June 27, 2009

Awesome pasta

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I took a couple of friends out to Tuscany by H tonight. I was the only one in the group who's been there since Harlan's return, and I wanted to introduce my friends to one of the best Italian restaurants in town. 

We started with the 2004 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese. Smoky nose with minerals, petrol and lemon notes. It's a nice and easy wine to drink, with a slightly sweet palate like a Spätlese.

My starter was the giant crab cake, which was done pretty well and paired with some very ripe tomatoes. Very tasty indeed.

The 1996 E. Pira and Figli Barolo Cannubi was decanted and drank pretty well, with a fruity, strawberry nose that was a little stewed, with a bit of brett and distinctive forest notes. Still a little tannic on the palate.

I chose the tagliolini with jumbo scampi tails, vine ripened cherry tomatoes in baby shrimp sauce. I remember that my friend had raved about it during our last visit, so I was eager to try it out. The plate that arrived in front of me was huge, and it was awesome. Very succulent scampi, together with those delicious cherry tomatoes and a good dose of basil for that classic Italian taste. The thin homemade noodles packed lots of flavors of the sea thanks to the shrimp sauce. The whole thing was just so yummy that I inhaled it all in no time. My friend ordered it as well and did the same thing.

As I was really full, I decide to take it easy on dessert, ordering the lemon and blood orange sorbet. The lemon sorbet was fine, but the orange sorbet was much nicer. A good way to end this meal.

One last note - the service from the waitstaff was very commendable. They were very thoughtful, which was quite a refreshing change from most of what we find in Hong Kong.

June 26, 2009


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The regular crowd from the wine shop gathered again tonight. The main purpose was to introduce someone to "the pig", so of course we are back at the Kimberley Restaurant (君怡閣). There were 12 of us in the banquet room just outside the restaurant, and it would be an over-the-top feast.

We started with a big sashimi platter, which was supplied from the sister Japanese restaurant. An interesting way to start the meal.

What followed was a selection of 6 appetizers (六錦碟), which were initially referred to as "6 small plates". Well...they were anything but small! But all very, very delicious.

Chilled slices of bitter melon (冰鎮蒜香涼瓜片) - very refreshing with a crunchy texture thanks to being chilled, and only slightly bitter.

Deep-fried Chinese whitebait (椒鹽白飯魚) - this is always yummy, and there was a huge pile of it, with deep-fried garlic and chili.

Deep-fried sea eel (燒汁鰻魚球) - nice and crispy on the outside, with a bit of sauce to give it a nice flavor. Unfortunately it's still a bit "fishy" for me.

Braised ox tongue (鹵水牛脷) - this was really wonderful...beautiful flavors and the chewy, springy texture was just perfect.

Braised pig trotters (鹵水豬仔腳) - always wonderful, the skin is soft and tender, while retaining a springy texture. I've always been a big fan.

Braised tofu (鹵水嫩豆腐) - soft, yummy and tasty.

Mixed seafood and winter melon soup (八寳海鮮燉冬瓜盅) - it's always impressive to see the waitstaff wheel in a whole winter melon on a cart, then proceed to scoop out the contents into individual bowls. The soup is perfect for cooling down the body during summertime.

Prawns baked with white pepper (白胡椒干焗海中蝦) - Wow! This place always knew how to do prawns, but they've taken it up another notch. The prawns are actually pretty big, and soooo tasty with the cracked white peppercorns all over the shell. You can smell the peppers from a mile away, which reminds me of the claypot of white peppercorn shrimp at Nino's Cozinha. I greedily sucked the heads dry...

Roast suckling pig stuffed with glutinous rice (金陵全豬烤金苗) - the highlight of tonight's dinner. The piglet was so tiny with its tail stub sticking up into the air. It was sooooo delicious, though. There was just enough fat between the skin and the rice. I don't need to rave about this pig any more than I already have multiple times...

Pomelo skin with shrimp roe and mustard greens (蝦籽柚皮伴玉芥膽) - the mustard greens were nice with that slight bitterness, and the the pomelo skin was also well done.

Braised beef brisket and tendon with potato (香茅汁薯仔扣牛根牛坑腩) - the tendon was really, really tender and tasty. I was already full by this time and didn't take any of the brisket.

Handmade noodles with Malay meat sauce (馬來肉醬撈手拉麵) - I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as "Malay" but it was pretty darn good. There was plenty of lemongrass mixed in with the pork, so it was a bit spicy and fragrant. I finished the whole bowl and made myself even more full...

Baked sesame buns (香麻焗燒餅) - just when I thought I was done, out came a plate of these wonderful buns. I can never resist these, so I picked one up and nibbled... very soft and fragrant - evidence of how much oil/lard was used. Pretty good and light in taste, but I still prefer the ones at Victoria City (海都).

