January 30, 2010

A sober izakaya meal

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I've been drinking a fair amount lately.  I was pretty buzzed last night at the Acker auction, and loaded up on alcohol again at lunch today.  I took a much-needed nap, and after waking up for dinner, I thought it would be a good idea to stay away from alcohol...even though I was meeting my friends at a Japanese izakaya (居酒屋).  My friends wanted a casual meal so I took them to Ishiyama (石山).

We ordered a bunch of dishes and split the order into two batches, to kinda pace ourselves and make sure we don't get into too much trouble.

We started with some potato salad, which is pretty Japanese.  Interestingly there was a little bit of black pepper here to give it some kick.

Spinach in sesame seed sauce (ほうれん草の胡麻和え) - pretty standard but nice way to start the meal.

Kikuna in sesame seed sauce (菊菜の胡麻和え) - OK so we duplicated the sesame sauce, but my friend wanted the chrysanthemum stems since they're usually only seen in Japanese restaurants.  The flavors also make it a little more special.

Eggplant stewed in miso sauce (味噌茄子煮) - I liked it last time so I ordered it again. The minced meat gave it a little more texture.

I always thought the stewed beef tendons (牛筋旨煮) here were really good.  Spicy sauce but it's very soft and tender.  I could just come here and pour this over a bowl of rice!

Time for some fish... had some buri (ぶり, yellowtail) and scallop sashimi but skipped the fatty tuna (大トロ) as I'm boycotting bluefin tuna.  For sushi we had the sea urchin (雲丹) and sea eel (穴子).  I still really like the sea eel here as the texture is really soft, and that dollop of yuzu (柚子) and sansho (山椒) on top was especially nice.

Time to order the second round, which started off with some oden (おでん) that I dipped with a little of that strong yellow mustard.

Spring vegetable tempura (春野菜天ぷら) was kinda interesting, as these are not the traditional tempura veggies - Brussels sprouts and broccolini.

The beef and tofu hotpot (牛肉豆腐鍋) was really like sukiyaki, with the same sweet soup and a bunch of glass noodles.  Tofu was pretty silky.

We waited a long time for our bite-sized deep-fried pork cutlet (一口黒豚とんかつ), and apparently it went to the table next door and those guys just took it like it was fine!  Sheesh... Hope the restaurant at least makes them pay for it.  We did get to have it at the end, but it wasn't that good.  The cutlet was too thin and wasn't fatty enough, so the meat was a little dry.  Maybe I should stick to getting the whole cutlet next time.

It was a good and casual meal, and even though I felt funny about it, it was definitely a good idea not to drink tonight...

Saint Vincent Tournante 2010

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A friend of mine invited me to lunch at Petrus today.  The occasion was Saint Vincent Tournante, held around the world by the Chevaliers du Tastevin - lovers of Burgundy - to celebrate the patron saint of wine (at least in France.)  The celebration rotates around the villages of Burgundy, and this year it is held in Chassagne-Montrachet.  We would therefore be drinking some Chassagnes today.

We started with 2007 Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet.  This was served waaay too cold for my liking, so I cupped my hands around the glass to try to warm up the wine a little. Nose of toasty oak, smoke, minerals, lemon and flint.  The wine was pretty ripe but the finish was slightly acidic.  Turned out to be a very poor pairing with the scallops, as all the "fishy" tastes became more pronounced thanks to the wine.

Before the meal started, all the Chevaliers got up to sing the traditional song.  If you don't know the tradition behind it, you'd definitely think that this group of people have gone cuckoo...

Salade de mâche et de poire, noix de Saint Jacques rôties - this was pretty decent, and the addition of thin slices of pear was pretty interesting.  A poor wine paring, though...

2006 Marc Colin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champs Gain - a much better wine, a reflection of both the vintage as well as the vineyard.  Pretty sweet, with nose of grass, minerals, lightly toasted oak and popcorn.  A little ripe on the palate with slightly acidic finish, but much more round, voluptuous and gorgeous than the village wine.

Lentil soup with carrots and other vegetables - bleh...  Don't like lentils.

2006 Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes - this was such a nice red Burgundy.  Very young so it was still rough around the edges, but you know this has potential - all the parts are there and it just needs time for everything to meld together.  Very, very sweet nose, with some vanilla initially then the alcohol hits you.  A little bit medicinal at one point, and definitely farmy.  Curious to see how this wine would turn out in 5 years.

Bavette de boeuf, chou rave confit et brunoise de légumes - beef was reasonably tasty as it was wagyu, but a little overcooked for my taste.  The edges were nice and a little crispy, with enough salt to give it flavor.  The veggie brunoise was nice, as was the black truffle sauce.

Fines feuilles de chocolat blanc croustillant aux amandes et crème mascarpone - a very, very delish dessert.  The crispy almond praline was just...divine.  Would have happily had another portion.

A very nice lunch, with good wines and good company.  Now I'm gonna go off and take a well-deserved nap after all that food and wine...

