November 16, 2012

The tight Chairman

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It has been two years since I last visited The Chairman (大班樓), or so I was told by Foursquare as I checked in via my phone.  During that time the place has gotten themselves a little macaron, and I imagine it is now even harder to secure a table.  I therefore count myself lucky to be joining a VVIP of the restaurant - yes, I actually saw it written in the reservation book next to my friend's name - for dinner.

The space has never been very big for a restaurant this popular, but now they are really packing us in.  The nine of us squeezed in at a table that normally should seat six or no more than seven.  There was barely enough space for the wine glasses - up to three at the peak - so I had to slide my phone under the edge of the plate, and the camera got stuck between my back and the back of the chair.

The menu was preset as usual, and there would be a long line of dishes to come…

Basil and sweet vinegar pickled tomato in vine (九層塔醃漬蕃茄) - the tomatoes tasted of vinegar, basil and star anise, while the crunchy chunks of jícama (豆薯) tasted of basil and an overpowering flavor/fragrance of lemongrass.  This was my first introduction (that I can remember) to jícama, and I initially thought it might have been Chinese yam (山藥) with my first bite.

Rock lobster meat slowed cooked in shrimp oil (蝦籽蝦油慢煮琵琶蝦) - quite frankly this was disappointing.  The flavors were too subtle and bland.  I could taste a little bit of the shrimp roe, but otherwise this was just plain mantis shrimp (攋尿蝦).

BBQ chicken liver with Chinese bun (古法金錢雞配饅頭) - no doubt the owners know of my friend's love (and mine, too) for this item.  Just look at it glistening under the light!  Yes, chicken liver is good, and so is the lard!  I was challenged to eat this in one bite, and of course that's no challenge at all… Yes, I'm Pigsy again tonight.

Pan fried home smoked and cured pork belly (煎大班樓煙薰臘肉) - I love fatty pork, and I love cured pork belly (臘肉), but somehow this just didn't do it for me, despite the nice smoky flavor.

Pig's tripe soup (豬肚湯) - very nicely done.  The tripe was delicious, and the white pepper was just right and not overpowering. Found a gingko nut in my bowl.  Yummy.

Whole fish 2 flavors: stir fried with chinese vegetables and steamed with mandarin peel (一班兩食:時菜炒班球,陳皮蒸頭腩) - the fish tonight was highfin grouper (花英斑).
Stir-fried with sugarsnap peas - the peas were tiny and very sweet.  The fish was a little on the dry side, but the skin was thick and chewy, not quite to the point of rubbery.  ILL described this as "like fish-flavored gummy bears", which we found to be quite apt.

Steamed with mandarin peel - this was pretty decent, with the subtle flavors of the mandarin peel accompanying the fattier belly.

Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged ShaoXing wine, fragrant chicken oil & flat rice noodles (雞油花雕蒸大花蟹配陳村粉) - always a wonderful dish.  Tonight I got the shell along with the tomalley, along with a piece of the body.  The sauce was delish, and great with the rice flour noodles - although slightly viscous consistency would have been better.  The biatch next to me kept trying to steal my noodles… and since we're shoved so close together at the table, she almost succeeded.

Pan fried whole crispy chicken stuffed with shrimp paste (香煎百花雞件配魚露) - the chicken skin was nice and crispy, and the shrimp paste was not bad.  Interesting with fish sauce, chili and lemongrass.

Braised spare ribs with preserved plums in caramelized black vinegar (話梅肉桂糖醋排骨) - this signature dish used to be crispier and not as wet.  I still can't taste the cinnamon, but then again my palate isn't that good.  The important thing is that it was tasty, and I cleaned the bone with my teeth.  Would have liked another one of these…  Ginger bits were yummy, too, and came with deep-fried wonton skin on the side.

Stir-fried kai lan in ginger (薑汁芥蘭) - this was seriously good.  Stir-fried just enough to leave it still crunchy.

Fried rice with prawns trio - fresh prawns, sun-dried prawns & shrimp paste (三蝦炒飯) - tasty as I remembered, but still done very dry.  Would have preferred a little bit more moisture here.

Osmanthus & wolfberry ice-cream / pickled ginger ice-cream (桂花杞子雪糕/子薑雪糕) - now I know my palate is crap… After four visits to this place, I still have not been able to taste the osmanthus in this ice cream… or maybe it's because I'm usually a little drunk by this time?  Regardless, the ice creams were pretty tasty.

Homemade almond sweet soup (生磨杏仁茶) - thick and decent.

Plenty of alcohol tonight, and I think my tolerance went down after a few days of being dry…

Blin's Édition Limitée Blanc de Blancs - a bit mineral and mild on palate.

2000 Réserve de la Comtesse - classic and smoky.  Good acidity balance and smooth on the palate.  Surprisingly a little sharp and alcoholic, and I could feel the alcohol burn a little as the wine went down the back of my throat.  My contribution.

L'Or de Parigot - nose of red fruits, slightly tart on the palate.

When some friends first showed us the bottle, a natural reaction would have been to discount the wine because of the bling-bling factor… Just look at the gold flakes in the bottle!  But it's fine as a food wine, but I'm not sure about the flakes...

2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - classic nose of petrol, mineral and pear.  Light sweetness.  Served pretty cold but it was OK.
My contribution.
1998 d'Arenberg Shiraz The Dead Arm - very typical Aussie, with lots of sweet vanilla and coconut, along with smoky notes.  Reasonably smooth on the palate by now.

I think the food here was still pretty good, although the "wow factor" has certainly faded a little for me.  Looking forward to coming back when it's not such a squeeze...

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