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A chronicle of all things fun - eating, drinking, traveling... plus the occasional ranting
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    I had no lunch plans today.  Or so I thought.  Hello Kitty was off visiting her old friend, and My Birdbrain Cousin was off doing her own thang... so I was left to my own devices.  I was planning on strolling over to grab my favorite ramen later, and still lying around in the hotel bed, when The Dining Austrian ping me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Soooooo, soooo awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Matcha (抹茶)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The full-length version in 4K is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Can't do without kimchi and pickles...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Daily soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Nice petits fours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And the kitchen certain did the job perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Looking forward to our next session together!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    A foodie friend is swinging through Hong Kong three years after we first met, and we decided to meet for lunch at Seventh Son (家全七福).  This was, of course, my second visit to the restaurant in 4 days, and I was ever so thankful that it wasn't gonna be 5 of us trying to finish off another suckling pig.  With many of my regular "rice feet" being away due to the holiday season, I was pleasantly surprised when we became a table of 10 - with three chefs among us.

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - it's traditional to kick off with the pig, and this was what our visitors - and even Hairy Legs - came for.  It's interesting that once you've got 10 mouths to feed around a table, you suddenly wonder whether there's actually enough pieces of that amazingly crunchy crackling to go around...

    Steamed dumplings with minced pork and shrimp (鳳城蒸粉粿 )

    Steamed prawn dumplings (七福鮮蝦餃)

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

    Fried wontons with crab and chives (韮王炸蟹盒)

    Spring rolls with shredded chicken (雞絲炸春卷)

    Steamed rice rolls with bamboo piths and vegetables (竹笙上素腸)

    Steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce (豉汁蒸排骨) - this seemed to be popular with our visitors.

    Steamed pork dumplings (蟹皇蒸燒賣)

    Stir-fried suckling pig with ginger and spring onions (薑蔥炒乳豬) - at lunch 4 days ago, The Man in White T-shirt was lamenting that the restaurant actually has no "second serving" for their signature suckling pig after we chomp on the crackling - the way restaurants serving Peking duck come up with different ways to deliver the rest of the duck after the skin is taken off.  So we asked the manager to check with the kitchen for a solution.

    And this was what we got.  The rest of the pig - which are normally hand-shredded and then served as-is - was chopped up and stir-fried with ginger, spring onions, and a little soy sauce.  Not bad, I guess...

    Xiaolongbao with crab roe (蟹粉小籠包) - this is a seasonal specialty, so we made sure that our visitors had a chance to try it.  Not bad.

    Deep fried frog legs with garlic and chili (椒鹽田雞腿) - always a good dish to savor here.

    Deep-fried chicken kidney mixed with egg custard (雞子戈渣) - yes, we told our visitors about the interesting ingredient used in this custard... and it ain't no "chicken kidney"...

    Roasted crispy goose (脆皮燒鵝) - I gotta say that this was probably one of the best roast geese I've had.  The skin was thin and crispy, and not at all chewy.  Very, very happy that our visitors got a taste of this.

    Black sesame roll (懷舊芝麻卷) - a playful dessert to share with friends.

    This being a Sunday lunch just before Christmas, it seemed like a good time to pop open a few bottles.  Knowing that Mrs. White T-shirt was joining us, I brought along a special bottle.

    Krug Grande Cuvée, ID 117003 - nice toasty nose with notes of honey.

    2004 Figeac - really fragrant and lovely, with smoke, ripe and sweet fruit, vanilla, coconut, eucalyptus notes.  Later on a little bit of coffee.

    2011 Ponsot Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos des Mont Luisants, en magnum - This was harvested 100 years after the vines were first planted, making the wine truly special.  Beautiful, with lovely, toasty notes.

    2000 Ornellaia Archivio Storico - more concentrated, with heavy smoky notes.

    2014 Los Astrales Astrales - very ripe and jammy nose, stemmy, potpourri, and a little alcoholic.  Very concentrated on the palate.

    We had a good time, and hopefully new friendships were forged over the lunch table.

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  • 12/25/18--07:31: Down to the wire
  • It's Christmas, and that means Pineapple is hosting his MNSC tasting as per the tradition from the last few years.  We were once again back at the I Hate the HandoverHong Kong Club, but thankfully in a private room so that phones and cameras are allowed.  Seeing that it's the holiday season, the kids have been invited to dinner for the first time along with the better halves.

    As has been the case in the past, the fight for last place in the rankings went all the way till the end.  And this year, it didn't come down to just two people... There were actually four of us this year within contention, and any one of us could slip up and end up with the dog bowl...

    Our host kept things simple, and the menu looked pretty much like it had been during the last few iterations.

    Lobster bisque, Brandy, basil - the basil was a surprise.

    Whole poached ocean trout, ginger, shiitake, spring onions - our host always orders up a big fucking ocean trout, and it's always done like a Cantonese steamed fish...  I didn't ask how big the fish was tonight, but as always we've put a dinner fork next to it for scale.

    As usual, this was served with soy sauce and white rice.  Always very tasty.

