April 27, 2008

Another burger joint

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My cousin Maria wanted to try a new restaurant for our get together tonight, and since I had heard good things about it from my friend Susan, I decided to give Duke's Burger a try.

I felt like drinking wine with my burger, so I brought along a bottle of 1999 Torbreck Descendent. I had actually opened the wine at home to let it breathe, so I fully expected to drink it with dinner. When I got to the restaurant, however, I was informed that the corkage was a whopping $400! This is ludicruous, considering that they offer about 10-12 wines on their poor wine list, and there aren't really any good wines on the list in my book (other than a German Riesling). What they charge is equivalent to what a 5-star hotel would charge, and about the cost of 2 burgers on their menu!

Maria and I considered leaving the restaurant altogether out of principle. In the end I decided to stay and try out the burgers, but felt that I probably would not return in the future.

Just to be different, I ordered the Kurabuta (they can't even get the name right - it's kurobuta 黒豚 dammit!) pork belly and pork crackling burger. Maria chose the beef short ribs burger with foie gras. We also ordered the sweet corn and Parmesan fritters because it looked tasty at the next table.

The burgers arrived and we dug in. There was a fair amount of black pepper in the food, both in my pork patty and the fritters. The fritters were tasty, a wise choice on our part. As for my pork burger, well it wasn't bad. But it wasn't outstanding for the price. The marinated cabbage worked reasonably well with the pork, but the crackling was just way too hard. I could have chipped my teeth on the thing...

The Torbreck Descendent was a bit disappointing. Even with extended aeration, the wine never showed its power. I had fully expected that this wine, having aged for 9 years since harvest, to fulfill its potential. Maybe the vines were simply too young when the wine was made, even though it was made from cuttings of old vines. To be honest, the bottle of 2003 Torbreck Juveniles I had in Taipei a week ago blew this bottle away, and Descendent is meant to be a better wine.

Including the $400 corkage and a glass of wine, the bill came to $1,100 for two. Not exactly cheap, and with the wine service (or lack thereof) I'm not exactly dying to go back.

April 23, 2008

Restaurant Magazine's Top List 2008

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The list of "World's 50 Best Restaurants" have just been published yet again by UK's Restaurant Magazine. The updated list for 2008 remains unchanged at the top, and since I haven't made any visits to Europe and the US since 2006, I have only been to 4 out of the top 10.  I would certainly agree that El Bulli, French Laundry and per se all merit a place within the top 10. Not so sure about Arzak.  I have been to 18 of the top 100 restaurants listed.

Honestly, some of the restaurant rankings make me choke, and I question whether some of the people on the panel really know what they are talking about, particularly when it comes to Asian/Japanese food.

As Chubby Hubby has already mentioned in his blog, restaurants from Japan are glaringly missing - there are NONE among the top 100. The top restaurant in Asia continues to be Bukhara in New Delhi - at #55. While I have been to Bukhara and really enjoyed my dining experience there, I feel that there are many, many better restaurants across Asia. Can this be a result of the heavy British influence, where many of the Brits have visited India while travel less to Japan?

Other British/western influence end up with some glaringly ludicrous rankings. Hakkasan at #19? Puh-leeeze! Chinese food for Brits in a hip setting, only a step up from serving chop suey and General Tso's chicken... Nobu London, Nobu New York, Zuma London and Zuma Hong Kong?! These guys clearly have never had a good meal in Japan! Why does Zuma Hong Kong even deserve its #99 spot?!

I am happy, however, with the fact that Singapore's Iggy's has shown up at #77. I have always liked Iggy's and felt it was the best western restuarant in Singapore by a long shot. Pierre Gagnaire in Hong Kong has also made it at #88.

Let us hope that the list improves every year, in terms of having more people on the panel who actually know Asian cuisine...

April 20, 2008

A pleasant little discovery

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I was walking around Taichung today and looking for a place to lunch around the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, when I came upon Gulu Gulu (咕嚕咕嚕), a cute little joint with whacky decor. It turns out to be a theme restaurant focused on Taiwanese Aborigine culture, and I stayed to check it out.

