May 9, 2013

Playdate with Uwe

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It's been a while since my last dinner with Fergie, and I thought it'd be a good idea to arrange another get-together.  This time, though, I pulled in a couple of mutual friends to make the party a little bigger... in the hope that it would be even more fun.  I think that turned out to be a pretty good call, if I may say so myself!

I had been wanting to go back to the Mandarin Grill + Bar for a proper meal, and my lunch last month provided a glimpse of what such a meal would be like.  Thinking that we should do something a little special, I called on my VVIP friend Tigger to set me up with Chef Uwe Opocensky, who very kindly arranged a special tasting menu for the evening.  I think we'll all remember this meal for some time to come.

We started with a few nibbles:
Ketchup cookies with shaved Parmigiano - I must confess that I found the Parmigiano shavings really yummy and full of flavor.

Gougères - with a warm and yummy liquid cheese filling.

Spherical olives - a little something from the months Uwe spent in the kitchen of elBulli.  While the olive flavors were pretty full-on, I found that "skin" to be a little too think for my liking.

These black sesame swirls were really, really delicious... and I think we all had some.  This, as usual, would eventually come back and bite us at the end...

Then the fun started.  When I say "fun", I really do mean it.  This entire dinner was nothing but loads of fun to eat, from the playful creations of the chef... to Fergie acting like a third-grader and then infecting the rest of us, leading to the whole table to regress back to childhood... I cannot recall another meal in recent memory where I've had so much fun!

None of us had been here in quite a while, so we weren't aware that the table tops were metallic, and that the thin, tubular vases and candle holders all had magnets at the bottom.  Once we had made this discovery, it didn't take long for some of us to have some fun by sliding the vases back and forth along the table...

Hand: caviar, sour cream, Melba - the staff asked us each to make a fist, then proceeded to squeeze a dollop of sour cream from a tube (bearing the Mandarin logo, no less!) onto our fist.  We were then instructed to pick up a tiny blini holding a small lump of caviar (which, as Fergie had declared earlier, was too little for him) and place it on top of the sour cream.

While some of us were busy taking pictures of this thing on our fists, others decided to engage in fist bumps...  Anyway, we finally had to lick it all from our fists.  Now, how many of you have openly licked your fists/fingers/hands in a Michelin-starred restaurant?!  (No, I wasn't talking to you, ILoveLubutin... please put your hand down)

Caesar salad: Romaine, Parmesan, ham, dressing - this was somewhat similar to the Flower Pot salad on the regular menu... Baby Romaine lettuce was laid on top of a layer of "moss/soil", served with some jamón ibérico and round discs of Parmigiano, and finally sprinkled with a fine layer of Parmigiano "snow" on top.  Someone had the audacity to ask the chef if he was using Kraft Parmesan...

Salmon and caviar: organic, Scottish, home smoked, cedar wood, king crab, bagel, egg - this dish had multiple components... First there was the salmon which, I am guessing, may have been cured or cooked sous vide just for a few minutes.  It was then smoked for about 10 minutes inside a glass dome, with chunks of really smoky cedar.  It was then plated with sour cream, egg white and egg yolk "dots"... and we were meant to smear the dots on the salmon before tasting.  The salmon was very tender and yielded to the knife easily, and the smoky flavors filled the air around the table.  Very tasty.

There were also fresh and pickled cucumber on the side to go with the salmon.

Having declared that he was allergic to "small amounts" of caviar, Fergie now had the opportunity to get some more... This was done in the same manner as Robuchon - with a layer of king crab meat at the bottom of the tin, beneath the caviar.

We could eat the caviar as is, or spread it on these bagel chips.

V.v.G.: foie gras, chicken, sunflower, PX - I didn't pay much attention to the name of the dish until Uwe came over to explain it to us.  As it turns out this is one of his creations to celebrate Art Basel in Hong Kong.  We were each presented with a vase holding a sunflower, and asked if we know of an artist who painted sunflowers.  Why, that would be Vincent van Gogh, of course!  We were then asked if we knew what Vincent famously did, which was... cutting off his own ear...

At this point the presentation cases were placed in front of us, and we came face to face with... an ear!  Eeek!  What are you serving us, Uwe?!  Well, he decided to create a mold in the shape of an ear, and filled it with foie gras and chicken liver.  We were all amazed and had a good chuckle.  I would show you all the funny comments we got on our posts to Facebook, but some of them couldn't be repeated in polite company...  I decided to spread it on the slices of toasted brioche served on the side.  More bread... digging myself deeper now.

Mushroom: organic, custard, pearl barley, chicken, consommé - this is something I had for lunch last month, and it was just as delicious tonight.  I mentioned that previously I was told not to eat the barley on the plate, and a discussion about "recycling" food ensued... Well tonight I nibbled on a couple of grains just for the heck of it.

Scallop: French, diver caught, stones, lemon, sea grass, dashi - actually I think these were Japanese scallops, and they were HUGE!  This was another lovely presentation. The staff poured what may have been seawater (from the Fragrant Harbor perhaps?) onto the bed of grass, reacting with the dry ice below to create a layer of "fog" which is meant to smell like the ocean.  Yes, very "fragrant" indeed...

The black truffle and the scallop was delicious, although I thought my scallop was a little overcooked.

We were asked to leave the seaweed in the shell for the second part of the dish.  A little deep-fried Japanese sawagani (沢蟹) was dropped onto the seaweed, and "dashi (出汁)" made with egg yolk and jamón ibérico was poured into the scallop shell.  The final touches included some grated lemon rind on top.  Yum.

