March 24, 2019

Over the Moon

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I'm doing a full day in Macau today at the invitation of Wynn Palace Cotai, as part of the whole series of special guest chef events in conjunction with the upcoming Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards.  I hauled my ass out of bed the couch this morning after a sleepless night, as I got woken up by Legolas Jr. messaging me 2 hours after I went to bed.  So I arrived at the resort having had a total of 3 hours of sleep, broken into 3 segments, ready to battle the next 13 hours.  I was ever so grateful for that cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) coffee from Macau Restaurant (澳門茶餐廳) at the ferry terminal...

I "checked in" at the registration desk and received my "press pass" and itinerary.  In the envelope I also found this little thing...

I had been wondering why the scheduled start time for lunch was 11:00 a.m.  When I arrived at Sichuan Moon (川江月), André Chiang's highly-anticipated new project at the Wynn Palace Cotai, I was told that the full menu - and there is only one set menu at this time - consists of 26 courses that takes more than 4 hours to serve!  Well... unfortunately lots of people were out drinking till very early this morning, and we didn't get to a full house until about noon.

I was very pleasantly surprised at André's pop-up lunch last year, so when I found out about this lunch, I jumped at the chance.  And we were pretty surprised to spot a familiar face standing near the kitchen entrance - Zor Tan.  So it's official... Zor will be stationed at Sichuan Moon full-time, while André visits a few days each month.

The menu derives from the philosophy of 一菜一格, 百菜百味 - which showcases a single main flavor in each dish.  Last time I got a glimpse of the homework that André had to do to delve into Sichuan cuisine, but I didn't appreciate just how deep that dive was until today.

So... here we go!

Pu Er flower buds tea, old altar pickles, signature snack (啟:普洱花茶 老罈泡菜 川江點) - a trolley came bearing the different pickles the restaurant had prepared to whet our appetites.

A trio was chosen for us.

Fennel - with dill.  Sour and spicy.

Water bamboo (茭白筍) - a little spicy along with acidity, topped with what seemed to be small discs of celtuce.

Tomato - very ripe, very sweet, but also came with an acidic kick.

The Pu Er flower buds tea is apparently a rarity, with the tea trees growing at an altitude of 2,700 meters and a total production of 50 (?) kg.  Only the flower buds and shoots are picked, and we are told that leaves will never sprout in the same place again.  Whatever the story, the tea was indeed very floral, elegant, and beautiful.

Beef and potato pancake - the crispy potato cakes were deep-fried and almost like latkes.  They were stuffed with A4 wagyu, then topped with a tuna tartare mixed with spring onions, the garnished with some caviar.

To me this reminded me of those pan-fried beef patties (牛肉餅) often served in Halal beef restaurants.

88 fortune treasures (味:88富貴涼菜) - the signature appetizers selection came in a series of porcelain boxes stacked into a tower, bearing the emblem (家紋) of the restaurant.

There is always a spread of 8 appetizers (八小碟), and today we had:

Silkie chicken - spicy and numbing, with erjintiao (二荊條) chili on top.  The chili wasn't as spicy as when I had them last September because seasonal change, and it's also a lighter color today.

Signature cordyceps flowers with fermented bean sauce (招牌豆瓣蟲草花) - the flowers were very crunchy, with almost nutty flavors.  Slighting numbing on the tongue.

Cuttlefish - the paste was quenelled using chopsticks.  Wonderful springy texture.  A little numbing on the tongue thanks to the wasabi.

Japanese cucumber - I was amazed at the knifework, as these were nothing short of very thin strips rolled into little medallions.  A little salty and not much else.

Classic feipian with chili oil (經典紅油牛肺片) - with lots of sesame oil.  Initially I didn't think this was as spicy as I had expected, until the heat gradually built up on my tongue.

Pig's ear terrine (豬耳朵) - I've always loved the crunchy texture of pig's ears since childhood, and here there's a little more added in terms of flowers and vegetables encased in gelatin.

