July 30, 2010

The Kimberley Pig

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It has been way too long (13 months for me)... many of us have missed it dearly; a few had never made its acquaintance.  So it was that I became responsible for gathering the troops for a trip across Hong Kong Harbor, to visit the pig.  The Kimberley Pig.  My friend Susan felt completely justified to refer to it as a proper noun.  She loves it that much.  So do I.

I had trekked over to the Kimberley Restaurant (君怡閣) earlier in the week to put down a deposit for the pig, as well as pre-ordering a few dishes.  I arrived tonight to find that the restaurant had given us a large private room, so we were sure to be comfortable.  Our neighbors in the adjoining room seemed to be making themselves comfortable, too... Not sure what they were up to but there were recurring shouts (of joy, no doubt) accompanied by the occasional shove against the partition wall between the rooms...

I ordered a few small dishes to start with while waiting for the last group to free themselves of traffic.  There was a request for marinated jellyfish (海蜇皮), which was paired with cucumbers marinated with garlic.  That was pretty good.  At least you know they bothered to marinate the cucumbers for a little bit instead of just pouring sesame oil and vinegar on top 5 minutes before serving.

I've always loved the braised pig trotters (鹵水豬腳), and ordered them again tonight.  Not bad, but I can see that the group was saving space for the rest of the feast.

For the little lady who celebrated her birthday here last year, I also ordered the deep-fried salmon skin since she loved it so much.  She used to much on them like crackers, and they were pretty light and yummy.  Alas, she ran out of juice after her playdate today, and ended up going home with daddy without dinner...

Because it was so popular at our last dinner here together, the clear ox bone soup (清燉牛骨湯) made an encore appearance.  The soup tonight seemed a little darker in color, but no less impressive in terms of sheer size or taste.  It's not everyday that one gets to gnaw on bones this size.  The ladies noticed immediately that they received different parts of the bone from the guys... they got more collagen, which is something they weren't going to complain about!  The soup was definitely tasty, although the flavors were a little heavier compared to last time.  The radish and spring onions provided the "greens" for the dish.

The prawns are usually pretty good here, and tonight we had them done two different ways:  pan-fried with white pepper (白胡椒煎中蝦) and pan-fried in soy sauce (頭抽煎中蝦).  I kinda liked them both, although they were served too early and were getting cold by the time I was done with my soup.

The baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) also came too early, and were left on the table cooling off while we were still trying to finish the soup.  It was decent - not terrible, but definitely a few levels below what you'd get at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) or even Summer Palace (夏宮).  The top was more cheese than breadcrumbs, and there were mushrooms and leeks inside.

Finally it was the main event.  The Kimberley Pig (金陵全豬烤金苗) was rolled in, and we rushed to snap pictures before the waiter picked up his cleaver.  I decided to snap one from behind, since I had taken pictures of the pig from so many other angles.  A nice little peek underneath the little tail...  The 30-day old piglet went to heaven so we could have a little slice of it... heaven, that is.  I was beaten by the soup, so only partook in one slice.

The salt-baked chicken (鹽焗雞) came but I was already too stuffed.  I had a little bit of it.  Not outstanding, but decent.

The water spinach stir-fried in garlic (蒜茸炒通菜) was a wonderful surprise.  The restaurant decided to deep-fried some of the garlic, then mix it in with fresh garlic while frying the veggie.  The result was stunning, and a real surprise for such a simple dish.

I decided to order 3 desserts as we needed to meet the minimum charge for the room.  The osmanthus jelly (桂花糕) was way better than what we got last week at Ming Court (明閣) - at least these were soft and melted in my mouth. There were wolfberries as well as diced bits of canned peaches and pears.  The deep-fried egg cuillers (蛋散) never disappoints me, as they always do a good job of getting it just right - light and fluffy.