    Whole roasted American prime beef rib - aaaaaand we've got a nice big hunk of beef here.  Looked pretty beautiful.

    Served with roast potatoes, grilled zucchini, sautéed baby spinach.  This was as good as I remembered.

    Birthday surprise - the black forest cake was very nice.  The kids got to sing Happy Birthday and help blow out the candle.

    Once again, our host was being extra generous with the wines... and it turned out to be a fantastic lineup with a number of gems.

    1985 Pol Roger Brut - very toasty, like sourdough, with salty plum and preserved lemon notes.

    First pair: opened more than 1 hour prior to serving.
    1968 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - sweet fruit with a hint of sweet grass.  Clearly an old vintage with acidity on the palate.  A bit of leather, a little stinky and barnyard, but turned into a perfumed nose without much fruit.  92 points.

    1968 Beaulieu Vineyards George de Latour Private Reserve - a bit of rubber in the nose, minty, black fruits, much more concentrated.  A hint of sweetness on the attack but turns more acidic.  Pretty sweet and exotic nose, and showed some sweet grass later.  97 points.

    Second pair:
    1988 Henri Jayer Echezeaux - opened 2 hours prior to serving.  Sweet and floral, elegant, with a bit of leather. 95 points.

    1988 Mouton-Rothschild - double decanted 2 hours prior to serving.  Sooooo toasty, espresso toast, almost burnt rubber.  The rubber dissipated to show a love nose of cedar and lots of green capsicum.  96 points.

    Third pair: opened 2½ hours prior to serving.
    1978 Pichon-Lalande - green capsicum, woodsy, cedar, and fragrant with smoky notes.  95 points.

    1978 Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle - smoky, minty, eucalyptus, some sweet fruit.  Later showed savory and black olive notes.  97 points.

    Fourth pair:
    1998 Beaucastel - double-decanted 3 hours prior to serving.  Sharp alcoholic nose, smells like paint thinner and cherry-flavored cough syrup.

    1998 Henri Jayer for Georges Jayer Echezeaux - opened 3 hours prior to serving.  Sharp alcohol, coconut notes, and a bit medicinal.  92 points.

    Ardbeg 24 Years Sherry Butt, bottled in 2000 - very peaty as expected from Ardbeg.

    At the end of the evening, it was still pretty close... but I was happy not to take up the post of convenor for next year.

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  • 12/28/18--23:16: General Chang's chicken
  • I'm back in Taiwan for a few days over year-end, and figured I would show Hello Kitty and Mama Kitty a few sights while we're here.  One of the places that has been in the back of my mind has been Marshall Zen Garden (少帥禪園) - which was opened a few years ago by an acquaintance on Facebook.  Located at the former residence of Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang (張學良, apparently later also known as Peter Chang!) where he was under house arrest for more than 50 years, the complex includes a restaurant, a tea house, as well as facilities for onsen (溫泉).  As it's situated on the hillside, I figured the setting would be pretty nice while offering some fresh, clean air and views of the city.

    The weather hasn't been great since we arrived in Taipei, and there was the drizzle this morning.  After checking in at the gate of the complex, we carefully climbed down some fairly steep steps to the building housing the restaurant.

    While the others chose the Young Marshal Course (少帥私房套餐), I went a little more premium and got the Elite General Course (大帥府傳套餐) - named in honor of the Marshal's father Chang Tso-lin (張作霖).

    We've got some pickles to help us whet our appetites, starting with green papaya marinated in passion fruit juice, along with wakame (若布), and radish pickled with perilla leaves.

    Green soybeans (毛豆)

    The first course was the longevity trio (長壽三寶), featuring 3 little bite-sized appetizers.
    Braised abalone (紅燒一品鮑) - there was a chunk of very bland radish beneath the abalone.

    King grouper radish cake (龍虎斑蘿蔔糕) - with some XO sauce on top.

    Beef shank jelly (牛腱珊瑚凍) - some enoki mushrooms (えのき茸) inside.

    Pan-fried lobster with pineapple puree served with grilled pineapple (少帥最愛蝦:霸王豪宴蝦) - unfortunately the lobster was overcooked. 

    The purée it was made with pineapple, ginger, and butter.  This was a weird combination that I didn't like.

    Fried threadfin fish with mash potato (大帥竹午魚) - fourfinger threadfin is a really delicious fish, and the texture was very soft and fine.  Very nicely deep-fried.

    Fresh homemade organic rose vinegar (漢卿趙四玫瑰醋飲) - not sure how vinegar could be "fresh", but this definitely tasted of rose petals.  Taken together with some preserved plums.

    Braised pork knee tendon (大帥府傳燉虎掌) - the tendons were tender, and the chili pepper chiffonade on top was surprisingly spicy.  I wondered if the half-chicken from the Young Marshal Course was any good...

    Tulip and quinoa rice (伙房養生飯) - this was OK.  Was there really tulip here?

    This braised pork rice (滷肉飯) was part of the Young Marshal Course.  Ho-hum.