Finally the fruit platter and petits fours came, but I could only manage to nibble on a piece of deep-fried egg cuillers (蛋散), since it was so divine with molasses.

Now, this group never gets together without a ton of alcohol, and tonight we went over the edge - at least for me. A total of 14 bottles were brought to dinner, and fortunately we left one bottle unopened... The theme was 1999 so there were lots of 10-year old wines on the table.

2004 d'Auvenay Bourgogne Aligoté Sous Chatelet - very toasty nose like roasted corn, minerals, then giving way to something pungent akin to smelly armpits or BO... then it hits me...it's peepee de chat!

1966 Perrier-Jouët Blason de France - caramelized cane sugar, very much like Chinese drink of sugar cane and water chestnut (竹蔗馬蹄), honey, a bit plummy, toffee. Still some acidity left, but almost no bubbles left in this one. Delicious!

1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé - nose of vanilla, caramel and toffee.

1999 Bollinger Grande Année Rosé - very nice mousse, good acidity balance and it's not too sharp. Finish was a little bitter.

1999 Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Millésimé - I bought this in Reims on my second trip to France in May. Wonderful mousse, still very fresh and vibrant. Big, sweet nose with lemon notes. Wonderful on the palate.

1999 Comtes Lafon Meursault Perrieres 1er Cru - a bit of straw, minerals and sweet corn nose. Beautiful and ripe.

1999 Laville Haut-Brion - pretty sweet nose with flint, straw and a hint of corn. Palate was a bit ripe, and the finish was a bit acidic and spicy hot

1999 Faiveley Corton Clos des Cortons - I was disappointed in this bottle I brought. A couple of other friends had the same comment - this doesn't smell like Pinot Noir! Why are we pouring Bordeaux out from this Burgundian bottle?! Nose was very medicinal with brett, alcoholic, green peppers, eucalyptus...nothing says Pinot Noir or Burgundy. Still a bit tannic on the finish.

1999 Méo-Camuzet Corton Clos Rognet - beautiful nose, fruity, a bit minty, a bit of ripe prunes. Now THIS is a real Corton!

1999 Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Charmes-Chambertin - what a beautiful wine! Classic farmy nose and roast meats, with ripe fruit, orange, floral/violet notes.

2001 Armand Rousseau Chambertin - very elegant and light-bodied, with lots of orange and tangerine notes. Sweet and exotic. A lovely wine but completely different from what I expected.

1999 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Cerretalto - medicinal and brett nose, smoky and alcoholic with some fruit, grilled meats and eucalyptus notes. I decided to bring this so that it wasn't an all-Burg night for the reds.

1920 Cossart Gordon Malmsey - everyone raved about the last Madeira I brought, so I decided to bring another bottle tonight. Lots of orange marmalade, sweet vanilla, toffee, honeydew melon, caramel and nutty notes. Very, very sweet on the nose. Very lovely.

Following the example of last August, I had to excuse myself and leave a little early. The evening had been awesome both in terms of the food and the wines, but I'd gone over the edge and needed to lie down.

June 22, 2009

A little molecular fun

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Another birthday, and yet again I've chosen to dine at a fusion establishment. I haven't been back to Bo Innovation for a couple of years, and I've been thinking about revisiting ever since the people working for the chubby baby decided to give them 2 stars. I wondered if things had gotten so much better since my previous visits to put them on par with some of the best meals I've ever had.

I must say that I don't really like the space they currently occupy - the last place was slightly better. I can't really say why it is, but it just wasn't very warm and inviting. But the bright lighting did make it easier for picture-taking...

As is traditional I opened a bottle of wine from my birth vintage, and tonight it was the 1970 Veuve Cliquot Brut Reserve. I love old Champagne, and this bottle was no exception. Nose of caramelized sugar, brown cane sugar, orange marmalade and of course the Chinese salty plum (話梅). To be precise, it's salty plum that has been dipped into Shaoxing wine (紹興酒). Very fine bubbles and the wine was surprisingly sweet on the palate for a Champagne.

Given that I haven't been back to the restaurant in a while, and this being my birthday and all, the Chef's Menu was the appropriate choice for the evening. Here goes:

Pomelo sunrise nitro-bomb - OK this is really gimmicky, probably designed for people who haven't been exposed to molecular gastronomy. A dollop of foam flavored with pomelo and tequila is dropped into a bowl that has been frozen with liquid nitrogen, quickly freezing and hardening it into a very cold meringue. Once in your mouth it sticks to your tongue much in the same way as licking a cold piece of metal on a snowy day. It numbed my taste buds for a while, and leaves me wondering why the chef would do this to me right at the start of the meal...

