December 31, 2018

The best dishes I had in 2018

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2018 was particularly good to me from a culinary perspective.  I made a long-overdue return to Europe and hit a few places I had been meaning to visit, and I also managed to scratch a few itches in Japan.  I'm grateful to all the chefs who, no doubt, have spent countless hours creating amazing dishes for us to enjoy.

As in previous years, this is simply listed by chronological order.  These were the dishes which brought out the strongest emotional response from me.

Le canard : Challans duck breast and foie gras duo, mango with ginger vinegar and fresh coriander from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - I had the proper "tournedos Rossini" a few weeks earlier, but the version made with Challans duck was arguably even better than one made with beef... as the duck breast fused with foie gras seemed more "natural".

December 29, 2018

The cloud dragon

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A good friend was getting together with a few friends in Taipei, and very kindly invited us to join him at Shoun RyuGin (祥雲龍吟) for dinner tonight.  I've been a big fan of the Nihonryori RyuGin (日本料理 龍吟) franchise, but have never gotten around to visiting this particular location, so I was really looking forward to this.

We were seated inside the large private room, which kinda shielded the rest of the restaurant from the noise coming from our table.  That would be a good thing...

I had offered to bring along a bottle of Champagne, but our host had arranged a wine pairing from the restaurant, so I was curious to see what the sommelier had in mind.

The menu came in an envelope, but stamped and sealed like a real letter.

General Chang's chicken

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I'm back in Taiwan for a few days over year-end, and figured I would show Hello Kitty and Mama Kitty a few sights while we're here.  One of the places that has been in the back of my mind has been Marshall Zen Garden (少帥禪園) - which was opened a few years ago by an acquaintance on Facebook.  Located at the former residence of Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang (張學良, apparently later also known as Peter Chang!) where he was under house arrest for more than 50 years, the complex includes a restaurant, a tea house, as well as facilities for onsen (溫泉).  As it's situated on the hillside, I figured the setting would be pretty nice while offering some fresh, clean air and views of the city.

The weather hasn't been great since we arrived in Taipei, and there was the drizzle this morning.  After checking in at the gate of the complex, we carefully climbed down some fairly steep steps to the building housing the restaurant.

While the others chose the Young Marshal Course (少帥私房套餐), I went a little more premium and got the Elite General Course (大帥府傳套餐) - named in honor of the Marshal's father Chang Tso-lin (張作霖).

We've got some pickles to help us whet our appetites, starting with green papaya marinated in passion fruit juice, along with wakame (若布), and radish pickled with perilla leaves.

Green soybeans (毛豆)

The first course was the longevity trio (長壽三寶), featuring 3 little bite-sized appetizers.
Braised abalone (紅燒一品鮑) - there was a chunk of very bland radish beneath the abalone.

December 25, 2018

Down to the wire

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It's Christmas, and that means Pineapple is hosting his MNSC tasting as per the tradition from the last few years.  We were once again back at the I Hate the Handover Hong Kong Club, but thankfully in a private room so that phones and cameras are allowed.  Seeing that it's the holiday season, the kids have been invited to dinner for the first time along with the better halves.

As has been the case in the past, the fight for last place in the rankings went all the way till the end.  And this year, it didn't come down to just two people... There were actually four of us this year within contention, and any one of us could slip up and end up with the dog bowl...

Our host kept things simple, and the menu looked pretty much like it had been during the last few iterations.

Lobster bisque, Brandy, basil - the basil was a surprise.

Whole poached ocean trout, ginger, shiitake, spring onions - our host always orders up a big fucking ocean trout, and it's always done like a Cantonese steamed fish...  I didn't ask how big the fish was tonight, but as always we've put a dinner fork next to it for scale.

