February 29, 2016

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2016

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I finally made it.

I received an invitation to attend last year's awards ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, in Singapore.  Unfortunately, I was trying my damnedest to launch a new fund and couldn't afford to fly off for a few days for some partying, and I decided to cancel my trip.

So when I was lucky enough to receive another invitation to attend this year's awards ceremony in Bangkok at the last minute, I didn't hesitate.  I even called off my 8-year self-imposed exile from Thailand for this.

The events were held at the W Bangkok as well as the beautiful House on Sathorn adjacent to the hotel.  The crowd would shuffle back and forth between the two locations.  I picked up my badge at the media registration desk, found the couple of media friends I knew were also attending, and went to mingle inside the courtyard of the House on Sathorn.

When the time came, the organizers ushered us into the ballroom at the W.  My friend had very kindly saved me a seat in the front row of the media section towards the back of the room - making it a little bit easier for us to take photos.

Return to Thailand day 1: 'sup, niga?

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I've been on a self-imposed exile from Thailand for the last seven years.  After reading about the completely heartless way the Thai government chose to treat the Rohingya refugees (and I thought Thailand was a nation of devout Buddhists?) back in 2008-9, I decided that I would no longer support Thailand by giving them my tourist money.  I stopped coming, and treated the country like a deadzone when I planned trips.  After all, there is so much to see in the world!

But an invitation to attend the awards for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, which was held in Bangkok for the first time this year instead of Singapore, was to be the one invitation that I couldn't turn down.  Especially since I had turned down an invitation to attend last year's event as I was working to launch a new fund.

I got into the city during lunch time, and dropped off my bags at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G since my room wasn't ready.  The staff had suggested that I take lunch at the on-premise burger joint, but there was just no way that would work for me.  I's gonna have me somethin' local!

I pinged Chubby Hubby about meeting up later, and he suggested that I go grab lunch at Supanniga Eating Room since it's close by.  Apparently a couple of chefs from Singapore were having lunch there.  I'd seen pictures posted by the Great One of her meal there a couple of days ago, so I figured it wouldn't hurt...

So I walked past W Bangkok, turn in at Soi 10 Sathorn, and kept walking until I saw the sign.  It was now about 1:30 p.m. and the Singaporean chefs are nowhere to be found.  I did see a table occupied by a Japanese contingent, and realized that the guy in the middle was Yamamoto Seiji (山本征治) from RyuGin (龍吟).  I am seated a couple of tables away by the door, and order a few dishes.

Ma hor (ม้าฮ่อ) - little dabs of stir-fried minced pork with garlic and peanuts.  I hadn't seen these things served on butterflied mandarin wedges before, and this was perfect.  The sweetness and slight tanginess of the mandarin orange helped to temper and douse the heat from the bird's eye chili.

February 28, 2016

Neighborhood harbor front dining

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I learned a little more about the dining options of my new hood yesterday, thanks to a story link posted by my friend g4gary.  One of the places mentioned was Reiki Small Field (小田料理), a new Japanese place by the ferry terminal, which is literally a stone's throw away from me.  I'd walked by this place numerous times, and had been pretty curious.  Tonight it was time to check it out.

The restaurant occupies part of the ferry terminal building, and the side facing Victoria Harbour is actually open to the water without any windows.  Harborside seats had already been taken when I called to reserve, but it was probably a good thing, anyway... The fragrance of the Fragrant Harbour isn't always pleasant, and there's always a chance of breathing in fumes from the departing ferry boats.

In addition to an à la carte menu offering items from sashimi to tempura, the restaurant also offers two kaiseki menus.  I decided to splurge for the more expensive option which, at HKD 1,000 a head, seems a little steep for a location such as this.

First up was this plate.  Our waitress plopped it down in front of us and walked away.  I tried to ask what it was that we were eating, but I couldn't get an answer.  The cook came out, and he didn't seem to understand my question of "what are these?"  Maybe he thought I was a total idiot... since I couldn't even recognize what was obviously a giant scallop in front of me.

February 27, 2016

Italian food with gorgeous view

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I found myself at Cucina in the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel tonight.  Hello Kitty was doing some research for a project, and we decided to have dinner here.  This would be my first visit.  In fact, I had never even heard of this place.  But hey, I heard this place has a pretty good harbor view, so why not?

