December 31, 2016

The best dishes I had in 2016

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I've never had the urge to follow in the footsteps of others to do these year-end "best of" lists, neither for restaurants, meals, nor dishes.  Heck, I haven't even done a "top 10" list of my favorite restaurants since the middle of 2009.  But as 2016 drew to a close, and similar lists from friends and others started popping up, I started to wonder what a "best dishes" list would look like for me.

Well, the last week of 2016 wasn't a particularly busy one in the office, so I started browsing through all my posts during the year to try to narrow down to a "reasonable" list.  I knew it would take a lot of effort to narrow down to just 10 or even 15 dishes, and at the same time leave out a number of memorable experiences, so I decided not to restrict myself to an arbitrary number like that.  Instead, I'd take a hard look and pick out the ones that had the most emotional impact and gave me the most pleasure - not necessarily only the most "fine dining" or "high end" dishes.  Many of these dishes are ones that I'd be happy to eat an enormous quantities of... or ones that I'd be happy to eat day after day.

The following list isn't ranked, and are listed simply by chronological order.

Sliced whelk in consommé (清湯螺片) from Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡), Hong Kong - I've never been a fan of whelk, as I could never appreciate this ingredient enough to justify paying the price commanded.  This dish changed how I look at whelk, and was the single most elegant whelk dish I have ever had.

December 28, 2016

A winter's feast for foodies

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The year end holiday season brings with it lots of visitors from around the world, and among them foodies who come to see what Hong Kong has to offer in the way of dining options.  As I had done last year, I decided to meet up with a group of them - actually two separate groups that we combined together - and arranged a dinner together.  I also invited a couple of local foodie friends in town to join us.

Now, it's rare that we can get such a big group of visitors in town at the same time, so I figured I'd pull out all the stops by letting them experience the very old school, high-end Cantonese cooking at my favorite private dining facility.  Half the visitors are of Chinese (and in fact Cantonese) ancestry, so I figured they'd have some exposure and would have a better appreciation of the dishes.  The other half was coming in from Sweden, and although I had assumed they were well-travelled, I was still a little apprehensive...

Given my limited knowledge about classic Cantonese food, I was very thankful to have had KC with us tonight.  Even though I had been here many times and have had all of the dishes on multiple occasions, there was still a lot of background info that KC would be better placed to deliver to the visitors.

When I received a copy of the menu from the chef about a week ago, I was ecstatic.  It was pretty much a collection of my favorite dishes, and featured two of the most special items in the chef's repertoire...

Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - this is so classic that everyone needs to try this at least once... And it's always impressive when a whole plate of these show up on the table.

Late lunch with the boss

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The boss is in town for a surprise visit, and while staying at the Langham Hong Kong, discovered to his surprise that there's a 3-star restaurant in the hotel.  He decided to treat the team to a nice lunch as it's the end of the year.  However, due to the last-minute nature of the booking, we had to wait until 2pm to get seated.

Guess who was tasked with ordering, again?  But this time, the boss kinda skimmed through the Internet and suggested a couple of signature dishes that he had read about...

Steamed shrimp, crab meat and spinach dumplings (菠菜蟹肉餃) - with shrimp, crab, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach.  Very tasty.

December 25, 2016

The last of the fortysomethings

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It's Christmas Day, and that means one of MNSC's own is celebrating his birthday... and it's a big one this year.  As one of us noted tonight, the eight of us are now finally all in our forties - but only for the next 4 months or so - until the big handle changes for one of us.  So this is a really special time!

Following tradition, the birthday boy hosted dinner at the Hong Kong Club.  The menu is kept pretty simple, and in any case the evening is all about the wines for us.  The better halves were invited to join us this year, and we ended up having separate boys' and girls' tables tonight.

Roasted Australian quail, braised baby roots, pomegranate jus - this was a lot bigger and a lot more plump than I had expected.  Just look at that ass!  You'd think you're staring at Nicki Minaj or Kim K...

December 24, 2016

A very lobster Christmas

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Continuing with the tradition of cooking at home on Christmas Eve, we ordered another shipment of live wild Atlantic lobsters from Nova Scotia, and our lobster supplier picked them up at the airport in the wee hours this morning.  We met up in Central in the middle of the day and divvied up the critters among a few friends, brought our share of the haul home and put the guys on ice.

