December 11, 2007

A Very Entertaining Dinner

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Tonight I had a very entertaining meal at Tang, the French/Japanese/creative restaurant at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi in Dubai. It was entertaining because I had a lot of fun watching how badly a chef can fail to come up with something cohesive.

The Indian head waiter started by telling us how great the chefs are - one used to run a 2-Michelin star restaurant in Alsace, and the other had trained in a Michelin 3-star restaurant in the US. I was tempted to ask the guy to name the restaurant, knowing that there are only a handful of 3-star restaurants in the US, and all in NY up until Michelin released other US guides a few months ago. But I decided to pass. This guy was already getting on my nerves.

I started with Champagne and Strawberries as the cocktail, where strawberry caviar would be dropped into the Champagne flute. It all looks good and I was looking forward to the desired effect, but when I took my first sip I realized just how different my expectations were. The caviars I was looking for would be liquid inside a thin membrane made of the same liquid, a la the mango caviar at El Bulli or the carrot caviar at Tapas Molecular. Nope. The caviar here has a solid core and is just a bunch of gelatin.

I asked for the chef to put together a tasting menu. Started with the Raw Experience, where he put together blue fin tuna slices; "new style sashimi" with hamachi (actually nothing more than thin slices seared with a torch); blue fin toro; and beef sashimi wrapped in shiso and kimchi sauce. He failed miserably - I didn't get a sense at all that I was having nice and expensive blue fin, the tastes were too heavy (too sour, too salty), and the flavors clashed with each other.

Next came a pair of carpaccio - cod and beet root. I don't think cod is a suitable fish to make a carpaccio since the texture is all wrong. The beet root had sprinkles of goat cheese and was mildly interesting.

Another pairing came next - of tartares. The blue fin tuna came with kimchi sauce, and would have failed completely were it not for the thin wafer with sesame seeds. The wagyu beef tartare was topped with spicy tomato sauce, with a deconstructed Bloody Mary on the side and sprinkles of macadamia nut powder. Again, not very exciting.

The next two dishes were pretty much the only highlights of the evening. The seared diver scallops were very fresh and sweet, laying on top of pear salsa. Unfortunately it was served with slices of red beet on the side and this marred the overall experience. The spring roll of Chinese spider crabs was also a hit, with hints of lemongrass complementing the flavors.

The langoustine came on a plastic stick filled with pisco sour, and one is to inject the liquid into the meat in the process of savoring it. Unfortunately I never liked pisco sour, and the ginger marshmellows on the side again did not really work well with the rest.

The palate cleanser was a tube of apple and yuzu foam.

The grade 7 wagyu beef was introduced with much fanfare by the waiter, with all the usual clichés about how the cows drank beer and got massages while listening to classical music. Yeah, yeah, yeah... The bloody thing was obviously overcooked, looking very dry and hard on one side while desperately trying to retain some fatty flavors on the other. It was topped with red wine sauce made into caviars (this time like the El Bulli caviar) which tasted like Chinese five spice, and therefore reminded me of braised beef (五香牛肉)we find in Chinese cuisine. It came with a hard shiitake biscuit, no doubt made from the leftover juice after you soaked the dried shiitakes in hot water. It's been a while since I saw someone mess up wagyu so badly.

Pork belly was the last main course, and it was a poor version of what I can get at Bo Innovation in HK. It came with suan cai (酸菜) but basically it was sauerkraut. It also mysteriously came with a small piece of fried skate. Even more puzzling was the presence of half a cha siu bao (叉燒包)where the filling was replaced by blood pudding. Given that the majority of the population don't take a liking to blood sausage, I wonder what the chef is thinking here.

I gave in to dessert, and was served a spoonful of powdered "bread" and goat cheese, as well as a tube of honey and violet caviar as my pre-dessert. This was OK.

With dessert, the chef sort of redeemed himself a little. Whatever chocolate concoction I was served was delicious, with what I believe to be a rum sauce. Unfortuately, here again he decided to mess around with silly bits of biscuits on the side. I sampled a red piece and initially got the taste of carrots in my mouth. As time went on, I felt I was eating a piece of cardboard. Yuck...

Some words about the staff. The head waiter was annoying as he tried to recite the twenty different ingredients that the chef had used in each dish, and spoke so fast in his Indian accent that I couldn't catch half of it. He also tried to show us how great everything was, about how creative the chefs were. Well, I would have liked to let him know that his chef is one of the worst chefs I have run into, and I couldn't imagine how he ever was associated with a Michelin 2-star restaurant, let alone to have run it.

The rest of the wait staff are all cheap labor - each one is a trainee imported from a developing nation. We had girls from China and the Philippines, some of whom had only arrived in Dubai 2 weeks ago and had absolutely no experience with fine dining. They were friendly but basically useless. But then again, this fits with the overall theme of Dubai importing thousands of cheap labor from Asian countries...

Needless to say I would never EVER go near this restaurant or its chefs again. And I would strongly advise anyone else against going.

1 comment:

Pete said...

That's the problem with the nouveau riche Dubai folks who think they can buy anything with their petrodollars. You really can't buy "class", especially when it comes to serving up Michelin-quality meals. The Emiratis have no background in fine-dining ("Lamb's eyeballs, anyone?").

Thanks so much for the heads-up, that's one restaurant I'm guaranteed NEVER to approach with a ten-foot pole!


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