May 31, 2008

The Acker auction in Hong Kong

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Coinciding with Vinexpo being held in Hong Kong this week, Acker conducted their first wine auction in Hong Kong today.

I am not sure that Hong Kong has ever seen a wine auction like this. The all-day auction, which went from 10am to past 7pm, featured 922 lots of wine. The Bonham's auction in April had a mere 246 lots, and the Christie's auction in 2000 featured 330 lots.

I stopped by to take a look at the action after lunch. I had no intention to buy any of the wines so I never bothered to register to bid. I have never bought at a live auction, and the recent incident with the withdrawn lot of old Ponsot wines from an Acker auction didn't exactly instill a lot of confidence in me. I spent most of the afternoon sitting with friends who had paddles but were too disciplined to win any lots against buyers with deep pockets. As we knew the value of many of these wines, we would shake our heads and laugh at the futility of bidding whenever people got carred away and the hammer price went through th high pre-sale estimates.

My new friend Cecilia was in attendance, having completed her task of promoting the wines that she makes in her family winery. She was the winner of the two cases of '45 Mouton on offer, each for HKD 1MM or more. As her husband is a large collector of DRC, she was happy to snap up quite a few rare lots as well. I was surprised that she didn't raise her paddle for the OWC of '90 Romanee-Conti...

Towards late afternoon the crowd thinned out, and some of the lots began to sell for the open bid or failed to find buyers. My friends eventually won some of the lots they tried to bid on. As for myself, even though I did not register, I ended up bidding (and winning) an old and rare magnum for the opening price by borrowing my friend's paddle. Of course, 2 minutes after the hammer went down, I started to suffer from buyer's remorse. I hadn't done my homework because I never planned on bidding. In fact I don't even have a catalogue and borrowed one from a friend. But the wine was from a good vintage, was in magnum form, said to be in good condition and from a great estate. So although there were no scores from wine critics whatsoever to support the high estimate, my emotions got the better of me and I did exactly what I did not wish to do...

The success of the Acker auction has already been well documented. I can see that the world's auction houses (and wine merchants) will increasingly shift their focus to Hong Kong and Asia. I do not think, however, that Hong Kong will overtake London as a wine trading center any time soon.

P.S. I didn't have to take the wine in the end... not sure what happened with Acker but maybe someone else decided to take it... anyway, good for me.

A revelation

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Last night my friend Kevin hosted his "birthday MNSC" dinner at Amber. We always look forward to Kevin's birthday tastings, and tonight turned out to be quite a revelation.

We chose the tasting menu to make things easier for ourselves. The amuse bouche had a cup of delicious cauliflower cream topped with a thin slice of summer truffle, and a small cube of foie gras.

The Kangaroo Island giant king crab - as stated on the menu - came in "5 textures and 4 temperatures". I recall having something similar on an earlier visit to Amber, but it was pretty good nonetheless. The bisque with foam on top had sprinkles of red chilli pepper granules, adding a little extra in the mouth. Was the chef trying a bit too hard with this dish? I think so...

The Tasmanian salmon came with a glass cover, and as it was lifted by the waiter, the smoke that was trapped inside was released, filling the room with the smell of charcoal-smoked salmon. The block of salmon was, of course, tender, and blackened grains stuck on one side provided the smoky flavor.

The John Dory was pan-fried and was OK, and the duck foie gras emulsion was nice. But again I think the chef was trying to do too much with the black truffle potato mousseline, plus the combination of celeriac, granny smith apple, and shallots on the side.

The New Zealand langoustine was nice, fresh and sweet. The block of pork belly at the bottom of the dish was fat, juicy and yummy. The gnocchi also worked well in the overall scheme of things. Not so sure about the artichoke.

The lamb neck tasted reasonably nice but was a little tough - I prefer my lamb to be tender.

Like other top restaurants in Hong Kong, Amber has a good selection of cheese. Unfortunately, today wasn't a day when we really had capacity to enjoy the platter that was put in front of us.

The first dessert was the yuzu - egg white cream topped with a large "yolk" of mango sauce, sitting on top of yuzu-flavored meringue inside an open egg shell. Very nice - as is the basil sorbet on the side although I'm not quite sure why the two were put on the same plate.