Oyster: spring onion, lime, ginger snow - the French oyster used (didn't ask for the origin) was very rich and creamy, with a very long finish. The spring onion flavor mixed with ginger granita made for a classic Chinese combo of 薑蔥. A sip of Champagne washes it down and cleanses the palate.

Caviar: abalone, congee - the congee has the viscous consistency of baby food, but not sure what the cubes of jelly are made of (abalone essence?). The caviar was very tasty indeed, and the whole thing was pretty yummy.

Noodles: "dan dan", grilled salmon roe, mixed herbs - one of the best dishes of the evening. This would be my first time having salmon roe that is grilled, and I'm not used to them being this dry. But the combination with the angel hair and the spicy sauce was great. Next time I'd ask for a big bowl for take-out...

Mussel: saffron essence, lychee foam, crispy lip - this brings me back to my meal at El Bulli, where I had the essence of mussels in a "ravioli". This time the chef has extracted the essence of mussels and made a cold soup flavored with saffron. The savory taste of the sea is then combined with the sweet, fragrant taste of lychees sitting on top as a pile of foam. Mixing the two makes for an interesting experience for one's taste buds. There's a piece of deep-fried mussel lip on the side but that's not really important...

Toro: foie gras powder, freeze dried raspberry, mustard herb - we were asked to use tweezers to roll up the toro so that the powder is wrapped inside. The toro might be real thin but the flavor has come out thanks to being lightly seared. I must say that I didn't really get the taste of foie from the powder - it just tasted a bit meaty. The raspberry did have a distinctive enough taste, though. Pretty yummy and interesting.

Baby food: "mui choy kau yok" - twist open the tops and the contents of the warm jars are revealed - a brown custard at the bottom which taste of fatty pork, and the foam on top which tastes like preserved vegetables. The combination of the two is the classic Chinese dish 梅菜扣肉. While others thought this was a little too salty, I thought it stayed true to the taste of the original dish as it was meant to be enjoyed with rice. The big baby in me found it really enjoyable and the jar was empty in no time.

Molecular: "xiao long bao" - the classic Shanghainese pork dumpling xiao long bao (小籠包) has gone molecular. The thin flour skin has disappeared, and now we get the classic molecular "ravioli" which contains the essence of the dish - steamed pork and juices. The thin sliver of vinegared ginger on top adds the finishing touch.

Foie gras: spicy sichuan chives sauce - the last time I had steamed foie gras was the foie gras xiao long bao at Le Platane in Shanghai when Justin was still around. This was much, much better. The blocs of foie were so tender and succulent, and the addition of bean sprouts and yellowed chives - along with the starchy, spicy sauce - turned this into something decidedly Chinese.

Salmon: fermented black bean, honey, pickled "bak choy", ginger shoot - most certainly my least favorite dish of the evening. The salmon was slow-cooked so it was still kinda raw and tender, but the flavors were off. Somehow the combination of honey and fermented black bean (豆豉) just tasted funny.

Langoustine: preserved duck egg, english mustard, cauliflower risotto, black truffle - my favorite dish of the evening. The langoustine was just coated with the salty egg yolk (咸蛋黃) with a bit of mustard to give it more kick. I have always loved this preparation and this was no exception. To have another taste of Alvin's famous "risotto" was even better. I remember this well from a few years ago, and the full flavor of the truffles (no doubt a few drops of truffle oil were added) just lingered in my mouth. Thank you may I have another...?

Wagyu: M9+, black truffle soy, "cheung fun" - another highlight of the evening. Yes, the beef was tender, juicy and fatty, and sprinkling sea salt on top and rubbing black truffle sauce on it made it tasty. But the real winner were the rice noodle rolls - cheung fun (腸粉) - which were stir-fried with the same black truffle soy sauce. And I thought that Victoria Seafood's cheung fun stir-fried in XO sauce was good... this one just blows it away.

Pre-dessert: black sesame soda - a great palate-cleanser, kind of. Drinking a mixture of carbonated and slightly acidic soda with black sesame soup (芝麻糊) was a lot of fun. We were sternly scolded when we tried to stir the mixture with the straw, as the motion would break up the bubbles in the glass...

Dessert: banana ice cream, poached banana in "shui jing fang" - both parts of the dessert tasted pretty good, although personally I have never understood the attraction of deep-fried ice cream.

I had a slice of a very nice cake from the Mandarin Cake Shop, with - what else? - fresh and juicy peach bits on top.

The restaurant poured us complimentary glasses of Moscato d'Asti, which went nicely with the desserts.

