.

    1982 Pichon Lalande - very lovely.  Smoky, earthy with tea leaves, cedar and woody notes.

    1982 Vieux Château Certan - savory, soy sauce, smooth and velvety on the palate.  Very nice.

    1986 Climens - lots of plastic, honey, dates, orange blossom water, apricot on the nose.  Sweet but slightly bitter finish.  Beautiful.

    1981 Beaucastel - very smoky, burnt rubber, manure, brett.

    2000 Beaucastel - minty, forest, berries, jammy, with a hint of sharpness.  Good concentration and there are still tannins here.

    2005 Clos des Papes - really sweet and jammy, with lots of forest, pine needle and cedar.  Syrupy.  Opened up nicely.

    After the auction, I attended a birthday celebration dinner of a friend at the Hong Kong Club.  The birthday girl was kind enough to serve us something from her vintage.  Not quite the Macallan M perhaps, but very small nonetheless.

    1974 The Clan Denny Cameronbridge 38 Year Old - initially this was like paint thinner, but also heavy with sweet vanilla, some marmalade and a hint of smokiness.

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  • 01/23/14--07:31: Oompa Lupa
  • Drew pinged me early in the morning, letting me know that he's in town again.  Normally he hangs out with the head honcho of an auction house whenever he's around, and I've failed to catch him the last few times he has been in Hong Kong.  But this time around his buddy ditched him and went to drink wine with some local tycoons instead, so I happily stepped up as the backup option.  Drew and I used to work together two decades ago - during the last century - and it was good to catch up after a long time.

    Since it only popped up this morning and Drew claims he no longer knows Hong Kong, not surprisingly I had a tough time figuring out where to go on a Thursday night.  I called a couple of places I wanted to check out, and in the end settled on Lupa despite their strange corkage policy.

    I had never been to Lupa despite it being a high-profile Batali outlet.  The place opened during my absence from Hong Kong, and even when I moved back I had little desire to go.  Every single friend whose palate I trust panned this place.  I'm also pretty ambivalent about Batali's local partners, since they opened lots of mediocre restaurants that don't exactly excite me.  And the general feedback was "Carnevino is better than Lupa".  'Nuff said.

    But hey, Lupa's a pretty big place and I doubt they were gonna fill up all 200 seats.  Sure enough, I was told that walk-ins would be OK when I called them.  So I walked over with some trepidation...

    We thought about the pasta tasting for a split second, but decided to do à la carte instead.

    Parmigiana - it's been years since I last had something like this.  Nice to see it swimming in grease... I guess this was OK.

    Mezzelune ai porcini - I stared at my plate for a few seconds when it arrived, blinked a few times, and no, I didn't see any more pasta magically appear in front of me.  Drew and I kinda chuckled at how small my portion was compared to his duck pasta.  Maybe I got half a plate since I was smaller than him?  Taste-wise this was pretty good... lots of shroomy porcini goodness.

    Delizia al limone - after that tiny pasta, I figured I owed it to myself to get some dessert!  I was imagining more of a tarte citron but got this warm tart instead... I guess it was OK.  The nougatine was pretty bland, and I gave up after 2 bites.

    Drew wanted some cheese and ordered Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  After a while I noticed that he had only had about half of the Parmigiano and barely touched the Pecorino.  I was curious, so I picked up a little bit of both.  Well, the Parmigiano was a little bland, to be honest... but the Pecorino was FOUL!  I'm almost tempted to use the word rancid to describe how it tasted in my mouth.  Blegh!

    But at least I brought my own wine!  My office cupboard was unusually empty, and I was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with these... Oh, and why do restaurants charge more corkage for Champagne?!

    Jacques Selosse V.O. (dégorgée le 3 Octobre 2007) - very oxidized and ripe, kinda sweet on the nose, Chinese water chestnut and sugar cane water (竹蔗茅根水), Chinese licorice, minerals.  Still lively and has a long way to go.

    1990 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses en demi-bouteille - opened for 45 minutes before serving, not decanted.  Forest, berries, dried herbs, leather, opened nicely, animal.  Drinking nicely but no "wow" factor.

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  • 01/23/14--21:48: The new and healthier Harlan
  • It's the last Friday before Lunar New Year, and I decided to take the team out for lunch.  Our little fund launched just about a year ago, and it seemed like an appropriate time to gather the troops and thank everyone for their hard work.  I asked the guys to pick a place, and was a little surprised when the reservation was made at Gold by Harlan Goldstein... instead of Tsui Wah (翠華).  I guess this was their way of telling me that they wanted to be fed good stuff!

    We got there pretty early, and I spotted a somewhat familiar figure in the distance.  Of course it was Harlan, but the newer, slimmer version.  We had both been on separate slim-down programs, and I had missed the chance to attend the charity dinner last year celebrating his win in Summer Slim Slam.  So this was the first time we had seen each other in months.  I went up to say hello and was greeted with a bear hug.

    We needed to get out quickly as the stock market only had a 1-hour lunch break, so we went for the set lunch.  I went and grabbed some raw veggies, salumi and marinated mixed veggies to start.

    "Melt in your mouth" Scottish salmon, seafood bisque orzo, chorizo, squids and black ink aioli - I initially wanted some pasta, but Harlan highly recommended this salmon and I figured he's never done me no wrong.  So the whole team went for this lighter and healthier option.

    And sure enough, this was melt-in-your-month as Harlan promised.  The salmon was lightly poached - or was it cooked "sous vide"? - and was incredibly tender.  The orzo in seafood bisque was very yummy, and I've always loved the texture of orzo as it yielded a little to the pressure from my teeth.  The chorizo added some kick to the flavors, and that black ink aioli...  Yum.

    The coffee gelato was very yummy, and I loved the crunch that was sprinkled on top.  I decided to only finish half, as I probably didn't need the full hit of calories... and I'd just had my second espresso of the day and didn't need more caffeine.  I was actually tempted to pour my espresso on top of the coffee gelato... but that would have been a little too much!

    This was a pretty good hit-and-run lunch.  I'd been missing Harlan's food while I was on my diet, and I guess I need to come back and get my fix...

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  • 01/25/14--07:57: Be good to yourself
  • Some time very late last night - or in the wee hours this morning - I made a decision to take a "me day" today.  Once in a while, it's good to take some time out and make yourself happy,  since - as the song goes - "Be good to yourself, nobody else will".