    Chicken and the jinhua ham based soup, with assorted seafoods such as scallops and fishmaw steamed for hours (漢卿佛跳牆) - with sea cucumber, pig trotter tip, taro, bamboo shoots, garlic, shiitake mushroom, dried squid tentacles.  I could feel some collagen on my lips after finishing the soup.

    Seasonal vegetables (趙四獨門蔬食) - this was OK, but not much seasoning here.

    Seasonal fruit (寶島四季鮮果) - the melon was pretty ripe and sweet.

    Bird's nest with coconut milk (大帥府傳甜品:椰香燉桃膠雪燕) - this was , with bird's nest, hasma (雪蛤膏), peach resin (桃膠), jujube all in coconut milk.  Pretty nice, actually.

    The food here was OK, but coming here is more about the setting and the view.  And surprisingly the skies cleared up for a couple of hours while we were here, and we even had to shield ourselves from the glare of the sun after lunch when we strolled around the grounds.

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  • 12/29/18--07:47: The cloud dragon
  • A good friend was getting together with a few friends in Taipei, and very kindly invited us to join him at Shoun RyuGin (祥雲龍吟) for dinner tonight.  I've been a big fan of the Nihonryori RyuGin (日本料理 龍吟) franchise, but have never gotten around to visiting this particular location, so I was really looking forward to this.

    We were seated inside the large private room, which kinda shielded the rest of the restaurant from the noise coming from our table.  That would be a good thing...

    I had offered to bring along a bottle of Champagne, but our host had arranged a wine pairing from the restaurant, so I was curious to see what the sommelier had in mind.

    The menu came in an envelope, but stamped and sealed like a real letter.

    Persimmon, caviar (柿子 魚子醬) - the thin slices of persimmon from Taoyuan County (桃園縣) were wrapped around some goma tofu (胡麻豆腐), along with some sturgeon caviar from Nantou County (南投縣).  Served chilled, and I found that the savory caviar worked harmoniously with the creamy tofu, and that little bit of sweetness from the persimmon was just nice.

    1995 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Œnothèque - nose was a little strange, maybe some sugarcane notes, with very strong marmalade and nice minerality along as well as a little toast.  Acidity was pretty high.

    Choy sum, abalone, sea urchin (菜心 鮑魚 海膽) - translation fail... Those were actually mustard hearts (芥菜膽) and not choy sum (菜心), which was a nice substitute for turnip.  The abalone from Yilan (宜蘭) was nice, as was the Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) from Hokkaido.  This was all smothered in a warm mixture/purée which included some aonori (青海苔), and finally garnished with nasturtium leaves.  Pretty nice dish for the winter.

    2010 Louis Michel Chablis Grenouilles - lovely minerals, some flint, and stone fruits.  Decent acidity level was it was not too high.  Some ripeness and fragrance lingered in the mouth for a lovely finish.

    Ox-tongue, crown daisy, radish (牛舌 茼蒿 蘿蔔) - in the clear broth made with dried fish bones and radish purée were thin slices of ox tongue which had been cooked at low temperature (sous vide?).  This of course meant the tongue was very, very tender... with a slight springy bite and oh-so-slippery soft.  The Japanese leeks were very sweet, and we've also got chrysanthemum greens and very thin slices of radish on top.  Very delicious.

    1995 Comte de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - lots of leather in the nose.  Still hard with tannins, and turned acidic with aeration, but the tannins were still present.  Later on with further aeration acidity became really high.  Probably just not ready yet...

    Then came a trio of sashimi (お造り):

    Squid (烏賊) - very nicely scored on the thick cut.

    Japanese tiger prawns (車海老) - substitute for me as I asked not to have the bluefin tuna from Donggang (東港).  Ever so lightly cooked on the outside, with pickled raw onions and spring onions on top.

    Bonito (鰹魚) - nice and smoky.

    Kokuryu Daiginjo Ryu (黒龍 大吟醸 龍), 30BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Nice flavors of fermented rice.

    Butter fish, cabbage (刺鯧 高麗菜) - this was a very interesting dish inspired by a particular style of hotpot using pickled cabbage (酸菜白肉鍋).  The flesh of the butterfish was very tender and fine.  The sour broth with pickled cabbage from Kinmen (金門) - which is fermented with kaoliang liquor (高粱酒) - worked well with the fish.

    Sohomare Kimotoshikomi Junmai Ginjo (惣誉 生酛仕込 純米吟醸), 30BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.  Nose showing some fermented rice flavors, with banana notes.  Drier on the palate but with good depth.

    This sake was specifically paired with the butter fish because of the natural lactic acid present in the brewing process, which would match the acidity of the pickled cabbage.

    Japanese lobster, bamboo, vegetable fern (龍蝦 綠竹筍 過貓) - the lobster apparently comes from the northern coast of Taiwan, and was steamed with sake and soy sauce.  The resulting juices was made into a broth with some sliced ginger and accented with a few drops of oil made from Sanxing scallions (三星蔥) from Yilan.  Served with fresh bamboo shoots, vegetable fern, and semi-dried tomatoes - the latter of which provided some acidity to the broth.