Finally we have the petits-fours. The osmanthus macaron was very, very nice as I love the fragrance of the flowers. The chocolate-filled sesame balls (煎堆) paled in comparison.

Alvin did make an appearance in the kitchen towards the end of our meal, and he looked very different than I remembered - no glasses, no highlights in the hair, and in general just a lot more toned-down. Fortunately, what hasn't changed is his creativity. Do I think the Michelin people were overly generous with their stars? Yes. But there's no denying that I had a wonderful meal here tonight, and I'll look forward to returning for more of Alvin's goodies.

June 19, 2009

Another bull market lunch

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Another Lunch Club gathering and the second one this month. Somehow we ended up at Amber, where business continues to be good - at least during lunch. The set lunch here isn't exactly cheap, but every table was occupied today. I ran into a friend from Goldman who looked like he was interviewing someone...

The signature foie gras Chupa Chups-style, with an outer coating of raspberry sauce along with a sliver each of gingerbread and beet root, was presented and quickly gobbled up. The shot of cantaloupe soup topped with mint foam and port wine ravioli was refreshing, although I didn't quite appreciate the addition of the port wine molecular 'caviar' into the mix.

My starter was the langoustine seared with Iberian pork chin, summer roots raw and cooked, crustacean yuzu coulis with manni "per mio figlio" olive oil. Needless to say the langoustine was fresh, succulent and sweet. The pork was fatty and very yummy, with a thin, crispy layer of skin on top. But I thought the coulis was a bit strange - savory and a bit heavy with crustacean flavors, then suddenly you hit the acidity of the yuzu.

The main course was something which I had tried last month - short rib braised in Gigondas, garden pea stuffed morels, white onion purée, "tartine de lard cul noire". The Rhone red-braised rib was sooo fatty and soft it was melting in my mouth. Actually it was a bit rich for me, considering this is lunch and not dinner. But I greedily shoved each mouthful in, and lapped up the very yummy onion mousseline. My see lai friend stared me down when she saw that I had left some of the potato mash unfinished, but I just didn't want to push myself over the edge today.

We each received a coconut ice cream "Oreo", which I promptly shoved whole into my mouth and munched on in slow motion, letting the ice cream melt and gradually coat my tongue.

Fresh wild strawberries over hibiscus jell-O, panna cotta & bourbon vanilla ice cream was my choice for dessert. It seems like this season all the fine restaurants in town got their hands on these wonderfully delicious berries. They were very yummy, and the combination with hibiscus was even better. There were bits of crumble everywhere and I made it into strawberry crumble as was suggested. Of course, strawberries and panna cotta is another classic combo that just can't go wrong.

I'm very full by now, and the short rib seemed to be comfortably settling into my stomach. This calls for a double espresso...

While the food was delicious, the air felt heavy at the table. None of us were particularly happy, as we were all preoccupied with issues at work. Hopefully our next meeting will be a happier one.

June 18, 2009

The other twin

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Over the last few months two restaurants have opened with the same name, serving very different types of cuisine. Tonight I had a chance to try out the second place named Gvsto, serving up Italian fare. Reviews had been mixed so far so I was a bit apprehensive.

I started with the panzanella al pofumo con burrata di bufala. This bread salad turned out to be a little different from my expectations, but it was OK. Shredded pieces of bread was mixed with chopped cucumber, tomato, red onions and topped with burrata cheese. Plenty of basil sauce to provide flavor.

I chose the signature dish of spaghettoni al nero di seppia con calamari e agrumi as my second course. The thick noodles frankly were a little too al dente for me, becoming a little harder to chew due to its size. But the taste was absolutely delicious. The squid ink along with tiny rings of calamari provided flavors of the sea, enhanced by garlic. Chopped cherry tomatoes added a bit of acidity and sweetness, and the final touches were provided by the thin strips of lemon zest that gave the dish some added kick. I thought everything worked very well together.

I brought a bottle of 2002 Kongsgaard Chardonnay, which I mistakenly thought was their Viognier/Roussanne. What a beautiful wine! This was probably the sweetest Chardonnay I can remember, with an explosive nose full of ripe honeydew melon, straw, lemon, sweet corn, butter, a bit of vanilla and some minerals. The color was a beautiful gold, and the wine was very ripe and sweet on the palate. No wonder Parker gave it 95 points...I whole-heartedly agree and probably would add a point or two on top.

The panna rappresa al limone con fragole fresche e menta was the perfect dessert to end this meal. The lemon-flavored clotted cream had the right acidity, and the strawberries balanced that very nicely. I could have had two of these...