December 23, 2018

Eating with chefs: suckling pig over turkey

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A foodie friend is swinging through Hong Kong three years after we first met, and we decided to meet for lunch at Seventh Son (家全七福).  This was, of course, my second visit to the restaurant in 4 days, and I was ever so thankful that it wasn't gonna be 5 of us trying to finish off another suckling pig.  With many of my regular "rice feet" being away due to the holiday season, I was pleasantly surprised when we became a table of 10 - with three chefs among us.

Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - it's traditional to kick off with the pig, and this was what our visitors - and even Hairy Legs - came for.  It's interesting that once you've got 10 mouths to feed around a table, you suddenly wonder whether there's actually enough pieces of that amazingly crunchy crackling to go around...

December 22, 2018

Pierre Hermé's festive 2018

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It's the festive season again, which means Pierre Hermé was once again offering seasonal macarons.  I try to buy these every year, as some of these can be really special.

Jardin fruité - a new flavor comprising of lime zest and red fruits compote.  I could definitely pick up the lime flavors through the tiny bits of candy on one side. 

December 20, 2018

Nothing but the pig

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The Man in White T-shirt pinged me, and asked whether I was available for lunch today.  A chef friend is back in town and wanted to go have that pig at Seventh Son (家全七福).  Truth be told, I really didn't want to have another meal out, especially since I was already scheduled to come back here in 3 days' time... to have the same suckling pig.  But I also know that I wouldn't have a chance to catch up with our friend if I didn't show up today, so I reluctantly joined for lunch...

Once I arrived at the restaurant, I realized that there were only 4 of us...

Gold coin chicken (金錢雞) - well, 12 divided by 4 means... that each of us will take down 3 of these "cholesterol sandwiches"!

December 18, 2018

Swissitalian dinner, episode 2

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Two years ago, the four of us had a blast bringing fancy wines to a cheap-and-cheerful chain restaurant - taking a piss (as the Brits would say) and enjoying a shit-talking, gossip session.  We decided to do that again tonight, and the quartet descended on Spaghetti House once again.  We had hoped to attract a fifth member to our gathering, but alas, even my promise of a bottle of Montrachet failed to entice the snooty Fergie...

I was the first to arrive, and found ourselves a corner table away from the rest of the crowd.  We were going to be loud, and the expletives emanating from our table was most fucking certainly not gonna get a G-rating.

Deluxe gold cheese fondue - THIS.  Baby, this is what you came for.  We had this 2 years ago, and this year they've jacked up the price by 30%.

December 17, 2018

The best of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Napa

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It was Dr Poon's turn to host his MNSC dinner, and we convened at the I Hate the Handover Hong Kong Club.  Unfortunately he chose to put us in the Jackson Room, so I was forbidden to take my bag or my camera up with me.  We were also forbidden to use the phone above the dining table, so there would be no pictures today...

I started with some homemade tagliolini, Bordier butter, chicken jus, and Grana Padano.  This came with some white truffle shavings on top.  Nice.

We also shared two different cuts of beef.  The USDA natural fed, hormone-free ribeye was beautifully fatty, with lovely charring on the outside.

The Kagoshima striploin was definitely more chewy on the edges with the tendon.

The Dungeness crab cakes came with a flower-shaped ratatouille on top, along with some piquillos.  It was delicious but the flavors were a little simple, as there wasn't much inside other than the crab meat, and not much spices were used.

Our host was his usual generous self, and we were treated to some real treasures tonight.

1993 Michel Niellon Chevalier-Montrachet - high acidity here but not too sharp.  Mature and very ripe on the nose, with toasty notes.

December 14, 2018

La laa, la laa, la la la la laaa laaa

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A few days ago a receive a message from a dear friend, asking me whether I would be available for dinner tonight.  She and her husband had booked their places at the winter dinner hosted by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, but she has since decided to run off to a concert instead.  Would I be so kind as to keep her hubby company?

I had just returned from an 8-day binge fest in Japan a mere 6 days ago, where I've gorged on two big meals each day.  I've dined out 5 out of the 6 nights since my return.  I really didn't need to have another night out.  But I knew that my friends were being kind in extending this invitation, so I decided to take my friend's place at the dinner table.