The menu was reasonably compact, with a mix of Italian dishes together with other not-so-Italian choices like lobster bisque, foie gras...etc.  I chose a selection of what I felt would be representative of what the new chef could do.

Cappuccino al funghi porcini con biscotti al parmigiano - this was pretty decent.  Slightly over-seasoned for my taste, but most diners will probably find it perfectly fine.  They even threw in a slice of porcini.  The Parmigiano biscotti are not bad, either.

February 26, 2016

NOT a birthday dinner

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I'm taking My Birdbrain Favorite Cousin out for dinner.  She refuses to acknowledge the fact that a big birthday (read: the big figure is changing) is coming up, so she is adamant that we don't call this a birthday dinner.  No cake, no mention of the B-word, and no, we are not having it on the actual day itself.  I did, however, ask her to choose the venue... and she decided that she'd like to go to Ta Vie 旅.

Having found out hours in the wee hours of the morning that yesterday was, in fact, Sato-san and Takano-san's 10th anniversary, I doubled back to the office when I realized that I forgot to bring them my impromptu present.  I brought another bottle of this wine on my last visit to the restaurant, and it happens to be from their vintage.

Meanwhile, My Favorite Cousin and Hello Kitty were sipping on the special bottle of Champagne that I brought while waiting for me to return.  Takano-san remarked that this was also Sato-san's vintage...

The menu tonight offered very different dishes compared to my previous visits, with the exception of the very first item:

Cauliflower puffed mousse with Botan shrimp in shrimp consommé jelly - one of the best dishes to come out of this restaurant was the sweet corn mousse with Botan shrimp (牡丹海老), and this was a variation made with cauliflower.  I love the chunks of lightly-torched shrimp, buried in the cauliflower mousse along with finely chopped chives and tomatoes.  The beautiful consommé jelly, full of umami, was tempered by the slightly sweet and clean flavors of the mousse.

February 24, 2016

In pork we trust

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We were in Causeway Bay trying to figure out a place to grab a bite for dinner when Hello Kitty suggested that we check out The Fat Pig by Tom Aikens.  It's the latest venture from my friends at the Press Room Group, replacing SML which occupied the same space.  This was, of course, a great idea - since I was salivating over a picture of pig trotter on toast from this place just days ago.

The menu was relatively compact, and of course pretty much all pork.  We decided to order a few small plates but ended up caving in to the lure of a larger main dish.

February 19, 2016

Two different responses to dietary restrictions

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I'll start this off with a little rant.

We were looking for a venue for our get together with Snoopy, and Hello Kitty suggested Sushi Tokami (鮨とかみ).  We both enjoyed our lunch experience there, and I thought I'd go and check out dinner service at this outpost of a well-regarded 1-star sushiya from Tokyo.

So Hello Kitty booked us a table.  While on the phone, the person on the other end of the line asked about our dietary preferences, so we first informed them that two of us do not eat tuna.  Later on we realized that none of us eat tuna, so we called the restaurant back and amended our request.

About half an hour later, the restaurant called back to inform Hello Kitty that they could not accommodate our dietary restriction.  Apparently tuna was meant to be a key part of the dinner menu, and they did not wish to do any substitution for us.  We weren't happy with this turn of events, and told the restaurant to cancel our reservation.  We would go eat somewhere else.

This episode left a bad taste in our mouths, and it probably means that the restaurant has lost our business for good.  Not that they ever needed our business in the first place.

From our previous experience - and Hello Kitty has had lunch there twice without having a single piece of tuna - the chefs have always been very accommodating when it came to the request for no tuna.  So what the hell happened this time?

When I go to top sushiyas in Tokyo, tuna is not an issue for me.  I am respectful and have no wish to offend the chefs, so I don't make any alterations or requests - since they don't even bother asking you about your dietary preferences.  You eat what they serve you, period.  And I'm fine with that.

But the situation here is different.  The restaurant took the proactive step of asking us about our dietary preferences, then turned around and threw it back in our faces... kinda like a "fuck you, tough shit" response.  If you're not gonna adjust the menu according to my request - which, in my not-so-humble opinion, wasn't outrageous or unreasonable (after all, it's not like I went to a sushiya and asked for all my sushi to be cooked...) - then why bother asking at all?!