    Spot crab, Chinese kale, mullet roe (花蟹 芥蘭 烏魚子) - the crab meat sat on top of a bed of kailan (芥蘭 ), and garnished with brunoise of pickled carrots and radish, along with a lemon-scented apple purée.  Of course, I was most happy about the two little pieces of cured mullet roe...

    Juyondai Black Label, 29BYseimaibuai (精米歩合) is not disclosed for this bottling.  Nose was somewhat fermented, with some fermented rice notes.  Pretty sweet on the palate with a long finish.

    Squab, rosemary (乳鴿 迷迭香) - so was this squab or pigeon, as there were differences between the English and Chinese on the menu?  Anyway, this was clearly smoked with rosemary, which isn't one of my favorite herbs.  In fact it temporarily killed my ability to taste and enjoy the wines, because there was so much smoke that filled the air.

    The breast was very soft, with the texture that felt slippery (滑) and smooth... but the skin was too charred and tasted bitter.  Definitely strong and gamey flavors here.

    Nice to see that the claw stilled retained all 4 toes instead of just one, so this bird wasn't giving us the finger...  This deep-fried leg was pretty tasty.

    2010 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny - toasty, minty, leather notes.  Good acidity here.

    Koshi-kikari rice, threadfin fish, sweet chili, ginger (越光米 午仔魚 糯米椒 薑) - two different types of chili peppers were used.

    Pretty nice, but of course I would like anything that comes with fourfinger threadfin...

    The pickles included Napa cabbage, Chinese yam (山藥), and diced green beans with baby sardines (吻仔魚).

    Pomelo, Thai basil (柚子 九層塔) - sitting on top of the yogurt ice cream were two types of pomelo: peiyu (白柚) and 西施柚.  We've got little bits of meringue, real honeycomb, and a drizzle of Thai basil oil.  Pretty nice.

    Vincent Fleith Crémant d'Alsace Brut Nature - flinty with stone fruits on the nose.

    Sesame (芝麻) - a combination of lotus root powder, milk, and sesame was deep-fried.  While the exterior was crispy, the custard center had a texture that was approaching jelly.  Served with a sauce made of sesame and caramel, which I found bitter and not pleasant.

    This was certainly a very interesting meal. I love that Chef Hieda Ryohei (稗田良平) insists on using local ingredients as much as possible - since Taiwan is a great source whether one is looking on land on in the ocean.  What also intrigued me was that the flavors here weren't necessarily that Japanese.

    Many thanks to my friend for the generous treat.

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    2018 was particularly good to me from a culinary perspective.  I made a long-overdue return to Europe and hit a few places I had been meaning to visit, and I also managed to scratch a few itches in Japan.  I'm grateful to all the chefs who, no doubt, have spent countless hours creating amazing dishes for us to enjoy.

    As in previous years, this is simply listed by chronological order.  These were the dishes which brought out the strongest emotional response from me.

    Le canard : Challans duck breast and foie gras duo, mango with ginger vinegar and fresh coriander from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - I had the proper "tournedos Rossini" a few weeks earlier, but the version made with Challans duck was arguably even better than one made with beef... as the duck breast fused with foie gras seemed more "natural".

    La Saint-Jacques: la noix poêlée, lait de noix de coco épicé et condiment de coriandre from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - these were some of the largest scallops I had ever seen, and came from a Japanese supplier I happen to know.  The Southeast Asian flavors of curry, coriander, and coconut were very intriguing.
    La fine tarte: friande aux oignons confits et lard fumé paysan from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - I finally managed to take down the iconic truffle tarte from Robuchon!  And because Chef Julien Tongourian was loathe to cut a tarte in two for us to share, we ended up with a whole tarte each.  What an awesome combination together with onion confit and lardons!

    Suckling pig filled with pila (金陵乳豬飯) from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒), Macau - Chef Tam Kwok Fung had turned the original dish from the Kimberley Restaurant (君怡閣) into these bite-sized maki(巻き), and in that process made it PERFECT.  This one topped all others that I have tasted so far.
    Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) from Softbank Private Kitchen (軟庫飯堂), Hong Kong - this classic dish will always be part of my annual list, and on this particular occasion it was extra special as the chef added 50-year-old dried mandarin peels in honor of a master chef at the table.  I doubt I will ever have another bowl that is as good as this one.

    Rainbow pig's stomach (五彩豬肚) from the House 102 (壹零貳小館) pop-up at The Chairman (大班樓), Hong Kong - the effort behind this dish was pretty amazing, as the chefs read a description of the dish from an out-of-print book, and had to come up with a recipe by themselves.  The "pâté en vessie chinois" was truly remarkable, and tasty, too!

    Deep-fried crispy crab cake (金錢蟹盒) from Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜), Macau - it's so rare to find this nowadays, but here we've got "ravioli" made by stuffing crab meat and other goodies between two round sheets of pork lard... so this was basically deep-fried lard!  How is that not awesome??