The specialty of the restaurant was roast meats, and after some introduction by a waitress, I chose roasted mountain dove (山鳩). There was a simple salad and a vegetable/seafood soup that wasn't bad. Then the roasted bird came. It was smaller than a pigeon, and had been roasted outside using charcoal to perfection. Basically, it's a healthier (less fatty) version of the pigeon. Crispy on the outside, and still tender and slightly moist on the inside. I relish the moment by crunching on the tiny wings of the bird. This was pretty good!

There was traditional aborigine music playing from a CD. The restaurant also seems to have live music in the evening. The interior is decorated with tons of aborigine paraphernalia, and they really try to promote the culture. A pretty interesting place.

At NT$ 330 including service for the set lunch, I got a glass of mixed fruit and veggie juice, a salad, the soup, the main course with loads of veggies and a bit of rice, a plate of ripe pineapple slices and ice tea. That's a real bargain considering the quality of the food. I'll try to come again the next time I'm in town!

Andrea Bocelli in Taichung

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Yesterday I travelled to Taichung to attend Andrea Bocelli Live in Taichung. This was one of three stops on the tenor’s Asian tour, and the only one in the Greater China region. After a negotiation process reported to have been as long as two years, Bocelli finally agreed to make his first trip to Taiwan. Kudos to Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) for the achievement.

It was a star-studded evening of sorts, where lots of local celebrities and politicos made the pilgrimage to the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium. President-elect Ying-jeou Ma and wife entered the stadium to a round of applause, accompanied by Jason Hu and other KMT heavyweights.

I was lucky to have secured seats on the floor, 4 rows behind the VIP section and directly behind the sound engineers. In terms of acoustics I don’t think I could have done better. However we did sit behind a couple of camera scaffolds, so we didn’t have a good view of Bocelli and the conductor. But never mind, in a venue like this there is no choice but to look at the screens – you are just too far away from the performers.

The night was perfect for an outdoor concert, although the acoustics of an open-air stadium left a bit too much echo for my liking. The conductor, Marcello Rota, took his position and started the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra on the first piece. The first few notes sounded, and it was…the National Anthem...?! This took us by surprise and we slowly rose to our feet. It has been 8 years since the National Anthem was heard at events like this, and it was an emotional moment for KMT supporters inside the stadium. My parents and uncle were certainly ecstatic, as this was but another reminder that the days of DPP running the country were coming to an end.

The first half of the program focused on Italian opera, with solos and duets in turn by Bocelli, soprano Maria Luigia Borsi and baritone Gianfranco Montresor as well as performance by the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus. Quite frankly I was a bit disappointed in this part of the performance. Borsi gave a terrible performance of O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi, and I felt Bocelli’s performance during Brindisi from La Traviata was a little off in terms of tempo. His rendition of E lucevan le stelle from Tosca was interesting, showing the softer side of the character rather than continuing to hit the high notes with full force like Pavarotti. Or did he simply not have what it took to hit those notes with power?

The second half of the program was a bit more modern, including Italian classics such as O sole mio, which Bocelli sung with Borsi. I always felt that the real magic of Andrea Bocelli was his delivery of modern classics, and not his operatic work. The highlight came during the last song of the regular program, when Heather Headley sang a duet of Canto della terra. This was a great show of Bocelli’s powerful vocals at its best, coupled with the angelic voice of Headley. She was way, way better than Borsi in my opinion. The song itself, composed by the same team behind Con te partiro, is another masterpiece.

There were five encore performances, including The Prayer, another duet with the wonderful Heather Headley. I just couldn't get enough of Heather, and I wished she had a bigger role in the concert. The third encore was his international hit Con Te Partiro, which, fittingly, is usually his last encore song to close out the concerts. Here he invited Borsi on stage, but she only played backup and did not have a duet role like the original version with Sarah Brightman.

Bocelli finally closed the event with Nessun Dorma from Turandot. Now, EVERYONE knows this song, so this brought the crowd to their feet. Everyone left the concert with a feeling of elation after these two crowd favorites.

I was still a little disappointed, as I had hoped the concert would be more contemporary. But Bocelli's voice has no doubt wowed everyone, and I'm happy I was here.

April 19, 2008

La Petite Encore

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Last night I went back to La Petite Cuisine in Taipei after a very long absence. I had only been there once before, almost 4 years ago after it first opened, and have chosen not to go back after that experience. While it is famously run by Justin Quek - formerly of Singapore's Les Amis Group and currently the man behind Le Platane in Shanghai - unfortunately he is almost never in Taipei and I felt the service and food qualities didn't match my expectations.