The second dessert was medjool date and rum souffle. This was almost like the rum raisin ice cream and was lovely. The Oriental spiced Greek yogurt sorbet packed a punch with the star anise flavor, and I thought this worked well with the souffle.

The last dessert was full of chocolate...and wasn't so impressive. Or maybe it reached a level of overkill and I simply couldn't eat anymore.

Now about the wines... the theme of the evening, as it turns out, was to pair a grand vin from a top vintage with its second wine. Tres interesant, n'est ce pas?

First pair:
'82 La Tour Haut-Brion - first impression was a hint of sweet grass, with plenty of alcohol in the nose, along with a bit of brett and smoke. With time the nose became a bit sweeter. I rated it 93 points while the Parker score was 99.

'82 La Mission Haut-Brion - nose was smoky, more open than the La Tour Haut-Brion. Good amount of sweet fruit on the nose, and there was more power here. Still plenty of tannins here but the finish became a bit acidic. I rated it 94 points against the 99-point Parker score. Quite disappointed in the wine, actually.

Second pair:
'86 Leoville Las Cases - a very open wine with lots of sweet fruit on the nose. Powerful and concentrated. I rated this 94 points against the 98 points given by Parker. Oh and I did guess the wine's identity correctly...partly due to luck.

'86 Clos du Marquis - amazing amounts of sweet fruit, powerful and very open. There was good length on the finish, but after a while it was clearly fading in the glass. I rated this 96 points. No Parker score given.

Last pair:
'90 Montrose - what a wine! Amazing power and an explosion of sweet fruit. There was also a bit of smoky grilled meats and bacon fat. What else can you say about this wine? A few of us were able to immediately identify this wine from the memory of its sheer brilliance. This is a wine that never fails to impress. I rated it 96 points against its perfect Parker score, because the wine faded a little in glass at the end.

'90 La Dame de Montrose - I thought the Montrose was a great wine, but this was actually better! Once again an explosion of sweet fruit, with more smoky cigar and a large dose of "farmy" nose of grilled and gamey meats. This wine just blew me away. I rated it 98 points against Parker's score of 90.

We were utterly amazed by the result of this blind tasting. In general we preferred the second wines to their grand vin counterparts, and all of these wines have had enough time to evolve and reach their drinking plateau. In the case of the last flight, the two wines had a 10-point difference in Parker score, and we preferred the second wine that cost about 1/8 of the price of the grand vin!

It was a truly great tasting put on by Kevin, and we are now going to buy up all the '90 La Dame that we can find!

May 28, 2008

The magic of Pierre Gagnaire

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I was invited for a wonderful lunch today at Pierre by my new friend Francois Mauss. Since Mr Gagnaire is actually in town this week, I was definitely not going to turn down this invitation! Honestly, Francois is such a gentlemen and I am grateful for his generosity.

We started with a bottle of generic Bourgogne from the 2005 vintage - forgot to check the producer. The wine was rich and ripe, very explosive with minerals, reasonably sweet in the mouth. For a generic Bourgogne (not even a village wine) I thought it was pretty excellent.

The amuse bouche was quite interesting. It was a parfait/pate made of strips of braised beef brisket (牛腩), carrot and turnip - just like the Chinese dish! Very interesting way to start the meal.

The first course was the oyster. From the bottom it was oysters out of the shell, sprinkled with tiny cubes of pear and tofu, topped with a paper-thin layer of agar, with a scoop of oyster cream, then strips of Japanese nori and sprinkles of a rich, seafood-flavored powder. Sounds complicated and there were many ingredients, but the amazing thing is that the one taste that came through immediately was the oyster. It was complimented by the nori (tasting also of the sea) and the orange seafood powder. The slightly sweet-tasting agar and pear provided a nice balance in the overall structure.

The second course was an avocado guacamole, except that it was blended with cumin and Indian spices so that it tasted of curry. It was paired with lobster cream on the side, which actually worked reasonably well together.

What followed was a very wonderful dish. Thin loops of calamari was topped with basmati rice, long strips of vegetable (zucchini?) and topped with lobster bisque. The combination of the lobster bisque and calamari was perfect, and the long-grained basmati rice also provided good texture in the mouth.

