September 30, 2008

Another couple of good meals in Singapore

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I'm eating my way through Singapore, making up for all the time that I've been away. Besides the usual street food and supper, I did have another couple of memorable meals after the great start I had on Friday.

On Sunday, I got together with some friends for brunch at Braise, with a beachfront location on Sentosa. This seemed like a great location for a relaxing Sunday brunch, as the weather was beautiful - for the most part. Turns out the food was pretty good as well.

We started with a whole selection of starters - which one can have seconds, thirds, or however much one desires! These were:

Caesar Salad - pretty decent I must say
Scallop wrapped in Parma Ham with Rocket Salad, Honey Balsamic Dressing - the only dish I did not have, but the crowd liked it enough to get seconds
Pan Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Banana - actually done pretty well and the banana was a nice touch
Poultry Consomme - this came with a foie gras ravioli and I definitely had seconds
King Prawn Cocktail Salad - pretty large and sweet prawns
Sundried Tomato and Spinach Olive and Parma Ham Escargot with Herb Crust - nice to nibble on
Pan Fried Crab Cake with Curry Aioli - really cute and delish

Next was the egg course, and I had mine done Benedict-style over an English muffin, with sausages. Not bad. While the ladies chose not to have a main course, I decided to have

Cod Fish and Chips. The batter was pretty good, and the cod was pretty tender and juicy, but I must say that the fish was a little bland. It could definitely use some more salt. The chips were thin wafers of taro, potato and sweet potato chips, very different from what I was expecting.

My friend who had the Angel Hair Pasta with Lobster Oil and Sauteed French Crevettes seemed to have enjoyed it, and it really did look delicious with those tiny shrimps.

For dessert, I had the Cheese Platter with a combination of hard and soft cheeses. Pretty good stuff.

While we could drink all the juices we wanted, I wanted to drink a bottle of the 2005 Cloudy Bay Te Koko. The price charged by the restaurant was only a slight premium to what the wine sells for retail in Hong Kong, so it was a no-brainer for me. The wine was delicious as I remembered, with notes of muscat grapes, green apples, honey and minerals. I really loved this wine, and it's such a different expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

The restaurant has an excellent wine list, including a couple of vintages of Le Pin... which you would not expect from a restaurant with this location.

We spent about 4 hours just eating, chatting and generally enjoying ourselves. I thought the price was very reasonable for the quality as well as the quantity of the food. I think I would go back for another visit if given the chance.

For Monday night, I went for a totally different experience. I had tried the very yummy crab bee hoon (米粉) from Sin Huat Eating House some time ago (thanks again, Tony Bourdain), although the dishes were so expensive that my friends and I never went back. Three of us spent around SGD 300 for dinner, and at this at an open-air hawker stall establishment in Geylang!

Anyway, there have been recommendations floating around the net for a similar restaurant nearby, where the dish to order was crab tang hoon (冬粉), and apparently for much cheaper. So the original crew set off to find Ya Kwang (亞光), just down the road from Sin Huat in Geylang.

We started with kway chap (粿汁), flat noodles in sauce with a plate of braised pig intenstines, duck meat, tofu and egg. This was OK but not especially outstanding.

Next came a nice plate of Penang fried kway teow (炒粿條), which was full of flavor and, at a mere SGD 4, the best value of the evening.

The sambal sotong (calamari) was not as spicy as I expected, and it was OK.

The chicken wings were just finger food, but could have used a bit more marinating as it was a bit bland.

So what about the crab tang hoon? Well, it was pretty good. We had two Sri Lankan crabs which were big enough but not huge. The crabs were sweet tasting and good. There wasn't a whole lot of tang hoon, but since one of us decided not to partake too much of the dish, there was plenty to go around. Chef Jason does still use the Korean version of the tang hoon (used in chap chae) which were thicker and as a result less soggy. However, initially the tang hoon wasn't able to absorb a lot of the flavor from the crab, and it was only towards the end that I tasted the full flavor in the tang hoon. So the lesson here is to eat the crab first, and do the tang hoon later.

One thing that marred the experience was actually at the end, when we asked Chef Jason for the bill. I had read over the internet that the crab tang hoon costs SGD 25 and came with "two small crabs". A sign at the restaurant also confirmed that the dish cost either SGD 25 or 28, so I didn't bother asking for the price of the dish. When the bill came, the dish came to SGD 60.