    It's been a while since I last made a major purchase, and I've had my eye on a certain camera body (and a lens) to meet my photography needs.  So I made my way into town in the afternoon and pulled the trigger.

    With my new toys in the bag, there was no time like the present to take them for a test run... in another city!  I strolled over to the ferry terminal and hopped on the next available ferry to Macau.  I figured I'd stroll around Macau, turn on the camera's GPS for some geo-tagging, and grab some food while I'm at it.

    I was talking to Mo' Unni yesterday about the joys of solo dining, and decided that it's been too long since I asked for a "table for one" at a fine dining establishment.  I'd made a couple of trips to Macau over the last few years, as KC's "plus one" at the invitation of Hotel Lisboa.  One place that we never visited together - and one place I still hadn't been to - was Don Alfonso 1890.  So this was an itch I finally decided to scratch today.

    I walked up to the restaurant's reception with no reservation and asked for a table.  Not surprisingly, the restaurant was mostly empty, so they had no trouble seating me.  I was handed the menu and asked for the wine list.  As is always the case at the Lisboa, I spent much, much more time combing through the wine list than I did on the menu.  I first had to find a suitable half-bottle for myself, before having my choice of wine dictate the food I was going to order.

    Henry the sommelier apologized and informed me that the wine I chose was tucked away in one of their cellars, and it would take at least 15 minutes for them to fetch the bottle.  I told him that I'd had the pleasure of visiting their cellar, and had an idea of how things worked there.  I was in no hurry to be anywhere else.

    The waitress brought over an amuse bouche of tuna tartare and salmon roe, but I was busy fiddling with my new toys.  It took me a minute or two to come to my senses, and I informed the staff that I don't eat tuna.  Salvatore Scarpino, the manager, was quick to offer a replacement.

    Eggplant Parmesean rediscovered - Salvatore brought a copy of Chef Alfonso Iaccarino's eponymous book so he could show me that this was the dish chosen for the book's cover.  But there seems to be some discrepancy between how the stylized dish looked and what the real thing in front of me looked like...

    What I had in front of me looked much simpler... but maybe it's because it's only an amuse bouche and not a full portion...  The flavors, though, were all there.  Eggplant, warm and soft mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil coulis...  A pretty good start.

    Home-made scallops gnocchi on a layer of black ink sauce with sea urchins and celery shoots - I was kinda curious about how one would make gnocchi out of scallops, but the mystery was solved when the dish arrived.  These weren't real gnocchi at all... they were baby scallops that looked like little lumps of gnocchi because of their size.  The scallops, sea urchin and the squid from which the ink came all came from Hokkaido.

    Linguine with red prawns - this wasn't on the menu, but I was told that these Sicilian gambero rosso were available and could be made with pasta.  I asked for linguine and Salvatore made sure the kitchen would do it a little al dente.

    Such a simple dish - prawns, cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil...etc with pasta.  Flavors were all there.  Nice presentation, too.  Perfect example of what a good restaurant near the coast from the Sorrentine Peninsula would offer.

    I needed a little dessert, and Salvatore started by recommend items which would complement the flavors of my wine.  However, I was more interested in having something a little unusual or creative.  But first, a little pre-dessert...

    Raspberries with yogurt foam - the raspberries are accompanied by a sweet raspeberry soup, along with strips of mint leaves.  Acidity from the yogurt foam balances things out.  Very nice.

    Home-made chestnut ravioli in pomegranate juice and persimmon - definitely a little unusual.  I wasn't expecting the undercooked ravioli"skin", and it definitely had lots of bite.  The combination of sweet chestnut paste in the ravioli, together with bits of candied chestnut sprinkled around and the slightly acidic pomegranate juice... Flavors of the fall season.

    I also checked out the nice spread at the petit fours bar, including this tasty little amaretti...

    ...and a cute chocolate lollipop.

    With delicious food one needs an equally delicious wine, and there's no better wine list to choose from than the one at Hotel Lisboa.  Once again it was difficult to ignore the amazing selection of German Rieslings...

    1976 Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, from half bottle - nose of polyurethane, plastic, honey, marmalade, nutty, apricot, minerals.  Wonderful and soft on the palate thanks to the maturity, with mellow acidity and slightly bitter finish.  Round and slightly thick texture, which feels so nice on the tongue.  The finish was a little shorter than expected, and perhaps needs to be sure that the wine is drunk relatively cold.  Lovely dark amber color.  Yummy.  Worked really well to neutralize the strong "fishy" flavors of sea urchin.

    A very happy and satisfying day.  I walked around a little, testing my new toy on the bright neon lights of this town before taking a late ferry back to Hong Kong.

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    I was running about an hour late for lunch, thanks to unscheduled delays while meeting a prospective client.  So when I finally arrived at Man Wah (文華廳) and sat down, Tigger and family had already gone through the dim sum items... and had very kindly saved me a couple of things.  I dug in immediately.

    Roast goose puff with yanmin sauce (仁棯燒鵝酥) - hmmm... other than coming in a very cute goose-shaped pastry, I didn't find this very special.  Honestly, if you told me it's a barbecued pork puff (叉燒酥) I would have believed you...

    Golden taro puff, abalone (蜂巢鮑魚盒) - too bad this had gotten somewhat cold by the time I got to it... would have been so much yummier.

    Roast pork belly (脆皮五層腩) - always nice, even if it's cold.

    Organic bean curd, black mushrooms (紅燒有機豆腐)

    Pea shoots in superior broth (上湯浸豆苗)

    Baked green crabmeat, cheese, sweet corn, pomelo, crab shell (芝士粟米焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - Tigger insisted that I try out this dish, claiming this to be "the best in Hong Kong".  That's a pretty bold claim, although I must confess that I haven't eaten nearly all the crab shells on offer in town.  My favorite has long been the one served at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), so how did this stack up?

    Pretty good, but not the best in my book.  There were a few kernels of corn but I didn't detect any pomelo.  There was a ton of crab meat, and the whole thing was topped with cheese and baked au gratin - this made the dish a little too heavy for me.  The reason the FLM version wins in my book is because it's got a good portion of onions, came with a flour/breadcrumb crust, and one could pour on some Worcestershire sauce and cut the richness with some acidity.

    At around twice the price of the FLM version, this was certainly a pricey dish, although with a lot more crab meat here it may yet be a value proposition, relatively speaking...

    Fried glutinous rice, preserved meat (生炒臘味糯米飯) - pretty decent, but as Grandma Bear says, the FLM version is still the best.

