December 30, 2013

Gathering the clan

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Tonight was a very special evening.  There hasn't been a gathering of my clansmen (and clanswomen) of this scale since... EVER!  The last time there were a good many of us in Taipei at the same time was more than a decade ago, when grandma passed on.  Tonight we almost achieved a full count - only one cousin was missing.  Some of the cousins were meeting for the very first time... and the youngest in my generation has already graduated from college.  A decade ago we went from three generations to two.  We are now happily back to three generations, as the latest addition to the family came a couple of years ago.

For a gathering of this size, it's a no-brainer that we're gonna do Chinese.  Since our youngest cousins have never set foot in Taiwan, it seemed appropriate to do this over a Taiwanese meal.  The Orchid Room (蘭花廳) at Brother Hotel (兄弟飯店) has long had a reputation for delivering quality Taiwanese fare, although I honestly can't remember my last meal there myself.  This would be a good opportunity to check it out.

One of the banquet menus was chosen, as there were 16 of us... As it turned out, I didn't think it was particularly Taiwanese...

Mullet roe and the seven fairies (烏魚子七仙女) - classic Taiwanese fare on an appetizer platter, including mullet roe, cuttlefish, marinated jellyfish, goose, vegetarian goose... etc.  I can't believe that my Birdbrain Cousin felt that my original arrangement wasn't pretty enough, and dared to stick her chopsticks into my food... Sheeesh!

Dirty duck

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It's my first trip back to Taiwan since 3 months ago, and since that time Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project has moved from Kaoshiung (高雄) to Taoyuan (桃園), and is now parked in Keelung Harbor (基隆港).  I kinda regret not heading down to Kaoshiung to see him back in September, so I was most certainly not gonna miss seeing Ducky in Keelung!

I took the train from Taipei Main Station (台北車站), and got off when the train reached the end of the line at Keelung.  The train station is right next to the harbor, and I saw a yellow blob right after stepping outside.  Within 3 minutes I was at Keelung Maritime Plaza (基隆海洋廣場) and facing Ducky.

For the last few days I had seen news reports about how dirty Ducky's gotten.  Keelung is a narrow harbor with lots of ships passing through, and the wet weather over the last couple of weeks meant all that pollution got stuck on Ducky's body.  Crews have been working hard to scrub Ducky clean, but it hasn't been easy.  Sure enough, large areas were still kinda blackish, and one half of Ducky's face was cleaner than the other half...  Poor Ducky, got so dirty after only 10 days...

December 29, 2013

White truffle for mom

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I was getting mentally ready for my Christmas Eve dinner, sitting around in the office, when an idea popped into my head.  Why not bring some white truffle home to mom?  It's in season and would make a very special treat for her.  I could cook something simple at home, and just shave the little tuber on top.

But it was 5pm on Christmas Eve... Hong Kong was going to be closed for the next 2 days, and I was flying home on the 27th.  Where would I get a white truffle on such short notice?

Fortunately I was on my way to On Lot 10 to pick up my dinner, so I asked David if he could spare me a small truffle.  Being the nice guy that he is, he very kindly obliged me.

December 26, 2013

Random Boxing Day lunch

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I Love Lubutin finally has a day off from work, so we decided to do lunch together.  She suggested that I pick "somewhere that I normally wouldn't go", and the original thinking was to venture far away from the center of town.  For a variety of reasons, we ended up in Causeway Bay, and were walking towards somewhere when I started throwing out random restaurant names in the neighborhood.  Red Pepper Restaurant (南北樓) was one of the names I shouted out, and somehow that seemed to stick...

We always joke that Red Pepper is a "gweilo restaurant" that one only goes with expats and tourists... much like American Restaurant (美利堅餐廳).  In fact, the only time I was there must have been at least 7 or 8 years ago, and I DID go with a bunch of expats.  None of my local friends, and certainly no "foodie" friend, ever talk about going there... since the food isn't really "authentic" and the decor looks like it belongs in a Chinatown.  Like American Restaurant, the clientele is predominantly expats and tourists.  I must have walked past it a hundred times during all these years, and never once had the urge to push the doors open and walk in.

But hey, it fits the description of "somewhere I don't normally go" perfectly, so why not?!

December 24, 2013

Christmastime for orphans

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It's Christmas Eve, and once again I'm in Hong Kong instead of being with my parents in Taipei.  The good thing about this year, though, is that I'm not in the middle of a fund launch, and won't have to go back to the office in the middle of dinner... like I did last year!

This year I decided that I would spend Christmas Eve with my Dearest Favorite Birdbrain Cousin, who's also got nobody to spend it with.  After all, it IS a time for family gathering!  Not wanting to fight the crowd and pay outlandish prices for all those special set dinners, I decided that it would be best if we just did something casual at home.  I also haven't seen Wolfie for a couple of years, and this would give me a chance to spend some quality time with the mutt.