Yes, my dear Froggie, this was the "mother of all ma lai gao"! The steamed sponge cake (馬拉糕) came in a big bamboo basket.  We were all oohing and aahing over the thing...  The waiter cut wedges out of it and served each of us in turn, and we were impressed by its consistency - light and fluffy, and it didn't collapse after exposure to cold air.  Very delicate flavors.

I brought 3 bottles of simple wines for this casual evening.  The 2007 Rex Hill Pinot Gris was always gonna be an easy-drinking wine. Nose of green apple, minerals, floral and fragrant.  Pretty smooth and went down well.  Definitely a food wine.

The 2008 Burge Family Shiraz Rosé was something special I tasted last year in front of winemaker Rick Burge, and I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to taste it again.   I was surprised by the pungent nose that reminded me of pipi de chat, but looking at my tasting notes from last year I realized it had been there, too.  There were lots of polyphenols present, and bore a strong resemblance to the mangosteen juice that I buy from the supermarket made from the purple rind.  Other than that there were notes of minerals and flint, as well as blackcurrants.  Still one of the best rosés I've had.

Finally we got to the 2001 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Precious Mountain Vineyard.  This was very fruity, minty and a little alcoholic on the nose.  Concentrated on the palate, with notes of sweet candy and potpourri.  Not bad at all.

There was so much food we left with lots of containers.  It made for a very good supper for someone, and I hope that the left over sponge cake tastes good the next morning!

Unaffordable Hong Kong

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The South China Morning Post published an article today titled "Small flats, big prices, bigger disappointment".  I found it interesting as I'd been having some discussions on the very issue highlighted here - the ridiculously high cost of home ownership in Hong Kong.

Of course, Hong Kong's always been an expensive place to live, ever since I stepped off the plane 15 years ago and found it to be New York on speed/steroids.  Rental yields have traditionally been low, so it made sense for many to rent instead of buying their own place.  But then again, this is Asia.  Buying property is something that's ingrained into the Asian psyche, and as I've learned over the years, in the long run you just can't go wrong with being long real estate in Asia...

I bought a place in Taipei at the beginning of this year.  Property prices in Taipei, too, have steadily risen over the years, and new developments in the city center are now trading at levels that used to be considered top-end luxury prices.  As a long-term value play, I decided to go just across the river from Taipei city limits and picked a reasonably high unit in a brand new river front high-rise.

Mention Sanchung (三重) and the reaction you're likely to get from people tend to fall on the negative side of things, thanks to the checkered past of some of its residents.  These days, however, Taipei County - or rather the New Taipei City (新北市) - is considered somewhat up-and-coming.  My development is the tallest high rise in the area, situated on the river front in between two bridges connecting me to the downtown area near Ximending (西門町) and Taipei Station (台北車站) just across the river, which are 5 minutes away by car.

So, I'm on a high floor in a brand new building, with an unobstructed river front view, and 5 minutes away from downtown by car.  How much did I pay for my new nest / pied-à-terre?  About HKD 2,700 psf gross, or HKD 3,800 psf saleable.  That's easily 50% less than what I would pay if I had chosen something in the city center instead.

And what would that money buy me in Hong Kong these days?  To compare like-for-like, we should only look at new developments.  The SCMP article lists a number of new projects all over Hong Kong along with their current market prices.  To be fair, the article focuses on the smallest unit within each project - which may skew the psf number slightly upwards - but it still gives us a ballpark figure.

The most upmarket development covered in the article was Island Crest in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤).  Of course developer Kerry Properties tried to make it more upmarket by saying it's in Western Mid-Levels, even though it's only one street up from Queen's Road West...  Anyway, the reported price psf of saleable area is around HKD 20,000 (mid price) for the smallest unit, pricing it just under a cool USD 1 million for an apartment with gross area of 500 sq ft...  When I arrived in Hong Kong 15 years ago, that was the price for a 1,000-sq ft apartment in Hillsborough Court on Old Peak Road on the secondary market after 2 years!

