December 13, 2016

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, deluxe edition

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A few weeks ago my caviar supplier pinged me and asked me if I would be interested in taking some beluga caviar.  I've bought stuff from him sporadically for the last year and a half, and in all this time he's never offered me any beluga.   My interest was piqued, and after checking with a few friends for interest, I placed a small order and arranged a couple of tasting sessions.

We were supposed to do the tasting at our friends' place tonight, but due to unforeseen circumstances we needed to find another venue.  This usually means asking a chef or a restaurant for a favor, so I pinged my go-to chef for stuff like this - the Man in White T-Shirt.  Thankfully he was amenable to such requests.  After all, he himself has BYO'ed fish and chicken to other restaurants...  So we took the second seating at Neighborhood, and asked the boss to join us for the tasting.

Beluga caviar - apparently these came from a 22-year-old beluga sturgeon weighing about 161kg.  The boss very kindly arranged to present the tins on shaved ice for us.

Upon removing the lid, I was finally able to see the eggs.  They looked a little darker than in the picture my supplier sent me, and the eggs looked a little smaller than I expected.  But hey, what the hell do I know, anyway?  The last time I had beluga caviar was some years ago, when I brought my jars from Kazakhstan to Pierre.  The eggs tonight certainly looked better - showing a grayish hue as they glistened under the light.

I brought along a couple of mother-of-pearl spoons so we could scoop the eggs out without having them react to metal.  This begs the question, though... If the eggs really give off unpleasant flavors when they come into contact with metal, why is so much caviar shipped in metal tins instead of glass jars?!  Is that just pure bullshit or what?!

In addition to the caviar, I also brought along our own blinis and crème fraîche.

I first scooped some caviar onto a blini, wanting to get the pure flavors of the eggs.  Not very salty at all, and the flavors were delicate without being too fishy, with a little bit of smoky notes.

Next I placed the eggs on top of crème fraîche that I had spread on the blini.  The mild acidity of the cream neutralized the saltiness of the eggs, which would seem to make the two a match made in heaven.

When we ran out of blinis, I resorted to the playful way that Uwe used to serve me caviar - by first putting some crème fraîche on the back of my hand... and licking it all off.

This was quite a treat, even if the 5 of us had to share 100 grams of this treasure.  I do think, though, that putting it on ice wasn't the best thing.  Although the eggs didn't come into direct contact with ice and therefore did not freeze, the fish oil did end up congealing near the bottom half of the tin - as one can see from the lump on top of the back of my hand.  I think next time I would just serve from a chilled tin.

Now that we were done with caviar, it was time to order some food!  This was my friends' first visit to Neighborhood, so naturally I was tasked with ordering...

10yr+ Spanish "Cassina Asturiana" beef ham - we didn't pre-order the Spanish beef for main course, but we figured we could at least have the ham.  Lots of flava here.

Guanciale - this is supposed to be guanciale, but there's so much fat that it might as well be lardo...  Mmmm... cured beef fat...

Heirloom tomato terrine / burrata cream - this is always a good dish to order.  Made from seven (?) different types of heirloom tomatoes, peeled, and compressed.  Wonderfully sweet and flavorful, enhanced by the beautifully fragrant basil.  Spreading a little bit of the liquid, burrata cream and balsamic on top was just perfect.

Sucrine lettuce salad / crab roe - this was unexpected, but really damn good.  You'd think because it says "lettuce salad", that you're actually eating something healthy.  Think again.  Sure, you get half a head of lettuce, but you've got this creamy spread on top, sprinkled with little chunks of what looks like hairy crab roe... and garnished with some chopped chives and a bit of balsamic vinegar.  I gotta say... grabbing this with your hand and biting into it was really satisfying.

Warm Riviera vegetables "Ducasse" / truffle - this is always one of Hello Kitty's favorites, and did not disappoint.  A nice bowl of carrots, radishes, fennel, peas... with a nice and slightly acidic sauce and shavings of black truffle.  What's not to like?!

When it came time to order a second round of hot dishes, we decided to get ourselves a little lump of white truffle - coming in at less than 50 grams.  We asked the person with the sharpest nose to choose from a pre-selected tray of three, and as we would find out later, she did a terrific job!

Fried egg / potato cream / guanciale - eggs and fatty pork would always go well together, not to mention adding potato cream into the mix.  That soft, liquid orange yolk just looked soooo good...