Admittedly, this was still a bargain considering we just had two nice Sri Lankan crabs. But we decided to make an offhand remark (in jest) that while the food was delicious, it was a little expensive. If you want to see how fast you can piss off the chef, this would be the exact comment you would want to make. The mood changed instantly, and Jason said "You're kidding, right? You can complain that my food doesn't taste good, but don't tell me that I'm expensive!" He walked off, and was pissed enough to send someone after us to give us back the change/tip that we left on the table. I guess he really wasn't amused, and didn't exactly have a sense of humor...A word of warning to future potential diners...

September 26, 2008

A great start to the trip

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I'm in Singapore for the first F1 race... It's been a while since I was in town last, and there are a number of restaurants that I've been wanting to try. I hit two of them today, and both have turned out to be great meals.

For lunch, my friends and I went to Forlino, a new Italian place with a killer location that is at the end of One Fullerton. The restaurant has views of Marina Square, and given the current F1 setup, the bar directly overlooks Turn 13 of the course. The decor of the restaurant is a bit funky, with some Philippe Starck elements that are at once both traditional and modern. The large windows ensure there is plenty of natural light.

I ordered a la carte, and started with cured cod and potato mousse. This was really yummy, and reminded of my trip to Spain and Portugal two years ago. Three scoops of shredded bacalhau and mashed potato, each with a thin sliver of baguette wedged in. The bacalhau was pretty flavorful, and of course the combination with potato was classic.

I tried a bite of my friend's deep-fried zucchini flower (in batter) stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. The flavors of the anchovies blended well with the cheese and the batter, and this was pretty yummy too.

For main course I had the veal ravioli with truffles. The homemade ravioli stuffed with tender veal was pretty delicious, and although the black summer truffles weren't as fragrant as I would have liked, it was still pretty nice.

I ordered a half bottle of 2005 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee St. Catherine, made from the grapes of Clos des Capucins. The nose immediately signaled a higher-than-normal alcohol content, which was fair given that this was the ultra-ripe 2005 vintage. Nose of orange flowers, apricots and some minerals were very pleasant, and only a hint of sweetness on the palate.

My friends and I all enjoyed the meal very much, especially the SGD 45 set lunch which my friends ordered. I think we would all be back again...

For dinner, I booked a table at Goto (後藤), a Japanese kaiseki restaurant near Club Street. I had read about both Goto and Forlino from Chubby Hubby, and it sounded like a place I must try. As I am in between jobs and technically not earning any income for a few weeks, I ordered the SGD 180 set instead of the SGD 280 set that I normally would have gone for.

We started with a sampler - very, very delicious tofu (made with rich, viscous soya milk); lotus root konnyaku with thin slivers of deep-fried lotus root on top; barracuda sushi (魳, hakozushi 箱寿司style); a type of clam called ivory shell; delicious marinated eggplant with a sprinkle of yuzu; and marinated red pepper from Kyoto topped with bonito (鰹) flakes. The tofu was really amazing - full of soya flavor and the consistency is so soft and tender, almost half liquid.

Next we have a simple soup with pike eel (鱧) and matsutake mushrooms (松茸). The eel was really soft and tender, and the dab of plum sauce made it very interesting.

The next course was 御作り, where we started with bonito (鰹たたき) in ponzu, and moved onto squid, pike eel, bartailed flathead (鯒), pacific saury (秋刀魚) and toro. Both the squid and the bartailed flathead were quite chewy, while the pike eel - again with a dollop of plum sauce on top and some yuzu - was really nice. The pacific saury had the usual blend of fatty oil and strong fishy taste which I love. All in all, a very good selection.

Next came a simple cup of steamed lotus root mash, pike eel, lily bulb and thin strands of black ear fungus. The flavors and textures seem to work well together.

For grilled fish, we had whole ayu/sweetfish (鮎) as well as scabbard fish (太刀魚). There was a sweet seaweed (のり) miso sauce on the ayu that made it very interesting

The tempura course was pretty creative. I loved the bunch of sweet corn, and the shishitou (しし唐) pepper stuffed with minced prawn. A roll of pike eel with seaweed wrapped around asparagus was decent, and we also had ginko nuts and yamaimo (山芋). The last piece - fig with yuzu miso - was a real surprise.