The cheapest development, which generated a lot of attention when it was launched earlier this year, was YOHO Midtown in Yuen Long (元朗).  The mid price for the smallest unit is priced around HKD 9,000 psf saleable, and that's waaaay out in the boonies!  We're talking about somewhere that's 5 minutes by car from Shenzhen Bay, not 5 minutes from downtown!

I never expected Hong Kong prices to be "reasonable" and comparable to Taipei, but guess what?  With what I paid in Taipei, I can't even buy a new place in Yuen Long...which means there's no place in Hong Kong I can afford at that price.  I'd have to cross the border to live in Shenzhen.

I had lunch with the CFO of a Hong Kong property developer 3 years ago, and at that time he was lamenting about how the white-collar workers were being priced out of the housing market.  A couple earning a combined salary of HKD 100,000 a month could barely afford the mortgage on a 1,000-sq ft apartment worth HKD 10 million on the secondary market.  Prices have only gone one way since then... I guess the trend is irreversible until we stop seeing a big gush of money pouring into Hong Kong from mainland China...

July 28, 2010

40 x 3

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It's the third birthday dinner for the gang of 40, and like last time we assembled at Cipriani.  It's good to see the gang getting used to another restaurant...

It was pissing rain tonight with that black rainstorm warning, and a bunch of people were very late.  Those of us who arrived on time started sipping the magnum of 1996 Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot I carried over.  I had popped the cork in the office, but without decanting there was simply not enough aeration, so initially the wine was closed and a little acidic.  It gradually opened up and put on weight, revealing a farmy nose with mushrooms, herbs, some floral notes and eventually the fruit emerged.  Light and smooth on the palate, and acidity kinda faded with time.  I didn't have a lot of expectations for this wine, but it turned out reasonably OK.

For a dinner where I'm drinking red, I totally ordered the wrong dishes...  I guess I just couldn't pass up the specials for the day.  My starter was grilled seppeolini with arugula. My mind immediately flashed back to a lunch last year where I had these delicious squids deep-fried... and they were really yummy.  Of course, grilling means the squids are not as fragrant as having them deep-fried, but you get more of the fresh flavors of the sea.  The simple cherry tomatoes and arugula were pretty nice.

The other special I took as my main course was tagliolini with gambero rosso and thyme.    I can't pass up any gambero rosso at an Italian restaurant, and in any case I was curious to see how it compared with the other ones I've had in town.  I place it somewhere just below the one I had at Tuscany by H, and about on par with what Da Domenico offers.  The pasta itself was just perfect, and the prawns... oh boy!  I was sucking on the heads with all my might, since what was inside was like manna from heaven.  I wish I could have been able to eat another plate of this...

I also had a small piece of Kagoshima wagyu , which was nice, fatty and succulent.

I definitely had too much to eat, so like everyone else I passed on dessert.  Not a bad evening, especially since the guy who arrived late paid the bill!

July 25, 2010

Fat duck

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I crashed a dinner party tonight.  My friend was cooking dinner and posted the menu on Facebook.  Out of pure playfulness I added a comment and asked where my invitation was, which my friend took seriously and promptly invited me to dinner.  Not wanting to turn down her invitation, I sheepishly accepted.  Thankfully it was a small and casual dinner, so the menu was pretty simple. 

The host poured me some Zoémie De Sousa Brut Merveille NV to start.  I've always liked De Sousa's Champagnes, and this was just lovely to drink.

To be honest, I came for the duck confit.  It's one of my favorite dishes of all time, and I simply couldn't turn down a homemade version.  My penchant for (animal) fat is well-known (and documented!), so my friends would be surprised to know that I actually cut out some of that fat from the duck... My piece of leg was actually too fatty, even for me.  But the skin, of course, was heavenly... crispy after being fried in the lovely duck fat... The best thing was that my friend had chosen not to over-season the duck, so it was mild and not too heavy on the salt.

There were also some confit duck hearts and gizzards, but needless to say the Brits weren't having any of it... so the Chinese happily gobbled them up!

