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
And the butter is used on the homemade nukazuke (糠漬け) bread. I love this bread, but tonight the texture seemed a little more airy than I remembered.
At first glance this seemed like another twist on the traditional caprese, but it is so much more! The red fruits - including the Amera tomatoes - were just incredibly sweet and fragrant.
"Civet" braised abalone with abalone shell - my second time savoring this dish. The abalone from Jeju Island (제주도) - braised in a jar in water bath - was very tender. The pearl onions and mushrooms worked well with the abalone and the abalone liver sauce. The "shell" on top was a delicious cookie which tasted like I shouldn't ask how much butter had been used to make it...
Crêpe with "kinkan" and ginger, hot mandarin honey sauce flavored with black truffle - a more fruity and citrusy dessert... A different version of crêpe Suzette. The warm mandarin honey and truffle sauce was drizzled over a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.
I wanted a different petit four, so I asked for some coffee. This was Tano Batak Mandheling from around Lake Toba in Sumatra, roasted in Taiwan. Very elegant.
The three of us who were drinking tonight managed to clear out three bottles, although I did manage to save some of the bubbly and the white Burg for Sato-san...
2006 Roses de Jeanne Creux d'Enfer, dégorgée à 10 Avril 2010 - nose of strawberries and later sweet like honey. Really nice depth of flavors along with a hint of bitterness.
I found out at lunch earlier today that the Hungry Tourist also had plans to dine here tonight, and in fact ended up being seated at the next table. What a coincidence!
Also at lunch today, Jinlovestoeat told me that she's never been to Ta Vie旅, and despite staying at The Pottinger, she chose instead to dine at VEA last night. Well, as much as I enjoyed my sole dinner at VEA last year, in my mind there simply is no comparison. As Hello Kitty described, with VEA the emphasis is on theatrics, but Ta Vie旅 is on a different level. As our friends tonight were the very same people who brought us to VEA last year, we went through a comparison of the two restaurants.
As their career progresses, many chefs goes through a stage where they try to impress by creating dishes that are fancy and complex - thinking that it will dazzle diners and critics. The truly great chefs will eventually get past this, and what they present to diners are dishes that are deceptively simple, yet somehow achieve the seamless integration of the ingredients to deliver the "wow" factor - seemingly without much effort. We agreed that Vicky is still slogging his way through the former stage, while Sato-san has undoubtedly reached the latter. Both have put a lot of thought into their dishes, but the dishes at Ta Vie旅 - while they can also be visually dazzling - just feels more natural and comfortable.
My friend, who is both a big fan of Chef Vicky Cheng and a real film buff, chose an analogy using the career of director Wong Kar-wai (王家偉). Vicky's dishes are like Malicious East and the Venomous West (東邪西毒) - with a jaw-dropping cast weaving through a complex plot, requiring some serious work in the editing room. Sato-san, however, has clearly delivered us dishes that feel like Chungking Express (重慶森林), Happy Together (春光乍洩), or beyond - where the style feels much simpler and natural.
Yes, boys and girls, we DO talk about things other than food and wine at the dinner table. And sometimes, just sometimes, that conversation can be real interesting.