The wooden box came with sticky rice topped with salmon roe (いくら) and chestnut. Interesting blend of sweet and savory flavors.

The trio of desserts was really, really yummy. I started on the fruit, which were completely ripe examples of Japanese grapes, pear and white peach. The raspberry ice cream was very flavorful, with lots of seeds to add texture. Finally, the creme caramel was soooo milky I lapped up every ounce of it.

We had one final sweet konnyaku topped with black syrup and peanut powder, which went very well with the delicious matcha (抹茶).

I brought my own bottle of sake - hand-carried from Tokyo - which was Kaganoi Daiginjo (加賀の井大吟醸). Pretty sweet at +1 (日本酒度) and a very fine 40% seimaibuai (精米歩合). Nice and fragrant, with nose of banana and vanilla.

Apparently the chef ships in ingredients from Japan four times a week, including the wonderful tofu. I had a really enjoyable meal, and I'll try the more expensive set on my next visit.

September 22, 2008

Ayu live in Hong Kong

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I went to see Hamasaki Ayumi (浜崎あゆみ) live in concert today. 2008 marks the 10th year of her career, and rumor had it that she would put on a really good show. I, for one, did not come away disappointed. To use the cliche that she is the "Asian Madonna" is really not far from the truth.

I had gotten my act together rather late, so had to pay "secondary market" pricing for good seats, which were on the floor, reasonably close to the stage and alongside the extended catwalk. This would prove to be strategically advantageous during the show, as Ayu would perform near our seats from time to time. 

She started things with a bang, with stage pyrotechnics during the first song. There were many, many costume changes - about once every two songs - and every costume screamed bling. Silver knee-high boots, gold over-the-knee boots, red-and-black sequined corset, ball gown studded with crystals... so many I lost count. Then there was the Swarovski crystal-studded microphone.

The stage set was equally stunning. The long catwalk extending from the stage enabled her to better reach the audience for more interaction. The ability to drop down below the stage and come back up near the end of the catwalk also created sensational effect.  For the performance of "Marionette", a carousel rose from the end of the catwalk and spun around while Ayu and the dancers stood in the middle. During the performance of the last song prior to the encore, Captain Ayu stood in the crow's nest of her flying galleon riding atop the clouds (yes, I know it was only dry ice...) Clearly no expense was spared in this department.

It was a real entertaining show. With each costume change, we were treated to a video telling us a story. The story onscreen would be interrupted when Ayu and the dancers - in the same costumes as shown in the video - appear on stage for the performance of the song. This would have the end result of lengthening the show time and keeping the audience's attention while custome changes were made. There was even some element from Cirque du Soleil incorporated into the performance of one song, with three costumed acrobats climbing up and spinning down on long, sweeping ribbon-like cloth.

The regular show took about an hour and a half. Ayu and the team changed into T-shirt and jeans, came out on stage and we were treated to an encore of "Dearest" and "Voyage", which she said were two of her favorites. I thought that would be it, but what followed turned out to be really entertaining and cool. 

At the start of what would be a very interactive session, the guitarist asked Ayu to sing a song "unplugged" - without any music. He chose "Who..." because Ayu has only sung it once during the last few months of touring, and he wanted to hear it. Next Ayu picked out Jin from among the dancers, and he proceeded to teach the audience part of the dance routine from one of the songs. The interesting part, of course, was that Jin instructed the audience in Mandarin. He obviously put a lot of practice into his Mandarin, because it was actually pretty good. When they thought the audience had got the routine down, Ayu and the team performed the final song of the evening, and the audience was able to follow the team through the dance moves. That was pretty cool.

The show had gone past two hours by the time we were done, and I must say that it was a spectacular show. I had no regrets overpaying for the seats. The only regret is that I wasn't table to get my camera into the show - there was a strict bag check, and even people trying to take pictures with their mobile phones were reprimanded. But no matter. I think I would be able to remember this show for some time...

September 20, 2008

In memory of Didier Dagueneau, kind of

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Last night I finally had the chance to visit Yin Yang (鴛鴦), a fusion-Chinese private kitchen. A colleague of mine told me about this some time ago, when it was still located in the boonies. It has since moved into a new location in the heart of Wanhai's happening area. The restaurant has only 3 tables - one on the ground floor and two on the second floor. I would recommend that people book the table on the ground floor, since the second floor is noisy due to both the proximity of the tables as well as the echo from the small dining space.