    Stir-fried frog's legs with kailan (玉簪田雞) from Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜), Macau - another amazing old school dish.  The meat from the frog's legs were taken off the bone, then tied around kailan steams like ribbons.  The execution was perfect so that both the veg and the protein were served at the correct doneness.

    Horse mackerel (鯵) from Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう), Hong Kong - horse mackerel has always been one of my preferred neta (ネタ) on sushi, but the way it is aged at Sushi Saito makes it the best version I've ever had... and I was lucky to have had it a few times during the year.

    Noir de Bigorre pork chop from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - the beautiful hunk of fatty pork was chopped up and served with rice pilaf mixed together with boudin basque, morels, and a creamy sauce.  Simply out of this world!

    Crispy young pigeon (紅燒脆皮妙齡鴿) from Stellar House (星月居), Hong Kong - I still think this is the best Cantonese-style pigeon in Hong Kong.  The meat from the young pigeon somehow had that milky flavor, and was just sooooo succulent.  I would go back for this more often if I didn't have to deal with the way this restaurant forces you to order...

    Candlenut's classic chendol cream, pandan jelly, gula melaka from Candlenut, Singapore - simply one of my favorite desserts in the world, and this version of the classic chendol is, in my mind, perfection - thanks to the fluffy coconut custard and gula melaka.

    Wild-caught New Zealand littleneck clams (Austrovenus stutchburyi)), flambéed in white wine, drizzled with fish sauce and fried shallot grapeseed oil from The Naked Finn, Singapore - this might seem like something really simple at first glance, but that fried shallot grapeseed oil was just fucking amazing!  We ended up ordering another serving because none of us was happy with what we got.

    Noharayaki (野原焼) at Yakiniku Jumbo (焼肉 ジャンボ), Hong Kong - Hello Kitty called this "cow on a cloud", and that about sums it up.  Beautifully done thin slice of sirloin is rolled up and served on a fluffy bed of. whipped egg white and yolk.  Little wonder this is the signature dish at Yakiniku Jumbo.

    Aori cuttlefish: ribbons confit in kombu infused extra virgin olive oil with sweet peas, wakame and shallots, buttermilk emulsion, plankton dust and torroro kombu from Amber, Hong Kong - the texture of the bigfin reef squid was just so bouncy and beautiful, while the other ingredients managed to deliver sweetness, umami, acidity, and creaminess.  Pretty amazing.

    Charcoal grilled smoked pigeon breast (小鳩の炭火焼き) from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Hong Kong - I was stunned by how beautiful this Racan pigeon was... It's been a while since I last tasted a pigeon breast this perfect.

    Hokkaido scallops contisée with black truffle cooked in a crispy beignet, celery roots purée, shaved hazelnuts, Pouilly Fuissé fins fumet at Écriture, Hong Kong - inside the crunchy beignet were bouncy slices of scallops, with black truffles between the slices and seaweed wrapped around them.  Nice combination of sweetness and umami.

    Sweet corn puffed mousse with aburi botan shrimp from Ta Vie 旅, Hong Kong - one of my favorite dishes from one of my favorite restaurants.  That amazing combination of sweetness from the corn mousse as well as raw kernels worked magic with the sweetness of raw shrimp and the umami of shrimp gelée, plus fragrant olive oil.  Every bite was beautiful.

    Classic: sweetbreads, langoustine in ceviche, butter with herbs and lime from L'Air du Temps, Éghezée, Belgium - the sweetbreads were a revelation.  It was soft and fluffy inside, but the exterior had a glaze that made me think I was eating Korean fried chicken.  Even Hello Kitty - who normally passes on organs - thought this was amazing.

    Tomato, African marigold from Hertog Jan, Zedelgem, Belgium - I finally tasted the tomatoes from the gardens of one of my favorite chefs, and the flavors were just amazing.  They grow more than 100 cultivars of tomatoes, and a different combination goes on the plate every day.

    Noble pâté-croûte: Bigorre's black pork, duck and goose foie gras from the south west of France from Restaurant Bozar, Brussels - Karen Torosyan's "world champion"pâté en croûte was every bit as amazing as I had expected.  I only wish they gave me a thicker slice!

    Curcubit from Mirazur, Menton, France - this bowl of melons and cucumbers was incredibly refreshing, and just perfect for the scorching summer heat in the south of France.

    Tête de turbot grillé aïoli from Au Passage, Paris - I couldn't believe that for 10 Euros, I got an entire head of turbot!  Very simply grilled, sprinkled with salt, and served with some aïoli on the side.

    Bombay duck with loofah (絲瓜九肚魚) from Wing Lei Palace (永利宮), Macau - I had my first taste of bombay duck more than 20 years ago when I first moved to Hong Kong, and I don't remember ever having it as anything other than deep-fried.  For this meal Chef Tam Kwok Fung cooked them in a milky broth, and the texture of the fish was almost like sticks of jello with bones.  Simply amazing and a complete revelation.

