September 18, 2017

Chinese for Monday

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A friend is in town after a couple of years' absence and requested Asian food for dinner.  As she was bound to be exhausted from traveling, I figured we should be accommodating and do dinner on the Dark Side.  I seemed to remember that there is a Chinese restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, but have never found occasion to dine there...  So The Great One kindly booked us a table at The Chinese Restaurant (凱悅軒).

I had read about a particular set menu where we could enjoy a discount by using a certain credit card, and was interested in taking that offer.  It was interesting because - as long as the entire table took this set - each person could make his/her own personal choices for appetizer, soup, main course, rice/noodle, and dessert.  Only the veggie dish needs to be shared.  But the others didn't seem to be enthusiastic about this option, so we ended up ordering à la carte.

When the dishes started arriving, I was a little upset at first - because I thought they were being served "out of order" in terms of how a proper Chinese meal should be.  This was because I wasn't responsible for ordering and didn't know what other dishes were coming.  I later realized that all of tonight's dishes had indeed been served in the proper order.

Smoked chicken, jasmine tea (茉莉花茶燻雞) - not bad.  The chicken was tender, and the flavors were well-balanced - the smokiness was detectable without being too overpowering.  I did wish, though, that the soy sauce flavors could have been a wee bit deeper.

Long-awaited catch-up

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It has been quite a few months since Hairy Legs settled into his new role at Caprice, and we've been meaning to catch up for a while.  After months of waiting, Bilbaobab was finally back in town, and we agreed to meet up for lunch today.  I suggested we check out Arcane, as I have fond memories of my dinner there from some time ago and it's a place the others haven't been to before.

By the time I arrived, it was clear from Stefano's demeanor that Hairy Legs had been recognized, as we were offered complimentary Champagne.  Not wanting to go back to the office while red in the face, I politely declined.  I also declined to have Chef Shane Osborn create a special menu of signature dishes for us, as I'm dining out four consecutive nights this week and really didn't need the extra calories.  So set lunch for me it was.

Spinach and Parmesan tortellini with onion consommé and bellota ham - this was very nicely done.  The textures of the wrappers were pleasing, and the flavors of the fillings worked very well with the strong flavors of the consommé and jamón.  In fact, the consommé seemed to have been seasoned with something akin to Chinese five spice (五香)... and delivered a lovely and comforting familiarity.

September 11, 2017

Why I don't go to brand new restaurants

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Last week Chaxiubao pinged me, asking if I wanted to join him for dinner at Terroir Parisien - Yannick Alleno's first foray into Hong Kong.  I knew that the restaurant is brand new, and as most of my friends know, I have a habit of not going to brand new restaurants.  I was hesitant, as the chance of stepping on landmines is high.  I was then told that a few of our other friends are coming along.  I relented and agreed to go along, against my better judgement.

The address indicated that it is on the Mezzanine Floor of the Prince's Building, so I figured they had taken over the space previous occupied by can.teen.  But when I rode up the escalators from the front entrance of the building, I found that there was no access to the space.  The old entrance had been boarded up.  So I went around the floor.  No other entrance.  Nothing remotely that tells you there's a restaurant around.

I wasn't the only one.  I saw others looking lost, and I bet they, too, were looking for the restaurant.  I decided to go up to the Second Floor, as I remembered that the space used to have two entrances - one accessible from the walkway between Prince's Building and Alexandra House.  Sure enough, the restaurant's only entrance is from that side, and is best accessed by coming in from another building.  That's just plain stupid.

September 6, 2017

Les Créations de Krug en 2004

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I was privileged to have been invited to the launch of a few cuvées from the house of Krug.  These bottlings all have their origins in the year 2004, so it makes sense that they were showcased side-by-side in the same tasting.

The function room at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong was set up to handle a couple of different sessions, and the first thing I noticed was this spread of nibbles... Bite-size canapés which were both savory and sweet - and pretty to look at, too.

I was feeling surprisingly peckish, so I grabbed a few of these.  In retrospect, I probably should have had 3 plates at least...

September 5, 2017

Krug x Mushroom burger

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Last month when I was invited to an evening showcasing this year's Krug x Mushroom pairing, one of the things I tasted was the mushroom burger at Beef and Liberty.  At the time we were given a list of promotional dishes, pricing, and schedule.  The program for Beef and Liberty wasn't due to start for another month, so I had to patiently wait until I returned from Korea.