The very friendly manager - who had been checking up on us all evening - kindly offered us a glass of Barolo Chinato. I've never had this before, and it sure was different! The base is Barolo, but this has been made with primarily the bark of the Cinchona tree - better known to us as quinine - and other spices. The result is a digestif that is highly regarded for its medicinal purposes. Indeed, the nose is nothing if not medicinal, with notes of hospital disinfectant, turpentine, pine and fir that reminds me of Christmas potpurri. The wine is actually somewhat bitter on the palate. I guess I don't have to worry about malaria for a while...

I think dinner tonight has been a pleasant surprise, at least for me. There were no real disappointments in terms of food, although my dining companion had a different opinion on her dishes. Service was also surprisingly friendly which always helps.

June 11, 2009

Double birthday

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Tonight a group of us gathered at Sup 1 to celebrate the birthday of a friend. Coincidentally it also happens to be my birthday on the lunar calendar. The food at the restaurant was pretty good, and we ended up sharing all the dishes as the evening progressed.

We started with some Japanese finger food like grilled ox tongue and deep-fried chicken cartilage. I chose to steer clear of the beef tartare given my experience after Monday night's dinner. We then had some crab meat and roe salad, steamed clams before moving on to the heavier dishes like roast chicken, lobster linguine, roast suckling pig. I was too full by this point so didn't touch the beef nor the desserts.

But with this crowd, it's the alcohol that takes center stage and there was plenty of it!

1999 Leroy Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot - wonderful nose of minerals, toast oak...it was like toasted popcorn kernals. A beautiful wine.

1989 Charles Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux - farmy manure, grass, sweet fruit. Later sharp nose of nail polish remover and a bit smoky. A bit cloudy and very smooth on the palate. One of the last vintages before the domaine was split up between the brothers.

1995 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque - a very beautiful wine. Toasy and a bit yeasty, with notes of straw and sweetness. Very good acidity balance and very fine bubbles. I've never disliked a bottle of this wine. I got a big pour of this, and kinda got me buzzed early on.

1969 Perrier-Jouët Rose Extra Brut Reserve Cuvée - there's only one word to describe the nose - 話梅 - or Chinese salty plums. OK so maybe it also smells a bit like Fino Sherry, but it's salty plum all the way. There are no bubbles left by now.

2005 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - Wow! The nose was sooo sweet and sugary, like cane sugar or even Japanese black sugar (黒飴). It was a bit flat on the palate, though...

1993 Thomas Moillard Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de Thorey - alcoholic nose with sweet fruit notes and a bit minty.

1996 Sassicaia - I knew there'd be a lot of Burgs tonight so I brought something a bit different. Nose was sweet and a bit smoky. Smooth on the palate with a slightly acidic finish.

2000 Anne Gros Richebourg - nose was sweet with a bit of forest and kinda alcoholic. Still pretty full-bodied.

2003 La Feuilleraie - an unknown Pomerol, this was classic modern day Right Bank with smoke, toasty oak and sweet vanilla notes.

1979 Charles Heidsieck Brut - yeasty with sweet corn, a little salty with notes of salty plum (話梅).

1990 Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs - toasty and yeasty.

An evening with this crowd always ends with too much to drink...but I didn't mind. After all it was a birthday celebration!

June 8, 2009

'75 Horizontal

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Tonight was a dinner I had been looking forward to for some time. It's another MNSC gathering, but the big deal is that we were going this at the Drawing Room. This has been the hottest restaurant in town since it opened a couple of months ago, and it's been pretty hard to get a reservation.

The restaurant was very full as I expected, with quite a few large parties. This has the effect of slowing down the service, as the kitchen seemed to have some difficulty handling multiple large parties. The private room that we were in had windows to allow us to peek in and see what's going on in the kitchen. Kind of reminds me of Pierre Gagnaire in Paris.

The amuse bouche was a shot of rock melon soup with a slice of jamon iberico. Good palate cleanser.

Wagyu beef tartare with truffle mayonnaise - the fragrance of the Australian black truffle hits as soon as the plate is served, which was pretty amazing. Did it overpower the beef tartare? A little bit I didn't mind. The truffle mayo had a bit of honey mustard for just the slightest bit of kick.

Roasted langoustine with veal cheek and smoked herring - the langoustine was succulent and tasty, even a bit sweet and creamy inside. The veal cheek was excellent - moist with a slightly chewy texture. As for the smoked herring...why do I not remember anything about this?

Mascarpone ravioli with duck ragut and red wine reduction - an excellent dish. The creamy mascarpone was really nice, working really well with the bit of duck ragout and the nicely pan-fried chanterelles.

