July 31, 2009

Friendly sushi chefs

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I was set for a quiet evening at home when a friend asked if I wanted to have dinner together. She was looking for "something good" and after thinking about steak, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, we ended up at Sushi U (鮨雄). The restaurant was pretty empty for a Friday night, and we took our seats at the sushi counter.

First, a small glass of beer to cool us down, and a plate of edamame (枝豆) to go with the beer. The chef also put down a single, baby sawagani (沢蟹, freshwater crab) in front of me. It's been cooked but its cousins are still crawling around in a large bowl right in front of me. I eventually break it apart and munch on it, but it's really mostly shell...

In the mood for sake but unable to finish regular bottle between the two of us, we chose a smaller bottle from the limited selection. The Mizu no Eau (水の王) has a seimaibuai of 50%. It's a little drier than the sake that I normally drink, but surprisingly light and watery in taste. Later we found out that it was called daiginjo light...

We started with a sashimi platter with 3 types of fish: isaki (伊佐木, chicken grunt) is a white fish. We had two differen cuts and it was pretty decent, but what a name...


kanpachi (間八, greater amberjack) was good, but the katsuo (鰹, bonito) was something else. There was lots of flavor, but the chef hadn't completely sliced through the tataki, so two thick slices are still connected to each other.

We split a regular sushi platter, and I took some tekka maki (鉄火巻き) and a piece of the egg. The kajiki (梶木, Pacific blue marlin) was very good - the thick slice of fish was fatty and a bit chewy, almost like a white fish version of toro. The maguro (マグロ, tuna), sake (鮭, salmon), ikura (イクラ, salmon roe) were the next to go.

We ordered some ika (イカ, squid) with some salt and lime juice on top, and a little shiso (しそ) between the squid and the rice. Very nice both in terms of flavor as well as the chewy texture.

The anago (穴子, conger eel) was decent although I had hoped for something better.

I asked for botan ebi (牡丹蝦), and the chef delivered a huge one...the head was deep-fried and it was large and impressive. This was very, very good.

I'm full but asked for the dessert platter, with warabimochi (わらび餅) made from bracken starch; slices of white peach; anmitsu (餡蜜) with red beans, jelly and ice cream; and some lychee concoction that was pretty decent.

To be honest, while the sushi was pretty decent it didn't wow me. I wouldn't say that it's tops in Hong Kong. But what my friend and I really enjoyed was chatting with the chefs. My Japanese friend is talkative, and I know enough Japanese to be able to participate. Chefs Sasaki and Uchida were very friendly, and the evening passed quickly. The overall service was pretty friendly, too, probably a result of the restaurant not being too busy. This was a good and relaxing way to spend Friday evening...

July 27, 2009

A few beers with the guys

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I planned a gathering with a few ex-colleagues who haven't seen each other in a while. Since we just wanted to spend time shooting the breeze while having a few beers, an izakaya seemed to be the perfect venue. I found myself back at Irori for the second time in 2 weeks.

We started with stir-fried julienned burdock (金平牛蒡焼き) and deep-fried sweet potato chips (薩摩芋チップ). Both are excellent accompaniments to mugs of draft beer.

The grated yam and spicy cod fish roe (とろろ明太子) was meant to balance out the "heaty" deep-fried chicken cartilage (軟骨唐揚げ), my perennial favorite. Somehow the tororo didn't taste quite as good as 2 weeks ago. Maybe I suck at mixing it up...

Grilled ox tongue with spring onions (牛タン葱焼き) is another favorite, with the chewy, tender pieces buried in a pile of diced spring onions.

Seared wagyu (和牛炙り) had the great charred flavor on top of the black pepper, served over a pile of thin onion slices to neutralize the effects of searing.

Mochi pizza (もちピッザ) is a house special, with bits of bacon and pizza sauce on top of small pieces of mochi. I like it.

Finally we had the deep-fried Kurobuta pork chop (黒豚とんかつ), which was pretty damn yummy with just a bit of fat.

It was a good evening. Just good, simple food washed down with plenty of beer. And the guys hanging out and bonding. I'm sure I'll be back soon.

July 25, 2009

A disappointing outing

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One of my friends has a guest from out of town and wanted to take her to Lamma Island. I decided to go along with them since it's a nice day out, and it's been a couple of months since my last outing. We arrived on a full ferry at Yung Shue Wan (榕樹灣), the populated end of the island, and proceeded to walk through town on our way to lunch.

I called ahead to book a table at Han Lok Yuen (閒樂園), the famous "pigeon restaurant" above Hung Shing Yeh Beach (洪聖爺泳灘). We arrived at the restaurant a little late, after being caught in a short rainshower. The restaurant looked pretty empty, perhaps partly because of the rain. We seated ourselves at a table indoors and waited...and waited... Service was extremely slow today. I think there was only one person doing the work outside the kitchen.

When it was finally time to order, we were greeted with an unpleasant surprise. Whole section of seafood are unavailable without pre-ordering, and apparently this has always been the case. I can't say that I remember this being the case from my previous visits, but maybe I've just been lucky enough to get the extra stock they had ordered... The waitress told us that people mainly come for the pigeon (which is true), that she had assumed that we know this about the restaurant, and that she didn't tell me about this when I booked the table because it was already too late to order the seafood anyway. I guess she has never seen the commercials on TV starring Andy Lau telling people in Hong Kong to improve their service...