    Egg tartlet (酥皮雞蛋撻)

    Bean curd pudding served in wooden bucket (原桶即撞豆腐花) - pretty good, and the taste of soy beans was a little stronger today.

    The petit fours here have always been nicely presented... and don't taste too bad, either!

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  • 01/26/14--07:20: Lil' ol' chapels
  • We usually do our MNSC annual dinner in January, and I'm thankful yet again that I don't have to play the role of organizer.  Given the boys'recent experience with a bottle of ex-château La Chapelle from an older vintage, the gang decided to do a vertical of the famed wine.  However, due to budget constraints we weren't able to include the legendary 1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle in the lineup.  My attempts to persuade Altaya Wines to give the MNSC members a 50% discount fell on deaf ears...

    As the budget seemed a little tight - and I'm not about to get into an argument on this topic - we decided to forgo dining at a fancy restaurant.  Instead we gathered in the Grill Room at the Hong Kong Country Club, which I guess isn't bad as far as club food goes.

    Vichyssoise of cauliflower with honey, steamed langoustines and buckwheat pancake - I never see vichyssoise on the menus at places I frequent, as I guess it's too low-brow... So I jumped at the chance to have this even though it's not exactly warm weather.  LOVED IT.  Creamy, rich and smooth.  Wonderful texture that was thick enough without being in overkill territory.  Chunks of langoustines were hidden in the bowl, and they were naturally savory with that sweetness which can only be from fresh seafood.

    The only complaint I have is that I wasn't given any utensils with which to crack the claws, so I couldn't get to the meat inside.

    Roasted French Bresse pigeon with ceps mushroom cannelloni, spinach purée and sautéed potatoes cocotte - Syrah and pigeon just make the perfect combination, as was evident from this dinner 3 years ago.  This was pretty nicely done... as the flesh was still somewhat pink and not too well done.  A little more rare and you'd start seeing blood oozing out.  Very yum.  That cannelloni stuffed with ceps was pretty tasty, too.

    Dry aged USDA Prime rib eye steak - we shared 2 servings of this, which still came out to be a reasonable-sized piece of meat for each of us.  Yes, it was done pretty rare, but I thought it was just about perfect.

    Crêpes Suzette and almond pancake - I would have chosen far breton myself, but we ended up sharing these.  Not bad.

    Before getting to the vertical of La Chapelle, we started with a couple of extra bottles.  The bubbly was donated by our incoming secretary, while the "mystery wine" was generously donated by our champion.

    1996 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - really fresh and vibrant, delicious, ripe on the palate with great acidity balance, with a nice, long finish.

    1959 Vogüé Bonnes-Mares - obviously very old with tons of sediment, but color is still deep with no visible amber at the rims.  Lots of leather, still powerful on the palate.  Very savory nose with black olives and minerals.  Amazing condition for a wine of this age.

    First flight:  opened just before serving
    1962 Jaboulet La Chapelle - really lovely.  A little farmy, grilled meats, bacon, blackcurrant, along with a hint of dustiness.  After 2 hours lots of coffee came out in the nose.  96 points.

    1964 Jaboulet La Chapelle - really beautiful.  Wonderful and open nose, with plenty of bacon fat, really sweet fruit, lots of forest and potpourri.  After 2 hours there were also coffee notes.  98 points.  Wine of the evening.

    1976 Jaboulet La Chapelle - really sweet, vanilla, a hint of star anise, forest, ripe fruit.  Lots of concentration here on the palate.  95 points.

    Second flight:  decanted for 2 3/4 hours before serving
    1983 Jaboulet La Chapelle - beautiful floral nose with violet, bacon fat, lots of sweet fruit, leather, mint, pine needle, forest and dried herbs.  After 3 3/4 hours lots of pine needle in the nose.  A stunning wine to drink tonight.  98 points.

    1989 Jaboulet La Chapelle - drank after 4 hours.  Very ripe and concentrated, a little chalky and a little sharp.

    1990 Jaboulet La Chapelle - nose was pretty closed.  Chalky, forest notes.  Very concentrated.

    Much like my experience from the La Chapelle dinner hosted by Sotheby's last time, my favorite wine of the evening was the 1964, which was just incredibly beautiful.  Likewise the 1990 was once again shut and inaccessible, and both times the wine had spent extended periods of time in the decanter.  I guess I'll need to wait another 5 to 10 years before drinking the bottles in my collection...

    A fantastic evening just before going on holiday during the Lunar New Year.  Here's to more good food and good wine in the Year of the Horse!

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  • 01/28/14--07:31: In the presence of greatness
  • There are a few people I haven't seen for a couple of months, and someone's been asking me to organize a dinner together.  After looking around for interesting places to eat, I figured we could do any of the three restaurants run by Kazuo Okada, and put it to the group for a vote.  Not surprisingly, Messina came out the winner.  I was also not surprised that no one voted for the Shanghainese restaurant with the macaron...

    I'd never been to Messina and was looking forward to try it, after my first experience with Kazuo Okada.  I decided that I wouldn't arrange anything special in terms of food, and would let everyone decide for themselves.  After checking to make sure that we didn't all have to order the same set menu if one of us did, I ended up ordering à la carte... and taking one course more than I should have...

    The kitchen sent us an amuse bouche, which was a seared scallop with grapefruit and green apple on top.

    This was when I first realized that I was in the presence of greatness.

    The waiter/captain came over to introduce the amuse bouche, and I was first told that it was grape and green apple on top of the scallop.   I asked him again to confirm, and that was when he told me it was grapefruit and green apple.

    HELLO?!  Grape and grapefruit are not the same thing.  They don't look remotely similar, nor do they taste the same.  It's very, very obvious - by taking a look at what's on the plate - that it was wedges of pink grapefruit.  W-T-F...

    Sardine in Beccafico : terrine of sardines, Bronte pistachio, piquillos peppers, baby fennels and spearmint - this was delicious, and definitely a surprise on the upside.  The terrine was smooth while one could still feel a little of the sardine's texture, and the bits of pistachio added crunch.  One could taste the sardines but the flavors weren't overpowering, and the acidity of the pickled piquillos worked nicely here.  The chunks of mint jelly on the side provided a mild sweet flavor.  Overall this was a good start.

    Maccheroncini al ragu' :  maccheroncini "Martelli", roasted suckling pig and Culatello di Zibello ragout, Taggiasche olives and piquillo peppers, roasted eggplants and Pantelleria's capers - pretty tasty, and the maccheroncini was pretty al dente.  I would choose a pork ragout pasta any day, and there was never any doubt which primi I would pick from the list.  Our captain told me that there was "sundried tomato powder" on top, but by this time I no longer believed him.