Trio of wagyu short rib, wagu beef tenderloin and ox tongue with whipped potato and red wine sauce - the short rib was really nice, as the fat had melted and slightly caramelized and charred, bringing out all the flavor. The ox tongue was not bad, either, as I am a big fan of this. In comparison the tenderloin seemed a bit boring, which is a shame because it was actually pretty juicy and tender.

The chocolate combination consisted of a shot of melted chocolate, a warm chocolate cake and a scoop of very chocolatey ice cream. Nice but a bit of overkill at the end of the meal...

Onto the wines:

We started with Krug Grande Cuvée, with the trademark toasty oak and lemon citrus notes.

1975 Latour - nose of sweet fruit but also a little bit stewed at the same time. A little smoky and medium-full body. Not quite open. 93 points.

1975 Haut-Brion - tangerine and fruity, a bit smoky and slightly farmy. High alcohol. A beautiful wine. The nose completely changed with the second pour, as it was more muted and grassy, and a little chalky towards the end. 94 points.

1975 Cheval Blanc - sweet grass nose, green peppers and a bit of brett makes this a classic Left Bank claret - or so I thought... Sweet on the palate and even a bit "hot". 92 points.

1975 Vieux Chateau Certan - sweet and a bit grassy with a hint of orange. Finish was slightly tart but very long. 94 points.

1975 L'Evangile - nose was very sweet and a bit smoky. 95 points.

1975 La Fleur Petrus - very ripe, sweet and stewed fruits, with orange and smoky notes. Very gorgeous and my wine of the evening. 97 points.

As usual, we were way off on our guesses. We got the idea that the wines would be from the 1989 or 1990 vintage...and ended up being around 15 years off. The MNSC tradition continues!

1973 Yquem - a gorgeous wine with melon, orange marmalade, honey, acetone and plastic notes. Sweet but with a good acidity balance so it isn't just all sticky. From the birthday boy's birth vintage.

We also got a taste of the 1985 Léoville-Las Cases that the ladies were drinking, which was a classic claret with smoke and brett.

At the end of the dinner, Chefs Roland and Umberto joined us for some of the Yquem and Las Cases. We complimented them on the wonderful cuisine, although I must admit the menu didn't seem very Italian tonight... I'm glad I finally had the chance to get a taste of what the Drawing Room had to offer, and I'll be back in the future to check out what else is on offer.

June 5, 2009

A new sushi joint in town

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It's been a while since the Lunch Club got together, and we decided to do something a bit different. A couple of friends had been strongly recommending Sushi U (鮨雄), and our Froggie had checked it out earlier in the week based on my advice. So here we are.

The restaurant was bigger than I imagined, and we had a table all the way in the back. The place quickly filled up with diners, and the noise level soon became deafening thanks to our neighbors.

I read about the sushi and sashimi lunch sets as being very good value, but I wanted something slightly different. The Hokkaido rice bowl (北海道ちらし) turned out to be pretty good. While at first glance it didn't seem to be as generous as the other choices on the menu, it was extremely tasty. In addition to the thick cuts of local favorites like hamachi, salmon, amaebi (甘蝦) and the scallops that Hokkaido is famous for, there was also a decent amount of uni (雲丹) and ikura (イクラ). The uni was very sweet and delicious, and the ikura - after having been treated - had a particular taste that was particularly yummy. I was already pretty happy when our Froggie offered me her amaebi as she is not a fan.

As for the other items that came with the set, the salad was simple but there was something about that dressing that made an impression. The marinated burdock (牛蒡) was yummy with a tiny bit of chilli peppers. The chawan mushi(茶碗蒸し) was nice but the real surprise was the miso soup. In addition to the dried tofu, there were thin slices of winter melon (冬瓜) in the soup, which serves to cool the body down in the summer.

The final surprising touch was the ice cream. While I opted for the small cup of coffee, my friend seemed satisfied with her green tea ice cream. This would seem quite ordinary until you realize that the bowl itself has been chilled so that the ice cream doesn't melt easily. It's little touches like this which shows that the chef and manager really cares - something you see often in Japan but seldom outside.

It was a very simple yet satisfying meal. I can't remember the last time a Japanese set lunch had been so enjoyable!

June 4, 2009

We will never forget

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Tonight I went to Victoria Park to attend the candlelight vigil on the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre. I had been wanting to attend this annual event ever since I arrived in Hong Kong eons ago, but somehow never made it in the past. I finally made it for the all-important 20th anniversary.

Twenty years ago, I was a college student studying on the East Coast of the US. It was summer vacation and I was hanging around my godparents' house. I remember being glued to the TV in my room every night while I watched news coverage of the student protests. The mass of people I saw camping out in Tiananmen Square were basically my age, and it was easy for me to identify with them.

