March 25, 2018

(Gre)GohGanDen

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I'm back in Macau on a day-trip (my fifth trip in 2018) for a very special lunch.  Ahead of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Bangkok last year, I attended the first four-hands collaboration between Gaggan and DEN (傳).  Subsequently I also attended the two GohGan collaborations between Gaggan and Goh-san from La Maison de la Nature Goh - in Seoul and Bangkok.  All three have been very interesting dinners for me.

Two months ago, in between bites of roast suckling pig at Seventh Son (家全七福), Gaggan told us about their plan to do a new variation of GohGan - by adding DEN into the mix.  We knew that this would take things up a notch, so we were pretty ecstatic when the invitation came to join the event in Macau.

Hello Kitty and I dragged our butts out of bed early in the morning, and took the ferry to Macau.  We arrived at Wynn Palace a full hour before lunch started, so we strolled around for a little lèche-vitrines before becoming one of the first to arrive at Mizumi (泓).

The three chefs were still busy doing their thang, so I waived Vladimir Kojic over and handed him the bottles of wine that I had brought him and Gaggan - including a bottle of natural wine bong water that I planned to drink with him.  This was gonna be fun!

When enough people had arrived, we took our seats next to The Great One and Sweetheart, plus a couple of other friends of Gaggan we had seen at the GohGan in Seoul.  A cozy group which made for good conversations.



True to form, we found an emoji menu in front of us. I was very much looking forward to being surprised for the next 14-courses. Given that the chefs only arrived in Macau on Friday, it wasn't a surprise to hear that the menu was only finalized yesterday morning...

La Closerie Extra Brut - very yeasty nose.  Lots of mousse here, and very floral.  Nice.

Foie gras 🍊 monaka - BUT OF COURSE the first course would be the DEN monaka (最中)... There would, of course, be smooth, creamy and fatty foie gras inside the monaka.

The fruity ingredient denoted by the orange emoji? That would be kumquat (金柑) marmalade, and the citrusy fragrance carried by the peel made the dish.

Lick It Up 👅 umami - these days when you see the tongue emoji, and when you suddenly hear guitar riffs being blasted around you, you know what comes next would be “Lick It Up”…. Today the dish – like many which would follow – was a joint effort by all three chefs. We were asked to identify the chef behind each of the three different purées, so we ended up taking little licks of each.

The tomato/chili chutney at the bottom came from Gaggan; the green pea (perhaps with spring onion) in the middle from Goh-san; the miso at the top came from Zaiyu-san. And yes, we all licked from the plate, and there were pictures and videos…

2012 Pithon-Paillé Coteau de Treilles - nice acidity here.  Tasted a little complex and unfiltered, with some oak.

Tart 🐷 brain - upon opening the box, we found what looked like a Portuguese pasteis placed on some cinnamon sticks, surrounded by star anise and cardamom. But the emoji was a pig’s head…

As it turned out, beneath the top layer of sweet brûlée was a creamy mousse made with pig brains, spicy with curry flavors as well as the fragrance of cardamom. This was very, very delicious. I could have had a few more of these and inhaled them like I do pasteis

2003 López de Heredia Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia - very oxidized nose, really sweet nose with lots of vanilla and marzipan.  Ripe on the palate with good acidity.

Bafun uni 🥣 white asparagus - it’s hard not to love a dish which has tongues of sea urchin peeking through the top. Apparently a classic dish from La Maison de la Nature Goh, the chilled white asparagus purée hid a layer of what I thought was shellfish gelée at the bottom.  This had a combination of sweetness with umami, which made it a very beautiful dish.

Duck 🦆 vindaloo - being served in a metallic Chinese steamer may make this "bao" look Chinese, but the bun was, in fact, made with Japanese sake that Zaiyu-san brought - whose flavors I could certainly detect over those of the slightly spicy duck vindaloo filling made by Goh-san.  VERY, VERY tasty.

Otoro 🐟 paturi - this looked like a familiar dish from Gaggan, but looks can be deceiving.  Once the cedar paper was removed and the banana leaf was unwrapped, what we got was an arrangement of fatty tuna belly (大トロ), which had been cured by Zaiyu-san for a day in soy sauce which had konbu (昆布) sitting in it for a month.  Paired with a little yuzu-flavored wasabi.

With the paturi, the burning/smoking process meant that parts were slightly warmed - melting the fat a little - while others remained raw.

OK.  So I ate bluefin tuna today.  I didn't proactively tell anyone about my dietary preferences, because this was a special event and I wanted to see what the chefs would come up with.

Fried chicken 🍗 Dentucky - もちろん there would be DFC... This time with some sakura blossoms... and the special people opened up their boxes to find a little Zaiyu doll inside.

