May 31, 2010

'85 Burgundy horizontal

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Tonight I returned to Caprice as we gathered for another MNSC dinner.  It's been a pretty rough month as far as financial markets go, so I was pretty happy to have an occasion to toast the end of this fairly miserable month...

The amuse bouche consisted of duck rillettes on toast, dauphinoise potato, and tomato and eggplant purée.  Neither the rillettes nor the dauphinoise came in a form I expected, but both tasted pretty yummy.  The cold purée was exceptional and refreshing.

Petits gris snails fricassée, Jabugo ham, tomato and eggplant in black garlic sauce - this was pretty yummy.  It's been a while since I last had some escargot, and the combination with tomato and eggplant worked pretty well.

Roasted cod fillet, Vaucluse white asparagus and wild mushroom in light emulsion - cod is one of my favorite fish as I love the texture.  The accompanying mushrooms and white asparagus were very, very tasty - especially the mushrooms.

Racan pigeon en croûte, nori seaweed, foie gras, broad bean and artichoke fricassée - oh yes, my current favorite dish at Caprice...  I was honestly kinda full when this arrived in front of me, having had a little too much bread with that awesome butter...  we were joking about how the foie kinda oozed and fell out of the pastry shell as we tried to cut into it.  Lots of calories and cholesterol here, but I love it.  I can't believe I actually finished it...

Caramel apple tart, cinnamon mousse and granny smith sorbet - I was so full I decided not to have any cheese, and just wanted the dessert.  I thought it was pretty good... especially at the end of a very rich meal.  The acidity of the apples certainly helped.

MNSC dinners are about wine, and what a line-up we had tonight! 

2000 De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies - I had a bottle of the NV blanc de blancs here last year and loved it.  The 2000 vintage is even better.  Nose was very sweet with a little caramel, some oxidized pear, minerals, honey and marshmallow...  I could get used to drinking this...

1991 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne - A very beautiful wine.  Lots of toast, minerals, popcorn, lemon, honey, smoke, sulfur...  Nose was huge, fragrant and opulent, and the wine was incredibly smooth on the palate.  95 points.

1985 Jean Grivot Richebourg - this was struck off from scoring because it was a tiny bit corked.  I thought it drank OK but with obvious vegetal notes, along with straw, smoke on top of the sweet fruit nose.  Finish was pretty long.

1985 Gros Frère & Soeur Grands Echezeaux - easily my wine of the evening.  I was blown away by the nose from the start.  Sooooo perfumed, sweet, jammy but not overpowering... Totally, totally osmanthus (桂花) that kept on giving until the end of the evening when I finally finished the last sip.  Also notes of orange, straw, and prunes.  So smooth on the palate.  An absolutely fantastic wine, and I'm going to get my hands on some of this!  99 points.

1985 Dujac Clos de la Roche - another beautiful and open wine, with cassis, floral, violet, black fruits and a little gamey.  95 points.

1985 Joseph Drouhin Musigny - much more closed than the Dujac, with more concentration.  Fruit and sweet nose which opened up after a while, minty, smoky with some soy sauce.  93 points.

1985 DRC Romanée-Saint-Vivant - sweet nose with eucalyptus, spices, floral, gamey notes along with some mushrooms.  Very lovely although at one point the sharpness of the alcohol became noticeable.  95 points.

1985 DRC Richebourg - another awesome wine, with smoked game meats, a little sous bois and floral notes.  96 points.

I was very, very stuffed and - in typical fashion - pretty drunk despite not having finished all the amazing wines in my glasses.  It was a real treat to be able to taste all these wonderful '85s, and it was revealed at the end of the evening that the single source of tonight's reds was Altaya Wines.  Well done!

May 29, 2010

Acker Hong Kong IX: ODing on auctions

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I skipped the morning session of day 2 of the Acker auction today.  I woke up pretty early this morning, but wasn't feeling particularly great because of a general lack of sleep for a second day, plus honestly I had actually been sipping/drinking almost non-stop since 2pm...  I was feeling a little lethargic, and since there was nothing I really wanted to bid on this morning, I decided to just stay home and play with my new iPad.

Initially I sat in the "general section" - filled with people like me who, whilst being clients of the auction house, are essentially nobodies in terms of business volume.  After a while my friends invited me to join them at their VIP table, and I was only too happy to do so.  While any wine being served at an Acker auction is of good quality and I would never complain about them, VIPs get a much better selection.  When the Acker people bring around the rare stuff, my friends were generous enough to pour a portion of what's in their glass into mine.  So I got to taste some pretty good stuff...

2000 Pichon-Lalande - classic nose of coffee, smoke, grilled meats and a little peppery.  What you would expect from a Pauillac from this vintage.

1995 Gaja Costa Russi - smoky and coffee notes on top of a very sweet nose.  What a wonderful wine... Finish was still kinda tannic, though...  Drank from a second bottle later in the day which was also beautiful, with smoky and soy sauce notes.

1993 Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux - sweet red fruits with a hint of smoke.  Acidity was pretty high.  Honestly...if I actually paid for this bottle I'd be pretty disappointed...

1999 Rouget Echezeaux - I didn't see the vintage on the bottle, but guess it was the '99 that I drank last night.  Nose was very open with game meats, very sweet, fruity and smoky.  Acidity was fairly high.  Judging by the nose alone this blew the Jayer away... But then again, it is a much better vintage.

1982 La Mission Haut-Brion - it's been a long time since I last tasted this wine, and it was nothing like I remembered!  The nose was huge, with loads of smoke, soy sauce, dried oysters, a hint of brett and a bit of fruit struggling to break free.  The wine was almost salty on the palate... Finally, there was some rust and nori (のり) seaweed on the nose.

2000 Guigal La Mouline - beautiful sweet fruit, mint, orange, a little gamey, a hint of floral notes I would expect from La Mouline.  What a beautiful wine... I'd be happy drinking this any day of the week.

2006 Ausone - finally!  My friend remembered that I was dying to taste this, and made sure I got some in my glass...  Huge, explosive nose that was so jammy, minty, vanilla, tropical fruit, marzipan, with a hint of smoke, toffee and cinnamon.  I loooooove this stuff. Yes, I do like very extracted wines...

