April 30, 2010

Born in 1982

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One of my friends hosted her birthday dinner tonight at Man Wah (文華), and I was fortunate enough to be invited.  We met through our common love of wine, and I very much looked forward to tasting the wines at dinner.

Suckling pig, barbecued meat (乳豬燒味拼盤) - a sampling platter of char siu (叉燒), chicken, roast goose, suckling pig and jelly fish (海蜇).  The char siu, goose and suckling pig were pretty nice.

Baked stuff sea whelk, Portuguese sauce (葡汁焗釀響螺) - this was OK, with some liver and a surprising amount of cabbage.

Wok fried scallop, black truffle (黑松露菌帶子) - the scallops and broccoli were pretty nice.  The black truffle didn't have much taste, though... probably came from China.

Double boiled shark's fin soup, chicken, vegetable (菜膽雞燉生翅) - I normally don't eat shark's fin, but it would have been impolite to turn this down... Nice and clear chicken broth, and lots of fin.

Stewed whole fresh abalone, oyster sauce (蠔皇原隻鮮湯鮑) - everything here was pretty nice... the abalone was full of flavor and had the right amount of chewiness, and I liked the mushroom.

Wagyu beef, black pepper sauce (黑椒和牛粒) - I wouldn't have known whether they used wagyu or not, as the beef was so overcooked it became powdery and mushy.

Braised E-fu noodle (長壽伊府麵) - texture was alright but a little bland in taste... had to call in the reinforcements with the pretty spicy XO sauce.

Double boiled papaya, snow fungus, almond (銀杏燉萬壽果) - this was excellent.  The soup was sweet enough but not overly so.  This is not a dessert I normally think about ordering, but this has got to be one of the best versions I've had in recent memory.

Longevity buns (蟠桃壽飽) - de rigeur for a birthday celebration...

For me, wine was definitely center stage tonight.  We started with some Louis Roederer Brut Premier, which was a little on the sweet side.

Next came the 2003 Michel Juillot Mercurey, with nose of honey, a little sweet grass, a hint of corn and very light toast.   The nose was obviously very ripe and sweet, but without the cooked nose of orange marmalade.  Pretty nice.

Then came a trio of '82s from Saint Julien, which I tasted semi-blind and tried to guess the identities.  No cigar, unfortunately...

1982 Léoville Barton - nose was initially muted at first, with a hint of grass showing its Saint Julien character, and the highest acidity level among the three.  Towards the end it became a little spicy on the nose.

1982 Gruaud-Larose - classic left bank nose with smoke and coffee grinds.  Open and beautiful.  Very smooth on the palate with medium acidity.  My favorite red of the evening.

1982 Ducru-Beaucaillou - nose was muted, a little smoky, with acidity level that's the medium of the three.  Very soft and silky on the palate after shark's fin.  Honestly I was disappointed in this wine, especially since it died completely at the end when Gruaud-Larose was still going strong.

With dessert came 1982 Suduiraut, which had tons of honey, orange, botrytis, acetone, a hint of preserved orange rind (陳皮), a whiff of honeydew melon and banana.  Not too sweet on the palate, a little heavy on orange and that tartness.  Much nicer than I expected, and definitely a better wine than what I tasted at the Altaya tasting some time ago.

I was very, very full and well-buzzed by the end of dinner, and excused myself to collapse on my bed while the rest of the group moved on to more drinks at the M Bar...

2010 edition: San Pellegrino Top 100

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Here we go again... The "World's 50 Best Restaurants" has been announced, and there are some notable changes this year.  My perennial #1 El Bulli has fallen to #2 after a few years at the top.

There's always some controversy whenever any of these lists are published, and there was an uproar this year when no restaurant in France made it into the top 10.  Spain continues to dominate with 4 of the top 10, reaffirming the country as one of the most exciting food destinations.

I'm not sure if the voting system evolved further this year, but the number and choices of the Asian restaurants continue to baffle me.  While I enjoyed Iggy's in Singapore years ago and have heard good things about the new Jaan under André Chiang, I can't imagine either of them to really deserve a spot in the top 50.  It also seems clear that they don't have enough people who really knows Japan on the panel...how else do you explain that there are only 3 restaurants from Japan among the top 100, when there are 4 from Singapore and 5 from Hong Kong?  You're not seriously telling me that Japan is less exciting as a foodie destination?!

