January 30, 2009

First piece of steak in the Year of the Ox

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Another Friday Lunch Club gathering - the first for the Year of the Ox. Appropriately a steakhouse was chosen as the venue, and we visited Dakota Prime for the first time. I had heard a lot of good things about this place, both from friends as well as some reviews on the internet, so I was pretty eager to try it for myself.

The 3-course set lunch was a real bargain, and I decided (for once) to go the cheap route and did not upgrade to a better cut of beef. All my research told me that the meat was good even with the cheap cuts...

I started with the mini lump crab cake crayfish remoulade. It is indeed very mini, but I thought it was pretty well done. It was mostly crab meat, and you can really taste it. There was a good amount of seasoning so the natural sweetness isn't as prominent. The capsicum purée around the crab cake provided the sweetness to balance the savory flavors of the crab. A good start to the meal.

The grilled USDA Prime flat iron steak - at 10oz a pretty decent size for lunch - was as good as other netizens claimed. Even though it's not a fillet, strip or ribeye, it's still marbled enough to be classified as USDA Prime. I asked for medium rare, and what I got was slightly more done than I wanted, but it was still very juicy and tender. In fact with every cut made by my Laguiole knife, more jus came running out of the steak... Surprisingly it was the center of the steak that was more done than the edges. But honestly, I'm not going to complain given the price that I'm paying here. The roasted potatoes were very good, as was the side of sautéed onions, tomato and red peppers. The tiny sauce pan came with (what else?) some sauce that seemed to be based on tomatoes and peppers, which was a lighter alternative to the classic Béarnaise.

I actually finished the steak without feeling stuffed, which was quite a surprise. Maybe all the eating I've done in the last 2 months has stretched my stomach? I was actually pretty eager to dig into the Anjou pear poached in red wine and raspberry sauce. Someone remarked that the pear slices - dyed red on the outer edge while the inner edge remained a little white - resembled slices of char siu (叉燒)... Well...they kinda do. Anyway the pear was delicious, with a bit of orange flavor on top of the obvious raspberry. It was gone in no time.

It was a really good lunch, and one that was extremely good value for money. I was completely satiated, not stuffed to the point of discomfort, and no "food coma" ensued - much to my amazement. I would definitely return very soon to try out the other cuts of beef, as well as the burger...drool...

January 29, 2009

Mom's special Shanghainese wontons

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I've been holed up in Taipei for the past week, eating mom's home cooking on a daily basis. It's been a while since I was able to stay in Taipei for an extended period of time, and mom made sure that we ate well despite her being somewhat incapacitated lately.

One of the things in which I had a hand in making were her special wontons. Shanghainese wontons are different from Cantonese wontons in that instead of shrimp, pork and vegetables are used. You will find the stereotypical 菜肉餛飩 in most Shanghainese restaurants. (Yes, Shanghainese call them 餛飩 instead of 雲吞 like the Cantonese...) But nowadays mom prefers to use some special ingredients, and this time it was Indian aster, or malantou (馬蘭頭) in Shanghainese.

I bought a huge bag of Indian aster from a Shanghainese specialty store in Hong Kong, then prepped it for travel by blanching it in boiling water for a few seconds. Once water has been drained from the veggie, it was packed into a big Ziploc bag and got on the plane with me to Taipei. Once back in Taipei, mom taught me to dice the veggie into tiny bits with two cleavers - one in each hand. It's a laborious process, and I can appreciate the work that goes into preparing the classic cold appetizer malantou (with finely diced tofu) that we find in fine Shanghainese restaurants.  Since I didn't remove the stems in the process, extra work had to be done to ensure that we wouldn't bite into long pieces of stems.

Mom took over and proceeded to mix the veggie into ground pork, then started wrapping wonton skin around the mixture. It's important to make sure you get a good balance between the veggie and the meat, as you want to be able to detect the special flavor of the veggie. The end result are wontons that have a unique flavor. Indian aster has a fragrance not unlike mint and parsley, only milder. Biting into one of these wontons leaves a lingering, fragrant aftertaste in one's mouth. Maybe I'll try to make these on my own one of these days...

January 24, 2009

Closing down a restaurant

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Over the years I have found that one thing that my friends and I are good at is closing down a restaurant at the end of the evening. How many times have we overstayed our welcome, with the restaurant staff waiting for us to clear out so that they can go home? Tonight was no exception. We were having such a good time at Chefshow Time (阿正廚坊) that the boss and the staff were literally on their way out the door as we left...

I brought along a few bottles of wine, and we ended up drinking a bottle of white and a bottle of red. We started with the 2001 Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Boudriotte, which I bought just before dinner. I've always liked the 2001 whites from Ramonet, and this proved to be a beautiful wine. Wonderful nose of honey, straw, sweet grass, orange blossom, honeydew, oxidized pear and lemon. Very slightly acidic on the finish.

We also drank a bottle of 1997 Beringer Merlot Howell Mountain. I bought a ton of this wine a few years ago when it was offered on sale, and it is still drinking nicely. Nose initially showed mint and eucalyptus on top of red fruits, then it was a bit medicinal and showed sweet vanilla. Since this wasn't decanted, it actually took a bit of time for the nose to open up. This wine is still going strong and I will have a few more years to enjoy and run down my inventory.

We asked the restaurant to put together a selection of dishes for us, rather than having us order each dish. The menu was as follows:

Trio of starters
grilled cherry tomato wrapped in bacon (烤培根蕃茄)
- OK but nothing special
grilled scallop with garlic mayo (烤鮮貝佐蒜味蛋黃醬) - the scallop was a little dry for my taste
anglerfish liver with orange ponzu (鮟鱇魚肝佐橙酢) - fairly typical presentation of the liver

Parma ham salad (帕瑪沙拉) - nice and refreshing course

Wild mushrooms sautéed with aged balsamic vinegar (野菇拌炒陳年酢) - pretty nicely done as the balsamic vinegar makes it a little more interesting than the run-of-the-mill sautéed shrooms. The plates were clean in no time.

Grilled veal rib-eye (烤小牛肋眼排) - the veal was tender, juicy and pink. The accompanying pumpkin and okra were interesting. But as I don't like my meat with mustard, I thought the veal jus was a little bland.

Gratinated spicy red king crab (焗烤辣味鱈場蟹) - this is actually pretty interesting, since it's a twist on the typical grilled taraba crab legs. The chef has spread spicy miso sauce on top before grilling, so it's a bit sweet and spicy.

Chicken hot pot (燒酒雞鍋) - this is a variation of the Taiwanese sesame oil chicken (麻油雞). The chicken was pretty nice and there was plenty of veggies, plus some vermicelli (麵線). The soup was pretty nice and light, unlike the traditional soup which is heavy on the sesame oil and rice wine. Pretty good stuff.

