February 27, 2009

You're fired!

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Four weeks after the last Lunch Club meeting, we reconvene for our first Indian food outing. I would have never thought about going to Jashan, since at first glance the sign downstairs doesn't look that impressive. But our fake Indian member insisted that they serve good food. And the place did garner a Bib Gourmand rating from the people at Michelin...although I have to say that a couple of places on that list looked dubious.

We forgo the economical lunch buffet and order a la carte instead. Before he started ordering , we specifically told our fake Indian friend that he should order well, and that he'd be fired from Lunch Club if he ended up ordering the same dishes that tourists like us would. Well, out of the five dishes he rattled off I could have ordered three of them in my sleep...

Murgh tikka - HELLO?! Any bozo can order this dish on their own including me. But all kidding aside, it's classic because it is just so good. Tender chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, then stuck in a tandoori oven and served on a hot plate. Yum!

Goan fish curry - this was one of the winners. I normally don't have fish curries at Indian restaurants, but I must admit that this was pretty good. Maybe it is because the sweetness on the palate.

Dhansak - another pleasant discovery, this is chicken cooked in lentils and pumpkin. The texture is pretty interesting, and one of the few times I actually liked something cooked with lentils.

Palak paneer - the typical cottage cheese cooked in spinach. I love the way spinach is cooked in Indian cuisine into a soft paste.

Together with the basmati rice and a garlic naan, the food was pretty filling. We had to have dessert, of course. We order the gulab jamun, ras malal and kesari kulfi. I'm only somewhat happy with the sweet gulab jamun...

I have to say that the food was pretty decent. It's been a while since I've had Indian, and I'm happy to have found another restaurant I can go to.

By the way Mr. Fake Indian, you're sooooo fired from Lunch Club... Just kidding.

February 25, 2009

A hearty meal for two

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This was the last night that my friend would be in town, and I promised to take him to a Hong Kong institution - Sheung Hing Chiu Chow Restaurant (尚興潮州飯店). It's a well-known, local place (read: no decor nor service) which serves up simple and homey Chiuchow fare, together with some expensive seafood items.

We sat down on the ground floor at one of the three locations which are next to each other (No. 37), in full view of the chopping station. A couple of geese and a bunch of large crabs hung on the racks in front of the window, awaiting clients' orders.

We started with a cold crab (凍蟹) - one of the signatures of this place. We didn't get one of the big ones hanging in the window, since it wouldn't have made sense for the two of us. The captain was kind enough to persuade the guys at the chopping station to produce a smaller crab for us at half the price. A very straight forward dish - fresh seafood served cold so the texture and the sweetness of the flesh is just perfect. I didn't need to use the dipping sauce.

You can't come to a Chiuchow place without having some marinated mixed platter (鹵水拼盤). The goose was so-so today, with some pieces being a bit tough. The tofu was not bad - the skin was nice as it had been deep-fried before - but it was too salty from soaking up the soy sauce on the plate.

The big bowl of prawns with dishrag gourd (水瓜煮蝦) was very delicious. I never realized that there was a variant of my favorite ridged gourd (絲瓜), which is just as yummy. It's cooked in soup with minced pork and glass vermicelli along with some large prawns. The overall taste if very nice, and the addition of minced pork with the seafood seems like the classic Chiuchow touch.

One of the comments I had read online mentioned that this place doesn't know how to do fried oyster pancake (煎蠔餅) right, and I have to agree. It was simply too greasy and soggy. As soon as I had some of this, my stomach felt like it hit a brick wall and I felt really, really full. I wish it was more crispy and didn't soak up as much grease...

Despite being pretty full by this point, I decided to have some crispy pan-fried noodles (糖醋麵). The portion was HUGE. I guess since they want to charge HKD 50 and there's nothing but plain noodles (they throw in the vinegar and sugar for free), they need to make sure there's enough of it.... The noodle comes out in a giant "cake" and one side is crispy. Sprinkle some sugar and with a few drops of vinegar, you've got a pretty yummy product. I packed most of the noodles into a doggie bag so it won't go to waste.

Just when we thought we could fit nothing more into our stomachs, the waitress brought us bowls of mung bean soup (綠豆爽) as we were paying the bill. The husks have been removed so only the centers were used. Pretty decent.

Food was pretty good, but there were definitely some misses. Maybe I do need to come back with some friends with deep pockets to try the high-end dishes. Then I'll be able to judge whether it's worthwhile to spend money here. Service was non-existent as expected, but happily none of the staff was rude to us and chose to shout at each other instead. In fact the captain was pretty friendly to us, and gave us their business card so we could call ahead to book tables next time. Maybe I will...

February 24, 2009

Revisiting an old friend

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Tonight was the much-delayed gathering of a group of bankers, all of whom worked together more than 10 years ago, at a beloved institution which sadly no longer exists. As "round table Chinese" was requested I made a reservation at Liu Yuan Pavilion (留園雅敍) - an old favorite of mine that I've neglected for quite a while. A bit of Shanghainese would be a welcome change from all the Cantonese that I've been having this month.

I didn't have to do the ordering, so I just sat back and enjoyed as the food kept coming through the door. We started with a quartet of appetizers:
vegetarian goose (素鵝, deep-fried tofu skin), kaofu (烤麩, another tofu variant) with mushrooms, celtuce stem slices (萵筍) and deep-fried freshwater eel (炸鱔魚). These are all comfort food for me, and things that I'd order at any Shanghainese meal.

There was a request for smoked chicken (燻雞) so we ordered one. I thought it was deliciously sweet while the smoky flavors were kinda nice.

