August 29, 2009

Thai feast at home

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Tonight a group of chefs and foodies reconvened at the apartment of a friend who had generously invited us to sample her Thai helper's cooking. I was really looking forward to the feast, not just for the yummy Thai food but for the inevitable procession of desserts which were sure to follow...

We started with a nice bottle of bubbly from Moët, which accompanied the plates of deep-fried spring rolls. The spring rolls were delicious and were served with the typical sweet and spicy sauce. As I expected the carbonation from the bubbly only served to turn up the heat that was already dancing on my tongue...

Next we were presented with two starters. The pork larb was absolutely delicious, with lots of lime, shallots and chillis topped with some mint leaves. It's actually pretty spicy, and my tongue starts to burn... Normally this is served with rice, but I was having this on its own.

The pomelo salad was also excellent, with shredded chicken, roasted peanuts, coconut milk, chilli and topped with plenty of deep-fried shallots. This was also a bit spicier than I expected. So delicious, but I refrain from having seconds as I know there's more food coming.

I'm drinking plenty of ice water by now, but I also brought something to soothe that fiery sensation on my tongue. The 1999 Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese was exactly the wine to do the trick. This off-dry wine from the famous vineyard in Mosel always delivers, showing typical petrol, polyurethane, minerals as well as orange marmalade. The low alcohol level (8.5%) and relatively high sugar level helped neutralize the heat.

Then we were hit with a full spread on the table. I dove right into the curry crab. The crab meat was incredibly sweet, and the addition of Chinese celery into the mix with onions and chilli peppers made things very fragrant and interesting. Wow... this was the best dish for the entire evening, and I think we all can agree on this. Finger-licking good...

There were also some yummy chicken wings, with a slightly sweet glaze and sprinkled with deep-fried garlic. I took a couple of these cause I was already getting full at this point.

The prawns were also very sweet and yummy, with lots of onions and chilli peppers. Unfortunately most of the dish was left untouched as we were pretty stuffed by this point.

Finally there was the stir-fried water spinach. Very delicious with the deep-fried galic on top. Classic veggie in any Thai meal.

I was nervous about the second bottle of wine I brought. The 2003 Clos Mimi Etiquette Rose is a wine unlike any other. The late-harvest Syrah is vinified dry with an extended fermentation, resulting in an incredible 19% alcohol. It was this high alcohol level that worried it may completely clash with the spicy food. Well, my fears kinda came true.

Whatever this is, the Etiquette Rose is not a food wine in my opinion. Predictably it was very "hot" and alcoholic on the palate, with notes of acetone, floral/rose, strawberries, slightly metallic and a hint of caramelized sugar. The finish is decidedly bitter. I quickly realized that I was the only one at the table still drinking the wine. I think I'll follow winemaker Tim Spear's advice and open the next bottle with a cigar...

The long series of desserts came, starting with some cherries. We were then served some light-pink Champagne sorbet, which was light and refreshing. Then came the double-caramel ice cream, with swirls of caramel mixed in. This was so rich and so good, but I found myself unable to fit in a second helping.

Funnily enough, after a bit of time I was able to enjoy the slice of chocolate tart, where the crust was salted. Served with crème and marinated kumquat. Yummy.

Finally, my favorite arrived - the canelés. Always lovely and delicious, this was the perfect way to end the evening.

August 27, 2009

The best Japanese barbeque

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I had dinner tonight with a group of current and former chefs, getting together for some Japanese yakiniku (焼肉) at Iroha (伊呂波). I normally don't write about barbeque dinners, because we end up cooking the food oureselves and the experience has nothing to do with the skills of restaurant chefs. But last night's experience was something else.

First of all, Iroha's ingredients are of very high quality. We only ordered one plate of Japanese wagyu, and the rest were all US beef. The meat was as fresh as I've seen in any of these places in town. Funnily enough I didn't realize on my previous visit that this place is actually a Japanese adaptation of the Korean barbeque, which explains the Korean dishes on the menu...

We had multiple orders of the incredible thick-cut ox tongue, which was fatty, tender and juicy.

