July 31, 2014

Swatting flies with el cheapo Burgs

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I was invited to join a friend for dinner tonight.  I was initially a little hesitant because it was to be a table full of strangers, and I wasn't really sure what to expect.  We were opening some wines at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), and I figured it's high time I went back to check on the food since my last visit was actually late last year...  And as it turned out, I did know a couple of the diners other than the friend who invited me.  Whew...

I was one of the earlier ones to arrive, and I found the restaurant to be mostly empty.  This led me to take a picture of the empty space and upload it onto social media, jokingly using the Cantonese phrase 拍烏蠅 (translated as "swatting flies") to describe how quiet it was.  Keeping in mind that this is a restaurant with a Michelin star, that's an off-shoot of the famed Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), on a Thursday night, after the benchmark Hang Seng Index had a pretty good run for the month.  Where the hell was everybody?!

As it turned out, most people at the table were gonna be late, so it was customary to stagger the food orders while bottles were popped opened as they arrived.  This made for a pretty long dinner...

July 25, 2014

Stop the Press

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It seems that more and more restaurants are closing or moving because of rent hikes or other issues with space, and this has been a global phenomenon - affecting even places like wd~50 and Union Square Cafe in New York.  The latest victim struck a little closer to home, and came in the form of the flagship restaurant of the Press Room Group.

In 2006 a couple of the MNSC boys got together with their buddy and opened up the Press Room and Classified.  It was refreshing to see guys who loved and knew their food trying to bring authentic French brasserie experience to Hong Kong.  It was also in an offbeat location - taking many of us out of our comfort zones.  But we showed up in droves, and nowadays the Press Room Group is a formidable player on the Hong Kong FnB scene.

July 24, 2014

The Pearl Kong Chen menu, part 2

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It's been 6 days since my first dinner at One Harbour Road (港灣壹號) with the first of two special Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠) menus, and two days ago we received the devastating news that she had passed on.  Apparently the restaurant had thought about canceling the promotion after her passing, but the family felt it wouldn't be what Mrs. Chen wanted - she would have wanted to introduce more people to her recipes and promote old-school Cantonese cooking.  For my part, I'm glad they didn't cancel it, because I think the best way to remember her is by being here and enjoying those dishes.

Dinner tonight was organized by Susan the Great, and we were joined by none other than Wilson Kwok - Mrs. Chen's godson and the proprietor behind W's Entrecôte.  Wilson's presence made things a lot more interesting for the rest of us.

I planned my two dinners so that I would be able to take both of the set menus.  I also checked against the à la carte menu and found there was one dish that didn't appear on either of the set menus.  After getting the nod from Susan, I ordered this as an extra on top of the set.  This way I would have gone through every single dish on offer during this promotion.

Supreme scholar's deep-fried custard (太史戈渣) - the only overlapping dish between the two set menus, and I can certainly understand why.  I still love having this every time, and the presentation was a little better tonight.

July 23, 2014


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When I had dinner with 娜姐 last week, she mentioned that Neal Martin was coming back to town... and would I be interested in joining them for a casual dinner?  As Neal is an easygoing guy and it's been a while since I last saw him, I figured there was no reason not to join them for dinner.

I had suggested a Cantonese restaurant that none of us had been to, as I kinda wanted to check the place out.  But our hostess was a little concerned about whether the wine service was up to her standards, so we ended up at Holytan (葆里湛) - which was literally across the street from my office building.

I vaguely remember seeing glimpses about this place on social media, so I found a review on Fungry and Fabulous and became a little worried.  Would I have the same kind of experience as a wine dinner a few months ago, where I could only smell the grilled beef and not the wonderful wines I was drinking?  That would be a real shame, since we were sure to bring out some nice bottles tonight.  Fortunately our hosts have been there on several occasions, and didn't find ventilation to be an issue.

I arrived and was relieved to find that the aircon was on full blast, so I wasn't able to smell the kitchen.  After everyone arrived and the wines had been taken care of, it was time to eat!

The amuse bouche was a little skinned cherry tomato with beef gelatin, sprinkled with what I thought was black olive powder.

July 22, 2014

The stony summer dragon

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A few weeks ago I ran into Chef Sato from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), and we chatted about the new Shoun RyuGin (祥雲龍吟) that Chef Seiji Yamamoto (山本征治) is opening in my hometown Taipei and how excited I was.  I apologized for not having visited his restaurant as often as I would have liked, and was surprised that he remembered that my last visit was only a couple of months ago.  Mrs. Tigger had told me about their recent visit and that the Japanese white peach was now on the menu, so I promised Chef Sato that I would make a visit this month.  My Favorite Cousin is always up for a good meal, and since she works in the same building as the restaurant, I asked her to join me for dinner tonight.

I received a call from the restaurant staff this afternoon, and after confirming that I was still coming tonight, the person at the other end of the line checked to make sure I want tuna removed from my menu.  I was pleasantly surprised that they remembered - since I forgot to tell them not to give me tuna last time - and chalk it up to good customer profiling.

As I walked out of the elevator on the 101st floor on my way to the restaurant, the receptionist greeted me my name.  Another pleasant surprise, although since both Chef Sato and Takano-san know me by sight, that information has probably also been passed down to others.  Guess I'm not as anonymous as I thought...

Cold somen topped with white shrimp and premium caviar (富山 "白海老" フランス ソローニュ川 "キャビア" そうめん) - always love to start off with this in the summer since it's really refreshing.

July 18, 2014

The Pearl Kong Chen menu, part 1

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My annual birthday dinner with my group of wine friends is long overdue, and an earlier gathering had to be rescheduled due to a business trip.  But this delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it opened up the chance to try out a very special promotion.