Chili peppers - the chilis were slowly confit until crispy, then the peanuts were crushed and added as filling.  The peanuts delivered beautiful toasty flavors, with spicy and numbing flavors.  This was soooo addictive that I couldn't stop myself from eating more.  For a guy who doesn't like spicy food, that says a lot.

Duck tongue - I always love these... and yes, that's soaking in chili oil...

Passing by Chengdu - rum-based with pickled juice and sesame oil added so that it matches well with the appetizers (涼菜) which use sesame oil.  Savory and sour, with the distinctive fragrance of star anise.

Hot and sour soup (湯:錦繡酸辣湯) - this looked nothing like any hot and sour soup I've ever had.  We had staff come over and pour the hot soup into the bowl, then another staff member came over to use eye drops to add both red and green chili oil on top.

The thin discs of leeks were stuffed with different ingredients, including minced pork and diced chili.  We've also got spherification of black vinegar, which makes this "molecular Sichuan"...

By the way, this was a fantastic interpretation of the classic soup.  Me likey.

These fresh, green peppercorns were spicy and numbing, but with nice citrus flavors.  They partially replaced the white pepper commonly used in traditional preparations.

2017 Keller Riesling Kabinett Limestone goldkapsel, from magnum - I had no longer that Keller made a goldkapsel version of the humble Limestone kabinett... and that it was only bottled as magnums and only available at Sansibar on the island of Sylt, Germany.  Very clean, with a little white flowers.  The acidity is there but this is surely off-dry with some sweetness.  Full on the palate but softer finish.

Signature Pipachá 1987 Niepoort Port cask (茶:川江枇杷茶) - this was very nice, with a slightly bitter finish.  The tea leaves were placed in Port pipa to absorb the flavors.

Secret recipe∙ king crab leg (鮮:秘制香辣帝王蟹) - this was certainly interesting.  Alaskan king crab certainly isn't seen on many Sichuan menus.  Here's it comes brushed with Pixian doubanjiang (郫縣豆瓣醬) that has been aged for 5 years and encrusted with a mixture similiar to the typhoon shelter sauce (避風塘醬), and this made the crab sweeter than usual... almost like sugar has been added.

The condiment on the side was actually an emulsion made by roasting the head, bones, and fins of the tuna over charcoal, and mixing the resulting oil with smoked basil.  This was very intense in terms of flavor.  Very, very nice.

But the problem was that we were meant to eat only the first section of the leg, because the rest of it still had the shell on... and we weren't given tools to make extracting meat easy.  I honestly hope that the kitchen ends up making use of all that meat and don't end up throwing it all away...

Tsingdao Original 13° (青島啤酒原漿) - this is unpasteurized, unfiltered, and undiluted.  Apparently this is flown from Chengdu to Macau twice a week, as the Chengdu branch of Tsingdao Brewery was the first to develop and market this "original beer" - which has a shelf life of just seven days.  The flavors here were so clean and not at all bitter.  It tastes like witbier, but even softer and more elegant.  For a guy who dislikes beer for its bitterness, this was probably the best beer I have ever had.

Masterpiece∙ma-po tofu (麻:經典麻婆豆腐) - we have another reinterpretation of a classic dish.  André thought that a lovely fragrance should be part of the dining experience of "numbing, hot, and fragrant (麻, 燙, 香)", so a "bowl" made of layers of fresh bay leaves is presented, whose dual job was to hold the hot clay pot (燙) and insulate the diner from the heat, as well as warm up the bay leaves to release the fragrance (香).

As it turns out, we have 4 different types of tofu underneath the sauce made with wagyu and peanuts: firm tofu (老豆腐), silken tofu (絹豆腐), black tofu (黑豆腐) made with black beans, egg tofu (玉子豆腐).

Even though I knew that there was so much food coming that I couldn't possibly have room for it, but I really did wish for a small bowl of rice to go along with this...

That numbing (麻) flavor from 大紅袍花椒 was quite something.

