December 31, 2009

My foodie resolutions for 2010

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My friend Susan called me a couple of weeks ago to ask me about my new year's resolution in terms of food.  She was doing an article for the South China Morning Post and wanted to get my thoughts.  I hadn't specifically made it a point to come up with resolutions for 2010, but I guess there have always been a few things in the back of my mind.  So here we go... the following paragraphs are lifted from the article published on December 31, 2009:  original article can be found here (requires subscription to

Peter Chang
Financial professional and Diary of a Growing Boy food blogger (

"I want to go back to Tokyo for a foodie trip and try some of the places that are in the Tokyo Michelin Guide - Japanese and fusion restaurants. People talk about a sushi place called Sukiyabashi Jiro, which has three stars. I also want to try some tempura places. On my last trip, I had an amazing tempura meal at a restaurant nobody talks about and I figure if it's that good at a place no one knows, how much better will it be at a place people say is the best. I'll also try some of the more creative kaiseki places that people on [food blog] Chowhound write about.

"For other food destinations, it depends on work, I'm sure I'll be travelling to Europe and the US, but those trips are pretty busy.

"My wine-tasting group might be taking another trip this year - this year [2009] we went to Bordeaux so in 2010 we might go to Burgundy and the south of France. These trips are focused on wine but, of course, there will be some nice meals at the vineyards we visit, plus one or two meals at [Michelin] starred restaurants. Then I'll make some detours to eat at other places when we leave Beaune or Lyon - I'd like to try Troisgros [in Roanne].

"I'd also like to learn to cook in the new year - I'm not a good cook and I want to learn more. I just bought a place in Taipei and I'll be fitting out the new kitchen. I want to buy a temperature-controlled steamer, and I'm hoping friends can teach me to cook sous-vide. That's my goal for 2010 - to get some good kitchen equipment and learn to cook sous-vide."

OK, I'm not sure that I actually said "I'm not a good cook" to Susan...that may be her interpretation since she thinks that all I cook at home are instant noodles.  Of course I don't cook as well as she does, being a professional chef and all... But I haven't had any complaints so far from the select few friends who have had my cooking.

So the big things this year will be Japan and France, both probably in the second half of the year.  Let's see what happens!

December 30, 2009

A casual wine dinner

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A group of my wine friends were getting together for the last time in 2009.  It was meant to be a large gathering as is usually the case, but a flurry of last-minute cancellations meant that attendance for dinner halved, with the rest of the gang showing up for after dinner drinks.

The venue for this casual gathering was Cafe Joli.  I had never been to this small restaurant, but it was right next to one of the wine shops I occasionally visit, so it's easy enough to find.

Seafood ravioli - this wasn't bad at all...the seafood sauce was probably adapted to local tastes, as it wasn't very creamy.

Duck breast and fruit salad - pretty refreshing, with slices of smoked duck breast and plenty of light and yummy olive oil.

Spaghetti with Parma ham - pretty decent with lots of mushrooms.

Grilled half Boston lobster - absolutely nothing to complain about here...

For dessert I picked serradura (木糠布甸) as I didn't like soft cheesecakes.  This turned out to be an excellent choice, as the serradura was absolutely yummy.

Fortunately there were only three bottles of wine opened during dinner, which meant that I was still sober at the end.

1997 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard - I bought this from and it was obviously stored poorly.  Nose was heavily oxidized, sweet with nose of poached pear, marmalade, minerals, a hint of chalk and marshmallows.  Color was a little deep and cloudy.  The finish was a little tart at first.

1999 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - minty with sweet fruit, orange and forest notes.  Very nice.

1999 Delamotte blanc de blanc - reasonably sweet on the palate, with a short finish.

The group adjourned to my friend's (relatively) new apartment for housewarming drinks, but I decided to go home since I'd been out drinking for the last 4 nights in a row...