We started with the minced quail with pine nuts (雀崧), wrapped in lettuce leaves. This was OK although the sauce was just a little stinky.

The roast pigeon came and it was OK, actually a little subpar to be honest.

Things started going down hill from here... Because we couldn't order a whole steamed fish, we ended up with sweet and sour garoupa fillet (酸甜炒斑球). This was a disaster, as the batter was chewy like rubber.

The deep-fried tofu was pretty tasteless, with the only flavors lent by some stir-fried diced capsicum and deep-fried garlic.

The steamed prawns with minced garlic (蒜茸蒸中蝦) weren't very fresh, and the heavy dose of garlic was used to mask the slightly off taste of the prawns.

This was such a disappointing meal...I wish we had taken our visitor to Rainbow (天虹) - even that would have been better. I think this will be my last visit to Han Lok Yuen.

We walked a little more on the hiking trail, and doubled back to get some sweet beancurd at the famous Grandma's sweet beancurd (亞婆豆腐花). This is another institution on Lamma, and I've been coming for years. Though she no longer sells her grass jelly (涼粉), her beancurd is as delicious as ever, and a much-welcomed relief in the searing heat. All was not lost on this excursion...

As we came back into the town I looked for a shop recommended by a friend.   Shelly Cake Express is a tiny cafe with only a handful of tables, serving coffee, tea and cakes. I ducked in to order a few slices for takeout, and the blast of aircon I enjoyed for those few minutes seemed heavenly. The place was packed with customers, as the prices seemed very reasonable. I'll have to come again on my next trip.

We boarded the ferry back to Central, feeling a little disappointed at how this outing turned out. After cleaning up and resting, I ended up having the cheesecakes for dinner... The trademark tofu cheesecake was pretty decent. The distinct taste of tofu was clearly there, but the consistency was more of a mousse instead of cheesecake. The chestnut cake was OK - very sweet and creamy. The New York cheesecake was really pretty good. The texture was thick and creamy, and does remind me of the real thing. Overall the cakes seem to be tailored to local palates. I must try the other cakes at Shelly's next time.

July 24, 2009

A Shanghainese feast

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An old friend is in town for business, and I found myself having Shanghainese for the second time this week as a group of us gathered for a casual Friday evening. I last came to Liu Yuan Pavilion (留園雅敍) exactly 5 months ago and had a pretty good meal.  Once again I didn't do the ordering, but in retrospect I probably should have. There was simply too much food, at least for me. But I can't complain too much as it was all very good.

First, the appetizers:
wheat gluten with bamboo shoots (四喜烤麩) was pretty good.

The deep-fried freshwater eel (炸鱔魚) was excellent, crunchy enough and covered with the sweet sauce that's slightly acidic from the vinegar.

The pork terrine (鎮江肴肉) came in large but thin slices, and there was the cucumber in garlic sauce (蒜茸小青瓜).

The shredded chicken with bean jelly and peanut sauce (棒棒雞絲), with nice, soft gelatin-like flat noodles made from mung beans, was pretty nice.

Fried prawns with salty egg yolk (咸蛋黃中蝦) - no shells today, but the flesh of the prawns were nice and succulent, covered with the yummy salty yolk.

Smoked chicken (煙燻雞) - as delicious as I had it the last time - nice smoky flavor and just sweet enough to make it yummy. Needless to say the meat was very tender.

Mandarin fish noodles (龍鬚桂魚) - this was the most interesting dish of the evening. The flesh of the fish was removed from the bone, shredded into thin strips resembling noodles, then stir-fried. Of course the flesh has been lighted coated with starch so that the "noodles" held their shapes.

Chicken soup with wontons (砂鍋雲吞雞) - the chicken soup is pretty light and not as heavy as some of the ones I'm used to, but it's fine. I am a little bothered by the use of the term 雲吞 instead of 餛飩, as the former really is a Cantonese expression.

We finished with stir-fried leaf amaranth (清炒莧菜), some good homestyle pancakes (家常薄餅), and nice and juicy xiao long bao (小籠包) with lots of meat juices inside. I was too full and decided to give up my pan-fried potstickers (鍋貼) to others.

Another very good meal, but a little too much food this time around. Overall this is still a pretty good place for Shanghainese and I'm sure to be back soon.

July 22, 2009

Comfort food

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I joined a couple of friends for dinner tonight at the Shanghai Fraternity Association (上海總會). None of us were really in the best mood, but for a couple of us having some comfort food certainly helped.

Smoked duck egg (薰蛋) - the last time I had this dish was here a few months ago. I do love a good smoked egg...

Smoked fish (薰魚) - nicely deep-fried and juicy from the marinade. Sweeter than what I'm used to, but not bad.

Drunken chicken (醉雞) - this was pretty good, both in terms of the flavor and the tenderness of the meat. But I still think the pigeon I had last time was really, really good.

Vegetarian goose (素鵝) - this was actually fairly moist, which was OK because it's what I'm used to growing up.

Honey-soaked ham (蜜汁火腿) - each of us got a "ham and tofu" sandwich, with a slice of honey ham and deep-fried tofu skin between the folded steamed bun. I really should have asked for the plate of honey sauce so I can dip the bun into it.