February 16, 2016

More fortune sushi

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Jay Essu was back in town on a whirlwind visit, and wanted to meet up for dinner with a few of us.  It's been a few years since the four of us all worked on the same floor, and I can't recall the last time that ILove Lubutin, Jay Essu, and I were all at the same table.  Tonight we would be sitting at the same counter at Sushi Fuku-suke (鮨 福助).

My only visit to this restaurant came almost 5 years ago, in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, when a bunch of us went to support their business and take a symbolic stand for Japanese businesses in Hong Kong.  They were in pretty bad shape then, but I'm glad they managed to stick around.

Our friend is a regular here and gets the VIP treatment, so we're all riding on her coattails tonight.  Omakase it was, naturally...

We started with some dried marinated blowfish (ふぐみりん 干し), which were a little more wet than I had expected.  There was also a little too much of it for a snack, but oh well...

Next up was water shield (蒓菜) in jelly, which always has an interesting, slippery texture.

February 14, 2016

High-end vegetarian with grandma

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Grandma's funeral was today.  After a pretty emotional day - during which we cremated her and brought her ashes to her final resting place - we took a breather at grandma's Last Minute Uncle's place.  We knew we were having dinner together again, and we knew we would be having vegetarian food for the second night in a row, but we also knew that we weren't gonna go back to the neighborhood restaurant we hit last night.  We can't handle vegetarian buffet two nights in a row.

Last Minute Uncle remembers that he was taken to a high-end vegetarian restaurant once upon a time, so that was where we ended up.   Yu Shan Ge (鈺善閣) apparently is a place where high-ranking Buddhist monks are entertained by their followers, and their set menus start from around TWD 1,100 and go all the way up to around TWD 4,900 - which is about USD 150!  I wondered what the restaurant would serve for that price...

We sat down at the large oval table, and the thirteen of us ended up leaving the seat empty at one end of the table.  We told ourselves that the seat was reserved for grandma, and invited her to come dine with us.

Since there were so many of us coming for the first time, Last Minute Uncle decided that taking the TWD 1,400 menu (鈺品套餐) would be sufficient for a first look.

To start with we were given bowls to wash our hands - which may be a ritual cleansing before the meal.

February 12, 2016

More simple pasta and pizza

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My office neighbor and I got together for an impromptu lunch, and we decided to go visit CIAK - In the Kitchen again.  It's a pretty easy solution for us, since the food is pretty tasty, the atmosphere casual, and it's not impossible to get a seat.

Spaghetti | garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper with Mediterranean anchovies - so simple, but comfort food is best.  Inhaled and gone in seconds.  OK, maybe gone in minutes...

February 8, 2016

Lunar New Year puddings: 2016 roundup

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Every year when I go home for Lunar New Year, a key part of my luggage will be the shipment of puddings which go on sale this time of year.  This year was no exception, although these days I no longer run around town scouring for different selections.  We've kinda figured out what mom likes, so I just went straight to the one outlet that sells it.

This year, though, I actually received complimentary puddings for the first time.  The nice people at the Hotel Lisboa have put me on their pressie list, and this year The Grand Buffet (自助山) has produced a gift box containing both a savory and a sweet pudding, and I managed to pick up mine the day before I flew home.

February 7, 2016

The missing one

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It's Lunar New Year's Eve, and as is customary, I'm spending it with family at grandma's.  Except it's no longer grandma's... since she passed about 2 weeks ago.  This was my first family gathering since then, and it definitely felt a little weird to be in that apartment without having her around.  Since grandma's funeral is in exactly one week, we had the rare pleasure of having Brazilian Uncle for dinner tonight.

Dinner started with the usual Chinese charcuterie platter, and Last Minute Uncle cooked his usual braised beef shank while his helper whipped up a range of veggie dishes and what not.  There was also a big pot of store-bought Buddha jumps over the wall (佛跳牆), although this Taiwanese-style soup was never anything I would get excited about.

My focus, of course, was squarely on the dishes that mom prepared.  And her contribution always starts with her version of the perfect ten (十全十美).  It's a labor-intensive vegetarian dish that is prepared over the space of at least two days, and I wrote about it a few years ago.  Mom almost always serves it cold so that some of the ingredients could retain their crunch.  This year, though, she decided to use only nine ingredients instead of ten.  Hair moss (髮菜) has become increasingly expensive over the years, and she would need to use a pretty big amount for it to be noticeable in the final mix - something she felt wasn't exactly worthwhile this year.  Of course, not using hair moss is also more environmentally friendly, as its harvesting promotes desertification in the parts of China where it is found.