Anyway, the restaurants I've been to among the top 100 are:

2.  El Bulli
8.  Daniel
9.  Arzak
10.  Per Se
13.  Pierre Gagnaire
14.  L'Hotel de Ville - Philippe Rochat
15.  Le Bernardin
24.  Les Creations de Narisawa
28.  Iggy's
29.  L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Paris
32.  The French Laundry
33.  Martin Berasategui
44.  La Maison Troisgros
48.  Nihonryori RyuGin
53.  L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Hong Kong
55.  Robuchon A Galera
59.  Lung King Heen
63.  Akelarre
65.  Bo Innovation
78.  Les Amis
90.  Amber
96.  Cepage by Les Amis

April 29, 2010

Gambero rosso

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I had Italian for lunch for a second day in a row, this time back at Tuscany by H.  No, I never get tired of this place, especially the pasta.  Harlan's pastas are awesome.  Period.

The set lunch didn't appeal, so I ended up just having a plate of pasta.  The Namdaemun ajumma was having her comfort food - the tagliatelle with wild boar ragout.  I could have had that, but one of the specials caught my eye.

Homemade spaghetti chitarra, Italian red prawns, garlic, snipped chives in baby shrimp sauce was something I just couldn't pass up.  Any prawn pasta here is bound to be really good, and I wasn't disappointed.  The pasta was soft but not mushy, with plenty of bite.  The red prawns were actually kinda like cooked sweet shrimp (甘エビ), with the shells removed but the heads attached.  I happily sucked whatever I could out of the heads, and what I got was heavenly.  The prawns were tender and delicious.  And the baby shrimp sauce - with dried baby shrimp like sakura shrimp (桜海老) - was divine.

I didn't have any dessert or coffee, just had some water with my pasta.  An hour later, the flavors of the shrimp sauce still lingered in my mouth...

I say again... Harlan's pastas are awesome.

April 25, 2010

The silent dinner

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Tonight's the first official scoring MNSC of the year, with a newer format where all guesses are not silent and blind.  Our host chose to go back to the French Window for this meal.  I must admit that I was looking forward to the wines more than the food.

We started with a trio of amuse bouche - a "sandwich" with liver paté filling, a small cup of mushroom soup, and some creation involving a cherry tomato.

Carpaccio de boeuf super prime rossigny, foie gras et truffle noire - basically the same dish as my last visit, except that the chef decided to remove the foie gras at the last minute as someone complained that he's already had the dish 5 times... Honestly the dish just isn't the same without the foie, in spite of the really tender beef.

Raviole de caille, foie gras, consommé de legumes - this was pretty nice.  The small raviolis were pretty tasty with foie, and the vegetable consommé was very light.

Saint Jacques de la Baie Saint Georges compote de choux vert, sauce truffle - very nice, and the presentation was very pretty.  The scallop was nice, but I really liked the bed of shredded cabbage as it's one of my favorite vegetables.  The truffle sauce on the side didn't really add much, though.

Filet d'agneau poele, pomme de terre fondante, pesto du Moyen Orient - the weakest dish of the evening.  The lamb was bland and uninteresting.  The rings of deep-fried potato were much more yummy and fun to play with.

Canard du Challans au sang de Chez Madame Burgos roti, sauce bigarade - very nice and tender duck...pink and juicy.  I was happily cutting away and feeding my hungry mouth.  The sandwiches were a nice touch...the toast was very yummy, with a spinach and black truffle(?) sauce filling.

Assiette de fromage selectionner par Philippe Olivier, l'un des meilleur ouvrier de France fromager - well, the restaurant may claim that Philippe Olivier is one of the best in France, but we only get a small selection of 3 types of cheese...  Saint-Philippe, which was very nutty with a slight bitter finish and heavy ammonia on the rind; nice Mimolette; and Bonde de Gâtine, which I also had on Friday.

The dessert consisted of two parts:
Piña colada sorbet with pineapple wafers - the strong coconut oil flavor came out on top of the pineapple, and it's no surprise given that the sorbet was made with Malibu.  Very tropical and refreshing.

Chocolate sensation - not bad, with something similar to Nestlé Crunch at the bottom with rice crispies.

But tonight's really all about the wines...and our generous host treated us to some truly old and interesting bottles.