    Steamed marble goby with chili and quinoa (椒香藜麥筍殼魚) from The Bridge 廊桥, at the pop-up dinner at Wynn Palace, Macau - spicy food is rarely in my diet, and I tend to avoid Sichuan cuisine like the plague due to the prevalence of over-the-top mala (麻辣) flavors.  This dish was eye-opening.  The tender and succulent fish came with a beurre blanc sauce flavored with chilis.  Even without eating any of the erjingtiao (二荊條) chilis on top, this dish was fucking spicy.  But I loved every bite of it.

    Cold soumen with abalone and siroebi shrimp (煮鮑と白エビの素麺) from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Hong Kong - a beautiful dish of perfectly cooked abalone, scored to soften the texture even further, on top of refreshing cold somen with glass shrimp.  I'd be happy to have a few portions of this any day.

    Oriental sole meunière from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - thes was only the second time I've ever come across the oriental sole (七日鮮).  Such a rare treat!  And perfectly cooked meunière by The Man in White T-shirt.

    Braised pork rice (滷肉飯) from My灶, Taipei - such an awesome version of the Taiwanese staple using only pork skin and belly fat, which in my opinion is the only way to go.  None of that minced meat bullshit... 

    Rubia Galega / Jerusalem artichoke / moromi miso from HAKU, Hong Kong - there was no way I could leave this off the list.  This was specially made at my request, as a joke, following the exploits of Salt Bae.  Rubia Galega is always a good idea, and when it's covered in bling... it's just unbeatable.

    Today's classic; gargouillou of young vegetables, seeds and herbs, touch of reine des près oil from Michel Bras Toya Japon, Toya, Japan - after years of eating other chefs' copies and interpretations of this iconic dish, I finally had the chance to taste the "original"... or at least an "authentic copy" in Japan.  Simply stunning.

    Aligot from Michel Bras Toya Japon, Toya, Japan - not many places in the world outside France bother to serve up aligot, and I was overcome with joy and felt a little emotional when this became part of my lunch.

    Female snow crab (せいこ蟹) from Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十), Tokyo - I had the good fortune of having a few versions of this seasonal delicacy in the space of 2 weeks, and this was my favorite.

    Mackerel bozushi (鯖の棒鮨)from Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十), Tokyo - this piece of bozushi (棒鮨) was so big and thick that it was just soooo satisfying to bite into... especially given the crunchy texture of the mackerel.

    To share: guinea fowl from Florilège, Tokyo - guinea fowl can often be boring, or worse, overcooked.  This one was cooked perfectly, with a soft and fluffy texture without being mushy.  And the glutinous rice cooked in miso made it even more interesting.

    Simmered snow crab meat with tomalley (蟹身 蟹味噌) from Kimoto (紀茂登), Tokyo - it's hard to imagine a better crab dish than the combination of crab tomalley, crab meat, and dashi simmered together.  Absolutely delicious.

    The final count is 35 dishes - which I had whittled down from an initial list of about 45. 2018 has been an exceptional year for me in terms of dining out, but I'm going to try to cut down on the number out large meals in 2019.   Growing Boy needs to shrink a little...

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  • 01/01/19--06:32: Golden new year
  • It's the start of a new year, and just like last year, I went on an excursion away from the concrete jungle.  The difference, though, was that I'm spending it in Taiwan... and it's a very wet day.

    We started the day by visiting the New Taipei City Government Gold Museum (新北市立黃金博物館) out in Jinguashi (金瓜石).  This area used to be a place where people mined for gold, so there is a whole complex of buildings showing different aspects of the industry - including dormitories where the miners used to live.  We walked through the grounds of the Jinguashi Crown Prince Chalet (太子賓館), where Emperor Hirohito (裕仁天皇) stayed in 1922 before his ascension to the chrysanthemum throne.

    The main attraction here, of course, was the Gold Building (黃金館).  This building has an exhibit on the history of the industry, and includes a section on the Allied WWII POWs who were forced to work in the mines by the Japanese.  But the pièce de résistance would be that huge block of solid gold weighing in at 220.3kg, and visitors lined up to take their pictures with this baby.

    Before we left the complex on this very wet day, I stopped by Alchemy Cafe (煉金文創咖啡) for a cup of coffee.  Given my love of anything gold, I really couldn't resist ordering up a cup of real gold coffee (真的999黃金咖啡).

    We needed to get some lunch, so we moved to the touristy Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) looking for an old favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, it seems that the shop selling giant pork balls (貢丸) has changed hands, so eventually I gave up the search and had an unremarkable lunch at a place I didn't care to remember.

    The Parental Units decided we should take Mama Kitty to Suntay Teppanyaki (三太養生鐵板燒) for dinner.  I haven't been back here for more than 10 years, but there was a time when I enjoyed the "healthy" take on teppanyaki (鉄板焼) served here.  The cooking here is very simple, without much seasoning, as it emphasizes showcasing the natural flavors of the ingredients.

    We didn't need a lot of food, so the Parental Units chose the usual, smallest set (一太套餐).