Grilled rock fish (鹽烤紅喉魚) - I must admit that it's a little bit eerie to have this fish sitting in front of you, with a big white eye staring at you while one pectoral fin sticks straight up into the air... It seems that every table got one so we decided to get one, too. It was OK but I didn't think this was anything special, other than being glad that I'm having a new type of fish.

We also shared one small bowl of Taiwanese-style braised pork rice (魯肉飯), with each of us having a spoonful. I thought it was only so-so, but it's no big deal.

The best part of the dinner was actually the desserts. We had four of them because the fifth - a chocolate concoction - had just been made and was not ready tonight.

Steamed taro mash with longan (龍眼芋泥) - for a guy who normally doesn't care for taro, this was actually really nicely done. The taro was just sweet enough and the candied longan inside added an interesting element to the dessert.

Strawberry mousse (草莓慕斯) - made with fresh strawberries that are in season, this was very, very delicious. The local strawberries have so much flavor. This was hands down the best dessert tonight and a good way to finish the meal on a high note.

I passed on the tiramisu tonight, and had the almond parfait instead. This was OK and looked more interesting than it tasted.

We were certainly very happy at the end of the meal. Overall I think the quality of the food was pretty good, and the service was very friendly since the staff knew a couple of people in the group. But there was something missing here tonight...creativity. I always thought that this place was supposed to have creative cuisine, but I didn't see much of it tonight. Perhaps I should have specified that I wanted something out of the ordinary... Next time.

January 23, 2009

Lunar New Year family dinner

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I'm in Taipei to spend time with my family for Lunar New Year. Because some relatives are departing early for a trip overseas, our family decided to have the traditional reunion dinner two days earlier. We ate out this year, at the Sogo branch of Shanghai Shanghai (紅豆食府).

Unlike a lot of my friends, traditional Taiwanese fare isn't the norm for us during the holiday season. My maternal grandma is Shanghainese, so that's the food I grew up with. True to tradition there were lots of dishes tonight - I counted 12 courses. Fortunately most dishes weren't too big so I didn't come away feeling very stuffed.

The 12 courses were:

Phoenix-tailed anchovy (鳳尾魚) - I've always loved this fish as a kid, because it was also my grandpa's favorite. Years ago when you couldn't buy mainland Chinese goods in Taiwan, we used to smuggle tins of this from Singapore. Now we can enjoy them in restaurants right here. Tonight this was an excellent starter - the deep-fried fish was light and crispy, marinated with sugar so that it is sweet-tasting. I could probably eat half a plate of it by myself...

Drunken chicken (醉雞) - pretty decent, but this is never a dish that I find too exciting.

Stir-fried freshwater shrimp (清炒蝦仁) - the tiny freshwater shrimps have their shells removed, then are lightly starched before being stir-fried quickly at high heat to seal in the moisture. The texture here is wonderful, as each individual shrimp is fresh, and a bit bouncy when you bite into it. The finishing touches are added with a few drops of vinegar.

Shredded chicken and sweet peas (雞絲豌豆) - this was excellent. The thin shreds of chicken were very light and tender, while the tiny baby peas really were very sweet in taste.

Celery sticks with mustard sauce (芥末西芹) - this was alright, kinda refreshing.

Pork spare ribs in onion sauce (洋蔥子排) - nicely done. I of course picked up the bits with strips of fat... Yummy!

Stir-fried pea shoots, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots (豆苗炒雙冬) - a classic winter veggie dish, although the quality of pea shoots in Taiwan is still no match with what I normally have in Hong Kong. The winter bamboo shoots, however, were sweet and perfect - crunchy enough when you bite into it, but tender at the same time since only the best center bits are used.

Steamed stinky tofu (蒸臭豆腐) - I still can't get used to this so I didn't have any...

Mushy noodles with scallions (蔥開煨麵) - this is more for grandma, as she loves these mushy noodles in soup. Unfortunately the waitress didn't serve it correctly. The tasty bits of fried scallions and dried shrimp were left at the bottom of the big bowl, so we didn't get enough of it in our little individual bowls. Coupled with the fact that the soup could have used a bit more salt, this meant that the noodle was a bit bland for my taste...

Glutinous rice cake stir-fried with Indian mustard and pork (雪菜肉絲炒年糕) - a classic Shanghainese dish that is a must for Lunar New Year. They did it well so that the rice cakes weren't sticking to our teeth - which would have been an unthinkable tragedy for grandma.

Steamed marble goby (清蒸筍殼魚) - this is a wonderful fish that I can never find in Hong Kong. Normally I need to go to Singapore to get this, and it's actually nice to be able to find this in Taipei...although it's not that common here, either.

Double-boiled chicken soup with shark's fin (砂鍋排翅) - for environmental reasons I don't normally eat shark's fin, so I gave up my portion to the others. But I really enjoyed the delicious chicken soup, which has the wonderful flavors of ham, conpoy and sweet Chinese cabbage.

While I think that this is one of the better Shanghainese restaurants in town in terms of food, the service here does leave much to be desired. They tend to bring on all the dishes at once, forcing you to eat non-stop with no breathing space between dishes. We probably went through the first 7-8 dishes in the space of 30 minutes, until the kitchen finally stopped sending them out after our repeated pleas to slow things down. I was getting pretty upset at one point, because I couldn't enjoy my food and was reduced to constant shoving and chewing!

I think good restauranteurs in Asia really need to think about how to improve on their service. The standard of their food may be high, but if the dining experience isn't really enjoyable as a whole due to poor service, they're gonna lose some well-heeled customers who will go elsewhere. This is a pet peeve of mine, and a hot topic these days after the release of the HK/Macau Michelin Guide...

January 19, 2009

The tycoons' canteen

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My last meal with my guests from Geneva took place at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), the restaurant known as the tycoons' canteen (富豪飯堂). Having been here numerous times, I had no doubt that this place would completely cream Lung King Heen in terms of quality of the food...

We started with the roast suckling pig, which has got to be one of the best in Hong Kong. The thin layer of skin is so crispy and crunchy. The tiny legs of the pig are also great to munch on. Yummy!

Next came the baked crab shell (釀焗蟹蓋) with Worcestershire Sauce. After the horrendous crab claw at lunch today, my guests were transported to heaven with this dish. There was so much sweet crab meat here...

Once again I ordered the fried giant pomfret (香煎大鯧魚), which is smoked and then pan-fried. While the portion tonight wasn't as large as what I'm used to, it actually was enough given the number of dishes I have ordered. As yummy as usual. It still amazes me how big the pomfret is...

