April 21, 2017

One star food, WTF service

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WARNING: this is a long rant piece about why the service pissed me off so much that I won't return to a restaurant with good food.  If you have no interest in my rant, skip ahead to where the pictures start showing up and I actually talk about the food.  For the few of you who already have your bowls of popcorn or bags of peanuts ready... read on!

*BEGIN RANT*

It's been a while since we caught up with Winnie the Chew, and I was pretty happy we could figure out a date that worked for everyone.  To my great surprise (NOT!) she requested that I take her to Neighborhood... but as I was already scheduled to dine there 3 nights ago, I turned down the request and looked for an alternative.  When Hello Kitty suggested that we try out Tate Dining Room and Bar at their new location, I thought it was a great idea.  Vicky Lau has been getting some love in the press lately about her move to the brand-spanking-new digs, most notably from Hong Kong Tatler.  Both of my meals at the previous location were reasonably enjoyable, and after reading such a flattering piece in Tatler, along with Da Jam's restaurant review, there was no reason not to check out Vicky's new "All the Odes" menu...

It had been raining heavily only hours before dinner, so I carried my umbrella to the restaurant.  I was surprised that there wasn't a place for me to park the umbrella, so I took it to our table and hung it from the side.  No one bothered to take notice, and it wasn't until I nudged it and the umbrella hit the floor with a loud "whack!" that someone came over and checked it for me.  Small matter, but many establishments would have taken care of it upon arrival.

We brought our own wines as usual, and I carried both a Champagne as well as a red Burg.  I asked the Bespectacled Waiter - whom I recognized from my previous visit a year ago - to chill the bubbly.  While I made clear to him that we would also open the red Burg, I told him I needed to think a little when he asked me whether I also wanted the second bottle opened at the same time.  He politely walked off, but left the bottle of red Burg sitting in the middle of the table.  This bottle would remain in the middle of our table for the next hour or so - without anyone coming to ask if they could help put it somewhere out of our way.  Nobody on staff thought it was strange to have an unopened bottle of wine sitting in the middle of the table during dinner - for a whole hour.  I finally asked the Bespectacled Waiter to chill it before having it opened.  Strike one.

Alas, that doesn't surprise me.  I remember the Bespectacled Waiter precisely because of the way I watched him serve wine to another table on my last visit... and was thankful that I didn't BYO that time.  And also because I just found difficulty in terms of communications with him.  Not that we don't speak the same language, but maybe we are just on totally different wavelengths...

For some reason, one of our waiter took away the Champagne glasses from two of us while was still plenty of bubbly left in the bottle.  When it was discovered that we hadn't finished the bottle, new glasses were brought out for those who longer had them.  How did this happen?  Did someone decide on our behalf that we didn't need to finish our bottle, or someone made a decision that two of us shouldn't have any more Champagne?  Strike two.

I know I can be a pain in the ass when it comes to wine service, and I normally don't want my glass topped up with a fresh pour until I have completely finished the wine in my glass.  This is because I want to taste how the wine develops over time, and I don't want to mix the old and new pours.  So I don't mind when I find my wine glass empty.

However, not everyone is like me, and Hello Kitty was feeling fairly thirsty tonight... so she asked a waitress to pour her some wine when her glass became empty.  Well... said waitress kinda just ignored her and walked away to do something else unrelated to our table, and her glass remained empty.  Hello Kitty was none too pleased about having to make a second request to get some wine in her glass.  Strike three.

Hello Kitty is a lefty, so she is used to moving the silverware from her right side - where waitstaff usually sets them down - to her left side.  Normally the smart waitstaff at restaurants would notice this after a couple of times, and begin to set the silverware down on her left.  When you are setting down silverware for the seventh course and you are still putting it down on the wrong side - YOU ARE CLEARLY FAILING AT YOUR JOB.  What made it even worse?  After Hello Kitty moved the silverware from her right to her left, one waitress came and MOVED THEM BACK TO HER RIGHT!  WHAT KIND OF BRAINDEAD PERSON DO YOU HAVE TO BE??  Strike four.

Good waitstaff needs to do more than just set down plates/silverware and recite the names of the dishes.  He or she should also be observant of the customers and - in rare cases where the staff is exceptionally good - anticipate the needs of the customers.  NO ONE was doing that here tonight.  Not even close.