I was in utter shock when news came that the army had rolled in to suppress the protests. While I had a natural bias against Communist China, the reality still came as a total shock. It was my first realization that authoritarian regimes like China couldn't care less about what the world thinks of them.


 At the end of summer, one of my friends gave me a T-shirt that he picked up in Boston. On the front is a caricature of the famous "tank man" who stepped in front of a column of tanks to stop their progress. The back of the shirt declared loudly: "We will never forget".

The following summer I travelled to Hong Kong for the first time. I walked down Queen's Road Central and all over the heart of the city wearing this shirt, and I felt very proud that I was making a statement. Thinking back, feelings must have been running high in Hong Kong, too, after the first anniversary of the massacre.

Unfortunately the shirt was made 20 years ago and had long past its expiry date. It's no longer in my possession. But I kept the promise I made and never forgot what happened that June.

Tonight I attended the candlelight vigil held in Victoria Park to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacre. Yes, I keep using the term "massacre" because that is exactly what it was. China has admitted that hundreds of lives have been lost, while unofficial estimate puts the figure into the thousands.

Because of a previous engagement, I didn't arrive at Victoria Park until about 9:30pm, towards the end of the gathering. I missed most of the key presentations, including the broadcast of Zhao Ziyang's private memoir audio tapes. But it didn't matter. I was just happy to be standing on the edge of the big lawn with my friend Eric, being part of this great event. I took part as one of the 150,000 estimated participants, keeping the promise that I kept 20 years ago. I did not forget, and I never will.

The event ended peacefully, and I followed the crowd as it spilled into Causeway Bay. We walked past Long Hair, who was standing on a ladder preaching to the crowd. A casual stroll and I'm back home. I think I'll make attending these annual vigils a habit.

June 3, 2009

Catching up over dinner

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It's been a while since this group of ex-colleagues have seen each other, and it's always good to catch up over a nice meal. I thought it would be nice to get everyone introduced to the VIP Floor of Yung Kee (蘭亭閣), and it would give me another chance to try out more of their signature dishes.

I brought a bottle of 2001 Antinori Pian delle Vigne. This is a nice Brunello that is drinking very well right now. As this really wasn't a drinking crowd, the single bottle actually lasted us through the meal...

The usual practice of starting the meal with century eggs (糖心皮蛋) could not be ignored, and I did once again enjoy my half of an egg.

We ordered half of a roast goose (金牌燒鵝), which was not bad but really not that special. Should have gotten the fatty char siu instead...

The deep-fried sea cucumber stomachs (椒鹽海參扣) were just as excellent as I remembered. I'm not sure who first thought up the idea of turning this into food, but I actually prefer this to the outer shell of the sea cucumber. The texture is chewy and crunchy at the same time.

Beef brisket in clear broth (清湯牛爽腩) - a very simple dish. Nice enough but not sure why this was recommeded to me... I think I can find better versions out there.

Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦籽柚皮) - it's the right season for the pomelo skin, but there's not enough shrimp roe so I wasn't getting as much flavor as I wanted.

Smoked marinated layer pork (松子雲霧肉) - this is always a winner. The smoky flavor combined with the light and ethereal taste of the fatty pork... And the roasted pine nuts were nice, too.

Deep-fried prawns with mini crab roe (禮云子琵琶蝦) - really delicious and stuffed with the crab roe.

Deep-fried dried oyster rolls (網油蠔豉卷) - this was pretty yummy but pretty fattening. The roll is made up of a layer of pork fat wrapped around the core of a dried oyster and a slice of celery. The dried oyster's flavors were much more intense than that of a fresh one, and the whole package turned out very well.

Finally we had summer spinach in supreme stock (上湯莧菜), which came with big cloves of roasted garlic and was a good way to cleanse the palate.

I shouldn't have had the dessert as I was already full, but succumbed to peer pressure. I think I've learned my lesson.

It was good to catch up with old friends, and doing it over a good meal has always been the Chinese way. I look forward to our next gathering.

June 2, 2009

French varietals at Cépage

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I finally made my way to Cépage, one of the most talked-about restaurants in town over the last 6 month. The restaurant's pedigree is well-known, so most people have been curious to see whether it lives up to the reputation of its siblings.

I arrived to find the dining room much smaller than I expected. This was the space originally taken up by Ingredients, which failed spectacularly in its transformation from a small-time private kitchen to a big-time fine dining establishment. The room was dominated by one of the wine cellars, and there are a few interesting pieces of artwork hanging in the room.