2007 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet - way too cold when it was poured... Nose of butter, oak and minerals.  Acidity was pretty high.

As usual, the early morning and early evening segments were the times where one is able to pick up some "bargains" - you actually see some lots selling for below the low-end estimate.  The middle part of the sessions can get pretty crazy, with most of the lots selling towards the high end estimate or easily blowing through it.  My friend told me about the bidding for the cases of DRC Montrachet, where the hammer price was almost 3 times the high end estimate.  I'm sure the consignor was really happy!

There were long stretches where I wasn't interested in what was on offer, and was getting tired of marking down the hammer prices as I used to do.  Fortunately I brought my iPad and ended up playing Uno...  I think my friends got a kick out of this.

I managed to pick up a little more wine... some rare Alsatian Riesling, some Spanish Rioja from my birth vintage, and some old white Burgs to drink with mom and dad on their wedding anniversary.  Pretty good day...

May 28, 2010

Acker Hong Kong IX: kicking off early

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Acker's back in Hong Kong with another auction, and like their first auction 2 years ago, they held it right after Vinexpo ended.  This time they called it the "Imperial Cellar", as the collection on sale came from a single seller and would make just about any wine lover very jealous.  The headline number was HKD 125 million...

Because of the large number of lots on sale, the first session of the auction started earlier than usual at 3pm today.  My friend and I arrived not long after it started, as we both wanted to bid on lots in the early part of the session.  As usual I ran into a few friends, and was pleasantly surprised to see François Mauss from Grand Jury Européen.

I managed to win a lot consisting of 3 cases of white Burgundy from arguably the best producer in the region, going slightly above the high estimate to grab it.

I took a short break from the auction and returned to the office to finish up the daily routine.  Yes, I had work to do... eating and drinking isn't my day job... Anyway, I stepped back into the auction room just as they were finishing up another lot I wanted to bid on, and before I realized what was going on, the hammer went down and someone else had grabbed the wines.  Aargh!!!

There were now wines on the tables as it was approaching dinner time.  And I was only too happy to start sipping wines and continued for the rest of the evening.

2003 Haut-Brion - smoked meats, mint, black fruits, sweet, almost honeydew.  Still kinda tannic.  After half an hour, it transformed into an amazing wine with a huge, sweet nose like toffee.  I initially stopped by to visit my friend as they were drinking 2006 Ausone at her VIP table, but this was what she poured me instead of the Ausone...

1999 Rouget Echezeaux - sweet and honeyed with a little caramel, some orange, a little smoky and a little bit of moss.  This was my second, subtle attempt at getting a glass of the 2006 Ausone, and I still failed to get one!  Oh well...

1997 Masseto - my friend open this bottle in honor of the man who made this wine, Lodovico Antinori.  Unfortunately it didn't turn out the way I expected.  Nose was pretty funky, with smoke, black pepper, paprika and stewed fruit.  I last tasted this wine back in early 2002, and it had been sweet and jammy.

1985 Solaia - again, this was drunk with Lodovico whose brother Piero made the wine.  I liked this bottle much better... Nose was a little oxidized with street strawberries, smoke, a little vegetal with green pepper, herbs and soy sauce. I almost wanted to say dried bean curd (豆腐干)...

2005 Méo-Camuzet Morey-Saint-Denis - nose was a little muted at first, with mint, pine needle and red fruits.

1995 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Faletto di Serralunga d'Alba - a very interesting wine to drink.  The color was now golden brown with amber rim, and very deceiving.  The nose was a little high in alcohol, with lots of sweetness like honeydew and some light glycerin.

2007 George Vintage V Leras Family Vineyard Pinot Noir - I was so surprised when the guys at Acker brought this out... I love this wine!  This was such a classic Cali Pinot, with lots of sweetness, caramel, toffee, cotton candy, raspberry, oxidized pear and mint.  Beautiful and lovely.

2000 La Mondotte - drank pretty nicely after breathing for a long time.  It was surprisingly old world... sweet but not too extracted, with mint, smoke, forest and a little floral.

2007 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet - lots of minerals, citrus, cheese, straw, toast, popcorn, a little butter...ripe and sweet.  A beautiful wine.

A lady from Acker came over with a bottle of 2007 Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet.  My friends all gestured that they did not wish to taste it, and she subsequently misunderstood my gesture... I wasn't waving her off!  When I got up after her to try to get a glass, I was told by the hotel staff following her that there was no more wine, as I saw her pouring the rest of the bottle for the group of investment bankers (from the bank that's been in the headlines lately) at the next table...

2000 Trotanoy - very classic and a great wine.  Lots of smoke, pencil lead and soy sauce on top of the fruit.

We left before the end of the first session, and ended up grabbing some food at Sumi (澄). I had eaten some food at the buffet dinner, so I restrained myself.  I did go home and grabbed my last bottle of Kokuryu Shizuku (黒龍しずく).  This daiginjo (大吟醸) with a semaibuai (精米歩合) of 35% drank beautifully. It was sweet and smooth, with tropical fruits like banana in the nose. Fortunately my apartment was only a stone's throw away and it was easy for me to crawl (oops) stagger (oops) walk home...

Bouchard's white Burgundies

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This afternoon I was lucky enough to tag along with a friend and attended a tasting of the wines of Bouchard Père & Fils hosted by a French wine merchant.  General Manager Stéphane Follin-Arbelet was in Hong Kong to greet us and talk about the wines.  He explained that wines from the 2008 vintage had just been bottled, and were still showing the vibrant characters of the vintage, while the 2007s are now a little shut.  This was very clear as we compared wines from both vintages.

2008 Meursault Genevrières - nose of mineral, toast, a little buttery, flint, a little ripe and almost tropical.

2007 Meursault Genevrières - nose was more shut with some citrus and toasty notes.  After swirling in glass, the wine opened up and the ripeness was apparent.

2008 Corton-Charlemagne - beautiful and open, with lots of white flowers, perhaps a little musty, along with toast and sweet vanilla.  The ripe nose was very nice, but the wine was a little short.  Perhaps it was a little too warm?