While I am commonly referred to as the Arrogant Prick by my friends and well-known to be very, very picky when it comes to service (I once inadvertently caught a glance of Amber's warning note to their front-of-house staff about me...), Hello Kitty is generally very easy-going.  When you fail so badly that you bring out THE Hello Kitty - kinda like that time when Good Chucky made a rare appearance - then a good skewering is gonna come your way.  Hence this portion of this post.

Oh, one final thing.  I know not everyone is able to the flawless pronunciation of every single term which originated in a foreign language - myself included - but I still think that restaurants need to train their staff to try and do better.  Waiters who tell their diners about the SE-VEESH on the plate will get the same reaction from me as shop assistants who welcome me to their VER-SAYS or CHANNEL store. I'll let a lot of this stuff slide when I'm at my local Spaghetti House paying 1/10th of the price because I don't have any expectations.  When you're charging USD 200 for a seat in your fine dining restaurant - part of which goes to pay for the fancy decor and the custom-designed fancy uniforms for your waitstaff - I expect you to do better.  A LOT better.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't enjoy skewering restaurants.  OK, maybe just a wee little bit, but it's far from my raison d'être.  Skewering is the inevitable result of an experience so poor that it elicits a reaction in response, and when I'm paying my own money to dine out, the last thing I would want is a poor meal - money down the drain and/or wasted calories consumed.

In case it isn't clear: I want Tate Dining Room and Bar - and Vicky Lau in particular - to do well.  Just last week I had written another rant piece about the hate that certain people have for the "Best Female Chef Awards" given out over the last few years, in which I defended the need for such awards.  Vicky is a previous recipient of that award, and I would love nothing more than seeing her succeed and inspire others.  I think we need to see more diversity in the hospitality industry - especially in the kitchen.  But at the same time,  it doesn't mean I'm gonna cut her and her restaurant any slack when they fall short of my expectations.

I've said many times before that poor service is one of the reasons why I don't return to restaurants - regardless of how good the food is.  And as a normally generous tipper, it takes a lot for me to put a big fat zero in the "tip" row on the credit card slip.  Which was what I put down tonight.

*END RANT*

Vicky Lau's new "All the Odes" menu comes in eight parts, with an additional ode at the end of the meal.  The menu is presented in a book-shaped box, along with the wine list.  There is no longer a choice between a shorter and a longer menu - so a more economical option has been removed.  There is now only a choice between the "regular" menu and a vegetarian (and slightly cheaper) option.

April 19, 2017

Gin et Jim

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A couple of days before my first visit to Frantzén's Kitchen, I somehow scared myself into thinking that an online reservation I thought I had made was not completed.  This was, of course, helped along by an incompetent staff member at the restaurant.  In a state of panic, I hurriedly made an online booking for tonight, before discovering that I did, in fact, hold a booking for the original date.

Since I enjoyed my dinner at the restaurant so much, I decided to keep the second booking and come back a mere 6 weeks later.  So... a mere 3 nights after our steak dinner, Diva, Hello Kitty, and I reconvened for another meal.  Diva had told us that he didn't enjoy his first trip here, but he was willing to give it another try.

Unlike my first visit, this time we were seated at the counter, up close with the couple of chefs who do the plating with their tweezers - including Jim Löfdahl.  A couple of the staff may or may not have recognized the guy with the DSLR, but in any case we were treated pretty well tonight.

I decided not to BYO tonight so we would just order cocktails.  As I was scanning the wine list, I came upon a very curious entry, and decided to order it up.

Richard Juhlin Blanc de Blancs Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Wine - Richard Juhlin is a well-known critic who rates Champagne, so when there's a non-alcoholic sparkling wine bearing his name - and a blanc de blancs! - I was naturally curious.  Nose was a little pungent, and in fact smelled more like apple cider from Brittany with the mineral notes.  Not a fan.

Knäckebröd - I absolutely loved these wafers of rye crispbread last time, and I couldn't stop eating them tonight, either...

...because of the incredibly awesome beurre noisette, which was mixed with 50% regular butter plus some 1.7% of salt.  As I did last time, I couldn't stop spreading this on the knäckebröd, and we probably went through 7 to 8 servings of this...