The short ribs with tendon and the marinated kalbi in a pot were also very, very good. The traditional Korean kalbi looked very interesting, as the strip of meat attached to the bone was cut to split into three strips. When this is spread out over the grill I was reminded of chicken feet... 

Apparently they ran out of most of the offal, so we had to make do with beef liver. I do have to say, though, that this was some of the best liver I've had in recent memory.

We finished with a bowl of Korean cold buckwheat noodles. I'm normally not a big fan but this was not bad.

Now, why am I writing about this dinner? Well, this was simply the best barbeque I've had because of the company. Here I was dining with a bunch of chefs - people who are both passionate about food and know exactly what they are doing. Instead of casually flipping the meat on the grill - and usually over-cooking it in the process - the professionals carefully lined up the pieces, making sure all sides are cooked evenly, and arranged the meats so that the proper pattern is seared onto the surface. Together with fresh, quality ingredients, the end result was just perfect. I've never had it so good.

To top it all off, we were treated to a little slice of flourless chocolate cake made with gourmet 100% cacao, and served with quenelle of chocolate sauce on the side. Where did this wonderful treat come from? From one of the chefs, of course! I haven't been this happy with a chocolate dessert in a while... rich with flavor without being overpowering with sugar. Definitely tasted the fruity, raspberry flavor even though it was all chocolate. Wonderful acidity balance. The cake just crumbled as there was no flour.

So...when are we doing the next barbeque dinner?

OD-ing on some powdery white stuff

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I was strolling around Soho today struggling to be inspired by any one of the numerous mediocre restaurants in the area, when I passed by Taku and remembered seeing my friend's pictures of the house tofu. This turned out to be the inspiration I was looking for, so I found myself a seat inside.

Since I was here to try out the tofu, I decided to go all the way and order three different types. Overkill? Definitely.

Fresh "farm-house" tofu, served "au natural" with 3 condiments - hmmm.... not a big fan of this. It's cute that the tofu was left to air dry and "settle" inside a basket, creating a pattern from the shape of the mold. While I love the taste of shavings of yuzu skin encased inside, I didn't really like the texture. The "au natural" style meant the consistency was compacted and dense, but the grainy texture was what bothered me. I honestly thought I was eating sandpaper as the grains scraped against my tongue... I brushed it with the "vintage" soy sauce on the table, and added the three toppings of finely chopped spring onions, ginger shoots and spicy grated radish.

Chilled silken tofu, with ikura, nori, soy and spring onions - I liked the silken tofu much better, although in all honesty this wasn't really special. The ikura (いくら) and nori (海苔) provided the taste for the dish.

Steamed silken tofu, with lump crab meat, ginger shoots and yuzu - looks cute as it is served in a wooden box. The crab meat was full of the taste of the sea, but in the process of steaming it imparted a light fermented smell to the dish, making me wince a little. Didn't quite smell or taste the yuzu, the fragrance of which would have balanced out that fermented smell. Oh well...

Yes, having three different tofu dishes for lunch (and nothing else) was really too much, especially as I forced myself to finish them for fear of going hungry later. I think I've learned my lesson now...

August 26, 2009

The environmental impact of take-out food

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I've become more and more concerned with protecting the environment in the last few years. Those who work close with me would have noticed some changes in me during this time. I've gotten to the point of changing some of my consumption behavior in order to lessen the environmental impact.

For those of us living in Hong Kong, it's not unusual to have two meals a day (sometimes three!) as take-outs. If one is having some Chinese breakfast from chains such as Maxim's, Cafe de Coral or the like, this means something warm packed in a plastic or styrofoam box, along with a plastic fork or chopsticks all wrapped in a plastic bag. If you get an ice lemon tea, you'll be throwing away a paper cup, a plastic lid, a straw and a long-stemmed plastic spoon used to crush the lemon slices. We're already creating lots of plastic trash and it's not even 10am...