Since this is Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day, I didn't wanna spend a lot of time and effort cooking, though, as we'd both still be working during the day.  So I checked with my friend David from On Lot 10 to see if I could get one of his roast chickens to takeaway.  I was ever so thankful that David obliged me...

The taxi driver must have hated me all the way from the restaurant to my cousin's apartment, because the smell of the roast chicken was simply incredible.  I got hungrier and hungrier by the minute, while I kept a close eye on the chicken during the bumpy ride.  I couldn't wait to arrive at my destination and to dig in!

December 23, 2013

A fighter till the end

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It's the final MNSC dinner of the year, and it's down to the wire... not just the two-way race at the top, but also the three-way mêlée for last place.  No one wants to distinction of finishing last and being stuck with secretarial duties for next year, so there was a lot at stake.

Pineapple loves the food at Hong Kong Club, so we're back here for another edition after that bunch of 60-year-old wines three years ago.  The problem with coming to Hong Kong Club is that they sometimes hassle you about the bag that you're carrying, insisting that you check it at the door.  As there was a likelihood of not being able to carry my camera up to the dining table, I decided to leave my gear at home... and rely on my trusty lil' iPhone instead.

Caesar salad, shaved Parmesan, focaccia croûton

December 20, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 5: repetition at André

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Tonight was my eagerly anticipated return to Restaurant André.  Mr. Ho and I were completely blown away by the food on our first visit back in May, and the Specialist had arranged for this to be her last dinner in Singapore - since it was meant to be the highlight of her trip.

I was a little apprehensive, however, as a friend from Hong Kong told me that when he visited a few months after my visit, the menu he had was largely the same as mine.  Would I be having the same dishes again tonight, 7 months later?

The answer was a resounding "YES".

December 19, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 4: flying pigeon

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I'd heard about Gunther's for a long time, as Chef Gunther Hubrechsen had done a stint at Les Amis a number of years ago.  People in foodie circles have been talking about this place for a long time, but once again, I haven't had a chance to visit due to my absence from Singapore.  That would change tonight.

I did zero research before stepping foot in the restaurant tonight, so I was surprised to find out that the menu was all à la carte.  Our server wanted to introduce us to the specials of the day, so he brought over a huge tray bearing the fresh ingredients available - which kinda reminds me of steakhouses like Morton's...

Makan 2013 Day 4: old and new favorites

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I rolled out of bed and decided to take a break from jogging this morning, which meant I was able to shift my eating schedule a little earlier.  I decided to head to one of my old favorites for breakfast.  Ever since the late 90s, every trip to Singapore has involved a visit to Killiney Kopitiam, and it's a ritual that I intend to keep to.  They may not have the best kaya toast in town, but I've been going there for so long there's really no need for me to switch.

I hopped into a cab and headed for the "original" shop on Killiney Road.  I'm due to have a big lunch, so I passed up the opportunity to get my nasi lemak fix this morning in favor of something "lighter"...

French toast - I always get this when I come here.  One piece of battered and fried toast, and you melt a pat of butter over it, then lather it up with the shop's kaya.  Wonderful stuff.  Of course they never give me enough kaya...

December 18, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 3: Iggy pop

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The fine dining leg of my trip begins tonight, with a long-overdue return to Iggy's.  I went to Iggy's a couple of times between 2005 and 2006, and liked the modern, more innovative style of cuisine.  I was not surprised to see it receive accolades in the subsequent years, but I never had many chances to return due to my absence from Singapore.  This trip, though, I thought it was high time I revisited the place and see if it's still as good as it was.

Two out of three of us tonight are on diet (well... I'm temporarily off the reservation this week), so we chose the shorter menu with 6 courses.  We figured it would be enough to allow us to judge the overall quality of the cuisine.

Wakasagi, dill salt, tomato beer - not sure what, if any, the connection between the two was...

December 17, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 2: modern Peranakan

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Dinner time rolled around, and I met up with a some foodie friends from Singapore.  At the organizer's suggestion we went to Candlenut, which had reopened and attracted polarizing reactions among lovers of Peranakan cuisine.  The chef's more modern take on the venerable Peranakan cuisine meant a lighter touch with the sauces and spices, and naturally elicited strong reactions from the traditionalists.  As for me... I'm always up for checking out modern takes on traditional cuisine, and in fact prefer chefs with enough creativity to stir things up a little.  Besides trusting my friend's palate, this place also came recommended by Aun at Chubby Hubby - and I definitely trust HIS palate.

My friend had arranged something special with the chef, which included 13 savory dishes and 5 desserts.  I was kinda starving as I arrived at the restaurant, so this was music to my ears!

Kueh pie tee - we were given empty pastry shells in the shape of chef's toques...