The sommelier chose a bottle of 2004 Frederic Magnien Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes. Initially the wine was all sweet fruit, very forward and just the new style that I like. Gradually the wine softened a bit and the structure, complexity and acidity came out, making it more balanced and classic. Finish was a bit short but hey, it's only a village wine after all.

Finally we were served some very, very delicious lamb chops. There was so much fat on these babies, and the flavors just exploded in my mouth. They were also incredibly juicy and tender. If you're not a fan of the "lamby" taste, then these definitely weren't your thing. I was very tempted to pick the bones up with my hands and strip them of any remaining bits of meat and tendons, as I have been known to do. But...I choose to behave myself so as not to embarrass my host.

In typical Pierre fashion, we were served two sets of desserts - each with three variations. The first set came with a parfait of red peppers, raspberry and lemon. There was also a compote of red peppers with white chocolate, and a glass of strawberry compote. The second set delivered a samosa with lychee cream, along with a bowl of delicious vanilla cream. Desserts have always been one of the highlights of a meal at Pierre, and I was duly reminded of this today. The sommelier also poured us a glass of Jurancon to go with the desserts.

Throughout the meal, we were graced with the presence of Mr Gagnaire as he came to say hello to Francois. Mr Gagnaire commented that it was more difficult to source top-quality ingredients in Hong Kong compared to Tokyo, but he was proud to have shipped in around 300 lobsters on this visit.

At the end of the very long lunch, we excused ourselves and headed off to Vinexpo so that Francois could properly conduct his interview with Mr Gagnaire. It was a really wonderful meal, and I look forward to returning the favor in the near future.

May 26, 2008

Making new friends

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Tonight we made two new friends over dinner - Francois Mauss from the Grand Jury Europeen and Cecilia Roger from Morgassi Superiore. Both were in town for Vinexpo, and both have been away from Hong Kong for more than 20 years.
We had a casual dinner at the Fortune Room at the Jockey Club. Francois had requested a Chinese dinner, and we had a free hand in ordering since he and Cecilia both told us that they eat everything.

We started with a suckling platter, consisting of roast pork (叉燒), roast suckling pig (烤乳豬) and jelly fish (海蜇皮). This was well-received by our guests. Next we had consomme with beef shank, which was light and delicious with very tender slices of beef shank. Wonderful.

The first two dishes were paired with the 2001 Ramonet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champs Canet. A very elegant wine with toasty oak, sweet grass, sweet butter on the nose. Medium acidty on the palate. This wine is fresh and showed lots of finesse.

Next we had scallops stuffed with shrimp paste and crab meat. Pretty yummy as well. This was followed by the black pork with beancurd sheets and eggplant. The eggplant was pretty flavorful.

These two dishes were accompanied by the 1983 Leroy Meursault Les Narvaux - another great wine. The nose was very sweet with honey, apricot and pear notes. The palate had a touch of sweetness and not much acidity compared to the Ramonet. The nose had clearly oxidized somewhat, like a pear that had been cut open and sat around. At the end of the dinner, the few drops left in our glasses showed what a truly amazing wine this was.

The first main dish was braised veal shank in claypot. A heavier dish, this nonetheless impressed with the Chinese five spice. We followed this with crispy fried chicken, where the meat was moist and tender.

The two reds that Francois brought along were both delicious and excellent value for money. The 2004 Rollan de By was pretty delicious for a wine that costs EUR 8 a bottle...nose of sweet fruit, a bit of smoke, lead pencil and that medicinal/antiseptic nose that comes from brett. Drinks pretty well but finish a tad short.

The second bottle was the 2002 Haut Condissas, with a much sweeter nose, also a bit of smoke, pain grille and (dare I say) oriental spices. A more complex wine with a longer finish, this is again excellent value at only EUR 15.

We finished the meal with stir-fried kale with wine, sugar and ginger. Cecilia really appreciated the something extra which is brought out by the ginger.

We had a great evening enjoying these fine wines, and exchanging ideas about the world of wine. I hope to see both Francois and Cecilia at Vinexpo in the coming days, and made a date for lunch with Francois later in the week.

Pawned again

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Needed a place for dinner last night, and decided to give the Pawn another try. Fortunately they weren't so packed on a Sunday night, and I got us a table with an early seating.

