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.

This was a wonderful way to start our meal, but truth be told, the original version with corn was better.  There was a lot more sweetness from the corn, and I love the crunch of raw corn kernels.

Beetroot / strawberry / black truffle - neither Hello Kitty nor I are fans of beetroot, but we wanted to see what Sato-san can do with it.  Fortunately both the baked beetroot and the beetroot pickled in Japanese wine made with the Muscat Baily A (マスカット・ベーリーA) grape had their earthy flavors toned down.  The Japanese strawberries and the black truffle shavings also helped mask the unwanted notes.  Certainly not my favorite dish, but I happily polished it off.

Homemade butter - I loooooove this light and ethereal butter, but somehow I thought this used to be unsalted.  Well, it's now salted for sure, and I can see the flakes of fleur de sel on top once I take off the cover.  I probably polished off 2/3 of this block by myself.

Homemade bread - I just love the wonderful nukazuke (糠漬け) bread, and of course I asked for a second one!

Pan seared scallop, gobou cream, cheese foam and black truffle - these scallops were just perfect... and perhaps a slight touch more raw than mi-cuit.  Love the combination of the winter flavors of cheese, black truffle, and burdock (牛蒡).  A little surprised by the peppery kick coming from the burdock cream.

Black egg custard topped with Aori squid and colorful radish - one of my favorite dishes from Sato-san's days at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟).  The steamed egg custard was made with squid ink and flavored with a little ponzu (ポン酢) and yuzu (柚子).  The very lightly torched bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) was beautiful, and actually sandwiched a little bit of fermented black bean (豆豉) in the folds.

Pan seared fresh Japanese langoustine with cabbage-stuffed tortellini - I've never had Japanese langoustine before, but this one from Sagami Bay (相模湾) was simply STUNNING.  It was gently pan-seared but remained mostly raw, and I knew how fresh it was simply by the texture.  In fact, Takano-san told me that these arrived just before the restaurant opened for business tonight, and they were still alive and kicking.  The langoustine jus was flavored with some pepper and wonderfully fragrant olive oil.  I relished in spooning it into my mouth.  The tortellini was interesting, because I've never had one that was stuffed with mostly vegetable before...

Roasted pigeon with aged mandarin skin and spices, chicory confit flavored with Keemun tea - the skin of the local pigeon was coated with local longan honey and aged mandarin peel (陳皮), then crusted with cumin, coriander seeds, Sichuan peppercorns (花椒), Taiwanese mountain litsea (馬告), and crushed roasted rice.  The execution was perfect.  The pigeon jus was flavored with mandarin orange, and there was a sprinkle of aged mandarin peel powder on the side.

The chicory was supposed to be flavored with Keemun tea (祁門紅茶), but I guess I wasn't paying enough attention...

House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - this wasn't on the menu, but came with Sato-san's compliments because he knows how much I love it.  It's really, really hard to beat the sweetness from sea urchin soaked in sea water (海水雲丹), and here you've also got the wonderful flavors and fragrance of aonori (青海苔).  Awesomeness.

Lemongrass and ginger tea - so good to cleanse my palate with this icy cold and refreshing drink.

Mini crêpe Suzette - the crêpes drizzled in a mixture of honey and mandarin juice, served with Japanese kumquat (金柑) compote, kumquat skin confit, and a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.  Love the citrusy flavors here.

Almond ice cream with meringue, fresh strawberry, scent of sakura blossom, covered with fragile candy glass - the almond ice cream was pretty tasty, and the thin wafers of meringue were OK.  This was the first time I've ever had Kirapika (きらぴ香) strawberries from Shizuoka (静岡県).  At the bottom of it all is a puddle of crème anglaise made with lemon confit, whose bitterness was somewhat tempered by the sakura petals.

Herbal tea - this combination of pandan, lemongrass, and mint is always a winning combination in my book.

Fruit tomato - as always, the petit four varies depending on the drink you order, and with the tea comes the (Japanese?) fruit tomato confit in umeshu (梅酒).  Ripe and delicious.

Walnut meringue - this was the petit four for people ordering the macha (抹茶).  Pretty interesting.

Since we are NOT celebrating someone's birthday, I decided to bring a very special bottle of bubbly for our Champagne lover... from her birth vintage.  And since this is also Sato-san's vintage, I offered him a glass, too.  Too bad the wine was already fading a little by the time I offered it to Sato-san...

1976 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, dégorgée en 2003 - lovely and mature nose, caramelized, honey, marmalade, with floral notes that was almost like osmanthus.  Acidic on the mid-palate and also on the finish.  Toasty notes emerged later.  This peaked about 30-40 minutes after popping the cork, and the floral fragrance disappeared.

Takano-san poured us a complimentary glass of chardonnay.   Tasted blind my first instinct was that this was from a cold climate, and initially wondered if it were Japanese.  But according to Takano-san, most Japanese chardonnays are one-dimensional.  If I did have a second guess, I would have guessed it was Chinese... and of course it was!

2011 Grace Vineyard Chardonnay Tasya's Reserve - nose was a little lean, almost a little green apple.  Only a little ripe on the palate.  Very light floral notes, with a little hint of sweetness after the wine warmed up.  At the end there seemed to be sulfur in the nose.

1996 Clos Erasmus - decanted for 1½ hours before serving, which was definitely too long.  There were vibrant and fruity notes coming from the decanter when the wine was first decanted, but those notes disappeared when we finally got to drinking the wine.  A little bit of stewed prunes, along with smoky notes reminiscent of Chinese ink.  Also savory like soy sauce or black tea.  Still surprisingly a little grippy on the palate at almost 20 years.

A very, very happy dinner for a Friday night.  I still love the food, the creativity, and the passion that I see in the team.  Looking forward to more visits in the very near future.

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