Acker Hong Kong VII session 2: going gaga over Jayer

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Got up bright and early to get to the second session of the Acker auction.  For the first time I actually arrived before the auction started, because there were a few lots I wanted at the start of the session.

There were only a few people in the early hours, and bidding was a little more civilized.  As time went on and the room filled up, prices started going out of control again.  I ended up getting a case of mature Bordeaux for "everyday drinking", and finally did manage to pick up a bottle of 1969 DRC Richebourg that I really wanted.  I drank a bottle of the Grands Echezeaux last year for my parent's anniversary, and it was superb.  I am looking forward to the day when I open this baby up...  All the other lots I really wanted got bid up beyond reason so I let them go.  Guess I'll have to source my bottles of Pétrus elsewhere...

I thought 9am was a little too early for Champagne, and later on I turned down both the 1998 and 1985 Léoville-Las Cases when offered to me.  I think Gil was a little surprised, and asked me what I wanted.  My reply was "Do you have anything other than Bordeaux?"    He came back with the perfect answer, pouring me a glass of 2000 Sine Qua Non In Flagrante.  There was no way he could have known that I am a big fan of Sine Qua Non, but this was just awesome...  Nose was very, very sweet, plummy, jammy with minerals, smoked meats underneath the fruit, and later coming up with tropical fruits like lychee.  Needless to say it was very alcoholic, but the wine was already showing a good degree of complexity - surprising for an SQN Syrah less than 10 years old.  Yummy.

Later on Gil got up to the podium and handled some of the lots.  He tried to be charming, and conducted part of the auction in Cantonese.  I must applaud him for his efforts, but he needs a little more work.  Getting confused between the words for "thousand" and "ten thousand" is no small thing, especially when you're inflating the price by 10 times...

I left the auction early because I needed to go for a lunch appointment upstairs, but heard that the prices for Henri Jayer wines got ridiculous.  Admittedly the source of the wines is impeccable, but still... Many Asians only got to know Henri Jayer thanks to the Japanese comic  Kami no Shizuku (神の雫), as the series starts with a famous wine critic drinking a bottle of 1959 Henri Jayer Richebourg on his death bed.  Prices for Jayer wines have only gone one way since then...

January 29, 2010

Acker Hong Kong VII session 1: still looney bins

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After a prolonged absence - during which I tried to "rationalize" my wine portfolio and stopped buying the really good stuff - I finally returned to the auction market tonight.  I piled into the crowded hotel ballroom and sat in the very back with a couple of friends.

As we expected, there were few bargains to be had these days at auctions in Hong Kong.  Lots of people flush with cash - often without a good sense of how much wine costs from suppliers around the world - just kept raising their paddles to build up their collections.  I kept finding lots whose hammer prices reached or exceeded the high end of estimates - sometimes hitting 2x.  I know this sounds like a cliché, but Lafite just can do no wrong in this city... even for off-vintages.

All of the lots on my watch list got close to or exceeded the high end of estimates, and as tonight's lots weren't my top priorities, I didn't pursue them.  Instead, I picked up two lots of whites - an unheard of Montrachet and a mature white Hermitage, both from great vintages.

For the first time in Hong Kong, Acker held the first part of the auction in the style they do in NYC - over dinner and asking clients to BYO.  I'm not sure how many other people did, but I did bring a nice bottle of red Burg.  I think, though, that most of the clients were just looking for handouts from Acker...and the hosts weren't too stingy.  I ended up drinking some nice stuff.

2001 Marcassin Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard - obvious nose of grass, a little musty and  we think this was corked.  On the palate this was very ripe and very short.

2001 Marcassin Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard - very sweet on the nose, with pine needle, eucalyptus and minerals on the nose.  Finish was slightly short, but a pretty nice Cali Pinot.

2004 L'Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne - a limited production (5 barriques made in good vintages) wine, this is still young but already has plenty of botrytis, plastic, honey and orange in the nose.  Pretty sweet as one would expect, but with good acidity balance.

1997 A.-F. Gros Richebourg - I brought this bottle to share with the table.  Nose of grilled meats, smoke, sweet fruit and mushrooms.

2004 Sine Qua Non Poker Face - SQN is one of my favorite wineries, producing really, really big wines which require years of aging before being palatable to most people.  This huge Syrah was very sweet with typical notes of iron (I always think they smell like blood), caramel, plastic and lavender.  Very alcoholic, but I like it.  Not exactly a food wine.  Wait another 10 years to drink this.

I confess that I was pretty tipsy by the end of this session... Hopefully I can recover and wake up early for the second session tomorrow morning!

January 27, 2010

A perfect dram of whisky

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A friend of mine brought me to a Japanese bar tonight, hidden away upstairs in a commercial building.  It was classically Japanese, with a small counter and about 10 seats in the entire establishment.  The owner/proprietor stood behind the bar in his pleated tuxedo shirt, black cummerbund and pants.