    Maialino croccante : crispy suckling pig, braised DOP Castellucio lentils and Tropea onions marmellade - no points for guessing that I'd pick suckling pig... again.  Suckling pig is always yummy, and this one was slow-cooked for 12 hours, but this was a little disappointing.  Apparently the chef wanted to make a "healthy" version and decided to remove most of the fat under the crackling.  So while the meat was tender, it was just a tad on the dry side, and generally just seemed to be missing something.  The lentils, onion marmalade and pork jus reduction all complemented the pig well.

    Initially I told myself that choosing 3 savory courses meant I was skipping dessert, but that wasn't really gonna happen... was it?!

    We had a pre-dessert of Sicilian green apple sorbet, mandarin jelly and mint chocolate powder.  I couldn't figure out what the jelly was made with, so I asked our all-knowing captain.  At first he said it was peach, and seconds later he told me it was mandarin.  Wow... WTF again.  So was it peach or mandarin?!  In the end, I still couldn't figure out by taste alone.

    Agrumi di Sicilia : textures of Sicilian blood oranges, lemons and Miyagawa mandarins - the main part of the dessert had a lemon panna cotta, a blood orange wafer, and mandarin wedges.

    There was also a delicious blood orange sorbet.

    Gotta say I was pretty full after all this...

    I figured we oughta make it an Italian night in terms of wine, so I started by letting the gang know what I was bringing, and hoped to set the tone.  I think we did pretty well...  We ended up having almost every decade covered from the fifties to the noughties...

    2004 Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux - ripe on the palate.  A little grassy, lemon, flinty, sweet.  Opened up very nicely.

    Jacques Selosse Version Originale - very ripe on the nose and palate.  Caramelized sugar and a little salty plum in the nose.

    1999 Gaja Gaia and Rey - really ripe and sweet on the nose, with plenty of vanilla, and a little toasty oak.  Wonderfully buttery once it opened up.

    1952 Borgogno Barolo Riserva - minty, pine needle, a little alcoholic at first, smoky, tar, and plummy.  Not bad at all.

    1964 Mascarello Barolo Riserva - much more plummy, sweeter, leather, lots of pine needle, potpourri, dried herbs, almost a hint of coffee, a little savory soy sauce and minerals.  Drinking beautifully.

    1971 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - served 30 minutes after opening.  A little savory, still young and tight, alcoholic, minty.  After 1½ hours opened up a little more, showing farmy and leather notes, but the acidity had gotten too high.  Based on the Specialist's last experience with another bottle from the same lot purchased at auction (but drawn from a different original carton), it was recommended that we just open and pour.  I guess after tonight I've learned that a bottle in pristine condition needs a wee bit more aeration.  The bottle was too tight at first, but later on the nose and acidity just became disjointed.  I guess I have a few more bottles to experiment with.

    2004 Tua Rita Redigaffi - decanted for 3 hours before drinking.  A total fruit bomb with tons of coconut butter, vanilla, a little coffee, jammy, really sweet and exotic.

    This was a really enjoyable evening.  The food was pretty tasty, and we had lots of good wine and good company.  The service was fairly attentive as we were one of only three tables for the evening - and the largest party by far.  It's just too bad that the captain plainly didn't know his stuff...

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  • 02/01/14--06:23: The North Shore
  • I'm back in Taiwan spending Lunar New Year with the parental units, and the weather has been absolutely incredible for the last few days.  I can't recall the last time when the sun was out for such an extended period of time during the holidays, and it's so warm that I'm actually comfortable in a single layer of cotton - and short sleeve!  Naturally dad didn't want to spend the weekend cooped up at home, and decided we should take a trip outside the city.

    Taiwan's a beautiful place once you leave the cities, but I've never had a lot of opportunity to see what's beyond Taipei city limits.  So dad figured we'd circle around the northern coast of Taiwan, skirting along the coastline so we could take in the view.  He also thought it'd be best if we did it counter-clockwise as it gets us the best views.

    We set off late morning-ish, and encountered traffic jam not long after leaving the parental home.  We knew there would be a lot of people heading out of the city, but this was ridiculous.  We were stuck on the highway even before we reached the Nankang Tunnel, and there were 2 other long tunnels between us and Hsuehshan Tunnel.

    But we did finally reach the Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道), the longest road tunnel in Taiwan and the 5th longest in the world at over 12.9 km.  Surprisingly there was no traffic jam once we entered the tunnel, although the speed of the traffic was moderate.  It took us exactly 17½ minutes to travel the entire length.

    Once we emerged on the other side, it was past noon and about time for lunch.  Not knowing what would be open along the way during the Lunar New Year holidays, we decided to stop along the main street of Toucheng (頭城) and just grab whatever was open.  This resulted in a few surprising choices.

    We're in Yilan County, famous throughout Taiwan for Sanxing scallions (三星蔥), among other things.  So naturally we'd have to have some scallion pancakes (蔥油餅).  I picked up Shunfa (舜發三星蔥油餅), which is really just a stall in front of a local souvenir shop.  There seemed to be a line of people waiting, and someone whose blog I've come across had reviewed this, so I guess it was OK...

    A few minutes later I decided to pick up another one just a few doors down from the 7-11 on the same road, and do a side-by-side comparison.

    The one from Shunfa (on the left) was deep-fried in a shallow pool of oil, which meant it was crispier on the outside from higher heat.  However, there was very little scallion in the dough, and as a result relied much more on the optional pepper seasoning and/or chili sauce for flavor.  The other pancake (on the right) was cooked a la plancha where the cook ladled on spoonfuls of oil periodically.  The texture was a little soggier, but this was also partially due to the abundance of scallion filling inside.  The scallions also meant this version was significantly more salty, and more traditional in flavor.

    Dad wanted a place to sit down and eat, so after passing by a couple of open eateries, we ended up at... the local 7-11.  In Taiwan every 7-11 has either counter or table seating, or both.  I picked up a few pieces of oden (おでん) while the parental units got their daily coffee.  And that was our lunch venue.