So as usual you've got glutinous rice stuffed inside the deboned chicken wing, along with edamame (枝豆).  There was a spicy ingredient inside and we managed to identify it as X.O. sauce.  But as we learned a few minutes later it wasn't just ANY X.O. sauce... it was actually the X.O. sauce from The Great One herself - who regularly brings it as gifts to chef friends like Gaggan and Zaiyu-san.

As it turns out, this was actually an 8-hands event, then...

2014 Burn Cottage Pinot Noir Burn Cottage Vineyard - sweet and ripe fruit.  Pretty nice.

Awabi 🍄 shitake - the abalone came in thick chunks, and while we have eaten our fair share of fresh and dried abalone, the thick cut and the precise cooking delivered a particularly spring texture - which I enjoyed immensely.  The shiitake mushrooms and the mushroom sauce on top delivered plenty of umami as Zaiyu-san intended, while the porridge at the bottom was made with abalone liver to add some intensity of flavors.  A very understated dish which provided much satisfaction.

Rosy 🐠 seabass - the carpaccio was seasoned with tarragon oil, lemon salt, and a little koji (麹) salt.  In addition to the acidity curing the dish, you've also got a little curry flavor here... which was totally unexpected.

2012 Pierre Gonon Saint Joseph - very ripe and sweet on the nose, almost jammy, with nice notes of dried herbs, almost floral.  Still pretty tannic.

Beef shank 🥟 black garlic - the single black momo dumpling was presented in a beautiful Japanese lacquer bowl, sitting in a clear broth (of beef consommé and dashi?)

The oxtail filling was actually pretty tasty.  The dumpling wrapper was a little drier and more chewy than I had expected, but I didn't mind it.  This was actually pretty comforting and nice.

Charcoal 🌑 surprise - this is a classic Gaggan dish, the ingredients of which are usually never made known to the diner in advance.  One simply needs to bite into it and try to figure out.

Today the shell was made of mashed taro, while the center contained a combination of Mangalitsa pork and cheese.  It was pretty tasty, and also kinda fun to eat...

At this point I asked Vladimir to bring out the bottle of bong water that I brought along. It has been airing for the last two hours, and he was pretty confident that I wouldn't like it.  But hey, I brought this for him and Gaggan so we would drink it together...

2015 Gut Oggau Mechthild - totally bong water!  Just look at how cloudy and orange the thing is!  Nose was definitely pungent with minerality and fizziness.  It's actually more like a French cidre and less like wine.  Vladimir was right.  While I wouldn't mind a bottle of cidre like this, I have a tough time accepting it as a bottle of wine.

King crab 🦀 GohGanDen - for me, this is always the highlight of any Gaggan collaboration.  The curry.  Ever since the first one I attended a year ago, I have always ordered up a "XXL" portion of this dish, and today was no exception.

As usual Gaggan was responsible for cooking the Alaskan king crab curry.  Instead of the usual practice of serving it with rice, today the curry came with Hakata-stayle ramen (博多ラーメン), sourced from ShinShin in Fukuoka (福岡) by Goh-san. True to the spirit of having every chef contribute to a dish, Zaiyu-san made the dashi which made the curry more liquid.

Yes, that's a damn big bowl of noodles.  And yes, I ate it all.  It was spicy, but I was able to take it.  And like every other Gaggan curry I have ever tasted, this was very, very delicious.  If I hadn't had another bite to eat before this arrived, I would have asked for another big bowl.

At this point we were poured a cup of fragrant rose tea to cleanse our palates.

Dessert 🍃 from the garden - this was a variation of DEN's "tea-ramisu", and was made with Taiwanese Oolong tea (烏龍茶), with (MY FAVORITE!) gold foil and what seemed to be puffed genmai (玄米) on top.

Vanilla miso 🍓 Amaou strawberry - the delicious Amaou (あまおう) strawberry from Fukuoka came with a creamy foam on top, while the vanilla miso ice cream was sprinkled with soy sauce powder, bringing a nice mix of sweet and savory flavors.

This was undoubtedly the best collaboration meal I have ever had the pleasure of attending.  This is not to say that dishes at the other events weren't tasty.  In fact, I have had many stunning dishes at 4-hands events.  But this was truly, fundamentally different.  Instead of having two (or three) chefs each doing their own thing and simply ordering their offerings alternately, most of the dishes here incorporated elements from two or all three of the chefs.  They had to work together to ensure that the end result of their joint efforts would deliver the harmony and balance that is expected of dishes from chefs of their caliber.  That, boys and girls, ain't easy.

It was good to catch up with Gaggan, Vladimir, and Rajesh; and also nice to see Goh-san, Zaiyu-san, Emi-san... and especially Noriko-san who remembered my face in spite of the fact that I had never ever stepped foot in DEN.  Many thanks for the wonderful treat!

P.S.  I wonder when Goh-san is gonna find out the evil plan Gaggan has hatched for him when GohGan (the restaurant) actually launches... *cue Dr. Evil's maniacal laughter*

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