February 5, 2016

We like it RAW

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Not being a person of any influence, I've never managed to book a table at RAW on my previous attempts.  One is normally forced to book through the restaurant's website for parties of 7 and less, with parties of 8 and above considered as "chef's table" and open to phone booking via a different mechanism.   When I've tried to book online exactly 13 days in advance, tables have always been booked out within 20 minutes of the start of the booking window.  So while everyone's asked me whether I've been to RAW, my answer has always been negative.

So I had to thank my lucky stars tonight that I got to know Cathy from HaoKouFu (好口福), who gathered the twelve of us and here we were, seated at two tables put together just outside the kitchen.  There was a hodgepodge of people tonight, but half the table turned out to be artisan suppliers of foods that manage to meet Cathy's very high standards - honed from her years of living in Paris.  We had a chocolatier, a boulanger, and a couple of charcutiers.  Shame that I wouldn't have time this trip to pay them a visit.

The chef's table has a slightly better menu than the regular menu - upgrading the protein course and supposedly using better ingredients overall for a roughly 50% premium to the regular price. Of course, I'd prefer an upgraded menu myself anyway... and I don't mind paying for the ability to book in advance.

The restaurant's trying to be cool by presenting a menu listing only the main ingredients - in a manner reminiscent of the grid from Eleven Madison Park.  The menu, which comes in either English or Chinese depending on one's seat at the table, is tucked away in a drawer underneath the table top at each seat - along with all of the cutlery and the napkin.  The only thing, though, is that I was too dim-witted to figure out why any of the three ingredients for each dish appear in their respective columns.

February 4, 2016

Fighting over breakfast in Taipei

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I'm back home in Taipei for the Lunar New Year holidays, spending some time in my empty apartment.  I wanted to get some of the classic breakfast that I don't get to have in Hong Kong, and one of the most famous breakfast joints just happen to be somewhat close to my apartment...

I arrived at Huashan Market (華山市場) shortly before 8am, and of course there was already a line all the way down to the street level for Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿)... but I took comfort in that the line wasn't as long as it was on my last visit.  How wrong I would turn out to be!

February 2, 2016

A fabulous Tasting in Macau

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My conference finished just before lunch today, and while most of the others moved to join the group lunch, once again I chose to break ranks and go off on my own.  There's one more place I wanted to revisit before heading back to Hong Kong.

I had a really enjoyable lunch at The Tasting Room in the Crown Towers last year at the hotel's invitation, and I was more than happy to go back on my own dime after they were promoted to 2 stars.  Instead of taking a 4-course set lunch as I had originally planned, I decided to take the 4-course dinner set as suggested.

First to arrive was the bread basket, and among one of the more creative options was a chartreuse bread - said to have Chartreuse added to the dough.  Unfortunately, my olfactory senses must have failed me today... because I could not, for the life of me, detect any hint of the liqueur.

February 1, 2016

An Italian gem in Macau

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I'm in Macau for a couple of days attending a conference, and as I have done for the past couple of years, I chose to be antisocial and skipped the first night's dinner.  Macau has a wealth of upscale dining options - some of which I would rate above anything else in their respective categories in Hong Kong - so I'd take them over the nice conference food catered by the Four Seasons Resort Macao any day.

I haven't been back to Don Alfonso 1890 in the Grand Lisboa since my first visit a couple of years ago.  I've kinda been focusing on my favorite Michelin-starred establishments in the big hotels - sometimes at said hotels' invitation - so I figured it was about time to come back to this underrated gem.

I looked over the menu and found the degustation menu a tad on the boring side.  There were a couple of items from the à la carte menu that really caught my attention, however, so I went for those instead.

The amuse bouche came and I found myself staring at some lightly-battered and pan-fried sakura shrimp (桜海老), along with some salmon roe, sitting on a bed of polenta.  These are a few of my favorite ingredients, but somehow the combination delivered some acidity, and almost seemed a little fermented.  Still tasty, though.


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