February 3, 2015

The Asian Western

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Picking out one new restaurant each month to review for the South China Morning Post isn't as easy as it seems.  I'm only doing it 1 out of 4 weeks each month, so most of the heavy lifting is already done by the regular staff.  Trying to find a restaurant that I would be interested enough to eat in (since I'm putting calories into my body, it'd better damn well be worth it!), and which would be just about brand new around the date of my column requires some juggling.  Sometimes you end up with a coveted choice, other times not so much.

For this month I ended up picking Chef Stage, which is run by local chef Eddy Chu.  I must admit that I was a little confused... because I thought this was run by the same Eddy behind Chef Studio by Eddy.  As it turns out, that place is run by Eddy Leung... so not the same.  Aaaaaaanywaaaaay...

I stepped into the restaurant and found myself alone (other than the three staff) in the dimly-lit dining room.  We were apparently the only table for the night, and in fact Chef Eddy himself decided to step out for dinner. The staff had reserved the corner table for us - with nice views of Victoria Harbor - but I found the space too dark.  Yes, one of my biggest pet peeve is dark dining spaces - both because it's hard to me to take decent pictures of the food, but also because at my age with my deteriorating eyesight, I can't even freaking read the menu!  I asked the staff to turn the lights up as much as possible, and in the end decided to sit somewhere else with more light.

The menu was very short and simple, with a total of less than 15 items spread among starters, soups, mains and desserts.  A quick glance told me that the selection was very "Asian" - meaning the dishes were very mainstream and, honestly, looked boring to someone with a jaded palate (yes, that would be moi...)  Well, I knew this was gonna be a little more "local", but let's see how the food tastes!

Prawn tartar with black truffle - the mottled-looking quenelle may not look like much, but it was surprisingly delicious.  The prawn had been diced and shredded, so there were different textures here.  They've mixed in a little bit of black truffle sauce, which added just enough fragrance to accent and compliment the flavors of the prawn.  Quelle surprise!

Pan fried duck liver, cherry tomato gazpacho - interesting combination... and the chef suggested that we eat the two together.  I prefer my foie gras to be more on the raw side so that it still retains that wobbly texture, but this one was clearly a little more cooked than I would like.  The gazpacho in the martini glass was really light and refreshing, and I wish it had been my dish so that I could just guzzle it down.  To be honest, though, we didn't get the combination.  I suppose the gazpacho was meant to provide the acidity to cut down the fat of the foie, but it didn't really work.

The weird thing about our starters is that they arrived separately, with a long delay between them.  My prawn tartar arrived very quickly, and it took some time for the kitchen to send out the foie gras/gazpacho combo.  This was pretty unusual.  I suppose I could have waited until my friend's dish arrived before digging into mine, but we would have both been staring at my dish for a good 10 minutes or so...

U.S. natural Angus beef rib eye - my friend asked for medium-rare, but what arrived certainly looked more done than that.

Grilled Australia rack of lamb - curiously, I wasn't asked about how I wanted my lamb done.  I didn't want to kick up a fuss, so I just sat and waited to see whether they would cook my lamb a little more done than the medium-rare I would normally prefer.

Sure enough, the first piece I cut into was more medium...

...but the second piece was actually pretty rare in the middle.  I'm OK with having my lamb rare, but it was just interesting to see the consistency (or lack of).  Well, at least they tasted good with all that lamby goodness from the fat!  I was happily gnawing on the bones and stripping them clean.

The one problem to both of the mains was the scoop of purple sweet potato mash that came with them.  It was clear that something was off from the very first nibble, because this wasn't sweet at all.  The taste was completely weird... something familiar but at the same time the flavor didn't belong here.  We later found out that the chef had added olive oil to this.  Why, oh why?!  If you've got good quality purple sweet potato, why do you want to fuck with it?!

I think the restaurant was happy that they had customers tonight - or maybe because they saw my SLR and figured I might generate some publicity for them - so they sent out a little complimentary crème brûlée for us.  This was actually decent, and just the right size for me.

Warm chocolate brownie with ice-cream - the proportion of brownie to ice cream seemed a little bit off, to be honest.  The brownies were tiny, and had thin, crispy shells on the outside while the interiors were very fluffy and light.  As my friend remarked, these were very "Asian"... and not gonna cut it for anyone who grew up on American brownies...

Soooo... what did we think of tonight?  Honestly, this isn't someplace where I would naturally think of, since the menu is pretty mainstream and "uninteresting" by my book.  But then again, a guy like me is always looking out for things that are unusual and out of the ordinary, so I'm not the typical consumer.  For people who are just looking for a casual night out, or who aren't too adventurous, I do think that they do a decent job here.  What's more, the price point seemed reasonable for the quality delivered... and that is very important in my book.

The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here (may require subscription).

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