I arrived at the Hong Kong Country Club a few minutes after the official start of the dinner, and hovered next to the seating chart by the door while speeches were delivered on the stage.  It took me a while to find my table, and I was rather surprised to be seated at the Romanée-Conti table... I would quickly discover that Alexandre Abel - the current winemaker at Domaine Ponsot - and Chef Simon Rogan were among those seated at my table.

Marinated scallop and Scottish langoustine terrine, seaweed, salicorne, chive oil, sea urchin - not bad at all.  I don't think I've had this type of spongy terrine in a long time, and the small chunks of langoustine encased inside weren't bad.  Kinda surprised to see salicornia on the plate here.

December 13, 2018

The autumn forest

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I've been a terrible friend.  I have only paid a single visit this year to my friend Uwe Opocensky's eponymous restaurant this year, and he's been very patient... waiting for me to visit.  I did manage to catch up with him a few weeks ago over dinner, and I figured it was time to make a visit to Uwe before year end.  So I roped in The Great One and, to my surprise, the Kat decided that he wanted to come along.

Candle and tea - we started with the bone marrow candle, and we soaked up the liquid with some sourdough bread.

Next we ripped open a package and extracted a tea bag, which we placed into a lovely porcelain cup.  The soluble bag - made of wild mushroom gelatin - contains wild mushrooms and herbs.

Lunch with brokers: I Ding you ah!

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Another day, another lunch treated by a friendly neighborhood prime broker.  I was kinda surprised when they chose Ding's Club (鼎・會館), but intrigued as I've largely stayed away from the hype surrounding restaurants featuring Steve Lee Ka Ting (李家鼎).  After all, I didn't grow up watching him on TV, and while I'm happy that he's found a second career, I was in no rush to check out whether he can really cook...

As there were only 4 of us, we tried to take things easy.  Emphasis on the word "tried".

Barbecued pluma pork in flame, Ding's Style (秘製火焰叉燒) - this was flambéed while we watched.

Pretty fatty for sure, but that's never been an issue for me...

December 12, 2018

Snake and other winter warmers

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I've been waiting for this dinner for a long, long time.  My favorite private kitchen relocated a few months ago, and somehow I haven't managed to return for more than half a year.  As the weather has turned cold and the snakes have fattened up for the winter, it was high time that I came back.  So I rounded up the usual suspects for a feast.  It's been so long since I was last here that I didn't even bother changing anything on the menu that the chef proposed...

Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - it's been a while, but I'm always happy to have these giant prawns.

The texture was good, with that nice balance between crunchiness and tenderness.

Lunch with brokers: stuffed to the brim

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It's year end, so that means my friendly neighborhood prime brokers are taking turns to treat me to lunch.  I've barely gotten back to Hong Kong after a late night in Macau, and I needed to be sociable and continue binging on food.  I wasn't surprised when they chose Mott 32 as the venue...

I let our hosts do the ordering, and it seemed that they were pretty hungry... because we ended up with a ton of food!

Barbecue pluma Iberico pork, Yellow Mountain honey (蜜汁頂級西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - this was, of course, what this restaurant is famous for.  It was certainly tender and tasty.

December 11, 2018

14 hands and 17 stars

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I was invited to attend the gala dinner held tonight following the announcement of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau 2019, which took place at the Grand Hyatt Macau.  I arrived rather late to the cocktail reception, as I was waiting in vain in my hotel room for housekeeping to deliver me an iron.  I finally gave up and wore my wrinkled shirt under my tux jacket, but thankfully nobody noticed...

These gala dinners have always been big productions, and it appears that this year the hosts have taken things up a notch, as the production seemed more sophisticated than last year.  The biggest problem remains the lighting, as the multi-color stage lights change both in intensity as well as hue.  That makes for tough photography since I stick to "natural lighting"... and have chosen to take the small point-and-shoot camera instead of my trust Sony A9.