Then you shave a bunch of white truffle on top.  Whoa!  No explanation needed for what would become a gooey mess on the plate.

"Finansiera" sweetbread / chicken giblets / marrow - this was requested, but we got a lot more than we bargained for... at least by my book.  Besides sweetbreads and cockscomb, there were obviously quite a few chicken testicles there...  And of course the Man in White T-Shirt made sure to put some on my plate...

And of courrse, we would cover each dish with truffle shavings.  Yum!  Very hearty.  Oh and Hello Kitty very kindly took care of the testicle for me.

Pan-fried andouillette - this was off the menu, but the Man in White T-Shirt knows how much I love this stuff.  This was AAAAA, and so stinky and good.  Good to see that there were three of us who dug into the dish with gusto.

Tagliolini with white truffle - the other natural pairing for white truffle... just a bowl of simple egg noodles tossed with butter.  Simple. Pure. Awesome.  'Nuff said.

Bone marrow risotto - can't come here without having the bone marrow risotto...

Especially when you get to shave so much white truffle on top!  Really hearty, warm, and pure comfort food.  Such wonderful richness.  The fragrance of the bone marrow alone would be enough to make me happy, never mind the truffle!

Australian wagyu hanger steak - someone wanted a little more red meat, so we had to make do with this Aussie wagyu... which was nevertheless very, very tasty in its own right.  A nicely done piece of hanger steak can always deliver those deep, beefy flavors.

Brie de Meaux "Dongé" / black truffle - can't complain... especially when there's black truffle encased inside!

Chocolate palette - for some reason we ended up with this dessert anyway... but I ain't complainin'!  The rich and smooth chocolate is really tough to beat... and we shaved the last of the white truffle on top for good measure.

Canelés - very few things can make me happier at the end of a meal than this.

With this crowd there is always plenty of alcohol.  Tonight we kinda went a little over...

Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Vieillissement Prolongé, dégorgée en juillet 2008 - a bottle that I carried back from Reims all those years ago.  60 month on lees.  Wonderfully caramelized nose, toasty, very ripe and rich, with savory salty plum notes.  Nice depth of flavor here.

With this as the chaser to beluga caviar, this brought out a little more of the smoky flavors.

Daishichi Myoukarangyoku Junmai Daiginjo Shizuku Genshu (大七 妙花蘭曲 純米大吟醸 雫原酒), 24BY - brewed in 2012 and released in 2016.  Aerated in bottle for about 40 minutes before serving. Very sweet on the nose, with plenty of banana notes, really fragrant.  Reasonably sweet on the palate but a little dry and spicy on the finish.

Daishichi Myoukarangyoku Grande Cuvée (大七 妙花蘭曲 グランド キュヴェ), 2013 version, released in July 2015 - this bottling represents the pinnacle of Daishichi's offerings.  The 2013 version is the third iteration of the Grande Cuvée, and is a blend of 21 vintages of the "regular" Myoukarangyoku brewed between the years of 1988 to 2008.  The 1,256 bottles of this version were released over three years - generally on July 7 of each year - and this particular bottle would have come from the last batch.

Aerated for 40 minutes before serving.  A little more dry on the nose compared to the single vintage bottling, and also more elegant and fragrant.  Sweet on the attack but more dry on the palate.  With further aeration the nose became sweeter.  According to other, more experienced experts, it would seem that we should have aerated this bottle for half a day at least...

With a single slice of white truffle, the nose turned really, really explosive.  The amazing combination of the truffle seemed to have been magnified by the alcohol and sweetness of this sake.  Absolutely unbelievable!  This was probably the best use of this thin slice of white truffle, EVER.
2012 Lécheneaut Gevrey-Chambertin - nice and fruity, with some forest and dried herb notes.  Huge nose of toasty corn.

With a single slice of white truffle, the toasty nose was enhanced further.  At this point it's approaching the level of a Coche-Dury Meursault in terms of toast...

2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature - nice and toasty nose, with ripe and yeasty notes.  This would have been a nice accompaniment to the caviar, too.

Lots of reaction when you drop a slice of white truffle in the glass.  Pretty nice, too.

A very, very happy evening. I think from now on Imma shave some white truffle into every glass of wine I drink...

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