May 13, 2008

A feast on Buddha's Birthday

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Last night I invited a few old friends, along with some new friends, to dinner at Forchetta in Taipei. I had wanted to open a few bottles of wine for our enjoyment, and liked my dinner at Forchetta last year. There were 9 of us, and we sat in a square formation in front of the open kitchen.

We started with pan-seared scallop with green asparagus, tomato and bamboo shoots. The scallop was fresh, juicy and sweet. This was a "fusion" dish, as Asian ingredients such as bamboo shoots and black beans were introduced. This was pretty yummy.

The next course was peppered pan-fried squid. With this course, Chef Max started to show the Mediterranean roots of his cuisine. The squid was nicely done, coated with spices, and half of it included a cheese filling. The tiny sundried tomato on the side was surprisingly delish.

This was followed by a grilled tiger prawn. The presentation here was very nice, with the empty shell of the prawn prominently displayed on top of the head and the body. As usual, the head of the prawn is the best part, and I dove in without a care to cholesterol.

Once again we had la grenouille, but this time the dish was more complex and it was prepared two different ways. One piece was simply pan-fried, and another was enclosed in a croquette ball and deep fried, with a mild horseradish sauce on the side. Unfortunately this time I was not impressed. For people who don't eat frog legs, the chef prepared steamed baby abalone.

To match the red wines for the evening, we started with slices of jamon iberico, which I remembered from my last visit. Unfortunately the jamon wasn't the same quality this time. It was just too lean and there wasn't enough fat. To compensate, virgin olive oil was drizzed on top of the jamon, which I felt was a mistake. While I do like the fragrance and flavor of olive oil, what I wanted was the full flavor of jamon iberico, to taste the sweetness of the bellota showing through. Alas it was not to be this time.

Finally we get to the ribeye as main course. Here it was also split up and done two ways, with different results. The long, thin strips of meat was fatty enough to impart good flavor. We were given a choice of salts, some with blended spices, and these extracted the extra bit of flavor to the tongue.

We went through 7 bottles of wine, which wasn't bad for the group. As usual we started with two whites: 2001 Jean Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets and the 2003 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Perrieres. I took the Pillot because we had it here last time, and I felt that it went better with food. This time, the first pour from the bottle was a little suspect, and I thought the nose indicated a bit of heat damage. It gradually opened up and improved, but the acidity was still higher than I remembered. The Sauzet of course was in a different class altogether. Powerful nose of toasted oak and minerals, this was very beautiful wine on its own. Once again, my friend Victor decided to call the wine merchant in the middle of dinner to place an order for this wine. I should extract some commission from the guy...

Moving on to the first pair of reds, the 2000 BOND Matriarch was poured first. For a second wine, I really do like this one although it may not measure up to the Harlan Maiden. It's a nice, classic Californian which will not disappoint you with its typically vanilla, tropical-fruit nose from the toasted new oak barrels. But the wine had plenty of detractors at the table, who preferred the 1998 Pichon Lalande instead. For Bordeaux lovers, this was a classic, box-standard Pauillac through and through. Victor picked up sous bois in the nose, and I think he was absolutely right. Of course the classic cigar smoke and pain grille notes were also in abundance, and I would probably have marked it as a Pauillac in a blind tasting.

Next up were a pair of 1990 Medoc. The 1990 Rausan-Segla was a classic Margaux, and the nose of sweet grass and herbs were immediately apparent. The wine was smooth on the palate as a lot of the tannins had been shed over the years, and I really liked it. The 1990 Lynch Bages was another classic Pauillac, although the nose was more subtle compared to the 1998 Pichon. The fruit was more evident here, and the finish was reasonably long. A very good wine matching my expectations.

Finally, we sampled the 1990 Coutet that I picked up a few days ago. Another classic, this didn't stray far from the standard notes of apricot, honey, orange blossom that is typically found in sweet Bordeaux. The wine was very sweet on the palate, which for some people may overwhelm all the subtle notes and hence lack complexity. Nevertheless the wine was very enjoyable.

Needless to say, I was fairly inebriated at the end of the evening, just like last time. But the good thing was that we didn't have to go for supper on this visit...

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