1983 Dom Pérignon - nose of honey, caramelized apple, grass and straw...beautiful but died relatively quickly.
1945 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino - color was so incredibly light...and the nose was very oxidized... like a brandy or Port, with preserved plum.  Completely flat on the palate.

1945 Seguin-Manuel Charmes-Chambertin (ex-domaine) - nose was really sweet, with tropical fruits and very light body.  93 points.

1945 Léoville-Las-Cases - nose was grassy, a little cooked, with forest, mint, a little sweetness.  Smooth on the palate with a short finish.  93 points.

1945 Pavie - much more concentrated, with a medicinal nose and notes of sous bois, smoke, cigar and mint...beautiful!  But it died completely after a while.  95 points.

1961 Pape Clément - a little bit of brett, chili pepper, ripe, sweet and alcoholic.

1961 Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine - very Rhone-like, with floral, violet notes and bacon fat, fruity, a little chemical / dishwashing detergent notes... very sweet with tropical fruits like lychee.  95 points.

1961 Talbot - obvious nose of manure with farmy and smoky notes.

The food was pretty decent, and needless to say the wines were excellent.  Unfortunately with our new format, there was a lot less discussion about the wines during tasting, which makes it less fun for me.  Hopefully it gets better with time...

April 24, 2010

La Nuit à Saint George

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At long last, I got my first chance to sample the cuisine at St. George, the upscale restaurant at Hullet House.  I'm a big fan of Philippe Orrico, who used to run the kitchen at Pierre, and have been wanting to see what he's been able to do outside the world of Pierre Gagnaire.  I've gotten very positive feedback from my friends, so expectations were high.

I browsed through the menu, delighted that many of the dishes can be ordered in smaller portions.  My friends weren't that hungry after their big meals, but surprisingly my stomach was growling a little... After some hesitation, I decided to order the 8-course tasting menu since there is no rule dictating that tasting menus have to be ordered by the entire table.

The amuse bouche was a cup of white asparagus cream soup with crispy orange and pistachio.  This was pretty nice, with additional ingredients providing a pick-up to the subtle flavors of the asparagus.

Gillardeau oyster, pink radish with horseradish and parsley water served with 2 wild caviar - Sevruga and Osetra - Gillardeau is my favorite oyster, and the flavors were so nicely balanced between the sweetness, creaminess and a little bit of brine.  The Osetra caviar packed so much flavor in such a small serving... Wow!

Duck foie gras, pan seared with ginger, Lebanese tabouleh & watermelon with Coleman's mustard - the foie was absolutely perfect.  Lightly seared on the outside and the entire block was so soft and wobbly as I tried to cut into it.  The tablouleh was an interesting touch, and the watermelon added an interesting sweet and refreshing element to the dish.  One of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Roasted langoustine with Colonnata, roasted almonds avocado and green asparagus - slightly disappointing.  The flavors here all worked together, from the nicely roasted almonds to the asparagus, avocado, pear and the thin slivers of lardo di Colonnata - one of my favorite things to buy at a deli counter.  But the problem was with the langoustine...it was juicy, a little mushy and almost liquid in some parts...leading me to wonder about the freshness.  Given that air shipments from Europe has only resumed in the last day or two, I guess this may be from an earlier shipment before the volcano eruption?

Atlantic scallops, creamy potato with sherry wine and seaweed, baby leek with mustard and smoked milk foam - very nicely done... lightly seared on the outside and still fresh on the inside.  The creamy potato was very yummy, and the crunchy seaweed was interesting.

Roasted veal sweetbread, with espelette pepper, red apple confit with reduce farm cider, crab meat, baby spinach and green olive - very creamy and nice.  Interesting pairing with the crab meat...and the apple confit was really nice.

Pink Champagne granite, tomato jelly and prawn Obsiblue served cold with a cocktail sauce - the granite was probably my least favorite part of the meal... The combination of the Champagne and savory tomato jelly just tasted a little bitter in the mouth...  Not a fan.

The Obsiblue prawn was pretty decent, but I'm not sure I appreciate it being served with cocktail sauce, even though it's served in similar fashion around the world...