2007 Corton-Charlemagne - flinty, toasty notes with a little citrus and a hint of ripeness.  The acidity was coming through.

2008 Chevalier-Montrachet - nose of minerals, citrus, floral...ripeness was apparent and there was a little marmalade, almost a little oily with a hint of popcorn.  Very soft on the palate.  A feminine wine.

2007 Chevalier-Montrachet - still a bit closed, with some minerality showing through.

2007 Montrachet - acidic and closed.  There was a little sweetness like marshmallow and some citrus.

2008 Montrachet - there was no doubt that this was the best wine of the entire tasting, and why should that come as a surprise to anyone?  This was a beautiful and opulent wine, with sweet corn, toast, floral notes... Pretty sweet and ripe.  Wow!  This is everything I could ever want from a white wine!

2003 Beaune Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus - a huge nose...sweet with cassis, minerals and iron, a little gamey and musty.  Drinking well now.

It was clear that Bouchard's wines are of very high caliber these days, and I was thankful to have the opportunity to taste through a range of them.  We thanked our hosts and made an exit, heading to the Acker auction that started especially early today...

May 27, 2010

Definitely not a happy meal

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It's iPad day, and I went to pick up my new toy from friends who were staying at the W. As they just came back from a grueling few days at the Shanghai Expo, we decided to find somewhere close to the hotel for dinner.  For one reason or another we ended up at Xĭ Yàn Flavours (囍宴 滋·選).  What a mistake it turned out to be!

Cold tofu with shrimp and crab relish (蝦兵蟹將凍豆腐) - I took one bite and knew instantly it was gonna be a disaster.  I was thinking to myself that the dried shrimps (蝦米) were some of the toughest I've ever chewed on, when my friend blurted out the exact same thought.

Greenhouse tomatoes in wasabi sesame sauce (芥末胡麻醬拌日本溫室蕃茄) - one of two dishes that tasted OK.

Sichuan spicy chicken (招牌口水雞) - the only other dish that tasted OK to me.  Nice chunks of cold chicken marinated with spicy vinegar, served with mung bean pappardelle, century eggs and some peanuts.

Crispy stuffed duck with glutinous rice (香酥糯米鴨) - this was so bad but somehow I ended up having two pieces, and I had to ask myself why I bothered with the second piece.  These were really hard as bricks... the duck was tough, made into blocks with glutinous and deep-fried.  My friends were smarter...they refused to eat a second piece.

Radish patty in XO sauce (囍宴XO醬炒蘿蔔糕) - another dish when it took one bite to know we're heading into disaster territory.  The cubes of radish cake - stuffed with mushrooms and sausage - were hard.  I ended up eating everything else but the radish cake.

Fried spring rolls with radish and dried oysters (原隻蠔豉蘿蔔絲春卷) - the only dish I ordered, and wasn't great either.  While I liked the flavor of the dried oysters, the thing was just too salty.

This really was a disaster.  I remember a time when a meal at Xĭ Yàn was something to look forward to.  Has the franchise over-expanded to the point where quality control simply  went out the window?  After this meal, I can't imagine any of us wanting to come back.  Ever.

May 26, 2010

L'amour, l'amour

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I think the last time I had dinner at Gaddi's was some 10 years ago, but for some reason I just never found the urge to return, despite the obvious talent of Philip Sedgwick and his successors.  Tonight I finally had the opportunity to return, thanks to a dinner hosted by my friend in conjunction with Champagne Deutz.  Fabrice Rosset was here with his team tonight.

Salon de Ning Rosé - this house Champagne at the Peninsula is actually made by Deutz.  Lots of raspberry, red fruits and a little yeasty.

The amuse bouche was OK, but honestly not very interesting.

1999 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz - citrus, yeasty, toasty, a little caramel, honey and straw.  Open and beautiful, although it was a little hot on the finish when paired with food.  I left half my glass and tasted again after dessert - salty plum (話梅) came out in the nose, but the wine became too warm and the palate suffered and became tart and tangy.

1988 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz - oxidized/caramelized nose with honey, minerals, and a little bit of salty plum (話梅). Still very fresh and vibrant, with the slightest hint of tartness on the palate. A beautiful wine.

Layers of marinated goose liver with slow-cooked Bresse chicken, celeriac cream - honestly... not a fan.  And I don't say this very often about foie gras. I have no idea why the chef thought Bresse chicken and foie would be a good combination... I didn't like the tough texture of the chicken with the foie. Didn't particularly care for the ham (Parma?) on the outside, either.

Braised white asparagus gratinated with a black truffle crust - not bad at all. I always find it hard to cut poached or braised white asparagus, but I do love the flavors.  There was plenty of foam and what looked like to be Hollandaise sauce. There was some spinach with the black truffle...

1999 Amour de Deutz - I don't think I'll get tired of drinking this.  Yeast, citrus, toast and a little sweet.  Light and elegant, while a little sweet on the palate.  The pairing with the caviar, though, was a little disturbing.  I honestly don't think this kind of caviar should be paired with any wines, including Champagne...

1993 Amour de Deutz - lots of caramel, orange, apricot and preserved orange rind (陳皮). Not as ripe and a little sharper.  At the end of the dinner, toast and mineral notes came out.

Lightly-poached Atlantic turbot carpaccio with Oscietra caviar - the dish was OK, although I'd hardly call poached fish "carpaccio"... I also totally didn't realize that the caviar was actually Oscietra... thought it was just plain lumpfish...

2007 Delas St Joseph Les Challeys - actually pretty approachable and enjoyable now... very open nose of mint, eucalyptus, violet, floral and smoke.

2006 Delas Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette - eucalyptus, a hint of floral notes, black fruits and the nose was in general a little sweet. More powerful on the palate.

Combination of beef prepared 3 ways with a red wine oxtail jus - the wagyu fillet was reasonably tender and nice. The braised beef cheek was done like Chinese-style, and was not bad. Finally there was the tête de veau, tasting a little acidic and deep-fried.

1986 Doisy-Védrines - loads of polyurethane and turpentine at first.  When it cleared a little, the fruit underneath emerged, showing apricot and honeydew. The wine was a little strange on the palate, as it was way too light and short at the beginning. The body firmed up a little with further aeration in glass.  Just a little disappointing for this wine.

