June 26, 2014

Principal Aikens

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It was finally my turn to host an MNSC dinner tonight, and we settled on the date back at our last dinner.  I had called around to a couple of the best places in town to secure a private room for ourselves, and was looking forward to going back to a place I hadn't been for a long time, when Lord Rayas suggested that I host it at the Principal.  As it turns out, Tom Aikens would be doing a guest chef stint on that very evening.   We had a pretty good experience last year when Jason Atherton came to the Principal, so I had happily agreed.


For some reason, the menu did not include amuses bouches from Tom, so we got them from the Principal's own kitchen...

Watermelon and sangria

Truffle puff and Anchovies

June 25, 2014

Completing the trio

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Peter Lam opened a trio of Japanese restaurants in the same location a couple of years ago, and I've had the opportunity to try out both Rozan (魯山) - which serves up some of the best sushi in town - and Gin Sai (吟彩), with a well-rounded variety of Japanese cuisines.  But Wagyu Takumi - the sole recipient of macarons from the Rubberman - was a place I never had occasion to visit.  So when a friend from out of town suggested that we meet up there, I heartily agreed with his choice of venue.

Like its adjoining sister restaurant Rozan, the seating was pretty much limited to a small L-shaped counter along with a separate private space.  Chef Mitsuru Konishi was already prepping when I arrived, and soon the strong smells from the teppan and the grill were filling my nostrils.  As the ventilation really wasn't strong enough, I could see that my ability to smell the wines would be greatly diminished tonight...

Boston lobster tartar with dill cream, lobster jelly and caviar (ロブスターのタルタル、ディルクリーム、ロブスターゼリー、キャビア) - a pretty good start to dinner.  There was surprising crunch inside the lobster tartar thanks to some finely diced chives, and all the flavors from the jelly, caviar, dill cream...etc. worked together perfectly.

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...

Headless 3-star lunch

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I came back to Hong Kong from my trips to the US and Taiwan bearing gifts for the Tiggers, so they very kindly allowed me to crash their usual lunch date at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  It's been quite a while since I was last there, and I happily accepted their invitation.

I'm a creature of habit, and when I revisit restaurants that are old favorites, I tend to go back to the same dishes that I love.  And so it was that I decided to forgo the normal set lunch and ordered up one of two dishes that I had been missing dearly...

Artisanal chitarra with tomato and red king prawns - ah... one of my favorite pastas in town.  That wonderful al dente texture from the thick pasta... the gorgeous shellfish and tomato sauce that I tried to pick up with the chitarra as much as possible.  And when the pasta was all gone but there was still sauce left in my bowl, I picked up the leftover bread on my plate and dutifully scooped up the rest.  (Tigger suggested that I do an I Love Lubutin and use my index finger instead...)  The carabinero was delish, but wait... WHERE THE HELL IS THE HEAD?!

June 22, 2014

Another Simple birthday

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After the pre-birthday dinner last night, tonight it was time to keep it small and just spend it with the parental units.  For the third year in a row, I chose to dine at STAY for this occasion, as the simple yet delicious food and the low-key atmosphere is exactly what I'm looking for.

It's my fourth visit, and still I chose not to do one of their several set menus.  For a simple meal, I am happy to do à la carte and get a little more of what I wanted.  Mom of course did the same, and dear old dad picked the cheapest set menu despite our objections - not wanting to spend too much of his son's money.

As usual there was a trio of bites as our amuses bouches:
Chicken with chicken mousse coating

Salmon with sour cream

Tomato with sun-dried tomato and crisps

June 21, 2014

Another pissy birthday dinner

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I was in Hong Kong for just around 12 hours before I was on a plane again, going back to Taipei to spend my birthday weekend with my family.  Some time ago I had seen pics of a Peking duck feast from a friend, and had been wanting to check the place out for myself, so I made a reservation last month while I was in town to celebrate the parental units' anniversary, and invited Last-Minute Uncle's family to come along.  What I didn't expect at the time was a surprise guest, in the form of my Brazilian Uncle...

We drove out to Yilan a little early to try to check out the city a little. We were taking the second seating so we had a little time, but it's a pretty small town and there wasn't a whole lotta stuff to see - other than the old Yilan Station (宜蘭車站) that had been decorated by artist Jimmy (幾米) and Jimmy Park (幾米公園) across the road.  We soon returned to Luna Plaza (新月廣場) and Silks Place Yilan (蘭城晶英酒店) and went upstairs to Red Lantern (紅樓).