The promotion actually started last night, but since I was out for a wine dinner I couldn't reschedule, tonight was the earliest opportunity for me to take advantage of the offer.  And since Uwe is an old friend, I was gonna do what I can to support him.  So Hello Kitty and I booked ourselves a table, and pre-booked the Champagne and burger combo.

We start with some padron peppers first.  These are always fun to eat, since it's kinda like playing Russian roulette but with less severe consequences.  None of these were spicy tonight...

September 4, 2017

Great French wines, not-so-great American steaks

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It's been a couple of months since I last hosted a dinner for the MNSC boys, and now it was Curry Jayer's turn.  After a couple of years at Seventh Son (家全七福), this year the venue was changed to the American Club in Hong Kong.  There would be steak on the menu.

Our host decided to order a few simple dishes, which was just fine by me!  My stomach could use a little break from eating...

Caesar salad - actually pretty good.  Each of us took a chunk of romaine lettuce, and the croûtons were pretty nice.

Grilled Alaskan king crab legs - these were VERY tasty, with melted, seasoned butter dripping from the shells.

September 2, 2017

An Italian-Californian birthday

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I got a ping from My Favorite Cousin a couple days ago, telling me that her parents were coming into town this weekend.  Apparently it was my aunt's birthday, so even though I desperately needed break from eating out, I sucked it in and headed to dinner at Giando tonight.

Thankfully we can order à la carte and have an easy evening.  But My Favorite Cousin - being the greedy piggy that she is - decided to over-order... so I had to help her mop up the leftovers.

Insalata di ovuli, tartufo estivo e bottarga - it's hard to resist mushrooms in season, and even tougher when I see the word 'bottarga'...  Pretty fragrant, and overall nice and light.

August 30, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 6: GohGan

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During the nascent stages of planning for our Korean trip, when we had roughly settled on the dates, I saw a post come across my Instagram feed.  Gaggan Anand was announcing the next GohGan collaboration between himself and Fukuyama Goh (福山剛) of La Maison de la Nature Goh in Fukuoka (福岡市), and it would be around the tail end of our trip.  So I shamelessly raised my hand and asked Gaggan for 4 seats for tonight.  Thankfully I had asked early enough and they could accommodate us...

I had seen pictures and videos come across on Instagram showing the chefs shopping at the seafood market on Monday morning.  They looked like they were ordering up a storm, with all kinds of sea creatures not normally part of my diet.  It was looking very, very tantalizing...

While we were at Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺) on Sunday, we got confirmation that Jeong Kwan (正寬) sunim would be coming to dinner tonight and join the second seating.  Originally our little group was meant to be at the earlier seating, which would mean that we wouldn't get to see Jeong Kwan sunim again - but thanks to some last-minute shuffling the organizers were able to fit us in for the last seating.

I caught up with Gaggan when I arrived, and he was definitely more than a little frazzled.  After all, this was the last of the four seatings.  But it was more than the stress of running a pop-up.  Apparently they didn't get most of the ingredients they had ordered two days ago.  Whether it was a language issue - or something more sinister - we do not know.  But the chefs had to scramble for substitute ingredients, and Gaggan was very pissed off.

We took our assigned seats, and OF COURSE there would be an emoji menu!  And apparently, there is a specific soundtrack, too... to go along with specific dishes.


The chefs - along with the organizer Jang Eunsil - delivered their opening remarks.  Gaggan asked us not to judge (harshly) the dishes presented tonight, which is understandable because of the pop-up nature as well as the disastrous lack of ingredients.  We kept our minds open for the rest of the evening.  At least I did...

Korea Michelin tour day 6: itches that need scratching

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When I last passed through Seoul back in 2008 on my way to Central Asia, I was only able to visit one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city. Jongmyo Shrine (宗廟) is closed on Tuesdays and I had only one day in town on that trip.  So I was determined to check that off my list this time around.

When we arrived at the front entrance, I was surprised to find the ticketing counters closed - just as they were 9 years ago.  Fortunately it turned out to be a free-entry day for the public, so I was able to accomplish my mission.

For a royal shrine in the middle of the city, the grounds are actually fairly large.  The buildings are also surprisingly plain-looking, devoid of the bright colors one often sees.  Hey, even Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺) we went to a few days ago were more ornate...

Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Since early 2007, I have been wanting to gear my future travels towards visiting more locations which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are so many amazing places around the world to see!

