June 22, 2013

Keeping it simple

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Another year older but none the wiser.  A day when I felt blessed and loved, thanks to the flood of messages coming in from friends, family and acquaintances.  Many had asked how I was going to celebrate, and what wines I would open.  My reply was "keeping it simple"…

And I did.  This year I chose to be back in Taipei and spend my birthday with family.  Instead of going to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon like I would do with the parental units, I chose to revisit STAY - where I spent my birthday last year.  My two visits there last year showed me that the food is straightforward, well-executed and delicious, despite the messy staffing situation in the kitchen.

Once again I chose to forgo any of the set menus and ordered à la carte.  Besides keeping a lid on the quantity of food, it also would allow me to focus on dessert, traditionally a strength of this establishment.  Mom did the same, while others including Uncle Last Minute and Foodie Wannabe went for the sets.

As usual there was a trio of amuse bouche:
Diced chicken in a chicken mousse - the coating was made from chicken stock.

Watercress mousse with smoked salmon

Tomato mousse encased in red pepper gelée

Fregola sarda pasta: organic vegetables and Parmesan - ordering fregola here has been tradition, and I don't see any reason to stop tonight.  Pretty yummy as usual, and I didn't mind having the "vegetarian" version…  Light in flavors, even accounting for the Parmigiano.

Dinners like this for mom are rare occasions for her to enjoy some foie gras - although she prefers them pan-fried.  Only terrine was available on the à la carte menu, so she took it and removed the layer of red wine jelly on top.  She had brought a little jar of her homemade lychee confit, and wanted to see how it would pair with the foie.  While she thought it worked perfectly, I thought that the foie gras terrine was a little fat and needed a little acidity.  The sweetness from the lychees actually enhanced the fatty richness of the foie instead of balancing it out.

Organic Taiwanese black pork cheek "a la Provençale": potato confit, tomato and black olive - delicious as it is, I didn't want to order the grilled chicken a third time, so I got myself some of this, thinking that the flavors would match pretty well with my Côte-Rôtie.  I was right.  The pork cheek was reasonably tender, but didn't have as much collagen as wagyu beef cheek.  Flavors were reasonably heavy, with acidity from the tomatoes and a little something from the olives.

Mom took the lamb chops "a la française", and gave me half so that I could do what dogs do best - gnaw on the bone.  Absolutely lovely.  There was just enough fat to provide an amazing amount of flavor… I could actually smell the lamb fat while it was on her plate!  She had it done medium, although I could have had it a little bit less done...

As soon as I sat down tonight, I noticed the conspicuous absence of Chef Loïc - who manned the dessert station on my first visit.  I inquired whether it was his day off today, and was greeted with the sad news that he had left Taipei last month.  My heart sank.  My last visit without Loïc just didn't feel the same, and tonight it would be worse.  The usually impressive "dessert ribbon" looked downright pathetic… They were no longer serving any deserts of decent size - what I saw looked more like mignardises instead of proper desserts. I asked whether they were still serving millefeuille.  Yes, they were, but I no longer had any desire to have dessert here.

The mignardises we got tonight were a little raspberry opéra and a chocolate tart - the latter was noticeably better.

Mint chocolate marshmallow lollipop - surprisingly a little sour.

Birthdays are never without wine, and I fished out a couple of bottles from my meagre collection in Taipei…

Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru (dégorgée Septembre 2008) - a full-bodied Champagne.  Clearly matured with a deep, golden color.  Bubbles not so vibrant now.  Ripe and sweet on the nose, with caramelized sugar and almost sugar cane.  Later on big, toasty notes came out, along with honey and marmalade.  Ripe and sweet on the palate, too.

1970 Jaboulet Côte-Rôtie Les Jumelles - started drinking an hour after opening without decanting.  Nose of bacon fat, floral notes, lovely, plummy, sweet, a hint of green pepper and smoke.  Peak around 1 hour and started going into decline about 1½ hours.  Acidity became obvious later.

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