    We started with a cup of tea which was a blend of jujube and American ginseng, along with a small calamansi.  This was a little bitter.

    As usual, we were served this homemade onion relish to accompany our food.  This was delicious enough on its own.

    Wax apple with coriander

    We were also given a piece of multigrain toast with Chinese knotweed (五穀何首烏養生麵包), which Hello Kitty didn't care for.

    Then came a bowl with a piece of egg tofu (玉子豆腐), on top of which sat a slice of pan-seared scallop along with a slice of radish.  Meanwhile we also had a warm broth made from radish and scallop.

    The first course cooked on the teppan was Chinese white shrimp (鮮活明蝦).

    Next was an egg soft-cooked in an onion cocotte, then topped with a scallop seared on the side, and served with a few drops of Maggi sauce.  Too bad the scallop was overcooked.

    White love (白色之戀) - Chinese yam (山藥) is cut into thin, noodle-like strands and rolled up, then dipped into a sauce made of jujube (紅棗) and red lees (紅麴).  We've also got a cherry tomato with a Thai basil leaf and raisin, as well as a petal from a mother-of-pearl plant (石蓮花) sprinkled with some plum powder.

    Fragrant mouthful (一口香) - sitting in a cup made from loofah (絲瓜) was white ginger lily (野薑花) petals, an apple ball, and dried celtuce stem (貢菜).  Very clean and light flavors.

    These shimeji mushrooms (占地茸) were simply steamed and lightly browned, and curiously came with a hint of seafood umami.

    Top grade beef sirloin rolls (頂級沙朗牛肉卷) - there were three slices of sirloin, and each was rolled with a different stuffing:
    Semi-dried tomato with Thai basil (風乾蕃茄和九層塔)

    Kumquat with marinated chili (金桔和剝皮辣椒) - the chili was reasonably spicy, but thankfully the sweetness from the kumquat helped to neutralize it a little.

    Flying fish roe, peeled chili, and perilla leaves (飛魚卵 剝皮辣椒和紫蘇) - the fish roe was still pretty crunchy.

    Fried rice (黃金炒飯) - made with Maggi sauce.

    Baby bok choy (青江菜苗) - served with ponzu (ポン酢).

    Tea and fruits

    Dorayaki (銅鑼焼き)

    This being New Year's Day and all, and since we had a quiet night last night, we brought along a nice bottle of Champagne.

    Jacques Selosse V.O., dégorgée le 15 Octobre2009 - pretty mature now, of course nose was oxidized, showing marmalade and minerality.

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  • 01/01/19--22:47: Old favorites in Taipei
  • It's the last day of our trip, and I promised to take Mama Kitty for some more breakfast as long as she was game.  So the two of us dragged our butts out of bed before sunrise and left the apartment shortly after 6 a.m... as I was set on getting in line at Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿) by 6:30 a.m. or so.

    I was thankful that we only had to wait about 20 minutes or so... and Mama Kitty tried out a couple of items she normally doesn't get in Hong Kong.  It's certainly hearty and filling for breakfast!

    After napping for a few more hours, I had to get up and take the rest of the gang out for lunch.  I had heard a lot of talk about Wu Bai Chicken House (伍佰雞屋) but never had enough motivation to check it out.  But I decided that today would be that day, as I had an ulterior motive in mind...

    There were only 3 of us, and we had to work with some dietary restrictions, so we didn't get to try out many of their famous dishes.

    Steamed chicken (白切雞) - so yeah, of course, we ordered chicken.  But honestly... this was just OK.  I've had better chicken elsewhere in Taipei.  This chicken was definitely more salted than many others in town.

    The main disappointment for me lies in how thin the layer of jelly was between the skin and the meat.  This was the best piece in that respect, and many other pieces practically had none.

    Stir-fried shredded vegetables (生炒四絲) - with yellowed chives, spring onions, bean sprouts, pressed tofu, and what seemed like Chinese yam or bamboo shoots.

    Stir-fried sweet potato leaves (地瓜葉)

    Vermicelli in soup (切仔米粉)

    We needed to take a walk after stuffing ourselves, so I wandered to the adjacent lane and... lo and behold, if it wasn't Eastern Ice Store (東區粉圓)!

    Seeing as it's January and a little on the chilly side, I decided not to have shaved ice but went for a base of hot grass jelly (燒仙草), and added some sweet potato chunks, sweet potato balls, and tapioca balls.  I was a happy camper.  I'll come back and get my shaved ice fix another day.

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  • 01/07/19--23:44: Unexpected cherry-popping
  • Haokoufu and the Hungry Girl in Taipei were swinging through town for a few days, and they invited me to join them for lunch at The Chairman (大班樓).   I've been here a few times over the years, but this would be the first meal where Danny actually sat down with us.

    Qiang wei petals and lotus roots (薔薇藕片)

    Pickled mid-summer ginger root (大班樓子薑)

    Baby squid (魷魚) - served cold, in a soy sauce marinade with a hint of fragrance from some Sichuan peppercorns.  Very delicious.