Here is the list that I have already visited so far. Click on the links to see pictures from my Picasa albums.

Total count: 64 sites in 20 countries

August 29, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 5: death by Hanwoooooo

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My first taste of Hanwoo beef came a little more than a decade ago, during the years when I used to fly to Seoul to visit clients.  My sales colleague used to take me to a restaurant in Apgujeong-dong called MANA - which has since closed.  I was amazed at the quality of the barbecued beef we were having, and my eyes were popping out at the bill we got at the end of the evening.  That was when I first heard about Korean restaurants having their own cattle farm, where they slaughter cattle and serve the meat on the same day - without the meat ever having been frozen or chilled.

One of the things we wanted to check off on this trip was a good meal with plenty of Hanwoo.  We knew that after a day of eating vegetarian meals at Baekyangsa, Ro Ro would be needing some, you know, ro ro (肉肉).  Hello Kitty would most certainly be in Ro Ro's camp in terms of wanting beef, and as for the rest of us... what better opportunity to see what Hanwoo beef can taste like, and how well it stacks up against Japanese wagyu (和牛)?

Once again, our friend Mikacina came up with the perfect suggestion.  Born and Bred is a butchery shop inside the Majang Meat Market (마장 축산물시장).  It's a butcher shop by day - where one can purchase different cuts of Hanwoo beef - and 3 nights a week it turns into a speakeasy serving beef omakase (お任せ).  Booking needs to be done for the entire 7-seat counter, and with thanks to Mikacina's connections, owner Jung Sang-won agreed to let us come in on a Tuesday night.  And since Sang was a little shy about his English abilities - which inevitably improved over the course of the evening with more alcohol - he roped in his buddy Steven to help translate for us.

DaRC and I got dropped off by our taxi driver at the crowded end of Majang Meat Market, and as we were running late, we kinda half-ran through the place on our way to dinner.  The smell of meat - especially beef - was incredible.  I think my stomach started getting ready for dinner even before I sat down...

The rest of the gang had already arrived by the time we ran up the stairs, and started talking to Sang and Steven.  Since we didn't have time to buy ourselves a bottle or two, Sang very kindly agreed to let us raid his cellar.  DaRC went to take a look before respectfully leaving the decision up to the boss.

2013 Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabaja - pretty sweet nose.  Smoother on the palate than expected.

Before we started, Sang told us that each of us would be served 5-600g of beef.  Somehow I think we had quite a bit more than that...

I noticed that each of us had a plate of salad in front of us.  Sang promised that these were the only veggies he would be serving us tonight - and the rest of dinner would be nothing but meat.



Korea Michelin tour day 5: Korean village dining

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Scanning through the list of restaurants which received Michelin stars in the 2017 Red Guide for Seoul, one of the places I had put on my hit list for this trip was 24Seasons (이십사절기).  The place looked like they served Korean food with a contemporary presentation, which would be right up my alley.

But Mikacina told me that Chef Tony Yoo, who was responsible for creating the cuisine that got the restaurant its star, had already left.  He had taken over an old restaurant in a traditional Korean hanok (한옥) in Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을) north of Insa-dong (인사동) formerly known as Doore (두레), and renamed it Dooreyoo (두레유).  If I wanted to get a taste of his food, this was where I'd have to go.

We arrived to find ourselves seated inside a historic hanok, with wooden beams and columns all around us.  We had a big group of 8, so they put us in the back of the restaurant, right in front of the air conditioning unit.  Thankfully they agreed to turn it off.

A choice of set menus was offered and, in fact, the restaurant was chasing us to choose our menu yesterday, even before we arrived at the restaurant.  Given that the restaurant's website is only available in Korean - which we can't read - I wanted to know how we're supposed to make our choice without trying to copy/paste into Google Translate...

And just like Jungsik yesterday, the restaurant insisted that the entire group take the same menu.  This was annoying, but we have begun to see this as the Korean way.  Once again the ladies had to step up and take the longest menu with the rest of us.

August 28, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 4: a mingling of cuisines

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After a good introduction to contemporary Korean cuisine at lunch today, we move on to another restaurant in the same vein in Gangnam.  Chef owner Mingoo Kang's proposition at Mingles is to present a mingling of traditional Korean cuisine with European and other Asian cuisines and modern techniques.  I had very, very briefly met Chef Mingoo last year at the party for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in Bangkok, but of course he would not have remembered me.