We started with the remainder of a bottle of a Strathisla Highland Malt by Chivas Brothers, which my friend kept at the bar.  It was classically sweet like a Highland malt, and I took it straight in a Riedel Single Malt glass.

I wanted something else so I asked for the Ardbeg 10 Years on the rocks, and watched as the owner poured it over a large cube of ice that he had spent time cutting down to size so that it would fit the glass perfectly.  This is normally done in Japanese bars, as the size of the ice cube meant a slower melting process.  My friend didn't quite like the peaty, hospital disinfectant nose that is typical of Islay whiskies.

We needed a new bottle and asked the owner for suggestions.  What the owner pulled out of his cabinet can only be described as pure genius - a marriage between his perception of our preferences.  The Murray McDavid Macallan 1997 was an interesting beast...  Distilled at Macallan in Speyside (originally part of the Highlands), it was bottled at Bruichladdich on Islay - my favorite whisky distillery.  Aged for 9 years in Bourbon and oak barrels used in the production of Ridge Zinfandels, the owner called this "spicy Macallan."

And it was.  Taken in the Riedel glass, it was sweet and fragrant like caramel.  But at the same time it was big and spicy on the finish.  Pretty much everything I could ask for in a whisky.

I think I gotta spend more time browsing through the Laddie Shop on the Bruichladdich website...

January 26, 2010

La petite fille de la mer

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Woke up earlier this morning, thanks to too much alcohol at dinner last night.  Decided to listen to some music on iTunes while I worked on my blog entry.  The shuffling took me to Vangelis' "La Petite Fille de la mer."  I first came across the song while watching Stranger than Fiction, and really loved the song.  Now, alone in the quiet hours at 6am, the song seemed perfect for my mood.

January 25, 2010

'90 Châteauneuf-du-Pape horizontal

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We had our annual dinner for MNSC tonight.  This is usually the night when we pull out all the stops, and that was definitely the case tonight.

After some deliberation, Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) was chosen to be the venue tonight.  We came here two years ago for a previous round of annual dinner, and the menu tonight would look very familiar.  This is because once again we requested the presence of Chef Lee Yuk-lam, who kindly cooked his specialties for us in his separate kitchen at the restaurant.

We started with a bottle of NV Jacquart Cuvée Katarina, a blend of all three grape varietals dominated by Pinot Noir.  Lots of smooth, tiny bubbles in the mousse, and the nose was a little yeasty.

Stir-fried fresh lobster (油泡龍蝦球) - actually I wasn't very happy with this, as the lobster was a little overdone.  The chunks were just too big.

Stir-fried shark's fin with bean sprouts and egg (桂花炒魚翅) - now this was the shit... I don't normally eat shark's fin, and would usually offer my portion to someone else, but not tonight.  Not for this awesome dish.  The thick strands of fin was fried with bean sprouts, yellowed chives (韭黃), crab meat and egg.  Fragrant and absolutely delicious.  Wanna see me inhale a dish?  Just send me some of this...

Traditional braised assorted snake soup (正宗太史五蛇羹) - I've gotten used to having snake soup since our dinner here 2 years ago, so this was thoroughly enjoyable.  I definitely felt the heat emanating from my body after finishing the soup...

Stewed whole "Yoshihama" abalone with goose web in premium oyster sauce (二十五頭原隻皇冠吉品鮑魚炆鵝掌) - very delicious and soft abalone, in a really yummy sauce.  The goose web was also very, very good.

Braised Back Fin of Giant Grouper (生炆龍躉翅) - aaaaahhhh... giant grouper again.  The dish looks really impressive when served, with the collection of back fins arranged together.  Loved this dish, as the fin was deep-fried then braised, and retains that delicious flavor that can only come from frying... Flavors were enhanced some very thin strips of ham.

Deep-fried crispy chicken with garlic (蒜香脆皮雞) - skin was crispy and perfect, and a little bit of garlic never hurt anybody... The meat can be a little salty sometimes, but that's OK.

Stir-fried glutinous rice with assorted preserved meat (生炒糯米飯) - this has got to be the best stir-fried glutinous rice I've had in a long time, beating out even my regular favorite at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  The tiny bits of liver sausage (潤腸) were so full of flavor they dominated, but that's OK by me!  Can I take 3 orders to go, please?

We finished with sweetened red bean soup with dumplings (紅豆沙湯丸), with the usual black sesame filling inside the glutinous rice balls.  A perfect way to cap a pretty perfect meal.

In typical fashion, the budget for wine far outstripped that for food, and was especially true tonight where it was in the multiples.  We wanted to put together a truly awesome lineup of wines, chose 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the theme and tasted the full range of reds from two of the appellation's top producers.

1990 Château de Fonsalette - while not exactly a CdP (this is actually Côtes-du-Rhône), this comes from the stable of Jacques Reynaud of Château Rayas.  Nose was pretty alcoholic and sharp, smoky, a little bit of wet chalk, good amount of sweet fruit, game meat, leather and a hint of caramel.  The color was a little amber at the rim, and the wine was soft and smooth on the palate.  