    Pan-fried dumplings (香煎粽) - I had these last year, and it was nice to taste them again.  These zongzi (粽子) were very small, and stuffed with some pork belly as well as salted egg yolk.

    Danny suggested that we taste the zongzi with some chrysanthemum sugar as an alternative to soy paste (醬油膏), but to be honest I wasn't a big fan. For some reason I kept getting a hint of off-putting, almost moldy taste in the chrysanthemum petals.

    Steamed flowery crab with aged Chinese wine and rice noodles (雞油花雕蟹) - but all was well again when we got this at the table.  This was A Hungry Girl in Taipei's first visit, so she was pretty happy about finally getting the chance to try the iconic dish that has appeared thousands of times on social media.  I was more than happy to take the body and legs while the ladies took the claws.  And yes, the rice noodles (陳村粉) soaked in the sauce made with chicken fat and Huadiao (花雕) was still divine.

    BBQ chicken liver with lard and Chinese buns (金錢雞) - this has now become arguably my favorite version of the dish.  Love the glaze on it, and how the fat just oozes and gets soaked up by the deep-fried bun.

    Fish jaws with chopped peppers (剁椒魚嘴) - it's been just shy of a year since I last had something like this year, but instead of a giant fish head, today we had the jaws of bighead carp (大頭鰱) which had been raised according to the restaurant's specifications in order to minimize the muddy flavors.

    These came with three different types of chili, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, and marinated Chinese black olives (欖角).  So good that I couldn't refuse a second serving...

    A chef friend dropped by to say hello to the visitors, and Danny kindly invited him to join us - although we had run through most of the menu by this time.

    Pork belly stew with Chinese bread (梅乾菜扣肉包) - fatty pork is always a good idea, and I couldn't resist the familiar flavors with the preserved mustard greens (梅乾菜) on top.

    THIS is how the "bao" should taste.

    Layered beancurd and seasonal vegetables cooked in homemade fish broth (魚湯腐皮浸時菜) - always good to cleanse our palates towards the end with the beancurd sheets - which, according to Danny, only comes from one famous shop in Hong Kong.  Love the fish broth.

    Desserts trio (甜品三味) - the usual.  First up was peach resin and hawthorn jelly with osmanthus (桂花桃膠山楂糕).  Our Hungry Girl was amazed at how much this reminded her of those hawthorn candy we all grew up eating.

    Coconut and jujube pudding (椰汁紅棗糕)

    Almond cream (杏仁茶)

    Haokoufu very kindly brought a bottle of a small production sparkling wine from Taiwan - with a limited run of just around 1,000 bottles.  Unfortunately I fear it was wasted on a philistine palate like mine...

    Weight Stone Gris de Noirs Cuvée Classique N° 15, dégorgée en Octobre 2018 - nose smells like... Kyoho or other table grapes. Some acidity here on the palate.

    I was pretty stuffed at the end of the meal, but very, very happy.  Many thanks to Danny for this unexpected treat!  You shouldn't have...

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  • 01/11/19--07:03: The first of many in 2019
  • We are doing a long-awaited catch-up with Diva at Neighborhood, and someone was craving for some ro ro.  Spanish ro ro, in fact... so we obviously have come to the right place as Rubia Galega is one of the staples on the menu.

    Fried padron peppers / Raclette cheese - surprised to see Raclette make an appearance.  I did think, though, that the peppers were a little too charred.

    Black truffle chicken wings - always a nice choice.  Who doesn't like chicken wings?

    Scallops / escargot butter - this was a daily special recommended by Shirley.  The scallops from Oita Prefecture (大分県), and came with parsley butter and breadcrumbs.  Not bad at all.

    80 day dry aged Spanish Rubia Gallega bone in loin - Diva was very happy about getting some Spanish beef again, and this certainly looked very impressive.  We were recommended to take the bone marrow with caviar along with our beef.

    I absolutely loved the strong flavors coming from cattle this old. WHY, YES! I DO like it when my beef tastes like cheese. Blue cheese, to be exactly.  And let's add some bone marrow and caviar on top, while we're at it!  Oh man... Will you just look at that strip of yellow fat down the side??

    Black truffle mashed potatoes - for once, I did take some of the mashed potatoes with my main course.  No, a little black truffle never hurt nobody...

    Canelés - no dessert for us, but I was always happy to take some canelés.

    2014 Ganevat Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes - minerals and enough ripeness on the nose.  Damn! That acidity on the palate!  It's not lean or steely, though... still round and ripe.  A little flinty.

    2014 Inglenook Rubicon - decanted for more than 30 minutes.  Very sweet on the palate.  Lots of mint, green pepper, forest, with exotic spices, coconut butter, vanilla, and almost a hint of leather.  So Californian.

    2015 Andre Perret Merlot - ripe with stewed black fruits.  Pretty alcoholic.

    A very happy meal for all.  As usual this is the restaurant I visit most each year, but I "only" came 9 times in 2018.  Let's see how many meals it will be in 2019!