Fish and Chips: amadai, potato, tartare - this ain't no ordinary fish and chips, lads...  The delicious amadai (甘鯛) was first pan-fried with its scale-side down, then baked on a block of pink Himalayan rock salt to infuse it with the necessary seasoning.  We were then instructed to smear the amadai with the dots, which were made with mayonnaise, lemon juice and pickled cucumber - ingredients of a tartar sauce.  I have to say that the amadai was really delicious, especially with the crispy scales which had now curled up.  Oh and the potato puff was yummy, too.

Duck: Welsh, Rhug Estate, organic, Gressingham, foot, "spring roll", natural jus - I've been avoiding eating any duck since the arrival of the giant Rubber Duckie, but that came to an end tonight...  The breast of the Gressingham duck was really delicious and executed perfectly.  There was some shredded "dark meat" which was stuffed into a tube, and that was pretty tasty, too.  I think there was a bed of pan-fried quinoa that was kinda crunchy.  Mmm mmm good.

Spring lamb: Welsh, Rhug Estate, organic, cutlet, pearl barley, peas, natural jus - oh this was one delicious piece of lamb... with a good amount of lamby flavors I love so much and oh-so-tender.  I wonder why this was presented on a patch of grass, as I thought spring lambs were generally milk-fed and hadn't started to feed on grass?  Anyway... nice swoosh of pea purée and tasty jus.

There was some peas and pearl barley served on the side, which was amazingly delicious.

Pop art: Snake River Farm, organic, beef, pepper, truffle - when you talk about pop art, which artist's name is the first that comes to mind?  Why, Andy Warhol, of course!  He is well-known for his many variations of "Marilyn", and tonight we have Uwe's interpretation of that work...

Presented on a black picture frame was a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, which does indeed call to mind Andy's style of pop art.  The white background was done with onion purée, Marilyn's famous blonde curls used yellow capsicum purée, her red lips were painted with red capsicum purée, but I'm not sure how the blue eyeliner (blueberries?) and black eyes were done...

We have been talking about how full we all were, and it probably wasn't a good idea that I ended up eating the whole piece of beef... The black truffle jus did help a little, I must admit...  Well at least I only ate half of Marilyn...

Potato: sweet, chocolate, caramel - this was actually a frozen scoop of ice cream made with Japanese potato  purée, sitting on a bed of chocolate "soil".  There were a few pieces of prunes marinated in Armagnac, and they were pretty tasty.

Krug on the Moon - this is something I had heard about and decided to order in advance.  Normally done in the Krug Room next door, I must say that this absolutely blew us away.  The staff cleared our table, then laid down pieces of silicone to cover the entire table top.  This was then used as the "canvas" for Uwe to paint and create the dessert right in front of us.

Round and flat chocolate pudding was made by pouring the liquid into a tubular mode, and have it solidify in a matter of minutes.  This reminded me of watching the bread rise on the table at Les Créations de Narisawa.  Squeeze bottles containing coconut and raspberry sauce were then used to draw dots and lines. Next came the sprinkles of chocolate rocks in brown, silver and black, as well as toasted, dessicated coconut.  Hemispherical chocolates in banana, blueberry and raspberry flavors were strategically placed at various spots.

Two black "moons" were placed on the table, and hot fudged poured on top to reveal the contents of raspberries, ice cream and Pop Rocks.  Finally, flash-frozen ice cream shaped like moon rocks were placed in the center and smashed up.

It was definitely a lot of fun watching Uwe create this right in front of us, just as it was a ton of fun to eat!  We definitely felt like a bunch of kids playing with our food at the end of dinner, and those Pop Rocks popping inside our mouths rewound the clock back some 30 years...  What a happy ending to a fantastic meal!

We were definitely blown away by this dinner.  I have always admired chefs who are creative, and Uwe has always shown us that he's capable in that respect.  I've always been a fan of molecular gastronomy when it's done well, but I also love just plain deconstruction, and there's always been that element in Uwe's cuisine.  While I can't say that every dish was 100% amazing, it was a highly enjoyable meal that reminded me on my dinner at elBulli - with the creativity and the element of surprise.  We were all completely stuffed, but walked away convinced that this has been the highlight of our dining experience so far this year - food-wise.

Ah, but let's not forget about the vino!  This was a group of winos and everyone other than me is connected to the wine trade somehow.  So for a "casual" dinner we decided to do an 80's theme...

1982 Dom Pérignon - what a beautiful nose!  Very toasty, definitely savory, mineral, salty plum (話梅) for sure, with a hint of Chinese licorice (甘草).  Later on there was toffee, caramel and maple syrup!  Wonderful!  Fat, thick and round texture, but the finish was a little on the short side.

1990 Krug - mineral, savory, toasty.  Later on the toasty notes got heavier, along with citrus.  Always a beautiful wine.

1986 Cos d'Estournel - mint, a little sweet, smoke, surprisingly floral, black pepper.  Lost a little of the structure on the edges, resulting in a lighter palate, but there was still reasonable length in the finish.  We agreed that the '86 looks like it's going downhill and best to drink them up.

1989 Pichon-Lalande - smoky and earthy, with some cassis and black fruits at the core.  Classic Pauillac from a great vintage.

1989 Conseillante - a little ripe and stewed, slight hint of rubber perhaps...  Sweet on the palate.

2009 Italo Pietrantonj Passito Rosso - a red dessert wine that is sweet but not heavy on the palate.  Nose of forest pine, herbs.

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