Stir-fried lobster with black beans and green peppers (豉椒炒龍蝦球) was a hit. For people who do not get to eat high-quality Chinese food, this is an unsual way to do lobster, but it is sooo good! The lobster was so fresh, so that the flesh was sweet and the texture had the right bounciness. Wow!

For veggie we had pea sprouts blanched in ham broth (上湯浸豆苗), since the pea sprouts are in season. While I love pea sprouts and can eat it day in day out, I was really hoping to have something out of the ordinary for the veggie dish. In particular I had hoped for wolfberry leaves, but apparently those are only in season during summer/fall... Oh well, gotta wait a few more months.

The final straw that broke the back of a few camels tonight was the claypot rice with preserved meats (腊味飯煲). The plate of liver and preserved sausages (潤腸,腊腸), preserved meat (腊肉) and the tasty duck (油鴨) was just awesome. What's even better is that we got to have the rice crispies (飯焦), which were so fragrant and crunchy. You can definitely hear it when your neighbor is chewing on it... 

For dessert, many of us chose to have almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁露), while others had the walnut cream (核桃露). The almond cream was light and heavenly...

I brought along 4 bottles of wine tonight, to make two interesting pairings out of the classic Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

1999 Armand Rousseau Mazy Chambertin - color was very light and diluted. The nose was pretty muted while the palate was a bit acidic. Pretty disappointing to be honest. I expected Rousseau wines to be light, and the Mazy Chambertin would mean that it's quite restrained. But this is kinda pathetic...

1999 Kistler Pinot Noir Cuvée Elizabeth - this is Kister's top Pinot Noir with a production of around only 2,000 bottles. As I expected there was a lot more concentration here. The nose has plenty of sweet fruit, a bit of mint, blackberry, preserved plum and even a hint of mocha. Pretty nice, but still a bit of a let down. This wine can be mind-blowing but it wasn't to be tonight...

1995 Chartron et Trébuchet Bâtard-Montrachet - a beautiful wine with nose of sweet grass, straw, sweet and creamy butter and a bit of lemon. There is a little bit of ripeness on the palate. Not bad for the price I paid.

2004 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren - a very typical Californian Chardonnay, with lots of lemon citrus, minerals, toasty oak, and sweet butter popcorn. Pretty ripe on the palate. I can only imagine what this wine would taste like in another 10 years...

Once again we managed to close down this restaurant. It was a wonderful meal, and I ended up carrying my stomach home for the third evening in a row...

3-star Cantonese? Puh-leeeze!

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I arranged to lunch with my guests at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) today. Since they are staying at the Four Seasons and it's the only restaurant in Hong Kong awarded 3 stars by the people at Michelin - plus the fact that I have never been there - I thought it would be interesting to see what the hype was all about.

We ordered four items of dim sum to start, plus a few main dishes.

Crispy spring rolls with shredded chicken and bamboo pith (竹笙雞絲春卷) - the skin is nice and crispy, but honestly the filling is nothing to write home about. A little bland in my opinion. By the way, the waiter brought along some vinegar at the same time we were served this dish, and we started dipping the spring rolls in it. It wasn't until later - after I asked several waiters not to remove the vinegar since I wasn't done - that the Worcestershire sauce for the spring rolls was finally brought to us. This is a pet peeve of mine, so it's -1 LKH...

Steamed Shanghainese pork buns (xiao long bao) with crab meat (蟹肉小籠包) - this was soooo underwhelming. The presentation was so pretty, where each bun was supported by its own bamboo cradle. But did I even taste the crab meat? Nope. Not a hint. Why they would choose to use crab meat instead of the tastier crab roe is beyond me. -2 LKH.

Baked roast goose puffs with chestnut (栗子燒鵝酥) - this is pretty interesting, as you don't usually find chestnut as an ingredient in dim sum. More often than not you will see taro in its place. The taste of the chestnut paste dominated the goose. Not outstanding, but I like it because it was more innovative and interesting.

Baked dried oyster tartlets with sea moss (髮菜蠔豉撻) - this is the clear winner out of the four. The dried oyster has a lot more flavor, and worked very well with the sea moss - actually a type of fungus also found on land. The fact that it's done as a small tart with a pie crust also makes it interesting. Now -1 LKH.

Crispy crab claw with shrimp paste (炸釀鮮蟹拑) - what a disappointment...and not exactly a cheap one, either! None of us liked this, and one of my guests even left half of it in his plate - the clearest sign of dissatisfaction. The actual crab claw was pretty tiny, enclosed in a blob of shrimp paste that somehow turned into cement...it was just so hard! This was definitely not what I had in mind when I ordered the dish... -5 points for the dish and -6 LKH.

Baked chicken with sesame, ginger and spring onion (香焗薑蔥芝麻雞) - this dish is alright but not great. The skin was originally crispy, then softened a bit as it was put into a claypot along with the sesame and ginger sauce. At least the meat was moist and tender, even from the breast.

One of the surprises today was the sautéed zucchini with assorted mushrooms (翠肉瓜炒鮮菌). It was a simple dish of veggies, but very well executed. The zucchini was nice and sweet, and there were 5 different types of mushrooms to make this a very interesting dish.

The last dish was the Dong Po-style braised pork belly (紅燒東坡肉). I'm very surprised to find this at a Cantonese restaurant, and a little skeptical at first when ordering. But it was actually pretty good, with a relatively thin layer of fat and skin on top, which has been cooked to a semi-liquid state. Kudos to the chef. +3 points for the dish and still -3 LKH...

Finally we have the fried glutinous rice with air-dried meats (生炒臘味糯米飯). While this was pretty tasty, I cannot give it full marks due to personal preference. For this dish, I prefer that the long-grain rice actually stick together a bit more. Instead the grains are separated, and a bit of shiitake mushroom sauce has been drizzled on top, making the rice a bit wet.

We were pretty full, but I can't honestly say that we were satiated. Were our expectations high for this meal? Sure, but wouldn't everyone expect a high standard for food from a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars? Given the number of dishes which disappointed the entire table, I must give Lung King Heen a failing grade for lunch today. I'm sure that I can rattle off the names of 10 better restaurants in Hong Kong within the space of one minute...

January 18, 2009

Flavors of Hangzhou

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I'm entertaining some out of town guests tonight, showing them the best of Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong. I chose to take them to Tien Heung Lau (天香樓), the best Hangzhou restaurant in town. My guests have lived around Geneva for many years, and it would be interesting to give them a taste of something that they normally can't find in their part of the world.

We sipped on some warm Huadiao (花雕) - Chinese yellow wine - while we waited for everyone to arrive. The restaurant has their own stock of aged wine and it's a chance for my guests to try some.