We were running late tonight because of traffic, and the ones coming from across the river were very late, so we were very apologetic to the staff... and of course apologized to Chef Mingoo when he came out to greet us after our party was finally assembled.  Meanwhile DaRC and I browsed through the wine list looking for a reasonably priced bottle of bong water.

Chef Mingoo had heard about our weekend excursion to Baekyangsa, and mentioned that for almost a year and a half, he made weekend trips almost weekly to spend time with Jeong Kwan sunim.  Now that is some serious dedication!  I guess that is sure to have an impact on the cuisine here...

There's only one seasonal menu here, which saves us from the frustrations we encountered at lunch today.

The sommelier poured us some complimentary Champagne...

William de Montez Brut - dominated by pinot meunier, with makes it more complex and gives it more body.

Korea Michelin tour day 4: one star food, WTF Korean service

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Our eating tour continues with our first foray across the Hangang to Gangnam.  I thought it would be easier for us to take the MRT and walk to the restaurant, but failed to measure how long the walk would be...  So we arrived at Jungsik Dang (정식당) for our lunch a little late, and a little sweaty.

I know I can be a pain-in-the-ass customer, and have been known to have been pissed off by restaurants for one reason or another.  But it's still quite a rare feat for a restaurant to piss me off before I even took a single bite.

August 27, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 3: the apex of Korean cuisine

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Now that we're back in Seoul, the "Michelin tour" part of our trip can begin.  And we're starting at the very top with La Yeon (羅宴) - the traditional Korean fine dining restaurant at The Shilla Seoul which received the prestigious award of 3 stars in the 2017 Michelin Red Guide for Seoul.

We were always going to get the VIP treatment here.  A few of us were staying at The Shilla, and Mikacina was on hand to make sure not a hair was out of place.  Our group was big enough and we took the larger of the private rooms.  Sunday is normally his day off, but Chef Kim Sung-il came in to work specifically to cook for The Great One.  What an honor it is to be at this table!

And speaking of Chef Kim... apparently he has been working at The Shilla since 1988, and the hotel has been his first and only employer since he first stepped foot in a kitchen.  Nowadays his mission is to revive traditional dishes, and apparently he is all too willing to pass on his recipes so that others can carry the torch - which is something many, many Asian chefs don't do.

We took Shilla (新羅), the longer of the two menus, for the full experience.  I also took the Korean liquor pairing to get more exposure to them.

Appetizing nibbles (주전부리) - the crisps with sesame seeds tasted like the egg waffles sold as street snacks in Hong Kong.  The slices of jujube were dried for a very long time, so they were really crunchy, and incredibly flavorful.  We couldn't stop munching on them.  Appetizing nibbles, indeed!

Korea Michelin tour day 3: cooking time with Jeong Kwan

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I didn't sleep well last night.  I guess my body's not really used to being on hardwood floors for an extended period of time, and there was that snoring from a certain friend of mine a couple of meters from me.  Thankfully when my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I had slept enough that I felt refreshed.  I quickly cleaned up and reported for duty at the Daeungjun Hall (大雄殿) promptly at 5 a.m.  Thus begins my day at Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺).

We seat ourselves on cushions inside the hall, and the morning chant began.  Not able to speak or read Korean, I was reduced to trying to clear my mind and meditate a little... except I couldn't keep my eyes closed, as I needed to know when to repeat the rituals of standing up, bowing, kneeling prostrate for more bows, and sitting back down.  This went on for 45 minutes or so.  Then the lights went out and it was time to meditate.  The next 15 minutes felt much, much longer than it actually was.

The senior monk led us on a clockwise walk around the pagoda, and after a short talk we were dismissed.

At 6:20 a.m. we reported to the cafeteria, where we took in breakfast.  It was explained to us that originally only porridge (cooked with red jujube water) and pickles were offered, but based on popular demand they gradually added toast (with margarine and not butter, of course!), yogurt, and even coffee to the list of offerings.

August 26, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 2: Baekyangsa Temple stay

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After a few hours' of sleep, we dragged our tired bodies out of bed for the primary purpose of this trip.  In addition to dining at a number of restaurants which have received Michelin stars, the whole impetus for coming to Korea is our overnight temple stay at Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺), and the cooking lesson with Jeong Kwan (正寬) sunim - whose name spread far and wide recently thanks to her being featured in an episode of the Netflix series Chef's Table.