We each ordered our own snacks, then shared all the mains.

April 18, 2017

Mo' Unni in the 'Hood

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Mo' Unni's making some big changes in her life, and we figured we were overdue for a catch up, so a reservation was made for an early dinner at Neighborhood.  I was a little surprised that she had never been to my favorite restaurant in town.  As an aside, days after this reservation was made, another friend asked me to take her to Neighborhood for dinner... a request I turned down as I suggested an alternative.  So... more than 2 years after the place opened, my friends are still waiting for me to take them to my favorite restaurant...

Anyway.  I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. to a completely empty space.  I was the only customer around as I chose my table and sat down.  No sign of the Man in White T-shirt.  After Mo' Unni arrived, I asked her to pick out a handful of dishes.  It's a casual meal and we don't really need anything fancy.

Potato gnocchi / fava beans / duck ham - this was pretty damn good, if slightly heavy as the first dish.  The gnocchi were like fluffy marshmallows, and the fava beans were very, very delish.  Those slices of duck ham?  DAMN!  Those could give jamón ibérico a run for their money.

April 16, 2017

Steak and red wines for Easter

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After our hiking adventures earlier today, we felt we needed to treat ourselves to a nice dinner.  Specifically, a steak dinner.  So... a call was placed to book ourselves a table, and after going back to our respective homes to clean ourselves up, we reconvened at the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse.

Hello Kitty's eyes lit up as soon as she saw the presence of our favorite Spanish beef listed on the menu.  The three of us agreed to share 3 different orders of steak, plus a couple of starters and sides.

Garlic bread - this place is known for their good garlic bread, and they certainly looked pretty damn good... but I was a little disappointed today.  These just didn't have enough kick from the garlic.

Prawn cocktail, cocktail and louis sauce - apparently both Hello Kitty and Diva love prawn cocktails as part of their childhood memories.  I myself don't suffer from the same nostalgia, but at least the prawns are nice and fresh.

Droning Boy: Easter excursion to Lantau

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With the weather forecast predicting very fine weather today, I had planned a trip to Lantau Island with Hello Kitty today so I could get more use out of my drone.  Somewhere along the line Diva decided that he would like to come along, so I planned out the trip and we agreed on a noon departure.

The weather, as it turned out, was fantastic on this Easter Sunday.  I knew there would be a ton of people trying to get out of the city, so the lines for buses at Tung Chung would be ridiculous.  Ferry to Mui Wo would be a better idea, as the number of people waiting for buses would be limited by the number of passengers that could fit on any single ferry.

But first, a little fuel is needed before we embark on our adventure.  Hello Kitty and I got our caffeine fix at Fuel in IFC - which now charges HKD 52 for a latte... because they can.  We then decamped to Le Salon de The Joël Robuchon for some breakfast.  Why did we make two stops, you ask?  Well, there's nothing substantial that we'd wanna eat at Fuel, and the coffee at Oncle Joël's is disgusting.  And we wanted the best of both worlds.

I ordered the brioche French toast with berries, and since we were gonna burn up some extra energy today, figured I'd add the pork sausages on the side, too.  After waiting around 15 minutes or so, my French toast arrived - sans sausages.  I was a little annoyed but willing to forgo the encased meat, but the kitchen sent them out a few minutes later.  I must say... these were probably the most fancy French toasts I've ever had.  Definitely tasty... and I don't wanna know how much butter was used.  The pork sausages had a very strong, if pungent, taste to them.  I can imagine some of the customers complaining about that.

We arrived at the ferry pier 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time and found ourselves at the back of a very, very long queue.  I'd never seen anything like it at the pier, and wondered whether we would be able to make it on the 12 p.m. ferry.  Well, we did miss the ferry that I wanted to be on, but thankfully there was an extra sailing a short while after, and as luck would have it, we made it just in time for the scheduled bus departure I wanted to catch.

After a long and winding journey that took us along South Lantau Road, rounding Shek Pik Reservoir and passing not one but two prisons, we finally arrived at Ngong Ping.  Hello Kitty and Diva parked themselves at a restaurant inside the tourist trap known as Ngong Ping village, while I found myself a quiet corner from which to launch my drone.