The restaurant's really busy on weekends and holidays, so they open up the banquet hall and seat all the tourists there - especially the larger parties.  We were led to one end of the hall, and it felt like we were just going to a large-scale Chinese wedding banquet...

They only do set menus on the weekends, and only for 4, 6 or 8 people.  We were 7 but given that there's one of us who can eat for 3, naturally we took the largest set.  I fully expected us to finish all the food anyway... Some of the menu required us to pick from a list of choices, and after I made the selections, the food arrived at our table pretty quickly... A little too quickly, in fact, and out of order.

Flavors of Lanyang (蘭陽美味集): choosing 4 out of 8 possibilities
Tomatoes marinated in plum juice (梅汁蕃茄) - these cherry tomatoes were pretty tasty... with skin removed so that they can really soak up the plum flavors.

Cherry duck wings (櫻桃鴨翅) - very nicely braised... tasty.

Spicy beef tendon (麻辣牛筋) - nice with just a small amount of spiciness, just strong enough to numb the tongue a little.

June 19, 2014

US excursion 2014: Cronut run

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Last day in the US, and I’m standing in line for food again. This time around I’m waiting to get my hands on some of them world-famous Cronuts.

I first met Dominique Ansel a few years ago when he visited Hong Kong. Our mutual friends arranged a dinner together, and the evening progressed into a very fun karaoke session afterwards. Fast forward a couple of years and he’s opened up Dominique Ansel Bakery with the help of my friends. I watched from afar as they gradually made a name for themselves.

Then came the Cronut craze, and the ensuing trademark controversy. Lots of people around the world were trying to emulate the product, and Dominique and my friends fought to defend the product name as their trademark applications were pending approval in various jurisdictions around the world. At dinner a few nights ago, some people brought up the fact that Swissbeck Bakery in Hong Kong had rolled out a version they had called the “Cronut”. I casually mentioned that I was the person who had alerted the people at Dominique Ansel Bakery to this, since I knew that the application to trademark the name “Cronut” had already been submitted at the time. Of course I needed to look out for the interests of my friends.

Now I was finally back in New York City, and there was no way I was leaving without visiting the bakery – both for Cronuts as well as a number of other creations. I emailed my friends in advance to let them know I was coming, and it was suggested that I get in the line before 7 a.m. Yes, despite being friends with the owners of the bakery, my friend Jay Essu and I lined up just like everyone else. And I was in line around 6:40 a.m. – a full 80 minutes before the bakery opened.

June 18, 2014

US excursion 2014: the seven year itch

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This is one meal that is 7 years overdue. On my very last trip to New York - which was, unbelievably, eons ago – I was all set to go to wd~50. I had made it to the high temple of molecular gastronomy, elBulli, the year before, and had heard a lot of good things about Wylie Dufresne’s place. Unfortunately for me, I came down with a massive case of toothache that day, and was in no shape to take in anything other than liquids that required no chewing. I called the restaurant with a heavy heart, told them I had to cancel last-minute because of my toothache, and left the city with more than an ounce of regret.

Tonight, on my one and only night spent in the city on this trip, I was determined to right this wrong. Initially my friend had suggested we go somewhere else, and because I didn’t wanna be difficult – and I was open to try out other suggestions – I was happy to go along with her choice. However, when I found out a week ago that Wylie announced the impending closure of the restaurant due to the premises being redeveloped, I knew it was now or never. Fortunately, my friend was able to get us a table.

It took a little longer than expected for me to walk over from the Mondrian Soho to the restaurant, passing through parts of Chinatown and the heart of Little Italy along the way. The place was pretty unassuming, and I could see why the place was getting redeveloped.

There were two menus on offer, and I was thankful that my friend agreed to do the longer, regular tasting menu with me. The shorter one had only half the number of courses and would have left me with a lingering sense that I hadn’t gotten the full picture.

We started with these paper-thin sesame crisps. Really yummy thanks to the sesame seeds, and with just the right amount of salt for flavoring.

US excursion 2014: two sandwiches and the Twin Towers

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I had an early morning flight this morning, so I was always gonna take my breakfast at O’Hare. After going through TSA’s security screening – where they make everyone feel like a terrorist or criminal – I scanned the plans for Terminal 3 and figured the best place to grab a bite would be Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. Having rejected numerous friends’ suggestions that I check out Rick Bayless’ restaurants serving Mexican fare while in town, I guess in the end I just have to have a little Mexican.

