March 29, 2014

Earth Hour 2014

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For the sixth year in a row, I participated in Earth Hour.  I'd already ranted enough about Earth Hour and the message behind it last year, and argued why it is important to all of us humans to conserve energy, so I'm not going to repeat it.  I will just say how pleased I am to see more and more of the world being aware of this and that more people are participating.  This one hour alone may not save a whole lot of energy, but it is symbolically important because it brings about awareness.

This past year I had been good in terms of energy-saving.  Unfortunately I had not been so good about reducing waste.  While I continue to shy away from buying and consuming drinks in plastic bottles and containers, I had, in fact, increased waste generation somewhat thanks to my diet program.  This is being remedied.

But nowadays I always carry my environmental-friendly shopping bag (with a picture of the young Flocke) wherever I go, and have cut down bag wastage massively.  I don't always carry my own water bottle, but I do have a pair of plastic chopsticks in every bag that I own and carry around.

March 26, 2014

Smoky wine dinner

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I'll say this again: I'm not a big steak guy.  I can appreciate a great piece of meat, but it's not something I crave.  However, I understand that many people love steak - especially together with wine - so I have had my fair share of steak and wine dinners.  Tonight was such an occasion.

David from Zachys periodically organizes small wine dinners to benefit Pebbles Project, a South African charity helping disadvantaged children with conditions such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.  I missed one such dinner last year whose theme was old Californians, and when I received the email about a dinner featuring wines from Sine Qua Non, I replied immediately.

The venue tonight was the Butcher's Club.  I had never been here before, but I did attend their Steak Rebellion pop-up at their invitation earlier this month.  I must admit that the steak was good, along with some of the other side dishes.  But in reality the real draw tonight was the opportunity to taste 12 different wines from the Sine Qua Non stable.

We started with some raw seafood, including marinated giant Cloudy Bay storm clams and Korean oysters, which tasted a little metallic, and pretty full-bodied.

March 25, 2014

Team dinner

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The boss is back in town, and most of the research team was here visiting for the first time as well.  The boss wanted to do a team dinner, and naturally the task of selecting the venue fell on my shoulders.  Given the near impossibility of booking any of the restaurants at the Four Seasons Hong Kong on short notice, I ended up choosing to take the team to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - introducing this to visitors is de rigueur, especially since one of your visitors announced "I want meat!" when you asked them what they would like.  Very good as usual, and I think the leftovers lasted for a couple of days...

March 22, 2014

Tokyo 2014: Trips down memory lane

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This trip back to Tokyo was the first in a long time where I traveled solo - for the first couple of days at least - so I had a little more time to catch up with various groups of friends.  On this trip, I made a little more effort to catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while.

On my first day, I was able to catch up with a group of ex-colleagues I used to work with at Wasabi more than a decade ago.  Since then some of them have left the investment banking world, choosing to do things in the "real world".  Those who are still in banking have moved from being in front office positions to more back office roles, which is also a move that I have made myself during the last few years.  It was fun to catch up with them, to exchange stories of our lives over the past decade, and even to listen to some scandalous stories first hand.

Tokyo 2014: Pleasure, little treasure

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Sure, every one of my Tokyo trips is lined with lavish meals at restaurants with macarons, where I'm splurging on both the food and perhaps the alcohol.  This trip has certainly been dotted with them, including two 3-macaron sushi-ya.  But what I also really enjoy in Japan are all the little surprises that come along unexpectedly, and there were a couple of them this time...

I met up with an old colleague who had moved on from banking and finance a decade ago, and he is now the proud proprietor behind a collection of shops and restaurants.  On my way to taking a walk down memory lane, he was kind enough to treat me to a simple lunch in the very area I was headed to.

Café Lisette (カフェリゼッタ) is a small, French-style café in the tranquil alleys next to the Futako-Tamagawa (二子玉川) train station.  The atmosphere makes one feel as if one were indeed in a small town in France, and on this day I found myself seated next to a table of Froggies.  The menu is simple, the decor rustic, the pricing reasonable.