Apparently per restaurant policy, they wouldn't serve us the yummy scotched eggs from the bar downstairs. I was a little upset, but it meant that we started with the roasted bone marrow with parsley and lemon. Three bone sections were presented on a plate, sprinkled with chopped bits of parsley and lemon rind. I love the rich, oily taste of the bone marrow, and I hungrily dug in with my spoon. My cousin Maria couldn't quite get used to the taste, but me? I used a bit of bread to mop up the runny oil left on the plate...

For main course I picked the classic fish and chips, based on the recommendation from one of the owners on my last visit. The plate was huge, as was everything on it. The batter was crispy and yummy, with so much oil soaked in it that the aftertaste was wonderful. The fat fries were also crispy and stayed that way. The peas were not mushy. It was just as had been promised.

We ordered three desserts to share: the Eaton mess plus the lemon trifle and the treacle tart which I had on my last visit. All were excellent, with perhaps the Eaton mess being the most interesting due to its presentation - it was a messy pile of strawberries and cream and other ingredients.

I had brought along a bottle of 2005 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane. It showed a nose of minerals, citrus lemon and a bit of butter; with a medium sweet palate and a "hot" and spicy finish. It was a yummy wine, but disappointing to me because it did not taste like a Condrieu. Where was the overpowering floral nose that comes from the Viognier? Frankly this wine tasted like a Chardonnay from a ripe vintage - in fact it tastes like a 2005 white Burgundy. I cannot help but feel a little cheated.

Anyway, we had a very enjoyable meal, and I look forward to my next visit where I'd begin with some scotched eggs at the bar...

May 25, 2008

Zuma Zuma Zuma

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We wanted something light last night as the weather was turning warm, so we ended up trying out Zuma. I had eaten lunch once and was less than impressed, and certainly did not think it merited the 99th position in the Top 100 (see Right off the bat, we could see that the waitstaff was really poorly trained. They only had two beers on their list - an Asahi and a Kirin. When I asked "Which Kirin is it?" the waitress did not know. She offered to bring the bottle to me so I could identify it myself. Later on during the ordering process, the various staff also clearly did not remember their menu items, and had to rely on us pointing it out so they would know what we were talking about. We also had to ask them not to bring ALL the dishes to us at the same time, because there was clearly no room on the table to fit everything. These people really don't have a clue on how to provide service... We started with the Zuma green salad - a great combination of mixed greens with deep-fried tofu cubes, ripe cherry tomatoes, beet root and a few petals of chrysanthemum. The dressing tasted like yuzu ponzu which was very enjoyable. Then there was the veggie roll, a California roll-type maki with carrot, green asparagus, cucumber and avocado wrapped with shiso and sprinkled with black and white sesame on the outside. Dabbed lightly in soy sauce, the fragrance of the sesame, shiso and green asparagus worked well together to create a refreshing taste in the mouth. Cheap (OK relatively...) but delicious. We also enjoyed the suzuki with yuzu sauce and ikura. The thin slices of seabass sashimi was dripped with the yuzu sauce we love. There were also two slices of eggplant topped with salmon roe. Note that you should not combine the ikura with the suzuki as the yuzu sauce will completely overpower te ikura. I was a bit surprised by the Zuma nigiri zushi. For HKD 300 you get all of 5 pieces... Granted, you have some upscale ingredients, but it was still a shock when it arrived. I had the wagyu with (caviar?), which I thought was OK but nothing to write home about. The eel was only so-so. The other three pieces were a sad-looking octopus, a tasty-looking scallop topped with yuzu sauce, and a minced toro with truffle sauce. Not likely to order this dish again. Finally we had grilled eggplant with miso and chilli. Grilled eggplant has always been a favorite dish, but this was interesting. Ignoring the sprinkle of yellow chrysanthemum petals, the combination of miso and chilli reminded me of Chinese spicy bean paste (豆瓣酱). Kinda detracted from the experience a bit. Having had low expectations, and because we did not order anything premium or outrageously expensive, our experience was actually alright. I know that many people scream about how overpriced this place is, and I would have to agree. If I wanted to splurge for a Japanese meal, Zuma is not a place I would choose. But for a light meal with some salad and greens involved, I thought it was worth returning to.