The crab stir-fried with egg yolk and rice crispies (蛋黃鍋巴炒蟹) was really nice. The crab was covered with a layer of salty, mushy egg yolk, as were the blocks of rice crispies. This is a very classic Shanghainese preparation.

We had a large pot of chicken soup with wontons (雞湯餛飩) - again a classic Shanghainese dish. I liked the wontons because they were a bit different - flatter than normal and a bit like the Taiwanese variety (扁食).

I ate very little of the sweet and sour fish (松子魚) because it really isn't my favorite. I must admit that the execution here was pretty good, even though I always found the dish to be very "gweilo/angmo."  Instead I chose to save my stomach for some stir-fried leaf amaranth (清炒莧菜).

We then had a series of savory dim sums that loaded us up with carbs. First there was the deep-fried scallion cake (炸蔥油餅), which was of the chubby variety (instead of the flat, pancake-like variety.) This was deeped to be overly salty and therefore inedible, and was sent back to the kitchen.

We got some homestyle pancakes (家常薄餅) as replacement, which were much more to my tastes. 

There was also a basket of xiao long bao (小籠包, steamed pork buns). These looked really good, with the skins being very thin and the interior filled with natural juice from the pork. I said "looked really good" instead of "tasted really good" because I didn't have one. Someone (who shall remain nameless) decided to have two of these wonderful things, thereby depriving me of one in the process. Oh well...

The puff pastry stuffed with turnip (蘿蔔絲餅) was excellent. The exterior was perfectly crispy, while the shredded turnip inside were moist and not too salty.

The pan-fried potstickers (鍋貼) were pretty good, again with good amount of juice sealed inside.

I think the bunch of dim sums really put us over the edge, so that we were too stuffed to have dessert. But I was happy...and glad to have gone back "home."

February 23, 2009

One little satisfying (Michelin) star

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A dear friend of mine is in town for a couple of days, making his last rounds in Hong Kong before moving out of Asia. I agreed to hit some restaurants with him, and tonight it was Tim's Kitchen (桃花源). I haven't been back there for a few years, and now that the restaurant's received a coveted Michelin star, it was certainly time to pay another visit.

We took the earlier seating at 6:30pm, and I had pre-ordered all the dishes when the reservation was made. The small restaurant was mostly empty when I arrived, but would soon see most of the tables occupied.

We started with the stir-fried giant glass prawn (玻璃蝦球), which came with a small slice of Yunnan ham (金華火腿). One of the signature dishes at the restaurant, I actually thought it was slightly overcooked. It was just a teeny bit bland, so it's a good thing we've got the slice of ham and the shrimp paste.

A giant crab claw poached with winter melon (冬瓜蟹拑) arrived in front of me. Another signature dish of the restaurant, I chose the winter melon preparation instead of one steamed with egg custard or deep-fried. This was absolutely wonderful. The shell has been removed and more crab meat has been stuffed into the claw to make it extra plump. The flesh was tender, the starched sauce and winter melon meant the flavors were delicate.

Remembering a meal we had together in San Francisco where we had tripe at A16, I ordered stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖). The tripe was fabulous - sooo crunchy and chewy. The mix of celery, red bell peppers, bamboo shoots, sweet pickles, Chinese parsley and pine nuts made for interesting textures as well as flavors.

Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦子柚皮) is a humble but classic Cantonese dish, and they do it well here. Nice texture, and I eagerly scooped up the starchy sauce so I won't miss a bit of that wonderful shrimp roe.

I'm glad I decided to order only one fried pigeon (炸乳鴿) because it was pretty darn big one. Very yummy. Crispy, fragrant skin with just a bit of fat underneath to make it tasty. Lots of flavor here.

Thinking we have a bit more room, I ordered one bowl of the snake soup (太史五蛇羹) to share. This was really nice, starting with the excellent knife work that one sees immediately. Light and delicate flavors, enhanced by the usual condiments. One of the best snake soups I've had, but I confess I am no connoisseur...

I'm feeling full by now, and decide not to order any dessert. This has been a wonderful meal, because the food has been really well-prepared and at the same time very simple and straight forward. With the plain decor and the ho-hum service, the quality of the food was left to speak for itself, and the Michelin star is well-deserved.

February 22, 2009

A cheesy dinner

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Last night a small group of Hong Kong's foodies gathered at Caprice for dinner. Those in attendance included a famous blogger (no, I'm not talking about myself), a prominent journalist, and publishers of a popular dining guide. I was honored to have been included as part of this select crew.

The theme of the dinner was...cheese! Anyone who has been to Caprice would probably have been introduced to their amazing cheese selection, many of which have been sourced from the famous affineur Bernard Antony. Nowadays the restaurant has a cheese room where Jeremy the maître d' stores his precious babies.

We met in the lounge of the restaurant, and started with a bottle of NV De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies. This blanc de blancs was made from grand cru grapes from vines which are more than 50 years old, and disgorged in February 2005. Wonderful nose of caramel, toffee, vanilla and minerals. Very smooth and a bit sweet on the palate, with pretty low acidity. It's pretty amazing to find a non vintage Champagne which drinks like it's been aged for years, as the caramel and toffee nose would seem to indicate. I am reminded of the Champagnes from Jacques Selosse.

We also nibble on some cheesy puff pastry, as well as a plate of jamon iberico. What a nice way to start dinner... After chatting for a while, we finally moved to the chef's table behind the kitchen, where we had direct access to the aforementioned cheese room.

We started with an amuse bouche of tuna - raw and seared tuna with some black olive dressing. The flavors from the herbs on top worked to balance things out.

