September 14, 2013

The chef who smiles not

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It's been a while since Fergie and I last met up for a meal, and I thought it'd be a good idea to meet up tonight - just hours before he's due to start a diet and exercise program for a second time.  The last time he did the program he lost a chunk of weight, so I'm hopeful that he'll be able to do the same this time around.  Since he's not planning on cheating like me, I guess it will be at least 3 months till our next meal together…

This being a "last supper" of sorts, I deferred to him to choose the venue.  I M Teppanyaki isn't something that would normally pop up on my radar, but I'm more than happy to go along and see what they can do.  There were two different set menus, and we decided to pair up so that we can mix and match, trying everything available.

Appetizer (先付) came as a trio:
Clam with a reddish sauce that was a little sweet.

Spinach (ほうれん草) with enoki mushrooms (榎茸), shiitake mushrooms (椎茸) and topped with bonito (鰹) flakes

Shrimp (Botan shrimp 牡丹海老?) with perilla (紫蘇) flowers - the shrimp was pretty tasty, and somehow the combination of shrimp, soy sauce and a sip of Champagne transformed the bubbly into something that was sweet with caramel flavors.

Prawn with crustacean essence (車海老のシーフードソース風味) - ooooh yeah, I got the head...

Abalone with crustacean essence (あわびのシーフードソース風味) - from South Africa.

Silver cod fish meuniere (銀鱈のムニエル) - with clams, peas, cherry tomatoes, shimeji mushrooms (しめじ) and onions.

Lobster with cream sauce (オマール海老のクリームソース)

Hokkaido scallop with crustacean essence (北海道産帆立貝のシーフードソース風味) - done mi-cuit.

Chef's salad (シェフ サラダ) - sometimes I wonder why people bother putting a few pieces of greens on a plate and calling it a "salad"… it's more like garnish… Are the ingredients so expensive that the restaurant cannot afford to give us something more substantial?  This does not a Caesar salad make.

Foie gras with fruit and teriyaki sauce (フォアグラの照焼ソース季節果物添え) - very well done.  Nicely charred outside but soft in the middle.

Veggies - pumpkin, shiitake mushroom and asparagus.

U.S. prime rib (米国牛リブロース) - a communication error with the chef meant that one person's request for "medium" resulted in all of us getting our beef done as medium… Sigh…

A5 Japanese premium beef (特選A5黒毛和牛) - much better since this was done as "medium rare", and more marbled.

Miso soup (味噌汁) - made with lobster shell.

Fried rice with sardine and ginger (しらすと生姜の炒飯) - I'm glad Fergie asked the chef to do this version, because the regular fried rice at teppanyaki restaurants can be pretty boring.  The kick of the ginger is immediately apparent, although I had to dig a little to find the baby sardines…  Very delicious.

Seasonal fresh fruit (フルーツ) - very ripe and sweet Japanese melon and grapes.

2003 Dom Pérignon - toasty nose.  Very ripe on palate, to the point it was a little bitter.  Ripe citrus.

1997 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne - golden hue… looking a little oxidized.  A little oaky in the nose, and a little bitter on the palate with marmalade.  Short finish.  Kinda disappointing.

1998 Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis from half-bottle - nose of acetone, botrytis, orange blossom and honey.  Nice pairing with the foie gras, as the acidity of the wine cuts the fat.

2000 Joseph Phelps Insignia from magnum - a little smoky with some soy sauce and savory nose.  A good amount of sweet fruit.

The food here was well-executed, although it's difficult for teppanyaki to be exciting for me.  The last time I had an enlightening experience was years ago in Tokyo.  Service was OK, and while the restaurant now has a liquor license, they very kindly decided not to charge us corkage because our reservation was made before their license came through.

Earlier today I was watching a TV program when I caught a glimpse of Rafa, the proprietor behind Rafa's in Roses, Spain.  When I went to Rafa's for lunch all those years ago after dinner at elBulli, my friends and I noticed that he didn't smile the whole time we were there… He was focused on cooking the fresh seafood a la plancha, and didn't interact with any of us or showed any emotion.  On this particular program, he had pretty much the same expression while cooking…

Tonight's experience was more or less the same.  It's interesting to see that the front of the menu devoted some space to highlight the chef's philosophy, stating that "I also deeply treasure my interactions with diners…"  Say what?!  Like Rafa, I didn't see a smile on Chef Mok's face the whole time I was there, and there was certainly no interaction with us.  Maybe he was just too busy, continuously cooking for the 14 covers seated around his station.  Maybe he thought we were loud and annoying and hoped that we would just behave like the old fogeys at the other end.  Maybe "circumcision" wasn't exactly a kosher topic for dinner.  In any case, smiles were off the menu tonight.

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