January 27, 2008

A Second Nibble of Nobu

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Tonight my friend Wendy was in town and needed company for dinner, so I joined her at Nobu even though I had already eaten a bit at home. I hadn't been back to Nobu for almost a year, so it ws interesting to give it another try.

We started with the rock shrimp ceviche, which was nice but came in a pretty large portion - we never managed to finish this.

Then came the sweet corn salad with scallops in yuzu dressing. The sweet, seared scallops worked well with the raw sweet corn sitting on a bed of frisee and hijiki. Best of all, the portion was rather generous considering the $90 price tag.

Wendy also ordered rock shrimp tempura, which was pretty delicious. The interesting thing was that the dish looked very Chinese, with a light batter topped with yuzu mayonnaise sprinkled with chives.

I was getting full at this stage, but there was still the black cod with miso - nice standard dish.

I still remember the yummy desserts from the last visit, so I had high expectations for the items we ordered. Wendy seemed to like the chocolate bento box, a baked chocolate fondant with liquid center and green tea ice cream on the side.

I had soy in four ways which came as mille-feuille, parfait, ice cream, foam and sprinkled with roasted soy beans. Unfortunately this did not send me over the top, and I was tempted to order the Suntory whisky foam afterwards...but decided to save it for the next visit.

Overall I found the meal pretty enjoyable. Going forward I should put Nobu back on my regular list of restaurants.

January 26, 2008

You Can Still Buy Your Way Out of Trouble in HK

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Recently an absolutely scandalous event happened in Hong Kong which makes me shake my head. Hong Kong has always been a place where the rich can get away with anyhing, and we continue to see examples of this in everyday life.

A playboy tycoon was recently caught speeding in his fancy sports car. Apparently he was clocked wih a laser gun at 114 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. Normally this would have cost him his licence. But can you imagine one of the city's flamboyant tycoons having his licence taken away? Neither can the police or government, apparently.

The initial charge was subsequently reduced to a plea of driving at 79 km/h. Apparently there was a challenge to the procedure used by the officer in testing the laser gun when he first turned it on. The tycoon paid beaucoup money to get a British "expert" to testify that the officer basically screwed up.

What a crock of shit... I don't care if you are an 8-year old...laser guns are supposed to be easy to operate and there is no way that the measured speed can be off by 40 km/h... How much greasing do you think was done? My guess is A LOT.

January 25, 2008

The Gang Bang

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For the longest time, I have been talking about taking my colleague Linus to Shake 'em Buns in Causeway Bay, so that he can have the biggest burger on the menu - with two patties along with bacon and eggs - called the Gang Bang. This burger isn't on the menu at the Star Street or Wellington Street outlets, so a special trip had to be made to Causeway Bay just for this.

Last night, we finally made the trip along with Lambda. Lambda ordered the Cushin' For Pushin', the regular burger with cheddar cheese, while I had the Red On the Neck, with chilli and coleslaw. Linus, of course, ordered the burger that he came for. We also had chilli cheese fries and popcorn chicken on the side.

As usual, the burgers were really juicy and delicious, and I really enjoyed the popcorn chicken. The important thing is that Linus REALLY enjoyed his burger. We even took a video of him trying to pick it up and chomp on it...

  video

Anyway, the mission was accomplished. The Gang Bang has been conquered. Neeeext!!!

Peking duck

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It's been almost 7 years since my last trip to Beijing, so I was really looking forward to attending our Access China conference this year. While I spent a lot of time inside the hotel/mall, I did manage to get out and finally have some Peking duck...

I didn't do much homework on where to go, so when my friend suggested that we go to Duck King (鸭王), a popular chain, I happily went along with it. At least it was going to be better than Quan Ju De (全聚德)... We ended up at the branch next to Saite (賽特), across the street from the St. Regis, as it was the closest location to the Grand Hyatt. Since this was going to be my only chance to eat outside of the hotel/mall, I didn't mind over-ordering.

We started with duck feet with mustard sauce (芥末鴨掌), which was nicely de-boned and served cold. The mustard sauce, however, didn't do much for me.