We checked out of The Shilla Seoul and grabbed a couple of taxis to Seoul Station.  We were running a little short on time, and we wasted a few minutes running around the big complex trying to find a place for a quick lunch.  Eventually we settled on Bulgogi Brothers (불고기브라더스) inside the main terminal building, since they could seat us immediately and, in any case, could provide us with lunch boxes for takeout.

I took this set of beef with egg on rice because it's one of the quickest things the kitchen could deliver.  No complaints here.

Korea Michelin tour day 1: Myeong-dong FAIL

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We're off to Korea for a long-overdue eating trip, studded with Michelin stars thanks to planning being left up to yours truly.  Thanks to the backlog at Hong Kong International Airport created by Typhoon Hato, our flight to Seoul was delayed by more than 2 hours... which meant we ended up checking into The Shilla Seoul just minutes before midnight.

Without a decent dinner in our bellies, we set out to look for some food after midnight on a Friday evening.  My memories of Seoul date back more than a decade ago, when I spent a lot of time walking around Myeong-dong near my hotel.  There was a lot of street food as well as restaurants and shops, and I figured that the place would still be hopping into the wee hours on a Friday.

I couldn't have been more wrong...

August 24, 2017

Jack of all trades

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Sometime during the first month when I started to hang out with Hello Kitty in Jordan, we walked past a curious pair of restaurants in her hood.  Both advertised themselves as 'fusion' but the cuisines listed ranged from Indian to Mexican to Italian... and more.  We were curious, but didn't have the cojones to walk through the door.

Months later, over a meal with Rickachu - who happens to live mere steps away from the restaurants - we learned that they had previously tried to eat at V. Dimpal Fusion and Pizza House... but had not succeeded without booking a table in advance.  They had to settle for dining next door at Mala's Fusion Cuisine, but clearly V. Dimpal was the more popular (and presumably serves more delicious food) of the two.  So we made a pact to dine there together.  Somehow we never found the opportunity to make good on our promise.  Until tonight.

August 22, 2017

Cloudy Bay x Cloudy Bay, premium edition

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Around a month ago, we were casually picking up groceries in a supermarket when Hello Kitty spotted packs of pre-cooked clams from New Zealand.  She was pretty excited to see them, and we ended up picking up a pack.  I also made a detour to a different supermarket to pick up a specific bottle of wine, so that we could have a "Cloudy Bay x Cloudy Bay" pairing...

The surf clams from Cloudy Bay Clams came blanched and chilled, and were ready to eat right out of the package.  We were pretty happy munching on them.

August 21, 2017

Another feast in the 'hood

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We have a friend who's back in town after a long break, and to no one's surprise, she requested that we get together at Neighborhood.  The Great One put in a call to The Man in White T-shirt, and as usual gave him carte blanche.  The 6 of us - minus an unfortunate a casualty of heat stroke - sat down and waited for our feast to start.

200-day dry-aged Mayura Station M9+ wagyu rump - I had seen this posted by others recently, and was pretty happy to have the opportunity to try it.  Yes, it's Aussie wagyu, marinated in classic Chiuchow 'lo shui (滷水)' marinade, and rubbed with black truffle on the outside.

August 19, 2017

Four bottles at Seventh

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It's been a while since the few of us winos met up for a few bottles, so plans were made for us to catch up tonight.  When the time came to pick a venue, it wasn't a complete surprise that Seventh Son (家全七福) was chosen.  It is, after all, one of the best Cantonese restaurants in town.  So... just a week after my lunch there, I found myself back at a different table - this time with a few bottles.

For some reason the task of ordering fell on my shoulders, so I picked out a few simple dishes for us.

While we were waiting for some friends to arrive, three of us decided that we were too hungry and needed some food first.  Given our dismal experience at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) a few days ago, Hello Kitty decided that she needed to satisfy her craving for pork...

Crispy pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔) - this was MUCH better than what we had three nights ago.  Definitely not reheated in a microwave.  Crackling remained crispy and delicious.

Honey glazed barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - beautiful, with the right amount of fat, and very tender and flavorful.

August 16, 2017

Slip and slide

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Ninja's making her move out of town, and Hello Kitty and I met up with her tonight to catch up.  Not surprisingly, she wanted some "real Cantonese" food... and preferred to go to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) even though I suggested several alternatives.  I did understand her rationale, though, as she associates most of the other places I suggested with work-related meals.

