April 14, 2016

Occupy Amber day 3: another first-timer

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It's Babu's birthday, and time for me to take her out for another dinner.  I was somewhat surprised when I found out that she's never been to Amber, so I took Mrs. Tigger's suggestion and got us a table there.  Chef Richard Ekkebus is away doing a guest chef stint in Seoul, but I figured Chef Maxime Gilbert would have no trouble holding down the fort...

I chatted with both Maxime and Hector a little, and in the end I decided to leave the choice of dishes up to Maxime - with the proviso that we must have the signature Hokkaido sea urchin dish... and that it comes in a bigger portion than what we got at my last dinner.  I also let Maxime know that we wouldn't want to stuff ourselves with so much food tonight.  As it turns out, what we ended up with was essentially the spring menu with a couple of extras...

First came the nibbles, which are now completely different...

Even the welcome tea has changed, and is now basically a liquid ratatouille.  Kinda interesting.

Buckwheat toast with avocado purée, fennel, lettuce, seaweed, and edible flowers - very pretty.  The toast was a little hard and crunchy.

Waffle with aubergine, tomato, onion, bell pepper - made to resemble the local egg waffles (雞蛋仔), but the texture wasn't at all crispy...  In fact it was pretty limp, but the filling inside tasted pretty good.

Gruyère tartlet - the cheese flavors were very, very strong here...

Amuse bouche - instead of Jerusalem artichokes, this is now a mélange of different mushrooms... with morels, ceps, portobellos in chervil oil and seaweed butter.  Topped with potato foam and potato chips.  This was really, really good...  Love the hearty flavors of mushrooms, and the richness of the potato foam.  Of course the tiny squares of potato chips on top also delivered nice texture.

Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffles - Maxime remembered my "complaint" about our portions being too small last time, so he very generously sent us à la carte portions of the dish instead of the usual tasting portions.

I could see Babu's face breaking out into a great, big smile the minute our waiter laid down the mother-of-pearl spoons on the table.  She knew that one of her favorite ingredients was coming, and the combination of caviar and sea urchin would be a winning combination for her.

I used that little spoon to scrape as much as I could from the inside of the little bowl.  I probably should have asked for more bread to wipe the bowl clean!

Let's not forget the delicious seaweed waffles...

Now that we have a definitive date when this dish would be taken off the regular menu (I hear that May 31st would be the last day... on the second and last evening of the four-hands dinner between André Chiang and Richard Ekkebus), there is a limited number of opportunities for us to savor this beautiful dish.  I did, however, see from social media that a very similar dish has popped up across the harbor... from Xavier Boyer at Gaddi's.

White asparagus: charred with white miso paste, 'mousseline' vinaigrette, salted taiyouran egg yolk, snocciolate olives and wild herbs - it's asparagus season, and these were certainly very tasty.  Not surprisingly the mousseline that substituted for the hollandaise also came with acidity, and the broken bits of black olives were pretty interesting.  Lots of herbs and flowers give us the look of spring.

Brown morels: stewed, mushroom tea poached duck foie gras, kabu purée and shavings with sorrel - don't let the first two words in the name fool you... This dish ain't about the delicious morel mushrooms in the middle... it's all about the big chunks of foie gras.  The foie was actually poached in morel bouillon, so it was really soft and wobbly... like pieces of tofu.  These were topped with thin slices of Japanese turnip (蕪菁), sorrel leaves, with turnip purée on the side.

I absolutely looooooved the foie gras.  Of course the morels were delish, too... along with the rich flavors of the emulsion.  And I liked the crunch from the turnip.

Line-caught John Dory: simmered 'au plat' with 'agretti' sea cress purée, green garden peas, grapefruit, mint in a lautrec garlic emulsion - the John Dory must have been slow-cooked and it was still relatively raw and tender.  Texture was nearly perfect.  Served with sweet garlic foam on top and some garlic flowers and sorrel leaves on the side.  Also on the side was an interesting sea cress purée along with some peas, all of which were topped with a ramp leaf that was blanched and then dehydrated.  The ramp leaf still maintained its light garlic flavor.

Aveyron lamb 'blanc de blanc': roasted, crispy sweetbread, aubergine purée, tempura of purple artichoke, stuffed then braised silver beet in a jus 'gras' - I absolutely loved this lamb on my last visit, and complained loudly about only getting one small chop...  Well, tonight there were two on my plate, and I got a third chop from Babu.  Soooooo fatty and lamby, and just incredibly tender and succulent.  But I was getting pretty full at this point, and for the first time in about 2 decades, I didn't pick up the bones to strip them clean with my teeth.  I had reached my limit...

Two silver beets, one stuffed with shredded lamb and the other stuffed with onions and anchovies.  Needless to say the latter was a little on the salty side.  The sweetbread wasn't bad, and I could have sworn there was caramel or something else really sweet in the aubergine purée...

Malaga strawberries: over a Sicilian pistachio panna cotta with milk gel and strawberry sorbet - I was bummed that I didn't get the dessert with Amaou (あまおう) strawberries last time, and I kinda wanted that tonight... until I realized that this was on the menu.  OF COURSE the fraises des bois from Malaga are better!  Really, really tasty.  On a bed of panna cotta sprinkled with caramelized Sicilian pistachios.  Marigolds adorn the little dots of milk gel which, admittedly, don't seem to add all that much to the flavors in the grand scheme of things.  A quenelle of strawberry sorbet in the middle, along with tuiles made with the fraises des bois and strawberry coulis, make everything just about perfect.

I was pretty full after the lamb, but there was no way I was gonna leave even a single strawberry seed in the bowl.

Opalys: white chocolate cream with raw grated, preserved and gel from lime, crispy tuile with lime custard and cold infused coffee ice cream - I didn't realize there was a second dessert... and it looked a little rich, too!  Thankfully there was plenty of acidity from all forms of lime - both with the sphere of white chocolate cream and all around the plate.  The acidity really helped at this point.  I gotta say that the quenelle of coffee ice cream was really, really good.  Surprisingly strong in terms of flavors.

For the first time ever, I decided not to nibble on any of the mignardises that they brought us...  Simply too full.

We were taking it easy tonight, so I brought just one bottle for us...

2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres - pretty ripe on the palate, but still somewhat dry with good acidity.  Toasty nose with buttery and sweet corn notes.  A very delicious bottle from a great vintage.

Another delicious meal, and I think Babu was happy.  Maybe we shouldn't wait another year before going back together...

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