May 17, 2008

Long awaited gathering

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Have been planning a dinner for people on the team who love to eat, and we kept rescheduling the gathering due to conflicts. Finally, we have an evening when most of us are in town, and we made it to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) last night. My friend Dustin, who is a regular at the restuarant, very kindly made the reservation for me along with a few dishes which must be ordered in advance.

While we waited for everyone to arrive, we popped open the 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Turckheim. Everyone identified the intense lychee nose immediately, and there was also a hint of minerals. The wine was so sweet on the palate, more than I expected, and tasted a bit "hot". I checked the bottle and found that it was 15% alcohol. No wonder! But given that this came from 2005 I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. They obviously picked from very, very ripe fruit.

We started with the roast suckling pig, which was rolled into the room on display. This is alwas delicious, and I love the paper-thin, crisp slices of the skin. I had a taste of the ribs, but didn't get to gnaw on one of the legs this time.

We paired the 1999 Clos Mogador with the pig. The first whiff of the nose showed lots of power, with sweet vanilla and fruit. Taking the first sip, however, I was a little disappointed. The acidity struck me, and I thought that this wine would turn out to be more traditionally Spanish than I had hoped for. Fortunately the acidity faded, but the wine was still tannic on the palate with a long finish. Not what I had hoped for.

Next up was the wintermelon soup (冬瓜盅) - a great dish for the hot summer days as it cools the body. In addition to the melon, we had lotus seeds, chicken, roast duck and frog legs in our bowls. Very freshing and I had a second serving.

Due to a miscommunication with Dustin, we ended up ordering the deep-fried chicken testicle tofu (炸雞子). Thankfully I asked them to reduce the amount being served. Some people at the table knew what this was, while others suspected something was up, but finished the tofu anyway before the answer was revealed.

We were served a big plate of fried giant pomfret (香煎大鯧魚), always my favorite. The slices are just so yummy with the crispy surface and the soft and moist interior. I chose to dip it in the mayo this time.

With the pomfret, we had the 2003 Hugel Gewurztraminer Jubilee. This was much lighter and more floral than the Zind, and still with a hint of lychee.

Each of us was served a crab shell with baked crabmeat (釀焗鮮蟹蓋), baked au gratin to perfection. Worked well with the Worcestershire Sauce and so much better than the one I had at Farm House (農圃). The crab meat was just so fresh and sweet, it was just good blended with strips of celtuce stems (萵筍).

We had sweet and sour pork (咕咾肉) at the request of the ladies, and crispy fried chicken (炸子雞) as well as wolfberry leaves with pork liver (上湯枸杞葉與豬潤). The chicken skin was nice and crispy - perfect, in fact. The wolfberry leaves were a novelty since I have never had it, but it was a little bitter.

The second red was the 1997 Pahlmeyer Red, which had plenty of sweet fruit and vanilla in the nose. The tannins were round and smooth on the palate, and I liked it better than the Mogador.

We were very full, but I took in a bowl of mung bean soup (綠豆湯) for dessert anyway. This was a long time coming, but I think we were all pretty happy by the end of the evening.

P.S. A few of us adjourned to a Korean karaoke club, and drank/smoked/sang our way to happiness past 3am...

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...

May 10, 2008

Bontemps au Bonheur

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Had an evening out with friends for a third night in a row. Bonheur was the venue for this evening, due to its delicious food and excellent value for money. We brought along a few bottles of wine for the evening, and I expected to be pretty well-lit by the end of the evening.

I started with the foie gras terrine as a starter, which came with 2 slices of thick, premium packaged melba toast. The terrine itself was pretty thick, and I thought it was nice and creamy as it coated my tongue.

I skipped the soup as I felt I could only manage 3 courses, and I definitely wanted dessert.

I chose the grilled kurobuta pork chop, and for some reason mine was the biggest portion out of the three of us who had ordered the same dish. It was HUMONGOUS. I actually wanted to switch with someone or give half of it away, coz it was just really intimidating. But nevermind, let me see what I can do…

First bite - very tender and juicy, looks promising. As I worked my way through this big hunk of meat, I began to realize that this just might be the best pork chop I have ever had. There is a strip of fat that runs down one side and also next to the bone, and this just provided all the flavor for the meat. It actually reminds me of the amazing char siu (叉燒) I had at Yung Kee's VIP floor - the perfect harmony achieved between the fat and the lean meat. Maybe the alcohol had affected my judgement, but I really, really, really liked that pork. I did manage to go through about 2/3 of it before finally giving up.