As usual, we steamed the lobsters in a pot.  These live and wild lobster are really special.  They've got a wonderful firm texture when biting down, so you know these guys were lively.  Really delicious, and I didn't need any seasoning or sauces whatsoever.

December 22, 2016

Beef and red wine

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I'm back in Hong Kong, and it was time to do a year end catch-up with Rice.  We wanted to go somewhere simple where we could just open a bottle or two, and after much procrastination - with the two of us kicking the ball back and forth - I finally suggested that we try out Beefbar.  The menu looked simple enough... just some meat 'n' potatoes and stuff.  And I haven't yet been disappointed by the food in one of Uncle Peter's restaurants...

I didn't want to eat too much after a few days' of stuffing myself in Vietnam, so I kept things simple and "light".

Our amuse bouche tonight was veal with wakame and wasabi mayo.  I didn't see any wakame, but I think the green stick may have been a salicornia?

December 20, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 5: phở and bánh mì day

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It's our last day in Vietnam, and our last chance this trip to hit all of my planned stops in terms of sights and eats.  And yes, we woke up early once again... without the need for an alarm clock.  So we got up and went out for breakfast.  Since she didn't get her phở fix yesterday, Hello Kitty insisted that we pass up the bún chả I had planned for us.

So we hopped in a taxi and headed to Phở Lệ on Nguyễn Trãi.  The place is pretty easy to spot, and was doing business at 9 a.m.  Downstairs was already full so we were told to go upstairs... which was also pretty full.

December 19, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: Monday night lights

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We hung out for a little while in the afternoon, as the weather had turned a little and there was some drizzle.  We finally ventured out of our hotel when the rain stopped, and walked over one block to check out a couple of sights featuring colonial architecture.

The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most popular sights in the city.  It was built at the end of the 19th Century when Vietnam was a French colony, and is painted in typical pastel yellow like so many other colonial government buildings in Vietnam.  Beautiful design by Marie-Alfred Foulhoux.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: password is... porkbelly

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As someone who really enjoys fine dining, I was spending a lot of time looking into options at the higher end in Ho Chi Minh City.  Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of fine dining options when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, and I certainly wasn't gonna waste precious stomach space and money to have French food in Vietnam.  Most people who write about their food experiences in HCMC seem to focus on the cheap and cheerful stuff, which was a little disappointing for me.

Very few people who write about food seem to have been to Xu Restaurant and Lounge.  It looked interesting and the menus seemed to have been well thought out, presenting traditional Vietnamese flavors with modern ingredients - the kind of stuff that I really dig.  I was having trouble finding meaningful reviews of this place - especially since I can't read Vietnamese - until Hello Kitty pointed me to TripAdvisor.  Normally I stay away from crowd-sourced review sites when it comes to restaurants, but in this case TripAdvisor gave me enough info, both positive and negative.  Fearing the experience to be a disappointment, I asked our hotel concierge to book us for lunch instead of dinner.

We should have come for dinner.

We got ourselves a table in the lounge downstairs, which was almost empty.  Cigar smoke lingered in the room, which was just as well since it covered some of the unpleasant smell of the space.

We asked for the password to the restaurant's wifi network, and we were told that it was "porkbelly".  This was obviously cheeky, and instantly earned brownie points with us.

We decided to order one set lunch plus a couple of dishes à la carte and share everything.  This worked out reasonably well for us.  I had asked the staff if we could have the dinner tasting menus at lunch, but unfortunately this was not possible.

Gỏi cuốn cá chẽm - the fresh seabass spring roll was stuffed with rice vermicelli, coriander, and other herbs, and served with sweet and sour nước mắm.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: unsatisfying breakfast

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We kept waking up early in the mornings on this trip, which in theory gives us a head start on the day.  We have a limited amount of time in Ho Chi Minh City, and I had already mapped out all of our meals here - including breakfast.

Hello Kitty wanted phở, so we took a taxi to Phở Hòa Pasteur for breakfast.  When we arrived at the address, we saw a construction site where the restaurant was supposed to be, with a sign outside...  Merde!

Of course, why should anyone expect that in Vietnam, renovation that was supposed to be completed by yesterday would actually get done on time?!  From what we saw, it would be more than a few days before this place would be up and running again.