Fish fillet in rice wine (糟溜魚片) - made from Mandarin fish (桂魚), this is classic Shanghainese and is popular because of its sweetness due to the use of fermented rice wine.

We had a simple plate of veggie, then finished with xiaolongbao (小籠包), potstickers (鍋貼), and a very delicious bowl of noodles with fried scallion (蔥油拌麵). The abundance of dried shrimp made the noodles really tasty.

We shared a bottle of 2004 Blason d'Issan, which was pretty drinkable with some nice fruit and smooth tannins.

One of the friends also bumped into a colleague celebrating their 20th anniversary, so somehow we got ourselves a glass of 1989 Talbot. The amber rim of the Talbot was very obvious, with very soft tannins and it was made in a much drier style.

Business was certainly good here, and it's no surprise given the quality of the food and the very reasonable price for the meal. I hope to be invited back soon for some more comfort food.

July 20, 2009

The showdown

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Tonight was my turn to host a dinner for the MNSC members. We had never chosen Pierre as a venue, so I thought it'd be an interesting change. Coincidentally the restaurant is operating with a substitute chef from Paris after the recent departure of Philippe Orrico, so it was a chance to see what new changes were taking place here.

The typhoon over the weekend had cleared up much of the pollution, and some of my guests had a spectacular view of Hong Kong harbor as well as the skyline of Kowloon and New Territories. I must remember to come to dinner more often!

Instead of serving the usual Champagne to start the evening, I picked a bottle of 2005 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang and asked the guests to taste it blind. It was classic - nose of minerals, flint, muscat grapes and green apples. Later a hint of oak with a bit of creaminess. Definitely an acidic finish. As expected, many of our MNSC members were unfamiliar with pure Sauvignon Blanc.

The amuse bouches arrived and they were delicious, especially the parmesan foam sprinkled with bit of pancetta. That's a great way to start the meal.

Les Langoustines:

Mousseline: beurre blanc with cardamom, courgettes brunoise and bean sprouts - this was pretty nice with a layer of egg whites, and the diced courgettes provided the dish with some crunchy texture so that it wasn't all soft and mushy...

Grilled: salpicons, red shizo leaves and confit-grilled aubergine - a cute little skewer like yakitori, lightly grilled so that it was still fresh and succulent. The mound of eggplant mash was pretty good.

Pan-fried: terre de sienne served on pearl barley étuvée - this was quintessentially Gagnaire - with sauce made from the head of the shellfish and flavored with cumin. The langoustine tail was soft and juicy, and sat on a bed of slightly chewy barley. Very, very nice.

1983 Guigal Hermitage - I had no expectations for this wine so the surprise was on the upside, turning out to be fairly beautiful and rich. Lots of fruit here with the usual farmy plus a bit of violet/floral notes. A bit light-bodied.

1983 Chave Hermitage - this wine would always outperform the Guigal, and was much more concentrated and powerful. It was very floral and sweet, with tell-tale bacon fat notes.

The wines were paired with pan-fried foie gras: cherry, lin chi mushrooms and celery. Perfect execution here, and the sweetness and the acidity of the cherries cut through the grease just as well as the acidity of the wines. But the muchrooms aren't lin chi.

1989 Bahans-Haut-Brion - smoky, farmy and a bit medicinal, with farmy, smoked meats and lead pencil all surrounding a core of sweet fruit. This was clearly the crowd favorite tonight.

1989 Chapoutier Hermitage Le Pavillon - explosive sweet nose with orange, tangerine and even rubber notes, but the nose became more muted with time. Body was lighter than I expected and the tannins were silky soft. Once again a 100-point Le Pavillon failed to wow me, but it did better than I expected.

Polyphénol sauce seasoning a blue lobster fricassée poached in a noisette butter; potato tamy and dry black olives - this was completely not what I expected. We actually joked about this dish coming from the restaurant next door - Man Wah - as it just looked incredibly Cantonese! I definitely have had something that bore a striking resemblance to this at Fook Lam Moon a couple of times, also with diced red and green peppers... The sauce was made from the tannins of Syrah grapes, which matched the wines for the evening.

1999 Sine Qua Non the Marauder - this was exactly as I expected it... a huge, sharp and alcoholic nose with lots of iron and minerals. Explosively sweet with lots of orange and a hint of grilled meats. This wine needs a lot more cellaring time and it was just waaaay too early to open this. It's my kind of wine but not exactly appreciated by the crowd.

1999 Torbreck Run Rig - it was obvious that this was also a New World Syrah, but it was softer than the Californian. Nice sweet nose of orange and strawberries. This is also one of my favorite Aussie Shiraz.

L'agneau: saddle of lamb from Aveyron roasted with sarriette, finished in an aromatic butter. Green square of herbs, choi sum ravioli, cold juice - the lamb was very, very juicy and tender. The layer of herbs around the lamb - as well as the flat square on the plate - was interesting. The so-called 'choi sum ravioli' looked like a Chinese fun gor (粉果) and induced a few chuckles at the table.

Skewer with vadouvan, confit shallots - again this was served yakitori-style with a 'dip' on the side. Pretty good, but then lamb has always been good at Pierre.
The side dish was kinda fun... sautéed red capsicum and mushrooms, with a ball made of black glutinous rice.

The highlight of a meal at Pierre Gagnaire's restaurants is often the desserts. We had four this evening:

Coffee with cachaca and spicy milk jelly, sugar nibs. Butter cream coffee - it's great to smear the butter cream coffee on the jelly...very yummy.

