December 31, 2017

The best dishes I had in 2017

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So... at the end of last year I finally succumbed to publishing my first "best of" list for the dishes I enjoyed in 2016.  As friends are now publishing their "best 9" on Instagram and "best" lists, I decided that once again, it was time to reflect back on a year with lots of wonderful meals.

I'm fortunate enough to be able to eat well, and lucky to have friends who share the same passion.  I'm also grateful that enough chefs and restaurateurs choose to treat me well - probably better than I deserve.

Following last year's practice, the best dishes I have tasted in 2017 is listed in chronological order.  These may not be the most complicated or fancy dishes, but rather, these dishes elicited a certain amount of amazement, joy, and emotion out of me to be memorable.

House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni from Ta Vie 旅, Hong Kong - a dish that also made the list last year.  Chef Sato Hideaki is kind enough to make sure I get this each time I visit his restaurant, and even though it's only about 3 mouthfuls, it delivers an incredible amount of harmonious flavors and pleasure.

December 29, 2017

Slaughtering fat sheep, part 3

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This is a rant.  I'm not going to describe all the delicious food I had tonight at one of my (former) favorite restaurants.  I'm too pissed off by the unprofessional service to care.

I was really pissed off about the way our orders were taken for our dinner at Above and Beyond (天外天) in Hotel ICON.  To be fair, we were partly to blame for the problem.  Hello Kitty had pre-ordered 1½ roast Peking ducks for the 12 of us, as well as the restaurant's signature steamed coral crab with glutinous rice.  She was too busy at work when someone at the restaurant got her on the phone and tried to discuss tonight's menu.

So the task of ordering the rest of the dishes fell on our shoulders.  I was feeling lazy and kicked the ball over to A, who had never been here before.  He proceeded to order a few dishes, then passed the menu back to me so I could finish ordering the dishes.

This is where we ran into trouble.

December 28, 2017

AC x2

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It's almost the end of the year, and I had originally not planned any big meals after going through a quiet Christmas.  But The AC is coming through town again, and after meeting up with him exactly a year ago, I realized that he's not some crazy axe murderer and that I could join him for lunch - especially when it's at one of my favorite restaurants in town.

I didn't want to let Sato-san or Takano-san know that I was joining for lunch... I had wanted it to be a surprise.  But when I showed up at the entrance to Ta Vie 旅 with my camera in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, Takano-san didn't seem surprised to see me.

We decided to take the 5-course short tasting menu, but Sato-san was kind enough to send us two extra courses.  I guess it's the holiday season, and we sure needed the extra calories...

"Crab house sandwich" : zuwai crab salad with crispy buckwheat crêpe - between layers of galettes made of blé noir is a combination of Japanese snow crab (ズワイ蟹) meat, avocado, and thin slices of cherry radish.  This was pretty delicious, and there was a small amount of sauce made with crab tomalley (蟹味噌) on the side.

Homemade nukazuke (糠漬け) bread - served with homemade butter.

December 22, 2017

A feast before Christmas

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L is back in town for Christmas, and when she planned her trip two months ago, she demanded that I take her to Uwe while she's in town.  So I dutifully booked a table, then added an extra seat at our table when My Favorite Cousin couldn't join me for dinner last night. 

It's Christmas holiday season, and given that Uwe's always had a tree in the middle of his restaurant, it wouldn't surprise anyone that there is now a Christmas tree in the space.  Except... that in order to fit an extra table for the busy season, they've decided to hang it upside down from the ceiling.  But this seems to be a thing these days...

Autumn landscape - once again we have a whole spread on the table as our "first course", but there is a little bit of variation this time.

Fallen leaves - dehydrated parsnip purée.

Finnish reindeer moss - with grated horseradish.  The "snow" underneath is made of hazelnuts.

December 21, 2017

Noodle trumps pigeon

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A friend is in town all the way from the Big Apple, and we figured that we should take him out for a nice Cantonese dinner.  Chili Shrimp Girl was also in town for the holidays, so the four of us book ourselves a table at Tasting Court (天一閣).  Our guest chose the simplest out of the three set menus, because he's been sorely missing pigeons cooked Chinese style...