Lunch time comes and we may end up hitting the same places for hot food. Inevitably we end up taking back to our desks a lunch box packed in a styrofoam box. Depending on what one orders, the wastage may actually increase. For soup noodles, the vendor may actually separate the noodles and the soup and pack two separate containers instead. Lunch sets which include either a drink or Chinese soup also add to the container count. Hainanese chicken rice is the worst, as it involves 3 containers - one for the rice, chicken and soup respectively - in addition to the condiments/sauces.

Of course all of this comes with the usual disposable utensils and the ubiquitous plastic bag... I've been using my own utensils in the office for a few years now, and I always tell the food outlets not to give me their disposal utensils. Not only do I cut down on the amount of waste, it is also better for my body. You never know what kind of chemicals are used in the production of those disposable chopsticks, and it's scary to think about how much of that you are ingesting each time you use those chopsticks...

Over the last few months, I'd been meeting a lot of people at coffee shops around town, sometimes to the tune of 3-4 times a day. This could lead to a lot of paper or plastic cups thrown away, so I've been asking the baristas to serve the drinks in re-usable mugs or plastic cups. I also make sure I don't use any straws for my cold drinks.

Am I the greenest guy around? Hardly. But it's scary to think of how much waste we can generate in the course of an ordinary day without even realizing it. I'm doing my best to reduce waste and recycle, and I hope that others can join me in putting in a little extra effort to make our planet more sustainable for the future generations.

August 22, 2009

Fatty and fried foods taste best

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I was wandering around Causeway Bay looking for a place to have dinner, and I found myself stepping into a new place called Fan Tang (飯堂). Someone had mentioned this place to me, so I thought at least I would go in and check it out. We stood at the reception and waited until someone noticed us. Someone who looked like the manager came over, and I asked to look at their dinner menu. She handed me the menu, informing me that they were already fully booked for the night. What bothered me, though, was her totally lack of courtesy. She looked at us with disdain as if we were a nuisance, and just wanted us to go away so she could go back and talk to her staff/customers at the table she was sitting at. None of the "I'm sorry we are full tonight, but please come back another time" that I would have expected from any decent restaurant manager. She left us as quickly as she came. I guess she really didn't want our business, so I shall oblige her by not giving her any. The two of us eventually ended up at Harakan (原澗) for some Japanese. My last meal here was reasonably good, and I thought I'd come back and see if the quality of the food was consistent. It was. Fresh soybean skin (掬い湯葉) - this Kyoto specialty was really nice. Delicate, thin layers of tofu skin stacked together, with a little bit of dashi (だし) and a small dollop of wasabi for flavoring. The soft tofu skin was so silky on my tongue, although I wish there was a tad more dashi for taste. Grilled Manganji green peppers (万願寺唐辛子串焼き) - these giant pimento-like green peppers are a special cross breed from Kyoto. The sweet, thick outer layer was nicely grilled and topped with a pile of finely shaved bonito. Yum. Okinawa seaweed salad (沖縄海草サラダ) - there were five different types of seaweed here, including the sea grapes (海葡萄) which are native to Okinawa. Also bits of agar sprinkled on the plate. Minced chicken skewers (つくね) - I'm partial to this yakitori, as it mixes in bits of chicken cartilage and makes it a bit crunchy. Deep-fried Yonezaka porkchop (米沢豚とんかつ) - I really enjoyed this on my last visit so I had to order it again. Totally yummy, with a nice strip of fat running down one side of the porkchop. I loved this soooo much...apply a little pressure in your mouth, and a bit of fat starts to ooze out and coat the tip of your tongue. Fatty and deep-fried foods taste best, and this one has both elements. Sea eel tempura (穴子一本天婦羅) - another favorite from last time. I love being able to have the whole eel as tempura... Grilled Hokkaido sweet corn (北海道とうもろこし) - the corn was very sweet and delicious, but on reflection this was damn expensive at HK$ 130! Japanese fish porridge (魚スープ雑炊) - surprisingly nice. The milky fish broth was very yummy, with chunks of fish and mushrooms. Given that my tongue didn't dry up afterwards, I don't think they used any MSG... I definitely ordered a little too much food, but everything was pretty yummy. The highlights, though, were definitely the fried stuff. I think I'll be going back for some more porkchop... We were stuffed, but after a while we stopped by Sogo before closing to pick up some Mochi Cream. I just looooove these things... and it was Caramel Custard and Sweet Potato for me today...