We started with the usual selection of cold appetizers - a plate each of malantou (馬蘭頭, chopped Indian aster and tofu) and soy-marinated duck (醬鴨). Indian aster is an unusual vegetable eaten mostly by the Shanghainese, and as it happens I just bought a big bag of it earlier in the afternoon to take home to mom in Taipei. My guests have never heard of the veggie, but found themselves appreciating this cool and refreshing dish. Unfortunately, the duck today was the salty version, and the plate remains largely untouched.

A plate of freshwater shrimps stir-fried with Longjing tea leaves (龍井蝦仁) came, and disappeared rather quickly. I normally would have dispensed with ordering this, but tonight I thought that my guests might appreciate the tenderness of the small shrimps without the shells. Surely they use bigger shrimps in Europe and elsewhere, which result in slightly tougher, chewier texture...

The dish that actually disappeared in record time was the deep-fried frog legs (炸田雞腿). Granted, there was only one pair of legs for each of us, but these were snapped up with such eagerness I was taken by surprise. Everyone wanted to get these while they were piping hot. And yes, the resident Froggie gave her thumbs-up with her free hand on this one (the other hand was busy)...As for myself, I thought this was good but slightly inferior to what I had last time. Oh and the deep-fried leaves (雪菜, a type of Indian mustard) were also popular as some sugar has been sprinkled on top while frying.

Smoked yellow croaker (煙薰黃魚) arrived and I was immediately transported to heaven. I could never get tired of the smoky fragrance of the fish, which was concentrated on the skin. The moist flesh was yummy...and I got busy taking down the parts of the fish that my guests were too polite to touch, like the pectoral fin and the tail. No way I was gonna let the best parts of the fish go to waste!

We paused for a bit while we tried to clean up the dishes and sip some red wine. The 2000 Arietta Variation One would be something very unusual for most people. This Californian winery makes an interesting blend of Syrah and Merlot that, in my opinion, works very well. The tasting conditions tonight were not ideal, and I (surprisingly) didn't bother to take notes, but I still liked the wine a lot. There was plenty of the sweet vanilla coming from new oak barrels, and clearly the wine was going to be pretty concentrated with a lot of good fruit.

I made sure that the waiter broke out the beggar's chicken (叫化雞) in slow motion while my guest filmed the process. What a wonderful dish...one that I would always pre-order while booking a table. Some parts of the chicken today - particularly the breast - were a bit drier than I would have liked, but overall the meat was still soft and moist. And the fragrance was just unbelievable. Unfortunately we were missing two members of our posse, so while normally there would nothing left of the chicken's carcass, we actually left enough meat on the bones tonight...

We added an extra order of deep-fried freshwater eel (爆鱔背) with garlic brown sauce halfway through the meal. This was really nice...crunchy and the brown sauce was great, although someone thought that the eel tasted even better with some vinegar on top.

I was really happy with the veggie with salted pork (鹹肉塌窩菜) tonight. This was another Shanghainese veggie but only in season during the winter. I had missed it terribly during my last dinner at the restaurant, but it was worth the wait. There was only a hint of bitterness, and the sauce was awesome as it was infused with flavors from the salted pork... Too bad I was already pretty full at this point.

To contribute to everyone's cholesterol level, we finished with a bowl of stir-fried hairy crab roe with noodles (蟹粉撈麵). This is very, very sinful because you get hit with lots of carbs plus the cholesterol, but I can't imagine a meal here without it. Best taken with lots of sweet vinegar and chopped ginger...

My guests seemed to appreciate the glutinous rice balls in fruity fermented rice soup (什果酒釀丸子). For Chinese people who are used to having the glutinous rice balls for dessert, this is unusual in that the restaurant has chosen to add fruits into the soup, with strawberries, orange and banana bits.

As we were finishing up the meal, I got to chatting with our waiter. He has been here for more than 30 years, serving the same classic dishes to loyal clients day in and day out... The funny thing is that this restaurant no longer has a full menu. Not that I am complaining about the food, but it's quite an experience looking at the menu which has a ton of different dishes printed on it, and noticing that only a few of these actually have prices written down... The reality is that this place prefers to prepare some ingredients a certain way, and your waiter will tend to steer you towards the same few classic dishes. Even if you ask for something different, they are either not available or you will find yourself being convinced that the classic way is the best way...

This was a really enjoyable meal, and I think the 6 of us had enough food for 8 people. However, I think I will take a little break from this place as I have been here 4 times in the last 7 months... Surely there are other Shanghainese restaurants in town that are worthy of my business?

A little press coverage

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I woke up to a little surprised today.  A friend informed me that there was a write-up about my blog in the South China Morning Post.  I didn't know anything about it, so I ran down to  buy a copy of the paper.  Sure enough, there was a little blurb in the Sunday Magazine.

Susan is a friend and has been following my blog after stumbling upon it some time back.  She decided to tell her readers about it, but forgot to give me a heads up...  Well, I thanked her for the spotlight she put on the blog.

The text is reproduced here.

Sunday January 18 2009
Peechy keen

Susan Jung

Some food blogs make you want to get into the kitchen and cook, others make you want to go out and eat. Diary of a Growing Boy (chi-he-wan-le.blogspot.com) is firmly in the second category - and best of all, 'Peech' blogs primarily from Hong Kong, so we're not salivating about restaurants in cities we haven't yet visited. His postings are prolific and detailed: not just a few lines but paragraph after paragraph of his analysis about dishes he's tasted.

Most of the former banker's posts (he's now a headhunter) are about high-end restaurants and he writes with enthusiasm and knowledge about Asian and western cuisines. He's also passionate about wine: many of his meals are organised by members of a wine club he belongs to and are tailored to complement the wines.

Peech is well-travelled: he often goes to Taipei (where he was born) as well as the United States, Europe and both familiar and 'off the beaten path' parts of Asia (including Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan).

January 17, 2009

Black truffle evening

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I just got back from an evening of black truffle excess... Following the cooking class earlier in the afternoon, we had a wonderful dinner at Pierre, where black Périgord truffles showed up in just about every course, including desserts. I never imagined that I would say this, but I think I actually OD'd on truffles tonight... It was just soooo good.

We started sipping the 1983 Dom Perignon I brought along. With more than 20 years of bottle age, this is now a beautiful Champagne. Classic nose with caramel, iron rust, oxidized pear, honey and marmalade. Color is now golden. Still plenty of bubbles left but a lot smoother. How I love old Champagne...

The first course was ewe velouté and smoked tarragon, cab muscovite and beluga caviar with traditional condiments. As Pierre the sommelier said, "Champagne and caviar...this is the life!" Indeed! In addition to bringing my own Champagne, I actually brought in my own caviar. As I was flying out of Kazakhstan last June, I spent a chunk of change buying some beluga and oscietra caviar at Almaty Airport, because it was (relatively) cheap to buy this from one of the producing countries of this delicacy. I brought in 2 jars of beluga and the 4 of us shared a bit more than 220gm of the stuff... Decadant? Oh yeah...