Next came a platter of 4 cheeses, each paired with a different wine to compliment the flavors:

Galet de Bigorre - from the département of Hautes-Pyrénées, this was a very creamy and smooth goat cheese, with nutty flavors and a slightly bitter aftertaste.
2005 Pierre-Bise Savennières Roche aux Moines - the very first vintage of this cru made by proprietor Claude Papin. Nose of plastic and minerals, with toasty notes emerging later. The wine was very ripe and sweet on the palate, which worked well with the cheese.

Chaource - from the département of Aube southeast of Paris, this was first salty then a little acidic on the palate. Very nutty. The flavors were really enhanced by the Champagne, as the acidity and the carbonation neutralized the salty taste.
NV De Sousa Brut Réserve - this blanc de blancs from grand cru grapes had nose of toasty oak, marmalade and lemon citrus.

Colombier Fermier - this Burgundian cheese starts with a touch of salt, followed by a little acidity and then, amazingly, a sweet aftertaste in the mouth.
2006 Michel Bouzereau Meursault Les Tessons - ripe and sweet nose with floral, mineral and toasty oak notes. After palate was sweet when tasted with the cheese.

Tomme de Brebis Corse Bio - this organic cheese from Corsica had a distinctive smoky nose, and the flavors were a bit mild and slightly acidic. Thi was also paired with some fig jam.
2005 François Feuillet Nuits-Saint-Georges La Charmotte Cuvée Marcel Gerbeaut - a very forward wine, with a fruity nose of sweet raspberries.

We took a break from the cheese, and had some delicious leg of lamb. The Pyrénées lamb was fed on freshly sprouted leaves of grass. The meat was pink and tender, and just fatty enough to have that distinctive flavor. The exterior has been rubbed with some rosemary for the classic combination. We also had some salad and a delicious helping of orzo, cooked Provençale-style with black olives, zucchini and red peppers.

We had a bottle of 2004 Jamet Côte-Rôtie to go with the lamb. Lovely nose of pine forest, mint and a little smoky and floral. After additional aeration we got oriental spices, cloves and patchouli. Beautiful wine.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty stuffed at this point...as was most of the party. I wasn't able to finish the lamb, as I wanted to save room for some more cheese.

Time for the second platter, which again consisted of 4 different types of cheese individually paired with wines. The flavors of these would be much stronger than the first four.

Mimolette extra vieille - from memory this is aged for 18 months. I have always liked this cheese, but today I would experience a revelation. Jeremy paired it with the flagshp white beer from Hoegaarden. This was an amazing combination, as the strong, salty taste of the cheese was completely neutralized by the cold, sweet taste of the beer. Everyone at the table was impressed with this pairing.

Munster - this wasn't the average Munster that you'd find in your supermarket. From the Alsatian département of Haut-Rhin, this was a pretty stinky and salty cheese. The nose reminded me of Chinese fermented tofu (腐乳), or even a little bit of durian...
2006 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer - floral and mineral notes, with a slight hint of lychee that is typical of this varietal. A classic pairing with the cheese.

Comté - my favorite cheese at Caprice. This has been aged for 4 years, and Jeremy tells us that he's got the last two wheels produced in 2004 by his supplier. He is looking to age some for an additional year and see what it would taste like. We watched him use a steel wire contraption to cut a slice from the wheel, and I realized that what's he's holding in his hands is actually a garotte that is capable of decapitating someone...but enough about that. Love the intense flavor and the crystalline salt here.
1996 Michel Pichet Château-Chalon - there is no better combination for this cheese than this oxidized wine from the same region of Jura.

Roquefort Le Vieux Berger - very strong blue cheese from sheep's milk made by one of the few producer who isn't part of the Société. I only nibbled a little bit as I'm almost bursting by now.
2005 Mas Amiel - this is a fortified wine made from Grenache Noir. I was first introduced to it at Vinexpo last year, and I really liked it. Quite appropriate to have a sweet, fortified wine paired with a strong and salty cheese like Roquefort.

Some of the group also sampled the wonderful Epoisses, paired with a glass of Macallan 25 Years. Unfortunately I just didn't think I could take it. I was content to have a double espresso to help with my digestion...

This was an awesome dinner. We were able to sample the best selection of cheese from Caprice, and given the quality of their goods that is saying a lot! Now that I know it's possible to plan a dinner entirely revolving around fine cheeses (and wines of course!) I look forward to returning for another round... perhaps in a different season in order to get some different varieties.

February 20, 2009

What a guinea pig feels like

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I attended a small wine tasting tonight. Actually it was more like a focus group, except that we were all pretty knowledgeable about wine. My friend runs a wine retail business on the side, and he was looking to import some wines from a small Burgundian producer. He wanted our collective opinion on this lot of wines before discussing business with the supplier.

The wines were mostly unremarkable. Quality was average at best and there were other, more competitively priced wines with better quality and brand recognition. Guess my friend isn't gonna take on this particular domaine...

My tasting notes are as follows:
1993 Michel Gaunoux Bourgogne - still fruity with nose of grilled meats, prunes and a bit of gravel. Very acidic and grippy on the palate.

2005 Michel Gaunoux Beaune - much sweeter on the nose, almost bubblegum-like, but a bit smoky at the end. Medium acidity on the palate.

1996 Michel Gaunoux Beaune - my first reaction to this wine was "WTF?!" Very farmy nose, almost like wet dirt, stewed prunes, moss and rotten wood. The wine was clearly off. Medium-high acidity.

1998 Michel Gaunoux Pommard 1er Cru - pretty nice and fragrant, with sweet fruit and leather on the nose. Medium acidity with quite a strong alcoholic kick at the end. Probably my favorite wine of the lot.

1999 Michel Gaunoux Pommard 1er Cru Grands Epenots - some sweet fruit in the nose, with smoked meats and a hint of acetone.