August 21, 2009

The last fortysomething birthday

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A bunch of us gathered to celebrate a good friend's birthday - his last as a fortysomething person. We're back at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) for yet another feast.

In honor of our birthday "boy", we started the meal with some deep-fried chicken testicle tofu (炸雞子) to enhance his "manliness"... The rich, semi-liquid tofu reminded me both in terms of taste and texture of the gaozha (高渣) I had at Da Shan Wu Jia (大山無價).

We followed with the roast suckling pig (脆皮乳豬), which was as good as ever. Even for a group of 9 this was a lot of pig. Beyond the very thin and crispy skin, the meat was fatty and tender. I was very tempted to take down a leg since they looked soooo good, but I knew we had a ton of food coming so I decided to pass.

It's summer time, which calls for wintermelon soup (冬瓜盅) to cool our bodies down. Besides the usual ingredients of goose, ridged gourd, crab, lotus seed, chicken, mushroom and frog legs, the flowers of 夜來香 have been added as they have detoxifying and cooling benefits.

Braised pomelo skin with vegetables (炆柚皮) - this was pretty good as the texture was very smooth, but I always prefer the addition of shrimp roe (蝦籽).

Stir-fried lobster with black beans and green peppers (豉椒炒龍蝦球) - this has been one of my favorites here. The diced red and green peppers, onions and black beans made for a very yummy combination. The texture of the lobster was nice, too - bouncy and chewy and not too dry.

Stir-fried wagyu with kailan (芥蘭心炒和牛) - the inner stems of the kailan were very, very tender, and of course the wagyu was just oh-so-soft that it melted in my mouth.

Our birthday boy requested sweet and sour pork (咕咾肉), and they do a very good job here. Some of the pieces have just enough fat to give the right balance of texture and flavor, and it's not all batter and no meat.

The chicken in Huadiao wine (花雕雞) came in a claypot. The meat was very soft and tender, infused with the distinct taste of Huadiao rice wine.

While the birthday boy enjoyed his bowl of birthday noodles, the rest of us got a taste of stir-fried rice vermicelli with duck and preserved vegetables (梅菜炒米粉). The vermicelli soaked up the flavors of preserved mui choy, and the chilli provided an extra little kick. I wish I could have taken in another bowl.

For dessert we had the longevity buns (壽包) made with lotus seed paste and egg yolk; coconut milk jelly (椰汁糕); and mochi wrapped in apple leaves (蘋葉果) - with red bean paste inside the sticky rice mochi.

I had my usual bowl of almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - so light and smooth. But I was so far over the edge that I couldn't fit in anything from the fruit platter...

I brought a few bottles of wine for the occasion, having been warned against bringing too much alcohol. Apparently the festivities last year - which I missed - ended disastrously as a result of over-indulgence. So only 3 bottles of wine tonight...

2006 Keller Riesling Spätlese - classic German Riesling, with nose of plastic, polyurethane, minerals, petrol and a good amount of sweetness on the palate.

1997 Beringer Merlot Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve - generally smooth on the palate, but I thought the finish was a little short and perhaps even a little acidic. Is the wine starting its decline?

August 17, 2009

On the waterfront

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My friend and I were once again trying to find a lunch spot in Central, not having made reservations in advance. We were counting the restaurants between IFC and ICC when I suddenly remembered Watermark, the restaurant on top of the new Star Ferry at Pier 7. I had never thought about having dinner there, but I figured I'd give it a shot for lunch. The restaurant does enjoy full views of the harbor, although there is a wrap-around public corridor between the restaurant and the water. The very high ceiling plus the view makes the whole atmopshere very relaxing indeed. The place was also only half full so the dining experience was pretty pleasant. My set lunch included the salad bar, which had a pretty decent selection. In addition to the usual suspects, there were some interesting choices like Singapore fried noodle rolls and baked onion and anchovies tart. Not bad at all. My main course of marinated Anjou pigeon, cumin dumplings and creamed spinach was a surprise. I normally like my birds "pink" so that the meat would be tender, but this was borderline "bleu"... While the meat was very tender indeed without being raw, there was a lot of blood left - especially in the breast - making this one of the most gamey pigeons I've had in recent memory. As the restaurant did not ask me about how I'd like my pigeon, I can imagine that some of the customers may find this a tad too strong. Cumin was used in making the sauce, so the taste was a little bit exotic. The dumplings were actually gnocchi, although the consistency was a lot softer and richer than what I would normally get. I enjoyed the creamed spinach but left the potatoes untouched. With no expectation whatsoever going in, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I guess I'll add this place to my list of "lunch spots to go in a jam"...