Philippe created three different preparations for the caviar. The first was with crab meat. The second preparation sat on a bed of raw, sweet scallops. The third was a only a mouthful on pickled vegetable.

Finally, there was a chunk of caviar that I ended up spreading on blinis with the traditional condiments. I'm not a caviar connoisseur, but I did think the Kazakh beluga wasn't bad. Pretty complex on the palate. I'm sure there is much better quality out there, but for the price I paid I wasn't gonna complain.

We followed with a nice oyster in a consommé. What was incredible was the amount of black truffle floating in the bowl. Very fragrant and yummy.

The second bottle of the evening was the 1994 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Auslese. We are all big fans of Riesling, and this one was a great example of how good this varietal can be. An amazing nose of petrol, minerals, acetone, sweet pear and a bit of green apple. It's actually not as sweet on the palate as I expected. This was a great wine, and I'm gonna hold on to the remaining bottles in my cellar...

We went into the kitchen to watch Philippe finish the preparation for the 63° eggs, braised endive with grapefruit, champagne sauce with black truffle. It's a little decadent when Krug Grande Cuvée is being used in the cooking process... Anyway the egg was just perfect, and the acidic grapefruit really did work wonders on the bitter endive. The whole thing was topped with some freshly shredded endive and black truffle.

The slow cooked fillet of cod, creamed pearled barley "Perigourdine" and slice of turnip with aged Port wine was really delicious. There was a nice mix of textures between the slightly crunchy barley, cubes of ham, the moist and tender cod, and of course more black truffle. The small round disc on top looked like a slice of chorizo at first glance, but was actually turnip turned red by cooking in Port.

The last course before dessert was something I did not expect at this restaurant, because it was just so traditional. Beef "Rossini" was done very, very nicely. The beef was so tender, and the slice of pan-fried foie gras was just as I like it - soft and juicy. Everything was drizzled with black truffle sauce.

There were a total of four desserts, and we would go back to the kitchen to watch Nicolas putting them together. Eggs à la neige and buratta with lime is the îles flottante that we had learned about in the afternoon. Here the soft, spongy meringue was a luxe version prepared with lots of black truffle grounds that gave it a totally different flavor. The flavor of truffles was also infused in the crème anglaise, and shavings of lime rind provided the extra dimension. The savory buratta cheese at the bottom also took me by surprise.

The chocolate sponge cake had a creamy filling and a slice of black truffle to create a unique combination. And what could be better than a cream-filled macaron with a thin wafer of black truffle? Tasted a better macaron, I have not.

The Guanaja chocolate ganache was poured over caramalized fruits, candied kumquat and roasted nuts. Pretty nice and rich. And of course, there was a slice of black truffle in there somewhere.

Finally there was a scoop of caramel ice cream, which was pretty nice.

I can't think of any other occasion when I have had so much black truffle in one sitting, not even my dinner at Tokyo's Hotel Mikuni many years ago when I ate a whole black truffle... What a great dinner put together by Philippe's team at Pierre!

Cooking with a Michelin-starred chef

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This afternoon I had a very unique and fun experience, courtesy of my partner at work. A few of us were allowed access to the kitchen at Pierre, where we were entertained by Chef Philippe Orrico, his sous-chef Sebastien and pastry chef Nicolas. The chefs were gonna let us in on a few of their secrets, so that we could learn to create some dishes, Pierre Gagnaire-style.

Philippe showed us how to cook some of the really beautiful endives that he had in stock, with grapefruit juice no less! He then gave us a lecture on the theory behind slow cooking eggs at 65° C for three hours, and here was a guy who could talk for days about nothing but eggs. He also showed us some beautiful black truffles, where he shaved off the exterior and passed the shavings to Nicolas for dessert.

Nicolas prompty chopped up the black truffle shavings and started to whip up some egg whites, yolks and brought some milk to a boil. He would then sprinkle black truffle bits in everything, which would come together to make îles flottante. We sampled some soft meringue along the way, and considered using the egg whites that Nicolas whipped up as the shaving cream for my friend's head... All in all, it was a real blast.

Now I'm really looking forward to dinner tonight, where we'll be tasting the results of what the chefs had prepared with us earlier in the day...

January 14, 2009

The frustration with Burgundies

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After the Cos d'Estournel tasting tonight, I got together with a couple of friends and had dinner next door at the Press Room. We brought along a couple of bottles of red Burgundy to enjoy with the simple food. 

My friend brought along a bottle of 2004 Leroy Gevrey-Chambertin. Madame Bize declassified all her wines in 2004 due to the passing of her husband, so all the harvest from Grand Cru vineyards went into the village wines. These were available for sale at prices which made them more affordable, so some of us snapped up a bunch of these. Given that the Gevrey-Chambertin is actually a blend of Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Combottes and some village grapes, you can imagine our level of excitement. 

Well, we knew something was weird when the wine was decanted. The unfiltered wine looked very cloudy, but the color was really, really light. It looked like strawberry/raspberry juice, or a bottle of 30+ year old Burgundy from a weak vintage. The nose was very open and beautiful with lots of leather, grilled meats, bacon fat and even some orange/tangerine. So far so good. But the first sip of the wine made me wince - the acidity was just too much. There was nothing on the palate other than volatile acidity, and I thought I was drinking something made from lemonade. Aeration in a decanter for more than an hour did not improve the palate in any way. It's a wine that would have rated in the low 90s judging by its nose, only to have 10-15 points deducted as a result of the palate.

I brought along the 2000 Dugat-Py Charmes-Chambertin. I was also a little disappointed in this wine, because the nose never really showed well. Yes, it's a weak vintage; and yes, it's a Charmes-Chambertin so not an opulent wine. There was some sweet fruit and a bit of grilled meats in the nose. There was a lot more concentration on the palate and even a little tannic, with a reasonably long finish. But I wanted more. After all, this wasn't exactly a cheap bottle of wine! I wish I had taken a picture of the two glasses of wine, showing the totally different shades of (pun fully intended) burgundy. Judging by the colors, one would never have guessed that the wines were made from the same grape varietal grown in the same village, with only a 4-year difference in vintage.

I had nibbled on some finger food during the Cos tasting, so I dispensed with a starter for dinner. Instead I went straight to the roast pork belly with pomme purée. This is the same dish I had a couple of months ago during another wine dinner at Classified, and surprisingly I actually took in some of the potato mash as well as the apple chunks. Not bad. We shared a crêpe flambée a la mode for dessert. Nicely done with blueberries.

