October 5, 2010

Ojiisan's birthday

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It's dad's birthday today.  For the last couple of years mom and I have been jokingly calling him "old man" (老頭), but it's become official today.  At the ripe old age of 70, you're definitely an old man.

I took the extended family - with uncle and aunt in tow - back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  It is, after all, the finest French restaurant in Taipei.  Jack and Rolf at Paris 1930 will have to wait for another visit.

I arrived at the restaurant early, only to discover that the seating arrangement was all wrong.  With our party of 5, the staff had planned on having 3 of us sit on the curved sofa while the other two would be seated in chairs.  I honestly don't know what the staff were thinking, because I could easily figure out that out of the 3 people sitting on the sofa, only the central guest would be able to relax and find back support.  The two flanking guests would have absolutely no back support and soon find themselves with back and neck pain. Not to mention that 3 people in the party were above the age of 65...  I was a little infuriated.  Did these people even use their brain cells for one minute as they set the table?!

I asked the staff for an alternate arrangement.  At L'Atelier anywhere in the world, the only other option would be to sit on bar stools with low backs - not exactly ideal either.  I decide that this would be a better arrangement for all, and ask to be moved to a high table.

At this point the staff inquired whether the new arrangement would be suitable for the old gentleman (老人家) whose birthday we would be celebrating.  They wondered whether an old man would have difficulty climbing up and down from the bar stool...  I found that more than a little funny, and relayed the story to mom and dad.  Yes, dad... 70 years means you're an old man...

I was introduced to Chef Angelo, who had just moved from HK and is taking over from Chef Suga as the latter heads to France.

I scanned through the menu and decide against taking one of the set menus, opting to cherry pick my dishes instead.  Not exactly the most economical way to go about dinner, but definitely yielded tasty results!

The amuse bouche was fennel cream on top of a lemon vanilla jelly.  I could see the vanilla seeds in the translucent jelly, but didn't manage to pick up any of the scent or flavors, thanks to the acidity of the lemon as well as the overpowering flavors of fennel.

Les cappelinis: rafraîchis aux sucs de tomate, poutargue en copeaux, petites crevettes en sashimis - what a great way to start the evening! The cold pasta was flavored with a light tomato sauce with some basil coulis on the side.  The raw shrimps were very, very delish and the thin wafers of mullet roe added the intense and slightly bitter flavors on top of acidic notes.  I'll take a big plate of this any day of the week.

Le shiitake: en dôme farci de cochonnaille et foie gras parfumé à l'estragon - mom had the same dish and loved it.  It certainly looked cute shaped into a dome... Cutting open the dome revealed a mix of foie gras and pig trotters - two of my favorite ingredients.  I was happy.  The thin slices of shiitake mushrooms were really good, too.  I did feel, though, that the shavings of Parmesan were a little too strong  and threw things a little out of balance.

Le boudin noir: avec sa purée de pomme miellé et une petite salade fraîcheur - O-M-G.  This made my meal.  OK, I understand that we are in Taiwan...the land of the pig's blood cake (豬血糕).  People eat curdled/cooked blood here without batting an eyelash, but it's still not easy to find boudin noir in this town - nevermind a good one.  The tubular shape of the sausage was so alluring... looking incredibly succulent and inviting me to chomp down hard on it.  The knife cut through it like butter.  It was perfectly soft.  And the taste was heavenly.  I appreciated that the apple purée was there to help offset the richness, but I didn't need it.  I wanted the flavors full-on!

It was here and now that my uncle truly appreciated my love for food.  He watched me slowly and carefully cut the boudin, place each bite in my mouth, and observed the resulting smile on my face.  Out of all the meals we've shared together, he's never seen me so happy.  Of course, there haven't been many meals in the past where I have gotten to choose where I wanted to eat - and tonight the venue was my call.  And I was eating only the dishes I chose and nothing else.

Le veau: la joue confite, carottes fondantes au cumin - the chunk of veal cheek marinated in red Bordeaux was bigger than I expected, and I effectively hit a wall after this course.  It was done very, very well... Incredibly tender, flavorful, and of course that collagen was to die for.  Once again I found my knife slicing through it like butter, as it should.  The sweet carrots were sprinkled with cumin seeds, and I could only hope that the cumin serves its medicinal purpose of helping my digestion!

L'onglet grillé et ses légumes d'été aux feuilles de capucine - I don't often come across hanger steak, and was curious enough to see how it would be done here.  I was pretty happy with what I got, although I was too full to finish it all.  There was definitely that added chewiness one would expect from this cut of meat, and I could taste the extra flavors.  It was done rare and I'd say the execution was perfect.  Too bad I only had room for 2 spoonfuls of the mash...

I didn't have room for dessert, and shared a bite from dad's little "birthday cake".  I did get one of Chef Kazu's coconut macarons, whose flavors were rather light.  But at least the texture was what I expected and not the disaster I encountered a few weeks ago...

No birthday celebration would be complete without wine, and I picked up a bottle of 1940 Angelus for this occasion.  I didn't have any expections for this wine.  After all we've drunk bottles of Latour and Haut-Brion in the past, and 1940 ain't exactly a stellar vintage. Still, it was the significance of the vintage.  Benoit didn't decant the wine, and poured it into glass pretty much right after opening.  Initially there was nothing but preserved plums in the nose, although it wasn't as intensely savory as I'd expected.  There was also some sun-dried tomatoes and a hint of smoked meats.  The wine improved after a while and gained a little more body.  Nothing spectacular but it served its purpose well tonight.

It was a pretty good evening.  I'm looking forward to more celebratory meals with the old man...


Anonymous said...

When you were talking about the food, they all look so delicious. But when you made comment on the staff, you seem lose your mind. It was not the problem of their staff's "brain cell", but you, wasn't you when you made this kind of arrangement. I dined there many times, and am regular of theirs. How could you say something like that!!"Did these people even use their brain cells for one minute as they set the table?!" You should respect the concept of Mr. Robuchon .... stool seating in the begining.

Peech said...

Let's set this straight...

I did not request the sofa seating. The original reservation was for a party of three, which would have been fine to seat us on the sofa.

Seating a party of 5 at the table with sofa means 3 on the sofa + 2 chairs. This doesn't work. 2 on the sofa + 3 chairs means the chairs would be touching each other. Doesn't work either.

The next time you visit the restaurant, I invite you to ask them to lay out 3 settings on the sofa, then sit at one of the seats on the sides of the sofa (not the middle seat) with absolutely no back support. Let me know how you feel after an hour, or even 30 minutes. I will then ask you if you think the staff used their brains when they set the table this way.

I have absolutely no issue with the stool seating concept and in fact enjoy sitting at the counter and chatting with total strangers. I did, however, wonder from the very beginning whether Asians (Taiwanese in particular) would accept the idea of sitting on stools while paying this kind of money for "fine dining French food."

Sue-Ann said...

The shiitake mushroom dish sounds interesting. 70 is not old.


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