Vacherin and hibiscus jelly, strawberry meringue - this was really, really yummy...especially the strawberry meringue on top. And I've always liked anything made from hibiscus.

Apple ice cream and green apple tuile. Blackcurrant sauce - the green apple tuile was really cool, and you really get the taste of green apples out of the wavy forms.

Dry fruit marmalade, chocolate ganache with nougatine. Fresh passion fruit sauce - probably my least favorite dessert of the night, and once again we having something in front of us that looked like a fun gor...

One of the things I looked forward to for this evening was the test of blind tasting abilities between two friends who are brother and sister. Both are serious wine lovers, and I've always wondered whether the sister - with a more diverse taste in wines - would fare better at one of our MNSC tastings. I was very impressed with the results. The sister turned in a great performance, nailing one of the wines completely including the vintage. But in the end it was the brother who prevailed, pinning down both wines in the last pair of reds. Once again we showed that blind tasting at MNSC is as much about knowing the host as knowing your wines.

I think overall it was a pretty good evening. The wines themselves were pretty interesting, and the cuisine was pretty creative and well-executed. I think we would see more MNSC dinners being hosted at this venue... And finally, kudos to Pierre the sommelier for working with the chef on such an interesting food and wine pairing.

July 19, 2009

Post-typhoon lazy Sunday

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I was invited to a friend's house for lunch today, along with a host of foodie friends and chefs. Fortunately the typhoon that brought us wind and rain made landfall in Guangdong hours ago, and the weather was fast clearing up.

With help from a friend, our hostess put together a huge spread for us. This included some shrimp and vegetable wraps with Vietnamese rice paper, homemade saucisson, couscous, ratatouille, chicken liver pâté, grilled homemade sausages and pork neck...

I absolutely loved the homemade sausages...firm and a bit spicy, made with real natural sausage casing.

The pâté, made with duck fat and parsley, was simple yet delicious. A few of us actually fought over the soft and fluffy matter... and I for one enjoyed spreading it lovingly over the baguette slices.

The pork neck was also sufficiently fatty and succulent...

The cheese platter was also real delicious, especially the Saint Felicien that was perfectly ripe. Watching it fall off the knife and folding it over the cracker was a lot of fun.

Our hostess is well-known for her desserts, so naturally we had lots of mignardises. She made some delicious canelés since she knew that I love these little treats. There were also some yummy salted caramel chocolate tarts, with a sprinkle of fleur de sel on top.

But the dessert that wowed us all were the financiers. They were simply divine - loads of buttery and nutty flavors, with perfectly browned edges while being soft in the centers. If I had room in my tummy, I would have devoured a few more of these.

Finally we had the homemade ice cream - strawberry, salted pineapple and apricot. A great way to finish the meal on the summer day.

Of course we couldn't go through Sunday lunch without some alcohol! Our hostess provided us with some very yummy and deadly white sangria, which all of us downed happily.

To accompany dessert, I brought a bottle of Cortesia di Morgassi, given to me by the winemaker during last year's Vinexpo. Aside from the typical orange marmalade notes, it was also a bit spicy, with chilli and peppery notes. Pretty interesting.

We spent a real enjoyable post-typhoon afternoon together, courtesy of our generous hostess. I was so full that I actually didn't need to have dinner this evening... Definitely looking forward to our next gathering!

July 16, 2009

Japanese tapas and sake

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Tonight I met up with a couple of old friends from finance for dinner. I haven't seen some of these guys for months, so it was a good chance for us to catch up. Happily we ended up at my favorite izakaya Irori (いろり). Even better was the fact that I didn't do the ordering, which allows me to sample dishes other than the ones I habitually get...

I brought along a bottle of Kokuryu Daiginjo Shizuku (黒龍大吟醸しずく) that I'd been saving for a few years. Yes, it's the same expression as the popular Japanese wine comic Les Gouttes de Dieu (Kami no Shizuku 神の雫), since the sake is collected not from pressing the sacks of rice, but letting it drip naturally from the hanging sacks. In winemaking terms it's equivalent of using only free-run juice. My expectation were high as this was a Kokuryu limited edition bottling, with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%. It was very smooth on the palate, a little sweet even, with a finish that suddenly turns dry and spicy. The nose was pleasant but not particularly complex. Maybe I had cellared this for too long?

For food there were the usual chain of small dishes. I do see izakaya dining as the Japanese equivalent of going to a tapas bar, as both involve ordering a series of small dishes to go with the alcohol that's being consumed.

We started with some very yummy firefly squid (蛍烏賊), which in its raw state can be a bit fishy. But I just love the taste, and the ink is still inside the squid.

Next we had some seared fatty tuna (炙りトロ), which came in reasonably big chunks and was served with spring onions, spicy grated radish and ponzu.

Japanese oysters arrived and I enjoyed the creaminess mixed with the same condiments as above.

I don't normally order grated yam and spicy cod fish roe (とろろ明太子), but it's a healthy dish that is great for the summer. The yamaimo (山芋) paste tonight was particularly viscous, and took a bit of effort to mix with the mentaiko. Very yummy and great for those of us with high cholesterol.

Next came two types of raw fish - hirame (鮃) and aji tataki (鯵たたき). Both were excellent and enjoyed with lots of spring onions and ponzu.