December 29, 2009

Un tour de France en hiver

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I hadn't been back to Pierre for a few months, and I wanted to try out Olivier's cuisine.  I invited a friend along as I knew she would enjoy the bottle of wine I was bringing for the night.

There is the usual spread of amuse bouche to start with.  The shrimp paste dumpling seems to have a bit of coconut milk in the sauce.  Interesting...

The entrée I chose was always going to be interesting, judging by the name and the description: La France vue par Pierre Gagnaire.  Representative items from four different cities would be presented for the diner to sample the different regional cuisines.

Paris: black truffle, mushrooms and spinach tartlet - this was one of those times when the item that you've put in your month causes you to blurt out "oh-my-gawd!" involuntarily. The black truffles were just so, so fragrant, and were perfectly matched with mushrooms and spinach.  I was left wishing that the tart was 4 times as big...

Strasbourg: traditional fleischnaka, sauerkraut, charcuterie, and pan-seared goose liver - the funny looking roll in the middle is the fleischnacka made from minced beef and noodle. The foie was at the bottom of the bowl. It was nice, fresh, and a little firmer than I was expecting. But it was all good...

Of course we can't forget about the sauerkraut, which was on the bottom below the yummy slices of ham. Very Alsatian...

Reims: Champagne sorbet, grape, grenadine and coquelicot vinegar - this was perfect as a palate cleanser before moving on to the seafood.

Marseille: bouillabaisse mousseline, rouille toast, red mullet terrine - this was an interesting take on the bouillabaisse... with a good amount of dill to pick up the flavors.

The terrine was sitting in yummy bouillabaisse with a stick of toast on the side.  Everything has been very delish so far.

We had a middle course of black truffle, parmesan foam, potato and tomato confit. Is there anything better than potatoes with black truffle - especially when you've got both potato chunks as well as mash? The parmesan foam was a nice tough, and the tomato confit and spinach at the bottom was a refreshing counter balance to the otherwise rich and heavy flavors.

For main course I chose something that was suggested by the sommelier Pierre - hare.  It's a gamey winter dish that works well with wines from the Rhone valley.  Even though I was never a big fan of hare - I always found it a bit tough and dry since there's never enough fat - I decided to order it anyway.

La Lièvre : roast loin of hare with juniper, blackcurrant and red cabbage, pomme darphi - as I expected, the hare was a little tough. Strong flavors from the black truffle shavings and blackcurrant sauce.

Traditional civet; crosnes and grelot onions - the civet of hare was pretty heavy in terms of flavors, with blood and red wine sauce plus black truffle shavings.

This was really yummy... caramelized onions, onion jelly and nice, crunchy crosnes - with a hint of curry. These little tubers are really interesting... although the restaurant got them from France, the origins are actually Chinese - 寶塔菜. They look like worms but the consistency is crunchy like lily bulbs.

Foie gras tartlet with chocolate, walnut and endive salad - wow... imagine the combination of sweet chocolate with rich foie gras mousse. Yum!

Whenever I dine at Pierre, there is always only one option when it comes to dessert - les grandes desserts de Pierre Gagnaire.  Nicolas just keeps sending out plate after plate of  his sweet creations!

Almond and milk pudding - this was nice and light, and I joked that this was basically almond jelly (杏仁豆腐)... petals of different flowers were laid on top to accompany this.  There was also two sections of what looked like Bûche de Noël with different flavors.

This was something sweet wrapped with a layer of marzipan and topped with carmelized artichoke.  Very interesting.

Very interesting with layers of agar agar on top.

Beaujolais Nouveau sorbet - this was definitely made from young red wine, but it's not exactly sorbet... consistency was more like a thick foam.

"Khaki" ice cream with caramelized fruit - pretty nice.

The coffee foam was pretty yummy - almost like soft meringue in consistency.  Love those coffee beans.

This was good, too!

