October 31, 2010

Les Forts de Latour dinner

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Dinner tonight was at Pierre with a range of Les Forts de Latour.  Altaya Wines organized one of only a handful of tastings of Les Forts ever held, with the help of Frédéric Engerer and Florence Rogers-Pinault who were in attendance.

Latour had always emphasized that Les Forts de Latour is not really a "second wine", since the grapes come from its own, designated vineyard and not made with grapes that didn't make it into the grand vin.  Tonight Frédéric wanted to make sure that message got across to us.  The initial goal had been to make a wine that is as good as the Second Growths, and he felt the quality of the wines is certainly at least worthy of Third Growth status.

The party was larger than I expected, and took up the entire restaurant.  I was glad to be seated next to a couple of friends... But next time I must remember to request a seat with more light... There wasn't enough light for a proper exposure for my pics.

Restaurants around town have been shifting to their winter menus, and one could certainly see that tonight.

Jellied beef consommé with cassis : celeriac cream, horseradish, lettuce stuffed with oxtail and mushrooms - not having read the menu, I thought the chunk in the middle was foie until I cut into it.  The mushroom was not bad, but the real treat was the oxtail stuffed inside the lettuce.  Very yummy.

1999 Les Forts de Latour - this was drinking beautifully, and took me by surprise.  Nose of smoke, saddle, pine needle, game meat, black pepper...and even a little bit of sweetness on the nose. 

Whole roasted/baked turbot : red turnip and sweet butter - I have to say that the sweet butter, with its seafood flavors, distracted me from tasting the wines.  The turbot itself had nice flavors, although slightly drier than I would have preferred.  The shredded red turnip was a nice touch, as was the shiitake mushroom at the bottom.

2006 Les Forts de Latour - nose of herbal medicine, smoked duck with a hint of sharpness that reflects its youth.  Complex and exotic nose of nutmeg, coconut, mint, toffee and spices.  Almost a hint of sandalwood.  Pretty awesome and I would love to taste this wine again in 10 years.

2004 Les Forts de Latour - nose of mint and smoke, very open and fragrant.  Very round and balanced.

Gâteau de foie gras, caramelized eggplant marmalade and fried squid - the steamed foie gras custard was very delicious.  Eggplant is always welcome, and the little rings of fried squid... Oh my!  I just looooove those.  I had a flashback to a memorable lunch here two years ago, where I was wowed by the menu Pierre Gagnaire put together while he was in town.  My neighbor and I both agreed that Pierre is one of the few chefs in the world who really can get it right when it comes to so-called "fusion".

2003 Les Forts de Latour - what a wine!  Minty, open and fragrant, exotic with lots of spices, along with the sweetness I expect from such a ripe vintage.  Such a pleasure to drink now.

2001 Les Forts de Latour - smoky, minty with good amount of fruit, but not as sweet as other vintages.  A hint of grass.  Pretty smooth on the palate.  Lovely.

Loin and kidneys, braised endive, pearl onions seasoned with gingerbread - I'm usually not a fan of loin, but I found this particular piece to be pretty nice and tender.  It is a little dry compared to other cuts of meat, but that's the cut of meat itself, not an execution problem.  The chopped pieces of kidney were hidden underneath the braised endive.  The taste of gingerbread was particular interesting.  Definitely a hearty winter dish.

1990 Les Forts de Latour - sweet, exotic and ripe with notes of smoke, pain grillé and a bit of grilled meats.

1970 Les Forts de Latour en magnum - vegetal and green, smoky, leathery with prominent soy sauce notes.  Not much fruit left here.  Light and smooth on the palate.  Honestly a little disappointed, although it could have been the bottle variation.  I've had the '70 Latour on numerous occasions, including a magnum tasted last year at the château itself thanks to Frédéric's generosity.  There is a huge difference here between the grand vin and Les Forts. No doubt a big part of the difference comes from the age of the vines - the vines were only planted in the early '60s, and would have been less than 10 years old when this vintage was made.  In any case the wine is pretty much over the hill.