Clams in sake-flavored broth was nice, and the taste of sweet sake was evident. I really liked the big Japanese leeks.

Deep-fried chicken cartilage (軟骨唐揚げ) - there is just no substitute for my favorite izakaya dish...

Flamed broiled beef (牛肉たたき) - this came with an interesting sauce and a pile of raw onions. Yum...


Steamed kinki (喜知次) - this was very interesting as it looked like a Cantonese steamed fish, except that the soy sauce was darker and the pile of spring onions is missing. But the fish was very, very good.

We finished with a stick of yakitori (焼き鳥) and some Sapporo draft beer.

It was a very relaxing evening with friends, and the good food (not to mention alcohol) really took my mind off of some stuff for a few hours. Oh, and thank you Mr. Lau for being the last to arrive... Very generous of you to foot the bill for us.

July 11, 2009

Birthday dinner, troisième chapitre

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It's G's birthday and I'd been planning on cooking her dinner at home. I've been thinking about doing something new when a recipe was thrown in my direction. It looked interesting and was something I've never done before, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I went off in search of the main ingredient. It might sound simple, but try finding some beef cheeks or boneless short ribs, especially from wagyu. I went through 4 of the local premium supermarkets and came away with nothing. I was on the verge of giving up but decided to give my neighborhood meat shop a try. Thankfully I was able to pick up a mix of USDA Prime and wagyu short ribs.

I followed the very simple recipe and prepped all the ingredients. Unfortunately I had to resort to my stock pot as I didn't have anything in the right size. This means that some of the beef chunks were left partially exposed. For the final step, I poured a half bottle of a 2005 Chianti Classico into the pot, then shoved the pot into my oven. The apartment smelled pretty good for the next two hours.

I served the braised beef with some rye bread from Poilâne. I'm sure my execution was far from perfect, but it tasted alright. Needless to say, the wagyu was very tender, although a few pieces of the US beef were slightly tougher from being exposed to the air.

Tonight we drank a bottle of the 1971 Camille Giroud Clos de Vougeot to celebrate the birthday. I had very little expectation for the wine, for although 1971 was a good year in Burgundy and we were drinking a Grand Cru, I really wasn't sure about the winemaking at Camille Giroud all those years ago. But the wine was actually pretty nice once it opened up. Initially there was a bit of chalk, then the core of sweet fruit came out, with smoky, grilled meat notes. Later on the classic bacon fat and farmy nose really showed. Not bad.

It's a nice change to be at home for a birthday. Maybe I'll do it again next year!

July 10, 2009

A second day of birthday dinners

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I'm dining out again tonight with a group of friends. Originally it was to be a belated celebration for my birthday, but subsequently turned into a birthday dinner for another friend as well as an early celebration (by a day) for G - a triple birthday dinner. I would be going back to the Green Mouse for more of Dimitri's cuisine.

Once again I'm puzzled by the staff's reluctance to provide each of us with a menu. The restaurant's not exactly packed with customers, so why didn't I get a menu when there was a stack of them right next to me?

I brought a bottle of the 1995 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite wine of a couple of my friends. The wine has now become pretty mellow, with a smoky nose, a bit of mint and a hint of green pepper. There's a solid fruit core but not overly sweet. Very smooth on the palate.

We were given a thin slice of duck and pistachio terrine as the amuse bouche, which was OK but just a tad salty.

Since I didn't try it out last time, I ordered the chef's specialty foie gras trio. This would consist of pan-fried, crème brûlée, and terrine variations. The crème brûlée was OK and a little bit fun, while the pan-fried pieces were kinda so-so... The terrine was rolled with a piece of nori seaweed, and went nicely with the toast. Execution was OK, but it was quite a bit of foie.

I ordered the special duet of lamb as it sounded pretty good. The leg of Pyrénées lamb was done the traditional way with rosemary, but honestly this isn't my favorite preparation. The pan-fried New Zealand rack of lamb, in contrast, was very yummy. Those of us who ordered it knew exactly why we all preferred the rack - all that delicious, succulent caramelized fat.

I tried to be good and leave some of the fat on the plate, but couldn't resist picking up the bones and stripping them bare with my teeth. The scene is familiar - one that two others at the table had witnessed all those years ago across the oceans in Napa. Once again special mention has to be made about the very yummy sides on the plate. There was just so much variety - broccoli; caramelized shallots; snap peas; a roll made from sliced zucchini; a dollop of pumpkin mash; roasted potato; potato gâteau; cherry tomato and mushrooms.

I took the lemon tart for dessert, as it's nice to have something like this to finish up the meal. Pretty yummy.

It's a shame that the service here just fell flat. The waitstaff was just completely clueless... with each question posed, they would have to go ask the manager. They didn't know the specials of the day, nor they did seem capable of doing very much other than bringing and taking away trays.

I think we are all getting old... Three couples celebrating three birthdays on a Friday night, ending their evening out with dinner and nothing else afterwards! Sigh...

July 9, 2009

A very casual birthday

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Today was my friend's birthday and two of us decided to keep her company. She wanted to have a casual dinner, so we ended up at Fu Sing (富聲) for some Cantonese. I've been wanting to come and try this place out, after hearing so much about it for so long.