I brought a bottle of 2004 Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes to go with the duck.  2004 wasn't a stellar vintage, but I suspected it would be drinking well now.  Very classic Burgundian nose, with lots of sweet fruit and herbs, as well as some floral notes.  Not too shabby.

I normally don't eat a lot of potatoes other than fries and the occasional serving of Robuchon's mash, but the potatoes dauphinoise looked pretty attractive and I couldn't just leave it on the plate.  Yum...

The sautéed broccoli rabe and haricots verts in vinaigrette were refreshing, acting as a balance for all the fatty (but yummy) stuff.

I moved on to the 2006 Greenock Creek Shiraz Apricot Block.  I had expected a big wine, which is why I drank the Ponsot first, but I was shocked to see the numbers "18.5%" printed on the back label, under the words "Special Late Harvest".  It had all the markings of a good Aussie Shiraz: lots of sweet fruit, vanilla, oak, coconut oil... then your nosehairs get singed by the alcohol.    I was getting a headache and there was no doubt as to the reason...

My hostess brought out the lovely plum-almond torte.  I restrained myself and only had one slice.  The texture was soft, fluffy, and I loved the almond flavor.  My hostess insisted on sending me home with an extra slice...

Finally there was a plate of chocolate chip cookies, which were oh-so-good...  What a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening!

July 24, 2010

Muddy waters

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I joined a group of chefs and foodies for dinner tonight at Ming Court (明閣), the Michelin 2-star restaurant.  I had never been here due to its location, but figured I'd check it out after its promotion from 1 to 2 stars.  The menu was preset ahead of time, including a few special requests.

Chilled bean curd sheet with shredded duck meat in chili sauce (井岡山腐皮火鴨絲) - definitely pretty yummy.  The shredded duck was very tasty with just the right amount of spiciness, and a very nice bite.  What a great way to start the meal.

July 22, 2010

Alcoholic Californians

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A couple of friend and I got together for a casual dinner so we could open some wines.  They had just returned from a trip to California and wanted to show me some of their purchases, and I promised to bring something interesting to match.  We couldn't figure out where to go, so the executive decision was made to stop by the Press Room.

My friends ordered some oysters and conch, but I wasn't in the mood for them.  Instead I dove into the French charcuterie platter, which was actually a lot of meat.  The chargrilled toulouse sausage was not bad, while the chargrilled merguez sausage was a little more flavorful.  The duck rillettes were nice, and the saucisson de Lyon was very yummy.  Smoked duck magret was not bad, the pâté de campagne decent, and the ox tongue was delicious but I could do without the salsa verde

I also ordered frisée aux lardons with smoked bacon, croutons and poached egg.  I guess I like this once in a while as an alternative to the Caesar salad.  Love those lardons...

We shared a grilled asparagus salad, which was not bad.  Need some greens to balance out all the meat we're chowing down.

We needed a meat dish to go with the big wines, and ended up getting the wagyu rump despite some initial hesitations.  I don't eat a lot of steak, and like with other foods I'm always looking for different (and interesting) cuts of meat.  We asked for medium rare, but what we got was definitely not medium rare... it was most certainly done, if not well-done. I think my friends had maybe 1 or 2 pieces in the middle that were still a little pink, but what I had was a little tough - and it's not because of the cut of meat.  The dish came with two big tomatoes, a bunch of haricots verts, and portobello mushrooms.  The fries were excellent, and was probably the most enjoyable part of this dish...

I was pretty stuffed so I gave away my portion of the crêpe Suzette.

We drank the three bottles pretty much simultaneously, although I didn't touch the reds until much later myself.  The 2008 Sans Liege Côtes-du-Coast was an interesting blend of the three principal Rhone white varietals - Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  The young wine was incredibly fresh and floral, with minerality, sweetness, tropical fruits that smelled like a piña colada.  It was very ripe and a little hot on the finish, as the back of my throat gets a little singed by the 15.4%.  A very nice wine to drink, and very affordable.