When we arrived at 8pm, we were the only table seated at the restaurant. Now, I know that Taiwanese people usually eat dinner early, but to finish by 8pm is a litte bizarre. The maitre d' claimed that there was a big group who arrived earlier but had already left...Anyway, this wasn't the first time that I found myself to be the only table at a fine dining restaurant, and it certainly won't be the last.

I had been eating a lot recently, so I chose to order a la carte instead of taking a degustation menu. We were served two types of bread - sourdough and a small French roll with pointed ends. The sourdough was OK, but the French roll was terrible - soft and mushy in the middle. Not a good start.

I was given a complimentary cup of tomato consommé, which was not bad. The mild acidity of the tomato worked well with the beef flavor.

My starter was the Salade Printemps, which was actually very enjoyable as it had some unusual elements. It's a medley of spring vegetables such as frisee, baby corn, asparagus, radicchio and included crunchy lily buds. Nice and refreshing.

For main course I had Challans duck two ways: duck leg confit and pan-fried duck breast. The confit was pretty good, crispy and fragrant on the outside, tender on the inside. Somehow it's a notch below the one I had at the Legend Concept - maybe it's not fatty enough and a tiny bit dry? The sliced duck breast was also good. There was truffle sauce all over the plate to add flavor. I'm glad I chose this course.

I didn't have a bottle of wine with me, so I ordered from the wine list. The 2003 Torbreck Juveniles was a really nice bottle to drink. It's a bit young, but already drinking a very well, with nose of strawberries, tropical fruits such as lychee, grilled meat, some floral notes. The wine was incredibly sweet, both in terms of nose and palate. Finish was also reasonably long, possibly due to the high alcohol content. It's a big, powerful wine in Parker style and quite reasonable in terms of pricing. Yummy.

We were told that the restaurant is due to move into the Evergreen Laurel Hotel in Taipei by the end of April. I hope that being in a hotel would bring them more traffic.

April 16, 2008

A casual wine dinner

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Tonight I got together with a few friends for a long-awaited dinner to taste some good wines. We chose Cuisine Cuisine as the venue, to have some Chinese food with the wines for a change. Menu for the evening:

We started with蜜餞叉燒皇 which was pretty good and more classic than the char siu I had the night before at Yung Kee. But I think the Yung Kee version was probably more impressive.

As with last night, 脆皮燒腩仔was also on the menu, which was pretty good and fatty.

避風塘鱈魚粒 - now here is a very tasty dish involving cubes of fried cod covered under a bed of deep-fried shredded cod and garlic. Highly recommended.

The restaurant was trying to be creative with蜜汁玉子魚柳卷, but I was not very impressed with the effort. The蒜香頭油脆皮雞was very good with crispy garlic flavored skins and tender meat.

The 桂花脆鱔球 was interestingly presented on the plate, but taste was only OK. We also had a plate of kai lan (芥蘭) which was pretty decent. To round out the selection, we were recommended to take the 咖喱牛坑腩煎米粉,another creative dish that actually worked for me. Josa the eager waitress set us up with complimentary desserts and fruit to finish off the evening.

Of course the main event was the wine, and there were four bottles for the evening. We started with the 1985 Rayas Blanc - a really nice, mature Rhone with a little chalky, moldy nose that reminded me of a Sauternes. There was also a slight hint of acetone. Delicious, full-bodied wine but the finish was a little short.

We decanted the bottle of 1995 Olivier Leflaive Montrachet to speed up the aeration process. It's not everyday that one breaks open a bottle of Montrachet, so expectations were high. When we first started tasting the wine, it was still a bit tight, but already the sweet, grassy nose was showing along with sweet corn. There were also the classic flinty, mineral notes. As the evening progressed, the wine opened up further and was drinking very nicely when we finished the last drops at the end of the dinner.

The 1990 Hubert de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Les Taillepieds was quite a surprise. The first whiff produced a nose of stewed prunes and I was a bit skeptical. But as time went on, I began to really love this wine, with nose of sweet red fruits and classic smoke. The wine was smooth on the palate and a medium finish. Not bad at all for a Volnay.