1990 Château de Fonsalette Cuvée Syrah - an interesting cuvée made from 100% Syrah whose cuttings originally came from Gérard Chave.  What an awesome wine!  Rich and powerful, with notes of leather, bacon and game meats.  The alcohol emerged sometime later.  Sweet and soft on the palate.  Delicious.

1990 Château Pignan - another wine from the cellars of Château Rayas, this second wine was a little disappointing tonight.  Nose was very green, even a little moldy, with sweet grass and plenty of alcohol.

1990 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier - the first of the trio from Bonneau, the nose had a hint of green, with sweeter fruit and somehow that familiar plastic, polyurethane nose I generally find in Rieslings...along with a little marmalade.  Very long finish.

1990 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Spéciale - one whiff of this wine and there was never any doubt about the identity of this wine.  The hugely alcoholic nose (16.5%)... so much so that it practically singed the hair inside my nose!  Nose of coffee and loads of sweet fruit, with some caramel, oxidation and almost port-like.  A full-bodied wine with a very long finish.  Honestly it's a little too heavy for all of us, but interesting for academic reasons.  My comment on this wine is similar to what I called the 2003 Clos Mimi Etiquette Rose (with its 19% alcohol) - it's a monster (怪獸).

1990 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Célestins - probably my favorite wine of the evening, and rightly so! Very sweet and smoky, with game meat, bacon, mint, eucalyptus and a little alcohol in the nose.  A very open and opulent wine.  Bravo!  One of my friends made the analogy to a beautiful, sophisticated woman he would spend time and effort to seduce.

1990 Château Rayas - in contrast to the Célestins, this was a woman whose raw sexuality makes you just want to grab her and go at it immediately...or so says my friend.  Sweet nose that was a little funky - but that's Rayas, isn't it?  A little smoky with that familiar tropical fruit and lychee nose.  Beautiful in its own right but somehow overshadowed by the Célestins tonight.  Were she a real woman, she'd be hissing with jealousy.

Wow!  A totally awesome dinner, both in terms of food and wine.  As we get another year older, I can only hope that we continue to have the capacity to enjoy evenings like this.  Let's see what the coming year brings us.

January 24, 2010

Good times with old friends

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Tonight I met up with a few colleagues from a few years ago.  I haven't seen a couple of these guys since I left that particular employer more than 5 years ago, and some of these people have been in Singapore for most of this time, so it was really nice when they contacted me for a get together.

We met at Brasserie on the Eighth at the Conrad, which used to be one of my favorite hang outs in years past.  These days I don't go as often as I used to, but I still like the food and the staff still treat me like a VIP.  Together with a perennial discount from a major bank credit card (and another card offering a short-term promotion of 30% off!) it's just a fantastic deal.

For some reason I felt like having soup for a starter, so I picked sweet corn soup enhanced with curry and steamed salmon.  The corn soup was a little thicker and granular than I expected, and the sprinkle of red peppercorns were sweet and spicy at the same time.  The salmon was pretty oily and tasted a little strong against the soup.

I brought a bottle of 2001 Kistler Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard.  I love an aged Kistler Chard, and this one had a pretty sweet and ripe nose of butter, marmalade, straw, toasty oak, honey, marshmallow and lemon citrus.  Yummy!

It's been a while since I've had the pork chop here - it used to be my favorite dish - and the preparation has changed over the years.  But the char-grilled 10oz kurobuta pork chop on sautéed spinach and seasonal vegetables with green pepper corn sauce was still pretty damn good.  I love good Japanese pork, with that nice strip of fat giving so much flavor to the meat.  This was pretty nicely grilled, and at the end I couldn't resist grabbing the bone with my hand and trying to strip it of all the edible bits.  The spinach was nice and garlicky...

I also brought along a bottle of 1997 Guado al Tasso.  Nose of smoke, a hint of brett, sweet fruit, pine needle and eucalyptus.  Drinking very nicely now.

We shared a big portion of soufflé - the house specialty dessert.  I took mine with raspberry sauce.  How I have missed this dessert here... Must come back more often.

It was a lot of fun to catch up with these guys.  Catching up on all the gossip in the industry, and shooting the breeze about Facebook, FarmVille, and the similarity between the business models of social networking games and private banking... Now we just have to make an effort to meet up more often!

January 23, 2010

Nino x4

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A couple of my friends wanted to try out the Macanese/Portuguese restaurant I had been telling them about, so I booked a table at Nino's Cozinha's new location and grabbed a few more friends.

Ever since Nino's first opened they have been busy like there's no tomorrow, and it became very hard to get a table on short notice.  They've recently moved to QRE Plaza and took up two whole floors, and it looks like they have easily 4x the space that they used to have.  On this Saturday night both floors were packed when I arrived.  Business is going Gang Busters.