December 18, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: dinner under the stars, part 2

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After vowing never to return to Hotel Continental Saigon, we still needed to find a place to have dinner in Ho Chi Minh City, so we decided to walk over to the Rex Hotel.  Cung Dinh Restaurant was the other recommendation from Foodie Baba, and I had originally made a dinner reservation for tomorrow night, but hey, we needed a contingency plan... and this was the best option when you're walking around town without access to Internet or Google Maps.

Walking into the lobby, the location of the restaurant wasn't apparent, so we asked staff at the reception for directions.  The helpful gentlemen came out from behind the desk and showed us the way.  We walked over and found - to our utter amazement and disappointment - that there were no customers in the restaurant.  The restaurant was busy catering for a wedding in the adjoining hotel courtyard... the same situation as the Continental Palace Restaurant we had just left!

We tried to get someone's attention, but were ignored by the restaurant staff.  We went back to the hotel reception and once again asked for help to confirm our dinner reservation tomorrow.  This time the helpful staff escorted us to the restaurant, and found someone from the restaurant who reassured us that our reservation for dinner tomorrow is still valid, as there is no wedding scheduled.

But our problem remains unresolved.  Where would we eat tonight?  As we were about to head back to our hotel for Internet access so that I could pull up addresses of restaurants on my hit list, Hello Kitty came up with a brilliant idea: why not head to the Rex Hotel's famous Rooftop Garden for drinks and a few bites?  That would certainly take the edge off what was turning out to be a frustrating start to our stay in HCMC...

We got ourselves a table on the edge of the rooftop, right next to the stage and overlooking Ho Chi Minh Square.  There was a lot of activity going on down on the street, including a pretty good band singing live.  Soon that would be drowned out by the live band performing right next to us...

We started with a round of drinks to unwind from the stress.  I know that both drinks look green, but one of them is more girlie than the other.  Guess who had the girlie drink?

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: the most ridiculous service ever

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More than 4½ hours after leaving Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa, with a detour to Tan Son Nhat International Airport to drop off the others, we finally arrived at InterContinental Asiana Saigon.  We checked in, changed to dressier clothes, and walked over for our dinner appointment.

Before leaving home, I had send emails to the concierge at InterContinental Asiana Saigon and asked that they help me make reservations at several restaurants in the city.  The concierge team was highly efficient and confirmed my bookings within the same day.

So you can imagine my surprise when I stepped through the front doors to the Hotel Continental Saigon and found that the courtyard that was supposed to be the Continental Palace Restaurant being occupied by a wedding party.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: a walk in the garden

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It's our last day at the Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa, and there were still places needing exploring.  Unfortunately we woke up to the sound of rain, and it looked like we were gonna be stuck inside our villa.

But first, some breakfast.  We took an umbrella, walked through the gardens and made our way to the restaurant.  Sustenance is needed.

Our amuse bouche today was a ginger and passion fruit juice, along with a slice of watermelon.  Always nice to start with some fruit in the morning.

This morning I decided that I needed to try out the range of jams from Le Fruit, since they are all made with tropical fruits.  I took a piece of brown toast, tore it into pieces, and spread a little dab of each jam.

December 17, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 2: dinner under the stars

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I wasn't very hungry yet.  After all, it's only been 4 hours since we finished our late lunch, and I haven't done very much other than getting myself a massage, and hanging out by the plunge pool of my villa while tuning the pictures I had shot earlier today.

But Michael had prepared a treat for us tonight.  One of the specials at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa is the barbecue dinner on the beach, featuring a range of local seafood as well as other meats.  As much as I had wanted to try out more Vietnamese dishes they had on offer on their menu, dinner on the beach was something I hadn't done in quite a few years.

The setting was really lovely, and we were literally just steps from the surf.  Listening to the sounds of the waves while feeling the cool breeze hitting my face was a pleasure I'd not had in quite some time... and it felt really, really nice.  Now, if only this had been a table set just for Hello Kitty and I...

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 2: hello, Buddha

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After a pretty good night's sleep, we woke up early, took a quick dip in the villa plunge pool, and headed out to the restaurant for brekkie to begin our second day at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa.

December 16, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 1 - long journey for Princess

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After getting four hours of sleep after our evening of live wild-caught Atlantic lobsters washed down with Champagne and sake, our alarm clocks went off shortly after 5 a.m.  We were taking a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City, as I accompanied Hello Kitty once again on a work trip - this time to check out a beachfront resort at management's invitation.