Finally, we have something that is pretty interesting.  Of course the wild strawberries are nice, and they are coated with sweet honey.  But the real show stopper was in the other bowl.  The green came from coriander, I believe, and the rest was milk curd.  It tasted exactly like the Cantonese ginger milk curd (薑汁撞奶) popularized by places like Yee Shun Dairy Company (義順牛奶公司).  Interesting to find this at a Michelin-starred French restaurant...

I decided to open a bottle of 1995 Guigal La Mouline.  This is hands down my favorite wine in the world, and I bought a few bottles of this vintage in Tokyo 10 years ago.  I always knew it was a little early to drink this wine, but I wanted to see how far along it has come in its evolution.

The nose had lots of violet, pine needle, forest, caramel, toffee, smoked meats, very sweet fruit like ripe melon, mint and eucalyptus notes.  Reasonable concentration, with a medium length finish that is slightly acidic.  The alcohol was still very apparent.  I wasn't disappointed at all.

This was a really enjoyable evening, especially the army of desserts sent out by Nicolas which left me totally defeated.  I'm really very happy with Olivier's cuisine, and hopefully we can do this again in the near future.

Ordering half the menu

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I met up with my friends from last night, this time at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) for lunch. I left the ordering to my friends, and as it turned out it looks like they ended up ordering half the dim sum a few other dishes!

The dim sum plates:
Steamed rice rolls with fresh shrimps (鮮蝦爽滑腸粉) - pretty decent.

Steamed prawn dumplings (筍尖鮮蝦餃) - didn't have these but they're usually pretty good.

Deep fried prawn spring rolls (鮮蝦炸春卷) - probably one of the best dim sum dishes here.  The skin was perfectly done, with juicy prawns inside.

Pan fried cured meat and radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - pretty nice and devoured quickly.

Deep fried bean curd skin roll with fresh shrimps (鮮蝦腐皮卷) - pretty decent, too.

Steamed xiaolongbao (小籠包) - served in individual carriers... not bad.

Stewed honeycomb tripe (金錢肚) - this was cooked with heavier spices than the lighter-tasting counterpart. Pretty soft...

Steamed manyplies beef tripe (蒸牛百葉) - very nicely done, with that wonderful chewy and springy texture.

Steamed taro cake (蒸芋頭糕) - I'm a guy who doesn't go for taro, and even I thought this was pretty damn good!

Steamed cured meat and radish cake (蒸蘿蔔糕) - definitely better than the pan-fried version, as the steaming process released the flavors from the sausages and infused them into the radish cake.

Steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce (豉汁蒸排骨) - pretty nice, actually.  Big chunks of pork with a bit of fat.

Steamed lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice with Chinese dry scallops and chicken (瑤柱珍珠雞) - was too full by the time this arrived...

Other dishes:
Marinated jelly fish (海蜇皮) - the strands are too thick and this was not well-received.

Daily soup (例湯) - can't remember the name of this...anyway it was double-boiled with a fish whose name I had never heard of, along with a bunch of herbs.  Very light in color and delicate in flavor.  Great for a winter day.

Soy-marinated goose (鹵水拼盤) - some goose web and goose meat.

Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - these seem to be a little browner than usual, and my friends thought the ones they had at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源) the day before were better.

Stir-fried kale with garlic (蒜茸炒芥蘭) - very well-received.

Century eggs and pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑) - these came way too late for me... no more room in my stomach.

Fried-rice with octopus in abalone sauce (鮑汁章魚炒飯) - pretty wet like Fujian fried rice (福建炒飯), but obviously slightly more upscale.  The chewy bits of octopus and mushrooms were pretty nice.

The desserts:
Almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - much, much better than what we had last night, and I always liked this.  But my friends thought it was a little bit light and diluted.

Steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (杬仁馬粒糕) - didn't have any, but this one got praises around the table.

Fresh baked egg tart (酥皮蛋撻仔) - didn't have any but the pastry crust looked sooooo inviting.  I'm sure they will give the ones from Honolulu Cafe (檀島) a run for the money.