At first it seemed difficult to get anyone to pay attention to me as I stepped off the elevator - all the staff was busy dancing around in their routine.  An observant waiter eventually came over and led me to our table, and throughout the evening I found him to be well-trained and courteous - as long as I could get his attention.

The menu at Nino's is fairly extensive, and my friends soon had that bewildered look on their faces.  So the decision was left to moi...as I'd been here a few times before.

Lulas salteadas com alho cebola e picante - the calamari was pretty nice, and the spicy chili sauce had a nice kick to it.

Bacalhao à braz - OK, OK... so I order this dish everytime I'm in a Portuguese/Macanese restaurant...but I really love it!  The dish looked a little different tonight, and the eggs and onions tasted a little more soggy than usual - thanks to the addition of tomatoes, but the shredded potato was crispy and yummy as usual.

Arroz chau-chau á moda Macanese - I still remember cracking up back in 1996 when I first found that the Portuguese expression for fried rice is "arroz chau-chau".  Well, I wanted to try something different here, and the Macanese fried rice at Cafe Florinda (澳門茶餐廳) is one of my favorites.  Unfortunately the version here is a complete disaster.  The rice was soggy, and the ingredients were chopped into pieces which I find too small.  I like the big chunks of chourico and other meats in my rice... Oh and one other complaint - why the hell was the rice served so early during our dinner?!

Rabo de boi guisado - one of our resident froggies requested oxtail, so here we are.  The meat was tender and came off the bone easily, and the carrot and tomato-based sauce was pretty yummy, especially with the use of cloves.

Couve branca assada com bacalhau e alho - yeah, this looks like a Chinese veggie dish, but with the twist of adding the yummy bacalhau to impart that savory seafood flavor.  I can't get enough bacalhau, and I tried to restrain myself tonight so that my friends don't get an OD of it...

Frango assado com piri piri - I ordered the piri-piri chicken for its authenticity instead of the Macanese chicken with its curry sauce.  I still don't think they give you enough of the sauce, so next time I'm gonna ask for extra.  In Portugal the chicken comes without the sauce, and you simply add however much you want from the bottle on the table...

After a long wait, the camarao com pimenta no forno arrived.  Earlier, one of my friends caught a whiff of the smell from another table and thought they were serving stinky tofu (臭豆腐). Well, the smell of that much peppercorns can be a little pungent, but I would prefer to call it fragrance.  The prawns were yummy, and I still picked up a few peppercorns and rolled them between my fingers liked I've done on previous visits.

We were still kinda hungry so we ordered the arroz de pato.  Not quite happy with this, and the group agrees.  As my friend remarked, this does taste and smell like Chiuchow duck - with the classic fragrance of five spice (五香).  The rice, unfortunately, wasn't up to par.  It was moist enough that the rice grains stuck together, but in this case I actually prefer them to be either soggy (because there was so much sauce) or just a bit dry and chewy.  In any case the rice on top wasn't crispy at all, which should have been the case.  Oh well, maybe they were rushing this one because they didn't want us to wait half an hour...

I brought along two bottles of wine, and after making sure that no one objected to having them (why would they?) proceeded to serve them.

2005 Château de Sancerre Cuvée du Connetable - initially nose was a little muted, with lemon, minerals, toasty oak and a little bit of buttery notes.

2001 Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel - one of the bottles I carried back from the winery a few years ago.  A very nice wine, with sweet fruit, vanilla and smoky nose.  Full-bodied and still a bit tannic, with a long finish.

Will Nino's do well after this massive expansion?  I hope the food quality can remain high while the success doesn't go to the owner's head.  Remember Ingredients?

Big mama's cooking

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Casual lunch with a few friends today.  After some last minute change of heart, we ended up at cinecittà.  I hadn't been back here for a number of years, so I guess it was a chance for me to see if anything has changed at this restaurant.  Apparently there's a guest chef in town - Anna Dente from Osteria di San Cesario.  A chance for us to try out some of her Roman cooking.

I started with fettuccine a la romana co le regaje de pollo.  I really like hearty Roman cooking, and things don't get much more rustic and homey than having "chicken trimmings" - offal like liver - in a tomato sauce over some pasta.  Definitely had that heavy offal taste. Pretty decent.

My second course was la Sabbatina, trippa a la romana.  I was expecting pan-fried tripe in thick tomato sauce like the ones I've had at other Italian joints in Shanghai and San Francisco, but this was the soupy version.  The manyplies tripe was soaked in a light tomato broth, with two sections of toasted bread smeared with salty pesto.  This was OK, but the pan-fried version would have been better.

We eventually noticed the gang of four sitting at a table behind me.  There was big mama herself, Umberto Bombana, and two other gentlemen.  The physical size of the four of them was really something (Bombana was the smallest of the four)...I guess they love to eat and cook!

One thing has remained constant, though...the restaurant staff was still pretty incompetent, so the service still leaves me wanting.  Oh well, let's see how long it takes for me to go back for my next visit...

