March 9, 2010

A tablespoon of salt

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I had a chance to catch up with a couple of friends tonight, in between their holidays on two tropical islands located around the equator.  The suggested venue was TBLS, which had recently got written up in a publication.  The place looked interesting enough, so I was looking forward to giving it a try.

Tonight was one of the coldest evenings in Hong Kong, so a big portion of the restaurant's seating - which is on a rooftop terrace - isn't open to diners.  The rest of us crammed into the small space indoors within earshot of the open kitchen.  This was not so good.  I am not a fan of the open kitchen concept, and at times the smell of food overwhelmed me and detracted from my wine tasting experience.

Seared pork rillettes with salsa and coriander - an interesting amuse bouche.  The flavor of black pepper was very prominent, and somehow this reminded me of an Italian sausage.  A little too salty, though...

Soup and sandwich:  sweet corn soup with parmesan foam; crab cake with sun-dried tomato mayo and tarragon - the soup was nice.  I'm a sucker for anything made from sweet corn, and the parmesan foam was pretty decent.  The mini burger was really cute... a crab cake as the patty and the bun was nicely toasted.  Once again, though, I thought the crab cake could have used a little less salt...

Bacon and eggs: bacon risotto with poached organic Taiyoran egg - the Japanese egg (太陽卵) was poached in plastic wrap, with its orange yolk cooked until it was soft but no longer runny.  Pretty nice.  The bacon risotto was yummy, guessed it, a teeny bit heavy on the salt thanks to the bacon.

Seared Hokkaido scallop with sous vide daikon - my first reaction was "WTF?!"  I'm no sous vide expert, but why would one sous vide radish?  To be honest, the little piece of radish tasted just like any other poached/steamed radish you're likely to run into.  Nothing special.  And it was soaking in a sauce that was just soooo Thai... coconut milk, tumeric, lemongrass and chili. The clams on the side were ok.  The giant scallop, though, was very nicely done.

Pork and beans: maple-braised pork belly, black bean curry and pickled cabbage - this was probably my favorite dish, but that's not hard to imagine since it's pork belly we're talkin' about.  Very nicely braised, and the sweetness from maple syrup was obvious.  The acidity of the pickled cabbage worked well to neutralized the fatty taste in the mouth, although me being me, I kinda liked to have that mouthful of fat... The black bean mash was so so...texture was pretty grainy so it contrasted well with the smooth pork belly.

Sour cherry and yogurt sorbet - pretty nice in terms of flavors.

Carrot financier with cream cheese ice cream - honestly, I thought this was the failure of the evening.  I'm pretty traditional when it comes to financiers, so this did not make the grade.  Thanks to the abundance of carrot strands and raisins, the thing just became a little too mushy.  Heavy on the nutmeg.

Peppermint patty: macaron sandwich chocolate ice cream with peppermint - one of the things that people have talked about has been Chef Que's macaron sandwiches.  I really liked this, since I've always loved peppermint patties.  And how can I say no to macarons?

I took a Vietnamese drip coffee, and there was a plate of ring/donut-shaped financiers - without any fillings so these were a little bit better.

My friend insisted on bringing wine tonight, even though my cellar is the one that's overflowing.  The reason behind this became apparent when the wine was revealed... I think it's a subtle hint to tell me that the wines I bring were too cheap!  The 1995 Haut-Brion was a classic claret.  The nose was initially a little grassy, with red fruits, smoke and lead pencil notes.  Smooth and elegant on the palate.

This was a good evening.  I really appreciated Chef Que's creativity, especially taking some comfort food staples and reinterpreting them.  For this price range I think it's one of the restaurants where I could find reasons to return, as opposed to the majority of its neighbors in SoHo.  Let's see what the next visit brings...

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