Steamed buns with lotus paste and salty egg yolk (蛋黃蓮蓉包) - too full to taste...

I brought a bottle of 2001 Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin, which took a little time to open up.  Smoky notes of grilled meats gave way to fragrant nose of eucalyptus and mildly sweet black fruits.  Not spectacular but a decent food wine.

My friend wasn't happy with the tea at the restaurant, so at the end of the meal he took out a plastic bag carrying his own 80-year old Puer tea (普洱茶)...which apparently cost an arm and a leg, and certainly more than a lot of wine in my collection (including the Rousseau)!  Was it nice? Well, it certainly tasted much better and concentrated, but I'm a dummy when it comes to tea.  I was happy to have had the privilege of drinking something like this.

I can't believe how much food we had ordered for just the five of us... I really was tempted to walk back to the office in Central from Wanchai!  Once again I have to thank my friend for his generosity.

December 28, 2009

Going for gold

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I went back to Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤酒家) to entertain some friends from Taipei.  They were on an short shopping and eating trip to Hong Kong, and wanted to sample some good Cantonese.

We started with half a roast suckling pig (烤乳豬) at the suggestion of the staff.  This was not bad... the skin was thin and crispy.  But for some reason they were being cheap on the condiments, and we had to ask several times for more.  I think for this style of suckling pig,  Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) is still tops in town.

Next up was the reason why I came back - the gold coin chicken (古法金錢雞). The ones tonight were even better than what I had last time!  The sandwich of char siu (叉燒), bacon (冰肉), and chicken liver was just perfect, dripping with honey glaze.

My friend loves crabs so I ordered a giant flower crab steamed with chicken fat and Huadiao wine (雞油花雕蒸蟹).  This was one of the best dishes from my last visit, and did not disappoint.  I think the crab might be even bigger than the one we had last time, and the fragrance of the Huadiao in the thick, golden sauce hit us immediately.  After we finished the crab, the leftover sauce was taken and mixed with some e-fu noodles (伊麵)...absolutely delish.

We had a plate of stir-fried kale with garlic (蒜茸炒芥蘭).  This seems like a simple dish, but it's pretty hard to get really good kale in Taiwan so my friends enjoyed it.

Winter means time for hearty food like claypot rice with preserved meats (腊味飯煲).  While I really liked the rice crispies (飯焦/鍋巴) they dug up, the rice was too healthy and didn't have enough oil from the duck (腊鴨).  The portion of preserved meats also seemed a little skimpy.

My friends wanted some almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶), but this was downright horrible.  What I had in my bowl was not almond cream, but more like almond yogurt or some other form of curdled milk... Sooooo not what I was looking for.  Guess we'll have to go back to Fook Lam Moon to get this one, too...

I brought two bottles of wine to share:  the 2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion was nice and simple, with classic notes of mint, eucalyptus, smoke and grilled meats on top of the fruit - right up my friend's alley.  The 2007 Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett was equally classic, with typical nose of petrol, mineals and plastic over lemon and orange.

I promised to join my friends for lunch at Fook Lam Moon before they return to Taipei tomorrow.  That would be another interesting session...

December 27, 2009

Frosty window

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Tonight was the last MNSC dinner of the year, and you could feel the tension in the air as the fight for last place was down to the wire between three of the members.  Our generous host Paulo - who was one of the three - chose to host the dinner at the newly-opened French Window.

The amuse bouche was served before we sat down for dinner.  I believe it was French ham that was very fatty and yummy - I was too busy chatting with friends as the waiter was mumbling something.

Beef carpaccio rossigny - very thin layers of foie gras were staggered between the beef, and everything was just oh-my-gawd-it-melted-in-my-mouth... Was it beef that I just ate?  Coz it was so buttery I thought it was pata negra... A very, very good start to the meal.

