June 24, 2014

Shanghainese, my ass...

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Like my good friend Tigger, I am really a cheap bastard at heart.  So it's rare that I find myself attending organized wine dinners since the cost is often prohibitive.  Why shell out beaucoup dinero when I've got enough wines in my own cellar to make me a happy camper?  But once in a while, someone will come along with a proposition that looks interesting at a more reasonable price, and tonight was just such an occasion.

L'Imperatrice Fine Wines has an interesting roster of grower Champagnes, including one that is a favorite of mine.  A few weeks ago I received an email about a dinner they were putting together that featured these growing Champagnes, and the venue chosen was Yu Lei (玉蕾) - the one KO Dining outlet I have yet to try out, with a macaron, no less!  And since the pricing didn't give me sticker shock, I roped in a friend who loves Champagne and signed up for it.

Unlike my experience with lunch today, I didn't really know anyone other than my friend.  And we were both feeling a little antisocial tonight.  No matter... I cared more about the food and wine that I came for.

One took at the preset menu, though, left me puzzled.  This place was always billed as a "modern take on traditional Shanghainese cuisine", but as far as I could see, NONE of the dishes were actually Shanghainese.  In fact, almost all of it was Cantonese.  This was most puzzling...  I felt more than a little disappointed, since a good part of the reason behind coming here tonight was to check out the food.

Chartogne-Taillet Rosé - very nice, a little caramelized, sweet, lots of fruit with very prominent raspberry notes.  Almost a little pungent, possibly from sulfur.  Just about my favorite wine of the evening.

Chef's signature appetizer platter (三彩特式拼盤) - the plating is attractive and creative, but this is where we see the only Shanghainese element in the entire meal.  The pig trotter terrine (肴肉) was a little more mushy than what I'm used to.  The quail egg was not bad, and the prawn and pretty decent.  I was so hungry by this point and needed some food in my stomach, so I started eating the garnish... and was this close to eating the chrysanthemums...

Varnier Fanniere Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru - heady mousse, lots of bubbles, very vibrant.  A little lean and boring, perhaps... Later on became a little oaky, with some minerality.

Demarne-Frison Cuvée Lalore Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs - nose was a lot more caramelized, a little metallic, with honey and sweet grass notes.

Double boiled winter melon with ginseng and wolfberry (參茸杞子冬瓜湯) - this was not bad, and I'm glad to get some warm liquid in my stomach that wasn't alcoholic...  There was also some conpoy (干貝) and watershield (蒓菜).

Bérêche et Fils Brut Réserve - nose was a little sharp.  More acidity here, with lemon notes.  Starting to show a little age and oxidation.

Moët et Chandon Brut Impérial - lots of bubbles.  Very familiar.  This was put in the lineup for "control" purposes...

Emmanuel Brochet Le Mont Benoit Extra Brut - nose showed a little plastic?  Definitely very caramelized and marshmallows, a little metallic and mineral, with a hint of coconut butter.  A blend of 2008 and 2009.

2006 Benoît Lahaye Grand Cru - more complex, showing even more ripe and caramel, with more pungent sulfur.  This was poured into a decanter and vigorously swirled for a few minutes before serving, in order to soften it up a little.

Wok-fried wagyu beef fillet with capsicum (巴西葉和牛扒) - umm... I knew that this place was trying to be creative, but I failed to see anything remotely Shanghainese or Chinese here.  Everyone thought the sauce on top was pesto, because it definitely looked like it... smelled like it... and kinda tasted like it, too.  There's a disconnect between the English and the Chinese here... The Chinese said "Brazil leaf" and the waiter confirmed it, so I'm supposed to believe that it's actually corn plant leaves... although I've never heard of anyone cooking with it...  My money, though, is on the possible lost-in-translation between the Japanese chef and the Chinese staff... Anyway, the sauce was pretty decent, and there was also a layer of tomatoes between the green sauce and the beef - making it more Italian - but the beef was already cold when it was served.

Baked Japanese Oyster with fish sauce (醬油燒三重縣牡蠣) - this was OK, with a starched glaze, but again we've got the disconnect between the English and the Chinese here... Chinese says soy sauce... so which was it?

2005 Olivier Horiot Coteaux Champenois Riceys Rouge en Barmont - lots of sweet fruit, a bit of forest pine, a little minty with red currants.  Not bad for what it is.  Total production of 1,024 bottles and 25 magnums.

2010 Cedric Bouchard Inflorescence Côte de Val Villaine - a really good-value blanc de noirs from one of my favorite producers.

2009 Ulysse Collin Les Maillons Extra Brut, dégorgée 7 mars 2013 - so interesting... lemon citrus, and actually a lot like a white Burgundy.  Nose seemed aged but not really very caramelized, with high acidity, some toasty corn and very rich.  A beautiful blanc de noirs, and definitely the wine of the evening for me.

Barbecued pork with honey and crispy pork belly (蜜汁烤叉燒拼燒腩仔) - fail.  The barbecued pork was pretty uneven between the fatty bits and the lean, dry bits.  The pork belly was definitely too dry.  Honestly this is pretty basic stuff, and I expected more from a restaurant with a macaron.

Steamed three kinds of seafood in mushiki (籠仔蒸海寶盒) - a stack of three mini bamboo steamers arrived, each bearing a small dish:

Braised sea cucumber - very, very forgettable.

King crab leg - this was decent.

Braised abalone - this was OK.

Fried rice with chicken and corn (雞粒粟米炒飯) - one of the better dishes tonight. I'm a sucker for corn...

Laherte Frères Les 7 Extra Brut - made from all 7 permitted varietals.  Oaky, flinty, mineral, a little ripe but acidity is still high.  Also pretty yeasty.

Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut - ripe and caramelized, with sugarcane and water chestnut water (竹蔗茅根), while also savory and mineral on the nose.

Glutinous dumpling with mango and sweetened sago delight with diced mango and pomelo (芒果糯米糍餅楊枝金露) - these were OK but nothing to write home about.  The sago cream was one of the more diluted versions I've ever had.

2003 Françoise Bedel L'Âme de la Terre Extra Brut - even more caramel and sugar on the nose, more prominent sugarcane and water chestnut water (竹蔗茅根), plus a little metallic copper.

This was a very interesting evening, as it's my first opportunity to taste so many different growing Champagnes in one sitting.  Of course, drinking bubbly on an empty stomach just meant I got buzzed much, much quicker than usual...

Food-wise, I was a little disappointed.  I'm not sure what the budget for food was tonight, but what we got was certainly not deserving of a macaron, nor did it have anything to do with Shanghainese cuisine.  I guess I'll need to come back another day and order à la carte...

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