This time we have dishes presented by 6 chefs - 5 of whom now with 3 Michelin stars at their flagship establishments - as well as the amazing Pierre Hermé.  I can no longer refer to him as "The Fat One" the same way a certain friend used to, because he's clearly gone on a diet and slimmed down significantly.

By the way, I wish the organizer would stop using Marcus Kwok as the event's MC.  He's really hopeless at pronouncing the names of the headlining chefs, what with "Ah-lane Ducasse", "Ah-lang Ducasse", and "Pierre Ermm"...  These chefs are world famous, and they deserve enough respect not to have their names mangled by some wannabe celebrity who couldn't even be bothered to learn the proper pronunciations. He's getting paid to do this gig, forchrissake!

As was the case in previous years, a video showcasing the inspiration behind each dish is shown prior to the dish being served.  This year they've also picked a specific piece of music to be played while the servers come out and lay down the plates.

Poached Gillardeau oyster No. 3, shellfish tartare, sea water jelly, ginger cream and lemon confit from Menton, by Fabrice Vulin of The Tasting Room - this was pretty nice.  Perfectly safe choice to serve something already cold and can be plated at leisure.  Flavors were fine.

The music being blasted while the dish was being presented was "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat.  I absolutely love this song, but I was kinda surprised by the choice, and wondered whether there was any significance to this song...

G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon - a little toasty.

December 9, 2018

A very American evening

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I've been back from my eating trip to Japan for less than 24 hours, and I'm already on my second wine tasting.  Tonight Lord Rayas was hosting his MNSC dinner for the gang, and we convened in the Grill Room of the Hong Kong Country Club for a relatively casual meal.

Smoked mackerel with seaweed - the mackerel was diced and marinated, and came with cubes of diced pickles.  This did not work well with our Champagne...

Pan-fried organic free range eggs with Alba white truffles - simplicity is best.  Yum.

December 8, 2018

After service bongwater

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A few months ago while strategizing about the menu for my wine dinner at Caprice, sommelier Victor Petiot very kindly offered to share with us a very special bottle of bongwater - the very first vintage made of the wine.  He subsequently had the bottle transported from France, and we have been looking for a suitable date to pop the cork ever since.

So what better time to do it than right after I return from a week-long eating (and drinking) trip to Japan?  I literally just dropped off our luggage - along with a ton of sake - and headed back to Central.

I actually didn't have anything to eat on the plane, so it's been almost 8 hours since lunch.  Thankfully Hairy Legs and the team put together a small selection of charcuterie and cheese.  This was like manna from heaven to me at this point...

Tokyo 2018 day 8: the last katsu

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It's our last day in Japan, and there are a few loose ends we needed to tie up.  As soon as it opened, I popped over to my favorite sake shop so that Hello Kitty could buy the bottle of sake that she absolutely loved last night.  Of course, I was also happy to pickup a pretty rare but not-so-expensive bottle of aged sake from a brewery I love...

...which left us with a very big problem.  I kinda went crazy in the last few days, and we now have 12 bottles of sake to take home.  Fearing that we wouldn't be able to fit everything in our 3 suitcases, we hurriedly hopped over to the shopping mall under Tokyo Station to buy ourselves a new piece of luggage.

Quite fortuitously, we ran into the 5th anniversary of the Gudetama Festival at Tokyo Character Street (東京キャラクターストリート).  There were lots of goodies on sale, plus a few displays where one could take pictures.  I had known about this before we came to Japan, but had forgotten all about it once we got busy... so we were very happy to have run into it on our last day.  Hello Kitty was definitely a happy camper.

December 7, 2018

Tokyo 2018 day 7: drunken onion, episode 5

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One of my obligatory stops on any trip to Tokyo is Tamanegiya (酒たまねぎや).  Ever since my first visit in 2010, this has become my go-to place for sake.  It's not for everyone... it helps to be able to converse in Japanese with Master, and one really needs to have an appreciation of good sake.  Oh, and keep in mind that Master is a right-wing nationalist, who has admittedly toned things down a little in recent years - at least judging from the decor within the bar.