Click here for a 4K version of the video.

April 15, 2017

Droning Boy: Lion Rock FAIL

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The weather was looking pretty good today, and Hello Kitty was out enjoying a girls' lunch, so I decided to take my drone for an outing.  Lion Rock (獅子山) has long been considered a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the Hong Kong, and over the last couple of years, banners demanding "real democratic election" would be hung from the top of the mountain from time to time.  I figured that it would make for an interesting shoot.

Public transport to the spot was surprisingly easy, and a few minutes after getting off the bus, I found myself in Lion Rock Park (獅子山公園).  I found a flat and open area away from the crowds, and launched my DJI Mavic Pro up in the air.


Unfortunately, even though the top of the rock isn't above the height limit set by the drone, the trees around me - and perhaps the presence of power lines nearby - caused me to lose connection with the drone.  I got close to the top, but wasn't able to fly above or get right in front of the peak for a better shot.

April 14, 2017

A Stellar Good Friday

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I've been trying to get together with a couple of friends, and after multiple rounds of trying to schedule something that works for everyone, we finally managed to meet up on Good Friday, again.  The six of us gathered at Stellar House (星月居), where the kitchen is helmed by Chan Yat-Sang (陳日生) - formerly the head chef of Shun Tak Fraternal Association (順德聯誼總會).  The chef's reputation precedes him, and I had in fact tried his cuisine once years ago, so I was pretty curious about this relatively new restaurant.

The menu we had tonight was the second version that was proposed - or at least, the second version that I had seen.  The earlier version had braised abalone and was a shorter menu.  Obviously our hostess didn't think the abalone was necessary and asked for substitution, and we ended up getting quite a few more dishes in exchange...

Double-boiled soup with fish maw and conch (花膠響螺湯) - I didn't taste any of the fish maw from the plate of "dregs" because a couple of the others complained about its quality, but the soup was OK.

Droning Boy: Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir

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It's Easter weekend and we have a couple of extra days off, so I took the opportunity to get a couple of extra droning sessions in.  I didn't wanna go too far out today, and given that we needed to be on the eastern end of Hong Kong Island, Hello Kitty and I decided to take Kuma out for a stroll in Tai Tam Country Park (大潭郊野公園).  I've gotten a little more experienced flying my drone ever since my first flight there, and since the trail we planned to be on was virtually flat, it was also a good opportunity to take Kuma out on his first hike in almost 2 years.

We started at the south entrance and strolled along Tai Tam Reservoir Road.  There were lots of people out today, including at least one race that went through the road.  There were also lots of people taking their dogs out, so Kuma got to do his meet-and-greet with plenty of new friends.  He was also pretty popular with the kids.


April 13, 2017

The "sexist" Best Female Chef awards

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Thrice a year, around the time of the respective announcements of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, and Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants - all of which are sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna - controversy erupts about the validity of this list... about how the rankings are total bullshit, the system and the people behind it are corrupt, how the list is not about the quality of the restaurants but the result of marketing efforts... etc.  The debate has been going on for years and isn't likely to go away soon.

In my book, any list or ranking is inherently imperfect, as everyone's tastes and preferences are different.  I love to repeat this cliché so much because it rings true : OPINIONS ARE LIKE ASSHOLES, EVERYBODY'S GOT ONE.  So I have grown tired of these discussions and won't go into yet another round here.

For the last couple of years, though, there has also been some blowback regarding the creation of the "Best Female Chef" award by the same organization responsible for the 50 Best lists.  Critics questioned why such awards were needed, and considered them sexist.  Many of the same people also openly wondered whether there should be "Best Male Chef" awards alongside these gender-specific awards.

At the risk of throwing more gas on the fire - and getting totally flamed in the process - I'll come out and say that criticizing the need for "best female chef" awards is analogous to criticizing people for saying #BlackLivesMatter.  And people who don't see a need for these kind of awards are also likely to feel that there's no need for any kind of affirmative action - that everything should be based purely on merit because everyone is on the same, level playing field.  That's just fucking bullshit.