August 12, 2009

An evening with fellow bloggers

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A local publication organized a gathering of local food bloggers tonight, and we convened at Marouche Grill for some Lebanese fare. It was a good chance for me to meet fellow bloggers whose work I follow from time to time.

The restaurant brought out a whole slew of mezzes for us, which would be more than enough food for the group. This included 4 types of dip and a bunch of salads.

Hommos - well...nothing special here but they did leave a few whole chickpeas in the bowl.

Baba Ghanouj - lots of nice flavors from the grilled eggplants.

Mouhamara - very interesting. Made from mixed nuts and sprinkled with chilli powder and toasted pine nuts. I really liked this one.

Falafel - these were very nicely done...deep-fried so that they are crunchy on the outside. The only drawback was that they were a bit too dry for me, and the tahine sauce on top wasn't enough. I realized afterwards that I should have scooped up some of the labneh as the yogurt would have worked perfectly with the falafel.

Tabbouleh - I've always found this dish a little too strong...I like parsley but not when you put that much onto the plate. They also didn't chop it finely enough so the texture was pretty rough.

Fattoush - this was somewhat saltier than the ones I had in the Middle East...and needs a lot more toasted bread.

Grilled Halloumi with watermelon - very interesting combination. The Halloumi is slightly salty, and the sweetness of the watermelon made for quite a contrast in taste.

Moussaka - I've always had this dish in Greek restaurants so I'm used to the version with minced lamb. But the vegetarian version - apparently the norm in Lebanese joints - is nice, too.

I thought the food was OK, not great, but that's not the point. I had a lot of fun meeting my fellow bloggers, especially people who are veterans on OpenRice with a few thousand posts... Some of these people meet up a few times a week to dine out together, and they are so much more knowledgeable about what's happening with the local restaurant scene. I'm struck by their humility - these people are as knowledgeable as they come, but there's no attitude here. Simply the love of good food and drink.

We recounted our experiences (both good and bad) and exchanged opinions on the HK dining scene. I'm now eagerly waiting for the publication of the article at the end of the month, and see which parts of our conversations have been deemed worthy for the pages. Meanwhile I'm glad to have met new friends, and I'll be calling them to organize a few outings together.

August 11, 2009

World class desserts

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My friend and I were welcoming a couple who had just arrived in Hong Kong, and decided to take them out for a casual meal at Dim Sum (譽滿坊). We had a few items of dim sum - as this is one of the few places in Hong Kong serving dim sum at night - along with a few gweilo-friendly dishes like lemon chicken (檸檬雞), Chinese-style beef fillet (中式牛柳). Overall it was simple and pretty satisfying.

I even brought along a bottle of 2003 Kistler Chardonnay Vine Hill Vineyard, although I found it a bit too ripe so that after the medium-acidic mid-palate, the finish was slightly tart and bitter.

Despite being reasonably full (at least I was), my friend proposed that we adjourn to Pierre to have some wonderful desserts. Dessert has always been a big thing with any meal at Pierre, and Nicolas has always been able to wow me with his creations.

Vacherin with hibiscus jelly - very, very nice...especially the hibiscus jelly whose acidity cuts through the richness of the Vacherin. Had this a few weeks ago.

Creamy apple velouté with sorbet and blackcurrant sauce - yes, it looks like baby food and the texture is similar. The blackcurrant sorbet + sauce works well together.

Redcurrant jelly, crêpe praline ganache hot on top - loved the jelly and the crème at the bottom.