So while I have - against the wishes of some people who want to keep this a secret - disclosed the name of the venue on this here blog in the past, I have also cautioned my friends against coming here thinking that they will automatically have a great time drinking great sake.  After all, we did have the incident a couple of years ago where two assholes from Hong Kong - who were supposedly well-versed in Japanese culture - came and pissed off Master so much that he posted about their behavior on Facebook.  We definitely don't need fuckwits like them ruining it for the rest of us.

All of our dinners in Tokyo on this trip start late, so I was originally afraid that I wouldn't have time to come over after dinner for my usual round of drinks.  But I made an effort to come tonight before dinner, since the two venues aren't far away from each other.

When the three of us walked through the front door after 6:30 p.m., Master was alone.  Apparently he was only expecting a few regulars who had booked for a little later, so surprisingly he was expecting a slow Friday evening.  That was just fine with me.

Azumaichi Junmai Daiginjo Shizukushibori Tobintori Senbatsushu (東一 純米大吟醸 雫搾り 斗瓶取り 選抜酒), 27BY - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 39%.  Nice nose of banana, almost floral, elegant, a bit of honeydew, a little fermented rice in the nose.  Sweet and smooth upfront, then dry and spicy later.

As usual, Master served up some snacks for us.  We started with some stewed fish head with ginger.

There are always some tomatoes. I didn't ask him where these came from.

Tokyo 2018 day 7: more sizzling beef

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After kicking off the evening with some great sake, we moved to Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara (炭火焼肉なかはら) for dinner.  Hello Kitty had wanted some beef on this trip, and we were trying to choose between yakiniku (焼肉) and steak.  Since we chose to have teppanyaki (鉄板焼) in Toya, we decided to have yakiniku in Tokyo.  Seeing that Nakahara-san is part of a foodie group I belong to and his restaurant is beloved by members of that group, I figured I owed it to myself to check it out.

The Man in White T-shirt found out that we were going to dine here, and offered to contact Nakahara-san on our behalf so that we could be seated at the counter in front of the boss.  Unfortunately we ended up with a late addition to our group to make it a party of 5, and there were only 4 seats at the counter, so we didn't have the boss cooking for us after all.  残念...

We chose the most expensive menu option, which was the Special Course that includes the "legendary tongue", 7 cuts of meat including "hormone (ホルモン)", and 1/4 of a steak cutlet sandwich.

The full-length version in 4K is here.

Japan 2018 day 7: sticker shock

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I had no lunch plans today.  Or so I thought.  Hello Kitty was off visiting her old friend, and My Birdbrain Cousin was off doing her own thang... so I was left to my own devices.  I was planning on strolling over to grab my favorite ramen later, and still lying around in the hotel bed, when The Dining Austrian ping me.

It was 11:10 a.m. or so.  Would I be able to join him for lunch at 12:00 p.m.?  I thought about it... and as I hadn't actually cleaned up, I figured I may be about 10 minutes late to lunch.  As it turns out, due to unforeseen circumstances, my friend was going to be about 40 minutes late himself.  This, of course, would be a cardinal sin at Japanese restaurants...  and today we would be reinforcing the stereotypes of rude gaijins who show up late.  Thankfully we have a third person, who would be on time...  As I would find out later, the restaurant's website specifically reminds foreign guests that they should be on time.

I showed up at Kimoto (紀茂登) between 15 to 20 minutes late, apologized to Kimoto-san for my tardiness, and sat in front of the 8-seat counter with 9 place settings for this meal.  I was trying to be respectful and kept my Sony A9 in my bag at my feet, and made sure to keep my phone on my lap so as not to scratch the beautiful (and incredibly expensive) Japanese cypress counter.  Well, as I found out later by reading the restaurant's website, they specifically ask people not to bring their SLRs...  Strike two.  So it appears that I am that annoying gaijin, after all...  But hey, at least my A9 was silent and didn't make any noise disturbing other customers.

