March 5, 2009

HK Chowdown episode 2: bull market lunch

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The Chowhounds met up again for lunch today, this time at a very bull market venue: Caprice. Our out-of-towners had never visited the restaurant before, and since we do know one of the chefs (not to mention the maître d' and the sommelier), it was a perfect opportunity to have our guest hounds try out this Michelin 2-star venue.

When we arrived at 1:30pm, the restaurant was completely full and ours was the last table to be filled. Global financial/economic crisis?! Recession?! Benchmark index is down by more than 60% since its high 1 1/2 years ago, and the bluest of blue chips is off more than 70% over the same period, you say? By the looks of things today you would never know it. It is as if we were isolated in vacuum, or on another planet...

I brought a bottle each of white and red to share with the group, based on Sebastien's suggestions after browsing through my inventory. We started with the 2005 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Vieilles Vignes. Nose of flint, toasty oak, hint of chalk. Ripe and sweet on the nose, and buttery. Nice acidity balance and not too sweet on the palate, although it was a bit hot and spicy on the finish. Nice to drink now. This was paired with the first 3 courses, which were:

Marennes oysters d'une bouchée, Iberico ham with sour cucumber and pomodoro purée - this really was just a mouthful... The small Fine de Claires oyster was cooked for just a few seconds so that it's neither raw nor fully-cooked, then wrapped in jamon iberico for contrasting flavors. I must admit that I wasn't too excited by this, as I really prefer the full-on flavors of freshly shucked oysters. The sour cucumber also didn't do much for me...

Jerusalem artichoke velouté, duck liver royale and crispy ham - thankfully the velouté was relatively light and not "full strength". The duck liver was so nice - soft, bouncy and sweet. The finely chopped sweet artichoke topping was something different was really crunchy and not a texture I normally associate with artichokes from my limited past experience.

Scottish salmon en vessie, green asparagus with ginger and coriander nage - there was a lot of anticipation on my part about this course. The thought of having anything cooked inside a sheep's bladder just makes my mouth water, especially since I love most types of offal. life one realizes that sometimes expectations and reality can turn out to be quite different.

I had expected that the interaction of the uric acid with the salmon to impart the distinctive flavor that one gets with dishes like andouillette, but there was none of it as Jeremy cut open the bladder. Later on I was told by the chef that they had tried very hard to scrub the interior of the bladder to get rid of the smell...AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!

In spite of all that, the resulting creation was really, really nice in its own right. The salmon was oh-so-tender, each bite melting away in my mouth. The julienned asparagus and the salmon sat in the coriander bouillon which matched the salmon perfectly, like an egg and parsley or yogurt dill sauce.

The sommelier started to pour the 1995 Armand Rousseau Chambertin into our glasses. Initially the nose was grassy and gamey with lots of sweet fruit, and it was nice and elegant. The wine was smooth on the palate but felt a little short. With time I detected some forest in the nose. With the second pour, you could now feel the concentration of the wine, which was still a little tannic on the finish. This was much, much better than the last bottle I had 3 1/2 years ago, and a perfect match with the gamey dishes that followed.

Smoked Vendéen pigeon, vegetables pot au feu in borscht consommé - what an amazing dish. I think we all loved our pigeons... Of course we asked for it to be "pink", therefore the meat was soooooo tender. As I pick up the Laguiole Grand Cru knife to cut into the meat, a bit of the bloody jus would drip into the consommé and I would watch the gradual mixing of the two like I'm studying fluid mechanics. Every few mouthful I would dab a bit of the sour cream for a different taste. This has got to be the best pigeon I've had in quite some time... My compliments to Chef Vincent.

Jarret de porc en andouillette, pomme purée truffe, salad composé - this was yet another highly-anticipated dish. A couple of us are big fans of andouillette, and finding some in this part of the world is no easy task! As we had received the menu a couple of weeks before dinner, I was scratching my head trying to figure out why this would still be called andouillette if the stuffing was actually pork knuckle instead of intestine...

Well as it turns out, the chef took a pork knuckle and removed the bone and the meat so that only the skin remains. The interior layer of the skin is then removed, leaving only a thin, outer layer. The meat of the pork knuckle is then chopped up together with pig intestine (which means it is real andouillette) and black truffle, then stuffed back inside the skin before frying.

Once I got the distinctive taste of the intenstine along with the knuckle meat, I was in heaven. Fried pig skin is always welcome, and let's not forget the sinful, perfumed creamy mash potatoes with black truffle...

The maître fromager cheese selection consisted of three very distinct types of cheese, each paired with a different wine. I was having flashback to the cheese dinner from two weeks ago...

Anneau du Vic-Bihl - a donut-shaped goat cheese from the Pyrénées area just north of Spain. Really yummy with powerful, nutty flavors that leaves a fragrance in your mouth. Good balance between salt and acidity. Jeremy made sure that the cheese has ripened to perfection, and it's just really runny and stringy...
2006 Vincent Pinard Sancerre Cuvée Florès - very fruity and surprising for a Sancerre, with notes of apricot, Anjou pear which gives that slightly oxidized, mineral and metallic nose. Not really sweet on the palate, with a little ripeness and a long, crisp finish. Pretty powerful stuff. Excellent pairing.

Comté - there really isn't anything left to say about this wonderful, 4-year old cheese...
1996 Rolet Arbois Blanc - instead of pairing the Comté with the usual vin jaune from the Jura, another style of wine from the same region was offered. Very distinctive nose, lots of toasty notes like a Japanese mugicha (麦茶) or genmaicha (玄米茶). The oxidation was also very evident, like sherry.

Fourme d'Ambert - a strong, classic blue cheese from Auvergne that's pretty salty, like many other blues. Interestingly the cheese is supposedly periodically injected with Vouvray moelleux - the mild sweet wine from Loire - during the aging process. So why is it still so salty...?
2006 Lunzer Golser Strohwein Vin de Paille Cabernet Sauvignon - this is an interesting, sweet red from the Burgenland region of Austria. Very fruity and grapy, the wine is very sweet and balances out the strong, salty taste of the cheese. Like all vins de paille, the grapes were laid out on straw to draw out the moisture and intensify the flavors. The small production of 380 liters for the vintage meant that there are only around 700 bottles in existence...

Finally we have the dark chocolate sphere, marinated raspberries with sablé Breton and mint ice cream. It's a treat watching the hot chocolate sauce being poured into the sphere, then wait as the outer shell gets melted and the sauce starts to ooze out onto the plate. You can't get a more classic blend of flavors than chocolate, raspberries and mint. I must say that the raspberries tasted much better than the ones I usually get...

What a wonderful experience! Naturally the chefs deserve credit for the wonderful creations we enjoyed today. But clearly additional credit go to both our sommelier as well as our maître d', as the wine and cheese pairings were once again superb! There is no doubt that Caprice is at the top of the game here in Hong Kong.

It's not everyday that you get to stroll back to the office at 5pm after lunch... Needless to say it wasn't such a productive day for me at work... Oh and I need to stop having these bull market meals... Time to wake up to reality!

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