Makan 2013 Day 2: old local favorites

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I woke up this morning feeling physically drained, so I allowed myself the luxury of not hauling my ass out of bed to jog off the calories.  I guess I'll do that tomorrow morning, after a heavy day of eating today...

I putzed around the apartment in the morning, spending a little bit of time with my aunt who's putting me up.  Eventually I headed out for a very pretty late breakfast, riding out to the middle of Singapore island to find one of the things I just can't get outside of Singapore and Malaysia - decent roti prata.

The last time I went to The Roti Prata House on Upper Thomson Road was almost 10 years ago, just before I moved out of Singapore back to Hong Kong.  It's been touted by many to be among the top roti prata outlets in town, and I have fond memories of the place.  On a trip two years ago, I was just about to get into a taxi to head there when a last-minute phone call from a client derailed my plans.  I've been hankering to go back ever since.  I'm a creature of habit, and I knew exactly what I wanted even before I walked in.

Kopi tarik - you just can't do prata without a teh or kopi tarik.  It's been too long...

December 16, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 1: farang dinner

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So here goes... My week in Singapore.  Why am I here?  Well... I guess I just wanted to be somewhere else other than Hong Kong, and be away from the office for a few days.  There are a lot of friends and family I can visit in Singapore, and I haven't seen enough of most of them for the last few years.  Of course, there's always food - a good selection of both international fine dining as well as the local stuff.

I arrived late in the afternoon, after a long and slightly tortuous journey - during which I made an unintended stopover at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I HATE stopping over in Bangkok, because they won't let you get off the freakin' plane.  You are stuck on the plane for more than an hour, during which time the cleaning crew come and do their work, and you're not allowed to roam around and can't even use the toilets.  I didn't look carefully enough before booking the cheap tickets online, and this is what I get.

Anyway, I got settled into my relatives' nice apartment with a gorgeous view overlooking Keppel Island and Sentosa, and when dinner time rolled around, led them to Thanying at the Amara Singapore Hotel for their first taste of this old Singaporean favorite.

I deferred to the elders for ordering, as I know they're not as adventurous as I am, and only requested 1 little appetizer...that failed miserably...

Miang pla-tu - this is an appetizer where you're meant to mix and match the ingredients as you'd like, and wrap it all in a leaf along with the sticky sauce made with palm sugar and tamarind.  I mixed in pieces of fried mackerel, peanuts, galangal, lime...etc.  Not bad.

December 15, 2013

Goin' off the reservation

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A friend of mine pinged us out of the blue a couple of days ago, announcing that he was back in Hong Kong for a few days and that he would like to get together with us for dinner.  While I haven't seen him in a while and always enjoy dining with him, this is kinda bad news for me.

I'm about to go on a week-long trip to Singapore, where I'm just gonna hang out with friends and just eat.  It's no longer about having a couple of cheat meals next week - I'm totally going off the reservation - and tonight's meal just gets me started one day early...

Since the cholesterol sandwich was no longer an option, I suggested that we meet at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓).  These guys have earned themselves a well-deserved macaron, and I was excited about going back after my first visit 2 months ago.

Our friend's moved to Korea for the last couple of years, and we got to talking about how, when you move to other countries, it's always the really cheap and local Cantonese stuff that you miss... because it can't be found elsewhere.  High-end Cantonese isn't an issue in many countries, but just you try ordering a simple plate of good char siu...  With that in mind, we decided to go for some of the more homey dishes tonight.

Deep-fried bean curd with spicy salt (椒鹽脆豆腐) - uh... methinks they were a little overzealous with the frying...  I don't need my tofu to be THAT crispy...

December 14, 2013

A hazy shade of winter

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I've been remiss in keeping in touch with some friends, and haven't seen them in over a year.  I finally found some time to round them up for lunch today, and figured we should go have some dim sum at Above and Beyond (天外天).  I figured since a couple of us were on the Dark Side, we could meet up over here once in a while.

We were up on the 28th floor, with a nice view over Hung Hom and Victoria Harbor.  Unfortunately the skies were very hazy today, and it wasn't the usual beautiful view.

We ordered mostly a series of dim sum items, and ended up adding when particular items weren't enough to ensure each of us could have a taste.

December 13, 2013

Losing mojo

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It was supposed to be our last lunch with him.  There had been persistent rumors that Jeremy Evrard, our beloved mâitre d' at Caprice, would be leaving Hong Kong.  We had recently heard that Jeremy would be leaving at the end of the year, so we hurriedly booked a table at our beloved restaurant so we could see him one last time.

I was greeted at the door by a hostess who knew me by sight, which is always a nice touch.  Once I stepped foot in the restaurant, I saw Peter and was immediately relieved.  Another familiar face who could take care of us.  But there was no sign of Jeremy, the person we had come to see, and we were sad to learn that he was taking the day off.