2002 Michel Gaunoux Pommard 1er Cru Grands Epenots - sweet nose that fades to an acidic one, which was a bit strange. Grilled meats and leather notes. Slightly high in acidity.

2006 Clos Salomon Givry 1er Cru - this monopole had more concentration, still smoky on the nose with an acidic finish and some grippy tannins are the same time.

2005 René Cacheux Chambolle-Musigny - color was very dark, concentrated nose which was fragrant and pleasant, with sweet fruit and a bit of gravel on the nose. This became much more chalky and gravelly later with further aeration, and basically fell apart. Hard tannins with a slightly acidic finish.

2006 Kerlann Chablis - I would never had guessed that this was a Chablis...would have said it was either a Cali or Aussie Chardonnay. Very heavily oaked, with a ripe nose of pear, vanilla and gravel. Slightly acidic on the palate. Not enjoyable at all.

Now I know what it feels like to be a guinea pig or lab rat... Hopefully I'll have better luck next time and will get to try better wines...

February 18, 2009

Hungry for some fatty char siu

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Tonight we had a cozy gathering of ex-colleagues, only one of whom is still working for the same employer. We had been talking about going to the Yung Kee VIP Floor (蘭亭閣, on the fourth floor) for some time, and we finally got around to it.

One always starts a meal at Yung Kee with some century eggs (糖心皮蛋). These things may look gross to some people, especially those who aren't Chinese, but it's kinda like manna from heaven for those who have acquired the taste.

Right off the bat we were served the dish that we came for: fatty char siu (肥窿叉燒). This was pretty awesome stuff. The pork had lots of fat, both on the edges as well as in the middle, like five layered pork (五花肉) but without the top layer of skin. The roasting process caramelized the fat, which makes it very, very delicious. The taste is similar to that of roast pork jerky (豬肉乾) that one finds in Taiwan or Singapore. This was a good start.

Next came the most expensive dish of the meal - freshwater shrimp stir-fried with crab roe (禮云河蝦). The shrimps were tender and bouncy, while the crab roe was creamy and delicious.

I had pre-ordered the double-boiled roast duck soup with Chinese parsley and preserved orange rind (香茜陳皮燉鴨湯), and they decided to give us half a duck since there were only four of us. I guess they have no idea of the voracious appetite of this group... Anyway I still love the soup. It's a bowl full of the parsley and orange rind, but the flavor of the roast duck is already in the soup. We did end up having most of the duck meat that was served separately on a plate.

The steamed egg with conpoy (瑤柱水蒸蛋) is a real homey dish, although as someone remarked, you probably wouldn't add any soy sauce when you do this at home.

Another plate of stir-fried pea shoots (清炒豆苗) as it's still the veggie of the season.

Finally we have the stir-fried glutinous rice with winter meats (生炒臘味糯米飯). Now this is a place that knows how to get this right! The rice is relatively dry and chewy, and the grains stick together and don't fall apart when you pick them up with your chopsticks. The last few times I had this rice elsewhere have been a little disappointing, and I'm glad that Yung Kee still knows how to get it right.

For dessert I did not get my own bowl of red bean soup or black sesame soup, but I did have a few pieces of white sponge cake (白糖糕) as well as red bean cake with osmanthus (桂花紅豆糕).

I brought a bottle of 1988 Hugel Riesling Vendage Tardive to go with the food. Being a late-harvest wine, naturally it is a little on the sweet side. Classic nose of petrol, flint, acetone, marmalade and muscat grapes. Due to the age of the wine, there were lots of tartaric acid crystals that have formed as sediment at the bottom of the bottle. I had actually never seen so much crystal in one bottle, actually, and visually it's a bit weird to see them in your glass.

Another gathering with happy, satisfied diners. We'll have to figure out where to go next...

February 14, 2009

The casting (without the couch...)

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I went for the first "casting" today, purely out of curiosity. This talent agent had been flagging down people on the bridge just outside of IFC, and this was the second time that she flagged me down and asked for my number. With the encouragement of a friend, I decided to go see what this is all about.

The funny thing is that I ran into my friend Roger at the office of the talent agency. The agent - whose mother is originally Taiwanese - was surprised that she ended up grabbing two Taiwanese who are actually friends. Roger also decided to give it a shot at the behest of a friend...

After a quick interview during which the agent jotted down some basic info about me, we went into a small room for the casting session. No, there was no space in the room for a couch; and yes, the room had glass walls so people can see very clearly what's going on inside. I stood in front of a video cam set up on a tripod, and proceeded to introduce myself. I was asked to act out a few basic emotions, and sang a few lines of a pop song to demonstrate my "talent".

So...am I gonna get any work as a "talent"? Dunno. The agent told me that there is a certain air/character about me that she liked. But then again she probably says that to everyone who comes through the door. We discussed various types of print and TV campaigns that might be suitable for me, and I agreed to give this a try if some of her clients found me interesting. No, they don't do any work for the pornographic industry (damn!!) or anything illegal.

Let's see what comes out of this, and no, I'm not gonna lose any sleep if no one thinks I'm worthy enough to be a "talent."

February 13, 2009

The wines of Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier

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Tonight I had the pleasure of being seated next to Frédéric Mugnier at a dinner showcasing his wines. The venue chosen by my friend Paulo of Altaya Wines was the China Club, since this is the first time that Frédéric has travelled to Hong Kong.