I brought along a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Spéciale Jean-Paul Gaultier, with the special red corset that just screams JPG... The curvaceous lines of the Champagne bottle is wrapped with the red PVC corset, tied with a very long, black string... very sexy. The Champagne itself is not too shabby, either.

We started with the signature char siu (和哥炭爐叉燒), which I've been told is one of the best in Hong Kong. I don't think I'd call it the best in town, but it's pretty damn good. It's very tender but needs more of that caramelized fat.

The beef brisket with turnip in soup (清湯蘿蔔牛腩) was a bit of a surprise. Instead of a simple clear broth, the restaurant decided to dump tons of deep-fried diced garlic into the soup, turning the soup brown and making the taste a bit heavy. But the fatty brisket was tender and yummy for sure.

Since we are celebrating a birthday, a noodle dish was in order. The 'SO' Good fried crystal noodle (阿'蘇'乾燒粉絲煲) was pretty interesting. The claypot held a stir-fried heap of mung bean vermicelli, bean sprouts, cilantro, egg drops and diced dried shrimps. I thought this was pretty tasty.

The soy sauce chicken in Fu Sing style (富聲鮑汁豉油雞) was very delicious. The chicken was drenched in a sauce that was made with abalone and sweet, dark soy sauce. It's a shame we had too much food and couldn't finish this.

Finally there was the morning glory stir-fried with fermented tofu sauce (腐乳通菜). I was kinda surprised that the morning glory they used was not the young kind and came in big chunks.

I was a bit full, so I decided against a soupy dessert. Instead I picked a plate of deep-fried twisters with honey (炸麻花). Unfortunately this was a far cry from the really good stuff found at the Kimberley Hotel.

I'm really glad to have finally tried out Fu Sing, where the overall quality was fairly high. Now I just need to come back for dim sum...

July 6, 2009

...so is it Italian or French??

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I'm back in Hong Kong today, and I've made plans for dinner at the Drawing Room. It was a chance for me to re-test the restaurant's cuisine while my friends got to try it for the first time.

We didn't bring our own wines this time, so I ordered a bottle of 2005 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley off the list. This just couldn't get any more Californian... huge nose of iron & minerals, orange, tropical fruits, very sweet and jammy, extremely ripe both on the nose and the palate. The nose was also very alcoholic, although it weighs in at just under 15%. A very different beast from the likes of Kistler and Marcassin.

For food I ordered the 4-course menu instead of the 6-course, as I've been eating way too much in Shanghai. Apparently each menu item can also be ordered a la carte. We were first served the amuse bouche - a mixture of long strands of seaweed which I mistook for homemade pasta and diced cauliflower. The taste of the ocean dominated and I kinda liked it.

Quail and foie gras with fig - the quail was really tender and juicy, done just about perfectly. The foie gras was very interesting - very charred on the outside and almost black - but really creamy and runny inside, almost liquid-like. The fig was actually not very sweet, which was a bit disappointing.

Angel hair with sea urchin, porcini mushrooms and asparagus - all the ingredients were there: wonderfully cooked angel hair, yummy porcini and very fresh-looking sea urchin that was very creamy and sweet. Individually the execution of each was very well done. But somehow the combination didn't quite click. The flavors were pretty heavy and it just didn't feel really harmonious in the mouth. It wasn't a bad dish, but I just wish it were better.

Challans duck breast and duck leg confit and duck ravioli - the duck breast was tender and moist, but looked just like any other duck breast I can find. The duck leg "confit" was a different matter...the meat was dry and tough, but it didn't have that traditional confit taste or consistency. My friend who ordered the same dish left most of it untouched. I think both of us were disappointed with this one.

But the one saving grace here were the three little raviolis floating in a nice consommé. Take one bite and all the juices burst out into your mouth, much like some of the Chinese dumplings.

Since I've OD'd on this dessert many years ago, I gave away my molten chocolate cake.

Service here was a bit mixed. While some of the staff were attentive and impressed us, a few of them turned out to be pretty useless. The worst part is that we had problems understanding their English and had to ask them to speak to us in Cantonese, then realized things actually didn't get much better...

After the second visit, the same question still lingers in my mind: is this really an Italian restaurant? I heard about the Drawing Room a couple of months before it opened, and it has always been classified as Italian. But take one look at the menu and you'll find that half of what's on offer actually sounds more French. OK, so you get the same solid food regardless of how you want to classify the cuisine, but it's still a bit confusing...

July 5, 2009

Dinner in the clouds

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I was invited to dinner at the Dining Room at the new Park Hyatt Shanghai by my friend Kevin. I was glad to have an excuse to go see the new hotel, and dine on the 87th floor just overlooking the top of Jinmao Tower next door.

Kevin graciously shared a bottle of 1989 Margaux with us. It was a beautiful wine, and I'm sure that it was every bit as good as the bottles that Paul Pontallier served us back in April.

I started with scallops with a lemon cream. While the scallops themselves were sweet, I must say that I didn't care for the lemon cream. It was simply too much and too sour for me.

The pan-fried pigeon with green pea mash was very good. The pigeon was very moist and tender, full of the gamey flavors that I love so much. The mash was delicious as well as pretty to look at.

Overall it was a very pleasant meal, and quite an experience to be so high above the city of Shanghai.

July 4, 2009

Something old, something new

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I went back to an old favorite today for lunch. I have been coming to Jesse Restaurant (吉士酒家) everytime I'm in Shanghai, and this trip would be no exception. Given that there were only two of us, we decided to be smart and only order two dishes.