Pamericelli of Beaufort, fruit marmalade and saffron.  Brebis parfait, Roquefort velouté - pretty interesting, especially the Roquefort velouté.

2005 Les Forts de Latour - a huge wine.  Nose was sweet and exotic with caramel, toffee and spices.  I could see that after being double-decanted for more than 3½ hours, it still wasn't completely open.  Another wine I would love to taste in another 10 years...and compare with the 2006.  Frédéric's money is on the 2006...

2000 Les Forts de Latour - minty, smoky, leather and fruity.  Actually a very well-balanced wine on the palate, with enough acidity.  Certainly drinking very well tonight.

Orange bavaroise, passion fruit and creamy pear - very nice and fruity... a perfect symphony of flavors to tease the tastebuds for the finale.

Biscuit chocolat Pierre Gagnaire automne 2010 - I can't take a lot of chocolate these days, especially after a big meal.  This was just the perfect size. 

It was a wonderful evening.  I was glad to return to Pierre after a prolonged absence, and even happier to do it while tasting such a fantastic range of wines. 

Return to Mai Po

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It's been almost 3 years since my first trip to the WWF Mai Po Reserve.  I had missed the Walk for Nature for the last couple of years, but am happy that I finally signed up this year. I roped in the Resident Froggie to go along with me, as she's never been and keen to check out the wildlife.  So both of us lugged our our camera gear (I brought out my big gun) and trekked up north.

The best times for bird-watching is usually early morning or late afternoon/early evening.  Understandably these are not the time periods where Mai Po is open to the public... So we were reasonably satisfied with a time slot which started in early afternoon.  The good thing is that this isn't a tutored walk like we expected, so we could do things at our own pace and stick around a little longer.

There were a good number of birds today.  The usual suspects around this area are egrets, grey herons, and all the cormorants perched atop trees and depositing their guano onto the trees.  But today we also got to see a flock of black-winged stilts, who were looking around for some food.  They shared the water with a group of cormorants who occasionally came down to bathe themselves.

We walked around the different areas of the reserve - the traditional gei wei (基圍) which are managed separately.  I admired the beauty of the area, with mangroves, reedbeds and waterlily ponds.  What was disturbing, however, was the pervasive presence of the mikania micrantha (薇甘菊).  This is the invasive climber vine which I had helped clear on my first volunteer visit.  Once we reach the inner areas of the reserve, I could see these vines climbing all over the place - especially on top of mangroves inside the gei wei.  If they are not cleared regularly, they could eventually manage to deprive other vegetation of sunlight and nutrients - and eventually kill them off.

We continued to walk along the designated trail, eventually coming to the northern edge of the reserve and hitting the border fence.  Froggie and I joked about our last trip to the border fence and our run-in with the law...

We also saw a few things I hadn't seen before, being a city boy... We saw "mad fish" - a number of them kept leaping out of the water, sometimes multiple jumps and up to a height of over 1m.  I also saw crabs swimming... Of course I know that crabs can swim, but somehow I just always imagined these bottom-feeders crawling along - what else? - the bottom.

The highlight of the day came pretty much at the end.  I finally had the opportunity to see the famed black-faced spoonbills.  These endangered migratory birds are, after all, the star attraction in this area.  Their world population is estimated at around 1,400 and I was lucky enough to see a few of them today.

I was pretty happy to have made the trip today.  The next thing for me to do is to apply for a permit to stay in the reserve overnight, and try to catch more bird action!

October 29, 2010

Cheese and white truffle

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It's white truffle season again, and my favorite cousin is in the mood for some.  So I organized a small gathering at Cipriani, since I wasn't about to get a table at Otto e Mezzo.  Of course, we are always happy to go back to Cipriani's classic fare.

I started with Burrata and sun-dried cherry tomatoes.  When the plate was placed in front of me, I almost fell out of my chair.  The cheese is easily the size of my fist!  Not exactly a light starter...  But what an amazing milky and creamy hunk of cheese!  I shared a quarterly of it with my friends and we all ooohed and aaahed over it.  The sun-dried cherry tomatoes were sweet and a little tangy - a good accompaniment to the rich cheese.