The thought that griddled sandwiches may be a little big for breakfast did cross my mind, but I still went for one. As it turned out the egg and chorizo torta was pretty tasty, and I even found myself pouring enough of the green chili sauce in the middle to get a little kick. Not bad.

After I arrived at the Mondrian Soho, I dropped my big suitcase with the bell boys and schlepped over to Katz’ Deli for the first of only three meals during my very short stay in town.

June 17, 2014

US excursion 2014: the greasy pig

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I was panicking a little. We were done with our conference and this was our last night in Chicago, but I hadn’t figured out where to take the boss for dinner. As usual he’s left it up to me to figure out where to eat, and this presents a challenge while we’re in a city that I had never been to beore.

I knew it had to be somewhere along the Magnificent Mile, as the boss had hardly left our hotel since his arrival, and he should at least walk along the Mile. Should we play tourists and go to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, since steak is the thing to do here? I asked for his opinion, and was told that he would like to “try something new”.

We showed up at the door to the Purple Pig, which had been mentioned on foodie discussion boards and seemed to have been rated highly in Zagat. Even the boss noticed that this was on the Rubberman’s Bib Gourmand list. They don’t take reservations, and there was already a long list of people waiting. We agreed to leave our name and come back in half an hour. Meanwhile, we could at least walk along the Mile.

We were seated inside the restaurant upon our return. I’m pretty sure the boss isn’t used to how tightly packed the tables were, nor was he accustomed to the level of music and noise. It took some effort for us to carry on a conversation…

The task of ordering, not surprisingly, fell on my shoulders. The only request from the boss was that I should keep the calorie count down. At the end of the evening, though, we both realized that I completely failed in this regard…

Roasted bone marrow with herbs – this was one of the first things to jump out from the menu. Maybe I just naturally have a radar for this dish. I was hesitant at first, because this clearly wasn’t gonna be “low-calorie”. But as the boss noted that both tables to the sides of us had ordered this, he decided that he would try something he’s never had before.

June 15, 2014

US excursion 2014: stuffed in Chicago

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After my slightly disappointing first nibble of a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, I felt I owed it to myself to have a second sampling, and it just so happens that Giordano's is a block away from my hotel.  Unfortunately, the boss decided to ditch me for dinner, so I called them up to pre-order my pizza, waited for a half hour and walked over.

The special stuffed pizza - this was the small size that officially feeds two, but can easily feed three.  This was definitely pretty impressive.  The crust rises far above the top, and yes, it does make this look more like a pie, or a quiche.

June 14, 2014

US excursion 2014: Salty molecular Chinese in Chicago

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Tonight was always gonna be the highlight of this trip.  As soon as I found out that the conference was gonna be in Chicago, Alinea became the must-do dinner.  And as soon as the restaurant opened up their June bookings on April 15th (OK, I lied... I was drunk on the evening of April 15th, so I didn't book until the 16th) I visited the website and got myself tickets for tonight.

The main worry about tonight, though, was whether Mo' Unni and I would be fighting jet lag during dinner.  I would arrive only 1 day earlier, and Mo' Unni would be arriving only hours before.  Would either or both of us be falling asleep at the table?

We arrived at our appointed seating time of 5:30 p.m., which would be the second time I'm having dinner this early at one of the world's top restaurants this year (the other being dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro).  I'm at least grateful that I didn't overindulge at lunch, so I had plenty of stomach space.

Anyway, after we walked through the front door and down the dark corridor, we entered the actual foyer and were led to the entrance to the kitchen.  I paused for a couple of minutes, taking a picture while observing the action within.  No Grant.  Not unless he shaved both his head and his facial hair.  Oh well...

After confirming that neither of us had dietary restrictions - and I would have bet money that Mo' Unni had to have at least a few things on her list - we sat back and waited to be hit with 16 courses over the next 4 hours.  And since Mo' Unni wasn't in any shape to do any serious drinking, I decided to try out the restaurant's wine pairing - which would consist of 10 different wines.

US excursion 2014: waiting for the Do(u)g

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Day 2 in Chicago, and I'm skipping breakfast.  I rolled out of bed, cleaned myself up, and hopped into a taxi to my first destination this morning: Hot Doug's.