The menu was as follows:
Assorted appetisers Roasted suckling pig (大紅乳豬件) - this was OK

Smoked vegetarian bean curd skin roll (燻腐皮素卷) - the smoky flavor was pretty prominent

Smoked duck breast (蒜泥煙熏鴨胸) - OK but almost Western in style

Barbecued pork (金牌叉燒) - this is succulent and sweet, and one of the best char siu in town

Sautéed prawn and vegetable in mild spicy sauce (翡翠和味鮮蝦球) - the prawn was pretty decent

Whole Coral Leopard Trout sautéed and deep-fried (鴛鴦東星斑) - not terribly impressed, but I did like the roasted walnuts with caramelized coating.

Sautéed dices of beef fillet with fresh lily bulbs in black bean sauce (豉汁鮮百合炒牛柳粒) - ho hum.

Deep-fried crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - this was OK.

Braised seasonal green with bamboo fungus and Chinese mushroom (竹笙鮮菇扒時蔬) - the Chinese cabbage was pretty good.

Fried rice with barbecued pork and ginger (薑米叉燒炒飯) - the fragrance from the ginger was pretty strong, and actually distracted from the wine tasting. But this was pretty good, since the char siu was wonderful.

Mango pudding (香芒布丁)

The lineup of wines were mostly from the 2006 vintage, which Frédéric likes very much and thinks is much more "classically Burgundian" than 2005.

1999 Pol Roger Brut - a bit sharper and more acidic than I'd like.

2006 Chambolle-Musigny - nose was acidic at first and the wine smelled like vinegar. Some fruit emerged with a bit of smoke, and he nose was delicate and fragrant. It almost smelled like soy-marinated meats...

2006 Nuits-St.-Georges Clos de Fourches - made from grapes grown in Clos d la Marechale, this is the "declassified" wine made in vintages where not all the grapes were top-notch - hence it was not made in 2005. The name Clos de Fourches was the old name for the plot before it was changed into the current name. The bottle was definitely off, as the chalky nose dominated. The wine was still pretty tannic.

2006 Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale - the name Marechale means "marshall's wife", although Frédéric claims that he could find no historical connection of the vineyard with any marshall. Nose was muted at first, with sweet fruit and then crème brûlée. The wine was fairly concentrated, a little alcoholic with a spicy finish.

2005 Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale - wow! What a wine! Lots of power and intensity here. Nose of strawberries, animals, sweet fruits and caramel. Finishes with a heavy kick. Clearly a wine that still needs years of aging to reach its peak. I guess I'm not going to open the bottles in my cellar for a long time to come.

2004 Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale - the nose was much more elegant here. Sweet, open and fruity. I actually thought that this wine was drinking better than the 2005. A bit acidic on the palate at the end.

2006 Bonnes Mares - I thought this bottle was a little "off", but others did not share my opinion. The nose was dominated by chalky, wet moss and earthy notes. There was a fruit core here but it was well-masked. You needed to do some serious swirling to get rid of the chalk and get to the fruit. It was simply too tight.

2006 Musigny - this is so different from the Bonnes Mares. A beautiful, open wine with nose of sweet caramel, floral, red fruits and coffee. Still somewhat tannic. The production is so small - and so was Paulo's allocation - that this wine was sold out before this dinner started.

Frédéric tirelessly answered the many questions posed to him by the crowd, and he shared a number of interesting stories - as well as a secret which I shall not repeat here... I truly appreciate the fact that Frédéric made the trip here to show us his wines. He is one of the top winemakers in Burgundy, and his wines are in such high demand there is no shortage of willing buyers around the world. I hope I'll get to see him again in the future.


Reuben heaven

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I went back to Dakota Prime today for lunch along with a friend. I had already tried the lunch set on my last visit, so I was looking to try out something else. One of my friends had highly recommended the Reuben sandwich there, so I was debating between that and the 1/2 pound Prime & Kobe steak burger. Since my friend ended up ordering the burger, I figured I should give the Reuben a try.

We were shocked when the food arrived. The burger was HUGE... a very big patty on a gigantic bun. Not that the Reuben was much smaller, but it was cut in half so the visual impact wasn't the same.

But what an awesome Reuben it was! The rye bread was sliced reasonably thin, and the corned beef came in thick cuts. This has got to be the best corned beef I've had in a long time. It was moist and juicy, with delicious bits of fat on the edges that gave so much flavor to the meat. It was a little bit like eating jamon iberico, in terms of how important the fat was... I was in heaven.

Perhaps it was the richness of the fat, but I found myself unable to finish the sandwich and only took in about 3/4 of it. I was tempted to doggy-bag the remainder, but realized that I have a wine dinner tonight and probably wouldn't get around to finishing it until tomorrow. Oh well.

Good thing that the restaurant gave us a complimentary scoop of lemon sorbet, as it certainly helped with my digestion...

February 11, 2009

Canto with a twist

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I went back to Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) tonight for a gathering with some friends. The central location was ideal, and it has been a few months since my last visit, and I wanted to give it another try.

My friend brought along a bottle of 2005 Jean-Philippe Fichet Bourgogne Blanc. A flinty nose with mineral, grass and lemon citrus notes. Being from the fantastic 2005 vintage, the wine was ripe on the palate but a bit tart on the finish.

We started with deep-fried pig's intestine stuffed with glutinous rice (糯米炸釀大腸). Amazingly, my fellow Taiwanese friend didn't want any. I was somewhat surprised because the intestine was actually just a thin layer on the outside, rather than the thick and chewy ones that I am used to. This version was fairly similar to the glutinous rice sausage (糯米腸) that I would find at street markets in Taiwan, except that this is deep-fried instead of grilled.

Roasted crispy duck breast served with blinis (層餅脆皮燒鴨胸) was definitely a fusion dish. The duck breast was presented like one would expect in a typical French restaurant - magret de canard - except that it was prepared with Chinese spices and served with steamed Chinese blinis. The breast was well-done like the Chinese normally do, instead of being a little pink in the center as the French would do. I like it.