As I had arrived late, Kimoto-san has already started service.  The welcome drink of cold-brewed Oolong tea (水だし烏龍茶) had already been put aside for me, and we were now on the first course.

Female snow crab with rice (せいこ蟹飯) - YASS!  I've been having this seasonal delicacy at just about every single Japanese meal on this trip, so I wasn't surprised to see せいこ蟹 on the menu.  I was, however, rather surprised to see it served with rice at the start of the meal.  In any case, this was absolutely delicious, because how could it not be?!

December 6, 2018

Japan 2018 day 6: Borderless and timeless

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After stuffing ourselves at lunch, we decided to be lazy and went to Odaiba (お台場) by taxi instead of taking the train as originally planned.  Our destination was the MORI Building Digital Art Museum, so that we could visit the teamLab Borderless art installation that is earning rave reviews from everyone I know who has visited.

We entered the space in groups, and it was just about pitch black when the bunch of us rushed in.  We knew there were different rooms showing different themes, and we kinda just rushed into one of them like headless chickens without even checking to see which theme it was...

Once we were in Borderless World, we were absolutely stunned.  I had seen pictures on social media, but being immersed in the sights and sounds personally was a completely different experience.  Everywhere I looked, people were awestruck at the beauty surrounding us, and everyone had their phones or cameras out to try to record their experiences.


Japan 2018 day 6: strolling around Harajuku

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After we got up this morning, Hello Kitty and I went a little bit further than the convenience store downstairs for her morning coffee.  She has been following the Instagram account behind Reissue for a while, and she didn't object when I suggested that we get our latte on the other side of town.

At first glance the pricing for a cup of coffee seems pretty steep, but what one pays for here isn't an ordinary cup of coffee.  This place is famous for their latte art - which can be either 2D or 3D.  Hello Kitty and I each showed George an image, and he went to work.

So... my cup came with a 3-D rendition of our dog Kuma, interpreted from a picture where he was crouching down looking for a butt-scratch.  Hello Kitty, to my surprise, wanted one of Korilakkuma (コリラックマ) showing us her butt...

Here's another look at Korilakkuma.  George actually posted a picture of it on his IG account.

December 5, 2018

Japan 2018 day 5: an evening in Aoyama

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I needed one high-end sushi meal on this trip, and had originally been wanting to visit a 3-star long on my checklist.  When the Palate Hotel concierge surprisingly failed to come through, I asked for suggestions from the foodie community, and based on my past experience, Sushi Masuda (鮨ます田) was recommended to me.

Unfortunately as the reservation was made rather late, we were not able to get ourselves seated at the counter.  We had to make do with table seating in a private room on the side.  This would be my first experience in eating in a top sushiya without seeing the chef put the pieces in front of me.

As was the case at lunch today, staff here paid a great deal of attention to detail... and noticed that Hello Kitty was left-handed even before they brought us the sake.

Monkfish liver and blowfish (鮟肝と河豚) - the monkfish liver was very rich in flavor, and I was quite surprised when the chef asked us to wrap the thick and chewy slices of blowfish around the silky monkfish liver, along with spicy grated radish.

Japan 2018 day 5: an afternoon in Aoyama

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Our second day in Tokyo started with lunch at L'Effervescence.  I've been curious about this place for the last few years as many friends had raved about it, so I figured I owed it to myself to check it out on this trip.

My Birdbrain Cousin has already been here before in the evening, but thankfully she is happy to return for lunch.

I asked for some water, and what came was 栗林の仕込水 from Kuribayashi Brewery (栗林酒造).  This is the same water used to brew sake by the brewery, and I understand that sometimes breweries supply them to their customers.

One thing that I take notice of, which I take as an indication of service staff's attention to detail, is whether the staff notice that Hello Kitty is left-handed.  The service staff here noticed very early on, before we even got our first dish.  That's very impressive.