Potato tower, black truffle - classic combo of creamy mashed potato with the amazing fragrance of black truffles and truffle oil.  The shells of the towers were done very nicely.  This is one dish that makes me want to have lots of mash...and that doesn't happen very often.

Creamy polenta, black trumpets - not that I'm complaining but... isn't this a little similar to the one we had just finished? Anyway, the polenta was super creamy and runny, and very, very delishhh.  I wasted no time lapping it up, and would have picked up the plate to lick the bottom clean had I been in different company.  After all, we were in the private room and out of view of the public...

Roasted pigeon, beetroot confit, spiced red wine sauce - I think this is actually à la royale.  The flavors were certainly very heavy, with lots of spices typical of the winter season.  The pigeon meat that was stuffed into the skin was done very nicely - still red in the center and juicy.  But I think the spices were a bit too much for me and I struggled to finish the meat.  I was more than happy to take the bite-sized beetroot, though.

Cheese selection : aged Comté, Brebis des Pyrénées - the Comté was pretty young and tasted fresh with sweet grass flavors.  The Brebis was actually pretty hard.

While I thought the meal in general was pretty good, and liked just about everything I had on our special menu, the story was quite different outside.  A few of the wives of MNSC members decided to come and have dinner in the main dining room, ordering à la carte.  They were less than impressed with the food.  I did have a bite of the steak tartare and didn't think very much of it.

Worst of all, the staff was apparently rude to the wives.  When one of them tried to choose a selection from the cheese trolley, one waiter apparently barked and told her she could only choose a maximum of three.  WTF?!  When was the last time a top-tier (or pretending to be top-tier) restaurant tried to be cheap with me on cheese?  Most places would only be too happy for me to take a bit of everything.  You won't find me returning with this kind of attitude.

On to the wines!  The theme of the evening - typical of Paulo - was 1969 horizontal.

We started with the 1969 Dom Pérignon pre-dinner.  This was a very, very beautiful wine - lots of straw, oxidized pear, orange marmalade, honey...the nose turned sooo sweet after a couple of hours.  Color was deep golden, and the wine was initially slightly acidic but became much more so with aeration.  96 points.  And I did guess the identity of this correctly.

1969 Penfolds Grange - nose was initially plastic and a bit chalky (this should have given me the hint as old Grange can be chalky), with sweet strawberry notes giving way to coffee and Asian spices.  Pretty smooth on the palate with light tannins.  95 points.

1969 Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Georges de Latour - very strong polyurethane and burnt rubber nose, with mineral notes.  Tannins a little firmer. 92 points.

1969 Michel Gaunoux Corton Renardes - fruity nose, clearly an old wine, lightly stewed fruit, minerals, and lots of button mushrooms.  Sweet orange notes emerged later, and a little sharp in alcohol.  95 points.

1969 Louis Jadot Chambertin Clos de Beze - beautiful, openly decadent.  Smoky nose with grilled meats, a bit plasticky, amazingly sweet, with lots of bacon and farmy notes.  Very light on body with a slight aciic finish.  98 points and my wine of the evening.  Who would have thought?  A Jadot...

1969 Guigal La Mouline - initially a bit closed and steely, with a very sweet fruit core underneath.  Amazing ripeness.  Was there eucalyptus in the nose?  More structure compared to the Jadot, with a slight acidic finish.  96 points.  What a privilege it was to drink this wine!  And I would have thought I'd pick this as my favorite...

1969 Charles Krug - nose was a bit funky, old and oxidized.  Disqualified from the tasting.

1969 Latour - smoky, grilled meat notes with eucalyptus.  Definitely a Cab.  92 points.

1969 Marey-Monge Romanée-Saint-Vivant - very ripe and sweet with lychee notes. Faded a little with time. 94 points.

1969 Jaboulet La Chapelle - notes of bacon, grilled meats and leather.  Sweetness.  92 points.

This was an amazing lineup of 10 wines that are now 40 years old - what a wonderful way to close out the year!  At the price that the La Mouline is going for, I'm not sure when I'll have another opportunity to drink this beautiful wine again.  The Jadot Clos de Beze looks much more affordable at 1/10 the price...