Naturally one of the two dishes had to be the braised pork in brown sauce with bamboo shoots and cuttlefish (筍目魚燒肉). After all, this dish is the main reason why I keep coming back! There is a good mix of fatty pork belly - cut into smaller chunks than Fu 1039 - and spare ribs, making the dish slightly leaner. The meat has also been cooked a bit longer, so that some of the fat has been forced out of the fatty chunks and results in an oily sauce. The addition of cuttlefish also makes a huge impact on the flavor, putting it a notch above many traditional versions. The bamboo shoots they used were a little old and chewy, but provided an interesting texture.

Sautéed green soy bean with vegetable sponge (絲瓜毛豆) - a real summer dish that's light and refreshing. The ridged gourd works well with the green soy bean.

This time around, we actually ordered an extra portion of the braised pork so that we could doggie bag it back to Hong Kong...

After lunch we strolled around the corner and paid a visit to the old residence of Madame Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡故居), the second wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China. I had passed by this place a few times, and finally decided it was time to take a look. It was interesting to walk around the big mansion and its surrounding garden, with all the historical furnishings and personal items belonging to the couple.

Later on my friend Julia took me on a tour of Tianzifang (田子坊), a commercialized area that's being touted as one of the city's art communities. While there are a few art galleries and studios around - including the former studio of famed artist Chen Yifei (陳逸飛) - these days it's looking like one big tourist trap. Some of the small alleys are lined with small cafes and restaurants on both sides, with outdoor tables packed together. It looks like a cross between Xintiandi (新天地) and small, medieval European towns like Laguardia in Spain. I'm soooo not impressed.

We head back to Xintiandi in search of cheese. Cheese?! Yes. Someone in Hong Kong had raved about a cheese shop in Xintiandi, where the cheese selection was so good and they had managed to age Comté for 7 years. I had totally forgotten the name of the shop, but decided to walk around and look for it anyway...

After a bit of searching and looking at the map, I finally arrived at Cheese and Fizz, a small shop selling wine and cheese. The Comté here is 18-month old, I am told by the staff. I immediately lose interest. While they have an interesting selection of cheese - Brillat-Savarin, Saint Félicien, Epoisses and others - many of them are too ripe and look like they've been sitting around for too long. If I lived in Shanghai, I'd probably come down and pick up a few bits. But no way was I going to be excited about finding stuff here not available in Hong Kong...

Dinner was at Villa du Lac (湖庭), the Huaiyang cuisine restaurant opposite Le Platane in Xintiandi. The setting is very much like that of its sister restaurant next door. I've never had Huaiyang cuisine before, but it's very similar to Shanghainese.

Hu Ting's drunken chicken (湖庭醉雞) - this was pretty decent as the meat is pretty tender and tasty.

Pork knuckle terrine with vegetable jelly (翡翠肴肉) - interesting variation where the traditional jelly is now made from a blend of veggies such as spinach. But I found the jelly a bit too salty.

Sesame oil scented fine sliced cucumber (翡翠羽衣) - the standard marinated cucumber, but with a beautiful presentation.

"Long Jin" tea river shrimps (龍井河蝦仁) - I still haven't had a version of this dish that I'm impressed with. None of the ones I've tried so far gives me a taste of the fragrant tea leaves on the shrimps, including this one. I do have to say, though, that the texture here was rather interesting. The outside of the shrimp have somewhat disintegrated/mashed to make things even softer and mushier.

Pan fried cod fish fillet (香煎銀鱈魚) - these thin slices of cod were pan-fried perfectly, just a tiny bit crispy yet still succulent. But this doesn't exactly scream Huaiyang or Shanghainese to me...

Pork balls with crab meat in superior soup (蟹粉獅子頭) - this came in individual bowls filled with a light broth. The meat balls themselves were incredibly light, airy and tender. The tops of the balls had a chunk of inlaid crab egg. Very nice.

Fried four treasures with diced papaya, yam, asparagus and black fungus (大内四寳素) - interesting combination, especially the addition of papaya together with yamaimo (山藥).

Home made noodles in fish soup (魚湯小刀麵) - the noodles were pretty good, kinda firm even after soaking in the soup for a while. The fish soup was rich but a bit salty.

Steamed shark's fin dumpling with crab meat (蟹粉魚翅湯包) - not bad, but I didn't taste any shark's fin inside.

For dessert I had the pumpkin soup with glutinous rice balls (南瓜湯圓), which was really nice even though a cold pumpkin soup would have been better.

We bought a bottle of 2004 Château-Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé Tête du Cru from Cheese and Fizz. Mineral and flinty nose, with lemon, oily and buttery notes. Kinda ripe on the nose and the palate. Not bad at all.

I have to say that the food here was very refined and I enjoyed the serene setting. If I'm in the mood for something a bit less traditional - with Cantonese and Western elements - I'd pay Villa du Lac another visit.

July 3, 2009

Doggie bag dinner

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Got up early this morning, washed up, put on the clothes I wore yesterday and went out to buy some clean clothes. I’m not too picky and I easily find some things on sale to tide me over.

By noon I had called Pudong Airport three times, and thankfully I was told that the owner of the other Rimowa finally contacted the Airport and brought my suitcase back to them. They confirmed my address and said that they would be delivering it to the house. Of course, it would be more than 4 hours before my stuff actually showed up at my doorstep.