It's the end of a very, very long week for most people in the financial markets, and we all desperately needed a chance to unwind with some good food and wine. The timing could not have been better.

We had pre-chosen the Menu Yin Yang, which we were told would be served over around 3 hours. There were many courses, and we were definitely stuffed at the end of the evening...

There were four parts to the Headlines, all in small portions. These were:

Organic Seasonal Sampler / Homemade Preserves (野家拼) - the cubes were made from sweet peppers, and there was black sesame sauce in the container. The Mexican chilis were apparently really, really spicy... This was OK but not really special.

Smoked Duck Breast / Organic Fruit Marmalade (黃土烟醬鴨) - the duck was pretty nice, like the French magret de canard. The marmalade was very sweet and delicious.

Drunken Abalone (樽煮罎子鮑魚) - not very drunken as it turns out, but the abalone was tender. Served with homemade oyster sauce and chrysanthemem.

Moon River (水中月, Black pig dumpling) - created to commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival, it looks better than it tastes.

The first main course was the very delicious Yellow Earth Chicken (民謠黃土雞). This was presented whole and cut into pieces. Very nicely roasted, with lots of flavor and crispy skin. Served with chopped ginger sauce (沙薑醬) made from organic ginger. Everyone loved the chicken, and it brings to mind my favorite Bresse chicken from San San Trois.

Another meat dish followed, this time called Red Hot (跟紅頂白, hot baby pig with kumquat marmalade). Basically it's the chef's version of roast suckling pig, and came to the table already chopped into pieces. My first piece, with lots of skin, was excruciatingly salty and needed to be dripped with the lychee marmalade. I also had to wash it down with water and wine. My second piece, part of the rack of ribs, had really tender, flavorful meat without the salt. The skin was so well roasted that it basically had the same texture and taste as the pork rinds that one buys as snack from a store. Well...they are, after all, the exact same thing!

With the Sampan Season (水上人家, Sampan Style Seafood of The Day) we switched into seafood. Today's fare was baby lobster, and it was OK.

The Stone-ground Yin Yang Bean Curd Duet (石磨鴛鴦豆腐) was interesting, with half of the tofu made from black sesame. But it wasn't that tasty without either the spicy ikura sauce or a spicier chili sauce. There was also some custard cream topped with small dried shrimps (桜海老).

The Live Fish Drama (活魚演) consisted of a large fish done two ways - some of the flesh was taken off the bone and made into a fish porridge. This was done quite nicely. The bones were deep-fried and the result was pretty dramatic. The rest of the fish was then served separately and dipped in chili sauce. This part reminded me of steamed Japanese anago (穴子) in terms of texture.

The HK Yin Yang Rice (鴛鴦飯, Surf & Turf version) was very good. The centerpiece is a large cuttlefish stuffed with rice cooked with black truffle sauce. The cuttlefish was soft and tender. Surrounding it were chunks of wagyu beef brisket, which were fatty and yummy, leaving a lingering taste in my mouth. There was even some burnt rice crackling at the bottom of the cast iron dish.

Organic Vegetable (玻璃青菜) was not bad, either, and dominated by okra.

We were stuffed by this point, but there were still the desserts to come... a trio of them! First there was the perssimmon ice cream, which was more like custard cream in terms of consistency. Then we had the sesame-filled glutinous rice ball in black sticky rice - pretty decent. Finally another custard/puddng.

For wine, we started with the 2006 Keller Riesling Spatlese. This was initially very strong in terms of the petrol and wood/oak nose, to the point I wondered if the wine was corked. But it did open up later and there was a nice amount of minerals in the nose. Pretty sweet on the palate, but surprisingly lacks complexity.

I brought along the second bottle - 2005 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang - in memory of the great winemaker who had just died in a plane crash the day before. I am a big fan of Dagueneau's wines and rushed out to buy cases of wine upon hearing news of his untimely departure. The wine tonight was wonderful - green apple, toasty wood, mineral and sharp, flinty nose. The fruit was clearly very ripe - characteristic of the 2005 vintage across the board. Initially the acidity was a bit high and the wine felt slightly disjointed, but melded into a beautiful wine as the evening progressed. I think everyone enjoyed this.

