November 16, 2016

Swissitalian dinner

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This dinner has been two months in the making.  At our last gathering, for some reason our conversation touched on my birthday dinner at Spaghetti House.  I decided that I would organize a dinner there, seeing that the others haven't paid a visit to this Hong Kong institution for quite a while - more than a decade for two of them, in fact...

Things got a little more exciting when, as I browsed the restaurant chain's menu online, I realized that they had introduced a whole new menu featuring fondue.  Not just any fondue, but fondue supposedly made with 24-month Comté.  Now THIS I gotta try!  The recipe was supposed to have been put together by a certain chef named Stanley Wong.  I, of course, have no clue who he is, but my dining companions have.  Whatever.

I debated about booking ourselves a table, but got laughed at by the others when I realized that I hadn't done it.  In retrospect, I should have.  Even though there was plenty of space at the restaurant, there was a limited number of booths... and they never seemed to be available while we were there.  Gotta remember that next time!

Premium gold cheese fondue - as the song from Calvin Harris says... THIS IS WHAT WE CAME FOR.  The staff laid it all out on the table, and we came to the realization that this was how much food HKD 398 buys us...

There was, of course, the pot of melted cheese.  This was a mix of Mozzarella, Parmesan, Emmental, and Comté that had been aged for 24 months.

Then a plate of cold appetizers, with cubes of melon, prosciutto, Scottish smoked salmon, and cubes of 24-month Comté.

Except... these weren't cubes of 24-month Comté.  No siree Bob!  The four guys at this table have probably tasted more aged Comté than a small village in France, and I would swear on my life that this ain't no fuckin' Comté.  Judging from the soft texture, it hadn't been aged for anywhere near 24 months.  The flavors were also too sweet and mild to be Comté.  Taking the above into consideration, and looking at the holes in those cubes, could lead to only one conclusion - we had been cheated and given cubes of Emmental instead!  

The main platter had a ton of goodies.  These included grilled sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, cubes of baguette, hot link sausages, grilled button mushrooms, French fries, spinach tagliatelle, and more!

We started by dipping the French fries into the pot of cheese.  These turned out to be pretty damn good!  That mixture of cheese was very tasty!

There was also some "sashimi-grade" Hokkaido scallops... which were tasty and, of course, we dipped them into cheese...

... and New Zealand beef meatballs, which were nice and tender.

Then there was a whole plate of thinly-sliced New Zealand premium rib eye...

... which we dipped into the bubbling cheese to cook.

We were also given three different types of sauce to add to our pot of cheese, which were called "RGB magic mix".  These were "red pesto sauce", "green pesto sauce", and "bell pepper rouille".  We didn't find it necessary, but as we were finishing up and dumped the spinach tagliatelle into the pot, we figured we might as well dump the pesto in, too!

Now, this was a good start to our dinner, but we needed more food to fill our stomachs, so we made a second round of orders.

Chicken wings in black pepper and honey sauce with olive oil salad - these were a little softer than I had expected, but I wasn't gonna complain too much.  While some at the table decided to dip these wings into the cheese, I chose to taste the original flavors as the kitchen had intended.

Kung soldier - I really, really enjoyed this at my birthday dinner a few months ago, and was eager to share the joy with the others.  The flavors are based on kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁), and as I kept saying to people, these guys have heart!  They actually bothered to present chicken two ways - both stir-fried as well as popcorn chicken.  The spaghetti was actually cooked rather al dente, to the surprise of my companions.  The sauce was rather sweet with soy sauce as the base, but there was plenty of Sichuan peppercorns to deliver that tongue-numbing sensation.  Green bell peppers, red chili peppers, and a sprinkle of pine nuts with raw spring onions complete the dish.  Yes, I still love this pasta.  A LOT.

Homemade lasagna - this was actually not bad at all.  No complaints here.

By the time we were finished with the pasta dishes, the pot of cheese had been cooked down to the very bottom.  We actually started to use our forks and spoons to scrape the cheese off the bottom of the cocotte.  Yes, boys and girls... We liked it THAT much.

Following tradition - well... the tradition I established a few months ago, anyway - we brought our own wines to dinner.  Corkage is only HKD 50 and the glassware here isn't ridiculous.  And we actually coordinated on our choice of wines the day before.

1997 Remoissenet Montrachet - the second I poured the wine into glass I knew we were in trouble.  The color was simply too dark - hinting at advanced oxidation.  And indeed it was very flat on the palate at first, although it wasn't corked.  Chilling it down and further aeration improved the experience, but it was still over-ripe, with some sweetness and toasty oak on the nose.  Soooo disappointing.  Especially considering that this time, I finally brought a bottle that cost 20X my plate of pasta...

Moriizou (森伊蔵) - sharp alcohol, kinda like paint thinner... I know lots of people love this shochu (焼酎), but I don't think it's my cup of tea...

We wanted to finish with some dessert, so we put in a third round of orders...

Chocolate pancake with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream - methinks there is a mix-up in nomenclature here... These weren't pancakes... at least, not American pancakes... but rather crêpes.  But they tasted OK.

Homemade honey apple pie with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream - there were raisins in the apple filling, which made things a little interesting.  However, the pie crust was a TOTAL FAIL.  Not only was it too soft/sticky and too powdery, it also tasted a little bitter and foul - as if something went wrong with the butter or shortening.  Blegh!

As we were eating "Italian food", of course we would have to have some Italian wine!  So we had an Italian dessert wine at the end...

2003 Felsina Vin Santo - nice and very raisiny nose, a little nutty, very fragrant with honeydew and marmalade notes.  Very sweet on the palate.

In spite of the minor hiccups, we all had a roaring good time tonight.  The fondue performed above and beyond our expectations, and there were no fails (in my book, at least...) other than the apple pie.  I couldn't believe that I managed to drag these guys - including one of Hong Kong's best-known food critics - to have dinner here.  Now I'm eagerly looking forward to our next gathering... at yet another surprising venue.

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