Pigeon Mieral, couscous, piquillos, foie gras, sultana and crispy curry - this was very, very nice.  The pigeon was definitely very gamey, just the way I like it.  The foie was battered and deep-fried, which is kinda weird and interesting.  The white sticks are made with curry and sweet at the same time, which kinda screwed with my head.  But the combination worked, and I liked it a lot.  I also got a slice of goat cheese, which I ate after the pigeon.

Just like at Pierre, St. George's kitchen also sends out multiple desserts in waves.  There was a pre-dessert of citron sorbet, which was really interesting as they used chili powder to make it really spicy.  I think it went far beyond waking up my palate, it kinda killed it for a while...

Rose ice cream with wild berries and raspberries - this was pretty nice...the rose flavor wasn't overpowering, and I just loooove wild strawberries...

Pistachio custard with sago - now this was interesting...the roasted pistachios were really fragrant, and once you add in the pomelo pulp and candied pomelo rind, it almost feels like a pistachio flavored 楊枝甘露...

Vanilla cream with coffee granite - pretty tasty and reminds me of the taste of affogato.

Chocolate-covered pop rocks - what is it with people making desserts out of pop rocks these days?

Hot chocolate - nice and yummy with orange and cinnamon.

Finally, the petits-fours which included a nice little marzipan and white truffle macaron.

I brought two bottles of wine tonight, expecting to be charged HKD 350 per bottle for corkage.  I was informed that it had been raised to HKD 500 a few months ago.  Huh?  Raising the corkage and you've only been open for a few months?  WTF...

I handed the two bottles to a waitress, instructing her to open both, chill the white and decant the red.  Twenty minutes later, the head waiter approached me and asked whether it would be time to open the bottle of white.  Huh?  Shouldn't it have been opened when I arrived?

2000 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne - elegant nose of flint, toast, white flowers, tangerine and sweet corn, with the sweetness dominating after a while.  Medium to high acidity on the palate.  Very nice.

2005 Mugnier Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos e la Marechale - I was a little playful and wanted to drink a NSG at night in a place called St. George... unfortunately this wine really disappointed, and was nothing like what I had last year with the winemaker.  Nose was very muted, with a little sous bois but basically it never opened up.  Very smooth on the palate, almost a little flat.

I thought the food here was excellent.  My friends were right - Philippe has only gotten better after leaving Pierre.  But months after opening, the service still needs a lot of work. 10 minutes after sitting down, no one had come to ask if we wanted any water.  The local staff really don't speak English well, and couldn't distinguish between citron/Sichuan and pistachio/prosciutto.  And what's with dimming the lights after 10pm?  I could barely see my food...and the freezing air conditioning... were they trying to kick us out?

Regardless of how good the food is, a restaurant needs to provide good and friendly service so that customers would think about going back.  For the price that I was paying, I expected 5-star hotel service but definitely didn't get it.  I hope the people at Aqua can fix that, or it's back to hotel dining for me again...

April 23, 2010

Delicious, but too rich for my blood

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Following a long lunch and a few more bottles of wine in the office, I rolled into Café Gray Deluxe for my first dinner here.  Gray Kunz's reputation precedes him, and this place marks his return to Hong Kong after along absence.

I was happy about our table arrangement, as the structure of the building created a number of private dining areas each housing a single table.  However, the downside was that we sat directly across from the elongated open kitchen, and we were bombarded with the different smells throughout dinner.  This was really distracting, and detracted from our dining experience.

I started with saffron pasta fiore, tomatoes and lemon thyme.  What came in the plate in front of me wasn't what I expected at all...I was expected something relatively light, but what I got was creamier and heavier than just tomato sauce.  It wasn't bad, but I had wanted a lighter starter.

We ordered the 2007 Robert Weil Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken from the wine list in order to waive the corkage charge on the other bottle.  Classic nose of minerals and a little plastic, with a hint of white flowers and oak.  Being a halbtrocken, it was reasonably dry on the palate.

I took the glazed iberico pork chop, morels, spring onions and baby greens as my main course as it was the only thing that jumped out at me from the small menu.  It tasted pretty damn good.  You can't go wrong with pork fat, and parts of the pork chop were definitely very tasty and succulent.  But I felt that it was a little overcooked, and the parts without fat came out a little tough.  It wasn't totally dry, but just could have been juicier.  The exterior was nice and crispy.  The bed of veggies at the bottom was absolutely delicious, but why did they have to use so much cream?!  Putting creamed vegetables with a fatty pork chop was just overkill.  In terms of taste the dish was a winner, but it felt like I shoved a brick into my stomach...

