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".

La Saint-Jacques: la noix poêlée, lait de noix de coco épicé et condiment de coriandre from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - these were some of the largest scallops I had ever seen, and came from a Japanese supplier I happen to know.  The Southeast Asian flavors of curry, coriander, and coconut were very intriguing.
La fine tarte: friande aux oignons confits et lard fumé paysan from Robuchon au Dôme, Macau - I finally managed to take down the iconic truffle tarte from Robuchon!  And because Chef Julien Tongourian was loathe to cut a tarte in two for us to share, we ended up with a whole tarte each.  What an awesome combination together with onion confit and lardons!

Suckling pig filled with pila (金陵乳豬飯) from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒), Macau - Chef Tam Kwok Fung had turned the original dish from the Kimberley Restaurant (君怡閣) into these bite-sized maki(巻き), and in that process made it PERFECT.  This one topped all others that I have tasted so far.
Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) from Softbank Private Kitchen (軟庫飯堂), Hong Kong - this classic dish will always be part of my annual list, and on this particular occasion it was extra special as the chef added 50-year-old dried mandarin peels in honor of a master chef at the table.  I doubt I will ever have another bowl that is as good as this one.

Rainbow pig's stomach (五彩豬肚) from the House 102 (壹零貳小館) pop-up at The Chairman (大班樓), Hong Kong - the effort behind this dish was pretty amazing, as the chefs read a description of the dish from an out-of-print book, and had to come up with a recipe by themselves.  The "pâté en vessie chinois" was truly remarkable, and tasty, too!

Deep-fried crispy crab cake (金錢蟹盒) from Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜), Macau - it's so rare to find this nowadays, but here we've got "ravioli" made by stuffing crab meat and other goodies between two round sheets of pork lard... so this was basically deep-fried lard!  How is that not awesome??

Stir-fried frog's legs with kailan (玉簪田雞) from Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜), Macau - another amazing old school dish.  The meat from the frog's legs were taken off the bone, then tied around kailan steams like ribbons.  The execution was perfect so that both the veg and the protein were served at the correct doneness.

Horse mackerel (鯵) from Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう), Hong Kong - horse mackerel has always been one of my preferred neta (ネタ) on sushi, but the way it is aged at Sushi Saito makes it the best version I've ever had... and I was lucky to have had it a few times during the year.

Noir de Bigorre pork chop from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - the beautiful hunk of fatty pork was chopped up and served with rice pilaf mixed together with boudin basque, morels, and a creamy sauce.  Simply out of this world!

Crispy young pigeon (紅燒脆皮妙齡鴿) from Stellar House (星月居), Hong Kong - I still think this is the best Cantonese-style pigeon in Hong Kong.  The meat from the young pigeon somehow had that milky flavor, and was just sooooo succulent.  I would go back for this more often if I didn't have to deal with the way this restaurant forces you to order...

Candlenut's classic chendol cream, pandan jelly, gula melaka from Candlenut, Singapore - simply one of my favorite desserts in the world, and this version of the classic chendol is, in my mind, perfection - thanks to the fluffy coconut custard and gula melaka.

Wild-caught New Zealand littleneck clams (Austrovenus stutchburyi)), flambéed in white wine, drizzled with fish sauce and fried shallot grapeseed oil from The Naked Finn, Singapore - this might seem like something really simple at first glance, but that fried shallot grapeseed oil was just fucking amazing!  We ended up ordering another serving because none of us was happy with what we got.

Noharayaki (野原焼) at Yakiniku Jumbo (焼肉 ジャンボ), Hong Kong - Hello Kitty called this "cow on a cloud", and that about sums it up.  Beautifully done thin slice of sirloin is rolled up and served on a fluffy bed of. whipped egg white and yolk.  Little wonder this is the signature dish at Yakiniku Jumbo.

Aori cuttlefish: ribbons confit in kombu infused extra virgin olive oil with sweet peas, wakame and shallots, buttermilk emulsion, plankton dust and torroro kombu from Amber, Hong Kong - the texture of the bigfin reef squid was just so bouncy and beautiful, while the other ingredients managed to deliver sweetness, umami, acidity, and creaminess.  Pretty amazing.

Charcoal grilled smoked pigeon breast (小鳩の炭火焼き) from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Hong Kong - I was stunned by how beautiful this Racan pigeon was... It's been a while since I last tasted a pigeon breast this perfect.

Hokkaido scallops contisée with black truffle cooked in a crispy beignet, celery roots purée, shaved hazelnuts, Pouilly Fuissé fins fumet at Écriture, Hong Kong - inside the crunchy beignet were bouncy slices of scallops, with black truffles between the slices and seaweed wrapped around them.  Nice combination of sweetness and umami.

Sweet corn puffed mousse with aburi botan shrimp from Ta Vie 旅, Hong Kong - one of my favorite dishes from one of my favorite restaurants.  That amazing combination of sweetness from the corn mousse as well as raw kernels worked magic with the sweetness of raw shrimp and the umami of shrimp gelée, plus fragrant olive oil.  Every bite was beautiful.

