November 11, 2016

16 hands with 20 stars

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Tonight I had the privilege of attending the first gala dinner organized by the Michelin Guide and Robert Parker Wine Advocate for the launch of the 2017 Hong Kong Macau Red Guide.  Word came two months ago that a dinner had been organized to feature 7 chefs - 6 of them with a collective 20 Michelin stars at their restaurants - with decent wine pairing to boot (now that RPWA is in partnership with Michelin Guides).

The price of MOP 5,750, while not exactly eye-popping, was certain to make people think twice - at least for mere mortals like myself.  It wasn't the most expensive dinner I've ever attended and paid for, but it certainly came in at above average.  I considered the concept of a dinner where each chef only contributes one dish - one chance to impress the diners - then the fact that each chef would be serving a large quantity of the dish at the same time, and decided that the cost (together with the time required to travel to/from Macau) was above my comfort level.  The chance of not performing up to my (admittedly high) expectations was too great.  So I was happy to sit this one out.

Then I received an unexpected email from the PR team at City of Dreams, with an invitation to attend the gala dinner at Studio City.  I would have to leave the office early and take the ferry across to Macau, but this wasn't an invitation one turns down lightly.  So I happy accepted their kind invitation, took Friday afternoon off, went home to change into my penguin outfit, and boarded the ferry.

I arrived at the Grand Ballroom at the start of the cocktail hour, took the opportunity to thank the people at the City of Dreams, and also met up with friends doing PR for the event.  They very kindly asked if I wanted to interview any of the chefs, but I told them that "I'm just here to eat."  The chefs were already being hounded by the media for photos and interviews just before dinner, and I wasn't important enough to make further impositions on them.

We were told that there were upwards of 600 guests coming for dinner tonight.  I was glad to see a few familiar faces, but we were all toning down our expectations for the food, given that each chef would have to churn out some 600 servings of his dish... and none of these chefs - with the possible exception of Chef Tam from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) - would have the experience to do something like that.  Some of these chefs would serve less than 1/10 of the covers in one evening at his restaurant.

Each table had this little guy as the centerpiece, holding up a table number.  So I would spending the next 4 hours staring at the golden ass...

The evening started with the introduction of the first "Friend of Michelin" award, which was given to celebrity-turned-chef Nicholas Tse (謝霆峰).  A video presentation was shown about the dish he was serving us, which culminated in him walking up on stage with dish in hand, and walking us through on the proper way of eating it...

Senses of Fall, by Nicholas Tse - it would appear that my twig (which was not edible) had fallen off its original position.  We were instructed to use the twig to break up the brown leaf and push it into the cup of gazpacho.

The maple leaf-shaped tuiles were inspired by the autumn leaves of Nicholas Tse's native Canada, and rolled until they were 0.3mm thick.  They were meant to come in the four flavors commonly mentioned in the Chinese saying about life - sour, sweet, bitter, spicy (酸甜苦辣).  The sour tuile was made with lemon, the sweet tuile was... just a little sweet.  I couldn't taste anything really bitter, but then I remembered that Nicholas' cookies - which come in the same flavors - used dark chocolate to represent bitterness... even though the brown leaves were more sweet than bitter.  Finally, spicy leaves were made with cheese and bird's eye chili peppers, and I did get a hint of that kick.

The gazpacho itself was a combination of sour, sweet, savory, and spicy.

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut - a little sweet on the palate.

Otoro fatty tuna belly, sea urchin, and Hokkaido ikura, by Shinji Kanesaka - with four stars awarded to four of his restaurants spanning across Tokyo, Singapore, and Macau - and having dined at two of them myself - I had high expectations for Kanesaka-san.  Unfortunately, this dish failed.  While I was very intrigued by the very prominent flavors of bonito (鰹) in the dashi (出汁) enveloping the salmon roe, the salmon roe itself was a complete failure.  A number of the eggs had shriveled, and a great many of them had pretty tough membranes that required quite a bit of force to pop.  I believe that marinating in soy sauce would turn the roe from sujiko (筋子) to ikura (イクラ) and in the process soften up the membrane, so I was a little curious to find a combination of both shrunken and tough membranes in my bowl...

Some of my friends at the dinner who know of my dietary preferences wondered whether I would eat the tuna, and the answer is YES.  I ate the fatty tuna belly (大トロ), because I wasn't gonna ask the hosts to change the ingredient for me if a change wasn't offered.  But I did find the shreds of yellow pickled radish (沢庵) - wrapped inside a slice of what I thought was plain tuna back (赤身) - curious.

Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé - yeasty with a nice mousse, with more red fruits in the nose.

Alaskan snow crab salad with laksa foam, by Guillaume Galliot - I had seen pictures of rows of snow crabs that Guillaume had posted on social media, and given his wife's Singaporean heritage, I was expecting his laksa to deliver fairly authentic flavors.

I was pretty happy with the result, as was my Malaysian friend next to me.  The laksa foam covering the sweet crab meat was very thick and rich - even without the yolk on top.  The spices and flavors were pretty on point, although I found it a little too mild in terms of the chili kick... which didn't really hit me until the very end.  The other slight disappointment was that the yolk wasn't liquid and runny, although it was far from being hard-boiled.  Well, that's the thing with serving 600 portions in one go... you just can't get the timing right on every single portion.  So that's an execution issue that we can all forgive.  I thought the roasted nuts provided an interesting touch both in terms of texture and flavors.

2013 Rémi Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières - fragrant, almost floral nose, with very little of the typical toasty notes from a Meursault.  Second glass showed a little more flint and minerals.  Some ripeness on the palate but dry on the finish.  Pairing with the laksa crab really brought out the dry and spicy finish from the alcohol.

