August 18, 2013

A perfect Sunday afternoon

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A few weeks ago I was pinged by Felix from QLI as he prepared for his trip to Asia.  We had discussed some time ago about getting together for a meal, and he suggested that we do lunch at Amber.  Having recently become a big fan of Chef Richard Ekkebus' cuisine, I was of course only too happy to oblige.  As it turned out, this would be my third cheat meal of the week…

I arrived to find Richard and Felix already deep in conversation.  The menu had been pre-arranged, and I was of course very much looking forward to whatever Richard would throw at us, which would of course blow my calorie intake for the next 2 days or so…

We started with some canapés and amuses bouches...
Watermelon with sangria and blood orange peel - nice to start with something sweet.

Pita bread with aubergine caviar, bell pepper and anchovy - always liked this particular nibble…

Foie gras lollipops - will I ever get tired of having these?  Probably not.

Jamón ibérico croquetas - with a yummy, hot liquid center and a single flake of fleur de sel on top.

Sweet corn velouté with truffle foam and crispy bacon - topped with some chives, and the corn comes from Hokkaido.  I was surprised by how salty this was, since my mind was expecting to be hit with the sweetness that is typical of Japanese corn… In reality this probably wasn't over-seasoned, but my palate had been used getting little or no salt during my diet over the last 2 weeks…  Absolutely delicious!

Now the lunch starts to get serious…

"Pineapple" tomato, cherries, fresh almonds, niçoise olive salad - these tomatoes actually come from France, and are served with itty bitty slices of what seemed to be cherry gelée, with dots of black olive purée.  A very refreshing dish for a warm day, and this was only part 1 of the dish…

Clear gazpacho, stragiatella di buffalo - the waitstaff removed the top part of the plate to reveal part 2 underneath.  Little balls of buffalo milk cheese and gazpacho are garnished with chunks of tomato, slices of cucumber and radish, tomato-flavored cannelloni along with Japanese Amelia tomatoes, and those tiny bead-like tomatoes I had at Rozan (魯山) last week.  While part 1 was simple and pure, the flavors were much more intense and powerful for part 2.

Bellota baguette soufflé - these amazing airy and crunchy little baguettes were served on the side, wrapped with tasty slices of jamón ibérico and topped with preserved tomato.

Langoustines, charred but kept raw, ricotta in a kyuri cucumber, Granny Smith and jalapeño marinade - the langoustines were absolutely delicious.  Garnished with a piece of brioche, slices of turnip confit, cucumber flowers and cannelloni made with cucumber and filled with ricotta.  I didn't quite pick up the jalapeño but the acidity from Granny Smith apples was certainly there, along with the richness coming from the olive oil caviar.

Royal palm heart, shaved over black winter truffle, mitzutako and paimpol coco bean stew - here's what the dish looked like before the onslaught of black Tasmanian truffles…

…and after being smothered by truffle shavings.  One doesn't often find heart of palm at restaurants like this, so this was a nice surprise.  The chopped pieces of chewy North Pacific giant octopus (水蛸) added a Japanese element to the dish, while the stew with black truffles, mushroom and Coco de Paimpol was squarely French.  Of course, the black truffle shavings were nothing short of heavenly.

"Takaba" grouper, poached with "tête de veau", barbecued bell pepper purée, seared baby squid and summer vegetables - Richard's known for sourcing a lot of ingredients from Japan, and this is the first time I've come across the seven band grouper.  The texture of the fish was pretty soft and silky.  The jus was made from both fish and vegetables, with a fairly high acidity and garnished with green soy beans and dollops of bell pepper purée.  Interesting that this was served with very thin slices of tête de veau, but I love it!  Baby squid, baby asparagus and pea shoots complete the dish.

The next dish came out looking like this… Were we about to eat a hunk of clay?  Notice the stamp with numbering...

Sébastien the restaurant manager proceeded to break apart the clay with a little wooden hammer - much like the way a beggar's chicken is extracted.

'Hugo Desnoyer' veal, tenderloin wrapped in black winter truffle and lardo, cooked in clay, seasonal vegetables, black truffle potato gnocchi - so this was underneath the clay…  A wonderfully tender and moist piece of veal… from the famed butcher in Paris.  That it was wrapped in a layer of delicious lardo di Colonnata just made it that much better.  And of course a layer of black truffle, plus all those truffle shavings, just upped the "Wow" factor.

My first bite, however, was not of the beef but of all the garnish on the side.  Felix and I both agreed that we would have been perfectly happy to just have the garnish as a dish on its own.  That's how delicious it was.  The gnocchi with slices of truffle, asparagus, green soy beans, turnip… was just full of flavor.  Yum.

French unpasteurized cheeses, matured by Marie Quatrehomme - the cheese trolly was wheeled to our table side, and I picked the following:
Summer Gruyère - this was intensely flavored and really good.

Mimolette - judging by both the rind as well as the flavors, this was relatively young but delicious.

Selles-sur-Cher - not too ripe and more solid than what I'm used to.  Love the acidity though.

Camembert - this was unlike any Camembert I've ever had… The rind was washed with Calvados, and this produced a much more mature and intense flavor.  Yum!

Fourme d'Ambert

Peach, poached in Champagne, with extra virgin olive oil, lemon thyme and organic lemon sorbet - pretty yummy, with nice flavors provided by the Champagne sauce and acidity from the sorbet.

These financiers were served on the side.  Very citrusy and yummy.

Black winter truffle, rice pudding with Bourbon vanilla ice-cream - how is it possible to not like this?!  You've got the rice pudding flavored with the aromas of both the black truffle and the vanilla… yummy vanilla ice cream, then topped off by a solid slice of black truffle.  Wow!

Normally I would have taken an espresso or a double, but Felix wanted the Blue Mountain brewed with a siphon.  The coffee grounds were incredibly fragrant, and the resulting coffee was very aromatic yet delicate.  Perfect.

Petits fours - six different treats.

Felix is a big wine geek, so I offered to bring 2 bottles to lunch.  Both were Californian, and I knew he would be able to appreciate them fully…

2004 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge - I was late in getting to the office by about half an hour, so the wine was only opened and decanted 45 minutes before I got to the restaurant.  As it turned out this wine really needed more close to 1½ hours of decanting time, as I had been doing before.  Without sufficient aeration the alcohol was too sharp in the nose, much like paint thinner.  This faded gradually. Very sweet and caramelized on the nose, a little like cotton candy, with lemon, straw and finally toasty notes after 2 hours.  Drank reasonably well but slightly disappointed.

1999 Sine Qua Non Pinot Noir The Ox - Richard's a fan of Sine Qua Non, and at my last dinner I had promised to bring another bottle on my next visit.  This wine surprised on the upside.  Didn't taste like a Californian Pinot at all… Very classic Burgundian, like a cool climate wine.  Mushroom and black cherry notes, and pretty sweet on the nose while not very sweet on the palate.  Quite elegant.  Very sad that this was my last bottle.

What an incredible way to spend Sunday!  Amazing food from one of the best restaurants in town, with some nice wines to match.  While I would have been happy to shell out a good amount of my hard-earned dinero as I normally do, Richard was kind enough to treat us today.  I felt a little bad, but I'm sure I'll find a way to repay his kindness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great meal, thanks for posting.

As much as i love your blog you must stay strong and disciplined (the last 3 posts cannot have been good for you)


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