January 22, 2010

10th anniversary

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Tonight a small group of friends gathered to celebrate the 10th wedding anniversary of a lovely couple.  All of us were present 10 years ago to witness their union, and we are happy to see that they are still going strong today.  In this day and age, this is no mean feat!

I helped choose W52 as the venue.  The restaurant had its grand opening party tonight, and the place was heaving with lots of people.  Understandably things were a little hectic for the waitstaff...

I brought a bottle of 2000 Bollinger La Grande Année to kick start the evening. Initially the nose was a little muted, but later showed some caramel notes with medium acidity.  Maybe it's still too young, but it's not very complex right now.

For starter, I had the guanciale di maiale in padella con scampi, all'aceto balsamico caramellato.  The pork cheek and scampi lay on a bed of greens, with a nice drizzle of caramelized balsamic vinegar.  The pork cheek was chewy and firm, and tasted a little strong for pork.  The scampi on top seemed a little bit mushier than usual, perhaps an indication that these weren't the very freshest ingredients.

I also brought along a bottle of 2000 La Fleur-Pétrus for the occasion.  This was a really beautiful wine...beautiful nose with lots of tobacco smoke, grilled meats, sweet fruit, a little mint and coffee notes.  Medium-full body, with firm tannins which have started to soften, and a long finish.  I'd love to drink this wine again at my friends' 20th anniversary and see how it would have evolved.

The filetto di cervo, confettura di mele cotogne e salsa al melograno I had for main course was alright.  I know that venison is a gamey meat that can sometimes be a little tough, but I distinctly remember having had some wonderfully juicy and relatively tender cuts in New York years ago.  Well, tonight the texture of the meat was still relatively tough, but there was a tender side to it.  The taste of the meat was strong, but not particularly gamey to me.  The quince jam on the side was nice, and the use of white pomegranate seeds was interesting.

I finally had the mille foglie alla crema di mandorle e lamponi, having passed it over in favor of the semifreddo at lunch last week.  Once again I was happier with the dessert than the prior courses.  The Napoleon only had two layers of pastry, but I liked the custard cream with raspberries.  Once again the chef added some texture with nuts - this time with a sprinkle of almond bits.

This was my second visit, and once again the wow factor eluded me.  A couple of my friends, though, figured out a way to get the best out of the place - they only picked dishes marked as "Chef Creations" on the menu, and were pretty satisfied with the results.  Oh well...

What's important, though, was the celebration of a beautiful marriage, along with the fact that another couple present at dinner - who traveled from the US to Hong Kong for the wedding 10 years ago - started their relationship while staying in my apartment... The other couple is now married, and their 10th anniversary will be coming up next year.  I am looking forward to a similar celebration in 2011...

January 20, 2010

Another loud and drunken birthday

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I seem to belong to a few groups of friends who get loud and rowdy as we drink.  Tonight we helped a friend celebrate his birthday at Matsubishi (松菱) in front of a teppanyaki (鉄板焼) hotplate.  It's a good thing that we took a private room as usual, because we were definitely very, very loud...

We kicked off the evening with a big bottle of Kukurihime (菊理姫) from Kikuhime (菊姫), and the evening kinda just went downhill from there...  There was the usual assortment of premium ingredients.  We started with an appetizer of mini conch and a salad, and the chef came in to prepare the food.

First on the plate were two big spiny lobsters (伊勢海老), freshly fished out of the tank.  The chef placed them on the hotplate and kept them covered.  I could see the lobsters struggling as it felt the searing heat cooking it.  The lobsters continued to twitch in their slow death.  I thought about the discussions I had with my chef friends regarding the best way to kill your food, and cooking something alive was definitely not it.  A struggling lobster dying slowly would be stressed out in the process, and the flesh would not have the same tenderness as another lobster that died an instantaneous death.  But I guess I wasn't gonna tell this chef that he was doing it all wrong... afterall, teppanyaki cooking is pretty formulaic.  In the end, the flesh was reasonably tender but some of the pieces were a little overcooked.

Next came two large abalones (アワビ), which were still alive and moving.  Needless to say they also died slow deaths, as I watched them writhe in their shells in reaction to the heat. These were lightly cooked, cut into thin slices, then stir-fried with spices and seasoning. 

The large oysters were pan-fried with a good helping of diced garlic.  But these were also a little overcooked and charred on the side.

Pan-fried foie gras was OK, although for some reason it had a heavier-than-usual "liver" flavor.  Yes, I know foie gras is actually liver, but good pan-fried versions usually don't taste like liver.  This one tasted a little more like the way Chinese people tend to overcook pig's liver...

The tofu was pretty soft and creamy.  The thin slices of beef tongue (牛タン) were excellent, although I only had one little slice...

The usual servings of beef came, first up were thin slices of beef wrapped around fried garlic and spring onions. Looove the tasty filling with all that garlic and spring onions. The fatty beef plus the filling was pretty awesome. The sirloin which followed was also very yummy with fried garlic slices.

