June 23, 2013

Cellar dining: Taipei edition

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A couple of friends very kindly invited me to lunch today to help celebrate my birthday, and knowing my love of wine, decided to take me to La Grande Vinotheque.  The place bills itself as being "Southeast Asia's largest cellar".  I always roll my eyes whenever I hear people making superlative claims like that, but it's not important.  What matters is the food and, most of all, the company I'm with.

This was a set menu, and we made ourselves comfortable and waited for the onslaught of multiple courses…

We nibbled on some scallion and truffle "bread" to start.  This is like a cross between a croissant and scallion pancake (蔥油餅), and was pretty tasty.  Apparently for dinner, they make the bread table-side.  The dough rises in front of you, then it's put in a hot stone bowl to "cook".  Hmmm… sounds like what they do at Les Créations de Narisawa...

Caviar with crab meat, charcoal Pescadores oyster - the oyster from the Pescadores Islands (澎湖) are coated in a batter mixed with "edible" bamboo charcoal powder (竹炭粉), then deep-fried.  Pretty tasty, actually.  Black charcoal/ash mixed into batter/dough?  Sounds like something else I had at Narisawa...

The caviar tin is a familiar dish.  The smoky flavors seemed to have come from the crab meat, and the layer of lemon gelée at the bottom provided the acidity to whet one's appetite.  But what's with that stupid gold foil?!

Foie gras terrine with orange gelée - this was supposed to be part of our lunch but wasn't printed on our menus.  Served with a toasted brioche on the side.

The foie was pretty good, and I even saw the bits of yellow duck fat.  The gelée was made from orange juice concentrate, and I thought the acidity worked pretty well with the foie.

White asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - this was the course that was mistaken printed on our menu instead of the foie, and we got it with compliments of the house.  Dutch white asparagus served with anchovies, beetroot and half a quail egg with runny yolk.  Not bad.

Hualien Mountain chicken consommé with porcini - this was absolutely delicious.  There was no hint of salt or MSG, just the flavors of chicken, shroom and a little bit of radish that's been cooked in chicken stock.  The sweetness definitely came through.

Pesto risotto with escargots - for the life of me I cannot remember ever having had pesto risotto before, but I guess there's a first time for everything!  This came with slices of jamón ibérico and strips of crispy burdock.

Pu'er tea was served as a palate cleanser in place of sorbet.

Pan fried lamb filet with wild berry sauce - I would always choose lamb over some hunk of US beef…

I asked for medium rare, but I don't think what I got was medium rare.  It was slightly on the chewier side, and when the waitstaff said that their lamb isn't so lamby… my heart sank a little.  Oh well.

Dessert came in the form of these spherical chocolate concoctions.  There was a small little chocolate truffle.  The smaller of the two spheres contained passion fruit sauce in addition to a ganache.  The larger sphere contained a nutty mousse along with chunks of nuts.

As we're dining at a wine cellar, there's gotta be some wine involved!  After getting a quick tour of the underground cellar with the Mandarin-speaking French sommelier, I ended up choosing a bottle from their collection.

1985 Nicolas Potel Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes - initially some hint of wet cardboard and fungus, and I thought it might have been corked.  Despite her cold, sommelier said the wine wasn't corked.  This went away after a few minutes.  Toasty nose, ripe, lemon citrus.  Not bad but a little disappointing.  My contribution.

2005 Les Vins de Vienne Sotanum - nose of pine needle, potpourri, big and alcoholic, sweet on the nose.  Still pretty concentrated.  A little too young. 100% Syrah.

Many thanks to my friends for this wonderful treat.

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