I met up with my friend David at his new house, which incidentally is just a few minutes from ours. It's a huge house that is almost done with the renovations. 4 stories split into three separate units, and they have a nice pool and garden.

We sat on the balcony overlooking the pool, and David decanted a bottle of red for us. Of course he would have me guess the identity of the wine...this being a meeting of 2 MNSC members and all... I thought it was French from a weaker recent vintage like 2004, and those two answers alone got me 3 points - higher than your average MNSC score... Turned out to be a very drinkable 2004 Lascombes with a pretty smoky nose and soft tannins.

After finishing the bottle of wine, David headed out to meet other friends while I walked a bit further to have dinner at Fu 1039 (福一零三九). I came here 2 years ago when I first started looking at properties in Shanghai, and I thought the food was pretty decent. The setting was also pretty nice.

As I walked through the door without a reservation, I was told by the staff that there was a RMB 150 per person minimum charge, and that this does not include beverages. I was kinda surprised, but as we really wanted to eat here I decided we would just order the expensive stuff. A quick glance at the menu, though, and I realized that I would have to order things like shark's fin, bird's nest, expensive steamed fish - none of which are actually Shanghainese - to get to the minimum. It was more of a challenge since there were three of us who walked in the door, but one person wasn't eating at all. In the end here was what we ordered:

Stewed pork in sweet soy sauce (招牌紅燒肉) - of course the braised pork in a must in Shanghainese restaurants. The fatty pork belly is cut into larger squares here and braised with julienned bamboo shoots. Very sweet and yummy.

Sautéed string beans with minced pork and chilli (干煸四季豆) - this was a failure by my standards. The beans were still too juicy and crunchy, because not enough time has been spent to cook and dry out the moisture. There was also only a hint of minced pork. I guess nothing will ever compare with mom's version of this dish, which I still think is the best in the world.

Steamed "shi" fish with ham in rice wine sauce (清蒸鰣魚) - the fish is actually called Reeve's shad and is a delicacy in Shanghainese cuisine. Initially I missed it on the menu, but ordered this after I saw the people at the next table having it. This is served in very few restaurants and the last time I had it was quite a while ago. Half of this fish was definitely way too much for two people, especially since we were already filled up with braised pork and rice by this point. I chewed on the oily fish scales for flavor, then I had a couple of chunks of the flesh from the back of the fish, where there was more flavorful dark meat. The texture of the flesh was a bit chewier, unlike the juicy and moist garoupas that one finds in Cantonese cuisine. The presence of a ton of bones - both big and tiny ones - also turn off lots of people who don't want to work at eating fish. But I loved the dish - with the ham providing lots of savory flavors and the rice wine adding a bit of sweetness.

Braised sea cucumber in sweet soy sauce (蔥烤大烏參) - this arrived last but we were already full. I had a small piece and thought it was a bit subpar... the medicinal / hospital disinfectant taste was too prominent.

We barely finished half the food we had ordered, so we asked the restaurant to pack up the leftovers and took them home with us. This would be a whole other meal...

July 2, 2009

Trouble in Shanghai

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I’m flying to Shanghai today. I needed to take a good look at the conservation townhouse we bought and see what needs to be fixed up, so I’m spending a long weekend there. I haven’t been up to Shanghai for about a year and a half, so I’m pretty excited about the trip.

My Dragonair flight was delayed by about 40 minutes thanks to rain in Shanghai (or some such crap), but was otherwise uneventful until we landed in Shanghai. As had been reported by friends, “health inspectors” wearing coveralls and N95 masks came on board to take everyone’s temperature. We all had to stay in our seats until everyone was cleared of possible H1N1 infection, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we learned that we didn’t need to be quarantined.

I got to the baggage claim carousel, and was almost gonna grab a Rimowa bag until I realized it wasn’t mine. It looked kinda similar but the models are noticeably different. I waited patiently for my suitcase to appear, while the lookalike piece kept going around the carousel without being claimed. Finally, when almost everyone had gone, I came to the conclusion that my luggage had probably been picked up by the owner of the Rimowa that is still on the carousel. The guy probably thought he was the only one who was running around with a Rimowa of that size, and completely ignored the fact that my piece had a noticeable (or so I thought) black tag in addition to being short a handle by design.

I approached the counter and told the staff on duty that my bag was missing. I also brought them the orphaned Rimowa and told them my suspicions. They checked and informed me that no bag was left behind in Hong Kong, which meant that my bag probably did get on the plane to Shanghai. The staff contacted CX/Dragonair, and a call made to the passenger’s Taiwanese mobile number went nowhere (duh…). Paging for the passenger inside the terminal achieved nothing. There was nothing I could do but fill out a form with my contact number and address, and wait for the airport to call…

So now the two of us are left stranded with nothing but our respective carry-on bags, which in my case was my notebook bag containing my notebook computer and very little else. I didn’t even have a charger for my Blackberry phone. And we were to stay at the empty conservation house, which had very little in the way of amenities. Even the bath towels we had brought along for our stay were now missing… 

Fortunately our friend Winnie came to pick us up at the airport, and promptly arranged to send over a few towels, toothbrushes as well as a few other essentials. This would tide us over until tomorrow morning…

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