The other starter we ordererd was deep-fried duck tongue with salt and pepper (椒鹽鴨舌). This was pretty yummy. Usually I only eat duck tongue at Shanghainese restaurants, so it is normally braised with soy sauce. This is definitely another take which would go down well with some alcohol (like beer).

What followed was the classic whole duck done three ways (一鴨三吃) - the traditional crispy skin and meat wrapped in pancake (脆皮肉分片), diced meat fried with pine nuts and wrapped in lettuce (鴨松),and finally the duck soup cooked in claypot (沙鍋煲鴨湯). The skin was excellent - crispy on the outside, tender and juicy (or should I say oily) on the inside, but without too much of the yellow fat under the skin. The meat was also lean but juicy and tender, full of flavor. Both are sliced evenly in small pieces for ease of wrapping in pancakes.

The diced meat was also nice, with bits of Chinese crullers (油條) and pine nuts. The lettuce leaves adds a refreshing balance to the otherwise oily/fried texture.

The soup, on the other hand, was nothing to write home about. But then again, I was never a big fan of this.

We left the restaurant very stuffed and with doggy bags for about half the duck... It was good to finally have had duck in Beijing after such a long absence, but next time I'll look for the smaller operators.

January 8, 2008

MNSC Annual Dinner

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Last night we had our annual dinner for MNSC to kick off 2008. The venue this year was Cuisine Cuisine at IFC, which is not a restaurant I would normally go to. But they have recently hired Chef Lee who used to work at Hang Seng, and we had arranged for a menu with all his specialties.

The menu for the evening:
Sauteed Crystal King Prawns (水晶大蝦球) - a huge prawn that was very tender and delicious, perhaps even a bit better than the one at China Club last month

Traditional Braised Assorted Snake Soup with Shark's Fin (魚翅燴五蛇羹) - I am not a big fan of either shark's fin or snake soup, but I loved this soup. The clear broth was so unusual for snake soup (in my limited experience anyway)

Stewed Whole "Yoshihama" Abalone with Premium Oyster Sauce (二十五頭原隻皇冠鮑魚炆鵝掌) - wonderfully tender abalone, and the goose feet was nicely done, too

Braised Back Fin of Giant Grouper (生炆龍躉翅) - I had never had this dish before, since this is a giant fish and having it means lots of people are being served at the same time. Although there was a hint of dirt in the flesh, it was done quite nicely - lightly breaded and fried, drizzled with shredded ham

Traditional Baked Chicken with Rock Salt in Ancient Method (正宗鹽焗雞) - done just right

Poached Green Pea Shoots (上湯浸豆苗) - a welcome change of pace after all the heavy hitters

Stir-fried Glutinous Rice with Assorted Preserved Meat (生炒糯米飯) - sooo wonderful, one of my favorites, and the sausage was just so nice

Sweetened Almond Cream with Egg White (蛋白杏仁茶) - very rich but surprisingly not too sweet

As for the wines, the line up this evening was:

1996 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal - a nice way to start off the evening

2004 Verget Batard Montrachet - we decanted it and it drank beautifully, with lots of butter, minerals and sweet corn on the nose

1966 La Lagune - not from the best vintage or the chateau, but nevertheless drank reasonably well. Not a lot of sweet fruit left in the nose, but rather a bit medicinal

2000 DRC Echezeaux - this drank sooo well and I loved it so. Color was pretty light and a bit cloudy. If I had this in a blind tasting, I would definitely have called it a Cote-Rotie and not a Burgundy! The nose of violet was so prominent, and it's exactly what I love.

1999 Emmanuel Rouget Echezeaux - we always knew this was going to be heavier and more closed than the 2000, so we saved it for last. Much more powerful than the DRC, unfortunately this wine never opened fully.

This was a wonderful dinner - we left the restaurant that night as fans of Chef Lee, and vow to host more dinners in 2008 at Chinese restaurants.

Shanghai Redux

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I was in Shanghai last weekend, and of course I was going back to my favorite restaurants in the city.

Had dinner with my friend David at La Platane in Xintiandi, a tough choice over his recommendation for a tempura restaurant. He brought a bottle of 1995 L'Evangile along for the evening, which was a classic Right Bank and drank very nicely after about an hour.

