March 9, 2013

A pair of 70 year olds

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I'm in Taipei for an early celebration of mom's 70th birthday.  It's a big one, and I was lucky enough to pick up a very special bottle of wine at auction for this occasion.  I've been waiting patiently ever since…

I had briefly considered booking Paris 1930 for this dinner, as the restaurant - under a different chef at the time - was able to create a few dishes on the fly to match a very specific bottle of wine on another occasion.  Alas, when I called the restaurant to try to book a table, I was told that the manager/sommelier Rolf was no longer there.  I hung up almost immediately.  Rolf and Jack have been the reasons I have gone back to the restaurant for more than 10 years.  My last two visits - with the new chef in the kitchen - have seen the place fall in my rankings, and Rolf knew that he need to get the chef in shape or risk losing the regulars permanently.  I'm not sure what happened, but with Rolf's departure the restaurant has lost me as a customer for good.

So Robuchon it is, again.  I can rest assured that Benoit would know how to take care of this special bottle.  And I was eager to try out what the new chef is doing.  Mom was embarrassed on her last visit, when she took some people out for lunch and the fish was apparently overcooked and tough.  How would things turn out tonight?

I arrived at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon a few minutes early, and asked Benoît to take care of the wine for me.  I asked if he could work with the chef and recommend a few dishes that would work well with the 1943 Yquem, and the response was typical of him: "Nothing!"  Other than the classic pairing with foie gras, Benoît felt (very strongly, apparently!) that Sauternes is a wine best drunk after dinner, on its own, with your best friend in front of a fireplace.  Oh well…

I had asked Pineapple over instant messaging about decanting this wine, and he suggested that I decant the bottle just before serving in order to remove the sediment.  Yes, there was some sediment, and it was very fine.  When Benoît chose not to decant, I asked him about it and told him Pineapple's recommendation.  His response: "You tell him to come over so I can *kick his @#$*"  Ah… nothing ever changes.

I decided we should just order à la carte instead of taking a tasting menu, as I wanted mom to have her favorite foie and wanted some for myself, too…

The amuse bouche was hairy gourd mash with sun-dried tomato and deep-fried shallots.

Le foie gras: des Landes confit sel et poivre, dattes aux citrons confits et aux noix fraiches - it's been a while since I've had good foie torchon like this.  The texture was very, very smooth and creamy.  The salt and pepper bring out the flavor very nicely, and that yellow duck fat sure looks nice…

The date confit has finely chopped lemon rind as well as black truffles mixed in.

Le porc: la joue confite dans un jus épicé aux légumes croquants - the pork cheek was slow-cooked and reasonably tender, but a few pieces had muscle fibers which were chewy, depending on how they are cut.  Not getting why tofu cubes are used here.  The thin strands of kadaif (Arabic rice vermicelli) are nice and fine.

Le cochon de lait: laqué de miel aux épicés, choux vert éfumé au lard fumé - the suckling pig was not bad, and definitely tasted very young  with strong flavors (very "porky").  The pork rinds were just slightly soggy by the time the dish arrived at the table.

Last night while I was at Caprice in Hong Kong, Chef Vincent had asked me to give his regards to Chef Xavier Boyer, as they had worked together at the Four Seasons George V in Paris.  I asked Benoît to introduce me to Chef Xavier, and I delivered the greetings from Hong Kong.  I also asked Benoît to pour him some of the wine.  Chef Xavier kindly offered to arrange dessert...

And now for something sweet… and the complimentary birthday dessert arrived first.  We ended up not eating this pretty concoction made with hazelnuts.

To clean our palates, we were offered some basil sorbet, wild strawberries, grapefruit granité and mint jelly.  Very refreshing.

What arrived next was a glass with banana and passion fruit mousse, rum sorbet and coconut mousse on top.  A little bit of lime rind shavings added a little extra fragrance, and the candy stick made with passion fruit was interesting, too.  VERY nice.

La Poire: moelleuse et confite au vin cuit, sur un léger pana cotta à la vanille et un sorbet aux cassis - this was very good, too. Wine-poached pear, cassis sorbet, raspberry crisps… lots of different fruity flavors here.

Caramel and pear has always been something that Robuchon does well, and this little ball of vanilla panna cotta was truly yum.  Tahitian vanilla, bien sûr!

I finished with a macaron.  Couldn't tell exactly what the flavor was from the cookie, but it had almond ganache with a mango center.  Pretty good.

But the center of attention tonight - other than mom, of course - was the bottle of Yquem.  It was one of the treasures from my cellar, and anticipation was high.

1943 Yquem - nose of raisins, nutty, honey, caramel, orange marmalade, definitely vanilla, honeydew.  Soooo sweet and concentrated, very unctuous.  The fragrance lingered in the glass for a long time, and the finish was also pretty long.  Very top shoulder.

The color of the wine was soooo deep and dark, and resembled an old Madeira or Tawny Port.

Yes, there was a little bit of sediment here… tartaric acid crystals?

Mom was very, very happy with the wine.  I had opened a bottle of 1943 Doisy-Daëne with her two years ago, and told her that this was the same type of wine.  Mom may not be an expert on wine, but her palate is very, very sharp from years of being in the kitchen.  She knew that this was much, much better than the Doisy-Daëne, and indeed it was!

What a wonderful evening!  Many thanks to Chef Xavier who ended up comping us 6 different desserts…


Brett Domue said...

I'm looking forward to my first visit under the new chef. Haven't been in Tapei since October, just before Angelo left, when Robuchon was last visiting. Glad to see some things (ie. Benoit) are still the same.

Peech said...

Brett, I remember you really liked the Angelo x Benoit duo, but I guess not many chefs stay at one outlet of the Robuchon empire for very long... the lone exception being Francky Semblat in Macau, perhaps


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