2008 George Vintage VI Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard - this was my third time tasting wines from George, and I really love their wines.  Tons of strawberries, along with some candy, herbs, bacon fat and farmy notes... This was the lightweight of the evening, coming in at 14.1%.

2000 Clos Mimi Syrah Bunny Slope - I love the wines from Clos Mimi, coz they are so out there.  I double-decanted the wine in the office, and it was just opening up after 4 hours, so it wasn't as good as I had hoped.  It was typical of the Californian Syrahs that I tend to buy - really huge nose of iron, rust and minerals on top of the fruit, plus some herbs and pine needles.  This wine comes out swinging at 15%, and as with past experience may actually taste better the next day...

I was pretty drunk - and getting a slight headache - by now, even though I hadn't drunk that much.  Must have been the fact that I've been drinking a lot less lately...  Anyway I stumbled home, only to realize the next morning that I'd left my phone either at the restaurant or in the cab back home...

July 21, 2010

Another free lunch

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I received an email from the people at WOM Guide informing me as the winner in their weekly draw for review submissions.  I have won another free meal, and I now needed to find somewhere to eat within a week and post a review about the meal.  You wanna pay me to eat?!  Oooooohhhhhh yeeeeaaaaaaahhhhh!

A friend had told me about Casa Lisboa, which she preferred over Nino's Cozinha in its current incarnation. Since it's nearby, I thought I'd take my colleague there for lunch.  The place looked pretty nice, with some Portuguese elements such as azulejos.  The owner (who also owns Olé) was in the restaurant along with the very affable manager.

Since I was here to write a review - and with a generous budget for lunch - I decided to forgo the set lunch and order à la carte.  I knew I would have so much food that I'd have to pack it home, but I didn't mind.

Prawns in olive oil with chili and garlic - pretty tasty as this simple dish should be.  The slices of garlic were pan-fried until golden, and I kept munching on slice after slice as I mopped up the olive oil with the bread.  Sure glad I don't have any meetings this afternoon...  My colleague did think that the prawns were not as fresh as they could be, and I nodded in agreement. 

Bacalhao a bras - yes, I do order this dish every time... but it's how I measure the skill of the restaurant.  And today, unfortunately, Casa Lisboa failed the test.  The whole thing was way too soggy, thanks to the wet scrambled eggs.  It was so wet that the thin, crispy strips of potato fries became soggy, and that just ruined the dish for me. 

Arroz de pato - for some reason the rice had the opposite problem of the last dish... it was too dry.  The best duck rice needs to achieve a good balance between being too soggy (where the rice grains become mushy) and too dry (when the rice grains become hard and chewy), and this one was definitely too chewy.  When you dig into it with a spoon, the rice grains fall away from each other and no longer stick together.  Not the right consistency for me.  Otherwise the flavors were good - the bacon and sausage were smoky, and the shredded duck was not bad.

I was too full to have dessert, and enough packed away enough food for dinner...  Thank you, WOM Guide!

July 19, 2010

How to woo your lover with wine

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We got together for another MNSC tasting tonight.  The format was "open", meaning each of us brought a bottle to fit a theme and the evening wasn't scored.  Our current convener paired us up, and asked each of us to bring a bottle to "woo" the other person.

We held the tasting at Summer Palace (夏宮) for the first time, and will most certainly be our last.  Honestly, the only time I've dined here in the last 8 years or so was the Araujo dinner - and I came for the wine, not the food.  I never understood why people liked the food here, and laughed my head off when the Michelin people gave this place 2 stars.

Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - once again this was very, very yummy.  I refrained from using any sauces at the beginning, since the taste of crab meat was good enough by itself.  I could also taste the butter... slurp...

Sautéed prawns and scallops in crispy nest (雀巢海中寳) - honestly very ho-hum.  I had one scallop and one prawn, with lots of celery along with part of the deep-fried dough that made up the nest.