All about mango - I love mango so this was right up my alley.

Tonight's dinner was a lot of fun. Not only did I get to enjoy a couple of older vintages of Deutz Champagne - including the first vintage of Amour de Deutz - it also re-introduced me to Gaddi's after a long absence.  I think I'll be drinking Deutz for a long time to come...

Some words about the service... I was a little annoyed and surprised when our waiter decided to interrupt our conversation at the start of the dinner to announce the names of all the dishes in one go.  I was annoyed because he insisted on interrupting our conversation, just as we were started to get acquainted.  And why would anyone announce the names of all the dishes in one go, instead of introducing each dish one by one?  Does he truly expect us to remember them all?  I am truly surprised at this kind of service at a restaurant of this caliber.

Vinexpo pit stop

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Vinexpo is in Hong Kong this year, and I had so much fun 2 years ago that I decided to go back.  I have a few friends who were going to be working there, so I thought I'd drop by and visit them.
I wandered around a little and started at the E. Guigal booth.  Marcel Guigal was there, along with his wife Bernadette and son Philippe.  I was privileged to have Marcel pour the wines for me.  We started with the 2008 Guigal Condrieu, which drank very nicely, and the 2008 Guigal Hermitage Blanc.  We then moved to the 2006 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde.  This was a complete surprise... it was soooo extracted, exploding with sweet strawberries... completely not the Guigal style that I'm used to.  As we chatted with Marcel, he realized that we do know a little something about his wines (OK, I told him that La Mouline is my absolute favorite wine...) and decided to pull out the 2006 Guigal Château d'Ampuis.  Now we're talking!  It was a little too cold at first, coming from a fridge, but I warmed it up with my hands.  What a beautiful wine... the floral notes came out and I was in heaven.

I went off to visit a friend who was pouring some Burgundies for the boys from Mandarin Oriental.  Tasted through various appellations - both whites and reds - and found a few surprises.    Afterwards we went back to Guigal, hoping that Marcel would treat us to a few drops of the La La's... Alas, the Guigal family was busy chatting with some people and were taking a break from pouring, so no dice.  I had a few drops of the 2007 Louis Jadot Meursault Genevrières, but found the heavy oak too overpowering to be enjoyable.  In fact I thought it smelled like old Comté...

I turned my head and found my friend Pierre at the Louis Roederer booth, and went to say hello.  The Mandarin boys had told him about my presence so it worked out perfectly.  We started with a glass of the Louis Roederer Brut Premier, which was light and always drank well.  Then we were treated to some 2004 Cristal...which hasn't been released yet.  This was very nice... surprisingly open for something this young. 

After a couple of hours, I decided that it was time to go back to the office and go through the end-of-day routine.  Pretty happy that I stopped by and hung out with friends...

May 25, 2010

2009 Bordeaux : a good sampling

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Thanks to Vinexpo being in town this week, my friendly London wine merchant - Doug from Bordeaux Index - organized a tasting of 2009 Bordeaux for their clients at Dynasty Club. An alcoholic like me was only too happy and jumped at the chance, and promptly showed up at a few minutes past 10am...

2009 Malartic-Lagravière Blanc - Jean-Jacques Bonnie was here to pour the wines.  Very refreshing and fruity, with a highly perfumed and floral nose along with green apples.  Acidity was a little high, perhaps due to the warm temperature of the wine.  Later on the vanilla oak emerged.  Very soft and elegant.

2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc - much more perfumed and powerful, with toasty oak, minerals, flint, pipi de chat and a bit of muscat.  Very nice.

2009 Malartic-Lagravière Rouge - lots of sweet fruit upfront, with blackcurrant, a little potpurri... so ripe it almost seemed like the fruit was cooked... more caramel, eucalyptus with a hint of alcohol.  Lots of tannins but they weren't too rough.  Very nice...

2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge - nose was much more muted at first, with some eucalyptus and forest.  Fruit came out but not as sweet.  Tannins are pretty soft.

2009 Brane-Cantenac - Henri Lurton was here pouring the wines.  Nose of green and black peppers, with some fruit but very muted.  Acidity was noticeably high and balanced out the tannins.

2009 Léoville Poyferré - Didier Cuvelier came into the club with me, carrying his wines.  The wine was lively, fruity and sweet, with a little caramel, a bit alcoholic on the nose and a little tannic.

2009 Langoa Barton - fruity with some minerality, pretty open... a simple and straightforward wine.  Nothing to complain about.  The defining moment came when I closed my eyes and was concentrating too much on smelling the wine...when I realized that my glass had been tipped too far and the wine was now flooding into my left nostril...and also down the lapel of my suit and my dress shirt.  You know there's something wrong with someone when you see wine stains on their shirt at 11am...

2009 Léoville Barton - smoky and fruity...interestingly I could smell the acidity.

2009 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - Laurence Borie Castéja poured the wine for us.  Nose of sweet fruit and a bit of eucalyptus.  Another straightforward wine.

2009 Clinet - I finally met Ronan Laborde after having drunk some of their wines, including the amazing 1993 Château Pajzos Esszencia.  Nose of spices, a little smoke, a hint of orange along with coffee and mint.  Tannins were lovely.  14.5% alcohol and I couldn't feel it at all...

2009 La Conseillante - Jean-Valmy Nicolas was worried that his wines didn't travel well, but I thought they drank well enough.  Nose was fruity with mint, a little orange and a bit of smoke.  A very enjoyable wine.

2009 Grand Mayne - one of the surprises of today...  Nose was pretty funky - very sweet but I swear there was plenty of borgata there...that smell of the sea was unmistakeable.  Also some orange and smoky notes, with some sharpness.

2009 Clos Floridène Rouge - Fabrice Dubourdieu was here to introduce the wines, impressing us with his ability to speak Mandarin.  He explained that the name Floridene was simply the combination of the names of his parents - Florence and Denis.  I never knew about this estate in Graves but am pleasantly surprised by the wines.  Nose was sweet and open, with mint and a hint of medicine and a little sharpness.  Was there also a little violet?