I brought a bottle of 2001 Bond Matriarch, which I had also opened on my last visit here to celebrate another birthday.  It drank very well, showing some classic Cab notes while simultaneously displaying its distinctive Californian character - I detected toffee and caramel in the sweet nose.

We had lobster head soup which was very nicely done as usual, with tofu, leeks and the remaining lobster meat giving the soup its sweet taste.  My stomach was topped up by the fried rice which had an extra egg on top.  I decided to do the smart thing and pass on ice cream.  I don't need to extra calories...
Maybe it's an off-day for the chef, but the cooking here definitely slipped today as a number of items were obviously overcooked.  Or maybe the chef was just distracted by this loud and obnoxious crowd...

January 16, 2010

The Macau I never knew

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I was in Macau today to show the sights to a visitor from overseas.  It's been a while since I had walked around and gotten some local eats, so I decided to lead a mini "foodie tour" for us.  What's more, I decided to hit a few famous Macanese spots which I never got around to visit.

I passed by Loja Sopa da Fita Cheong Kei (祥記麵家) on my last visit without going in.  This is one of the famous noodle shops in town, and I wanted to stop in and buy some shrimp roe (蝦籽).  Since we had come all the way here, we decided to sit down and have something to eat.  Of course I was going to get a plate of tossed egg noodles with shrimp roe (蝦籽撈麵).  This turned out to be the disappointment of the day.  While I really liked the consistency of the noodles, for some reason soy sauce was added to the plate.  This easily overpowered the flavors of toasted shrimp roe.

We took a long ride to my next stop - Lord Stow's Bakery in Coloane Village.  I had heard about the shop opened by Englishman Andrew Stow which is famous for their Portuguese egg tarts, as well as Margaret's Café e Nata opened by Andrew's ex-wife.  I had never been to either locations, and I thought it was high time I tried them out.  Well, they were definitely pretty good.  The puff pastry was nice and yummy, and the custard was pretty decent.  But this IS the local/Asian recipe, and ultimately it was no match for the original pasteis de nata from Pasteis de Belem.  Those tarts I had back in 2006 were incredibly creamy that I could have eaten half a dozen in a sitting...

After taking my visitor through a quick tour of various casinos, it was time to grab some Macanese food for dinner.  A Lorcha (船屋餐廳) was small and packed, and we had no reservation... Fortunately Restaurante Litoral (海灣餐廳) was just a few steps away, with plenty of space to accommodate us.  I ordered up a few of my favorite dishes:

Camarões com alho - these de-shelled shrimps were cooked with loads of olive oil and yummy garlic salsa.  Needless to say, I greedily lapped up the yummy garlic olive oil at the bottom of the plate with the typical bread that comes in these restaurants.

Amêijoas à casa - ooooh yeah... a big pot of these clams was exactly what we needed.  Lots of onions and a little bit of chili and garlic to pick up the taste.

Caril de caranguejo - I ordered the curry crab and totally forgot that someone at the table is too lazy to eat crabs, so the big dish was left to the other two of us.  The curry sauce was typically salty, but I wish it had been a little lighter so that the sweetness of the crab meat would show through better.

Bacalhao à braz - do I ever step foot into a Portuguese restaurant without ordering this dish? NEVER!  The version here is not as dry and crispy as I normally prefer, but was yummy in its own way.

Arroz de pato - they did it pretty well here.  Big slices of chorizo and duck breast on top of a layer of rice crackling, with duck leg confit meat buried underneath.  The crackling was really nice, and I wish I could have eaten more of this.

Repolho branco assado na panela com alho - the cabbage stir-fried with garlic was just what we needed to balance things a little, but I was pretty full by this point and struggled to stuff more into my tummy.

I had serradura for dessert, and I thought this was pretty decent - very light and airy mousse.

The restaurant only serves Portuguese wine and I know next to nothing about these...so I asked for recommendations on a fruity wine.  The 2006 João Pires Branco Terras do Sado was kinda fruity and pretty easily to drink.

We were pretty stuffed by the end, and it was a good conclusion to our day trip.  I managed to visit 3 new places in Macau, and I'll continue mapping out more destinations on my next trip.

January 14, 2010

Romancing the pig

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One of my friends has recently opened up Romankan Yokohama (浪漫館横浜), having negotiated the franchise rights from Japan.  This Japanese pork cutlet (とんかつ) specialist has won praise recently from some of my foodie friends, so I decided to hop across the harbor for a quick bite at lunch.

My body's been a bit out of whack for the last few days, and I could definitely see signs of "heatiness" (火氣/熱氣).  So I decided to order the refreshing tomato salad.  The plate of refrigerated tomatoes was indeed cold and refreshing, with a decent dressing.  I think it definitely helped restore some balance.