The braised eel with pomelo peel (柚皮風鱔煲) came in a claypot that contained lots of veggies and tofu skin. I'm not a big fan of big eel, but the veggies with the starchy sauce were pretty good.

I really liked the braised seasonal vegetables with bamboo pith and shrimp roe sauce (蝦籽竹笙扒時蔬). The seasonal veggie now is pea shoots (豆苗) which were delicious. What really made the dish was the addition of shrimp roe in the starched sauce, which transformed the dish from something ordinary to make it stand out. Shrimp roe is one of my favorite ingredients in Cantonese cuisine, as it is so intensely flavorful. Yummy!

The stir-fried glutinous rice with assorted preserved meats (生炒臘味糯米飯) was pretty yummy. The rice grains were still a bit soft but I didn't mind too much. I think I've been having this dish quite a few times this winter...

Just when we were getting full from the rice, our final dish arrived. Pan-fried rice vermicelli with beef brisket in curry sauce (咖喱牛坑腩煎米粉) is a dish that I keep ordering here. Somehow I just really like the combination of the pan-fried vermicelli and the curry sauce. Greasy, yes, but delishhhh!

I brought along a bottle of 1998 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Combe-du-Dessus. I bought a case of this wine years ago and have had quite a few great bottles since, but this particular bottle needed a bit more coaxing - the bouquet didn't develop fully until almost 3 hours after opening. Nose of sweet strawberries and plum, with oriental spice, game meats and forest. Good body and structure here, and still a nice wine to drink. It's really unfortunate that Denis decided to commit suicide in 2006 after a long bout with depression.

We finished the meal with some pan-fried stuffed glutinous balls. I was pretty satisfied with the meal in general, and my only minor complaint is the corkage that we were charged. I'm sure I could get it waived once I become a frequent customer...

February 9, 2009

Final dinner for Lunar New Year

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Today is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, and Chinese people traditionally celebrate the Lantern Festival. It's a time for family gatherings, but since my family doesn't live in Hong Kong, I was invited by my colleague to celebrate with some of his family and close friends.

My colleague tends to go to Farm House (農圃) for family gatherings. This place had pissed me off last year with poor service and subpar food, so it was a good opportunity to see whether things would be better this time around.

A magnum of the 2002 Château de Malleret was decanted and served during dinner. This wine actually drank quite well given that it's a Cru Bourgeois Supérieur.

We started with crab roe shark's fin soup (鮮拆蟹粉燴鮑翅), which was pretty decent. I don't normally eat much shark's fin but decided to partake on this occasion. Crab roe is aways yummy, though...

Next came the braised abalone and sea cucumber (十五頭網鮑扣關東遼參). I'm surprised at the number of people at the table - all those "bananas" - who don't eat sea cucumber. Well, it wasn't bad. The abalone was pretty tasty, but the restaurant didn't clean it thoroughly and I ended up with some sand and yucky bits in my mouth. Not very pleasant...

Stir-fried beef with ginger and scallions (薑蔥爆牛肉) is a simple dish, yet one that always hits the spot since it's basically comfort food for me.

Eastern star garoupa with radish and tofu skin (蘿蔔腐竹燴東星斑) was interesting as it isn't the normal Cantonese steamed fish. The fish was pan-fried first, so the skin has a lot more taste.

I didn't get to taste the steamed egg (蒸水蛋), but the soy chicken (豉油雞) was excellent. The chicken came in a claypot and was dunked in a pool of sweet soy sauce. Pretty yummy.

The choy sum (菜心) was good, and the claypot rice with preserved meats (油鴨臘味煲仔飯) was a nice way to finish.

Following Chinese tradition, we had stuffed glutinous rice balls (湯圓) for dessert on this night - with a ginger soup base (薑汁) in the Canto version. I'm glad I am still able to maintain part of my heritage, although being part Shanghainese means I'm more used to having these in fermented rice (酒釀) soup.

The overall quality of the food was pretty decent, so I guess I can look at coming back here for some casual meals...

February 6, 2009

Birthday feast for a two year old

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Changunnie turned two today. I had been planning to introduce her parents to my favorite pig at the Kimberley Restaurant (君怡閣) for some time, and when the dinner was set for Changunnie's birthday, the whole family (including grandparents) came out to celebrate.

We started with a few small dishes to kick off the meal. The braised beef shank with five spice (五香牛腱) was done pretty nicely, and it's a dish I should learn from mom so that I could make it at home. The pig trotters (鹵水豬腳) were also pretty yummy, and there were only little bits of bone attached.

Finally there was the deep-fried salmon skin, which we put in front of the birthday girl and told her it was a cracker. It was light and not too oily, and she absolutely loved it.

The waiter brought in a giant claypot which contained the clear ox bone soup (清燉牛骨湯). This was done with radish and sprinkled with lots of spring onions. The Korean contingent at the table - which was in the majority - got pretty excited since this was similar to the way beef soup is done in Korea. The broth was pretty rich from the extended cooking, and very sweet thank to the radish. The spring onions provided a nice pickup of flavors. The meat was very, very tender as were the tendons around the bones. There were smiling faces all around, and many of us had seconds.

The pan-fried tiger prawns in soy sauce (頭抽煎老虎蝦) was as good as I had expected. The restaurant had some tiger prawns and suggested that we use these instead of the regular prawns. Lots of flavor here, and I eagerly licked the shells clean and sucked the head dry. What a wonderful dish.

The goose web braised with pomelo skin (柚皮炆鵝掌) was a novelty to some, as many people didn't realize you could cook with pomelo skin. Someone who's never had goose web before asked whether it was "basically just a giant chicken's feet"... Well, yeah...