Since there were only three of us, I didn't think we needed to pre-order anything special.  So we picked out a few simple dishes we thought would be representative of the place.

But our evening started with a surprising disappointment.  At 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, when the 2nd floor of the restaurant (read: the floor where stragglers and nobodies get seated) is only half full, we were told that the kitchen had run out of barbecued pork (叉燒)SERIOUSLY?!  A top Cantonese restaurant, with no char siu?!  AT PEAK DINNER HOUR?!  And all they have is roast pork belly...

I am instantly reminded of my disastrous dinner at Lei Garden (利苑) in the International Finance Centre all those years ago, when nothing I wanted was available.  And I never spent another dime of my money at that restaurant ever again...

Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - these were crispy and delicious as always, with that nice sprinkling of deep-fried minced garlic and chopped chili.

August 11, 2017

One pig(let) is not enough

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Two days after our last meeting, The Hungry Tourist and I met up for a proper meal.  He had missed out on having the roast suckling pig at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) last year, and on this trip he wanted to have it at Seventh Son (家全七福).  So we both called in reinforcements and ended up with a table of six for lunch.  That should be just enough to try and take down a piggy...

Deep-fried chicken kidney mixed with egg custard (雞子戈渣) - always love this dish, both for the texture as well as the rich flavors.  I think our visitors were pleasantly surprised by this, and enjoyed these little wobbly chunks very much.

August 9, 2017

The obligatory first lunch

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The Hungry Tourist is back in town, and as usual, he made lunch at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) his first stop after landing.  Since the place is literally one minute's walk from my office, I agreed to join him for a late lunch.

With just the two of us, I proceeded to order us a lower quarter of roast goose (燒鵝下庄).  This would guarantee us one of the coveted drumsticks.  I still love the paper-thin, crispy skin... which is full of flavor from the spices they use to marinate the bird.  Just delicious.

But even with the Hungry Tourist getting a bowl of dumplings and me with my plate of steamed rice, this just wasn't enough food.  So we ended up getting another roast goose drumstick (燒鵝脾)...  NOW we were satisfied!

I bid my friend farewell, and look forward to our next meeting - in two days.


August 5, 2017

A touch of silver oak

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Mrs. Tigger is back in town, and we haven't had a chance to enjoy a nice meal together for some time now.  She wanted to have some Japanese, and Hello Kitty and I thought we should check out Kashiwaya (柏屋) together.  This Hong Kong outpost of the venerable Osaka original picked up two Michelin stars in the first year they opened, so we figured there's gotta be something there...

Given this was our first time, we decided to take the cheapest of the three tasting menus on offer.  We thought this would be sufficient in terms of food, although we did add an extra dish to be shared.

葉月テイスティングメニュー

Sakizuke : kuruma prawn, avocado, shiitake mushroom, caviar, winged bean, spagetti squash, walnuts paste, prawn broth jelly (先つけ : 車海老  アボカド  椎茸揚げ焼き  キャビア  四角豆  糸瓜  胡桃あん  エビゼリー) - the chilled prawns, prawn jelly, and crunchy winged beans and loofah made for pretty clean and refreshing flavors.  Unfortunately the rich walnut paste went in the other direction and detracted from what otherwise was a perfectly good start.

August 3, 2017

Krug x Mushroom

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Last year I had the privilege of being invited to the Hong Kong launch of Krug x Egg - the 2016 edition of Champagne Krug's annual ingredient pairing.  This year the chosen ingredient is mushroom, and I was happy to have been invited to go on a walking tour of Krug x Mushroom, visiting three different restaurants in the course of one evening.

Our tour started at Arcane, a restaurant I have visited once - where I enjoyed my dinner very much.  For some reason, though, I never found myself back there for more of Shane Osborn's well-regarded cuisine.

We would, of course, start with a flute of Krug Grande Cuvée. We are now on the 163ème édition, with the base coming from 2007 and the oldest in the blend from 1990.  Good ripeness on the palate, with some marmalade.

August 1, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 8: Expo 2017

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It's my last day in Kazakhstan, and I'm a little weary from all the traveling while carrying my heavy camera bag.  I decided to lounge around in my hotel room a little longer than I had planned to, then took a taxi to visit Expo 2017.  As usual the hotel reception called for a "city taxi" (read: regular car willing to pick up passengers for money).

