March 16, 2016

Occupy Amber day 2: the virgin experience

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I have been remiss.  It's been more than four months since my first (and previous) #OccupyAmber session, and that is no way to get a movement going!  So when Hello Kitty suggested that we go somewhere nice for dinner tonight, I knew there was no better place to take her... PLUS, it would appear that she's never had the famous Hokkaido sea urchin dish that Chef Richard Ekkebus is threatening to take off the menu at Amber!  This needed to be rectified ASAP.

So the two of us walked in, got seated, and it wasn't long before Richard very kindly came to greet us.  We had looked over the menu and found the current degustation menu pretty interesting, but as I follow three of Amber's chefs on Instagram, I've been seeing a bunch of delicious-looking dishes on my feed lately.  After getting the nod from Hello Kitty, I asked Richard to send us whatever he fancied, without "a foot on the brakes" in terms of quantity.

Our welcome drink was the mushroom tea I had on my last visit, with a mushroom steamed egg custard at the bottom, some chiffonade of seaweed (わかめ?), and a mix of Pu'er tea (普洱茶) and mushroom consommé.

Mushroom macarons with pumpkin purée and orange zest.  Love the pickup from the citrus zest.

Lodged in the pine cone was a beer batter beignet of autumn mushrooms with blackcurrant on pine sprigs, as well as an autumn leaf made of pumpkin purée with green yuzu (柚子) peel.  Again, the fragrant zest made a noticeable difference.

The familiar amuse bouche came, with chunks of Jerusalem artichoke at the bottom surrounded by (cep?) mushroom foam, along with hazelnuts and bits of black truffles.  A layer of crispy Jerusalem artichoke chips topped the dish.  Loved this as always, enjoying the nice acidity of the foam.

Shimaebi prawn: the head fried crispy with kalamanski emulsion - methinks there's a typo here as the citrus is usually called calamansi or kalamansi (no 'k' before the 'i')...  Anyway, we were kinda surprised to be told that we should eat the head first... since the flavors from the deep-fried head would no doubt be heavier compared to the tail.  After all, the deep-fried heads usually come after the tails when one is at a sushiya or a tempuraya.

The deep-fried head was oh-so-crunchy... and the legs came off with just a little bit of pressure, and crumbled in the mouth with the slightest pressure.  Sooo damn good.  Hello Kitty and I joked that the calamansi emulsion was similar to Thousand Island Marie Rose sauce, but with deeper flavors coming from both the prawn and the citrus.

Shimaebi prawn: tail raw; marinated with citrus and beetroot - the other part of the dish featuring the tails of the Hokkai shrimp (北海縞海老).  The raw tails were delicious, but unfortunately for Hello Kitty and I, they were marinated with beetroot... and we're not friends with that.  I loved the shrimp eggs on top.  Thankfully the flavors here were dominated by the three different types of citrus: pink grapefruit, hyuganatsu (日向夏), and depokon (デコポン).  The three citrus fruits were also used together to make the coulis.  Very light and refreshing.

Wild Japanese yellowtail with burrata di bufala, fennel, and green Amaou strawberries - this was presented as a dome, with thin slices of yellowtail covering the top and decorated with the fronds of Florence fennel along with some flowers.  The flowers were mildly acidic, and almost produces a little bit of numbness on the tongue.  Served with celery gazpacho poured around the dome, with a lovely fragrance.  Finally, there are also slices of green (unripe) Amaou (あまおう) strawberries from Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県).  According to Chef Maxime Gilbert, they had to beg the farmer to harvest them before ripening.  This was a little surprising, because I would have thought at least one farmer had already done it for Chef René Redzepi... who served them at Noma Tokyo last year (unfortunately, I didn't get that dish for my dinner...)

Peeling back the yellowtail reveals a ball of burrata, which was still somewhat creamy but not at all runny.  Hidden between the cheese and the yellowtail were slices of dried and pickled Japanese radish which, according to Richard, they buy once a year and preserve themselves.

Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffles - as Hello Kitty uttered as she picked up the mother-of-pearl spoon seconds before digging in, this was the pièce de résistance!  She was pretty excited about finally getting a taste of this, and wasn't the least bit disappointed.  Caviar, sea urchin, lobster, cauliflower... "There's nothing here that I don't like."  No doubt countless diners have already waxed lyrical about the iconic dish, and I was still elated by the smooth and creamy sensation of it all, as well as the symphony of flavors coming from the different ingredients.

Crispy seaweed waffle, which we took bites of in between spoonfuls of the sea urchin...

My only complaint?  Why was the portion so puny?!  We would have devoured something 5 times the size... or at least double!