2009 Doisy-Daëne Sec - lots of minerals, with pear, a hint of pipi de chat, floral and perfumed with a little muscat.  Palate was acidic on the attack but the finish was pretty ripe.  An absolutely lovely dry white.

2009 Clos Floridène Blanc - nose of minerals and lots of floral notes, with muscat, a little pipi de chat, lemon and almost oily and buttery.

2009 Doisy-Daëne - wow!  Lots of honey, beeswax and orange marmalade.  The wine was explosive, unctuous and magnificent, with a long finish that was very hot.  An amazing wine.

It was a very enjoyable tasting, and I'm really happy that so many of the châteaux owners and family members came to show us the fruits of their labor.  As I wasn't able to go to the en primeur tasting in Bordeaux this year, this was a great way for me to get a feel for the vintage that the whole world is excited about.  Time to give some more business to Doug...

May 22, 2010

Hanging out with Marchese Lodovico Antinori

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I was very happy to have been invited to an intimate dinner with Marchese Lodovico Antinori. Lodovico needs no introduction to any wine lover, being a member of the Antinori dynasty and having founded Tenuta dell'Ornellaia.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at a dinner last year where he introduced wines from his new project.  He's back on a tour of China and will spend time in Hong Kong during Vinexpo, meeting up with his brother Piero.

The reunion was a happy one.  He's got a good memory and remembers our last meeting.  He also has a friend back home who reads this blog, which is a nice surprise.  The four of us sat down at our table in Otto e Mezzo, and let Danilo arrange the food to match our wines.  I was originally thinking of having a light dinner, but I decided it was best to go with the flow.  The only shame was that Chef Umberto wasn't in the kitchen - he was taking a detour to Madrid to watch his club Inter Milan play Bayern Munich...

We started with my contribution - 1996 Sine Qua Non Omadhaun & Poltroon.  I had given the bottle to my friend for her birthday as I knew she'd be interested in trying it, and she decided to bring it out tonight.  I've always loved this interesting blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay, and it drank very well tonight.  Floral notes with honey, caramel, flint and a little metallic.  Amazing that at 15.1% alcohol, you can't really smell the alcohol... although the finish was a little hot.  There was also some toasty oak and a little bit of smoke, along with some sweet grass.  At the end of the dinner, the remaining wine in the glass showed classic notes of butter and sweet corn, as the Chardonnay finally broke free from the repression of the Roussanne.  I loved it.

The first course was Dover sole with Italian spinach, tomatoes and new potatoes.  I was never a big fan of Dover sole...just never liked the texture.  The execution was pretty good, though...

Then came white asparagus and scampi cassoulet with sea urchin and asparagus foam.    I've read about this dish and never understood why the restaurant decided to call it cassoulet, since it was neither cooked in a cassole nor contained the white beans that makes up the majority of a cassoulet.  I guess this was a modern interpretation using foam...  I do have to say that I loved the dish.  The scampi was so sweet and fresh, and the scampi sauce with asparagus foam was just very delish.  I eagerly scooped up whatever sauce was left with my spoon...

We had a plate of pata negra to give us a break from seafood.  Very nice.

Things were getting better by the dish... The homemade trenette with Canarian king prawn was simply awesome.  I have not tasted such a fresh, sweet and flavorful prawn in a very long time.  The smell hits you as soon as the plate is laid down in front of you.  The homemade pasta from Genova had just the right amount of bite...yes, al dente...  The sauce was incredible, with just the head and cherry tomatoes - no cream added as they do at Da Domenico.  I feverishly dug into the head to get every bit of goodness out.  This pasta kicked Da Domenico's ass all the way off the field.

We drank two reds side by side for comparison.  First was the 2007 Lodovico - the inaugural vintage - which was due to be released in September.  This was fantastic.  I could tell it was a young wine, but it was already very delicious.  Nose was very sweet, a little smoky, somewhat medicinal but it definitely wasn't brett...and a little pine needle.  Still lots of tannins in the wine, but they were beginning to round out.  Later on there was some cotton candy and a hint of green peppers (not bell peppers, more like jalapeños) in the nose.  I can only imagine what this wine would be in another 10 years.

Then we had 1996 Masseto in honor of Lodovico.  Admittedly not one of the best vintages, the wine nevertheless drank beautifully.  In a blind tasting, there was no way I would have guessed it wasn't from Bordeaux.  Smoky nose with a little brett, sous bois over the core of red fruits, and a little pencil lead.  Tannins were very smooth.  A yummy wine to drink now.

Now for the pièce de résistance - the Colorado rack of lamb.  This was originally going to be the only dish I ordered for dinner.  This had to be the best rack of lamb I've had in a long, long time.  It was pretty rare, and the fat was distributed very nicely.  The meat wobbled as I put pressure on it with the knife.  In fact it shook like a block of Jell-O!  I wish I had remembered to take a video of the "belly dance"... I was in heaven.  The red capsicum compote on the side was interesting.  Following tradition (my own, that is) I picked up the bone with my hands and stripped it clean.  I have no shame about doing that at fancy restaurants.

The cheese plate was next, and we had four of them along with caramelized red onion and orange compote.  I started with Strachitunt, an interesting blue from cow's milk.  It was strong and pungent, pretty salty with a little acidic mid-palate.  I agree with the comment that it smelled and tasted like Chinese fermented tofu (腐乳).  It actually paired very well with the mystery wine.  The Taleggio - made in the same area as the Strachitunt, was very creamy and a little savory.  Tuma de la Paja became the one that kept running away...very creamy from sheep's milk.  The Gorgonzola was pretty nice, too.

We decided to open up the final bottle with dessert.  The 1973 Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé was a great way to finish.  The nose was very oxidized as we all expected, with caramel, honey, marmalade, apricot and a little salty plum (話梅).  Very fine bubbles.

Wild strawberry Melba: fine strawberry jelly, milk vanilla foam, strawberry pannacotta - soooo delicious and refreshing.  The tricolor creation - with the colors of the Italian flag - was made with strawberry jelly, panna cotta, and pistachio topped with wild berries.  The Melba was delicious, too, with the vanilla and strawberries working wonders together.

I had so much fun this evening.  On top of the wines and food, it was a rare chance to just spend a casual evening with someone who is as passionate about wine as Lodovico.  I hope to see more of him in the years to come!

