June 22, 2009

A little molecular fun

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Another birthday, and yet again I've chosen to dine at a fusion establishment. I haven't been back to Bo Innovation for a couple of years, and I've been thinking about revisiting ever since the people working for the chubby baby decided to give them 2 stars. I wondered if things had gotten so much better since my previous visits to put them on par with some of the best meals I've ever had.

I must say that I don't really like the space they currently occupy - the last place was slightly better. I can't really say why it is, but it just wasn't very warm and inviting. But the bright lighting did make it easier for picture-taking...

As is traditional I opened a bottle of wine from my birth vintage, and tonight it was the 1970 Veuve Cliquot Brut Reserve. I love old Champagne, and this bottle was no exception. Nose of caramelized sugar, brown cane sugar, orange marmalade and of course the Chinese salty plum (話梅). To be precise, it's salty plum that has been dipped into Shaoxing wine (紹興酒). Very fine bubbles and the wine was surprisingly sweet on the palate for a Champagne.

Given that I haven't been back to the restaurant in a while, and this being my birthday and all, the Chef's Menu was the appropriate choice for the evening. Here goes:

Pomelo sunrise nitro-bomb - OK this is really gimmicky, probably designed for people who haven't been exposed to molecular gastronomy. A dollop of foam flavored with pomelo and tequila is dropped into a bowl that has been frozen with liquid nitrogen, quickly freezing and hardening it into a very cold meringue. Once in your mouth it sticks to your tongue much in the same way as licking a cold piece of metal on a snowy day. It numbed my taste buds for a while, and leaves me wondering why the chef would do this to me right at the start of the meal...

Oyster: spring onion, lime, ginger snow - the French oyster used (didn't ask for the origin) was very rich and creamy, with a very long finish. The spring onion flavor mixed with ginger granita made for a classic Chinese combo of 薑蔥. A sip of Champagne washes it down and cleanses the palate.

Caviar: abalone, congee - the congee has the viscous consistency of baby food, but not sure what the cubes of jelly are made of (abalone essence?). The caviar was very tasty indeed, and the whole thing was pretty yummy.

Noodles: "dan dan", grilled salmon roe, mixed herbs - one of the best dishes of the evening. This would be my first time having salmon roe that is grilled, and I'm not used to them being this dry. But the combination with the angel hair and the spicy sauce was great. Next time I'd ask for a big bowl for take-out...

Mussel: saffron essence, lychee foam, crispy lip - this brings me back to my meal at El Bulli, where I had the essence of mussels in a "ravioli". This time the chef has extracted the essence of mussels and made a cold soup flavored with saffron. The savory taste of the sea is then combined with the sweet, fragrant taste of lychees sitting on top as a pile of foam. Mixing the two makes for an interesting experience for one's taste buds. There's a piece of deep-fried mussel lip on the side but that's not really important...

Toro: foie gras powder, freeze dried raspberry, mustard herb - we were asked to use tweezers to roll up the toro so that the powder is wrapped inside. The toro might be real thin but the flavor has come out thanks to being lightly seared. I must say that I didn't really get the taste of foie from the powder - it just tasted a bit meaty. The raspberry did have a distinctive enough taste, though. Pretty yummy and interesting.

Baby food: "mui choy kau yok" - twist open the tops and the contents of the warm jars are revealed - a brown custard at the bottom which taste of fatty pork, and the foam on top which tastes like preserved vegetables. The combination of the two is the classic Chinese dish 梅菜扣肉. While others thought this was a little too salty, I thought it stayed true to the taste of the original dish as it was meant to be enjoyed with rice. The big baby in me found it really enjoyable and the jar was empty in no time.

Molecular: "xiao long bao" - the classic Shanghainese pork dumpling xiao long bao (小籠包) has gone molecular. The thin flour skin has disappeared, and now we get the classic molecular "ravioli" which contains the essence of the dish - steamed pork and juices. The thin sliver of vinegared ginger on top adds the finishing touch.

Foie gras: spicy sichuan chives sauce - the last time I had steamed foie gras was the foie gras xiao long bao at Le Platane in Shanghai when Justin was still around. This was much, much better. The blocs of foie were so tender and succulent, and the addition of bean sprouts and yellowed chives - along with the starchy, spicy sauce - turned this into something decidedly Chinese.

Salmon: fermented black bean, honey, pickled "bak choy", ginger shoot - most certainly my least favorite dish of the evening. The salmon was slow-cooked so it was still kinda raw and tender, but the flavors were off. Somehow the combination of honey and fermented black bean (豆豉) just tasted funny.

Langoustine: preserved duck egg, english mustard, cauliflower risotto, black truffle - my favorite dish of the evening. The langoustine was just coated with the salty egg yolk (咸蛋黃) with a bit of mustard to give it more kick. I have always loved this preparation and this was no exception. To have another taste of Alvin's famous "risotto" was even better. I remember this well from a few years ago, and the full flavor of the truffles (no doubt a few drops of truffle oil were added) just lingered in my mouth. Thank you may I have another...?

Wagyu: M9+, black truffle soy, "cheung fun" - another highlight of the evening. Yes, the beef was tender, juicy and fatty, and sprinkling sea salt on top and rubbing black truffle sauce on it made it tasty. But the real winner were the rice noodle rolls - cheung fun (腸粉) - which were stir-fried with the same black truffle soy sauce. And I thought that Victoria Seafood's cheung fun stir-fried in XO sauce was good... this one just blows it away.

Pre-dessert: black sesame soda - a great palate-cleanser, kind of. Drinking a mixture of carbonated and slightly acidic soda with black sesame soup (芝麻糊) was a lot of fun. We were sternly scolded when we tried to stir the mixture with the straw, as the motion would break up the bubbles in the glass...

Dessert: banana ice cream, poached banana in "shui jing fang" - both parts of the dessert tasted pretty good, although personally I have never understood the attraction of deep-fried ice cream.

I had a slice of a very nice cake from the Mandarin Cake Shop, with - what else? - fresh and juicy peach bits on top.

The restaurant poured us complimentary glasses of Moscato d'Asti, which went nicely with the desserts.

Finally we have the petits-fours. The osmanthus macaron was very, very nice as I love the fragrance of the flowers. The chocolate-filled sesame balls (煎堆) paled in comparison.

Alvin did make an appearance in the kitchen towards the end of our meal, and he looked very different than I remembered - no glasses, no highlights in the hair, and in general just a lot more toned-down. Fortunately, what hasn't changed is his creativity. Do I think the Michelin people were overly generous with their stars? Yes. But there's no denying that I had a wonderful meal here tonight, and I'll look forward to returning for more of Alvin's goodies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

looks like you haven't been to pierre for sometime? what happened? did their quality drop?



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