    While I lined up for the scallion pancakes, the parental units noticed a long line at the ice cream shop nearby, so they lined up for some taro ice from Ajon Babu (阿宗芋冰城).  Babu (叭撲) is the traditional Taiwanese-style ice, which is smooth and a little more watery compared to dairy ice cream.  Basic package here gets you three different flavors, and taro, peanut and red bean was chosen.  Unfortunately I didn't grow up on babu and actually prefer ice cream, so I found this a little bland.  My first couple of spoonfuls were so bland I wasn't sure what I was tasting... I needed to take in a few chunks of peanuts and red beans to distinguish them.

    I also picked up a charcoal-grilled boar sausage (手工野豬香腸) from the stall next to Shunfa.  There were many chunks of fat inside, but I guess it was still within my acceptable limits.  After all, I have eaten street food in Sukhothai where I thought the sausage was made with mystery meat and probably had about 15% meat, tops...

    We needed to get a move on, so we follow the coastline closely, stopping occasionally for the wonderful views.  The sun was coming down strong and the skies were blue, and all along the rocky coast we saw people fishing and hunting for seafood as we headed north.

    Conditions changed drastically once we went past Sandiaojiao Cape (三貂角), and I saw this wall of fog rolling in, creating a massive whiteout.  For the next hour the coastline kinda disappeared from view...

    The final destination for today was Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園), and thanks to an unforeseen traffic jam where it took us more than half an hour to get out of a tunnel, we arrived about a half hour too late in terms of the perfect light for photography. Dusk was already beckoning.

    The main attraction here is the Queen's Head (女王頭) - a rock formation that has seen centuries of erosion into what looks like the head of a queen.  Needless to say everyone wanted to take a picture of (or with) it, so we had to line up for it.  Unfortunately the park staff couldn't stop visitors from going around different sides of the rock, so it's near impossible to not have other tourists in your picture...

    The sun has sunk below the horizon, and we had snapped the pictures we wanted.  Mom decided to walk through the row of souvenir shops, and we picked up a few packs of seafood and other snacks.  We also passed by a stall selling street food where the oysters looked pretty fresh, so mom made the decision to sit down and grab dinner.

    The oyster omelette (蚵仔煎) wasn't too bad - it certainly was better than the average version one gets in Taipei.  In any case, I tend not to complain too much about something that cost me only USD 2...

    Whitebait soup (魩仔魚) - I don't normally see this, so I ordered it to try it out.  Gotta say it was a little bland... a little too much starch, and needed a little more vinegar and minced garlic.  But I really do love whitebait.

    Fried rice (炒飯) - this was a fantastic example of Taiwanese fried rice done at high heat a la plancha.  Individual rice grains remained loose, a little dry and chewy, and plenty of yummy goodness.

    I also had some fried rice vermicelli (炒米粉) that mom ordered, since she didn't care for the big dollop of braised pork belly bits (滷肉) on top.  But that just happens to be my favorite...

    It's a real shame we didn't get to Yehliu earlier, as we could easily have spent a couple of hours walking around and seeing things while there was still plenty of light.  I guess I'll just need to come back early in the morning another day...

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    We've been having fantastically good weather in northern Taiwan lately, and as I've got my new toy with me, I decided to take 2 short trips outside Taipei within the space of 12 hours.  I wanted to re-shoot 2 attractions under better lighting conditions.

    After dinner last night, I grabbed my camera bag and took the slow train up to Keelung.  I saw Florentijn Hofman's rubber ducky on a gray and dreary day in December, so the pictures didn't look that great.  I also think that Keelung's an ugly city and the wrong setting for Ducky, and always thought Ducky would look much better at night.

    Sure enough, Ducky looked radiant against the black of the night.

    And most of the ugly buildings are no longer visible in the darkness, leaving just a few lights in the background.

    I was really happy to see Ducky again, especially after the mishap on New Year's Eve.  The one regret I have is that I never got the chance to wear my Rubber Duck Project T-shirt from Hong Kong while visiting Ducky.  It was too cold in December, and although it's been warm these couple of days, I had unfortunately left the shirt in Hong Kong...

    On this visit, I was also reminded of a certain scumbag named Jerry Fan (范可欽), who was originally hired as part of the strategic planning team but subsequently dismissed when he began infringing on Hofman's IP rights.  This shameless scumbag soiled the reputation of the Taiwanese people, and it was sad to see the outline of another yellow inflatable bird in the distance...

    I passed up the opportunity to snack at the night market and took the train back.  It was almost midnight when I got back to Taipei, so I headed off to bed quickly as I needed to get up early in a few hours...

    My alarm went off before sunrise, and I dragged my ass out of bed, cleaned myself up, and went off to the bus terminus near my apartment.  Yes, I'm taking the 6:30 a.m. bus north... so I can be back at Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園) just after it opens at 7:30 a.m.  I didn't get to spend enough time there two days ago, and I definitely want a few pictures without all the annoying tourists around.

    As I got off the bus around 7:40 a.m. and was walking the few hundred meters to the park entrance, at least 3 tour buses drove past me, loaded with Mainland Chinese tourists.  Damn!  I should have gotten on the 6:15 bus... Damn! Damn! Damn!

    Fortunately, the groups of tourists were bogged down by their guides explaining this and that, so I ran past them towards my top priority... and found there were only 5 people in front of me lining up... and no annoying ants in the background!!!  Yes, I refer to tourists as ants, because when they show up en masse in my pictures the black dots often look like a swarm of ants...

    So I got the shot that I came for... the Queen's Head (女王頭) looking majestic all by herself!  I'm glad I came to see her on this trip, because her neck has been eroding at a pace of around 2cm per year over the last few years.  At some point in the not-to-distant future, without any intervention, her neck is bound to snap under the disproportionate weight of her head...

    Mission accomplished, I then strolled around and spent time exploring the rest of the geopark.  There was a diverse range of rock formations to look at, and all pretty interesting.

    Because of the inevitable, the park has chosen a successor to the Queen, and the public voted to name her Cute Princess (俏皮公主).  Like the Queen, she is made of mushroom rock (蕈狀岩).

    There were also others known as ginger rock (薑石), as they look like old ginger roots.

    Then there were these candle shaped rock (燭台石), which were also pretty cool.

    This was an interesting day for me, and the morning light was perfect for photography.  Unfortunately my visit was marred by the swarm of Mainland Chinese tourists, many of whom were simply uncouth.  They just didn't have any manners, and were never taught the value and importance of preserving natural or cultural heritage.  All they care about was having their picture taken at scenic spots, and it didn't matter if they had to climb on top of some rock and damage it in the process.  The very act of them enjoying themselves resulted - in a very small way - in preventing someone in the future from enjoying the same view they were having.