Finally we had a 2005 Nicolas Potel Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Hauts Jarrons. A little too early to drink the 2005 reds, I think, but the nose turned out nicely. Very sweet cotton candy, strawberries, and surprisingly butter showed up in a red instead of a white! Unfortunately the palate was a bit lacking, and there was no finish. I think this wine could use another 5 years of bottle age.

We left the restaurant after a good 3 hours of wining and dining, feeling very satiated and happy that I had a chance to try the place out. Perhaps there would be a return a few months.

September 18, 2008

Another pig-out session

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A friend was back in town and wanted Chinese food for our get-together. With the delicious roast pig still on my mind from last month, I dragged everyone across the harbor to Kimberley Chinese Restaurant (君怡閣) in the Kimberley Hotel. There were a few complaints about making the trek just for dinner, but I assured my friends that it would be well worth it.

I appeared to have over-ordered, despite my promise to myself that I wouldn't do that at this restaurant. Well...there were 11 of us so I thought we would be able to finish it all...

pan-fried prawns in soy sauce (頭抽煎中蝦) - not a bad way to start the evening. Very flavorful and the accompanying fried spring onions and garlic were tasty.

garoupa done two ways (大海中斑兩味) - stir-fried with vegetables (西芹炒斑球) and deep-fried head and tail braised with tofu and pork (豆腐炆頭腩). The stir-fried fish tasted of dirt so I dabbed on a bit of sauce. For the deep-fried tail, the combination with tofu and fatty pork made for an interesting experience.

goose feet braised with pomelo skin (柚皮炆鵝掌) - I always love goose feet, and the pomelo skin is always really nice. Quite surprised that a few people never had the pomelo skin...

pig's lungs in claypot (砂鍋粉絲白肺) - I thought someone wanted to have the lungs, but it turned out the request was for the lungs in soup... This was not very well-received, and I myself only had half a piece. There was cabbage as well as thick vermicelli, all done with a mustard-dominated sauce.

claypot chicken cooked with three flavors (砂鍋三杯雞) - this evokes memories of the famed Taiwanese dish, where the chicken is cooked with a cup each of soy sauce, sesame seed oil and rice wine. However, this tasted nothing like what you'd find in Taiwan. The chicken tasted a bit Cantonese, but the meat was pretty tender, and the chicken was pretty fat under the skin. There was a bowl of flavored soy sauce on the side, used to drip over the chicken.

veggies in soup (上湯莧菜) - nice and refreshing after a number of pretty heavy dishes.

Finally the two dishes that I had to pre-order:
ox bones braised in claypot (香茅汁炆牛脇骨) - this was very well-received by the party. The ladies loved the presence of lots of tendons - and collagen - which would be good for keeping youthful. I loved the bone marrow that I dug out from the inside. The big claypot looked intimidating but it just mostly just big pieces of bone...

stuffed roast suckling pig (金陵全豬烤金苗) - the piece de resistance, and the biggest reason for me to come here. My piece today was very close to the head, and was fatter than usual. I can't say enough about this pig... I think everyone else liked it too! A great way to finish the meal.

For wine, we started with a bottle of 2006 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Rieslig Spatlese. I knew this would have a bit of sweetness but this was more than my expectations. I think the ladies did like it, though... In any case this is a stellar year.

We followed up with a magnum of 1994 Chateau Montelena. This was just too big for my cellar at home, so this was a good opportunity to drink it up. It was pretty classic Cali Cab, although the acidity was a bit high at the beginning.

Looking forward to the next visit for pigging out...

September 15, 2008

The end of an era

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Woke up this morning and heard the news that Lehman Brothers is looking to file Chapter 11, after failing to successfully conclude any deals over the weekend. Simultaneously, BofA announced a buyout of Merrill Lynch. As if that wasn't enough, news leaked that AIG had asked the Fed for a $40Bn loan.

The news had a big impact on me. Having spent time at Lehman, I always regarded it as a firm with good risk management, and I felt there was a clear distinction between it and Bear Stearns. I certainly did not expect that the fortunes of Lehman would spiral downward as quickly as it had been for Bear in its last days. It is very sad. BofA did a very good trade by going with Merrill instead of Lehman. It was the smart choice, and now it will dominate the retail market in the US even further.

While the Merrill brand name is very strong and recognizable, I can't help but wonder how long it would take for it, too, to disappear - gone the way of Shearson, Salomon, and Paine Webber. Of all the old bulge bracket names, only Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley still remain independent.