Fruit and vegetable with kirsch, yoghurt sorbet with lime - the yoghurt sorbet had melted a little by the time I got to it, and it was just yummy... of course the extra dimension from the kirsch made this very special with its added kick...

I thought we were done, but I was wrong... round 2 came next. How could I refuse?

Coffee and milk jelly with butter cream - I had this a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. Once again I enjoyed slowly smearing some of that delicious butter cream on the coffee and milk jelly... Heavenly for someone who loves coffee.

Pancake immersed in ginger and lime water - a thin layer of crêpe in a small, round disc with a layer of cream below. Definitely could taste the kick of the ginger...

Strawberry wurtz, red pepper confit, strawberry on top - kinda interesting in terms of the mix of ingredients.

9 Conduit Street: light pistachio mousseline; cachaça granité, galia melon soup, cucumber and green mango; ‘‘Parsley, coriander, arugula’’; green biscuit - now this was really something out of the ordinary. Served in the signature giant spoon of the restaurant, at first this just looks like a big blob of light green stuff. The pistachio mousseline dominates and sits on top of the mix of veggies, and the cucumber and green mango slices are at the bottom. Whole thing was topped with a thin biscuit.

In terms of flavors this was definitely the most interesting of the lot, as you've got lots of different things going on. While slurping through the mousse and getting a full taste of pistachio, you suddenly hit a bit of arugula and coriander. Digging down further with the spoon, your tastebuds are refreshed with cucumber and the acidity of the mango, not to mention the melon soup. When I was done and there was only a bit of the melon soup left, what else could I do but pick up the giant spoon and let the last remainder of the liquid flow onto my waiting tongue? I always had high expectations for dessert, but this was really "Wow!"

It was so nice to be able to swing by on the spur of the moment, and ask the kitchen to send us their dessert tasting. Once again I have to thank our friends at Pierre for making this an evening to remember... and I think our guests were very happy!

P.S. I would normally never dream of visiting Pierre without my SLR, but as this was an unscheduled stop I had nothing on me but the crappy cam on my Blackberry. So unfortunately I couldn't capture the beautiful creations. Next time...

August 8, 2009

Spice spice baby

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I was meeting up with a friend for a casual dinner. Being a big fan of Sichuan cuisine, she suggested Yu Chuan Club (渝川會所), a private kitchen she raves about constantly.  Since I missed the chance to join her a few weeks ago, I decide to take her up on it even though I generally stay away from Sichuan restaurants.  There were four of us, which means we get to choose three starters and four main dishes as part of our set.  We asked them to tone down the spice, since a couple of us didn't think we could handle it otherwise...

Spicy Sichuan cold noodle (四川涼麵) - we actually ordered this first and it gave us a good start.  It's the usual type of tossed noodle with spices, and it was pretty solid.  The kitchen did a good job toning down the spices and my tongue was still with me after a small bowl of this.

Marinated cucumber (涼拌青瓜) - we picked the mild version in sesame seed oil, instead of the hot and sour version.

Sliced beef shank (白水牛肉) - thinly sliced with spices sprinkled on top.

Fish in fiery broth (水煮魚) - this is one of the classic Sichuan preparations, and it wasn't bad. The fish fillets are soaked in a red, spicy soup filled with dried chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, bean sprouts, fermented beans and glass noodles. The fish was tender, and the noodles did a good job of soaking up the flavors of the broth, which was pretty salty.

Sautéed string beans with minced pork and chilli (干煸四季豆) - this was one of the best I've had in Hong Kong. Finally someone has decided to take the time to make this dish the way it's meant to be done, making sure it's dry and a little charred. Plenty of chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and deep-fried minced pork. Still not quite mom's homemade version of the dish, but I'm pretty happy.

Twice-cooked pork with rice crispies (鍋巴回鍋肉) - this was also pretty good. Dried, crispy fatty pork with red and green chilli peppers, spring onions, and plenty of rice crispies that have absorbed the wonderful flavors. Unfortunately, as I got involved in a discussion with my friend, my fellow diners decided to gobble up most of those yummy rice crispies, leaving me with one or two measly small pieces...