Tokyo 2014: 3 stars without magic

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It's my final meal of this Tokyo trip, and the Wommer and I wanted to do another 3-macaron sushi joint. We ended up booking Sushi Mizutani (鮨 水谷) for lunch today, which was very fitting given that Mizutani Hachiro (水谷八郎) learned his craft under none other than Ono Jiro (小野二郎).

After getting ourselves seated, I politely asked for permission to photograph my food.  My request was denied, which didn't come as a total surprise to me, as I had heard of Mizutani-san's aversion for people photographing his food.  He explained that if he allowed me to take pictures, he'd have to let everyone else do it, too.  Oh well...

March 21, 2014

Tokyo 2014: Art museum dining

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If there is one meal I especially look forward to on every trip to Japan, it is actually not the sushi or kaiseki, but the tempura.  There are lots of sushi lovers everywhere, and it's reasonably easy to find decent or even good sushi in many cities as plenty of people are willing to pay for it.  It is also becoming easier to find decent kaiseki in certain cities, and I definitely cherish the fact that RyuGin (龍吟) has an outlet in Hong Kong.

But the one thing that I simply cannot find outside of Japan is decent tempura.  My last attempt was at Tenmasa (天政) in Macau, which turned out to be hugely disappointing.  So it seems I can only get decent tempura on my trips back to Japan... and I made sure to check that box on this trip.

There was never any question about which place I would pick... Mikawa Zezankyo (みかわ 是山居) is about as unique as they come.  Saotome Tetsuya (早乙女哲哉) has been doing this for 30 years, and this newest outlet is not merely a restaurant, but a museum of art.

Tokyo 2014: Japanese beef tasting

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It's a national holiday in Japan today, so our original plan for another 3-macaron sushi lunch fell through.  After looking at different options with the Wommer, I finally suggested that we do teppanyaki somewhere, preferably in a hotel.  As it turns out, there is just such a place at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, so a reservation for made for Keyakizaka (けやき坂).

We looked at the menu and decided that doing à la carte would be a lot more interesting, albeit more expensive.  But hey, this was an eating trip, after all...

Fruit tomato, basil, olive oil - this was classified as a "salad", but this was actually cooked.  The dressing was made with pine nuts, bacon and balsamic vinegar.  Very, very delicious.

March 20, 2014

Tokyo 2014: Drunken onion, episode 2

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Given that we were booked for the 5:30 p.m. seating, the Wommer and I knew that we would be be done with dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎) very, very early.  He suggested that we could do a second round of food, but I thought it would be a much better idea to go back to my favorite izakaya in the world.  After walking around Ginza a little shopping for sake, we hopped back on the subway to continue our evening's adventures.

Once through the doors at Tamanegiya (酒たまねぎや) I came upon an unfamiliar sight.  There was a woman next to Master behind the bar, who looked much younger.  Who is she?  Is she the assistant, his daughter, or his wife?

The three of us were seated at a table near the door, which is basically Siberia when you're in a Japanese eatery or bar.  Oh well... When the hotel concierge told me our reservation would be at 8:30 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m. as requested, I should have expected nothing less...

The wife brought us little bowls of stewed fish head and collar.  I was still kinda full from dinner, so I only pecked at it...

Master also brought us a plate of tomatoes from Ibaraki (茨城), much like the ones he served me last time.  Incredibly delicious, and once you bite into one... you find yourself unable to stop.

In terms of sake, what I wanted to do was to try out ones I didn't taste from my last visit 4 years ago, so that I can broaden my knowledge.

Tokyo 2014: Jiro

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So the moment has finally arrived.  The whole raison d'être of this Tokyo trip.  Dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎), with Ono Jiro (小野二郎) - the man whose mastery was documented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi - serving me sushi.  Of all the destinations and appointments on this long-overdue trip back to Tokyo, this one was paramount.

The Wommer booked us for the early seating, which starts at 5:30 p.m.  As he was only flying in today, I was a little worried that he wouldn't make it on time.  Another friend had earlier recounted his experience of being a no-show at RyuGin (龍吟) some time back, as he was also flying in on the same day as dinner and his flight was massively delayed.  I joked that if the Wommer and his wife couldn't show up on time, I was just gonna invite a couple of friends from Tokyo to take their places...