Fortunately it was still relatively early - just after 10 a.m. - and I didn't have to wait in line long for a ticket.

July 31, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 7: Astana architecture

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I'm going back to Astana today, and took a morning flight from Kyzylorda Korkyt Ata Airport.  As I waited at the gate to board my flight, I was kinda surprised to see two propeller biplanes parked on the tarmac.  Not something you see everyday...

There's a simple in-flight meal, with a sandwich, delicious passion fruit and nectarine yogurt, along with some knock-off goldfish cookies.

But I was much happier munching on my Lay's Shashlik (Шашлык) potato chips...

July 30, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 6: the long drive back to Kyzylorda

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After a long day at the North Aral Sea yesterday (the roundtrip took 8 hours), it was time to head back to "civilization" in Kyzylorda.  Thankfully I wasn't taking another train ride today, but had arranged for Serik to drive me the whole distance of 470 km (double that if you include his drive back).  Today I would be riding in comfort in a Mercedes C-Class - not that the Nissan 4WD yesterday wasn't comfortable.

Gulmira made sure I was well fed this morning, cooking me some pan-fried eggs with tomatoes.  I took it with bread and tea.

July 29, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 5: Aral Sea

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On my last trip to Kazakhstan back in 2008, there were two places I did not get to visit due to time constraints... and they later became itches that needed scratching.  One was Baikonur Cosmodrome, and the other was the Aral Sea.  I would manage to scratch both of them on this trip.

The Aral Sea is one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters in the world, thanks to the Soviets who decided to divert rivers feeding the lake to irrigate crops such as cotton - one of the most water-hungry crops that require between 8,000 - 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg.  So, after decades of being starved of water, the Aral Sea began shrinking in a vicious cycle.  As the remaining water evaporated, the salinity of the lake increased, and life in the lake began to disappear.  The Aral Sea is now a mere fraction of its former self.

When I made the decision to come to Baikonur, I realized that Aral is really not that far away.  So I made arrangements to extend my trip and spend an extra day touring the Aral Sea.  I wasn't gonna come to Kazakhstan a second time and leave without visiting the Aral Sea when I was gonna be within 250 km of it.

We left Hotel No. 1 at Site 2 in Baikonur Cosmodrome before 5 a.m., so that Stuart and I could be dropped off at Turyatam Station while some of the others were driven back to Kyzylorda.  We were booked on the 6:07 a.m. train from Tyuratam (Тюратам) to Aral Sea (АРАЛ МОРЕ).  While I couldn't read the electronic ticket I received as it was written in Cyrillic, I did manage to catch that the 4-hour train ride cost the staggering sum of 969 Tenge - roughly USD 3.  In the back of my mind, I had a suspicion that this wasn't gonna be a train ride I was gonna enjoy...

July 28, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 4: live Soyuz rocket launch

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Today's the day!  Scratching an itch and ticking an item off the non-existent bucket list by watching a live rocket launch at Baikonur!  It's gonna be an exciting day!  But first, some breakfast back at the canteen...

Fruit cake with raisins (кекс творожный с изюмом) - these were pretty dry and hard, but flavor-wise they were OK.

New day, new porridge. Today it seemed to be semolina porridge (каша из манной крупы), and the texture reminds me of liquefied polenta or grits, with a grainy texture on the tongue.

July 27, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 3: Baikonur city tour

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Got up early today to see the sight of camels wandering around our hotel.  That was unexpected.  Still no internet connection, and I'm getting little bits of messages coming in.  Very frustrating to be out of touch on a weekday.

Breakfast was at the canteen nearby.  We lined up cafeteria-style, and for the first time I truly experienced the "Russian department store" service I had always joked about...  There were very few items of food and drink on offer, and you took what came out of the kitchen... or left it.  My fellow traveler Kevin proffered: "You do have a choice, and the choice is not to eat."

July 26, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 2: Kyzylorda to Baikonur

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My morning was not spent walking around the city as planned, but in my hotel room at the Hilton Garden Inn Astana. I had some work to do, and despite being surprisingly hungry after a whole day of eating yesterday, I wasn’t interested in eating much this morning. Lunch at a decent restaurant wasn’t an option today since most don’t open till 12pm, and I was on my way to Astana Airport by then.