What will this financial crisis bring next? I shudder to think of the possibilities. I shall open a nice bottle of wine tonight in memory of one of the great names of Wall Street... L'Haim!

September 13, 2008

Burgundian Evening

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I was staying in Hong Kong for the Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, and called out a few friends for a get-together and drinking session. We gathered at the Conrad Hotel's Brasserie on the Eighth, since there were quite a few bottles for the evening, and I knew we would get great service from Alson, Andrew and the crew. We actually had 6 glasses laid out in front of each of us - one for each wine plus the water glass - and it was quite a sight.

We started with a bottle of Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle, the luxury cuvee which is a blend of 3 vintages. I am not sure which three vintages were in this bottle, but it was certainly a good way to start the evening off.

After the Champagne, the first white wine was the 2002 Leroy Meursault 1er Cru Les Blagny. The fruit was very ripe and sweet on the palate, while there was also a good balance of acidity. Toasty oak in the nose came out towards the end.

I started with the Alaskan crab salad with mango and avocado. Crab meat was nice and savory, which turned out to be a good balance with the sweetness of the fruits. I paused and focused on the wines while the others enjoyed their second courses.

The next white wine, which needed a lot of time to warm up from being too chilled, was the 1999 Baron Thenard Montrachet.  Even though none of us knew the Domaine, this was a real treat.  Smoky, flinty and almost steely on the nose.  The wine was pretty ripe on the palate, while again achieving a good balance with the acidity. Just about my favorite wine of the evening.

I chose the duck breast and leg confit with pan-fried foie gras. The foie was not very memorable, but the slices of duck breast were very yummy and medium-rare like I asked for. I took a long time for this dish and the leg was already cold by the time I got to it, but I can still say that it was pretty decent - and a bit better than the confit I had last week in Taipei.

The 1996 Leroy Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Combottes was to me classically Leroy. Initially the tannins were still very obvious on my tongue, a bit surprising given that this is only a 1er cru. The nose showed slightly higher acidity initially, but this quickly disappeared and the old familiar Leroy came back, with plenty of sweet fruit and ripe prunes. Not a bad effort. Production of this wine was tiny - 1,461 bottles for this vintage.

The last red was the highly anticipated 1996 Roumier Bonnes Mares.  Prices for Roumier has skyrocketed in the last 18 months, thanks in no small part to the publication of the Japanese wine comic 神の雫 (Les Gouttes de Dieu) - where the 2001 Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses was chosen as the "first disciple".  Anyway, back to the wine. After a couple of hours in an open decanter, the nose that developed proved to be quite nice, with lots of very sweet red fruits, and very classic Burgundian. However there was something missing there. You can sense that the wine could be so much more. Perhaps we are just drinking it too early. In any event, it was quite a privilege to be able to drink this wine, and I have Michelle to thank for it.

I shared a dessert sampler, and after some espresso and more pleasant conversation - and finishing off the Montrachet - we finally left the restaurant and was the last table to do so...

September 5, 2008

An evening that could have been

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I was in Taipei looking for a place to have dinner and some nice wines, and we wanted to try something new. I read about 90 A La Sante (酒食歐風朝) on the web and decided to give it a try. The place is not very big, and has a homey feel to it. The chef and managers at the restaurant were very friendly, which was a real plus. The restaurant has been opened as an annex to a wine shop, and the main business of the group is actually wine sales. I soak up the atmosphere while waiting for the others to arrive.

There are a number of set menus available, from NT$ 800 to NT$1,600. There is also a special daily set prepared by the chef, for something like NT$4,000, but we weren't quite in the mood for this.

We were given a complimentary piece of the pumpkin pie to start. The puff pastry was well-received by everyone.
We were then served two house specialties: tiny cherry tomatoes stuffed with blue cheese and topped with a dab of caviar; and escargot with onions marinated with balsamic vinaigrette, curry powder and topped with pinenut. Both came in bite-sized portions and were delicious, especially the marinated onions. So far so good!

We then had a small plate of sauteed eringi mushrooms, which were pretty decent. A plate of pan-fried cuttlefish with grilled vegetables, paired with various sauces such as vinaigrette, olive oil...etc was interesting. There was supposedly some sauce made from uni but I didn't quite get that...