...aaaand this morning the Wommer pinged me from the airport.  His flight was delayed.  I jokingly threatened to put a post up on Facebook and see who wants to go to Jiro with me, and the response from the other end felt like a hundred flying daggers coming at me.  They didn't take the joke very well...

Fortunately they arrived safely and during daylight hours, and as it turned out, it was my excursion during the day that threatened to make us late for dinner!

We showed up at the door just after 5:20 p.m. and found it shut.  They were still prepping and so we dutifully waited for them to be ready to receive us.  Of course I ignored what it said on the sign and took a photo anyway, and I think someone inside did see me committing the crime...  Strike one.

March 19, 2014

Tokyo 2014: A couple of Turks

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H-man and I have been drinking wine together for years, since the days when we used to work together for the same bank.  We don't see each other often, as he's based in Tokyo and I'm in Hong Kong, but there is always good wine whenever we meet.  Some of our more recent encounters included a dinner in Hong Kong to celebrate - belatedly - his 45th birthday, and our last meeting at a friend's place in Tokyo with some Californian cult wines.

We haven't seen each other since that last dinner in Tokyo, so we definitely needed to catch up while I was in town.  Finding a restaurant in Tokyo that allows BYO is never easy, but H-man is a member at L'eau à la bouche (ロアラブッシュ), which even has a basement cellar for members to store a few bottles.  So the choice of venue seemed easy this time.

The restaurant is housed in a historical building built in 1934 to celebrate the wedding of Baron Chiba Tsunegoro (千葉常五郎).  The style is Art Deco, and everywhere I looked there were works of Erté - sculptures, prints...

March 16, 2014

One for the road

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A couple of hours after we walked around Macau and digested some of our breakfast, it was - strangely enough - time to eat again!  As an alternative to some local Macanese joints, 娜姐 proposed that we lunch at Guincho a Galera at Hotel Lisboa.  After all, we wanted the chance to open another bottle of old German Riesling before we had to leave Macau!

My one and only previous visit to this restaurant was disastrous, as I was totally stuffed and drunk from lunch... and wasn't in any shape to enjoy any food or wine.  I was therefore very much looking forward to this lunch.  As I'd eaten a reasonable amount of food in Macau already, I decided to take things easy by choosing the set lunch for an unbeatable price.

Our amuse bouche was Portuguese cheese balls with ham.

Old school brekkie

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There aren't many visits to Macau where I get to stay overnight, so despite going to bed late last night (or actually early this morning) I dragged myself out of bed for an early breakfast.  There is an old school Cantonese tea house that I'd always wanted to visit, having seen it featured on a TV program some time ago.  Thanks to my friend KC's Macau dining guide, I was able to identify it as Casa de Cha Lung Wa (龍華茶樓).  So two of us hopped into a taxi and headed off in that direction...

It was early but a couple of tables had already been occupied.  The walls were cluttered with various types of artwork - both classical Chinese and modern Western.  This is a DIY tea house, so you pick your tea, add your own hot water to the teapot, and go pick up the dim sum items from a station.

March 15, 2014

The real 3 star Chinese

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I'd been talking about doing a Macau field trip with some friends, as I really enjoyed my solo dining experiences from my last two trips.  Going with friends would open up more possibilities, both in terms of the choice of venue and the wines I'd be able to drink.  I finally managed to round up a few people for this weekend, and planned an overnight trip to indulge.  This was gonna be a GREAT weekend.

But disaster struck before the trip even started, thanks to my own stupidity.  5 months ago, my dear friend Ninja pinged me to show how good of a friend she is.  Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was coming to the Hong Kong Arts Festival with their program Iphigenia in Tauris, and she got me a ticket.  I was ecstatic when I heard the news.  I absolutely love Pina Bausch's work, and really enjoyed both Vollmond and Nelken when I saw them in previous years.  I was looking forward to enjoying the show and then heading off to Macau for some good food and wine.