I brought along a bottle of 1997 Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir, which actually drank pretty well.  The nose was pretty sweet, with medium body and a slightly acidic finish.  The Etude Pinot was always gonna be a little lighter than some of the other Californian offerings, but there's nothing wrong with being elegant!

I was kinda full but loathed the thought of leaving without having tasted dessert, since I'd been told that the pastry chef was pretty talented.  I ended up taking the Oreo crusted key lime tart, whipped cream.  Visually it wasn't what I expected at all... The thin Oreo crust was at the bottom, topped by a layer of key lime cream and a thin disc of caramelized sugar on top.  Texture-wise it felt more like crème brûlée.  Thankfully the portion was small, and there wasn't too much whipped cream on top.  The lime-flavored sauce was also very nice, and the acidity of the whole thing helped balance out the rather heavy meal.

So I finally came to taste Gray Kunz's creations, but I walked away from a strange feeling. I had expected heavy use of Asian ingredients and light touches, but found the meal to be heavier than most of the high-end French meals I have had in town.  I did not taste these, but my friends complained about how heavy the vegetable sides were.  The heavy use of cream just screamed "American", and not the modern, contemporary American that I'd grown accustomed to, either.  This will probably end up being another one of those places where I won't find myself returning to...not because anything was horribly wrong, but because it just isn't my cup of tea.

Precious French ingredients

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It's been a while since our last Lunch Club meeting, and we decided to revisit Caprice.  The volcano eruption in Iceland has made its effect felt throughout the world.  As a consequence of the disruption to air traffic in Europe, it meant that the supply of European and French ingredients was temporarily cut off.  We made the lunch reservation early in the week, and had to rely on our contacts in the kitchen to ensure that some of the items in stock would be reserved for our little gathering.

The amuse bouche was refreshingly delightful.  Parma ham and tomato concassé with mozzarella on top.  The saltiness of the Parma ham dominated, somewhat tempered by the tomatoes - which were cold and refreshing on a warm day.  The mozzarella was liquid and cream-like with a very grainy texture, and the basil coulis on top completed the insalata Caprese.

Langoustine ravioli, veal sweetbreads, chanterelle mushrooms in shellfish bisque emulsion - I loved this dish the first time I had it, and apparently this is the dish which earned Caprice its third Michelin star.  The fat and juicy langoustine was very delish, and the sweetbread was nice and creamy.  The shellfish bisque was so good that I actually told my fellow diners that I was thinking about licking the bowl...without using the bread to soak it up as I didn't want anything to detract from the taste.

Challans duck fillet cuit au plat, duck leg pastilla, young carrot and aromatic pearl barley - I shared the duck with the male elf, and it was such a pretty dish!  The duck was so pink and juicy...with some jus on the side, and sat on top of carrot purée.  The pearl barley was firm and bouncy to the bite, with candied cherries and orange peel (or was it clementine?) which made the whole thing almost a little sweet.  Yum!

The other part of the dish was the pastilla - very mini and cute, yet delivers so much!  The moment I cut it open, the aroma of the spices emerged to greet me.  The shredded duck confit was really nice with a touch of mint.  I told Chef Vincent that next time I'd like him to make me a giant version...

I also had a bite of the Racan pigeon en croûte, nori seaweed, foie gras, broad bean and artichoke fricassée, which I'd really enjoyed on my last visit.  I still think this is an awesome dish...

I brought a bottle of 2002 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard to match the birds.  Bernard the sommelier was smart enough to suggest chilling the decanter, which brought the wine to its ideal serving temperature.  It drank beautifully.  The nose was very open, gorgeous, fruity, a little bit sweet at first, with caramel, mint, Asian spices and pine needle.  As time went on the sweetness became more and more prominent.  I must savor my remaining bottles...

Next came the cheese...since they know we all love it so much.  A plate of seven was laid out in front of us, and we were in heaven.  The resident Froggie even raised her arms and croaked "Yessss!!!"

Coulommiers - this cousin of Brie was salty, and smelled a little like green peas.  The rind had a heavy taste of ammonia.

Abbaye de Cîteaux - made by the Trappist monks at the L'Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Cîteaux.