Classic: sweetbreads, langoustine in ceviche, butter with herbs and lime from L'Air du Temps, Éghezée, Belgium - the sweetbreads were a revelation.  It was soft and fluffy inside, but the exterior had a glaze that made me think I was eating Korean fried chicken.  Even Hello Kitty - who normally passes on organs - thought this was amazing.

Tomato, African marigold from Hertog Jan, Zedelgem, Belgium - I finally tasted the tomatoes from the gardens of one of my favorite chefs, and the flavors were just amazing.  They grow more than 100 cultivars of tomatoes, and a different combination goes on the plate every day.

Noble pâté-croûte: Bigorre's black pork, duck and goose foie gras from the south west of France from Restaurant Bozar, Brussels - Karen Torosyan's "world champion" pâté en croûte was every bit as amazing as I had expected.  I only wish they gave me a thicker slice!

Curcubit from Mirazur, Menton, France - this bowl of melons and cucumbers was incredibly refreshing, and just perfect for the scorching summer heat in the south of France.

Tête de turbot grillé aïoli from Au Passage, Paris - I couldn't believe that for 10 Euros, I got an entire head of turbot!  Very simply grilled, sprinkled with salt, and served with some aïoli on the side.

Bombay duck with loofah (絲瓜九肚魚) from Wing Lei Palace (永利宮), Macau - I had my first taste of bombay duck more than 20 years ago when I first moved to Hong Kong, and I don't remember ever having it as anything other than deep-fried.  For this meal Chef Tam Kwok Fung cooked them in a milky broth, and the texture of the fish was almost like sticks of jello with bones.  Simply amazing and a complete revelation.

Steamed marble goby with chili and quinoa (椒香藜麥筍殼魚) from The Bridge 廊桥, at the pop-up dinner at Wynn Palace, Macau - spicy food is rarely in my diet, and I tend to avoid Sichuan cuisine like the plague due to the prevalence of over-the-top mala (麻辣) flavors.  This dish was eye-opening.  The tender and succulent fish came with a beurre blanc sauce flavored with chilis.  Even without eating any of the erjingtiao (二荊條) chilis on top, this dish was fucking spicy.  But I loved every bite of it.

Cold soumen with abalone and siroebi shrimp (煮鮑と白エビの素麺) from Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Hong Kong - a beautiful dish of perfectly cooked abalone, scored to soften the texture even further, on top of refreshing cold somen with glass shrimp.  I'd be happy to have a few portions of this any day.

Oriental sole meunière from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - thes was only the second time I've ever come across the oriental sole (七日鮮).  Such a rare treat!  And perfectly cooked meunière by The Man in White T-shirt.

Braised pork rice (滷肉飯) from My灶, Taipei - such an awesome version of the Taiwanese staple using only pork skin and belly fat, which in my opinion is the only way to go.  None of that minced meat bullshit... 

Rubia Galega / Jerusalem artichoke / moromi miso from HAKU, Hong Kong - there was no way I could leave this off the list.  This was specially made at my request, as a joke, following the exploits of Salt Bae.  Rubia Galega is always a good idea, and when it's covered in bling... it's just unbeatable.

Today's classic; gargouillou of young vegetables, seeds and herbs, touch of reine des près oil from Michel Bras Toya Japon, Toya, Japan - after years of eating other chefs' copies and interpretations of this iconic dish, I finally had the chance to taste the "original"... or at least an "authentic copy" in Japan.  Simply stunning.

Aligot from Michel Bras Toya Japon, Toya, Japan - not many places in the world outside France bother to serve up aligot, and I was overcome with joy and felt a little emotional when this became part of my lunch.

Female snow crab (せいこ蟹) from Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十), Tokyo - I had the good fortune of having a few versions of this seasonal delicacy in the space of 2 weeks, and this was my favorite.

Mackerel bozushi (鯖の棒鮨) from Ginza Kojyu (銀座 小十), Tokyo - this piece of bozushi (棒鮨) was so big and thick that it was just soooo satisfying to bite into... especially given the crunchy texture of the mackerel.

To share: guinea fowl from Florilège, Tokyo - guinea fowl can often be boring, or worse, overcooked.  This one was cooked perfectly, with a soft and fluffy texture without being mushy.  And the glutinous rice cooked in miso made it even more interesting.

Simmered snow crab meat with tomalley (蟹身 蟹味噌) from Kimoto (紀茂登), Tokyo - it's hard to imagine a better crab dish than the combination of crab tomalley, crab meat, and dashi simmered together.  Absolutely delicious.

The final count is 35 dishes - which I had whittled down from an initial list of about 45. 2018 has been an exceptional year for me in terms of dining out, but I'm going to try to cut down on the number out large meals in 2019.   Growing Boy needs to shrink a little...

2 comments:

Markus Schmidt said...

thank you so much for sharing your list of favourite dishes in 2018. I had the braised pork rice at My when visiting Taipei between Xmas and New Year with my family. Also had some memorable dishes at Sushi Saito, Neighborhood, Frantzen's Kitchen and Yin Yang Coastal (the latter out at Ting Kau Beach having been a very nice discovery) - thanks for your multiple reviews of the former three places last year! Best wishes for a gastronomically satisfying 2019.

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