My friend was already browsing the restaurant's extensive wine list. I had expected this place to have one of the best wine lists in town, and they did not disappoint. It's a wine list that only wine geeks like me would spend any significant amount of time perusing, and most diners would probably roll their eyes and ask for help from the sommelier. Lots of old vintages are on offer here - which is the Achilles' heel for most restaurant wine lists. The list is also dominated by their French selections, reflecting the focus of Vinum's business in Singapore.

I did bring along two bottles of wine so we didn't order off the list. We started with the 1993 Marcassin Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard. Initially the wine was on the warm side, but was already showing a beautiful nose of toasty oak, lemon citrus, flint, minerals, butter and sweet corn. The wine was ripe and mature on the palate, with a finish that was sweet and turned slightly bitter right at the end. After a bit of cooling down the wine was even better, showing very sweet nose like cotton candy, marshmellow and caramel. How I love old Chardonnays!

We were presented with tiny salmon-filled cornets, à la French Laundry. The amuse bouche followed - heirloom tomato, buffalo mozzarella, watermelon and ham.

Egg pasta Agnolotti filled with seasonal mushrooms, ham and lettuce, truffle jus, Parmesan cheese fondue - this was pretty yummy, and due in large part to the abundance of truffles. Aside from the shavings on top, there is also a ton of truffle bits at the bottom. I almost wanted to use some bread to soak up the truffle sauce... This Piedmontese pasta actually looks a lot like Chinese dumplings (餃子)...

I also brought a bottle of 2004 Leroy Vosne-Romanée. As I mentioned before, 2004 was the extraordinary vintage when all Leroy wines were declassified, so what is being labeled as a village wine actually contained grapes from 1er cru as well as the grand cru vineyards of Richebourg and Romanée St. Vivant. The wine was just absolutely gorgeous! Loads of tangerine, sweet black cherries, grilled bacon and smoked meats in the nose. It was just so explosive and sweet...such a pleasure to drink. Despite being a very young wine, it's definitely accessible now. What else can I say other than "Wow"?

Roasted D'Anjou pigeon breast and confit leg, pan seared foie gras, potato-shallot terrine, vegetables bâtonnets, sweet corn blinis - what a presentation! One's attention is immediately drawn to the leg of the pigeon - not exactly confit but it's got the two-fingered claw (presume the third has been broken) sticking up in the air. The foie gras was done well - nicely charred on the outside but creamy inside. The breast and leg were just a tad overdone. Both were pink and tasty, but while the meat was tender it fell just short of being succulent. Maybe it was because the pigeon had gotten cold by the time I got around to eating it...

Here's where our dining experience ran into trouble. The restaurant's been having problems with their air conditioning, and during the whole night we were freezing because cold air was just blasting from the unit, to the point where we could clearly hear the air coming out of the vents. When we asked the staff to turn down the A/C, they actually couldn't... you can hear the A/C noise drop noticeably only to start up again, as the unit had a mind of its own. Hence the food got cold very quickly...

Oh and I did steal a small piece of the pan roasted Iberian pork chop from my friend. It had that nice layer of fat on top that just looked so succulent...and it was! I just love pork...

I was pretty full and didn't think I could take on any cheese, so I picked the lightest dessert possible - Champagne-elderflower soup and sorbet, fresh berries. I've always loved cold soups as desserts, especially in the summer. The Champagne jelly actually made this a bit more filling than I expected, but it still went down very well.

Now for the finishing touches...chocolates and petits fours. I was presented with a platter of homemade chocolates, and of course I wanted to have all 6 varieties! Raspberry, black sesame, hazelnut, dark chocolate, coffee and green tea. The black sesam was fragrant as I expected, the I couldn't identify the hazelnut initially, and the green tea filling tasted milky.

My eyes opened wide at the sight of the madeleines. These were huge, but came out in the wrong color! Normally these are a little more orange and caramelized, but these were beige... and they also failed the taste test. Instead of being yummy and sweet and full of lemon citrus flavors, these tasted like unflavored soufflé...and too soft and mushy. We are left wondering how they could have failed so badly on something so simple...

But redemption came in the form of canelés, which were tiny but absolutely delicious. The outside was hard and crunchy, while the inside was soft and moist. I wanted to ask the staff for a box to take home... So the meal ended on a positive note.

I do have to say something about the service. For a restaurant that charges this level of pricing - it's not any cheaper than the hotel restaurants - the service just wasn't there. Not that service was terrible, but something was just missing. A minor complaint is that on my visit to the men's room, they had apparently run out of towels so I had nothing to dry my hands wish after washing. That should not have happened. I had deliberately avoided coming here for the last few months, because I wanted to give them a chance to get things right. Looks like there's still some work to be done.

Was the food good enough to merit return visits? You bet. And I'll find opportunities to go and try out their lunch deals, too.


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