Desserts were served and a plate of profiteroles was presented in front of me. We weren't very excited about this. First of all, the filling was whipped cream instead of my favorite ice cream version. There was also not enough chocolate sauce on top, and the various fruit garnishes somehow didn't quite work.

I was actually crushed during the ordering process, because they had taken the croissant pudding off the menu. But now to finish with a disappointing dessert…

Naturally we had a lot of wine. We started with a Portuguese vinho verde whose name and vintage seemed totally forgettable, but in fact it was surprisingly good.

Next we drank the 2005 de Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume, with floral, perfumed nose and notes of Anjou pear, minerals and a bit of toasty oak. Medium acidity.

With the main course we had 2000 Andreas, which showed all the classic Bordeaux traits - and the reason why I originally bought the wine was because it was so "New World". It's got classic notes of smoky, pain grille and red fruits. Tannins are round and smooth, and the finish is pretty long. A nice Bordeaux.

We also had a bit of the 2004 Penfolds Bin 707, which was a bit of infanticide. This is also classic, with typical Aussie nose of cotton candy, strawberries and sweet caramel. There is no mistaking where this wine came from.

Once again I left the restaurant very stuffed, and too drunk to follow the rest of the group to another round of drinks...but I gotta go back for more pork chop!

May 9, 2008

Two Italian meals

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Dined out and had Italian for dinner two nights in a row, but they were totally different experiences which highlight the range of options available in town.

First night - Cipriani

On the first night, our large group of 12 chose to dine at Cipriani. This has always been one of my favorite places, and we took the private room so that we wouldn't scare away the other customers... Luckily there weren't many customers in the main dining room anyway.

We brought our own wines and had the equivalent of 7 bottles for the evening, which, when added with the bellinis that some of us were enjoying, amounted to a decent amount of alcohol.

We had a contributor with 2 bottles of Champagne - the Gosset Excellence Brut followed by Krug Grande Cuvee. Despite all the fun we poked at our friend for bringing a "cheapy" Champagne, the Gosset was actually a decent drink. But of course it paled next to the Krug in comparison, with more mature, refined notes in the nose.

Next up was a bottle of Chateau St Jean Fume Blanc (didn't look at the vintage), which was fine as a drinking wine (someone's quiet remark to me).

We then moved onto the 2 bottles of 2001 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast that I brought. These were actually drinking very well, although still a bit young and probably need a couple of more years to completely round out the edges. The nose was classic pinot, but none of the farmy, barnyard notes of Burgundy. Sweet, powerful and concentrated, I thought it did very well for Kistler's generic cuvee. 

Finally we had the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia, from a magnum that I brought. I was a little apprehensive before the wine was poured from the decanter, as this would be my first experience for this vintage of Insignia. I need not have worried. The nose was full of sweet red fruits and powerful, and the wine was full-bodied on the palate. Enough of the tannins had been shed to make the wine rounded and smooth, and I let the wine swirl around my tongue to feel and chew on the tannins. Wonderful stuff. I don't think the wine has reached its peak yet, so I can probably wait a couple more years before pulling the cork on my other bottles.

I always choose the simplest food at Cipriani. Tonight I picked caprese. This is a more delicate version of the classic, as it uses mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes instead of the usual, large slices of both. Of course, it was delicious and I do prefer it this way.

For the main course, I again ordered the baked taglialini with ham. This is a dish that I always order at Cipriani, because it's so good. Thin strips of ham is sprinkled on top of the pasta along with cheese, and baked in a shallow dish au gratin. Never ceases to satisfy me.

Being the boring person that I am, I picked and recommended the vanilla cream cake for dessert. I did try the chestnut cake, and it was yummy, but the vanilla cream is still my favorite for its lightness.

I left the restaurant very full and pretty inebriated. A very good evening indeed.

Second night - Panevino

A few friends decided to gather at Panevino for a casual meal. I remembered that the roast suckling pig was pretty yummy, and so I was really looking forward to this meal.

