January 22, 2011

Revolving doors

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A few of us celebrated a friend's birthday tonight at Sabatini.  This is an old Hong Kong favorite, which I myself used to like a few years ago.  I particularly enjoyed their homemade pastas.  However, some two years ago I was advised against returning as the standards had reportedly declined since the departure of the old chef.  Therefore I was curious to see for myself if the food was at the same level as I remembered.

When I arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel, there were posters around advertising the arrival of the new chef for Sabatini.  Uh-oh... ANOTHER new chef?  And the second change in about two years?  That can't be good...

They ran out of the poached ox tongue I initially wanted, so I started with an appetizer portion of capellini rustici con ricci di mare, bottarga di muggine cavaiale ed erba cipollina.  I was surprised at the size of the dish, as the pile of pasta looked pretty filling.  The taste was disappointing to say the least.  While I looked forward to a symphony of flavors of the ocean - what with sea urchin, mullet roe and caviar - what I got was a mouthful of cream.  I had imagined that the cream sauce would be infused with the tastes of yummy seafood, but somehow the chef chose not to do so.  So this was just pasta with plain cream sauce, sprinkled with bits of seafood on top.  Totally bland.  Totally uninteresting.

I actually struggled to pick out a second dish from the menu - none of them seemed to appeal tonight - and eventually settled on braciola di maiale Iberico con raviolo di cotechino e lenticchie, servita con patate, cipolla novella e friggitelli.  How difficult is it to pan-fry a piece of pork chop?  And why do so many restaurants fail in the execution?  While the meat was far from dry and chewy, it just didn't deliver the yummy goodness that I expected from an Iberico pork chop.  The Sous Vide Monsters will be cheering as I say this, but tonight I wished my meat had been cooked sous-vide.  The lentil ravioli was totally uninteresting, but the peppers were nice. 

I was ready to take on another sabayon, but we had a cake for the birthday girl.  The band came over to sing for us.  I had been dreading this from the moment I sat down at the table.  The group of entertainers had been working their way through the restaurant, and their performance was very mixed.  While we all admired the vocal talents of the lady, the men were downright horrible.  When they sang "Old MacDonald" at the far end of the room, I honestly wanted to get up and leave...  And one of the old guys actually had "Leng Chai" written on his guitar...  So, mediocre food AND bad entertainment.  Not much reason for a return visit, especially when I have to trek across the harbor.

Fortunately, there was wine.

Egly-Ouriet Brut Rosé Grand Cru (disgorged Nov 09, 52 months on lees) - I decided to bring a bottle of bubbly for the birthday celebrations, and I was desperately wanting to taste this wine.  I'm a big fan of Egly-Ouriet, and as it turns out so were some of my fellow diners.  Apparently the same Pinot Noir is sold to Anselme Selosse for the Jacques Selosse Rosé...  Lovely nose of red fruits like strawberries, minerals, sweet, with only a hint of oxidation.  

2005 Il Borro - ordered this from the rather expensive restaurant list.  Nose of pine needle, forest, sweet and alcoholic.  Very firm tannins from this young wine that just needs time to soften.

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