And congratulations to our host for securing last place in the standings!

December 26, 2009

Christmas in Shanghai day 4: crab roe OD

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I was hung over this morning, and woke up a little later than usual. After cleaning myself up in slo-mo, I went off in search of more xiaolongbao.

Linlong Fang (麟笼坊特色小笼包) is a copycat Jiajia (佳家湯包) – the layout of the whole place looks just like the Jiajia outlet on Huanghe Road. I placed my order for two baskets, and they arrived a bit more than 15 minutes later.

The egg yolk and pork dumplings (蛋黃鮮肉小籠) were pretty good. This combination seems popular with some xiaolongbao specialists (and customers of course!), and I can see why. The salty flavor and powdery texture of the yolk contrasts with the smooth, naturally sweet pork. Lots of soup inside the nice, soft skin.

The pure crab roe dumplings (純蟹粉小籠) came in two baskets, and were about double the size of the regular dumplings. There was so much steam coming from these baskets I could even see it on the pictures I took. A little bit of the yellow crab oil had already oozed out. I picked up the first one, and decided to shove it whole into my mouth. Maybe it’s a little too much, but I wasn’t given a spoon and was too lazy to ask for one. Very rich with lots of crab roe chunks inside. Yummy.

I devour the dumplings one after another in quick succession. As I got to the second basket, I started to find pieces of shell in the crab roe filling. Aaaarrrrggghhhh!!!! This is so annoying! Occasionally one will find small pieces of shell in the crab roe, because the maker of the stuff wasn’t very careful. But the pieces I had in my mouth were pretty significant in size, and tells me that the source of their roe isn’t very good. So even though the dumplings here were bigger compared to Jiajia, I still have to put Jiajia as my #1 for crab roe dumplings.

Two dozen xiaolongbao was definitely too much to eat on my own, especially since one basket was filled with rich crab roe, and those were double the usual size! I started to feel a little nauseous towards the end, but I didn’t want to waste food… I left the restaurant and decided to walk a little to settle my stomach.

I met up with the sisters again for dinner, this time at Sophia’s Restaurant (原创私房菜). It’s a cute little place not far from the house, and the food turned out to be pretty good.

Beancurd roll (素鵝) – this was actually pretty good. Nice flavors without being overly smoky.

Hot pickle (宮廷榨菜) – also nicer than expected for something so simple. Actually a little bit sweeter than usual.

Bean paste with egg (三色豆瓣酥) – I guess I’m just not a fan of 豆瓣酥… The presentation was pretty, with the bean paste sandwiched between layers of egg yolk and egg white. Taste was a little bland, which is why it needed a sweet and fruity sauce.

Given our experience yesterday, we tried not to over-order main courses.

Prawn and crab meat with pancake (金菊蟹蝦夾餅) – this was kinda interesting. River shrimps are stir-fried with some crab roe and meat, then you wrap it in pancake along with some julienned cucumber and yellow chrysanthemum petals.

Sophia’s Kungfu chicken (別有天功夫雞) – I know it’s the signature dish that has been cooked for 2 hours with 28 types of herbs and spices… but to me it’s just a decent chicken with some subtle herbal flavors on top of the sweet soy sauce.

Meatball on seashell (蛤蜊獅子頭) – very interesting take on the traditional meatball, made with clams and apples. Presentation was very pretty and they were encased in open clam shells. The flavor was definitely sweeter than the normal meatball, which probably came from the apple. Very nice.

Stir-fried greens with winter bamboo shoots (塌菜炒冬筍) – I’ve been dying to have this veggie and finally got it. Love that very mild bitter aftertaste along with the sweetness.

I was happy…a simple, casual yet delicious Shanghainese meal, and I didn’t feel stuffed at the end!


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