Stir-fried pork with tomato (番茄炒肉片) - I thought it said beef on the menu, but maybe I was mistaken... Anyway, what we had were slices of tender, fatty pork - that bouncy consistency tells me it's pork neck. Pretty nice.

Finally, the restaurant gave us a complimentary plate of stir-fried greens, which I think was a type of lettuce the Taiwanese called 大陸妹.

The place was obviously doing very brisk business, and I can see why. Whether or not the dishes are really authentic Sichuan or as good as what one can find in China does not matter. What matters is that they tasted pretty good to me, and the price is reasonable. I'll be sure to return and order some of the signature dishes in advance the next time around.

August 7, 2009

Elemental lunch

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Less than a week after I enjoyed a simple lunch at the Elements Mall, I was back there having lunch with a friend who works above the mall. My friend suggested Joia, which is part of the Gaia group of Italian restaurants. We ate upstairs in the "fine dining" section.  The set lunch had plenty of selections, and many of them looked pretty good. While it was a little warm to sit outdoor, the indoor section had plenty of sunlight for us to enjoy the fine day.

My starter of prawn salad with nectarines and chive yogurt dressing was pretty good. The prawns were pretty fresh and bouncy on the teeth. The nectarines were ripe and sweet, which worked well with the yogurt dressing. I thought the combination was pretty interesting.

I also had a taste of my friend's millfeuille of eggplant and mushroom with ricotta cheese. Predictably, it was pretty rich with all that ricotta cheese...but tasted good.

My main course of lamb stuffed with pork fat with herbs was interesting. The lamb was rolled up with a thin layer of bacon fat inside, which reminds me of the shashlik I had in Uzbekistan last year. There was just the right amount of rosemary rolled up, not overpowering the lamb. The accompanying cherry tomatos, haricots verts and potato cubes were nice, too.

I shared the vanilla crème brûlée, which was pretty good and had lots of vanilla seeds. This reminds me of my stash of vanilla pods that I brought back from Bali. Maybe it's time for me to learn how to make this myself?

This was a pretty good lunch, and the quality certainly met my expectations. The location, though, probably means I'll only be revisiting once in a while...

August 1, 2009

Entertaining tourists

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A couple of ex-colleagues are in town from Taipei, shopping up a storm. I thought I'd take them to sample some good, solid Cantonese fare. Island Tang was just the place.

We ordered a bunch of dim sum to start: steamed pork bun (叉燒包), steamed shrimp dumplings (筍尖蝦餃), steamed pork and scallop dumplings (蟹子燒賣) and pan-fried bean curd skin rolled with shrimp mousse (蝦漿百花腐皮卷).

There were also a few starters, like their classic char siu (叉燒) that is just amazingly succulent and tender, without an excessive amount of fat (pity...) The preserved duck eggs accompanied with pickled ginger (松花皮蛋酸薑) was only so-so...the century eggs are still better at Yung Kee. The deep-fried frog legs with chili garlic and seasoning salt (椒鹽田雞腿) were pretty tasty.

The pan-fried prawns with premium soy sauce and garlic (蒜香頭抽皇煎中蝦) were decent, but we waited a little before digging into these and they taste best when piping hot.

I expected the ladies to appreciate the deep-fried de-boned duck coated with taro crust (荔茸香酥鴨), and they did. All that taro is pretty irresistable. But somehow the execution tonight wasn't quite there... the duck meat itself wasn't quite as tasty as what I had before.

A plate of choy sum (清炒菜心) later, we're full and done with dinner. My friends liked the food, which I always thought was pretty solid at this establishment. This time around, though, we give dessert a pass and head for the second round.

We went to Sevva for a round of drinks so we could continue to catch up. Since we didn't have dessert with dinner, I thought we could sample some of the yummy cakes here. The Co Co Cake was pretty darn good...with coconut flakes and coconut cream in a light, fluffy cake. Everyone loved it. The chocolate fudge cake with orange marmlade was as good as I remembered. It was definitely a good way to end the evening.


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