There was also a plate of salad greens, with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. This was a tad more acidic than I'd like, but in general it was OK.

The soup course was a clear fish broth, with slices of fish whose identity I didn't quite confirm, although it had the texture of a type of fish that one finds in the night markets in Taiwan...

Once again I find myself wondering why the chef decided to do a soup at all... For main course I had ordered the duck leg confit.  Initially the chef refused to serve it to me, saying that she felt the leg they had was too small, and she couldn't charge me full price for it.  Not bad...a restauranteur with conscience.  She suggested the duck breast confit.  But I had my heart set on the duck leg, and she finally relented. When it came, it actually wasn't that small - certainly big enough for me anyway. While it certainly looked and tasted like confit, somehow this just didn't do it for me, and I can't quite pin down the reason. While the skin was nice and crispy, and the meat a little dry because of the cooking method, the flavor just wasn't quite there. It's a far cry from the dish that I had at Legends Concept in Hong Kong.

We finished with a small piece of cake that was pretty yummy with coffee beans inside.

BTW someone in our group ordered pan-fried scallops for the main course, and she felt the scallops weren't fresh - they were probably frozen. She was none too happy about this.

In terms of wine, I brought a bottle of 2005 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrieres. The nose had some minerals, petrol, toasty oak to start, then gradually showed creamy butter and finally lemon and citrus. Sweet on the palate, and obviously a "hot" vintage. As with all the 2005 Girardins, the wine needed some time to open up. Actually I thought this was not a good choice of wine for drinking now - it was clearly too young, unlike the 2005 Chassagnes I have been drinking over the last few months.

I had high hopes for the 1995 Guigal Chateau d'Ampuis that I brought, as it has been quite a few years since I popped open one of these. Unfortunately I think this bottle has been moved around quite a bit, and we can see signs of seepage on the label as well as the cork. The nose had classic mint, bacon fat, grilled meats that I would expect from a Rhone. The tannins were smooth, and the finish had some length although there was some obviously acidity there. However, this was supposed to be a big wine - the first vintage where Guigal took a few vineyards and blended the fruit into a product that sits between the famous LaLaLa's (which I so love) and the regular Cote-Rotie Brune et Blonde bottling. I didn't get the sense of power from this bottle, so I was very disappointed.

Finally, one of my colleagues brought a bottle of 2004 Le Petit Cheval, the second wine of Chateau Cheval Blanc. This wine was still very young, with classic sweet fruit, mint and smoky, grilled meats in the nose. The tannins were still very firm and chewy. While it's pleasing to drink now, I would think that the wine could use further aging.

So the evening didn't quite turn out to be what I had hoped. I would say that throughout the evening, there wasn't anything that we ate or drank that was terrible. The food was OK but nothing to write home about. The wines weren't performing as they should. It should have been a really nice evening, but just didn't quite make it. Oh well... I still need to find a nice place to go in Taipei that has good, consistent cuisine. Afterall, I can only go back to Paris 1930 so many times...

September 4, 2008

A quick pit stop

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My colleague and I were looking for a place to have Japanese for lunch, and I mentioned my old favorite Sanka (山花) - across the street from the Far Eastern Hotel. It's been a while since I last paid them a visit. We sat at the counter, and the chef and his helpers started to get busy as the seats started filling up.

We were served a mixture of sashimi and sushi, and there were quite a few items which were nice enough and caught my attention. We had a few variations on scallops - seared and sprinkled with salt as sushi, with the salty flavor melding well with the rice; lightly-seared without flavoring, with the sweetness of the flesh standing out; seared and sprinkled with salt and yuzu - another great partnership of flavors; and finally blanched mantle.

The seared shima-aji (縞鰺) sushi was pretty yummy. And then we were served a cute little bowl - a mini-chirashi sushi (散らし寿司)of ikura (イクラ) and uni (雲丹). Finally, a single piece of seared toro (トロ) sushi to finish the meal. I declined the bowl of miso shiru (味噌汁) as it would only make my stomach bloat. We had a yummy summer dessert made from agar jelly on ice and flavored with Japanese black sugar syrup.

Happy to have dined here today. Look forward to my next visit.

September 2, 2008

The delicious '97s

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It was another evening of MNSC gathering, this time at Amber. We dispensed with the usual tasting menu and had a more "civilized" menu with fewer courses. Much better for maintaining my figure, I think...