Chinese grilled pork chop with soybean (西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - this has always been tasty, with lots of flavors coming from the marinade of black beans, aged mandarin peel, and Chinese black olives.  Tonight it seemed that the flavors tasted a little more burnt than usual, although the texture was still bouncy and springy.  The accompanying pickled radish is always good.

December 18, 2017

Days of burning tongue day 3: Christmas in Bangkok

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So... tonight was the whole reason for our short trip to Bangkok... the GohGan Christmas party - the 7th iteration of the collaboration between Gaggan Anand and Fukuyama "Goh" Takeshi (福山剛) dubbed GohGan.  We happened to be in Seoul a few months ago when the 6th iteration was held there, and we felt fortunate to have been part of it.  It was announced that night that they would have a Christmas party in Bangkok, so here we are!  Again, we are lucky to have been allowed to join the party.

We arrived shortly before the 9:30 p.m. second seating, but as usual the first seating was running overtime... So after greeting A at the door, we dutifully went back outside the glass house and waited.  And who should I find not 10 feet away from me, but Gert de Mangeleer from Hertog Jan - whose collaboration with the Sühring twins ended the night before I arrived in town?  I was glad to have a chance to catch up with him for the second time this year, even if I didn't get to taste this creations this time.

"Wine Boy" Vladimir Kojic came to say hello, and brought us glasses of Jacquesson (couldn't remember whether it was Cuvée 739 or 740 or...) to start our evening.  It was nice and went down easily, but I didn't want to get buzzed before taking my first bite.

On our way in, I spotted this big styrofoam box downstairs.  I guess we'll be having that, then...

Days of burning tongue day 3: two trips across town

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We left our hotel a little early so that Hello Kitty could make her obligatory stop at Erawan Shrine, which was just up the road.  We then crossed the street to Gaysorn Village, where we camped out at Starbucks Reserve to get our caffeine fix while waiting to see whether Paste would have a table for us at lunch.  Without a booking from at least a few days earlier, I wasn't the least bit surprised when The Great One told me that they were fully-booked after getting themselves a well-deserved star in the Michelin Guide Bangkok 2 weeks ago.

We still wanted good Thai food at a place we have been before, and since I wasn't able to get in yesterday, we took a taxi across town to Krua Apsorn (ครัวอัปษร) on Thanon Samsen.

The first thing I wanted to order was the stir-fried Tonkin jasmine with minced pork (ดอกขจรผัดน้ำมันหอย), but it wasn't available. Is it the wrong season?  Sooooo bummed...

Miang kam (เมี่ยงคะน้า) - The Great One wanted to order this again, and I certainly had no objections.

All wrapped up and ready to eat.

December 17, 2017

Days of burning tongue day 2: goo goo Gaa Gaa

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Our exploration of Bangkok restaurant continues, and we were checking another restaurant off our list.  In addition to running his namesake restaurant, our friend Gaggan Anand has also helped a few other chefs launch their own restaurants - where he and his partner retain a financial interest.  One of these is Gaa, which is located just opposite Gaggan and is run by Garima Arora - Gaggan's former sous chef.

While planning for our short trip, I had wanted to try out one fine dining venue that I hadn't been to.  Having run through the list of fine dining Thai restaurants on my last two trips, I focused on two venues of interest - both of which are ventures in which Gaggan had a hand in.  When I left the decision up to Hello Kitty, she chose Gaa without any hesitation.  We are always looking to support female chefs, and here in Asia there really aren't many of them helming kitchens at fine dining establishments.

We took a leisurely stroll from the St. Regis Bangkok, and arrived at the same time as The Great One.  Even though I booked the table under my own name, I hadn't told Gaggan that we were going there.  Having failed to pay for a single meal at Gaggan in the last two years - and even for my meal at Meatlicious - I was trying to stay under the radar in the hope of finally being able to pay for a meal.  I wasn't sure whether we had been made when we walked through the door, but we did get seated at a table by the window with good lighting...

This being our first time at the restaurant, we chose the larger of the two tasting menus - with 14 courses.  The Great One took the 5-glass juice pairing, while I chose the last 3 out of the 5.

Chilled soup of mango, pumpkin and pickles - with chunks of pickled mango, cape gooseberry, coriander, and Sichuan peppercorns, as well as kaffir lime leave oil.  Very refreshing, with a good balance of sweetness, acidity, as well as a slight kick.