Well, anyone who drinks enough Burgundies know that there can be spectacular successes...and crash and burn badly. Guess this just wasn't our night...

Cos d'Estournel tasting

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Tonight I was invited by my friend Paulo of Altaya Wines for a tasting of the wines of Château Cos d'Estournel. Apparently I have become a VIP customer over the last year, so I'll be invited to a few of these freebie events from now on... The tasting was held upstairs at Classified, and many familiar faces were in attendance.

We tasted 11 wines in all - 9 vintages of the Grand Vin (2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1988 and 1982) as well as the 2006 and 1996 Les Pagodes de Cos. Finger food and cheese were provided to make sure that we don't get sloshed on empty stomachs...

Unsurprisingly, I thought that the 2003 and 2005 were both excellent wines, although the 2005 really needed time to open up. Both are very concentrated and sweet - more "New World" style. 1997 Bordeaux wines have been drinking very well over the last 2-3 years, and this one is no exception. 1995 and 1996 are a pair of classic wines. I didn't get to taste any of the 1982, because I was just too busy chatting with friends and didn't get to it before people sucked it up... And I thought that the 1996 Pagodes was a pretty good wine.

Hmmm...a freebie wine tasting in this market? Count me in for the next one, too!

January 10, 2009

Jacques Selosse Champagnes and a very old Madeira

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I got together last night with one of my winetasting groups, which consists of staff from a local wine shop as well as some of customers. This was our first gathering of the new year, and the organizer put together a great menu at Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊) at Hotel Lan Kwai Fong. There was a ton of food and an abundance of wine, so it made for a really good evening.

The menu:
Appetizers including pan-fried turnip cake (煎蘿蔔糕), deep-fried egg tofu (炸玉子豆腐) and sauteed string beans (乾扁四季豆). The turnip cake was excellent, especially with a bit of the XO sauce from the restaurant. The others were OK.

The snake soup (蛇羹) was pretty well done, looking a bit darker than the ones I've had in recent memory. I refrained from putting too much white chrysanthemem petals and shredded lemon leaves into the soup.

Vegetarian roll (羅漢上素卷) - the wrapped tofu skin and vegetables was a nice palate cleanser after the soup.

Chicken wings stuffed with birds nest (燕窩釀鳳亦) - very well done. The wings were air-dried before being deep-fried, and the skin was so light and crispy.

Crab-in-a-box (大良鮮蟹盒, pardon the poor English translation) - the chunk of crab roe is deep-fried inside a shell made from batter. Kinda interesting.

Giant grouper steamed in bamboo basket (籠仔蒸龍躉) - not a big fan of this dish. The skin of the grouper is very thick with lots of gelatin fat, which gets sticky after being steamed. I would have preferred the skin to be fried. The chilli pepper here provided the spice to this dish.

Prawns stir-fried with XO sauce (XO醬炒蝦仁) - anything done with XO sauce from this place is bound to be good...

Braised abalone and goose web (鮑魚炆鵝掌) - the abalone was small but decent, and the goose web as nice and soft.

Choy sum in broth (上湯浸菜心) - very nice and tender, cooked with the broth of the abalone.

Stuffed duck (福祿百寳鴨) - did not touch much of this dish, as my plate had almost no duck and was all about the stuffing, which was mostly taro .

Chinese-style beef steak (燒汁牛肉件) - the usual pan-fried medallions of beef with lots of onions. Not bad.

Roast pigeon (烤乳鴿) - very nicely done, and a perfect match for the Pinot Noir...

Shrimp and ham fried rice (鮮蝦雲腿炒飯) - really good fried rice with a lot of wok hei (鍋氣). The preserved ham from Yunnan really made the dish.

Almond cream with egg whites (生磨蛋白杏仁茶) - this is such a good almond cream, and the addition of egg whites always take this to the next level. Great way to finish the meal together with the fruits.

We also celebrated a birthday with a light cheesecake.

Onto the wines. We were a little more restrained this time, with 11 bottles for the 13 of us. The highlights of the evening were always going to be the three bottles of Jacques Selosse Champagne brought by a friend, and the bottle of very old Madeira I brought.

Jacques Selosse Brut Initiale NV, mis en bouteilles Novembre 2007 - wonderful mousse. A hint of caramel on top of lemon citrus in the nose. Very fresh and crisp acidity. Pretty dry finish.

Jacques Selosse Brut Initiale NV, mis en bouteilles Juillet 2007 - what a difference 4 months can make! The color here is darker, more mature than the first bottle, with lots of caramel, oaky and marmalade notes. Also much smoother on the palate and not as fresh.

Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs Substance NV, mis en bouteilles November 2007 - by far the best of the three bottles of Champagne (duh...) Wow! The carbonation from the bubbles just go shooting up my nose... Lots of caramel, marmalade and honey. The color is golden honey here. After leaving it in the flute to breath for a while, the nose was even more amazing.

2003 Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Pucelles - initially not very open, with some minerals and a hint of lemon citrus. Later some sweet butter came out. Very smooth on the palate with a slight bitter finish.

2004 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne - lots of lemon citrus and banana on the nose with a hint of sweetness. Acidic on the palate. A little disappointed.

2002 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne - amazing jasmine and floral nose, with a bit of white pepper and minerals. More acidic on the palate with a long finish. A great wine.

1998 Cheval Blanc - explosive nose, classic Bordeaux with brett, sweet fruits and a bit of smoked meats. Surprisingly a hint of mint despite no Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.

I brought the following pair of Cabs from BV. These are two different clones of the varietal made by the same winery in the same year, which makes for an interesting side-by-side comparison. Unfortunately they weren't served in the same types of glasses so it wasn't 100% accurate. I was also worried that the wines may be corked, since it is well known that BV had issues with TCA in their cellars for the 1997 vintage, and had to recall a large chunk of their wines.

Fortunately as well pulled the corks out, we did not detect any problems with these two bottles.

1997 Beaulieu Vineyard Clone 6 - smoky, wet chalk and sweet red fruits. Very Bordeaux-like. The crowd was surprised by how "French" the wine is, but I have always tasted the French roots of BV wines in the past. Georges de Latour was French after all...

1997 Beaulieu Vineyard Clone 4 - very alcoholic nose, with a bit of smoke and red fruits, plus vanilla and caramel. More concentrated and New World-like.

1999 Sine Qua Non the Ox - an Oregon Pinot Noir from one of my favorite Californian wineries. The first thought that came to my wine when I took a whiff of this was Cantonese liver sausage. Yes, it smelled just like the Chinese rose wine (玫瑰露) used in the production of the sausage. The nose was very sweet and alcoholic, with caramel and a bit of grilled meats. This was a very American Pinot, and exactly what I would expect from Sine Qua Non.