May 20, 2010

Having an off day

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I set up another dinner at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) tonight with a group of friends.  A couple is in town from overseas, and after hearing me talk about FLM for so long, they decided they wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I rounded up my main assault team, called in some reinforcements, and off we went to take on a menu featuring what I consider to be the "greatest hits".

Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - somehow not as good as usual... dunno what it was...  We had three froggies tonight, and hopefully they all enjoyed the dish.

Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - lots of lovers of pork here...but again, I felt that the pig wasn't as good as usual.  The skin wasn't as crispy as I expected...almost like the humidity got to it.  The leg I munched on was also pretty burnt, but the rest of the pig was fine.

Winter melon soup (鮮蓮冬瓜盅) - pretty nice for a warm day, with the usual mix of exotic ingredients.  The ham flavors were nice and reasonably subtle, and I made sure to finish the two big chunks of winter melon.

Pan-fried eastern star garoupa (煎封雙東星斑) - it's been a while since I've had this here, and I still like it a lot.  The flesh was still reasonably moist - although I thought it could have been a little better - while the deep-fried skin was just soooo good...

Stir-fried lobster with black beans and green peppers (豉椒炒龍蝦球) - the pile of lobster meat was pretty impressive, but again I was slightly disappointed... Did the lobster meat lack a little bit of that bounce?

Baked stuffed crab shell (釀焗鮮蟹蓋) - it's been a while and I have really missed this dish.  I still think it's just about the best crab shell in town, with all that fresh crab meat and sweet onions.

Stir-fried prawns with walnuts (桃茸生汁大蝦球) - I added this dish to the menu when the restaurant suggested that we weren't quite over the "minimum" for booking a private room...and in retrospect this was really unnecessary.  Prawns were de-shelled, coated with a layer of corn starch, and stir-fried and drizzled with sauce and sprinkled with walnut bits. For some reason this dish reminded me of something I had at Nobu a while ago with one of my guests of honor tonight.  Not exactly a healthy dish as the starch soaked up way too much oil...  My guest remarked - and I concurred - that this was the first dish tonight which came to the table piping hot.  Everything else has been lukewarm so far.

Sweet and sour pork (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - I included this dish at the request of the resident Froggie, for the benefit of all the other froggies and female guests.  I normally cringe at the thought of having this dish in a Chinese restaurant, but I do have to admit that they do it well here.

Wolfberries and wolfberry leaves in superior broth (上湯杞子浸枸杞菜) - I jokingly called this the "veggie oyakodon (親子丼)" as we're having both the leaves of the vegetable as well as the fruits.  The leaves are ever so slightly bitter and tannic, but this is balanced by the sweet wolfberries.

Fried noodles with bean sprouts in soy sauce (豉油皇銀芽炒麵) - this was the first time I've ordered the dish here, and I was a little disappointed.  I thought it was interesting that they used very thin flat noodles instead of the usual thin round noodles, and the texture/bite was pretty good - al dente according to one of the froggies.  But I thought the taste was a little too light...they could have used a wee bit more soy sauce.

We were all very, very stuffed, but there was still a couple of desserts to come.  The resident Froggie requested longevity buns (蛋黃蓮蓉壽包) as her birthday was just a week ago, and we enjoyed the nice combination of the sweet lotus seed paste and the savory egg yolk.

The steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (杬仁馬粒糕) was not bad, but somehow my piece got a little soggy at the bottom.

Given we have a pretty large group tonight, I decided to bring out 2 magnums...and they definitely looked impressive.

1998 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive - exactly what I expected and wanted out of a Gewurz... loads of lychee and fragrant floral notes upfront, with a little bit of acetone on the nose.  There was lots of sweetness on the palate, with a slightly tart finish like orange rind.  A vendage tardive may be a little too sweet for some people as a food wine, but I always thought that sweet wines go well with Chinese food.  Very lovely.

2003 Fisher Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard - pretty much the same as the other magnum I opened last month.  So Cali... tons of sweet, tropical fruit like coconut, caramel, and a bit of smoked meats.

10 dishes plus desserts was just a little too much... I wish I really were round enough to roll back home!  Not sure what happened in the kitchen today, but it's gotta be the first time in a long that I was disappointed with a meal here.  I hope things get better the next time I'm back...after all, I had publicly announced this to be my #5 restaurant in the world!

A dozen macarons

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After my less-than-impressive visit to Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris (パティスリー・サダハル・アオキ・パリ) in Taipei, I went back the following day to pick up a load of macarons for my friends back in Hong Kong.  I picked up a dozen of these babies for myself - basically all the flavors available except for chocolate.

I waited 2 whole days before I had an opportunity to bite into them... not exactly ideal since they should be eaten fresh.  I ended up skipping a regular meal and had half of them as part of my dinner last night. 

ume (梅) - I liked this a lot.  I think the inspiration came from the single preserved plum that often sits in the middle of the rice in a Japanese lunch box, surrounded by a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.  The taste was sour yet a little savory at the same time, with the fragrance of the sesame seeds added that little bit extra to the overall experience.

yuzu (柚子) - another surprise on the upside.  I've had yuzu macarons before, but this one was the best.  The tangy flavors of the rind were very upfront, and the taste was so "alive" it made all the others I've had seem half-dead...

pêche cannelle - the flavors were a little too muted, and I couldn't quite get the peach flavors.  The only reason I was even able to identify this was from the mild cinnamon flavors. 

fraise - the strawberry flavors were upfront and fruity.  Very nice.

sesame noir - definitely liked the black sesame flavors...not bad at all.

houjicha (焙じ茶) - possibly the weakest of this batch.  I couldn't really taste the flavors of the toasted tea leaves...

I decided to finish the remaining 6 this morning as my breakfast, since it's already at least day 4 for the macarons (they were made on Monday if not earlier).  Not exactly a light breakfast, calorie-wise...

citron - very, very nice... flavors were more intense than I expected.

macha (抹茶) - this was pretty good, surpassing my expectations in terms of flavors.

genmaicha (玄米茶) - this turned out as I expected...more subtle in terms of flavors compared to the macha, as genmaicha itself is milder due to the addition of roasted rice.  Not a bad interpretation.

caramel salé - this was really good... You get the intensity of sweet caramel but there is something extra.  But...not as good as the caramel macaron I had at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei a few nights ago.  That was almost perfection.

café - also a surprise on the upside.  The fragrance of coffee and the flavors were more intense than I expected. 