December 4, 2018

Japan 2018 day 4: demoted but no less delicious

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We're having kaiseki (会席料理) dinners two night in a row, and tonight in Tokyo I chose Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十) - which held the coveted 3-star status from Michelin from 2008 to 2014.  We were lucky to get counter seats for the late seating, so we had a little more interaction with Chef Okuda Toru (奥田透).

No menu here as everything was seasonal.

Marinated tilefish, salmon roe, and shiitake (先付: 甘鯛昆布締め  イクラ  椎茸) - the tilefish (甘鯛) has been marinated by wrapping it with kelp to impart a little more flavor.  This was placed on top of slices of pretty big shiitake (椎茸), then we've got some salmon roe as well as tonburi (とんぶり) on top.  I was surprised to find crunchy bits of celtuce in my bowl, which the Japanese call ちしゃとう.

Female snow crab (先付: せいこ蟹) - a seasonal delicacy that is being served across high-end kaiseki restaurants.  I've only ever had the version they serve at Kaiseki Den by Saotome, which comes chilled with gelée on top.  Tonight I would get to have a warm version, covered by a layer of the eggs from the female snow crab.

Japan 2018 day 4: a very cheesy day

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Another day, another early morning transit.  We're off to Tokyo today, so after checking out of JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo, we rolled our luggage around the corner to JR Sapporo Station and got on a train to New Chitose Airport.  Due to an unfortunate issue with the ticketing machine, we were unable to buy tickets with reserved seats... and as it was morning rush hour, we ended up standing up for the whole 40-minute ride to the airport.  Oh well...

We needed some coffee and breakfast, and this seemed like our last chance to grab some ramen (ラーメン) in Hokkaido.  Unfortunately we were at the airport waaay too early, and there was only one shop open at this hour in the Hokkaido Ramen Dojo (北海道ラーメン道場) in the domestic terminal.  Given our tight flight schedule we decided not to risk things by waiting for other shops to open, and parked ourselves down at Menya Kaiko (麺屋 開高) - which has a few shops around Hokkaido.

Corn and cheese ramen (十勝コーンチーズ麵) - we're in Hokkaido, so what could be more iconic than ramen with corn (and cheese)?!  I have no idea what kind of cheese was used, but it didn't matter.  And no, this was not a particularly great bowl of ramen... and I needed plenty of water to rinse my palate afterwards.

December 3, 2018

Japan 2018 day 3: 3-star crab

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We're only in Sapporo for one night, so knowing me... it's not surprising that I chose to dine at one of three restaurants awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 2017 Michelin Guide Hokkaido - a special edition which has only been published twice.  Hanakoji Sawada (花小路 さわ田) was promoted from 2 to 3 stars, and I wanted some kaiseki (会席) during our week-long trip, so this was the first restaurant I ended up booking.

We had pre-ordered the most expensive set menu, since this was our first visit and the price differential wasn't all that significant.  With the more expensive options, we were guaranteed to have crab.  As is typical, there was no printed menu since the dishes consisted of whatever ingredients were fresh and in season on the day.

Chinese yam with salmon roe and tonburi (長芋  イクラ  とんぶり  出汁ジュレ) - the main ingredient here is the cube of minced Chinese yam (長芋), which comes with a dual texture that is both crunchy (from tiny little bits inside) and soft (from parts that's almost purée-like).  On top we have some salmon roe as well as some perilla flowers.  The whole thing was surrounded by some dashi (出汁) gelée which was clearly made with ponzu (ポン酢) and citrus.  

Japan 2018 day 3: a crabulous feast

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We were up and at 'em early again this morning, trying to catch the sunrise that we missed yesterday.  I don't usually get my ass up this early, but Hello Kitty seemed determined to catch the sun coming up over the mountains, so we bundled up, grabbed our cameras, and went outside while it was still dark.