At an earlier dinner organized by Susan the Great, I found out that One Harbour Road (港灣壹號) at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong was going to celebrate their 25th anniversary and present special menus based on recipes of Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠), the famous cookbook author.  She is also the granddaughter of Jiang Kongyin (江孔殷), the scholar known as 江太史 and a famous gourmand. I found that the restaurant has put together a number of dishes, spread across two different set menus, so I quickly made two bookings so I could try out all the dishes.  Tonight would be the first pass.

We were really hungry while waiting for our last arrival, and as they don't exactly have bread baskets at Chinese restaurants, I ordered a small plate of honey roasted barbecued pork (蜜糖汁叉燒).  This was actually pretty nice - tender with just enough fat - but I guess one would expect that from a place of this caliber.

Once everyone was here, the real feast began:

July 15, 2014

L'Idiot 2.0

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It's been a while since my friends closed down L'Idiot, and I was really excited to find out that they were reviving the place - this time inside their family's flagship hotel.  So I rounded up a couple of old colleagues and mutual friends, and asked the boss to book a table for us.  We wanted to try out the place during its "soft opening" period.

I wanted to catch up with Afu - who, by the way, is still very very very very single - so I dropped by the restaurant in the middle of the afternoon.  Younger brother Fudy was also around, and the two of them took turns showing me the place as well as the kitchen.  There's a room all the way in the back where they are dry-aging their own slabs of beef, and the familiar smell hit me as soon as I opened the door.  A few other places in Taipei are claiming to dry-age their beef, but these guys are doing it for real.

Kyoto, Taipei

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It's been a while since I last caught up with a couple of friends, and lunch was planned for today.  One of us looooves Japanese food, and had initially suggested that we go to Shoraku (匠楽).  Unfortunately, it's one of those places that I've blacklisted, so a table was booked at Sasa Sushi (笹鮨) instead.  I was all set to revisit after my pretty good lunch some time ago, when something in the media caught my eye.

I haven't been excited about eating at Shintori (新都里) in about a decade, and pretty much only go with the parental units when family friends invite us.  Right now, however, they are doing a seasonal promotion together with Kinmata (近又), the venerable Kyoto establishment I had the pleasure of visiting with the parental units in 2006.  Wanting to enjoy a little taste of Kyo-ryori (京料理) in Taipei, I requested for a venue change and my friends very kindly indulged me.

July 13, 2014

How to live to be 100

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Tonight mom's side of the clan celebrated the 100th birthday of my maternal grandmother.  Much like the gathering of dad's side of the clan last year, everyone flew back to Taipei - including my Brazilian Uncle, cousin and family from Brazil.  As we had done for the two previous celebrations, Last-Minute Uncle booked a banquet room at the Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) for this occasion.

This was obviously a big occasion, and old friends and relatives were invited to join us in wishing grandma happy birthday.  I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen in decades... mostly people who watched me grow up - whether as elders or people I used to play with as a kid - and certainly people who last saw me before I hit puberty.  We've grown distant over the last few decades, and may not even recognize each other on the street, but the connections remain unbroken, thin as the strands may be.

We sat grandma at the head table with some of her friends and other guests of honor.  The table of 13 included at least 5 members who were above 90, and I estimated that the combined age of the table at somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100.  Not something you're likely to see everyday.

July 10, 2014

Pork, pasta and more

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I was thinking of keeping things simple and low-calorie for dinner tonight when I got a call from Fergie as I was finishing up in the office.  He was bored, had time to kill, and just happened to pass by my office building.  Would I have time for a drink, he asked.  The reality was that I had a head start on him, and already downed a beer with Fat Donkey in the office.  So I guess another drink couldn't hurt...

We got to discussing about dinner plans, and I suggested that we go and check out Orto.  A couple of years ago, a friend had introduced me someone who was thinking about opening a restaurant, and some time later Orto opened up just steps from my new office.  Not quite sure, though, why it took me this long to go check it out...

Salumi misti - not a bad start to go along with our wines.

Capesante avvolte con guanciale - we saw this being served to another table, and the second I saw the word "guanciale" I was sold.  This was very nice indeed.  The scallop was delicious, can't go wrong with the guanciale, and the tomato and basil salsa on top was good, too.

July 8, 2014

Number one grandson restaurant

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Another long-awaited gathering, and this time our organizer has chosen Kam's Restuarant (甘飯館), the new restaurant opened by Kevin Kam (甘崇軒), eldest son of the late Kinsen Kam (甘健成), whose father opened a little restaurant called Yung Kee (鏞記飯店).  This is the branch of the family that lost out in the feud, so the third generation has now struck out on their own and opened two outlets.

The space wasn't very big, and I arrived a little early, while the diners from the earlier seating were still finishing up.  Business was very good, and anyone without a reservation was turned away at the door.  And even those with reservations would have to wait until their table freed up.

First came the century eggs with pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑).  Not liking the half that I took today... The chemical/ammonia flavors were a little too much.

We were hungry and eager to try out some of the old favorites, and in the end we had just about the right amount of food for four hungry mouths...

July 3, 2014

Dinner on the Horizon

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One of my clients very kindly invited me out to dinner tonight, and grabbed a couple of more guys to share a few bottles of wine together.  As it turns out, my client is an old friend of Sheets', so I looked forward to a relaxing evening amongst friends.

We headed to Aberdeen Marina Club after work, and stopped in at La Cave for some bubbly while we waited for reinforcements to arrive.  The Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru was nice and smooth, very balanced in terms of acidity and ripeness on the palate.  Somewhat caramelized nose.


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