The last wine of the evening was the 2002 Chave Hermitage Rouge. Now it's very, very early days to be drinking a wine from this vintage. The powerful nose with an explosion of minerals, particularly iron which reminds me of blood, was a bit too sharp at first. This wine really needs time to age in the bottle to mellow out. As time went on, floral notes emerged in the nose. Now this was a real surprise, since this is normally what we expect of Cote-Roties with Viognier blended in, but we are talking about Hermitage! This is 100% Syrah so where did the floral nose come from? It remains a mystery to us, but what I do know is that I love this wine. It needs another 5 years of bottle age, but I am going to go out and buy a case of this baby and lay it down.

This really was a great evening - four very enjoyable wines that we don't get to drink everyday. Looking forward to our next gathering...

April 15, 2008

'78 Horizontal

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Last night I attended another MNSC gathering at the VIP floor of Yung Kee Restaurant. We were a little pressed for time compared to our normal schedule, since the host needed to board a plane bound for Paris.

We started with the 1988 Pol Roger, which had a very sharp, acidic finish. I did not care much for this wine.

We had some really nice fatty char siu (肥龍叉燒) to go along with the Champagne. There was enough juicy fat to make it yummy.

The Chinese menu was excellent, which consisted of:

燻雲霧肉 - yummy and fatty pork with crunchy skin.

清酒鮑魚 - soft and tender abalone, flavored just nice and not too salty.

禮云河蝦 - creamy and full of flavor, with sauce made from the eggs of local crabs called 蟛蜞.

椒鹽參扣 - crunchy and chewy, these are acually the same type of sea cucumber that I had at Rafa's in Roses, Spain. These are small and white in color, and very different from the typical sea cucumbers used in Asian cuisine.

金牌燒鵝 - what else can you say about roast goose from this restaurant?

香茜陳皮燉鴨湯 - this was a surprise. We were served a bowl of soup with just the Chinese parsley, but the full flavor of the roast duck has already been infused in the soup.

原隻花膠菜膽 - not bad but the host wasn't pleased with the quality here.

枝竹香芹浸海斑 - the garoupa was deep fried and then braised, and quite yummy with the tofu skin.

瑤柱蛋白炒飯- nice and light, this was originally meant to be 楊州炒飯but changed to remove pork from the menu.

禮云子粉果 - here we have the crab eggs again, wrapped with shrimp inside the dumpling skin. Yummy.

In terms of wine, we were served a horizontal of 1978's in 2 flights. They were:

1978 Robert Groffier Bonnes Mares - classic Burgundy nose, a little thin on the body which indicated that there was considerable age in this wine. Rim was a little orange.

1978 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 1 - tasted like a classic Bordeaux in blind tasting, with typical smoky nose. None of us except the nose had heard of Conn Creek, since the winery is no longer in existence. But a little research showed that Conn Creek actually produced wine from the famed Eisele Vineyard for the 1974 vintage.

I was pretty drunk by the time the second flight came around, and really couldn't taste much of anything...So no tasting notes for the following wines.

1978 Camille Giroud Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens
1978 Vieux Telegraphe Le Crau
1978 Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert

As a number of us guessed that the wines were from Burgundy when they were in fact from Rhône, it demonstrated to us once again that old wines from the two regions tend to converge in character.

April 12, 2008

A free-flowing evening

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Last night I met up with a few friends for our long-awaited gathering to drink some good wine. As some of them work as wine merchants, we brought along wines which were a bit out of the mainstream for the new experience. The venue was the Legend Concept, a private kitchen which had just moved to its new location in Wanchai. I haven't visited Pian and Andy in a while, but the food quality remained high.

We started with 2 slices of toro, which were a bit more red than I'm used to.  We then had cream of mushroom soup, topped with a dollop of ground black truffles.

Things got more interesting with the pan-fried foie gras, topped with a slice of apple that was not caramelized.  Pink guava sorbet was served to cleanse our palates before the main course. This was a very nice touch.

For main course, Pian served us different plates - three different choices among the seven of us. I got the duck confit - which I remember having from my last visit. This was prefectly fine for me. The skin of the duck has been fried to a crisp in its own fat, which was so aromatic and delicious.

We finished with a slice of chocolate cake.

The main event of the evening of course was the wine.