Double-boiled sea whelk soup with US ginseng (花旗參燉螺頭湯) - the smell and taste of ginseng was overpowering.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but our evening was about wine and this would be distracting.  Then there was the whelk... We asked for a menu that would work well with red wines, and we get whelk?!  I accidentally took a sip of  wine after chewing on a piece of the shellfish, and my mouth was filled instantly with that "fishy" taste.  What a disaster!

Pan-fried fillet of tiger garoupa in gravy (燒汁煎老虎斑扒) - WTF?!  Tiger garoupa isn't exactly a cheap fish, and they choose to fillet it and then pan-fried it with batter on the outside?!  Why can't they just steam the damn thing?!  And that sauce... so much sugar I thought it was syrup...  I had joked earlier about my last dinner here being very "gweilo", and here's a perfectly gweilo dish!  I guess this is why the Michelin people like the place...

Braised black mushrooms with seasonal vegetables (北菇扒時蔬) - this was OK.  Mushrooms were nice.

Deep-fried crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - didn't find this memorable, but that might have been thanks to the amount of alcohol I've had by this time...

Braised flat noodles with shredded barbecued pork and ginger (薑蔥叉燒撈粗麵) - we finally blew up, and called the waiter over.  While the scallion and ginger-flavored sauce was tasty, there was no trace of char siu  in any of our bowls...  The waiter subsequently brought us a plate of fatty char siu (半肥瘦叉燒), and the quality of the meat made things even worse...  This pretty much put Summer Palace off our approved list of restaurants.

Forget the food.  The wines this evening were pretty interesting.  We started with a bottle of 2000 Penfolds Yattarna - something I realized I liked a few months ago.  Lots of toasty popcorn, nutty, honey, a little oxidized and some minerals.  The color was kinda deep, and while it wasn't as fresh as some would like it to be, I thought it wasn't bad.

First pair: Pineapple and Dr. Poon

2003 Harlan - Wow!  This was so powerful on the nose.  Lots of minerals, iron/rust, coffee, walnut... Sweet but not overpowering, and a little alcoholic on the nose.  The edges are starting to round out, but it was still tannic on the finish.  Also some exotic spices and tea leaves.  94 points.
Pineapple brought this to woo Dr. Poon, since we all know Dr. Poon to be a (former) enthusiast of top Californian wines.  We think he was trying to send a message for the return of the prodigal son (浪子回頭)...

1982 Le Gay - smoky, definitely more mature than the other wine.  Still kinda alcoholic on the nose with herbs.  Round and delicious on the palate.  93 points.
There was a screwup by Anthony, the so-called "sommelier" of the restaurant.  This wine was brought by Lord Rayas to woo Juliano, and was supposed to be part of the second flight.  When I dropped off my bottle during the day, I suspected that Anthony didn't seem to have a good grip on what we were trying to do here... and sure enough, there was a mix-up.  The gang was pretty livid.  The evening's funniest comment came from Dr. Poon, who remarked that this was likely a message from God, since the Le Gay (a wine we always associated we Pineapple in the past) found its way to him in the end...

Second pair:  Juliano and Lord Rayas

1976 Petrus - notes of plum, spices, sweet with a little soy sauce.  Soft and silky on the palate, and a little floral at the end.  93 points. 
This was the wine Dr. Poon wanted to woo Pineapple with, as it's from his birth year and the only "drinkable" wine from that vintage after trying a few candidates.  Definitely a commendable effort!

1991 Guigal La Landonne - a little "stinky", a little ginseng and medicinal... nose was kinda muted and not really showing much fruit.  Later on there was a little sweetness and toffee.  91 points.  Once again Pineapple and I had completely opposite reactions to a wine.  His wine of the evening was my least favorite...
We all expected Juliano to bring a bottle of Rayas to woo Lord Rayas, but I guess he didn't want to be so predictable...