Unfortunately, I didn't bother to check the show times until yesterday.  In previous years I had always watched Pina Bausch's work during the day on a Saturday, so for some reason I just assumed that this year things would be the same.  Well, this time they decided to show it at 7:30 p.m.  So there was no way I would be able to catch the performance AND make it to dinner in Macau.  I had to give up one of the two.

Well, since I had been the instigator behind tonight's dinner, and had convinced this bunch to book hotel rooms in Macau so that we could stay overnight... it was a little difficult for me to pull out of dinner.  Making matters worse, the two couples I was dining with tonight were the exact two couples I had double-booked myself with the last time I had done something this stupid.

Sorry, Ninja.  I'll make it up to you.

March 13, 2014

Falling far from the tree

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The last time Mo' Unni and I went exploring new restaurants together had been some time last year, so we thought it's high time that we resumed our tour.  A few of my friends had checked out the local branch of Akrame when it first opened last year, and since the Parisian original just picked up its second macaron, it seemed like perfect timing for us to try it out.

I wanted to find out a little more information about Akrame Benallal as he seems to be the talk of the town - in Paris at least.  So I looked up the restaurant's website, which turned out to be annoying uninformative.  Clicking on the tab entitled "The Chef" (or "Le Chef" on the Parisian website) showed short, fashion shoot-like clips of the man... without any words offering any sort of information.  OK, I'm sure the guy thinks he's good looking, but that part of the website just doesn't do anything for me...

For me, this dinner kinda started off on the wrong foot.  I was rushing to the restaurant as I was running late, and I was a little flustered when I arrived at the table.  Gotta say I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover that I would be sitting on a stool for my dinner, since back support is always important over the course of a couple of hours.  Sitting on a stool also meant I wasn't able to drape my jacket over the back of my chair, and since the staff wasn't very interested in helping me do anything about my jacket, I ended up piling it on top of my bag, which was already on the floor next to me.  This from a guy who has 2 macarons in Paris?!  Not exactly very grand...

We decided to choose the more compact, 4-course menu.  I had a big lunch and will be eating tons over the next 10 days, so I'm happy to tone it down tonight.  But first, we have a series of amuses bouches:

Quintessentially Hong Kong part 2: lunch with Uncle Six

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It's been a while since I last caught up with my old friend Sheets, and I wanted to see how he's doing with his new venture.  When I jokingly mentioned that I'd like to go to Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) with him, he immediately invited me to join him and his family for lunch.  You see, Sheets' family is behind this venerable Hong Kong classic.  And since I have only been here once in all the time I've lived in Hong Kong, I was looking forward to coming back.

I entered the dining hall and followed Sheets to the back, was introduced to Auntie and Uncle Six, and apologized for barging in on their family gathering.  I'm told that the average age at this table is usually above 80, so we're definitely dragging it down today... And this has gotta be the first time for me sitting at a table with a sign like this...

Thursdays the family usually orders dishes instead of dim sum, so Auntie and Uncle Six rattled off a few items to the staff, and I waited for our food to arrive...

March 8, 2014

Parfumé et bondé

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It's been way, way too long since the last time I met up with a few friends, and I figured we need to catch up again.  Someone suggested that we check out Le Port Parfumé, and since the feedback I heard was generally positive, I figured we might as well give it a try.

Things didn't exactly start on a positive note for us... the five of us were being squeezed onto a smallish, round table clearly meant for no more than 4.  The table was also right by the corridor leading to the bar and the kitchen, so we were in the way of the staff coming in and out of the kitchen.  Not surprisingly, the tables were also very close to each other, so space was definitely at a premium tonight.

We chose our dishes from the board showing the selections of the day.  As we opted for the second seating, it turned out that some of the dishes we wanted were sold out.  We went through 2 rounds of ordering, since we were only informed after finishing our starters that the fish chosen by 3 of us as main course had only 2 portions left.  Sigh...

Baby squid and chorizo omelette - this was OK.  It seemed to me that the eggs themselves were not seasoned, and the chef was relying on the chorizo and squid to provide the flavors.  While the strips of chorizo were certainly tasty, I thought I detected a hint of ammonia in 1 or 2 of the squid...  A little bland for my taste.