Now I'm happy I bought these macarons... I haven't done a direct comparison with the other famous pâtissiers (like Pierre Hermé), but I really liked what I tasted.  Next time I just need to eat them on the same day that I buy them, to make sure I taste them as fresh as possible!

May 18, 2010

A little tongue n cheek

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I finally got a chance to check out Otto e Mezzo Bombana tonight.  Umberto is one of Hong Kong's first "celebrity chefs", and many of us were sad to see the old Toscana close down, and eagerly waited for his next venture.  The Drawing Room opened some time ago, but doesn't really count in my book.  Now with his name displayed at the restaurant's entrance, this is the place to come and get a taste of his cooking.

We were here for a celebratory dinner of sorts, so I brought out a little something special.  I've been cellaring the 1996 Gaja Sperss for a little more than 10 years, and this seemed like a good occasion to pop its extra-long cork.  Lots of fruit right from the start, with a little mint, a hint of floral and some forest notes.  Very sweet on the nose, and it just kept on giving... Full-bodied, elegant and smooth on the palate, but gained weight after aeration and became a little tart on the finish.  The alcohol level became pretty apparent after about 2 hours.  A very beautiful wine, which can only get better with another 10 years of aging.

For a first visit, I wanted to stick to something simple and classic, so I deliberately stayed away from their tasting menu.  Instead I chose to start with one of the classics from Toscana - pappardelle: lamb ragout, porcini mushroom, rosemary.  This was as wonderful as I remembered from the old days... the lamb ragout with mushrooms, highlighted with some rosemary to bring out another layer of flavors without being overpowering.  I could have this all day...

I saw beef tongue and beef cheek: braised in red wine with orange and spices compote on the menu and knew instantly that this was what I needed.  I love beef tongue, and can't find enough restaurants in the city that serve it.  Mom loved her braised beef cheek at Robuchon last night, so it was perfect that this should be on the menu.  I got two little cubes of tongue and a slightly bigger block of cheek, but I was definitely expecting more!  The tongue was very tender, and I liked the thick cut.  The cheek was as tender as could be, with the collagen giving that nice and smooth mouthfeel.  The mash was decent, but how could it possibly measure up to what I had last night at Robuchon?  It just wasn't as creamy and smooth...I could still feel the graininess from the potato.

I had my eye on pina colada: passionfruit cream, rum granite and coconut sandwich, served with lemon tart... as I wanted something cold and refreshing.  Interesting how this combination was kinda similar to something else I had at Caprice a few weeks ago.  The combination in the glass was not bad, but I thought the coconut ice cream sandwich was more interesting.  I also liked the lemon tart, with the acidity cutting down some of the fatty food I had earlier.

My friends and I were pretty happy with our meals, and I made a mental note to try the rack of lamb - a recommendation from a fellow blogger which I passed on to one of my friends.  I'm actually coming back in 4 days!

May 17, 2010

Le meilleur restaurant français à Taipei

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It's the parental units' anniversary again, and this year I finally have somewhere else to take them other than Paris 1930.  Since their 40th anniversary last year, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon has opened up inside Bellavita in Taipei.  I first heard about this over a year ago, and I can't even begin to describe my excitement level.

As expected the place was practically empty on a Monday night.  We took our seats at our requested table instead of at the bar.  The basket of bread was pretty decent, although noticeably inferior to what we'd find in the Hong Kong counterpart.

L'amuse bouche - duck foie gras mousse with parmesan foam on top.  Very yummy.  Instant hit with mom.

Le caviar oscietre: et l'oursin dans une delicate gelée recouverte d'une onctueuse crème de chou-fleur - nice and refreshing, full of flavors of the ocean thanks to the caviar, but with the acidity of the jelly and the sweet creamy tastes of the sea urchin as well as the cauliflower.  Apparently the little green dots on top are made with chlorophyll...

Le thon: en tartare, poivron rouge confit à la bergamote et au jambon séché - pretty decent tuna tartare, and I liked the layers of red capsicum.  The very thin strips of Parma ham on the sides was more for visual effect, and the quail egg on top was kinda cute.

L'asperge blanche: couvert des fines tranches de jambon Saint-Daniele, sauce au beurre - what a dish!  The poached white asparagus was very tender, and the combination with ham and creamy butter sauce was just awesome.  The tiny bits of chives and the chervil garnish were nice.

La daurade: <à la plancha>, en barigoule et ses artichauts épineux - I could smell the fish immediately as the plate was laid out in front of me, and the oily, "fishy" smell was goooood...  Excellent was just crispy enough but the flesh was soooo succulent and juicy it made no effort to resist the knife.  The sauce was yummy, as well the fine brunoise of veggies.

La caille: farcie de foie gras et caramélisée avec une pomme purée - a Robuchon classic I was happy to have again.  In fact I had it the first time I dined at L'Atelier in Hong Kong.  Lots of gamey flavors in the quail, and the famed mash potatoes needed no further introduction.  I insisted that mom finish her portion, since I knew she liked it so much.  The hell with worrying about the calories...not tonight!

Le fromage: de France sélectionné par nos soins - a slice each of Brie and Fourme d'Ambert.  The ammonia flavors from the Brie's rind was a little stronger than usual.  The accompanying toast ws very, very delicious.

L'exotique: goyave à la vanille de Tahiti, légèreté aux fruits des îles - a delicious combination of pink guava, panna cotta, passion fruit sauce as well as pistachio powder.  Gone in no time.

Le sucre: sphère à la violette et litchi avec une glace au lait - an interesting violet-flavored shell with cream inside, along with wild berries (unfortunately frozen) and lychee (not sure if they were fresh as the season just started).  The jellies and sauces on the sides were interesting, but the milk ice cream was a little bland...