Last pair: Alexandre and I

1983 Guigal La Mouline - lots of violet, initially a little dusty and dirty.  Nose was a little oxidized and mature, with some ripe fruits.  Really smooth on the palate.  To be honest, this wine performed below my expectations... I thought I'd be blown away by one of my all-time favorite vintages of my favorite wine, but it was not to be...  94 points.
I brought the wine for Alexandre because it was part of the Syrah vs. Shiraz tasting which we did back in 2001.  That dinner saw us pitting the '83 La Mouline against the '83 Grange, and once the La Mouline opened up it completely kicked the behind of the Grange.  That dinner was essentially the start of what would become MNSC...  Even though it's not a Beaucastel, it's still "definitely my shit" as Alexandre said...

1998 Sine Qua Non E-raised - typical of an SQN Syrah, this had tons of iron, minerals and smelled "bloody" on the nose.  Still really alcoholic, with some coffee notes.  Totally up my alley.  Decanted for 8 hours (!) and still going strong...  95 points.
Alexandre brought this for me since the group knows how much I like Californian wines, and Sine Qua Non especially.  He actually bought the bottle from me a few years ago, after our all-Sine Qua Non dinner. 

This was definitely a good evening as far as wines go, and the group thought that the open format was actually a lot of fun.  I actually always felt this format was more fun than our usual "totally blind" tastings...  We'll be doing our next tasting next month, and I am really looking forward to it!

July 16, 2010

A happier birthday banquet

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Hopefully this will be the last dinner connected to my birthday... Anyway, I had dinner with a few friend tonight where I was one of two birthday boys.  Yes, my birthday was actually 3 weeks ago, but we've both been busy...  We met up at Xi Yan Sweets (囍宴 甜·藝).  After my disastrous meal at another branch of the chain 2 months ago, this place would not have been anywhere on my list...but I kept my mouth shut and decided to see how it would go.

Greenhouse tomatoes in wasabi sesame sauce (芥末胡麻醬拌日本溫室蕃茄) - one of only two dishes that tasted good last time, and still tasted good tonight.

Cold tofu with preserved duck's egg and potherb mustard (皮蛋雪菜涼拌凍豆腐) - soooo thankful that we didn't order the other tofu with shrimp and crab relish... Simple is best here.

Dried scallop and choi sum salad with Chinese dressing (瑤柱涼拌油菜花) - not bad.  A very different way to take in this veggie.  But what exactly is "Chinese dressing"?!

Sichuan spicy chicken (招牌口水雞) - the other dish from last time that tasted alright.  Still tasted OK, and we asked for medium spicy.

Shrimps in salted egg yolk and basil satay sauce (金不換沙爹蛋黃蝦) - can't say this was anything special but it's not bad.

Zhenjiang spareribs (密制鎮江骨) - this type of spare rib is always popular... since the sauce is kinda sweet.

Poached radish with baby bean sprouts (浸湯蘿蔔豆苗) - very young bean sprouts were used here, and almost look like radish sprouts (which would have been another funny 親子丼 combo...)  Very refreshing and good for the summer.

Dan dan noodles (招牌擔擔麵) - this was alright.

Since we are at Xi Yan Sweets, we definitely had to order some desserts.  I was already pretty full, but the Okinawa black sugar with glutinous rice balls (沖繩黑糖白子) looked interesting.  Besides the typical red bean sauce and mochi balls, the black sugar did not come in the form of the typical liquid syrup, but was made into cubes of jelly instead.  I really liked that.

I'm glad the meal turned out well.  After all it was supposed to be a "birthday dinner" or sorts.  Very thankful for my friend treating us to the meal.

July 11, 2010

The piglet and the calf

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I'm revisiting L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei tonight for a birthday dinner.  I stopped by after lunch yesterday to drop off the wine, and was surprised to run into a familiar face.  Benoît, who used to be the sommelier at L'Atelier in Hong Kong, stood in front of me and carefully took over the bottle.  He had just started in Taipei, having done a detour in New York for the last few months.  I was glad to see him, as I knew my bottle would be in good hands.

The restaurant was doing good business on a Sunday night, as they were at around 70 percent capacity.  We sat down at the bar, and Benoît came to let me know that the wine was ready and being kept at the right temperature. 