March 6, 2014

Downgrading mom

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It's mom's birthday and as is customary, I flew back to Taipei to take her out for dinner.  Last year was a big one and we ended up at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and I wanted to do something a little different this year.  Remembering the food from my two dinners there fondly, I dialed the number for Justin's Signatures - only to hear a recording telling me the number's not in use.  Fook!  Another restaurant at the top of my Taipei list is gonzo... Where else can I take mom?!

So it's back to L' least you can't go too wrong with Oncle Joël... Dad and I picked the menu that was just short of the full tasting menu, while I advised mom to pick out two à la carte courses.

Our amuse bouche had foie gras custard at the bottom, with Port wine reduction in the middle and topped with Parmesan foam.  A nice start.

A simple Italian lunch

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It's been a while since I met up with my evil twin, so I called him up while I was in Taipei for a short trip and arranged for lunch.  To my surprise he booked us seats at Angelo Restaurant, opened by Chef Angelo Aglianò who was last seen at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei.  I had been hearing some mixed feedback on this place, so it was good to be able to check it out - even though lunch isn't necessary a good indication of the true quality.

I saw a familiar face before I even stepped foot in the restaurant.  Big Mac and I last saw each other 6 months ago, when we were both going through our respective weight loss programs.  The difference is that I stopped 3 months ago, while he has lost an incredible amount of weight since then.  I complimented him on his lack of a visible gut, and even patted his tummy area to make sure it wasn't there anymore.  I guess it's time for me to restart my program!

I opted for a 3-course set lunch where the pricing was more than reasonable.  I didn't want to eat too much as I didn't want to spoil my appetite for dinner tonight.  As it turned out, 3 courses was still a little filling...

Our amuse bouche was carrot soup with fennel and croûtons. A nice and simple start.

March 4, 2014

Fabulous trio of 78s

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I first met Neal Martin at a dinner where we indulged in (naturally!) a selection of exceptional wines, and found him to be a soft-spoken and charming guy.  The second time I saw Neal was after an afternoon of sheer drunkenness, and I distinctly remember acting like a totally obnoxious jerk.  So when my friends invited me to join yet another dinner with Neal tonight, I was determined not to repeat what had happened a few months ago.  And to apologize for my behavior, of course...

Dinner was at Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房) in Wanchai.  I had been to the North Point branch a few years ago but that has apparently closed down, so this was now the family flagship.  I was led to a private room just by the entrance, and I could see that Neal and my hosts were already working on the wines...

Prawn duo: sautéed prawn with ham and celery, stuffed prawn (鴛鴦蝦) - the head and tail shell of the prawn were stuffed with diced wild mushrooms, flavored with some curry powder.  This is not unlike some of the stuffed whelk or stuffed crab shell found elsewhere around town.  The flesh of the prawn was garnished with strips of ham and pickled carrots, cucumber and the like.

March 1, 2014

Death by meat

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I'm not a steak guy.  As much as I love to eat, I never understood the notion - especially in Asia - that a big dinner out means a piece of steak.  Not to belittle the people who cook a nice piece of steak, but for me there's very little creativity involved when you're eating a steak.  Sure, there's a certain amount of skill required to get it done right, but it's really more about the quality of the meat and not about the skill of the chef - which is the value-add that I'm most willing to pay for.

So I was very hesitant when I was approached by a PR friend to join the second Steak Rebellion - a pop-up by the Butcher's Club.  I explained the situation.  Surely there was someone else in town who was more worthy of this seat?!  S/he would certainly appreciate the steak far more than I would.  I was already scheduled to attend a wine dinner at the Butcher's Club later on in the month, so I would write about the dry-aged steaks anyway...  But the PR insisted, and eventually I relented.  Yes, I would come and see what this brouhaha was all about.

My evening, though, started a few hours before dinner.  I met up with the Specialist for a drink at the Blue Bar inside the Four Seasons Hotel, and foolishly followed her lead in having something alcoholic.  It didn't work out so well for me... as I was buzzed before I even got to dinner...

32 Via dei birrai Nebra - very light and sweet on the palate a little floral thanks to the elderflower.  My kind of beer.


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