April 9, 2017

Droning Boy: the Dragon's Back

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Now that I've started to hike in order to fly my drone, and the weather seems to have gotten better, I decided to go for another outing this weekend.  This time I set off for familiar ground, although it has been more than a decade since I last went onto the Dragon's Back.  The weather today wasn't as bright and sunny as yesterday, and I kinda regret not going droning right after leaving the Hong Kong Sevens.  Oh well...

I got Hello Kitty to come along with me today, and we decided to take the Number 9 Bus from Shau Kei Wan and hopped off at Lan Nai Wan (爛泥灣).  This doesn't get us to the start of the Dragon's Back - which is the next bus stop of To Tei Wan (土地灣) - but this is where I've always started my hike on the Dragon's Back... ever since my very first hike back in 1995.


April 8, 2017

Californian and French TOAST

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The Prince of Napa is back in town, and a few weeks ago he invited me to join a "casual BYOB dinner".  When I asked him what the theme for the evening was, I was told there was no theme... BUT someone was apparently planning on bringing a 1997 Abreu.  Well, I know that my friend often drinks with people who pop open bottles of Jayer, DRC, and old Bordeaux First Growths without a second thought... but c'mon!  1997 Abreu is not a casual bottle for most of us mere mortals.

Anyway, I decided to bring something appropriate to match, and showed up tonight at Elite Dining (優粵閣).  This space used to be Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), back when they had a macaron.  Apparently it is now run by Elite Concepts, who also runs Nanhai No. 1 (南海一號) right downstairs.  Given that I'm not a fan of either that establishment nor sister restaurant Ye Shanghai (夜上海), I wasn't particularly excited about the food we'd be having tonight.

The menu was preset for our little group in the private room, and the restaurant was kind enough to provide each of us with a few glasses.  But with the hodgepodge of wines tonight, I was constantly rinsing my glasses with water before switching to the next bottle...

Jelly fish head mixed with white pepper (白胡椒海蜇頭) - honestly, I didn't taste any white pepper...

April 7, 2017

Fireflies in the Neighborhood

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It's been a couple of months since I last paid a visit to Neighborhood, and a few of my friends have been posting about their meals on social media.  I've been drooling over the firefly squids (蛍烏賊) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) in particular, so I hurriedly begged for a couple of seats at the bar for a quick dinner tonight.

Fried white asparagus / wild garlic aioli - white asparagus is in season again, and I really loved this dish from last year.  The crunchy coating of bread crumbs sure was tasty, as were the spears of asparagus themselves.  That wild garlic aioli?  DA BOMB.

April 5, 2017

Another private initiation

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When the Hungry Tourist told me a while back that he was coming back to town, the place that I wanted to take him more than anywhere else was my favorite private dining facility.  You see, like many tourists, he is a big fan of Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  Not that there's anything wrong with being a fan - since the restaurant certainly serve up some delicious food and delivers fantastic service - but as a "local", I sometimes tire of hearing tourists rave about the place.  Having claimed the title of the first Chinese restaurant ever to receive three macarons back in 2008, Lung King Heen has been the one destination that well-heeled tourists always hit when they're looking for Chinese food.  And sometimes it's their only stop.

So I took the opportunity to round up a few friends who have yet to have the opportunity to dine there, and asked the chef to set up a menu with several specific requests.

Before we start dinner, though, Birdie Golf very kindly brought us something special from Singapore at Hello Kitty's request.  This bag of Gourmet Salted Egg Yolk Potato Crisps from The Golden Duck was damn good!  There was, of course, plenty of powdered salted egg yolk, but also some kick from chilis... and best of all, beautiful fragrance and flavors from curry leaves.  Can't wait to try to bag of fish skin!

April 4, 2017

Droning Boy: Cape D'Aguilar

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After a few weeks straight of having crappy weather - or fine weather during the work week and crap weather on the weekends - I've finally gotten a day off when the sun is out and the skies are blue.  That means I finally get a chance to take my DJI Mavic Pro out for more practice.

Ever since Hello Kitty pointed me to a particular video a couple of months ago, I've been wanting to go fly my drone around Cape D'Aguilar.  The old lighthouse sitting on the cliff seemed like a pretty good subject, and the water around Hok Tsui Wan (鶴咀灣) is so clean that the area has been designated a marine reserve, and the site of the Hong Kong University Swire Institute of Marine Science.