I brought a bottle of white and a bottle of red, and I had already opened the 1996 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon in the office for it to breathe. I asked the manager if she could help me chill and open the wines, only to be told that the restaurant doesn't allow wine from the outside. I told the manager that I had opened a bottle a few months ago on my last visit, but she insisted that this rule has been in place for a couple of years. At this point I'm pretty upset and it clearly showed on my face.

With limited exceptions (usually reserved for big name, must-go restaurants) I do not patronize restaurants that don't allow BYO. After a few minutes the manager came back and offered to let us consume the Far Niente since it I had already pulled the cork, and she would do so without charging us corkage. Well, it's a nice gesture, but for me the damage has already been done. Panevino would be on the short list of restaurants I would not return to (like Le Tire Buchon) because of its wine policy.

Honestly, the food is decent here. There was nothing to complain about the caprese - the tomato was ripe and the mozzarella soft and creamy. But these come in large sizes and somehow just isn't quite the same as what I had the evening before at Cipriani.  The deep fried calamari was not bad, either.

The main course came and I saw a big hunk of suckling pig in front of me. It's pretty darn big, with a trotter attached. I start to chop it up with my knife, and put the first piece in my mouth. Yum! The fragrant and crispy skin - together with a layer of fat that melts in your mouth - nicely balances with what little lean meat there is. As I mentioned last week, it's difficult for me not to like any roast pig... I manage to finish the entire piece of meat, but am too full to take in any dessert.   For a second night in a row, I needed an espresso to help with digestion.

BTW the 1996 Far Niente was not bad. Funny thing is that the manager offered to decant the wine, then simply poured the entire bottle (along with all the sediment) into the decanter in about 3 seconds. Why bother decanting if you're not going to leave the sediment in the bottle? Anyway, the wine had shed its tannins so it was smooth on the palate, with a typically Cali cab nose. But somehow it was a slight disappointment as I had expected a lot from this bottle. Maybe it was the sediment, or my foul mood thanks to the manager, or the fact that I had just drunk a fabulous bottle of '97 Cali cab the night before.

Oh well... Did I mention that I wasn't going back to Panevino again?...

May 3, 2008

Another take on Legend

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Last night I caught up with some friends over dinner at the Legend Concept, the private kitchen which I had just visited a few weeks ago. As happens very often, we had the place to ourselves and it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

We started with the 2005 Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot. This was very ripe, sweet with chewy fat on the palate. Classic toasty oak and minerals on the nose, with a medium long finish. This wine is ready to drink now, given the power of this awesome vintage.

The appetizer was baby abalone, which was marinated with soy sauce. Unfortunately the sauce was a little bland, so the natural "fishy" taste was a little too prominent. The artichoke hearts on the side were interesting but I wasn't sure how it added to the dish.

Next we had mushroom consomme, which was really disappointing. It tasted like the product of simply soaking dry mushrooms in hot water, something I do at home as preparation. Am I being harsh? Perhaps. But by this point I was thinking that dinner would be a very different experience compared to a few weeks ago.

This was followed by pan-seared scallops with risotto. The scallops were fresh, tender and sweet, if again a bit bland. The accompanying risotto was done fairly well, a little al dente.

We started on the 1998 Hacienda Monasterio Reserva Especial. Now this was an interesting wine, made by Peter Sissek of Pingus fame. The nose was classic Right Bank Bordeaux, sweet and ripe, with familiar farmy, gamey notes. It was a full-boded wine and the tannins were still pretty heavy. Very delish for a Bordeaux blend from the Ribera del Duoro.

We were given a nice watermelon sorbet to cleanse our palate. This has become the highlight of the meals here. I'm gonna have to learn how to make these at home.

The main course of spring chicken roll was quite an interesting creation. Take giant prawns, roll a layer of calamari paste around it, wrap a layer of nori seaweed, and stuff it all in a shell of spring chicken. Cut into slices, the flavors actually worked well together.

The second red of the evening was the 1995 Shafer Hillside Select. Ripe fruit in the nose as one would expect from a Californian, but after a while the wine was actually more like a Left Bank Bordeaux. A very full-bodied wine, but a little disappointed.

To accompany dessert (a nice Napoleon) , we had a half bottle of the 2004 Suduiraut, which had lots of ripe apricot, melon, orange and honey. A little young but already delicious, and a perfect way to end the evening.