There was still some cloud cover above the mountains, but the light turned out to be pretty nice once the sun rose... especially when it illuminated the top of Mount Yotei (羊蹄山).  Someone had made a tiny little snowman and placed him on top of the fence, so Hello Kitty and I tried to take snaps of him against the rising sun.

December 2, 2018

Japan 2018 day 2: 3 songs on repeat

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After kinda managing to catch the sunset, we stayed in at the Windsor Hotel Toya and had dinner at Windsor Out of Africa, the teppanyaki (鉄板焼) restaurant that received a macaron.  Like most of the hotel's nicer restaurants, this was also located on the top floor, with views over Lake Toya.  The place was apparently inspired by the movie Out of Africa, so the restaurant is decorated with animal motifs, and they seem to be playing 3 tracks from the movie soundtrack on repeat...

As I had expected, we didn't get much of a view in the evening... now that the daily fireworks over Lake Toya has stopped. I decided to splurge and get the Out of Africa menu - the most expensive out of the three offered.

Amuse (最初の一口) - the meal didn't start well.  Aside from some marinated mushrooms with peppercorns, there was a small piece of toast with fish cum on top.  Thankfully Hello Kitty stepped in and helped me.

Japan 2018 day 2: And the reason is you

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So after my early morning droning session and a pissy breakfast, it was time for the main event.  The whole reason we planned an 8-day trip to Japan is so that we can dine at Michel Bras Toya Japon.  Everything else before or after this lunch is ancillary.  Collateral damage.

Why did I suddenly get the urge to come here?  Earlier this year someone had mentioned the possibility that Michel Bras would not renew their contract with the Windsor Hotel Toya.  So I hatched this plan to come and try the cuisine before the end of the year.  Of course, I now know that Michel Bras will continue to be here at the hotel, while Arashiyama Kitcho (嵐山吉兆) was the restaurant which did not renew their contract.

We arrived at the restaurant and were led to a table by the window, with fantastic sweeping views of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) and the hills and mountains surrounding it.  This is why, for many, it is best to come to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner - as there are few lights after sunset and the view would be mostly dark.

We take the Rencontre menu, which includes the iconic gargouillou.  We started with a series of snacks:

Tomato and sesame crackers

Coque-mouillettes - creamy scrambled eggs with roots from the garden, and today it was diced celery topped with herbs.  The "soldiers" made of buckwheat and sesame were used to dip into the egg.

Tarte aux ceps - very nice.

I knew that the restaurant always tries to be hospitable by baking the name of the guest onto the loaf of buckwheat bread.  Unfortunately, the Japanese at the hotel mixed up Hello Kitty's name, and ever since yesterday she has been addressed by the wrong surname... which, naturally, meant that My Birdbrain Cousin and I have been asking Hello Kitty why she's such a Ho.

Droning Boy: snowy Hokkaido

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I dragged my ass out of bed a little after 6 a.m. in spite of my lack of sleep yesterday.  One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to take some shots of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) from the air, and I had gotten my drone fixed just in time before we flew here.

I went out the front door of the Hotel Windsor Toya, and after a short walk trying not to slip on compacted snow, I realized that the hotel parking lot would be a good spot for me to take off.  I unfolded my portable landing pad, tried to secure it on a pile of snow flattened by a bulldozer, and launched my drone into the sky.

This was my first time trying out the panoramic mode on the DJI Mavic Pro, and the functionality only came out about a year ago.  I was pretty excited to check out the spherical panorama mode, where the drone positions itself to take 34 pictures which can later be stitched together on the app itself.  I also took some wide, horizontal panorama shots.


I focused on shooting video for my second flight, and pushed the drone towards Nakajima Island (中島) in the middle of Lake Toya.  I was almost over the edge of the lake, at a distance of around 2.5 km, when I decided to bring the drone home.  There still seemed to be a healthy buffer between the estimated time remaining on the battery and the minimum time for the drone to fly straight home.

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