He brought out the bottle of 1971 Camille Giroud Clos de Vougeot and carefully extracted the very old cork.  It came out perfectly, without the need to use a retriever to fish out bits of broken cork.  I was very relieved.  He poured the wine into Riedel Sommelier Burgundy Grand Cru glasses, and I waited for it to open up.  Nose of herbs, forest, a bit of fruit, a little brett, farmy and black olives.  Very light bodied.  More open with the second pour.  Bodied gained a bit more weight but still light.  A little smoky.  Not a fantastic wine but still enjoyable to drink, especially considering that it's been knocked around in my checked-in bag just 2 days ago!

I wanted a lighter meal tonight, so I didn't take the menu découverte like I normally would.  Instead, I chose the menu with slightly fewer courses, and picked my dishes from the smaller list provided.  The reason?  That gorgeous-looking roast suckling pig I see on a spit in the back of the kitchen.  It's not on the menu découverte and I'm sooooo having that!

The amuse bouche was exactly the same like last time - duck foie gras mousse with Parmesan foam on top.  Still pretty nice.

Le maquereau en friture sur un caviar d'aubergine, salade aux herbes - the deep-fried mackerel fillets were pretty tasty, but the bed of eggplant caviar below was the real surprise.  The chef added cumin and mint, making it totally Mediterranean.  Very delish.

Le foie gras en ravioles dans un consommé d'herbes et sa crème pimentée - it's hard to get the true taste of the consommé thanks to all the green strips floating on top.  The raviolis were just awesome, though... Put one in your mouth, bite into it softly, and feel the liquefied foie just ooze out onto your tongue...  Is there anything better than liquid foie?  The crème/mayo with shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子) really wasn't necessary.  Gotta love that eggshell-shaped bowl, though... and the matching bowl for the crème!

Le cochon de lait laqué de miel aux épices, étuvés de petits pois et lardons fumés - this was what I wanted most tonight, and was I a happy camper...  The pork belly was just perfect - the meat was soft and moist, the thick layer of fat was a slice of heaven, and the honey-coated, caramelized skin just tough enough to make chewing it a pleasure.  The crispy strips of rind were nice and crunchy, and contrasted well with the bed of small peas. I relished every bite.

Le veau la joue confite au vin blanc, artichaut en barigoule, saveur de moutarde à l'ancienne - now this was interesting... Braised beef cheeks in red wine is pretty commonplace, but I've never had it with white wine...  This was a totally different taste, with lots of acidity all around to cut down the richness of the collagen.  You've got artichokes, capers, tomato, and even mustard seeds pre-soaked in white wine.  Needless to say the veal was soft and yielded like butter to the knife. There was, of course, a baby pot of the famous mash on the side.  Creamy and to die for, but I just couldn't finish it...

The cheese course was exactly like last time - a thin slice of Brie and a slice of Fourme d'Ambert along with toast.  Lick...

A little tarte au citron was brought out as the birthday cake, followed by Chef Suga and a few of the staff who sang happy birthday.  Very yummy and no complaints whatsoever.

I was already pretty full, so the perfect way to finish the meal was not the chocolate mousse, but les fruits frais en nage à la citronnelle avec un sorbet basilic et citron vert.  This was soooo refreshing in the summer, with the nice surprise of seeing tiny wild berries in the soup.  This is still the only place in Taipei where I've had wild berries.

I took a single espresso along with the last bite - a violet macaron.  This macaron was just as amazing as the caramel macaron I had last time.  Soft and moist, there was a ring of almond cream surrounding the violet jam in the center.  The macarons here are so moist - very different from the ones at L'Atelier in Hong Kong.  I soon found out why I love them so much - chef pâtissier Kazu learned his craft under Pierre Hermé!  Methinks I need to start carrying back boxes of macarons from the Salon de Thé downstairs, on top of the ones from Sadaharu Aoki in the basement...  I think I'll need a large cardboard box...

Another wonderful meal, courtesy of Joël...


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