Hot Doug's is one of Chicago's most famous food destinations.  Doug Sohn is famous for his gourmet hot dogs, and famously defied Chicago's ban on foie gras by continuing to sell his foie gras dogs.  Of course, the ban has since been repealed, to the delight of diners like myself.  Anyway, Doug announced last month that he was closing the place in October, so of course it means that I'd have to hit this place during this trip.  And today would be the only time I could fit it in.

I got off my cab around 9:50 a.m., about 40 minutes before the place opens at 10:30 a.m.  As I walked towards the back of the line that had already formed outside, I counted at least 60 people in front of me.  Fook mi... I guess I'm in for a long wait.

June 13, 2014

US excursion 2014: Chicago views and deep dish

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I arrived in the Windy City today after my first long-haul flight while sitting in cattle class in a few years - in a US airline, no less.  A short flight delay meant I went through Friday after hours traffic trying to get into the city, but I didn't have much difficulty checking into the JW Marriott in the financial district.

I dropped my luggage in my room, picked up my camera gear, and walked two blocks to Willis Tower.  I had booked a fast pass online while transiting through Narita Airport, paying double the normal ticket price to make sure I wasn't stuck in line for a long time.  Well, as it turned out, there was no line on a Friday evening... so I got up to the 103rd floor Skydeck in no time.

The view was definitely spectacular.  I started by looking south, following the Chicago river down, with Lake Michigan on my left.  It was 7:30 p.m. but there was still plenty of light.

June 11, 2014

Magnum birthday

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It's the Specialist's birthday, and this year she decided to do a bigger gathering.  After taking the number of guests into consideration, she realized that single bottles would never be enough to go around... and issued the order for us all to bring magnums to dinner.  Now this was gonna be fun!

She's always been a big fan of Sup 1, and it's easy to make arrangements to get a little special treatment when you're friendly with the bosses.  Apparently they took on an extra dishwasher tonight just so they could handle our wine glasses... if the manager is to be believed.

The Specialist gave BFF and I a ride to the restaurant, and we arrived well before anyone else... and I never expected anyone to be on time for a 7pm dinner in a (slightly) off location on a school night.  Well, it gave the staff a little time to prep the wines and glasses.

One of us was real hungry and didn't wanna get buzzed drinking bubbly on an empty stomach, so he asked for some toast... and we got this cream of mushroom to go along.  Turned out to be pretty damn good, even though I was wondering if it came out of a can of Campbell's...

Grilled ox tongue

Cuttlefish, seaweed and sea urchin roll - always very good.

June 9, 2014

Playdate with Uwe, episode 2

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It's been more than a year since our incredibly fun dinner with Uwe, and an email came around asking if another gathering was in order.  We were reminiscing about some of the Art Basel-related creations, and debated about visiting around that time to see what fun stuff Uwe would come up with this year, but unfortunately the lot of us just couldn't get our act together in time...

So we came back to the Mandarin Grill + Bar tonight, ready for another fun evening.  When Uwe asked me what I wanted for tonight, I asked him simply to surprise us.  I never doubted him for a second.

First came a bunch of nibbles, beginning with anegg sabayon made with mushrooms - and there were definitely some tasty chunks at the bottom of the shell.  We debated about whether the shells were from real eggs or not, but I don't think they were...  Anyway, these were really delicious.

June 8, 2014

Classic entrecôte

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I met Wilson Kwok, the proprietor behind W's Entrecôte, at dinner on Friday.  I had been going to this place for steak frites ever since I first came to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago, and have fond memories over the years, although it's been a few years since I was last there.

I was surprised to hear from Wilson that business hasn't been so good lately.  I guess that just shows the mentality of the people in Hong Kong... since they seem to be only looking for the latest (and not necessarily greatest) places - egged on by the PR / media machine trying to drum up business for the new venues.  So it's kinda sad to see that this place - which has been serving very solid food at reasonable prices for two decades - being forgotten by the general public.

I thought a return visit was in order, so I made up my mind to come back tonight.  I also decided that I would write about tonight's dinner - even though normally this type of food doesn't show up on this here blog.  I wanted to remind people that these guys are still around, and I'd like to see them stick around for another 20 years.  In Francophile territories, places such as Le Relais de l'Entrecôte do brisk business on a daily basis, since they are the French counterpart of the classic Cantonese roast meat (燒味) joints - everyday fare that never falls out of favor.  I'd love to see places like this become a more permanent part of the dining scene in town.

Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. Tigger decided to join me for dinner.  I've been here with Tigger before, and this is the type of no-nonsense, value-for-money place that he would enjoy.