Since the restaurant's logo includes the phrase 手つくりカツサンド - meaning "handmade pork cutlet sandwich", it's pretty obvious what one should order here!  This was absolutely yummy.  The small piece of pork cutlet was done really well - crispy and flaky crust wasn't too thick.  The pork inside was very tender and juicy.  The sandwich was made with one single piece of toast, which was folded so that none of the sauce would escape.  To do this the bread must be a little moist before being toasted or grilled, or else the bread would simply break into flakes if it were too dry.  I finished this baby in a few bites, and wanted another one immediately...

Now that I've had the sandwich, I'll need to come back a few more times to try out the other usual suspects like katsu-don (カツ丼), sirloin pork cutlet (とんかつ)...  I think my friend's got a pretty good thing here, and I wish him much success!

January 12, 2010

The hottest Cantonese table in town

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My foodie friends and I hit one of the hottest tables in town tonight.  The Chairman (大班樓) opened late last year to rave reviews, so of course we were eager to try it out. We sat at a table upstairs, and the restaurant was clearly buzzing. 

Deep-fried small yellow croakers with balsamic vinegar (酥炸獅頭魚配陳醋) - very nice and crispy, espcially the head.  What a way to kick off the meal!

Longjing tea and chrysanthemum-smoked pigeon (龍井菊花燻乳鴿) - wow! This was pretty amazing.  The smoke was really intense, and hits you right away.  The meat was soft and tender.  I happily grabbed it with my hands and tore it apart.

Spicy beef tongue marinated with preserved orange rind (陳皮麻辣牛舌) - nice, thin slices.  Pretty spicy indeed, and I had to scrape off most of the chili seeds...

Marinated pork chin with honeycomb tofu (鹵水豬下巴蜂巢豆腐) - the fatty pork had a chewy texture which was pretty nice.  The pork used here has been sourced by Tam Keung (譚強), who is well-known in foodie circles for having raised pigs locally.

Pan-fried pork patties with salted fish (馬友咸魚煎肉餅) - pretty decent.  I do like my salted fish...

Daily soup (是日靚湯) - there were two choices and I picked the one with cordyceps (冬蟲夏草).  Nice and herbal. 

Flower crab steamed in chicken fat and Huadiao wine (雞油花雕蒸花蟹) - the flesh was fresh and sweet, but as usual the best thing was the sauce.  Unlike the thick and viscous version at Manor, the sauce here was lighter.  Fragrance was amazing, with an orange marmalade aftertaste.  This was served with riceflour rolls (陳村粉) which soaked up all the yummy sauce.

Preserved plum and cinnamon-flavored sweet and sour pork spare ribs (話梅肉桂糖醋排骨) - O-M-G!  This was definitely the best dish of the evening.  I didn't taste any cinnamon but the plum flavors were ultra-yummy.  All of us chewed the meat off the bones in no time, and we had a contest to see which one had the cleanest bone left on the plate.  It was so good that we actually ordered a second plate, because we couldn't imagine having only one of these ribs.  I could have done with at least four...

We had some stir-fried pea shoots (清炒豆苗), which were excellent as was to be expected. 

Claypot prawns with garlic and scallions in sate sauce (蔥蒜沙茶大蝦煲) - this is the Chinese version of sate (沙茶醬), and the light spiciness went well with the prawns.

Shiitake and morel mushrooms with tofu skin (冬菇羊肚菌炆腐皮) - the intense flavors of the morels dominated, and lent support to the tofu chunks and tofu skin.

"The Chairman" (十八味豉油雞) - Wow!  This is probably the best chicken I've had in a while.  All these Cantonese places that talk about their special chickens... couldn't possibly match this.  Our friend who was here for her fifth visit complained about the bland flavors of the chicken before we arrived, so I think the kitchen added a little extra something tonight.  The meat was very soft and tender, and the dish was definitely worthy of its moniker.

Braised fatty pork with preserved mustard greens and dates (梅乾菜南棗炆豬肉) - this has always been one of my favorite dishes in Chinese cuisine, and they did it pretty well here.  We ordered the congee with preserved orange rind, tofu skin and gingko nuts (陳皮腐竹銀杏粥) to go along, and I happily dropped the yummy preserved mustard greens into my bowl and mixed it up.

We had two types of ice cream for dessert: osmanthus and wolfberry (桂花杞子雪糕) as well as ginger (子薑雪糕).  The ice cream was a little too milky and overpowered the subtle flavors of the osmanthus.  The ginger was pretty strong so that worked well.

I was too full to take in the galette des rois that some friends had brought along, so I took my portion home for breakfast the next morning.
I brought along two bottles of wine: the last of my 2007 De Villaine Bouzeron tasted exactly as expected, with lemon citrus, toasty oak and minerals in the nose.  A little acidic on the palate.  The 1996 Les Pagodes de Cos was classically claret, with nose of smoke, sweet fruit, mint, wet earth and soy sauce.  Finish was fairly long and a little tart.
This was a great meal.  I definitely understand why the whole town is abuzz with excitement about this place, as this has got to be one of the best new Cantonese restaurants around.  I look forward to coming back real soon.


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