This wouldn't have been an anniversary dinner without the wine...  After last year's performance, I brought another bottle of Burgundy.  Unfortunately, this bottle had to get banged around in my checked in luggage and only had a little less than 3 days to rest.  The fine sediment of this old bottle were still floating around instead of being completely settled at the bottom...

My last bottle of 1969 Leroy Echezeaux drank better than I expected.  I had it dunked in some cold water when I arrived to cool it down, and we decided not to decant the bottle (or pass the wine through paper coffee filters, as I have done in the past).  The sweet grass in the nose was upfront and center, and it was there all evening.  There was also a little bit of wet dirt, damp cellar, mushrooms... the question of whether the wine was lightly corked cross my mind.  Otherwise the nose was very sweet, and plummy notes emerged about 2 hours later.  Not quite the perserved plum drink (酸梅湯) that mom loves, but not bad.  Most importantly, the palate was still there and didn't turn acidic all night. 

The parents seemed to have been happy with their meal, which was a relief as mom hated her visit to L'Atelier in Hong Kong 3 years ago - my fault for ordering the wrong stuff for her...  I thought the food was excellent, and certainly worthy of many return visits. 

P.S.  I am reminded of a conversation with a friend where he described - and I nodded in agreement - L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon as the haute cuisine version of McDonald's.  I'm sure many people would cringe and start throwing darts at the target I just painted on my forehead, but let's just think about it...  There are now restaurants bearing the Robuchon name in 10 cities around the world, and that definitely qualifies it as a "chain".  Quality control is also impeccable, and one is able to have the same dish executed to the same standards at any of the outlets.  My mashed potatoes tastes pretty much the same whether I'm sitting in Taipei or Hong Kong.  Isn't that exactly what McDonald's excels at?

May 16, 2010

Sadaharu Aoki: the first nibble

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I have two missions during this trip to Taipei, both involving French cuisine, and both destinations are within the same building - Bellavita.  I managed to hit the first place tonight.

Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris (パティスリー・サダハル・アオキ・パリ) opened a boutique in Taipei at the end of last year.  Somehow I totally forgot about its existence and only remembered a day or two before my trip.  It's not everyday that Hong Kong gets bypassed in favor of Taipei when it comes to haute cuisine (does a pâtisserie count?), so I figured I owe it to myself to check it out.

My friend and I ordered two little gâteaux to share after doing a quick dinner nearby, and I had my iced Earl Grey tea as the weather is pretty hot these days.

I chose bamboo, which is actually an opéra made with green tea.  To be honest I have had some not-so-great experiences with fusion products involving green tea, such as green tea cappuccino.  This is probably going to be relegated to the same category.  Somehow the combination of milk and macha (抹茶) just doesn't do it for me, and I always find the combination too...milky and can't stand the taste.  I don't think there's anything wrong with the execution, just not up my alley.  The layers of chocolate didn't seem to help...

The cassiser was equally weird for me.  For some reason I found the acidity of the cassis out of balance with the creamy top layer.  Thankfully there was chocolate and hazelnuts.

I have to say that it was pretty disappointing first experience.  Maybe my expectations were too high; maybe it was just an off day for me; maybe the local climate meant that things spoil quickly and everything must be consumed immediately after they've been made; or maybe the Japanese pâtissier who made everything locally with imported ingredients isn't really that good...  I don't know, but I will give it another go sometime and hope for better results.

A little taste of Yilan

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I'm spending some time with family in Taipei, and we decided to have a casual meal around "my" neighborhood.  Lu San (呂桑) is a casual place specializing in cuisine from Yilan (宜蘭), so we thought it'd be interesting to try it out.  We ordered up a storm, sat down and the food started arriving in no time.

First on the table was the pig intestine in miso (味增大腸).  I didn't taste any miso but it didn't's intestine and it was really tender!

Then came the shredded duck (宜蘭鴨賞) that tasted a lot like one of mom's dishes during Lunar New Year.  It's basically dried/seasoned duck served with garlic shoots and chili peppers.  A little chewy but very interesting.  It's called "moon-gazing duck" because the ducks are hung outdoors and moon beam shines upon them during full moon, so the locals quip that the ducks are actually moon-gazing (賞月)...

Fresh oysters in garlic sauce (蒜味鮮蚵) - the oysters are lightly blanched so that they're not fully cooked...and mixed with the classic garlic sauce and shredded ginger...

Sliced pork with red lees (紅糟肉) - the pork was just too lean and those really lean char siu (叉燒) that I hate.  The red lees of Shaoxing wine made the dish look interesting, but that's about it.

Sweetfish with roe (有卵香魚) - the fish roe took up most of the space inside the fish, and there was only a very thin layer of flesh on the outside...but it was sweet and delicious.

Marinated okra (秋葵) - with some vinaigrette and bonito (鰹) flakes.

Sliced pig's liver (粉肝) - very, very soft and tender...cooked just enough and retains all the moisture.

Yilan gaozha (宜蘭高渣) - not having been to Yilan before, the only times I've had this was at Da Shan Wu Jia (大山無價).  The version here is obviously a lot more down market, but still very good nonetheless.  It's basically deep-fried chicken soup, with some starch to solidify the liquids a little.  Grandma kept eating this since it requires almost no chewing effort...

Marinated eggplant and Chinese yam (茄子拌山藥) - this was OK.

Steamed chicken (白斬雞) - pretty nicely done.  There was just enough seasoning, and they dunked the chicken into ice water to make sure the skin has bounce.

Liver flower (宜蘭肝花) - basically chopped pig's liver with water chestnut, spring onions...etc wrapped into tofu skin and deep-fried.  Pretty good actually...

Japanese deep-fried tofu (日式炸豆腐) - basically 揚げ出し豆腐... Very juicy inside so that when I bit into my piece, it squirted all over the place...

The two desserts were pretty interesting... The pan-fried kumquat cake (宜蘭棗糕) was made guessed it...pieces of preserved kumquat (金桔/棗).  Needless to say it goes very well with the preserved kumquat tea they've been serving.

The last item was deep-fried longan rice cakes (桂圓米糕).  Basically a rice ball with pieces of dried longan (桂圓), coated with a layer of flour and deep-fried.  The flavors were subtle and nice.

It's always nice to come home and get a taste of Taiwan...


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