    I blame their upbringing - both at home and at school.  But I also blame the local tour guides and taxi drivers who are taking them around sightseeing.  When a tourist starts climbing on top of rocks in a park like this, it's the responsibility of the tour guides to ask them to stop, and to explain to them the reason behind it.  If the Mainland Chinese tourists are uneducated, then it's up to us to educate them.  Alas, the tour guides only have dollar signs in their eyes, and are all too afraid of offending their clients.  They are afraid of not getting a tip from the Chinese, and so they stand by while today's clients commit acts which damage the very attractions which are meant to draw in future clients.  It's pure shortsightedness.

    Well, I did end up telling a few Mainland tourists to get off the rocks.  I'm not gonna stand around and watch these people destroy treasures that belong to the public.

    After strolling around for more than an hour, I kinda got hungry so I sat down to enjoy a bowl of cuttlefish bisque (魷魚羹).  This was the more traditional version, made with cuttlefish paste molded around a tentacle instead of whole slices of cuttlefish.  Like the whitebait version 2 days ago, this could have used a little more seasoning...

    Time to head back home on the bus.  And waddaya know... I stepped some dog shit while asking for directions.  Today's the fourth day of the Lunar New Year, and according to popular belief this means I'll get rich ("gold" is euphemism for "dog shit" in Chinese) and have good luck for the year.  YES!!!

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  • 02/05/14--07:59: Day trip south
  • It's been 2 years since I last saw my friend B in Shanghai, and she's been away from her Swiss home for a long time.  This time I'm seeing her in her hometown Kaoshiung, and I finally have a local showing me around.  I've only ever been to Kaoshiung on short business trips so this would be my first chance to do some sightseeing.

    I took the high speed rail down and changed to the local subway to meet up with B for lunch.  She was taking me to Old Tsai's Milkfish Congee (老蔡虱目魚粥) for some local eats.  We arrived kinda late and some of the items had already sold out...

    Braised milkfish belly with pineapple (滷鳳梨豆醬魚肚) - all the fresh bellies were sold out, so we had to settle for the braised version, done in a light soy bean sauce with cooked pineapple.  Milkfish is classic local fare here, so we're definitely doing as locals do.  Very soft and tender.

    Fried bean curd puff (油豆腐)

    Shrimp roll (蝦卷) and sausage (香腸) - the shrimp roll was OK, but I loooove Taiwanese sausage for their sweetness.

    Oysters (蚵仔)

    Mixed fish soup (綜合魚肉湯) - interesting this has pork and oysters, but nice and light with seafood goodness.

    Chicken rice (雞肉飯) - Taiwanese chicken rice is made with shredded lean meat and doused with a sauce made with chicken fat.  I usually prefer rice with minced pork (滷肉飯), but this is more the norm down south.

    We also had some veggies like cauliflower and water spinach (空心菜).  Since they kinda ran out of water spinach, they decided to mix in some sweet potato leaves (番薯葉).  As is typical in Taiwan, the restaurant ladled on some braised minced pork (滷肉).

    This was a lot of food, but the weather was warm, we were down south, and we had to have some traditional shaved ice (剉冰)!  So we walked a few blocks to a place I've visited once before - the famous Po Po Ice (高雄婆婆冰).

    I prefer the more traditional toppings instead of all these mango and fresh fruits, so I chose the eight treasure shaved ice (八寳冰).  You got your grass jelly (仙草), glutinous rice balls, red azuki beans (紅豆), kidney beans (大紅豆), sweet potato balls (地瓜圓), tapioca balls (粉圓) and other goodies.  This was perfect, although my stomach almost reached the bursting point after I finished this...

    With my belly on the verge of bursting, it was time to do some sightseeing!  B decided to start by taking me to the Pier 2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區), which I think is still pretty new.  This used to include a pier and warehouses storing sugar and other dried goods, and you can see the network of interconnecting railroad tracks running through the area.  The warehouses were abandoned for years, and restoration work started in the early part of the last decade.  I'm still seeing additional warehouses being renovated and converted into either art exhibition space or food and beverage outlets.  There was even a Star Trek exhibit!

    This pair of figures appear all over the entire area, and different artists paint over them much like the way CowParade is done.  You can see this pays homage to both the industrial as well as the agricultural elements of the region.

    After looking at one of the current art exhibits, we stroll along one of the railroad tracks towards the Love Pier (真愛碼頭), with views of Kaoshiung Harbor and landmarks like Tuntex Sky Tower.  We cross the river and briefly stop by the Holy Rosary Cathedral Minor Basilica (玫瑰聖母聖殿主教座堂), whose history dates back to 1859 and the present structure was constructed in 1929.  Considering the era when this was first built, it's weathered the times amazingly well.

    We needed to move on to our next destination, so we flagged down a taxi and headed to the British Consul Residence at Takao (打狗英國領事館), which sits on top of a hill overlooking Siziwan (西子灣) and all of the Port of Kaoshiung.  The historical consulate is actually on flat land near the port, and this brick structure was really the residence, but for decades there was confusion and the hilltop residence was thought to be the consulate.

    Part of the building now houses historical documents and photographs on the history of the port, which had originally been named Takao (竹林) in the aboriginal language, and was later phonetically translated by the Hokkien Chinese as 打狗.  After the Japanese occupation, the name was again phonetically translated in Japanese as Takao (高雄).  At the end of WWII, the Chinese characters of the name remained, but in Chinese the name would become Kaohsiung.

    We need a place to sit down and relax, and got ourselves a table at the Rose House (古典玫瑰園) on the second floor of the consulate building.  It was getting a little late and we eventually got a table out on the covered balcony, which enjoyed great views over the entrance to the Port of Kaoshiung, and chilled out while watching the sun drop below the horizon.

    It was very warm today, so I ordered a pot of rose lychee iced tea (玫瑰荔枝冰茶).  Rose and lychees just naturally go together... just ask Pierre Hermé!  This was actually pretty nice, with some slushy hidden inside the canned lychees.  Slurp.

    Night has fallen over Kaohsiung, and it was time for dinner!  B took us to Ah Chong Seafood (阿忠海產料理), known for serving quality seafood at reasonable prices.  As is customary, we ordered our food right at the entrance where the seafood was either swimming in tanks or laid out on ice, then sat down and waited for the dishes to come.

    First came the cuttlefish, which was blanched, chilled and then served with a sauce that was sweet, sour and a little spicy.