Interestingly we started with sake - the Fuji Takasago Daiginjo (富士高砂大吟醸) - which was nice and smooth but a little sharper than my normal tastes. Obviously this worked well with the toro.

1997 Verget Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Romanee - minerally nose but a bit acidic on the palate for my taste. Not much ripe fruit here. I think I'm too used to new world whites these days...

1997 Sine Qua Non Twisted and Bent - brought this for Elen as she loves all these funky wines from SQN (this one is a blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Chardonnay). Nose was a bit harsh at first, didn't show well when the wine was too cold. With a bit of warming up and breathing, the wonderful nose of flinty minerals combined with an explosion of rich, buttery taste on the palate. A full-bodied wine with a long finish.

1989 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Heimbourg Selection de Grains Nobles - I initially brought along this half bottle of dessert wine to finish off dinner, but a suggestion was made to break it open for the foie gras. It was pure nectar, an explosion of lychee, pear and floral notes like rose. Everyone seemed to enjoy this wine and I regret having brought only a half bottle.

2000 Mount Mary Quinet - pretty disappointing. The wine was flat and there was no fruit left. This wine was famously panned by Robert Parker, who gave only 1 vintage a score higher than 80 points. I can see why. I don't remember liking the last vintage I tasted (1996) either...

L'Interdit de Badon Thunevin - here was a wine with an interesting story. During the 2000 vintage, Jean-Luc Thunevin laid plastic on part of the vineyard to prevent the vines from being soaked in rain. This was deemed an illegal practice by the authorities, and consequently wine from this part of the vineyard had to be declassified. Thunevin called it L'Interdit, and was not allowed to vintage date or to label the appellation. It comes with an interesting label. I bought the wine during the en primeur campaign out of pure curiosity, and drank it for the first time.

I had low expectations, but I think most of us were surprised on the upside. The nose was simply classic Bordeaux. The finish was a little short at first, but after the wine opened fully there was loads of smoke, grilled meats, leather and earth. A nice wine to drink considering how little I paid for it, which was 150 pounds for the case.

1997 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto - this was a generous contribution, as James Suckling rated this very highly. I didn't like the wine much at first, as I felt the nose showed stewed prunes and generally a hint of having been subject to heat. With more aeration, the nose improved significantly and it was quite enjoyable at the end.

2000 BOND Matriarch - this one was a crowd pleaser, a wine that drank well after sitting in decanter for 2 1/2 hours. Classic Californian with nose of sweet cotton candy and vanilla. Sourced from the winery directly, I was not disappointed by this effort from Bill Harlan.

For the second night in a row I leave a restaurant past midnight. 7 1/2 bottles of wine for the 7 of us...not a bad way to spend Friday evening!

April 11, 2008

Investor dinner in Hong Kong

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Last night I took my HK-based investors to dinner at Caprice as a gesture of appreciation of their support. I had been wanting to do this for a while, and we were treated to A Taste of Caprice. Two of the guys were busy with work and we didn't get started until just before 9pm.

We had some wonderfully delicious bread to accompany the 1998 Kistler Chardonnay Cuvee Cathleen, which was a bit tight when it was first opened.

Started with lentils du puys and foie gras cocktail with Brittany oyster foam. I've never been a big fan of lentils, but the oyster foam was briny and yummy, but seemed to have overpowered the foie gras a bit.

I enjoyed the green asparagus with veal sweetbread fricassee, lemon confit and caper vinaigrtte. The sweetbread was nicely done, looking almost like a large piece of fried cuttlefish.

When the next course was served, one of the guys jokingly complained about the lack of food in his bowl. The morel mushroom consomme with virtual jelly of Chateau Chalon wine was first served with just a few tiny bits of jelly in the bowl. The consomme was poured in later with tiny, yummy bits of morel that were so full of forest mushroom flavor.

The 1995 Clinet was smooth on the palate, but the finish was a bit short after having been in the decanter for a couple of hours.

The wild turbot fillet with green peas, romaine salad and aromatic mint emulsion was delicious. The long and narrow piece of turbot was pan-fried and crispy, sitting on a bed of succulent peas and the tingling hint of mint adding just the right touch.

The Kistler is now fully open, full of toasty oak and minerals. Yummy.

I wasn't expecting to be served paella, but the langoustine a la plancha with shellfish and chorizo paella in lobster jus was just great. The aborio rice was cooked just rice, smooth and slippery against the tongue, and the chorizo balances the seafood.