Laurentine - this goat cheese with bay leaves was very nutty, salty with slight acidity on the palate.  Sooo creamy...

Bonde de Gâtine - I love this cheese...lots of ash on the outside, and the taste was acidic and salty at the same time, with creamy texture.

Comté, 4 years old - yummmmmmm...... pretty salty but there was still a hint of sweetness.  Needless to say it paired incredibly well with the 1999 Château Chalon, which had a nose of straw, sweet grass and oxidation in general.  The combination of the two in my mouth resulted in very pronounced flavors of sweet corn.

Cabri Ariégeois - one of the Froggie's favorite cheese... basically goat milk Mont d'Or... pretty stinky, runny and just totally awesome.  Later in the evening, I found that one of my friends has a family retreat in Ariège... must. go. visit.

Fourme d'Ambert - this was such a nice blue... I could taste a touch of sweetness among the salty flavors.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I was devastated to find out that the remainder of their wild strawberries had spoiled, and that we wouldn't be able to have those wonderful berries.  So I settled for the red berry and bourbon vanilla millefeuille, yoghurt and lemon sorbet.  Berry millefeuille is always good here, and to avoid squeezing all the cream out I decided to use my knife and karate-chop the pastry... Haiiiii Yah!

I also had a bite of the tropical coconut tiramisu, exotic fruit minestrone and pabana sorbet.  This was awesome.  You get mango, pineapple and coconut all in one bite... kinda like a piña colada.  Perfect for warm weather.

Finally, we got to the petits-fours...and my eyes opened wide at the sight of canelés.  I loooooove these little things, and swallowed it in one bite.  The orange and guava jelly was superb as usual.

It was a really awesome lunch, I'm glad we kept it "light" - I vetoed the addition of a pork belly course - since I still had a dinner to go to tonight!

April 22, 2010

The roast goose taste test

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One of the topics that's been discussed ad nauseum is the roast goose at Yung Kee (鏞記酒家).  The goose has a reputation many feel is no longer justified today, yet loads of tourists and long-time customers still flock to the restaurant for it. 

My office is just up the street from the restaurant, yet I found myself having patronized it only once in the 4 months that I've been here.  Meanwhile we've been getting our roast meats elsewhere - in particular roast goose from Yat Lok Restaurant (一樂食舘) on neighboring Stanley Street.  I've always really loved their roast goose drumstick with thick rice flour noodle soup (燒鵝脾瀨粉), and we've always felt that the goose here would give Yung Kee a run for its money.

For lunch today we decided to do a taste test.  I bought a quarter goose (bottom, with drumstick) from Yung Kee, and a standard portion (例牌) of goose from Yat Lok.  There was also an order of char siu (叉燒) and choy sum (菜心) from Yung Kee.  I laid the food out on our conference room table and we dug in.

As we expected, we still preferred the goose from Yat Lok.  While Yung Kee gave us bottles of their nice home made gravy and plum sauce, the goose itself just wasn't as good.  I thought Yat Lok - or whoever they source from - had done a better job roasting, which was all the more apparent when it comes to the drumstick.  They also seasoned it a little more and the meat had more flavor.  By comparison the meat from the Yung Kee goose was a little more bland.  It's still a decent roast goose, but just doesn't measure up.

So there you have it.  Totally subjective, and the opinions of a couple of amateurs.  But for me, I'd always rather go to the hole-in-the-wall nearby rather than the overrated establishment.

April 20, 2010

Yet ANOTHER fake from China

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News surfaced over the last couple of days about yet another fake/copied product out of China, although this time I'm not sure it was done with the full knowledge and blessing of the officials.  I'm talking about the theme song to the 2010 Shanghai Expo - 2010等你來.

The song was supposedly rolled out to count down the last 30 days before the start of the Expo, and the video featured well-known celebrities such as Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, Andy Lau, Lang Lang and others.  The composer of the song is Miao Sen (繆森).  There was an earlier controversy where some members of the public questioned the similarity of the song to Welcome to Beijing (北京歡迎您), the song used for the 100-day countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Mou refuted that claim, saying he composed the song back in 2004, way before the Olympics.

Now it has come to light that the song is basically a copy of Sonno Mama No Kimi De Ite (そのままの君でいて), originally released in 1997 by Okamoto Mayo (岡本真夜).  There is enough similarity between the two songs to cause real embarrassment to the authorities, who have stopped using the song and removed it from the official website.