Days of burning tongue day 2: more Ice

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Our stay at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok during this trip was a short one, so we decided to stay in this morning and had our Thai breakfast at The Verandah.  The temperature was pretty cool this morning, and it was really nice to be able to sit outdoors and watch the traffic go by on the Chao Phraya River.

Since we were staying on the riverside, I figured that it would be a good idea to hit Krua Apsorn (ครัวอัปษร) on Thanon Samsen for lunch.  I really enjoyed my lunch there last year, and Mr. and Mrs. B really enjoyed their lunch 2 days ago after I recommended it.  Unfortunately, they are a family restaurant chain and don't open on Sundays... which sent me back to the drawing board for our lunch plans.

After moving across town and checking into the St. Regis Bangkok, we took the BTS Skytrain 1 whole stop and went into Siam ParagonBaan Ice Restaurant (ร้านบ้านไอซ์) has its newest location inside this shopping mall, and we enjoyed our dinner so much last night that we figured it couldn't hurt to go and try a few more of their dishes.

Grandpa's kao yam (ข้าวยำคุณปู่) - Hello Kitty wanted to have this again, but now we're sharing the dish between 2 of us instead of 6 last night.  Still very tasty, but now I've got a good amount of rice taking up precious stomach space...

December 16, 2017

Days of burning tongue day 1: Ice, Ice, baby

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I'm back in Bangkok for a long weekend, eating my way around town again (so what else is new?)... Having not had breakfast and only shitty airplane food for lunch, I was pretty hungry when we checked into the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.  It's been more than a decade since I last stayed at the grande dame of Bangkok, and I absolutely love the classic colonial style of the place.  As we were having dinner relatively early, I decided to stave off the hunger pangs by nibbling on a few longans () that the hotel had provided us in our room.

A little more than an hour after we left the hotel on foot to take the BTS from Saphan Taksin Station, we arrived at Baan Ice Restaurant (ร้านบ้านไอซ์) in Thong Lo.  The people who run this chain were responsible for gathering the street food vendors for Gaggan's after party back in February, and I have heard numerous recommendations from trusted friends.  It was natural, then, that it should be on my hit list for this trip.  And the branch on Thong Lo (Sukhumvit Soi 55) seems to be the one where we should visit... or so I thought.  It was a little more out of the way for us, but as it turned out, more convenient for our old friend Vincent Thierry.

Thankfully our Thai friend was able to join us, and we left the ordering entirely up to her and The Great One - although Hello Kitty and I did behave like food Nazis and strictly limited the first round of orders to 6 dishes.

Hong pork (หมูฮ้อง) - how can one say "no" to braised fatty pork?  Soft and wobbly after braising for a whole day, I love the sweet and savory flavors here.

December 14, 2017

Durian and French food

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I had big plans for tonight.  I was re-introducing Petrus at the Island Shangri-La to not only Hello Kitty but also to Mr and Mrs Birdiegolf.  It's been a few months since we last had a meal together, and I was rather insistent on the venue.  I like what Chef Ricardo Chaneton is doing there, and I've kinda been on a mission to spread the word to my friends.

Ricardo's always been very good to me,  and I know that each time I come, he would do what he can to show me his best dishes. So tonight would definitely be a feast.

However, a few days ago my friend L pinged me to let me know about the party she's arranging for clients at the Island Shangri-La.  She was bringing in Malaysian durian, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to miss this opportunity.

So... about an hour before I was to start what turned out to be a 14-course feast, I would myself by the pool of the hotel, wolfing down a plate of delicious durian... as a pre-dinner snack!

Malaysian Black Gold durian (黑金榴蓮) - WOW!  This has got to be the best durian I have ever had!  Incredibly creamy yet dense, the texture reminded me of certain types of French goat cheese - except a little more moist.  While initially very sweet, the finish turns bitter - and some of them actually end up being surprisingly bitter... a little too much for me, in fact.  But what an eye-opening experience!

By the time I hauled my ass upstairs for dinner - after watching the crowd devour 300kg of durian in 2 hours - I wasn't the least bit hungry.  In fact, I was a little stuffed...