The Pyreneen milk-fed lamb with fondant vegetables, ratte mashed potato and basil sauce was perfect. The pieces are small and bite-sized, with the lamb fat making the meat full of gamey flavor.

The 1995 Philip Togni was still full-bodied with tannins smoothed from years of aging, and was clearly the preferred wine over the Clinet.

The cheese selection from Bernard Antony was wonderful as usual. I asked for the 4-year Comté, 18-month Mimolette, Époisses, the soft and strong Munster, Pouligny Saint-Pierre...

Seeing how much I loved the Comté, the waiter brings me a glass of Château Chalon, an oxidized wine (hence a nose that is so similar to that of dry Fino Sherry) from the region of Jura, the source of Comté. And you know what, it does match the cheese perfectly!

And if this wasn't enough, we finished with two dessert courses - raspberry coque with tropical vnilla chiboust, rose ice cream and hibiscus coulis and snacking opera with coffee biscotti, pecan nut brownie and cappuccino ice cream. Both the rose and cappuccino ice creams were about the best I've ever had.

We finally finished before 12:30am, and I felt very bad for the restaurant staff who had to stay behind for us. But it was definitely a great meal, and I hope to do this again soon!

April 10, 2008

Finally, Sushi Qube

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Last night I finally had the chance to try out Sushi Qube with a couple of friends. I had read about this restaurant on the internet, as there were some discussions about this being a "branch" of Tokyo's famed Kyubey (久兵衛) - my favorite sushi restaurant. I was obviously eager to try, even though I had heard some lukewarm feedback.

The restaurant is wedged in a small space, with all of 10 seats at the sushi bar (and no tables). Apparently they seat 11 at lunch - must be really cramped! The have built in display fridges for their selection of premium sake and fine wine, and they do have a nice selection of very high end sake but prices are just too much... Fortunately I brought along a bottle of Rihaku Daijinjo Tobin Gakoi (李白大吟釀斗瓶囲い), a limited production sake that I really enjoy. This bottle was produced in June of 2004, so it's about time that I drank it up. It was pretty smooth, but a little bit more spicy on the after palate than I remember.

At a place like this, of course we would be asking for omakase - giving Chef Sato-san a free hand. Sato-san has been in Hong Kong for more than 30 years, and spoke excellent Cantonese. He explained that the restaurant is actually owned by a Mr. Yeung (did not get a clear explanation of which Mr. Yeung...) who has befriended Imada-san, owner of Kyubey. Imada-san has no stake in Sushi Qube, but there are two connections: There is a set menu called Kyubey Set whose ingredients are dictated by Kyubey, and Sushi Qube receives a shipment of fresh seafood from Kyubey each Friday.

We started with a large selection of sashimi that was clearly very fresh, which was evident starting from the amuse bouche. The chilled (not frozen) chu toro (中トロ) was very good, and the scallop was very sweet, but the surprise was the akagai (赤貝). I usually avoid akagai as I find it too crunchy, but the texture here was a nice balance - soft and supple with a touch of crunchiness.

The quartet of shrimps was also interesting - the usual suspects of ama ebi (甘えび), botan ebi (牡丹えび), kuruma ebi (車えび) plus something new called tenshi no ebi (天使のえび, Angel shrimp). All were very good, but the two which were not frozen - kuruma ebi and tenshi no ebi - were better, crunchier.

Then came the interesting experience of eating white baitfish (白飯魚). The tiny live fish were scooped out of a box and dropped into a champagne flute filled with vinegar. We were meant to have these live, by either swallowing them whole, or chew on them while having them in our mouths. After much deliberation, I decided to keep them in my mouth (and feel them wiggling on my tongue), then chew a bit before swallowing. Any taste of the fish was probably overpowered by the vinegar, but I'm glad that I finally had the chance to do this.

Moving on to sushi, we were presented with single pieces of nigiri. Initially I was a little unhappy with Sato-san's skills, as I prefer my rice to be a tad stickier so that the rice doesn't fall apart when I hold the sushi in my hand. But there was no question about the quality of the fish. I especially liked the medai (目鯛). The biggest surprise, however, was the uni (雲丹), which were from Hokkaido and gigantic. Unusual for an uni sushi, there was no seaweed wrapped around the rice, as Sato-san simply laid a large piece of uni over the rice. Delicious.