I've attached a video on YouTube, where someone has done a composite to show the similarities.  I invite you to see for yourself.

This is yet another egg on China's face, and will no doubt raise more questions about the authenticity of things coming out of China.  In the age where some Koreans seem to claim as their own everything/everyone from Confucius to Qu Yuan (屈原), the figure behind the origins of the Dragonboat/Tung Ng/Duan Wu Festival (端午節), this is the last thing we need...

April 17, 2010

Sausage fest

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Once again a group of us reconvened in a house in the boonies, for a day of home cooking and non-stop eating.  It was sausage day today, and we would be making three different types of sausages.

I arrived in time to sit down for a bowl of Korean dumplings and rice cakes in soup.  Very yummy, and light enough to prepare us for what was ahead.  There was of course plenty of kimchi, with two batches having been aged for different lengths of time.

Then we got down to business... three separate batches of stuffing were being prepared.  First was the Italian sausage, with fennel seeds and peppers.  I started the film the process of the first team stuffing the sausage casing, with the male elf carefully (or was it lovingly?) massaging and stroking the ever-growing sausage.

Having cleaned the stuffer, a second batch was loaded in - this time with filling that included diced kimchi and chili pepper flakes for the kimchi sausage.  The male elf relinquished his place to someone new, who kinda flipped out and yelped at the sight of the protruding and growing mass.

A little while later, bags of coagulated pig's blood were broken out and mixed into the bowl with steamed rice and vermicelli.  This would form the contents of the soondae (순대), the Korean blood sausage that I love so much.  The casing was checked for leakage, but it was something that we had to live with.  Our most experienced team quickly realized that using the stuffer was going to be impossible on this one, and a piping bag was brought out to do the job.  The soondae came out shorter, without linking, and were quickly put into hot water bath or steamer to make sure the blood becomes solid and fuses with the other ingredients.

As we started to get hungry in the afternoon, the soondae was sliced up and eaten as snack with the usual dip of salt, chili pepper and green pepper powder.  I must say that this was better than any soondae I've had in Korean restaurants in Hong Kong.

We all helped with the preparation of the other dishes for dinner.  Shortly before sun down, we moved the party up on the roof and ended up dining in the middle of our host's real-life FarmVille.  Our grill chef quickly went to work and grilled up the sausages as well as lots of kalbi.  At the end of the meal, the pork neck was brought out and put on the grill also.

There was, of course, way too much food to go around.  We started with a dip of eggplant caviar - à la Robuchon - on thin slices of Robuchon baguette.  This was way better than any baba ghanoush I've ever had.  The Moroccan carrot pavé was nice and refreshing, with the taste of orange blossom water and a touch of coriander.  The gnudi was interesting... while it's meant to be like gnocchi, it tasted more like a buttermilk biscuit with a very moist and wet center.  Céleri-rave rémoulade, cherry tomatoes, and greens picked from pots right next to us (including chrysanthemum greens) rounded out the cold side of things.

We also had quinoa with braised fennel, thyme & toasted almonds; very yummy chapchae;  and a salad of asparagus, peas, and fingerling potatoes.  The skins on the peas were removed by hand through group effort, and the elves - aka Sous-Vide Monsters - put the asparagus under a human vacuum and cooked them sous-vide.

We were stuffed and done with dinner pretty early, and went back downstairs to digest.  It would take us another three hours before we moved on to desserts.  The two batches of caramel corn donuts were both yummy, but I preferred the second batch with the sugar on the outside instead of the caramel.  The apple pie came out pretty late, baked with Granny Smiths and served with homemade caramel ice cream.  We also had two different cakes brought in by air: a pandan chiffon cake from Bengawan Solo as well as a red bean, pine nut and mochi cake (松子玉露) from I-lan Cake (宜蘭餅).

I managed to polish off a few bottles of wine, too... The 2006 Grosset Chardonnay Piccadilly wasn't bad; the 2006 Mollydooker Shiraz Blue Eyed Boy drank pretty well, maybe because I was doing the Mollydooker shake... The Henri Bonneau Les Rouliers was  nothing to write home about, but then again it IS a vin de table...

We went home very late, with our stomachs still full and wondering when we will get hungry again...