    Next up was the fried vermicelli with pumpkin (南瓜炒米粉), which should have been served last as the carb dish.  This tasted fine, but was just too soggy.

    Sautéed Manila clams (炒海瓜子) were classically done with basil and chili peppers.

    Interestingly, these scallops were cut up, battered and deep-fried along with strips of burdock (牛蒡).  This had to be the biggest surprise tonight, and the yummiest dish.  I just can't get enough of deep-fried burdock, and the deep-fried scallops were pretty good, too.

    The first plate of blanched prawns (海鱸蝦) we got were sent back.  They weren't bad, but they just didn't have the sweet taste of really fresh prawns - they were just bland.  The second batch was much better.

    I love stir-fried bird's nest fern (炒山蘇), especially when it's done with dried whitebait and marinated manjack berries (破布子).  I miss the crunch of the fern.

    Finally there was the steamed garoupa (蒸石斑).  Unfortunately, we didn't get to the fish for a while - since all the food arrived in quick succession - and the fish got overcooked.

    Great food at a great price... that's what Taiwanese cuisine is all about.  But it was getting late and we all needed to go back to our respective homes, so I bid farewell to my big sister B and thanked her for showing me the sights.

    On the way back home, I passed by the Formosa Boulevard Station (美麗島站) on the subway and stopped to check out the interior.  The Dome of Light (光之穹頂) is a beautiful piece of glasswork by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, so I made sure to spend some time here to snap a few shots with my fisheye.

    It was past midnight by the time I got home.  I am ever thankful for the chance to meet up with B, and for the first time I actually got to see a little bit of Kaohsiung.  I really need to get around and see a little more in Taiwan...

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  • 02/11/14--07:46: The cat with white whiskers
  • Tigger spent his birthday out of town, and as it turned out I wasn't the first to take him out for a belated birthday dinner.  It's a big one this year and he was kind enough to treat me when I turned four handle, so of course I had to make sure we went somewhere we would all enjoy.  Out of pure selfishness, though, I passed up Tigger's first choice and chose Amber for the occasion.  After making the reservation, I pinged Chef Richard to let him know that we were coming for this very special occasion.  He was away but left instructions for the team, so we were in good hands...

    It's still the season for black truffles from Périgord, so we picked the "Platinum Menu" and went for it. But first, the classic series of canapés...

    Pita bread with pumpkin purée, black truffle coulis and sunflower seeds - ummm... these look more like pumpkin seeds to me...

    Foie gras lollipops - with beetroot chips and brioche.

    Watermelon with sangria and blood orange peel

    Jamón ibérico croquetas

    The amuse bouche was North Sea crab rolls topped with watermelon and palm heart, with tomato compote and dots of sardine cream and dill.  Very nice combination, and I especially liked the sardine cream.

    Ebisu oyster with foie gras, croûton, Sauternes gelée and marmalade of apple - something extra that the kitchen sent out.  Very light and interesting blend of flavors.

    Kumamoto Queen scallop, marinated with cider vinegar and served raw, curdled cream, Granny Smith apple and black winter truffle - wonderful scallop from Normandy.  The slices of black truffle were almost as thick as the slices of scallop themselves... The acidity of the vinegar and Granny Smith worked wonders.

    There was also a little brioche on the side with another thick slice of black truffle, and some truffle butter.  Guess who inhaled that in half a second?

    Taiyouran egg, stuffed with black winter truffle coulis, croutons and cappuccino of poultry broth - this was served without the broth, revealing the beautiful egg yolk in its full glory.

    Then a hot, rich broth filled the bowl - which was exactly what I needed on this cold winter night.  There were big chunks of black truffles, and later on in the evening I would find myself burping up the wonderful perfume of truffles...

    Line caught turbot, maco artichoke purée, black winter truffle coins and veal bone marrow - interesting that the chef decided to give us a little bit of wing on the side.  Love it that there were medallions of bone marrow here.  There's plenty of artichoke here - between pan-fried artichoke and artichoke purée... and even the sauce is made with artichoke and truffle.

    Brittany abalone, oxtail chips with tomato provençal - another extra from the kitchen, and this was one of the highlights of the meal.  The abalone was very, very nicely done, and the "chips" made with oxtail braised in red wine was just really interesting.  And the tomato provençal initially sounded like a weird combination with the abalone, but together with the oxtail and all it just worked.

    Mieral poularde, breast roasted with black truffles under the skin, young leeks and potatoes - the chicken was moist and tender, but regrettably, this has never been my favorite way to eat chicken... This was too fancy, and I prefer them nicely roasted in a more homey sort of way.  But there was plenty of black truffle to make up for the chicken's shortcomings...

    Leg braised in a black winter truffle 'parmentier' and 'jus gras' - another winter warmer here, with heavier and stronger flavors.

    Carnerolli rice pudding with Bourbon vanilla ice-cream and table-side shaved black winter truffle - I had this at another fantastic lunch last year, and was very happy to have it again.  Yup, this was gone in no time.

    The petits fours tonight looked a little different...

    A special occasion requires a special bottle of wine, and I am most fortunate to be able to call on the MNSC boys for help when there are gaps in my collection.  I am grateful to Curry for his willing to spare a bottle from his cellar.

    R and L Legras Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (bottled for the Landmark Mandarin Oriental) - nice and easy to drink.  A little caramelized, yeasty, and later light toasty notes emerged.  This was a generous gift from Chef Richard.

    1974 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet - pretty toasty and oaky nose, almost nutty and chocolatey.  But this was a mature wine so it was a little softer and not as in-your-face.  Very soft and velvety on the palate, and the finish was a little short.  Still a beautiful wine.

    This was a very good evening, and I'm glad to be able to share a few more special moments with my good friends Mr. and Mrs. Tigger.  But I was a little disappointed that Richard and Sébastien didn't follow through on their promise to charge me double...

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  • 02/13/14--06:54: Partner appreciation day
  • It's been just over a year since our little fund was launched, and we've been lucky to have strong support from our prime brokers since the very beginning.  I've known some of the people for a few years and they've become much more than just service providers - they are our friends and partners.  So after we've achieved two important milestones recently, I extended an invitation to them to join our team for dinner.  I wanted to thank them for all that they've done for us.

    Most of our guests tonight know of my love of food, and there was never any doubt in my mind about where I would host the dinner.  I pinged David more than a month ago to make sure I could take a big group to On Lot 10, and worked out the menu with him a week ago.  I was really, really looking forward to this dinner...