Lately, however, it seems that the public has discovered the beauty of this area, and selfish, irresponsible tourists have ended up trepassing on the Institute grounds looking for toilet facilities.  In the process they have caused irreparable damage to the research being done by the Institute, as well as polluting the pristine waters of the marine reserve.  Calls were made for the public to stop visiting the area so that it doesn't get damaged further.

I still wanted to go fly my drone there, and I figured that I could just go up to the area around the lighthouse and not actually go down to the rocky shores by the marine reserve.  That way I could avoid trepassing on the facilities of the Swire Institute, inflict zero damage on the coastline, and still get what I want.

I dragged my ass out of bed pretty early in the morning on a holiday, and got myself onto a bus headed to the area.  It happens to be Ching Ming Festival, and the bus was packed full of people on their way to pay their respects to their ancestors.  After getting off at the nearest bus stop, I set off on a trek of more than 3km towards my destination.

The trek was pretty easy, as there was minimal change in terms of elevation.  I walked past the ruins of the Cape D'Aguilar Battery (鶴咀炮台), which once provided protection for soldiers and their machine guns.  This would certainly make an interesting subject for drone photography, and would save me the trouble of trying to find my way down to the ruins themselves.

April 2, 2017

Golden Waves of the Riviera

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It's only been 12 hours since the end of our wonderful dinner last night, but Hello Kitty dragged ourselves out of bed this morning and made our way to the Centurion Restaurant at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Shatin.  They've invited another chef from a restaurant with 3 macarons, and this time it was Arnaud Donckele from La Vague d'Or in St. Tropez.

None of us are regular visitors to the Riviera, so to be honest, we weren't familiar with the chef who, back in 2013, supposedly became the youngest 3-star chef that year.  But we were looking forward to getting a taste of the south of France.

We started with a few amuses bouches:
Carrot fritters picked up by hand, Cajun sauce - I don't know how the sauce was "Cajun", but there was plenty of acidity there.

Local shellfish coated with a lemon balm and cardamom cloud - raw Fine de Claire oyster with lemongrass mousse, and some herring caviar that I could have sworn was Avruga caviar.

April 1, 2017

Beyond Chungking Express

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We were getting together with a couple of friends we haven't seen in a while, and searched for a fine dining restaurant which had a corkage policy that could accommodate us.  Amber was out of the question, and Guillaume Galliot doesn't start his stint at Caprice until May.  I was looking to revisit old favorites which I've somehow neglected for a while, and Pierre was an obvious one.  A couple of quick calls to the restaurant later, and we were back at square one.  Apparently the corkage policy there wasn't very accommodating, either.

So we decided to go back and visit Sato-san at Ta Vie旅.  We've always been free to open as many bottles as we'd like here - paying full corkage, of course - and I've never not had a great meal.  After all, this is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in town.

I had seen a few pictures of Sato-san's new dishes

Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid caesar dressing - it's firefly squid (蛍烏賊) season again, and I just loooove these little buggers from Toyama Prefecture (富山県).  I've always loved Sato-san's version of Caesar salad, replacing the anchovies with a better ingredient.  There's also shredded Japanese spikenard (独活), croûtons, cheese shavings, and the pepper chiffonade (糸唐辛子) that Japanese chefs seem to love. The little dab of sauce on the side was made with the liver (?) of the firefly squid.  Yum.

Six mouths. three cities, one goose

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The Hungry Tourist is back in town after a couple of months' absence.  It's only been a few weeks since we last saw each other in Bangkok, and in the meantime he continued to eat his way across the world.  As usual, he wanted to make Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) his very first stop of his trip, so we agreed to meet up for a late lunch.  Coincidentally, Jinlovestoeat is also in town, and we found ourselves with a party of six - the biggest group I've taken to Yat Lok.

Since there were six of us, I decided that there was no reason we shouldn't order up one whole roast goose (馳名燒鵝).  The annoying thing, though, was that they chopped up the goose one half at a time, and we clearly didn't get two halves of the same goose...  And one half was clearly a little more charred and burnt than the other.  I do have to say that lately, their quality has been fairly inconsistent.  Some of their geese are a little too charred.  Thankfully, though, we still had one half that was just about perfect.

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