Of course the real reason we are here is the roast suckling pig stuffed with glutinous rice (金陵全豬烤金苗). It's my favorite pig in Hong Kong, and it was delicious as usual. If I had to be critical, I'd say that the rice was a bit soggier than usual. But that doesn't detract from the flavors and everyone loved it. Even our little birthday girl was chomping on one of the ears with a big smile on her face.

We finished with some pea sprouts stir-fried with garlic (蒜茸炒豆苗) as the veggie is still in season.

The birthday cake was brought out, along with some fruits and Chinese desserts. Everyone had a great time, especially the birthday girl. I'm happy to have introduced another set of friends to my favorite pig...

Some final words about the wines I brought along:

2006 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett "Fish" - a pretty straight-forward Riesling, with nose of petrol and minerals. Only slightly ripe and sweet because it's a Kabinett.

1996 Artadi Viña El Pisón Reserva - powerful medicinal nose with brett and smoke. Colors are still very deep ruby. Concentrated yet smooth on the palate.

2001 Fisher Coach Insignia - nose of sweet red fruits, caramel, mint, smoked meats and coffee. Still pretty tannic and should probably be cellared for a few more years.

February 5, 2009

Mucho gusto

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A new place opened in my neighborhood recently, so naturally I was eager to check it out, especially since it's supposed to be a good place for comfort food. Gusto is apparently opened by the people behind Volar, so expectations are that it would be kinda hip.

The space is pretty small, although there is a second floor. In fact it feels like a bar, with banquettes, bar stools and high tables. We were seated are one of the regular tables where I spent a couple of hours in a backless chair (there was some cushioning against my lower back) and my friend sat on the banquette. The square table between us was so ridiculously small the waiters soon realized that they had to give us an extra table in order to fit the third dish, since the two of us were sharing and not having individual dishes. We really couldn't understand why they didn't see fit to give us a couple of more inches on either side of the table...

I had brought along a bottle of wine that I had opened at home. The bartender came and poured me a glass, and I was pleasantly surprised. He was obviously taught not to "overpour" as I would need to swirl the wine in the glass, and he finished pouring with a twist of the wrist so that no excess wine dripped from the bottle. Impressive. Unfortunately the other waiters and waitressed didn't have a clue, and proceeded to pour too much into our glasses later on in the evening.

The 2005 Domaine Bachelet Bourgogne is a (relatively) cheap drinking wine from a great vintage. Nose of sweet grass, straw, apple, minerals, sous-bois and mint. Good amount of body and tannins since it is a young wine. Actually this needs at least 2 hours of aeration if not more.

We ordered 3 starters and 2 "main courses" to share:

Macaroni with 3-cheese gratin - I love mac'n'cheese, and one with a crust would be even better. This is nice but a bit dry, and I wish it were more creamy and cheesy. The crust does make it more interesting, though.

Skewered scallops with chorizo - classic combination of scallops paired with pork. The presentation here is kinda Japanese. The chunks of chorizo were nice and spicy, and the chewy texture provided a nice contrast to the tender scallops.

The chicken wings were interesting because they took each wing apart and prepared them separately. The marinate provided some nice flavors, with rosemary showing prominently. It would be even better if the flavors had reached the meat on the inside, but this is still pretty yummy. Ranch dressing was OK, but we were bemoaning the absence of celery and carrot sticks...

We wanted to try the ratatouille with cous cous since it most certainly will not show up on the menu of fine dining restaurants. This was OK but could use some tweaking. First of all the ratatouille itself is not watery enough, and could use more tomato. The serving of cous cous suffered from being too dry at the top, while the middle and bottom of the heap was OK.

The last dish was probably my favorite - rigatoni bolognese. The tube pasta was cooked well with just a hint of chewiness for that al dente touch. The beef ragù was nice with some chewy lumps, and it was on the drier side so easy to pick up with a fork. Homey comfort food indeed.

We couldn't resist ordering the Nutella panini, even though we were both pretty full. This was a bit of a let-down. Yes, the Nutella was nice, especially after being heated. But they shouldn't have used thick, hard panini. We both thought that very thin slices of toast (crusts cut off) would have been perfect. Oh well.

I'm pretty glad that I have a new neighborhood restaurant that I can go to, in addition to all the other good casual places around. The food is decent and I'm sure that I'll pop in once in a while to get my fix on something. But I wonder whether I would make many return visits if I lived elsewhere and had to jump into a car to get here...

February 3, 2009

Dinner with an Antinori

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Tonight I had the pleasure of dining with Marchese Lodovico Antinori, the founder of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia. The dinner was organized by my regular wine merchant and held at Nicholini's at the Conrad.

The food was pretty decent and interesting. We started with aragosta e fegato d'oca in albanella affumicata. Lobster and pan-fried foie fras is indeed an interesting combination, made even more interesting by being smoked in a jar. Seems like lots of restaurants in town are "smoking" their dishes these days... Later on the chef came to show us the contraption that he made to inject the smoke into the jars, and he is apparently selling these things!

Capesante ai tre modicon tartufo, caviale e fegato d'oca was an interesting presentation of three scallops, each prepared differently. The first one with saffron sauce with caviar seemed to be alright, but the one with foie gras was much better, as the creamy sweetness of the foie blended well with the taste of the scallop. The truffle flavor dominated the last scallop, and the pancetta was pretty nice.

I really liked the risotto ai porcini, bigolo con puttanesca all agnello because I have never had pasta presented this way before. The risotto with porcini and truffle was OK - al dente but a little dry for my liking. It was the bigolo that really caught my interest. Not only was the textur of the pasta interesting, the strong flavors of the lamb were also amazing. I looove lamb, and this was so tasty that I wish I could just eat this all night!