May 1, 2008

The Pawn

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Tonight I had dinner at the Pawn, the new restaurant opened by my friends behind the Press Room. This has been a cool and hip venue lately, having been renovated from an old Hong Kong pawn shop (和昌大押). Reservations are hard to come by, and I was fortunate enough to be treated by one of the owners.

The menu is decidedly British, having drawn inspirations from restaurants such as St John in London and Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head Hotel. I was really looking forward to this meal, since I had always wanted to but had never been to St John.

We started with Scotch eggs, which had soft, liquid cores wrapped inside a thin layer of pork sausage, breaded and deep-fried. This was a great way to start us off, and partially made up for the disappointment at the unavailability of roasted bone marrow salad tonight.

For starter, I had the beet root salad with goat cheese. This was very interesting as it also included sweet potato, haricot verts, watercress and pomegranate seeds. I thought the flavors blended rather well together.

For main course I had the roasted duck breast with savoy cabbage, which came in a huge portion (all the mains were rather big). While the flavor was good, it was overcooked and the meat was no longer pink and juicy. A little bit of a let down here.

I also had tastes of other mains: the baby turbot was blackened (not really pan-fried) and was reasonably tasty (skin was a tad salty); the rump steak was large but not great; but the roast suckling pig was excellent. The skin was crispy and the pork fat underneath was just yummy. I guess it's difficult for me not to like roast pig anywhere...

Even though I was stuffed at this point (and a little drunk to say the least), we nevertheless sampled a few desserts. While I passed on a delicious-looking apple crumble, I did dive into the excellent lemon trifle, with zesty strips of lemon rind that was prefect on a summer day. I could never resist sticky toffee pudding and it's sweet, sticky and yummy here. Finally, I took a small piece of treacle tart that was also very good.

Of course, we would never dream of having a meal without some excellent wine. We started with the 1995 Louis Jadot Batard Montrachet, which showed a powerful, pungent nose of flint, minerals and petrol. As time went on, the nose softened and became more pleasant, but the toasty oak was still there. Acidity on the palate was a bit high. I could easily see this wine drinking better in another few years.

The first red was the 1990 Fontaine-Gagnard Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chenes. With the memory of an earlier bottle of 1990 Volnay 1er Cru still in my mind, I really looked forward to tasting this wine. It turned out to be quite interesting, with a nose of sweet, stewed prunes and smokiness. If I had tasted this blind, I would have guessed it was a Right Bank Bordeaux by its nose...but the acidity on the palate would have made me question my guess.

The last bottle of the evening was 1979 Jaboulet La Chapelle. The nose was classic Hermitage, very wonderful and I enjoyed it very much. But the finish was short, and we were a bit disappointed in this respect. Still, it was a pleasure to drink this wine.

I left the restaurant very stuffed and quite drunk...especially given I had started drinking before 4pm... But I will need to return soon to try out the roasted bone marrow.

A pair of Condrieu

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Hung out at a friend's place this afternoon to taste some yak cheese from Qinghai and had some fruit. I thought it would be nice to have some wine with the cheese so I brought 2 bottles of Condrieu along.

The first bottle was the 2000 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane. When I had this wine last year, I was disappointed coz it was over the hill. Judging from the color of the wine in bottle, I felt it was probably gonna be the same this time. And sure enough, after pulling the cork and pouring the wine into glass, it was exactly the same as last time. It's quite a full-bodied wine and had a lot of depth and complexity, but it just wasn't fresh anymore. The fresh, floral nose that is typical of Condrieu and Viognier had vanished. With time, the nose improved and I definitely found Anjou pear, a hint of lychee as well as honey in the nose. The finish was reasonaly long and you could tell that once upon a time it had been a great wine.

As a precaution, I had brought along the 2005 Chapoutier Condrieu Invitare. Now this was a fresh vintage and there was no way that it would be over the hill. And indeed, the nose was fresh and floral as I had expected. But alas, the whole package just wasn't there. The acidity was a bit more apparent, and there simply was no depth and complexity to the wine. Other than being fresh - which the girls clearly preferred - the wine just wasn't exciting. Pretty soon I went back to drinking the La Doriane...

Lesson learned? Stick to La Doriane but next time, drink it within a couple of years after release.


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