We finished with the usual egg, and here it's made with a recipe not unlike Kyubey - bearing some resemblance to Japanese castela cakes. The fruit course of tomato was also good although I found the skin a bit too thick and tough. Yuzu ice cream had nice big chunks of the rind - a good palate cleanser.

At a cost of HK$1,500 this is par for the course for this type of establishment in town. Was this an amazing meal? Not when I compare it to Kyubey. But there were enough highlights to give Imamura (今村) a run for its money in Hong Kong.

April 6, 2008

The Sound of Music

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The Sound of Music was on one of the movie channels today, and watching it brought back many, many memories. It is clear why this has been so many people's favorite movie - all the melodies are amazing. I was especially moved by the scene where the Von Trapp children sang to welcome Baroness Schraeder, as the sound of music melted the heart of Captain Von Trapp which has been frozen ever since his late wife's passing.

April 5, 2008

An evening cut short

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Last night I got together with some friends for dinner at a new venue for me. A few of my friends know the owner of Agura Creative Dining, so suggested that we dine there before moving on to karaoke in Causeway Bay. I was eager to try out a new restaurant and looked forward to the experience.

We were in a reasonably large group, and decided to ask the chef to bring out the specialties. We had also brought along a few bottles of wine that hopefully would match the food. These are the courses for the evening:

Raw oysters topped with garnish - I guess I should have asked what type of oysters were being served but couldn't be bothered. It was not too large, and more on the creamy side (not Belon 000 or Fine de Claire).

Not bad, but the pairing with the bottle of Perrier Jouet NV Grand Brut seemed a bit off...the after palate of mixing the two elements wasn't what I was expecting. I think Kami no Shizuku (神の雫) really hit it on the spot - raw oysters need to be paired with very dry, village level Chablis. Still, the Perrier Jouet is a good Champagne and I really enjoyed drinking it.

Shima aji (縞鯵) sashimi with some salad and light dressing - this was OK - the slices are larger than what you would find in a traditional Japanese place, but then again they'd never serve it with Romaine lettuce...

Steak tartare bruschetta - a few people didn't like the idea of eating raw beef, but I love steak tartare. The seasoning on this one was pretty good, with both raw and sauteed onions. The only fault here is that the beef isn't as finely chopped as one would find in a fine dining establishment. I devour two of these, and it goes reasonably well with the 1990 Jayer-Gilles Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Hauts Poirets, as the acidity of the wine works well with the Worcestershire sauce.

Softshell crab roll - topped with a sliver of avocado but nothing to write home about.

Fried fishcake - different from the standard Thai fishcakes, and somewhere between Thai prawn cakes and Japanese fishcakes. I like the consistency and the dip which is lighter than your boring tartar sauce.

Foie gras roll - I measure every foie gras sushi against the one at San San Trois, and this one fell short since it came in a maki and not a nigiri, and the piece of foie is tiny. This was also done inside out with seasame, so it's missing the nori that normally works so well.

Lobster linguine - now this one was a winner! The light cream sauce was very yummy, and everything just worked together. Paired so well with the bottle of Cloudy Bay that my friend Lai-man brought (uh...didn't check the vintage, or whether it was a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc - but it tasted like the SB...)

At this point something disastrous happened...the feeling of nausea started to build, and I realized that this was likely the onset of a reaction to food poisoning. I bid a quick farewell to my friends and rushed to get home. I just needed to rest on my couch. It didn't help that at the restaurant, we were sitting Japanese style and I had no way to lean back on anything.

I stumble into the elevator, getting weaker by the second. The door opens and in walks a colleague and his wife. I manage a feeble response to his greeting - no doubt he would have thought I was rude. I leave the elevator and stumble onto the street, feeling very dizzy at this stage and unable to keep to a straight line as I start breaking out into cold sweat. Thankfully the taxi rank isn't far away, and I manage to get home in one piece.

P.S. I managed to recover once I settled and fell asleep on my couch. Nothing ever happened afterwards, so was it really food poisoning? Perhaps. I have never had an experience like this, and can only think of the fact that I ate some raw food at the start of dinner. While it is unfair to pin the problem to the restaurant, I think I'll wait a while before going back to Agura...


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