July 11, 2010

The piglet and the calf

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I'm revisiting L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei tonight for a birthday dinner.  I stopped by after lunch yesterday to drop off the wine, and was surprised to run into a familiar face.  Benoît, who used to be the sommelier at L'Atelier in Hong Kong, stood in front of me and carefully took over the bottle.  He had just started in Taipei, having done a detour in New York for the last few months.  I was glad to see him, as I knew my bottle would be in good hands.

The restaurant was doing good business on a Sunday night, as they were at around 70 percent capacity.  We sat down at the bar, and Benoît came to let me know that the wine was ready and being kept at the right temperature. 

He brought out the bottle of 1971 Camille Giroud Clos de Vougeot and carefully extracted the very old cork.  It came out perfectly, without the need to use a retriever to fish out bits of broken cork.  I was very relieved.  He poured the wine into Riedel Sommelier Burgundy Grand Cru glasses, and I waited for it to open up.  Nose of herbs, forest, a bit of fruit, a little brett, farmy and black olives.  Very light bodied.  More open with the second pour.  Bodied gained a bit more weight but still light.  A little smoky.  Not a fantastic wine but still enjoyable to drink, especially considering that it's been knocked around in my checked-in bag just 2 days ago!

I wanted a lighter meal tonight, so I didn't take the menu découverte like I normally would.  Instead, I chose the menu with slightly fewer courses, and picked my dishes from the smaller list provided.  The reason?  That gorgeous-looking roast suckling pig I see on a spit in the back of the kitchen.  It's not on the menu découverte and I'm sooooo having that!

The amuse bouche was exactly the same like last time - duck foie gras mousse with Parmesan foam on top.  Still pretty nice.

Le maquereau en friture sur un caviar d'aubergine, salade aux herbes - the deep-fried mackerel fillets were pretty tasty, but the bed of eggplant caviar below was the real surprise.  The chef added cumin and mint, making it totally Mediterranean.  Very delish.

Le foie gras en ravioles dans un consommé d'herbes et sa crème pimentée - it's hard to get the true taste of the consommé thanks to all the green strips floating on top.  The raviolis were just awesome, though... Put one in your mouth, bite into it softly, and feel the liquefied foie just ooze out onto your tongue...  Is there anything better than liquid foie?  The crème/mayo with shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子) really wasn't necessary.  Gotta love that eggshell-shaped bowl, though... and the matching bowl for the crème!

Le cochon de lait laqué de miel aux épices, étuvés de petits pois et lardons fumés - this was what I wanted most tonight, and was I a happy camper...  The pork belly was just perfect - the meat was soft and moist, the thick layer of fat was a slice of heaven, and the honey-coated, caramelized skin just tough enough to make chewing it a pleasure.  The crispy strips of rind were nice and crunchy, and contrasted well with the bed of small peas. I relished every bite.

Le veau la joue confite au vin blanc, artichaut en barigoule, saveur de moutarde à l'ancienne - now this was interesting... Braised beef cheeks in red wine is pretty commonplace, but I've never had it with white wine...  This was a totally different taste, with lots of acidity all around to cut down the richness of the collagen.  You've got artichokes, capers, tomato, and even mustard seeds pre-soaked in white wine.  Needless to say the veal was soft and yielded like butter to the knife. There was, of course, a baby pot of the famous mash on the side.  Creamy and to die for, but I just couldn't finish it...

The cheese course was exactly like last time - a thin slice of Brie and a slice of Fourme d'Ambert along with toast.  Lick...

A little tarte au citron was brought out as the birthday cake, followed by Chef Suga and a few of the staff who sang happy birthday.  Very yummy and no complaints whatsoever.

I was already pretty full, so the perfect way to finish the meal was not the chocolate mousse, but les fruits frais en nage à la citronnelle avec un sorbet basilic et citron vert.  This was soooo refreshing in the summer, with the nice surprise of seeing tiny wild berries in the soup.  This is still the only place in Taipei where I've had wild berries.

I took a single espresso along with the last bite - a violet macaron.  This macaron was just as amazing as the caramel macaron I had last time.  Soft and moist, there was a ring of almond cream surrounding the violet jam in the center.  The macarons here are so moist - very different from the ones at L'Atelier in Hong Kong.  I soon found out why I love them so much - chef pâtissier Kazu learned his craft under Pierre Hermé!  Methinks I need to start carrying back boxes of macarons from the Salon de Thé downstairs, on top of the ones from Sadaharu Aoki in the basement...  I think I'll need a large cardboard box...

Another wonderful meal, courtesy of Joël...

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