1863 Leacock's Malmsey - this was the highly anticipated finale, as most of the crowd have not tasted anything this old. I loooooove Madeiras, and what an amazing wine! After four hours in a big-bottomed decanter, the wine still smelled a little closed (!) Amazing nose of caramel, sweet fruits, vanilla, coffee, preserved orange rind (not marmalade but 陳皮). This wine just kept going on and on, and it was obvious that it was still in the prime of its life, despite being more than 145-years old... Time to collect more Madeiras...

Looking forward to our next gathering, and hope we get to close down another restaurant when we meet...

January 9, 2009

Seafood and Sauvignon Blanc

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Another sinful lunch at Pierre, this time with a seafood theme because we were drinking a bottle of white. My partner at work drafted me to accompany him to lunch at the last minute, and urged me to bring along a bottle of the 2005 Cloudy Bay Te Koko. Apparently he has some sentimental reason for liking Cloudy Bay. The wine was exactly as I remembered it - with nose of green apple, muscat grapes, mineral and flint. After an hour I detected some sweet butter on the nose. There was lots of crisp acidity but it was pleasantly balanced. A great wine to drink at lunch, but now I only have two bottles left...

We started with some pan-seared scallops with black truffles. The scallops were perfectly fresh, and the aroma of the black truffles is just overwhelming. The whole thing sits on a bed of what looks like apple confit, and I must say that the tastes worked well together.

I had half a bowl of the mushroom soup, which was rich, creamy and delicious. It doesn't hurt that they laid plenty of dried mushroom slices as well as a bit of black truffles on top.

My main course was the seabream Jodphur with couscous and lemon confit. I have always liked Pierre's dishes that involve couscous because they actually do the fusion thing well, and this one was no exception. The fish was poached so the flesh was sooo tender. The only issue I have is that the fish actually tasted a tad "fishy" (imagine that...) This is where the Indian-spiced couscous comes in, as the combination of the fish and the couscous means that the spices completely cover up any hint of the fishy taste. This one's another winner, with some slight adjustments...

Once again I come away smiling from a meal at Pierre. Looking forward to my return next weekend!

January 8, 2009

Simple Italian lunch

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I had a quick lunch today at Cipriani, my go-to Italian restaurant. I like this place for its no-nonsense, solid food, and I'm such a creature of habit that I usually have exactly the same dishes every time...

I started with my usual cucumber, sweet corn and cherry tomato salad. It's nice and refreshing, and it's not your run-of-the-mill green salad.

I followed with a plate of deep-fried seppeolini and soft polenta. The seppeolini are actually a type of squid, and these small ones are lightly breaded and deep-fried whole. Actually this was a wonderful dish - very flavorful (as anything deep-fried can be) yet pretty light due to the thin layer of breading. The squid is very fresh and delicious. The polenta was also good, being a bit more liquid than normal. There was only a thin layer so it didn't feel too heavy. This is a dish that I would like to have again.

I had a slice of the vanilla cream cake forced on me...my favorite cake was wonderful as usual, but I just couldn't finish it...what a shame.

January 3, 2009

Vega Sicilia vertical

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Tonight was our MNSC annual dinner, and we pulled out all the stops for this. Both organizers (for food and wine) did a tremendous job to make this an evening to remember. The venue was Yung's Club (嚐真), which is on the 8th floor of the Yung Kee Building. Here's the menu for the evening:

Millenarian lobster salad a la Hong Kong (風雲際會邁千禧) - with a name right out of the popular Hong Kong kungfu comic 風雲, this is actually a version of the popular Singaporean dish 撈魚生. Shredded veggies, lobster, pomelo and tortilla-like chips give this a very interesting texture.

Then came the three appetizers:

Deep-fried scallops (椒鹽釀帶子) - very nice and the outside crust is fluffy, while the flesh was sweet and had the springy consistency of very fresh scallops.

Smoked marinated layer pork (松子雲霧肉) - the smoky flavor is actually pretty heavy, and the fatty layers were just so delish... It's cholesterol city but waddaya gonna do abouddit...

Pan-fried goose liver sausage (香煎鵝肝腸) - no, this is not pan-fried foie gras, although it's certainly a different take using the same ingredients. I'm a huge fan of liver sausage, and this is a great example of why I love this stuff.

Fatty charred char siu (肥窿叉燒) - I always thought this was one of the best char siu in town...

Roast goose with mushrooms and fungus (家鄉鵝) - really, really good roast goose...this is gotta be the goose that Yung Kee is famous for. The black fungus is also pretty nice.

Double-boiled sharks fin soup with crab pincer (高湯蟹臂包翅) - can't say enough for how good this is...the stock is just wonderful, and the addition of the crab meat is a nice touch.

Braised goose web with dried giant grouper skin (龍躉皮炆鵝掌皇) - the goose web is never disappointing, and the dried garoupa skin - from one of those giants - adds an interesting element due to its texture.

Steamed giant labird (清蒸蘇眉) - this Napoleon wrasse was a pretty large fish, and it's so fresh and in great condition (tail was in perfect shape). This was steamed perfectly, and the flesh was soooo tender...probably the best steamed fish I've had in some time.

Rice in lobster soup (龍蝦頭爪泡飯) - this is pretty interesting, with a consistency somewhere between Cantonese congee and Japanese ochazuke (お茶漬け).

Finally we have two little steamed dumpling with mini crab roe (禮云子粉果) on the side. Nice with the fresh prawns inside.

I was full after the sharks fin, and was bursting after the steamed fish. There really was too much food tonight, but to be honest this is probably the best Cantonese meal I've had in the past 12 months.

As the title says, we had a vertical of Vega Silicia Unico tonight. What is amazing is that of the 7 vintages tonight, the 1970 (which I have served twice including once this year) was the youngest!

1942 Unico - sweet nose with strawberry bubblegum, preserved plum notes. It was a bit acidic on the palate at first, but later on it also tasted like preserved plums (話梅) with licorice (甘草). 93 points.

1967 Unico - very sweet nose with a bit of smoked meats and mint. Acidic on the palate at first, but with some grippy tannins at the same time. 94 points.

1957 Unico - very sweet nose with prominent bacon and grilled meat notes. A bit medicinal but a wonderful wine. Still pretty full-bodied on the palate. 94 points.

1962 Unico - a bit plasticky and alcoholic. Nose is sweet buta bit chalky. 92 points.

1964 Unico -Very sweet nose with a bit of smoked meats, and strong notes of stone and gravel, a bit flinty and steely. 94 points.

1953 Unico - lots of caramel, vanilla and mocha notes enveloping the core of sweet fruits. A bit chalky. Very awesome and my wine of the evening. 96 points.

1970 Unico - a real shame because this wine did not have enough time to open up, as we finished the dinner earlier than expected. There was some sweet fruit but it was still pretty closed.