We started some canapes and amuse bouches - with salmon, foie, parma ham being some of the ingredients. These were pretty creative and generally tasty.

First came the foie gras - pan-fried with poached rhubarb and hibiscus and black pepper coulis. I thought this was done reasonably well even though it's not the style that I normally enjoy. The bloc of foie was done perfectly, with only a hint of charring on the outside. The inside was solid, a bit drier than what I'm used to, but I thought the consistency was pretty nice. The rhubarb and hibiscus makes it a little more interesting than the run-of-the-mill raspberry or apple or whatever other fruits chefs normally use.

Then we had the Tasmanian salmon - confit smoked at the table and served warm, kyuri cucumber "cannelloni", and cream of hass avocado, almonds and Granny Smith Apple. It seems that one cannot have a meal at Amber without this signature dish. Of course, it was very delicious. The generous hunk of salmon was the texture of uncooked smoked salmon, but it was warm, soft and tender. The squid ink breadcrumbs on top provided an interesting element. And as the servers lifted the glass container tops off the plate, the smoke filled the room immediately and messed with our olfactory functions.

For main course I chose the New Zealand Langoustines - seared, Iberian pork belly with hand crafted potato gnocchi and baby purple artichokes "barigoule" style. This was really well-executed. The sweet flesh of the langousines contrasted well with the saltiness of the pork belly, especially when you savor both at the same time. Chef Ekkebus has a real fascination with Iberian pork belly and this ingredient shows up from time to time. I also really like the small gnocchi...

After a small selection of cheese from Benard Antony, we were each given a small "Oreo" where the center section was made from coconut ice cream. Nice!

Finally the dessert was a fluffy raspberry souffle with rose petal Anglaise - very fragrant. On the side was a scoop of very yummy Greek yoghurt sorbet.  A very nice way to end the meal.

Of course the evening was really all about wine, and the theme chosen for the evening was a 1997 horizontal across 3 varietals - pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The wines were:

1990 Dom Perignon Oenotheque - being recently disgorged, this was clearly very fresh with a heady mousse, and sugar that you can taste on the palate.

1997 DRC Grands Echezeaux - color was clearly lighter than the others, with a slightly farmy nose followed by smoke and bacon. Pretty classic Burgundy. 93 points.

1997 Opus One - the nose was very much classic Bordeaux, with tell-tale brett but the core of sweet fruit came out strong as time went on. The tannins in this wine was still very strong and I enjoyed chewing on them. 94 points.

1997 Kistler Hirsch Vineyard - this was my wine of the evening, and most of us pegged it as a Kistler since we were pretty big fans. This was one wine where, being on the mailing list, I have drunk plenty of. The nose was really powerful and sweet, with some minerals (although not enough to be a Cuvee Catherine or Elizabeth) and lots of sweet orange marmalade. The tannins are still around. 96 points.

1997 DRC Richebourg - nose was a little grassy with a hint of sous bois? Afterwards sweet marmalade emerged, although not as powerful as the Kistler. Interestingly I gave it 93 points - the same as the Grands Echezeaux.

1997 L'Eglise-Clinet - the nose had lots of sweet grass, some brett, and smoky. Interestingly the sweetness came from the grass and not from red fruits. 94 points.

This was a very interesting tasting, where our host played no tricks on us and I think we came through with our abilities. Now looking forward to the next one in about a the host's wedding banquet!

September 1, 2008

Another heartbreaking moment

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I was rearranging and cleaning out one of my wine fridges tonight, when this happened to me for a second time in my life - and also the second time in this particular apartment. I broke another bottle of wine.

I was almost finished when this 50cl bottle of 1996 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux slipped out of the bottom storage area and fell to the floor. The neck broke, and about 1/4 of the bottle spilled on the floor. Damn! I quickly saved the bottle, and poured the remainder into a decanter, filtering through a coffee filter to make sure there are no shards of glass. I am now sipping the wine as I type... A votre sante!

To be honest, the wine is a little disappointing. The nose has orange blossom, ripe melon, apricot and quince - really wonderfully fragrant. But the wine is a bit hollow on the palate - other than being pretty sweet - and the finish is just a tad short. I guess I should be more careful about how I stack my wine. Now I know that even a bottle that slips out and falls 30cm to the floor can break - it just depends on which part hits the ground first.


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