    Jamón ibérico, aged 48 months - pretty yummy.  You can see the specks of protein crystals that come from aging.  Served with pickled peppers and cornichons.

    Salmon roe - the salmon apparently were caught off Sakhalin, which is pretty interesting.  Salted and served on toast with some seaweed butter from Bordier.

    Steamed whole artichoke - I don't think anyone at the table has ever had artichoke this way... and of course I knew that this would get a good share of ooohs and aaahs...

    Soft-boiled egg with escargot, pig's ears, oysters, lardons and mushrooms - all done in red wine sauce.  There's a lot going on here, but I love it.  Epitomizes what I love about David's food - you'll never see it on the menu of a fancy schmancy restaurant, but I'd take this dish any day.

    Salade Lyonnaise - avec lardons!

    Scallop carpaccio with black truffles, beet root and croûtons - yum.

    Boudin Basque - the dish that first put On Lot 10 on my map.  It's hard to say no to this.

    I think the gang was no longer hungry after the series of starters, but there were four mains coming...

    Yellowfin sea bream (黃腳臘) in herb salt crust - this wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but I guess I wasn't more specific when I was discussing with David.  I was more thinking along the lines of this, but I was happy to have the fish salt-baked too.  The flesh of the sea bream was really, really soft and tender.  I'm glad there was only one fish to share among us... and I was rather surprised that No Fish actually ate her portion.

    Carabineros paella - before showing up for dinner, I was most looking forward to the paella as David had mentioned that he had successfully tried to do it with king crab.  So for the last week or so, my head was filled with this image of a giant Alaskan king crab perched on top of a paella pan... and imagining how it looked on the table.  Imagine my disappointment when I was told that they weren't able to secure the crabs for tonight...

    But these guys know how much I loooooove carabineros, and the batch tonight was probably the best I've had.  They were also done mi cuit, so the tomalley in the heads were still raw.  For me this was perfectly executed, and I could have had a half dozen of these...  The rice, though, was a little bit on the soggy side tonight.  My neighbor inhaled his rice so quickly that I had to double check with him to see if he got any...

    Pot au feu - I asked for this because it's perfect for big groups like ourselves, and tonight once again they served it up in two separate pans. There was brisket, ox tongue, ox tail and other yummy cuts of beef, but missing my beloved bone marrow.  What was also missing was the usual whole foie gras, but there was enough black truffle to make it up in the luxe department.  The accompanying veggies like carrots, turnip and leeks were all delicious, as they'd been absorbing the beefy flavors during the cooking process.  Needless to say doggy bags were brought out to pack up what we couldn't finish...

    Beef consommé - how can one not enjoy the essence of everything in those pans?

    Roast Bresse chicken AOP 'Mieral', green pea 'a la française' - my favorite roast chicken.  Tonight the peas were very fresh and crunchy.

    Finally we got the dessert platter to share, and thankfully this wasn't too much.  Most of this went quickly, and everyone had his/her favorites.  One neighbor went for the chocolate mousse while another fancied the raspberry tart, which left the tarte citron for me... Fortunately the cherry crumble also found homes, which left the raspberry mousse feeling somewhat unloved...

    In terms of wine, tonight was a complete failure.  I brought out 4 magnums for the lot of us, only to discover that most people didn't drink...  Soooo disappointing.

    1998 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage Blanc Chevalier de Sterimberg en magnum - initially pretty weak on the nose, perhaps because it was too cold.  Showed slight hint of grass, but later displayed oaky notes.  Body was initially also light but developed with aeration, with decent acidity.

    1995 Vieux Château Certan en magnum - minty, cedary, earthy and smoky.  Drank pretty well.

    Well, at the end of the evening I got everyone fed, and some even had doggy bags to take home to their family members.  I hope everyone else had a good time, because I know I did!  I am thankful for having good partners in the business, and hope to have more opportunities in the future to show our appreciation again.

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  • 02/15/14--23:21: Sake and then some
  • A casual get together to catch up with a couple of friends, and it would be my first chance to try out the dim sum at Seventh Son (家全七福).  I'd heard mixed reviews regarding lunch, so I was pretty excited to see for myself.

    Deep-fried salt water dumplings (家鄉咸水角) - pretty good as I expected.

    Pan-fried cured meat and radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - one look and I knew it was a little too wet and soggy.  When you don't make the effort of drying this out, the radish cake is bound to be too loose and start to come apart even in the wok.  Of course, when I tried picking it up with my chopsticks, the thing just disintegrated.  Taste-wise this was delicious, as they used a higher proportion of real radish - that was very obvious.

    Steamed prawn dumplings with bamboo shoots (har gau, 筍尖鮮蝦餃) - curiously, the wrappers were a little too dry and hard.  Otherwise this was fine.

    Steamed dumpling Chiuchow style (潮州粉果) - over-steamed... the wrapper was too sticky... otherwise tasted fine.

    Steamed honey roast pork buns (char siu bao, 蠔皇叉燒包) - yummy.

    Steamed rice rolls with minced beef (爽滑牛肉腸)

    Steamed pork dumpling with tripe (豬肚燒賣) - this is very old school... a siu mai with just the meatball without wrapper, although pork liver is a more common topping.  I love tripe, so it's not hard for me to like this...

    Roast suckling pig (化皮乳豬件) - not bad, but just can't beat having the whole pig!

    Blanched choy sum (上湯菜心)

    Baked egg yolk and lotus seed paste tart (蛋黃蓮蓉小鳳酥) - baked in the shape of little chicks...

    ...with an egg yolk center surrounded by sweet lotus seed paste.

    Minced beef and egg congee (滑蛋牛肉粥) - very delicious.  The minced beef was nice and tender, and the raw egg mixed into the congee was nice, too.

    Steamed layer cake (鳳凰千層糕)

    My friend was very kind and brought along a very special bottle of sake, even though he knew we probably wouldn't be able to finish it.  It's a good thing that the owner was here with his daughter, so we could offer them a glass of the sake...

    Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku (大七 妙花蘭曲), vintage 2008 - a junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) made using the kimoto (生酛) method and collected by letting it drip naturally (雫), with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50% and a total production of 3,376 bottles.  This was really something.  The nose was pretty rich and full, with plenty of starchy, sticky rice at first, along with tropical fruits like banana and peach.  Very elegant and round on the palate at first, then built up to a pretty strong and dry finish.  Very fragrant and lovely.

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