I started with the foie gras xiao long bao, which caught my attention as no doubt it would with many others. Five buns in a steam basket appear before me, laying very flat. I pick up the first one with my chopsticks, and it breaks. I am annoyed. I'm always very careful with my xiao long bao, so it's not a good sign when one is broken in the process of pickup. I scoop up the spilled contents into my spoon, and add a drop of vinegar. The next few buns turned out fine. The shrunken pieces of foie gras, swimming in its own oil inside the bun, mixes well with the bits of black truffle. The truffle was surprisingly fragrant, since I believe it was Chinese in origin. I found that the vinegar overpowers the taste so the buns are better on their own.

The main course was the crackling suckling pig, which turned out to be one whole leg, trotters and all. It was really, really delicious. The skin was perfectly roasted, with a thick layer of delicious fat underneath. I finish the upper hind quarter, and move on to the legs and eventually pick up the trotters and chew. David is amazed that I finished the whole thing.

For dessert, we had the paper-thin tarte tatin and the peach souffle a la mode. Both were delicious. I'm very happy to have come back to Justin Quek's flagship French restaurant.

Next day at lunch I met up with Leslie, my best friend from high school. He was doing his periodic tour back to Asia, and I just had to take him to Jesse Restaurant (吉士酒家) for authentic Shanghainese.

We started with some jellyfish with vinegar and parsley (海蜇頭) - nice and crunchy. Also had some baby spare ribs (糖醋排骨) which were quiet sweet and yummy, chopped up into bite size pieces. Then came some typical stir-fried Shanghainese veggies (塔菜炒冬筍), and the piece de resistance - the braised fatty pork with cuttlefish (目魚紅燒肉). I love the juicy, fatty pork braised with sweet soy sauce, and Jesse's version is my absolute favorite - other than my mom's of course.

I left Shanghai later that day, satiated, and looking forward to my next visit.

The new Nicholini's

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Last week I met up with my friend Miranda for dinner. It turned out to be her boyfriend's birthday, so a few of us decided to have some Italian at Nicholini's in the Conrad. The restaurant had undergone a major renovation last year, so this was the first time I've been back.

The decor is now even more modern and maybe even brighter than before. We were seated at one of the more intimate circular "cubicles" (an oxymoron...), and the backs of the sofa now reach high above our heads - which seems to be the style that is in vogue everywhere.

My good friend chef Kong had unfortunately departed, so now there were no familiar faces at the restaurant and I would actually have to pay corkage for the wines I brought. Bummer... I ordered very straight forward dishes which I knew the restaurant used to prepare well. Thankfully they were still delicious.

The caesar salad was prepared at our table side, and we were given a sample to taste before the rest of the salad was made. I asked for a bit more Parmesan in mine and was very satisfied.

My main course was osso bucco in tomato sauce and gremolata. The meat was very tender as one would expect, and the risotto underneath was quite good - just the right degree of al dente. My only small gripe is that I didn't get enough marrow from the bone...

A mango cheesecake was served in honor of Miranda's boyfriend. This went down very easily...

For wine I brought a bottle of 2001 Pahlmeyer Jayson to start. This was a classic Californian Chardonnay with all the usual oak, butter popcorn, minerals...etc. I thought it was very enjoyable.

We decanted the 2001 Gaja Barolo Dagromis, but this didn't seem to be enough to open the wine up. I have yet to drink a bottle of Barolo that I can say I truly liked.

While the food has maintained its high standard, I am not likely to return to Nicholini's for some time. The reason? Our very annoying waiter. I had just sat down and was chatting happily with the others for a bit, and we took our time to look at the menu. We asked for the waiter to come back later to tell us the specials, and he promptly went away. However, he came back again too soon, and insisted on telling us the specials. It seems he just couldn't wait any longer. For the rest of the evening, it was the same hurried pace of service. It felt like they wanted us out of there quickly.

Oh well, I will have to look for other places to satisfy my Italian cravings, which just got harder given the closure of Toscana along with the Ritz-Carlton.

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