This was quite an eye-opener. One may get to taste older vintages of Unico from time to time, but I never expected to be able to do such a vertical of these older vintages, especially when you consider that there were only 12,000 or 25,000 bottles made of some of these vintages. I'm sure the chances of finding more bottles of these old wines are pretty slim...

January 2, 2009

First Friday Lunch Club of the year

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It's January 2 and a Friday, so of course my Friday Lunch Club - four people who used to work in the same bank - got together to do a proper kick-off of 2009. We decided to do this at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. I haven't been back to L'Atelier since being on the receiving end of some ridiculous service 2 months ago, and it would be interesting to see how things would go today.

We sat at a bar table for the cheaper set lunch. Being a Friday when no one is in the mood for work, we decided to order up some alcohol. I chose of bottle of Billecart Salmon Rosé NV as a more interesting alternative to Dom Perignon, Krug or La Grande Dame. The wine was very smooth and round on the palate, but I found the nose wasn't as open as I had hoped, with some raspberry and toasty notes.

As the sommelier poured the wine into the Riedel Sommelier Vintage Champagne flute for me to taste, I jokingly said "Oh! This is terrible! Send it back!" without even having sipped the wine. My friends were cracking up, but unfortunately the Frenchman was either on another planet, or he was totally ignoring my prank. He apologized and claims that he didn't realize that he was being spoken to... I guess he didn't really appreciate our humor...

The amuse bouche sent by the chef was very interesting. It was a bowl of coriander and cream cheese soup with croutons. It was rich and delicious, and reminded me of the dip used to accompany Indian poppadoms - but without the spices.

My first course was the skewer of scallops and bacon. The scallops were pan-seared and decent, but slightly below my expectations. The bacon, however, was excellent as it was fatty and sandwiched between two thin slices of grilled red capsicum. I alternated between tasting these "as is", with the teriyaki sauce, and with a bit of the mixed herbs.

I continued the seafood theme by having cod fillet in seafood broth. I wanted to try to keep things "light", so I did not take the other heavier dishes which my friends ordered. The cod was indeed lighter and nicely done, although somehow today I felt that there was a little something missing. The broth, however, was really nice and full of flavor. I am sure they used prawn heads and shells to make the base. They also diced up broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and squash into tiny cubes for the broth, and placed thinly sliced cucumber "ravioli" inside.

The aforementioned Frenchman thought we were joking when we asked for more toast to accompany my friends' foie gras, only to realize his mistake and have to make an extra trip. When the main courses arrived, we jokingly asked for more of the wonderful mashed potatoes - something Joël Robuchon is known for. This time the Frenchman was determined not to slip up...so he quickly brought us another small Le Creuset pot of the delicious stuff. Of course this was quickly lapped up by the ladies...

The chocolate caramel tart with pear sorbet was wonderful. I had a caramel and pear dessert at the Salon de Thé downstairs earlier in the week, and this was on my mind as I did the ordering. The sorbet was so nice...like eating a fully ripe Anjou pear, and there were small chunks of caramelized pear in the tart. What a great way to finish!

It was a great lunch - good food, good wine, with entertainment provided by our Frenchman who really didn't have much of a sense of humor, much to the chagrin of his fellow countrywoman sitting next to me. I'd say that's a great start to 2009...

January 1, 2009

A walk on the Peak

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It was a gorgeous new year's day. Even though I didn't wake up early for a morning drive with some friends, I did make plans to lunch at the Peak Lookout with my cousin and her 5 month-old golden retriever puppy. Tons of people wanted to go to the Peak today. Traffic was horrendous, and there was people everywhere. But with gorgeous weather like this, it shouldn't surprise anyone that we all wanted to walk a little and take in the breathtaking views.

Wolfie was a happy pup today, discovering all kinds of new things as we walked down from the Peak. Lots of other owners were out with their dogs, and the dogs took turns greeting each other, as they normally do.

It was such an enjoyable walk today, and I wonder why it is I haven't do so for such a long time. Gotta take advantage of the season and get out more.

Another quiet new year's eve

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It's new year's eve, and I'm not in Taipei watching the fireworks at Taipei 101. I had a belated change of plans and needed to be back for work, so I ended up staying in Hong Kong without plans for year end. Fortunately I was taken in by good friends who invited me to their home for a quiet get together. There would be 7 of us in all.

My friend Mr. Ho is a pretty good cook, and I've been fortunate enough to be a guest at their house on many occasions. We would start with some terrine and foie gras paté, move on to the salad, and sample his seafood risotto. Mrs. Ho would bake us some brownies for a sweet finish.

Because there were quite a few of us - and this being new year's eve - we would end up having a good amount of alcohol...but what else is new?

2003 Beaucastel Blanc - I have always liked the wines made by the Perrins, and this is a really beautiful white wine. Nose of honey, minerals and pear. This was our pre-dinner wine.

1999 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Selection de Grains Nobles - I remembered that Mr. and Mrs. Ho really enjoyed the Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris SGN during our meal at El Bulli, so I thought it would be a good idea to have this with the foie gras. Very sweet on the palate, with nose of marmalade, acetone and some floral notes. However I was a little disappointed with this, because I expected the nose to be more complex and blow me away. Oh well.

2004 Clos Dady - Mr. Ho opened this bottle of Sauternes as the SGN was running out. Nose of marmalade, honey and a bit of acetone. Not as sweet on the palate was the SGN.

1997 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay - I wanted to bring a nice bottle of white to go with the risotto, so I took this bottle that has been aging in my cellar for a few years. Turned out to be a great choice. Buttery nose with notes of oak, minerals, spices, orange and sweet grass. Color is now golden, and the nose just kept on giving...wonderful stuff.

1999 Clinet - one of the guests brought this bottle, which was drinking wonderfully. Telltale nose of brett, smoke, sweet fruit and lots of bacon, with some mint and slightly alcoholic. Still reasonably tannic on the palate, but what a wine!

2005 Torbreck the Bothie - this nice little Muscat that Mr. Ho brought out was perfect with the dessert. It reminds me of the Muscat de Baumes-De-Venise from Rhone, with its telltale lychee nose, and makes perfect sense given David Powell's lineup of Rhone varietals. The boys hung out on the balcony after dinner for cigars and some nice Cognac.

Mr. Ho very kindly shared with us some of his 1976 Cognac made in Petite Champagne, given to him by his parents. It has a nice little story behind it, and is the third time ever that I've actually liked Cognac (incidentally all within 2008).

We toasted in the new year with a bottle of 2000 Dom Perignon, which I still think is a really good wine given the quantity it is produced in. It capped off a really good evening, and I hope that everyone will have a very good 2009!


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