December 13, 2017

Michelin star after Star Wars

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It was past 9:30 p.m. when we tried to look for a place to have dinner in Kwun Tong.  I had just come out of a premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and figured we should stay inside apm.  With many outlets closing or already closed, we ended up getting a table at Lei Garden (利苑).

This restaurant chain's ability to secure Michelin stars for several of their outlets has long been a mystery to many of us living in Hong Kong.  In fact, no less than TEN branches of Lei Garden has received the coveted star in the 10-year history of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau, and 3 of them still do in the latest edition announced on November 30th.  The branch in apm happens to be one of the three.

It was late but they were still operating, so we quickly ordered a couple of dishes to fill our stomachs.

Poached chicken in marinade (貴妃雞) - they had run out of char siu (叉燒) at this hour (something which, unlike last time, I would forgive them for), so we got the chicken instead.  This was OK.  Too bad I forgot to take a picture until after we started eating...

December 11, 2017

Impromptu sushi

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A friend is in town from Beijing and in dire need of some good food.  The request came for sushi, and with such a last-minute request for a Monday, Hello Kitty decided to book us seats at Sushi Ima (今鮨).  Not having been here before, I was hoping that I could have a light dinner by getting myself one of those nigiri sets one often finds at sushi restaurants.  No such luck tonight...  Only two omakase sets are available at dinner, so I picked the lighter option without otsumami (おつまみ).


Starter consisted of two pieces of dried sea cucumber stomach, as well as diced scallops and mantle with what seemed to be truffle sauce.

Striped beakfish (石鯛) - topped with ponzu (ポン酢) jelly, some seaweed (生のり), and perilla flowers.  Pretty nice to have some acidity and umami together.

December 6, 2017

Ro ro for birthday

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If one's fondness of a particular restaurant is measured solely by the frequency of visits, then Neighborhood must be my favorite restaurant in the whole world - as I generally make about 10 visits per year.  I'm back tonight for the 13th visit this year, as a few of us help Ro Ro celebrate her birthday.

Saucisson "noir de Bigorre" / culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - these are always delicious and flavorful.

Pacific oyster superior - these were some pretty damn big oysters... and pretty salty/briny.

December 5, 2017

Year end catchup

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The end of the year is fast approaching, so my friendly neighborhood prime broker once again arranged for a lunch to catch up.   The venue this year was China Tang (唐人館), and as I haven't been back in some time, this was a good opportunity to get another taste.  Since this is one of Uncle Peter's restaurants, I'm not too worried about the quality of the food.

Pickled turnip slice (醬香一口脆) - I think our waitress told me this was winter melon (冬瓜).

Tofu sheet roll filled with assorted mushroom (潤澤上素鵝) - this was decent.

December 1, 2017

Week of drunkenness: young and old rieslings

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Three hours after I finished my 4-hour lunch at Robuchon au Dôme, I found myself sitting down to dinner at The 8 Restaurant (8餐廳).  Despite having taken a broken nap in the room that the Grand Lisboa Hotel had generously provided me in between the two meals, I was still pretty drunk from lunch... and running at about 50% of my normal capacity for food.  

This was supposed to be a "casual" dinner, without the burden of lots of pre-arranged dishes.  So we tried to take it easy and ordered a few things we wanted to try.  Of course, Chef Joseph Tse (謝錦松) did send along a few courses that he wanted us (read: The Great One) to try.

Abalone with pomelo jelly - with yuzu zest.

Steamed morel with beef - stuffed with broccoli and crunchy water chestnuts.

Week of drunkenness: cinq chariots

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Thanks to some last minute work, I ended up checking out of the Countdown Hotel a little late.  Coupled with the shitty taxi situation in Macau, this meant that I was a few minutes late to my lunch appointment at Robuchon au Dôme in the Grand Lisboa Hotel.  The Great One was already chatting with Jonas Schuermann - the MD of Hospitality Services at SJM who had extended the kind invitation to the two of us.  They were already happily sipping on their first glass of bubbly.

It has been waaaay too long - almost 17 months - since the two of us were last here.  Oncle Joël is in town this week for the Michelin festivities, and Jonas wanted to make sure that we come and try out the dishes of the season.  And lunch here - at least for the Great One and I - is always a drawn-out and relaxing affair... punctuated by the 6 trolleys that come our way.

And we soon start with the first - the bread trolley.

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