Seared Hokkaido scallop, by Björn Frantzén - having never been to Stockholm myself, I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Frantzén's Kitchen in Hong Kong later this month.  This would provide me with a small taste of what's to come... and the results weren't too surprising.

The contents of the bowl were tepid.  Now, serving temperature could easily be a common problem when you bang out 600 portions, but in reality the dish probably wouldn't be piping hot in a Frantzén restaurant, anyway...  My limited exposure to Nordic cuisine told me that the food most likely 1) wouldn't be hot, 2) would have a lot of acidity, and 3) would contain elements of Nordic woods.  Check on all three.  The finger lime caviar delivered sharp acidity to the palate, which was offset slightly by the umami coming from the powdered dried scallop roe.  The fragrance from the spruce shoots were pretty prominent.  The Hokkaido scallops themselves, though, were executed pretty well - just slightly more cooked than mi-cuit, and still very tender.

Osmanthus-smoked baked Racan pigeon, by Tam Kwok Fung - someone who shall remain nameless remarked to me that this looked like the packaging for food that is often served on a plane in cattle class... which got a chuckle out of me, but neither of us should be surprised to see Chef Tam presenting something wrapped in gold-colored foil.

Unwrapping the foil revealed the pigeon smothered in osmanthus sauce, whose floral fragrance was front and center.  It was also surprisingly a little sour.

While the pigeon was still pink in the middle, unfortunately the texture was still a little off... and just didn't deliver the "wow" that I would have expected from a perfectly-cooked Racan pigeon.  But hey, we had already dialled down our expectations.  Besides the leeks, the surprise for me was that big ass chestnut on the side.  Because of its flat shape, I thought it was a giant broad bean... until I realized that it was the middle piece inside the burr.

2006 Latour à Pomerol - very ripe and minty, slightly earthy nose.  Surprisingly silky on the palate.  Sweet fruit on the nose but not too sweet on the palate.

2006 La Fleur-Pétrus - a bit more earthy, with eucalyptus and a little hint of savory notes.  Also showing some ripe fruit but kinda dry on the palate.

Soft-poached Ise lobster, shiitake mushrooms, and layered seaweed, by Hideaki Matsuo - with five stars from his restaurants in Osaka and Hong Kong, this was the other chef whose cuisine to which I had no prior exposure.  The presentation certainly looked very interesting.

A box of seaweed and wafers came on the side, which we were supposed to add to our bowls.

The lobster was, not surprisingly, overcooked and disintegrated into mushy chunks and strands... but the flavors were still very lovely.   The turnip had a weird flavor profile... I thought it was a little sour but wasn't sure why - was it simmered in some sort of alcohol?  The wafers from the box were very interesting... besides nori (のり) seaweed, we had a piece of dried tofu skin (湯葉) that was a little on the chewy side, a dried prawn wafer, a wafer made of dried fish like bonito - it tasted like bonito flakes shaved from katsuoboshi (鰹節), and one last piece that looked like it was made from some sort of seaweed.

2004 Pol Roger Brut - rich on the palate, kinda sweet with a good acidity balance.

The Demon X-treme beef, by Alvin Leung - having dined at Alvin's restaurant since 2004, one thing I can count on from him is his inconsistency.  It's often hit-or-miss at Bo Innovation, and we were all wondering whether it would be a miss...  We were pleasantly surprised to find that this was one of the winners tonight.

I was talking with my friend Maxime when the dish was served to me, although the server very kindly left the glass cloche covering the dish and left me the small pitcher containing the broth on the side.  It would be quite some time before I finally sat down and got to the dish, and although the temperature had cooled, I must say that the marbled beef was cooked perfectly.  The beef tendon was pretty good, too.  While the broth was on the salty side for my taste, the spices used turned out to be a real interesting combination with the slices of white truffle shaved on top.  To be honest, was the white truffle really necessary for the dish, or was it there just to make it seem more luxe?  Well... you're looking at somebody who would buy a whole white truffle at a restaurant and go crazy by shaving it over just about everything, so... SHAVE AWAY, BABY!!!

2006 Hosanna - good amount of ripeness here, and showing a little bit of tannins.

2006 Trotanoy - pretty fragrant nose, with a little hint of pencil lead.  More tannic than the other 06s.

Sensation of Infiniment Chocolat Pure Origine Brésil, Plantation Paineiras, by Pierre Hermé - Pierre Hermé has no Michelin stars, but it doesn't make him any less of a rockstar to many of us.  I finally had the chance to make his acquaintance, after having been a fan for quite a long time.

Before our chocolate sphere was served, a few of us were jokingly predicting that this would be the best dish of the evening.  We weren't wrong.  This was the only dish that could be served "at temperature" for 600 guests without any problems, and the hot chocolate sauce melted away the top of the shell.  This was, of course, much more complex than just a chocolate ball.  Inside was a scoop of chocolate ice cream, as well as bits of chocolate-covered nuts and salty crunch.  Sweet but with savory counterbalance; silky and soft with crunch for textural contrast.  Yum.

1888 Quinta do Vallado ABF Old Tawny Port - very sweet, very concentrated on the palate, with plenty of nutty flavors as well as raisins, along with a little preserved tangerine peel (陳皮).

OF COURSE we couldn't leave without some macarons from the macaron god himself!

And some chocolates, too!

This was a pretty fun evening, in spite of the food underperforming somewhat - which was as we had expected.  The wines all showed very well, and I could appreciate the extraordinary effort that went into organizing this event.  Many thanks, again, to the team at City of Dreams for this wonderful invitation!

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