After an hour's delay, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City and were picked up by Be from Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa.  We'd been told that the travel time to the resort would be roughly 3½ hours, but the four of us were pretty comfortable in the minivan from the hotel.  The best thing?  After failing to rent a wifi router from one of the telecom providers at the airport, we were relieved to find wifi in our minivan.  The long journey suddenly became less tedious.  So thankful for small mercies...

A few of us got a little hungry at the start of the ride - as it had been a few hours since our breakfasts at the airport lounge - so Hello Kitty whipped out the lobster rolls that she had prepared using our shipment of live wild Atlantic lobsters.  Now THAT's what I call a sandwich!

About halfway through our journey, we came to a rest stop so that we could have some lunch.  Quán Com Lê Hoàng is a simple place, and everyone orders a bowl of phở.

Wanting to be a little different everyone else, I decided to order pork phở .  The slices of pork were overcooked and a little tough, and the broth tasted so sweet that I was sure a lot of nước mắm has been added.  Not the best phở I've had, but I didn't have any expectations.  A glass of cà phê sữa đá was sure to be the first of many Vietnamese coffees I would have on this trip.

December 14, 2016

Expensive goose

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Quick lunch at my favorite Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), probably my last this year.

Rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose drumstick (馳名脆皮燒鵝脾瀨粉) - this is my go-to item here, but I suffered from sticker shock today. This was never cheap, and prices have been going up ever since they started getting into the Michelin Guide. Now it costs a whopping HKD 102 for this bowl.  Damn!  But still very, very tasty, though...

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.

December 7, 2016

White truffle send-off

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The time is finally here.  My dearest godson Bear is moving away, and I would have one last dinner with him before he leaves.  I'll see him next summer, but the next few months are gonna feel a little weird...

Babu wanted to do a white truffle dinner at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, but since none of us are regulars, we didn't even bother to call the restaurant during their busiest season.  My favorite Neighborhood was booked out for a private event tonight, so we couldn't go and shave to our hearts' content.  As a consolation prize, I found out that there's also a white truffle menu at CIAK - In the Kitchen, so we booked an early table to suit Bear's schedule.  This dinner ain't gonna be cheap...

Scrambled egg and Alba white truffle - this was Babu's starter, but she insisted on sharing it with us.   Very fluffy and tasty eggs, with lots of truffle shaved on top.  Yum.

December 6, 2016

Recovery lunch

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It's December, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker has kindly arranged another lunch to close out the year.  This year, they've decided to do the lunch together with another firm that we are friendly with, and suddenly we found ourselves sitting around a rather big table for a change - this time at Duddell's (都爹利會館).

Dim sum combination (點心拼盤) - three little items to start:
Steamed shrimp dumpling (鮮蝦餃) - this was some sort of shrimp dumpling, which was pretty good.


Steamed vegetable dumpling (蒸粉果) - all veg inside, which was just fine with me.

Chicken spring roll, garlic (蒜茸雞絲脆春卷) - pretty decent.

December 5, 2016

BYOB(irds) dinner

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After a few months' absence, I was back at my favorite private dining facility.  The crew tonight was largely the same as this dinner last month, and most of us are already regulars here.  What we were all excited about, though, was the fact that it is now winter... and a couple of game specialties are now in season and available.

There was 16 of us tonight - the biggest group I'd ever been part of.  So all the dishes got supersized, and some of us who brought wines brought two bottles of the same wine.  This was gonna be fun...

Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - one of my favorite dishes here, and always great to start with this.

December 1, 2016

A fiery and sweet dinner

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I needed to meet up with the Great One to hand over all the goodies we had brought back from Singapore - including some of her favorite instant noodles - so she roped me in on one of her reviews.  Tonight's victim was Samsen, and since I know next to nothing about Thai street food (I refuse to eat it on account of hygiene fears dating back to the '80s), I figured I would also rope in my Thai foodie friend.

I arrived late, a few minutes late after the official opening time of 6:30 p.m.  The space was almost full, and the Great One had done her first round of ordering.  I happily sat and waited for the assault...

Green mango salad w/ tiger prawns, crispy shallots, chili and coriander - this was a little spicy for me, but very nice.  I especially loved their use of dried shrimps, as they had a lot of flavor and also provided a contrast to the fresh prawns.  Flavors were well-balanced here.

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