Jerome Galis green asparagus: with raw and marinated kibinago, seaweeds, nori purée, seawater foam and matcha - my first bite of green asparagus from Jerome Galis came last year and it was a revelation.  My first bite of this particular spear brought back those memories... fresh, sweet, and vibrant.  Served with seaweed, salicornia, and silver-stripe round herring (黍魚子) on top.  Definitely tasted flavors of the sea... especially from the herring... not to mention the nori (のり) purée on one side as well as the seawater foam with matcha (抹茶) powder on top.  A beautiful dish.

Bamboo shoot: cooked and butter roasted with garden pea purée, pickled radish, grilled peanuts, charred leeks and sweet garlic broth - I love bamboo shoots, but this piece was a little on the "old" side... so the exterior edge was just a little tough.  The sweetness of the bamboo was actually overpowered by all the other ingredients that came with it... such as the grilled peanuts, the garlic flower, the garlic emulsion, the charred leeks and sorrel... and even the pea purée.  The Chinese expression of 喧賓奪主 (stealing someone's thunder) seems to fit the situation...

Normandy scallop tartare - with diced black truffles, olive oil caviar, salicornia, and chives. All this sat on a bed of steamed custard (our waiter said coulis) made from the fat of jamón ibérico de bellota.  The scallop was naturally fresh and sweet, and worked rather well with the black truffle.  Of course, who could resist the delicious flavors from the ham fat?!  Both in the custard below and also in the foam on top.  There were also little croûtons at the bottom.

Then there was the "ham on toast" on the side... with beautiful slices of jamón ibérico de bellota and slices of black truffle sitting on the thinnest wafers of sourdough.  DAMN that's good!

Aveyron lamb 'blanc de blanc': cutlet milk poached then caramelized with buckwheat and Parmesan Reggiano cooked like a risotto, raw sunchoke and black winter truffles - I loooooove lamb, and as this baby lamb was 2 to 3 months old, I'm wondering if it has been weaned or still feeding on milk.

Lamb chops are among my favorite cuts of meat, and this was... MUAH!  Soooo soft and tender, very succulent, and that beautiful and tasty fat.... WHY O WHY DID I ONLY GET ONE SMALL LOUSY CHOP?!  Oh and let's not forget about that generous (microplane) shaving of black truffle on that piece of crisp.

Underneath the round discs of black truffle and Jerusalem artichoke were pieces of lamb saddle, which was also very tender, but slightly harder to cut.  At the bottom you have a really tasty "risotto" made with buckwheat, hazelnuts, and Parmigiano Reggiano... surrounded by mushroom foam.

French unpasteurized cheeses: matured by Bernard Antony - but of course!

Brillat-Savarin - ah... the triple-cream cheese ice cream!  Nice and creamy, of course, with acidity on top of the savory flavors.

Selles-sur-Cher - thick and creamy as always, with nice acidity.  The rind was very ripe and slightly bitter.

Mimolette - I didn't ask but this was likely aged 24 months.  Salty with rich flavors.

Époisses de Bourgogne - from Gaugry, au lait cru, bien sûr!  Kinda ripe and soft now, and definitely strong with the ammonia.  Slurp.

"Carrot cake" - with carrots cooked in honey, shaved carrots, carrot purée, orange peel, blood orange juice, blood orange sorbet, and sorrel.  The purée was incredibly sweet, and in fact the carrots were pretty sweet, too... The sweetness was balanced with wedges of blood orange and the sorbet, as well as some acidity coming from the leaves.  For the first time in a long while, I didn't hiss at the sight of sponge cake on my plate...  Very, very good.

Passe Crassane pear: poached and raw with Gianduja mousse, toasted hazelnut praline ice cream and microplane grated black winter truffles - this was nearly identical to the dessert I had last October, except, of course, a different cultivar of pear was used... we didn't have a huge pile of black truffle shavings back then!

Loooove all the hazelnuts, and of course the pear was wonderful.

Petits fours - even though I was very full, I still nibbled on a few of these...

This being Amber and all, I chose a nice bottle of wine that I thought would be drinking well... and I was absolutely right.  I couldn't have asked for a better bottle tonight.

1991 Opus One - decanted upon opening.  Very smooth.  Fragrant nose with earthy and savory notes.  After 50 minutes smoky, cigar notes became prominent.  After 90 minutes some sweet grass notes emerged, along with nice fruity notes.  Drinking extremely well.

This was yet another fantastic meal at Amber.  Come to think of it, I don't think I've had anything less than a stellar meal on each and every visit in the last 3 years.  The kitchen is really delivering at an extremely high level, and while many may disagree, there is something to be said about why they've managed to snag the No.4 spot on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants this year.

This Arrogant Prick is ever grateful of the way his needs are catered to at Amber, and counts himself lucky to be on good terms with Chefs like Richard and Maxime.  Many thanks for making Hello Kitty a very happy camper!

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