The main course of cosatata brasata e guancia di wagyu su polenta al tartufo in salsa ai vini was pretty rich, as both pieces came from wagyu. The beef cheek was as expected - soft enough to melt in your mouth - and topped with some foam. The short ribs were also very tender, served on top of some truffled polenta that was just fragrantly delicious.

5 different types of cheese comprise the formaggi selezionati, each paired with its own different housemade jam. The ubriaco was interesting in that it was covered with grape must so that the flavors of the wine soaked into the cheese. The pecorino was nice, and the 36-month parmigiano was very good.

We are able to sample a number of wines currently made by Lodovico. He agreed to sell Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, his baby, in 2002. Since then he has been spending time working with his brother Piero on various projects around the world, one of which is Tenuta di Biserno in Tuscany and another being Mount Nelson in New Zealand.

2007 Mount Nelson Sauvignon Blanc - rather oaky nose, with muscat grape, some minerals and a bit chalky towards the end. Good acidity balance with the ripeness on the palate. A Sauvignon Blanc that screams New Zealand...

2007 Insoglio - first impression was stewed prunes, minerals on the nose, with lots of concentration and a bit hot on the palate. Later on smoked meats and coffee notes emerged. The wine is very young and there were still some heavy tannins. This wine is a twist on the traditional Bordeaux blend, as Cabernet Sauvignon has been replaced entirely by 35% of Syrah.

2006 Insoglio - very strong nose of minerals, iron with lots of sweet fruits. Good concentration here, a bit hot but in general pretty smooth on the palate. My favorite of the three vintages.

2005 Insoglio - a different blend than the 2006/7 with the presence of 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet fruit and a bit minty on the nose which is less sharp than the newer vintages. Smooth and nice on the palate. An easy wine to drink, but I found it less interesting than the 2006/7.

2006 Il Pino di Biserno - huge concentration here, with heavy mineral notes and very sweet. A Bordeaux blend with no Syrah, but it sure smells like a lot of Cali Syrahs that I love so much, especially with the minerals.

2005 Il Pino di Biserno - sweet on the nose but also a bit chalky. Smooth on the palate with a tad more acidity. Beautiful wine. Later on a bit of brett emerged, along with caramel, vanilla and a hint of smoke. My wine of the evening.

It was really interesting to sit with one of the Antinori brothers, as Lodovico tells us the story of the origin of the name Insoglio del cinghiale. He is clearly a man who is passionate about wine, and the passion is translated into the products. I eagerly await the release of the flagship wine Biserno, and I'll surely be begging my wine merchant for an allocation (out of a production of 6,000 bottles...)

February 2, 2009

First suckling pig of the week...

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Tonight was my colleague's birthday, and we had a casual dinner at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) to celebrate, since the roast suckling pig there is my colleague's favorite. Yes, I had dinner here exactly 2 weeks ago and I also had the pig then. As it turns out, this would be the first of 2 roast suckling pigs I would enjoy this week.

We brought a bottle of 2007 Ostertag Riesling Epfig since we weren't going to drink a lot. The wine was OK but I don't think my body was in the right condition to drink much...

We started with a simple order of century eggs and pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑) as our appetizer. The century eggs were very delicious, and the sour ginger certainly helped whet our appetites for what's to come.

The roast suckling pig (脆皮乳豬) was presented to the table, and we each picked up crunchy pieces of the skin that struck our fancy. The skin was as good as ever - crunchy and wafer-thin. I also chose to munch on one of the legs as well as other meaty and fatty bits. Yum...

Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) came next. It's been a while since I had this here, and it's the total opposite of what one finds at Tien Heung Lau. The legs here are small and more "dainty", and are not served whole but rather in pieces. The addition of a bit of diced garlic and chili pepper is a nice touch. We find ourselves nibbling away in a civilized fashion - rather than tearing off chunks of meat with our teeth as I would at Tien Heung Lau.

By this point I am feeling a little full, and this becomes the turning point of the dinner for me. I was a little fatigued because I didn't sleep well the night before, and having a few sips of wine when my body is not 100% will make things worse pretty quickly...Or maybe I just had too much of the roast pig.

I found the thick tofu soup (八寳豆腐羹) reasonably enjoyable, but was even more stuffed after a bowl of this. There were a lot of ingredients here - roast duck, shrimp, conpoy, tomato, kale...and the fact that this is a 羹 meant the presence of a good amount of starch. I start to feel a little ill at this point.

The deep-fried prawns (基圍蝦) were delicious, even though I only ate one. The shells were still attached but part of the prawn had been butterflied. Lots of garlic to provide flavor. I wish I had the room - and the appetite - to take in more.

I knew I could probably fit in some pea sprouts blanched in ham broth (上湯浸豆苗) because it was light. The veggie was so delicious because it was in season, and again I felt a little bummed that I didn't have more room for this.

I was only able to nibble on a few strips of stir-fried beef with scallions (乾蔥爆牛肉), and it tasted OK to me. Should have tasted the scallions, too, to get the full flavor. Oh well...

For the finale we had fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯). Now this was really delicious and done the way I like it, with the rice grains sticking together. But in reality, this was the last thing I needed at this point...nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the half a bowl that I allowed myself to have.

The birthday boy loves his sweets, so we had a mango mousse cake brought in from his favorite cake shop, and the restaurant steamed up some birthday buns (壽桃) filled with egg yolk and lotus seed paste. It was good to finish on a sweet note, and I made sure that I didn't have too much of either dessert.

I was really glad to have returned to Fook Lam Moon for dinner tonight, but wish that I could have enjoyed it a lot more... Oh well. Let's see how I do with the other pig on Friday.


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