2016 Georges Vernay Condrieu Les Terrasses de l'Empire - great on the palate.  Floral, elegant, subtle, with a bit of that overripeness that is almost acetone, and slightly bitter mid-palate.

Sweet corn on a bed of sponge cake (馥:玉米粑粑) - André called this "Sichuan tamales".  Beneath the layer of sliced corn kernels was a mousse made by squeezing the liquid from the corn that had been steamed and then grilled.  It was very pure and rich in corn flavor, creamy in texture, and reminded me of corn ice cream that is so popular in Southeast Asia.  There was also a piece of corn sponge cake on the side.

I gotta say that after the spicy and numbing job that the mapo tofu did on my tongue, it was pretty nice to have something creamy and sweet coating my taste buds and putting out those fires...

Two types of corn were used for this dish: yellow varietal from Japan for the sweetness and a white varietal from Taiwan for the aroma.

Crispy rice coated with spring onion dust (粑:四川鍋粑湯菜飯) - this was kinda like pan-fried eight treasure rice (八寶飯), and this was encased with different types of ham... with one type delivering more crispy texture.  There were also diced shiitake mushrooms as well as dried squid.  Served with a thick, strained porridge made with rice and chicken.

These were the dried squid used in the dish.

2007 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne - very yeasty and moussy.

Peppercorn flavored duck foie gras and mushroom royale (旬:椒麻野菌鴨肝凍) - my friend took one look at this dish and said to me: "André is back!"  Indeed, this is a updated variant of his classic dish "Mémoire".

But one main difference was immediately apparent: GOLD!  Just look at the serving vessel!  And that gold leaf on top!

The other new ingredient in place of morels was sarcodon aspratys or "tiger paw mushroom" (虎掌菌), with a pretty intense fragrant like aged soy sauce.  There's also some spicy and numbing pepper broth, which was something completely new.

2014 Damijan Ribolla Gialla - this is "yellow wine" or as I would classify it, bongwater.  This showed acetone, like a dry Sauternes.  Very aromatic, and paired well with the custard.

Spicy Buddha jump over the wall (鱻:水煮海味佛跳牆) - another classic dish with a slightly different take.  The clear broth was made with chicken as well as dried shrimp.  In the bowl you've got your usual abalone, fish maw that came thick-cut and springy, deep-fried pork chop (排骨酥), as well as extremely straight strips of beans sprouts (銀芽), celtuce, and kombu (昆布).  I was surprised to find flat noodles made of sweet potatoes in the bowl.

But the most surprising part was how oily this soup was.  The oil came from the deep-fried pork chops, and ended up forming a layer on the surface to keep the heat in - much like the Yunnan classic crossing-the-bridge noodles (過橋米線).

I wonder what grade of fishmaw was being used... not that I know anything about them.

Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado - untiltered, very nutty, medjool dates, and not very "clean".  Very oxidized, obviously, and pretty dry on the palate.  Just love the fragrance in the mouth.

Longevity dan-dan noodle (香:一條擔擔麵) - I was pretty happy with the dan-dan noodles I got last time, but this ups the ante.

There was a single strand of noodle hidden in the pot containing hot broth, which had the function of keeping the temperature of the noodle warm while preventing the noodle from sticking to itself.

I used my chopsticks to yank it out... and I kept pulling and pulling... and it never seemed to end!  I liked this version of dan-dan noodle, too.

2015 Jiabeilan Baby Feet Pinot Noir - nose was interesting with leather and fruit.  Much better than the last time I tasted it.  Some sweet bubblegum later.

Wood roasted meat in unusual flavor (狩:柴燒怪味龍鳳餅) - this seemed like an ordinary turkey wing...

...but it was actually stuffed with wagyu, with a paste between the beef and the turkey that had some black truffle in it.  The steak was first grilled, then smoked, then stuffed into the wing before being placed in the oven.  This was kinda like a Beef Wellington, where the kitchen needed to strike a balance between cooking the beef and the wing.