Dining options at the domestic terminal of Astana Airport were pretty damn limited. I didn’t have a lot of time, and wasn’t gonna bother checking out the Creperie de Paris. There didn’t seem to be a local option, so I found myself at Burger and Pasta, ordering two croissants and a juice. Gotta be honest and say that the croissants exceeded my expectations.

The flight to Kyzylorda took 1½ hours, and after 3 flights on Air Astana in 2 days, I’ve gotten used to passengers clapping upon successful landing by the pilot. Kyzylorda Korkyt Ata Airport reminds me of the dinky airports in remote parts of Asia – with a simple building, only one gate, and no luggage conveyer belt. We had to wait outside the room until the staff unloaded the luggage, then everyone rushed to grab their bags. I didn’t see my luggage in the pile, and was about to try to report missing/stolen luggage until my guide spotted it near the entrance. My guess is that one of the locals tried to steal it but couldn’t get pass the staff at the door checking luggage tags.

July 25, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 1: horse meat in two capitals

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When I embarked on my trip to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia back in 2008, I was able to spend only 4 days in Kazakhstan.  As a result there were a couple of destinations that I had to pass up - including the new capital Astana.  I had managed to hit both of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed at the time - my priority on that trip - so I left the country with a small dose of regret about not reaching the sites in the western end of the vast country.

Two months ago my caviar supplier connected me with his friend in Moscow, offering a unique opportunity to travel to Baikonur and watch the Russians launch a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.  The mission would carry 3 astronauts to the International Space Station.  This was one of the places I didn't get to visit 9 years ago, and it turns out to be an itch I really had to scratch.  Despite being turned down by every single friend I asked to join me - pretty much all because of scheduling conflicts - I decided to bite the bullet and make the trek on my own.  I would be joined by other visitors for the tour.

Initially I had found a very cheap ticket to Astana, routing myself through Beijing and flying Air China the whole way.  The Beijing - Astana route is new for Air China, which may explain the low cost of the airfare.  A few days ago, I began to get worried about potential delays at Beijing Capital International Airport.  Aside from the usual air traffic control, summer is the season for thunderstorms, and I was hearing horror stories about massive delays.  The 5½-hour layover I had scheduled began to look insufficient.  After struggling with the decision for a few days, I decided to cancel my original flights and booked myself on Air Astana - flying direct to Kazakhstan and bypassing Beijing (or any other city in China) altogether.  The ticket was much more expensive - more than double the cost of my original ticket - but I could not afford to miss my connecting flight in Beijing for any reason.

My 6-hour flight from Hong Kong to Almaty was uneventful.  Hong Kong was sunny with blue skies, and there were no weather or air traffic delays coming out of Almaty.  I was unfortunately seated right over the wing, so I wasn't able to take any decent pictures.  Nine years on, the inflight entertainment system on Air Astana was pretty good - high-res touch screens showing a good mix of international as well as local/Russian programs.  I listened to two albums by Dilnaz Akhmadieva - who is apparently still a figure on the Kazakh pop scene after all these years. I also watched The Diamond Sword - a movie about the first Kazakh khans who were descended from Genghis Khan.  There was also the option of watching re-runs of House M.D. dubbed in Russian, but I chose to stick with the original English dialog...

After landing at Almaty Airport and going through immigration, I moved to the departure level upstairs for my 3-hour layover.  This is a modest-sized airport and there weren't many shops and restaurants, so I wasn't able to buy new shoes to replace the ones falling apart around my feet.  I guess I would have to wait till Astana...

July 14, 2017

The king in the hood on Bastille Day

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The King made another visit to Hong Kong, and the old gang was once again rounded up to catch up with him.  With BM being put on a special diet and unable to join us, the task of picking a restaurant was kinda thrust back on my shoulders.

We asked the King what he preferred, and when the response came back as "casual Western", I casually suggested my go-to place for something like this - The Man in White T-Shirt's Neighborhood.  As a result of having booked this dinner sometime last week, I decided to pass up the opportunity to come here on Wednesday on the rare oppotunity when The Man in White T-Shirt had occasion to cook for Chef Alain Ducasse...  Quel dommage!

Since we decided to take the second seating on this busy Friday night, we needed to meet somewhere else for drinks before dinner.  Out of the few suggestions I threw out, La Cabane Wine Bistro was chosen.  So I knew I would start the evening with some bong water...

2015 Tony Bornard Le Chardo Gai - pretty ripe on palate, with some acidity at the same time. Flinty, slightly pungent from sulfur.

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