The plan had been to do a cheese lunch, but with Jeremy MIA we eventually decided to stick with the set lunch and have cheese in lieu of dessert.  I do have to say, though, that there weren't many dishes on the set lunch menu that jumped out at me... and minutes later I would be accused of being a "copycat" by No Fork Use as I ordered exactly the same dishes as she did...

"Crispy puff pastry" with Mimolette powder and creamy jamón ibérico filling - not bad, but the éclair was not very crispy.  I had to chuckle when my chef friend at the table commented that it tasted like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers...

December 12, 2013

Where is my Riedel Sommelier?!

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Another month has gone by pretty fast, and time for another dinner with Mo' Unni.  It seems we are taking turns picking the venues, and she's decided to check out 121BC.  To be honest, I vaguely remember hearing about it (among the dozens of restaurants that had opened recently) and had no idea what the place was about - as I'm a total ignoramus and don't keep track of restaurants beyond the Not-So-Fragrant-Harbor.  But hey, Mo' Unni wants, Mo' Unni gets.

Upon arrival, I was led to our seats in the middle of the lone, long communal table.  I'd done a little research beforehand, so I knew this place was extremely casual.  Even so, I didn't expect it to be essentially a bar... which is what it really is, more than a restaurant.

We scanned the chalkboard on the wall for the dishes they have available today.  This is a night out with No Fish, so the sardines and mullet are off the table... and we picked non-fishy items instead.

Octopus, potato, olive - pretty good.  The octopus tentacles were very tender, and tons of smoky and charred flavors here.

December 11, 2013

The long lunch

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For the last few years I've been getting invitations to join some friends for a "long lunch" in mid-December.  A bunch of wine lovers take half a day of work, get together and unwind as we close out the year.  Unfortunately for one reason or another, I've never been able to attend in past years.  This year, though, I decided that I needed a break from work... so I put my hand up and asked the boss for a half-day off.

I arrived at Hong Kong Wine Vault and headed for the rooftop.  The weather turned out to be real nice today, and as the sun came out the temperature actually got pretty warm.  More than 20 of us gathered at lunch today, including most of the MNSC boys.  The Ox had arranged for the Press Room to cater the event since there were barbecue grills on premise, and we had plenty of food to go around.  I nibbled on some corn on the cob, yummy, fatty lamb chops, sliders, barbecued chicken wings... but kept my food intake in moderation.

The three co-hosts had all celebrated their 40th birthdays this year, and were rolling out some birth vintage wines along with others.  Some of the guests brought along other interesting bottles, and as usual some of us went downstairs to dig out more bottles from our cellars as the day progressed.  This would turn out to be a real eclectic mix...

December 8, 2013


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Year end is always busy season for the MNSC boys, as half the birthdays are bunched up in the last quarter.  Two weeks after our last mind-blowing tasting, we're back sitting at the same table and, surprisingly, sharing it with the wives.  Time to tone down the conversation... =P

Juliano played host and called us to China Tang (唐人館), the new outlet opened by the foodie tycoon. Normally I would have waited a little before visiting a place this new, but I was actually curious to see how it positions itself versus the other Tang cousins around town.  I'm a big fan of Island Tang (港島廳), and apparently this is meant to sit slightly higher up on the scale...

We started with some nibbles and appetizers:

Pan-fried Shanghainese dumplings (上海生煎包) - not a fan.  The dough was just too soggy, mushy and stuck to my teeth, and that ain't the way it's done in Shanghai.

December 7, 2013

Junk food day

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Two weeks after the last time I hit my new low in terms of weight - and subsequently rebounding after numerous cheat meals - I've finally brought my weight down enough to hit a new low.  I honestly can't remember the last time I weighed this little... probably would have to go back 4 or 5 years, maybe more.

So it was entirely appropriate that once again, I found myself at I Love Lubutin's home for a little gathering.  The last time I was here, my weight had also hit a new low that very morning after jogging, and subsequently bounced up after indulging in yummy food...

I was running errands and arrived pretty late... and I was starving by the time I showed up at the door.  When you're on a diet, you never wanna be at a point where you starve... becos what happens next becomes animal instinct...

December 3, 2013

Shrinking Boy, four months in

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It's now 4 months since I started on my diet, and I've made a little more progress during the last month, which is meant to be the "maintenance" phase of the program.  I was, of course, not really interested in just maintaining my weight, and wanted to keep going down.

Weight loss so far: 8.5kg.
Unlike the first three months when I was losing 2.5kg a month consistently, this past month has been much more difficult.  My weight's basically been like a yo-yo... swinging up and down within a range while trying to push lower.  A string of big dinners - three over the course of the week, all at the same restaurant - really didn't help.  I had lost up to 9kg the very morning before the first of those three meals, only to experience the biggest spike up during the last four months.


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