One is then meant to wrap the meat inside a thin pancake, along with some spring onions as well as strange flavor sauce (怪味醬) - which simultaneously delivers salty, sweet, spicy, sour, and numbing flavors.  So it's kinda like eating Peking duck... except it's not.  I thought this was just OK, and in honesty it was too fatty and heavy - especially coming this late in the menu.

This was the longan wood charcoal used in the cooking.  Supposedly...

2015 Lanzaga El Velado - fruity and fragrant, with some dried herb potpourri.

Burnt scallop with green chili (潮:二荊條椒香扇貝) - this reminds me a little of that wonderful marble goby I had 6 months ago, but this time the green sauce/foam was made with fresh green peppercorns instead of the erjintiao chili.  I definitely felt the numbness on my tongue.  Oh, and the erjintiao chili was still spicy, in spite of what our server said...

Very nice doneness on the scallop.

Erjintiao chili.

2016 Tiansai Skyline of Gobi Chardonnay Reserve - nice and toasty with good lemon and citrus notes.

"Yu xiang" eggplant (茄:臘八豆豉魚香茄) - the last re-interpreation of a classic dish.  As the saying is "魚香不見魚", the sauce is made by fermenting carp with chili, garlic, salt, and vinegar into a kind of "fish sauce".  Interestingly the delicious sauce reminded me of the sweet chili and garlic sauce served with sweet and sour fish (松子魚).

As for the eggplant itself, the texture was very soft.  It came with two small piles of caviar, raw onions, and sansho leaves (木の芽) as well as powder.  I thought the combination of caviar with eggplant was OK... there were some flavors of the sea but they wasn't overpowering.

André called this "Sichuan truffle" but it is really fermented bean paste called 水豆豉 - which used to be a cheaper substitute for salt that also delivers tons of umami.  It certainly had a deep and strong fragrance, very similar to dark soy sauce.  This was grated on top of the greens on the side.

Rice is gold (米:稻米是金) - almond cream, almond tofu, espuma, meringue, and rice sorbet on top.  There was some kudzu hidden in the almond cream.  Nice.

We were meant to pick out some puffed rice and drop them into the bowl.

Wolfberry sorbet with wolfberry jelly

Spicy Goji - a mocktail made with gin infused with spices and herbs, which subsequently had alcohol removed, and to this wolfberry flavors were added.  This tasted fermented like pickle juice, both sour and savory.

Green pepper chocolate with fleur de sel

1946 Toro Albalá Don PX Convento Selección, bottled in 2011, from double magnum - lots of potpourri, pine needle, sweet on the nose.

Just look at this color!  Very rich, soooo viscous.  Downright unctuous.

Sour, sweet, bitter, spicy (嚐:酸甜苦辣) - the jelly was engineered to deliver the four classic flavors - sour, sweet, bitter, spicy - in that particular order.  And deliver it did.  Wow!

Mignardises

Lunch was, unbelievably, an affair that lasted more than 4 hours.  There was sooooooo much food.  We were told upfront that we didn't have to finish everything, and we certainly did not... but we were still very, very stuffed.  And we were all very, very impressed.  What a fantastic meal!  I was already pretty impressed 6 months ago by the amount of homework André did, and today's menu certainly showed the depth of his research.

We are told that the restaurant will soon feature a shorter menu - one that does not require sitting through 4 hours - which will be attractive to those who are looking for a quick turnaround so they can get back to the gambling tables in a hurry.

One final plea: I know this is Macau and it's all about excess, and I know Chef André wants to deliver the best possible experience for his guests... but given that few mortals will be able to finish the entire meal, I think it would be good to cut down on the number of courses and the amount of food being served - in the name of sustainability.  After all, most of us had already been wow'ed by the time we got the king crab... and starting to feel full after the mapo tofu.  What the world doesn't need is more food thrown out into landfills.

Many thanks to the team at Wynn for this kind invitation.  I now need to find a date to come back with Hello Kitty...

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