Salade verte aux noix, style W's - very simple, and it's good to start with some greens.

Escargot à l'Alsacienne, sur les champignons - this was ordered by mistake, but I was happy to chomp down on some shrooms and snails.  Tried to stay away from the mash...

June 7, 2014

Casual tea house dinner

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I spend the afternoon hanging out with some friends and sipping on some white wine.  Dinner time came around, and we decided to satiate our hunger at Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室) - a place they frequent.  Luk Yu is a Hong Kong classic that just isn't on my list, even though I've worked within walking distance from it for years.  But I was happy to go along and munch.

Double-boiled pig's lung and almond soup (杏仁白肺湯) - one must order this soup when one is here.  Very rich and creamy, full of almond fragrances and flavors.  The pig's lung were very clean, and the flavors were very mild and delicate.  I had a second bowl.

Simple brunch

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I hadn't seen one of my friends for a long, long time... as she had been away in Europe trying to pursue an interest outside of banking.  Having finally faced up to reality, she recently returned to Hong Kong and rejoined her former employer, although she was lucky enough to be able to kinda combine her interest in art into her new position.  I thought it was high time that we caught up with each other, and made plans to return to Upper Modern Bistro for brunch.

I have been remiss in not visiting my old friend Philippe since my first visit last year, and since then another old friend Jeremy - formerly of Caprice - has joined Philippe.  I, along with a number of others, was overjoyed when news came a couple of months ago that Jeremy would not be leaving Hong Kong.  This meant that Hong Kong would get the keep one of its most seasoned mâitre d'hôtels, and we would have our supply of Jeremy's amazing selection of cheese!

I greeted Philippe in the open kitchen soon after I walked through the door, and Jeremy came over not long after I was seated.  It's good to see my old friends!  What was immediately apparent was the improvement in the level of service - which had been a source of complaints judging from the feedback I've gotten from friends.

We received a warm batch of bread, and right away one can see little touches from Jeremy.

June 6, 2014

Downhill piggy

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It's been a long, long time since I last visited my favorite roast suckling pig, and tonight I got a chance to do just that.  Susan the Great was organizing a dinner so that she could introduce the pig to her friend Fuschia Dunlop, so it was a perfect chance for me to catch up with her again while getting re-acquainted with the Kimberley pig.

The job of reserving the pig at the Kimberley Chinese Restaurant (君怡閣), as usual, went to ILove Lubutin.  We had a big enough party that we decided to order 2 pigs, since we could never hope to be satisfied with just one slice of the pig.  We also made sure to have the soup that we always start with...

Marinated cucumber (拍青瓜)

Marinated jellyfish (涼拌海蜇皮)

June 4, 2014

Remembrance, 25 years on

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Twenty-five years ago today, I sat in my godparents' house halfway across the world, my eyes glued to the TV, and watched in horror as soldiers moved to crush the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square (天安門廣場).  The demonstrators, who were mostly university students, had demanded more freedom and political reform against corruption - all reasonable demands in a free and democratic society.  Well, the powers that be in Beijing decided that they would have none of it, and the result was a bloody massacre where hundreds, and most likely thousands, of lives were lost.  There is plenty of news footage and pictures recording this historic tragedy.



June 3, 2014

Kit Kat and wine tasting

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It's been a few years since I first went nuts and conducted a Kit Kat tasting, after buying up every conceivable flavor at a shop in Narita Airport.  For some reason I had the urge to do it again... Maybe it's that lingering annoyance about not having time to shop at Narita back in March.  So I logged into my Rakuten account, searched for every available flavor, had them shipped to my shipping consolidator, and soon I had a box of goodies in my office.  Just don't ask me how much I spent on shipping...

Coincidentally, I had also scheduled an evening with friends to help me drink up some of my wine.  I think most of us had a good time when we made an effort last month, and this time I promised that we'd be drinking wines made from grape varietals which are different from the ones we had last round.  So I had to really think about what to dig out of my cellar!

I decided to combine the two and do them on the same evening, but I didn't want the alcohol to interfere with our tastebuds, so I made everyone go through the Kit Kats first...



Golden citrus blend (柑橘黄金ブレンド 中国・四国限定) - made with Unshu mandarin (温州みかん), lemon and sudachi lime (すだち).  Nice and citrusy, but my palate wasn't sophisticated enough to distinguish the separate flavors...  Limited to Chugoku and Shikoku region.

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