April 16, 2010

You win some, you lose some

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It's been a while since I met up with this particular couple, and we decided to go to Wagyu Kaiseki Den since they are "members" with a stash of wagyu at the establishment.  I was happy to be back, as it's been 2 months since my last visit and the menu has changed.

前付: Kagoshima gyu, takenoko, taranome with sesame sauce and torigai, urui-apple jelly - in the cup, the jelly was acidic and pretty interesting, with some young Hosta leaves (ウルイ).  The cockles (鳥貝) were alright.  What's outside was more interesting... beef was yummy with the sesame sauce, and the bamboo shoots (筍) was very fresh and nice.  The use of Japanese Angelica shoots (たらの芽) were also interesting.

八寸:shiro asupara, shirauo-tamago, five color yasai maki, soramame, negitoro sushi w caviar, hotaru ika, uni tofu - the soup of white asparagus was bland.  The firefly squid (蛍烏賊) was very, very nice...fresh and full of inky flavor...wish I had a half-dozen of these.  The sushi (ネギトロ鮨) was ok.  The uni tofu was very nice...the texture of the tofu matched the uni well, and the sea urchin itself was fresh and sweet.  The icefish (白魚) and egg roll was OK, but the veggie roll was better.

椀物: ebi shinjo and tai shirako clear soup, nanohana, yuzu - I can't believe I actually ate the shirako (白子), something which is at the top of the small list of things I don't eat...  but I will admit that the little dollop of poached red snapper sperm was very creamy and flavorful.  The ball of shrimp paste was not bad.  Two sprigs of rapeseed flower and some shavings of yuzu skin complete the soup.

造り:chef's selection sashimi - the slices of abalone were pretty nice...very tender.  I didn't have the tuna.  The young yellowtail (はまち) was OK.

箸休:Japanese tomato and hawasabi - the small tomatoes were very ripe and sweet, but the horseradish leaf was a little bland...

進肴:lobster, kabu, takenoko, seri tempura with truffle sauce - the turnip (蕪) tempura was very interesting as it was still juicy inside.  The slice of bamboo shoot was OK, as was the Japanese parsley.  The lobster was very, very yummy with the black truffle sauce.  What a great dish!

蒸物:sakura tai-chasoba mushi, tororoimo, kogomi oroshi-an, yuzukosho - this thing totally destroyed my palate, thanks to the spicy yuzu-flavored pepper.  The mash of the Japanese yamaimo thickened the soup.

主菜:charcoal grilled wagyu - four pieces of fatty, very yummy wagyu sirloin... doesn't get much better than this.

Once again we had the awesome wagyu sandwich, with thin slices of beef along with diced tomatoes in between two pieces of milky Japanese toast.  I'd be happy just to make a meal out of this thing...  Wish they'd make this available for lunch takeout!

雲丹,松葉かにとエンド豆土鍋ご飯 - we were offered the choice of black truffle rice again, but I declined as it's past the best season for black truffles.  The rice with sea urchin and crab is always nice, and you can really taste the sweet and savory flavors of the crab.  I had two and a half bowls...

Dessert was a simple mochi with muscovado syrup (黒蜜).  Classic and nice.

I brought two bottles of wine for the evening.  We started with the 2003 Penfolds Yattarna, their top-of-the-line Chardonnay.  I've never had this wine before, and it was such a pleasant surprise!  My friend thought it was a white Burgundy... nose of minerals, ripe and sweet grass, sweet butter, flint and citrus.  Great acidity balance.  What a beautiful wine!  Interestingly, with the inky flavors of the firefly squid in my mouth, the wine turned very ripe and oxidized...the acidity completely disappeared.

I brought a second bottle as backup, and my friend couldn't resist opening it.  The 1996 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin turned out to be a big disappointment.  To be honest we probably didn't decant it long enough, but still... The first whiff smelled of manure, and the high acidity was immediately apparent.  The nose continued to be a little funky, gradually normalizing to reveal just the fruit with time, even with a little eucalyptus.  Acidity was high throughout.  Not a pleasure to drink at all.  I bought the bottle from Winebid.com at what I thought were very reasonable prices for a wine of this level and vintage, and the condition of the bottle seemed perfect.  Oh well...

I was very, very full...and pretty buzzed since I started the evening with some wine in the office.  We must do this again sometime...


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