2000 Malartic-Lagravière Blanc - this wine definitely met my expectations.  Nose of minerals, pipi de chat, toasty oak, lemon, fragrant and floral, buttery and a hint of muscat.  Very aromatic and enjoyable.

2002 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard - very fruity, jammy, full of strawberries, bubble gum, vanilla and a bit alcoholic.  A bit hot on the palate.

The main event, of course, was risotto alla Parmingiana with shaved white truffle.  They never give you enough truffle... and I keep wondering whether I actually got the 5g that I was entitled to.  Of course the truffle was fragrant... and the risotto was perfect.

I was actually kinda full after the Burrata, and the risotto definitely put me over the edge.  While my friends each enjoyed a slice of cake - including my favorite vanilla cream cake -   I decided to give it a pass.  I didn't want to feel sick again.

I did, however, take home an entire vanilla cream cake for tomorrow...

October 27, 2010

Creatively recycling food

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For a big fan of molecular gastronomy such as myself, I could hardly believe that it's taken me this long to make my first trip to the Krug Room.  It took a double birthday celebration - one of them 40th - to get me to this wonderful venue.  Uwe is on vacation but his kitchen staff managed to execute all the dishes flawlessly.

To get to the Krug Room, one goes through the back door of the Chinnery to the maze that is the kitchen, and pushes open a discreet-looking door.  The room is lavishly decorated without the bling, and a large windows running the length of the room provides a view to part of the kitchen.  It wasn't exactly the busy part of the kitchen and I had my back to the window, so I didn't see much going on throughout our meal - only the three large stockpots immediately on the other side of the window.

The theme of the meal is "recycling" so one of the diners joked that "we're eating garbage tonight".  Definitely very playful and creative.

Fish bone : rice / crisp / dip - the bones of a sardine and rice flour were deep-fried into a cracker, and dipped in a XO/tartar sauce. 

Can : Kumamoto / caviar / tomato - opening the top of the can reveals the contents: 2 creamy Kumamoto oysters each topped with a little bit of sturgeon caviar, sitting on a bed of faux salmon roe made from Bloody Mary.  The oyster leaf is always an interesting element.

After picnic : salad / vegetable / plastic bag - I was a little disappointed that I didn't get the "flower pot" for my salad, but I guess the chef needs to mix things up a little.  This reminds me a little of the "Sex on the Beach" dessert at Bo Innovation with its play on discarded items... In addition to the greens, there were two "half-consumed" burgers, a couple of "plastic bags" containing freeze-dried corn and other goodies, chips... all sitting on a bed of "dirt" and "grass" - the latter made with mashed peas.  The lower level of the box was filled with panko and other fun stuff.  The chef told us that we didn't need to eat the contents at the bottom unless we were really hungry, but curiosity got the best of me...

Tea : buillon / wrap - I initially thought these were two cubes of foie gras, but it turns out they were made of mushroom powder.  Pouring the liquid (vegetable stock?) from the glass tea pot meant you had mushroom consommé in your cup.
Fish market : prawn / fillet / seaweed - an interesting mix of ingredients.  The protagonist was the Scottish langoustine, complemented by some baby eel, baby squid, razor clam and seaweed garnish.  Everything was fresh and delicious.  There was also a block of freeze-dried potato, although I couldn't really taste what it was...

Soap : lobster / bubble / macaroni - the "soap" in the soapdish was actually shellfish bisque that has gone through "spherification".  The chef came and deposited a "wet towel roll" - made with layers of egg white around a cheese center - into the bowl already topped with foam/bubbles.  There were chunks of lobsters in the bowl underneath the foam.  Essentially this turned into a lobster/seafood bisque. 

Chicken bone : foie gras / smoked / skin - honestly I thought this was a waste of Bresse chicken, as I really didn't think the shredded chicken was anything special.  But the real star here - as the name clearly states - was the "chicken bone" made from frozen foie gras.  Absolutely delicious they were.  The small piece of chicken skin was pretty yummy, but I wish there was more of it.  The sauce was interesting, as I could have sworn it was a teriyaki sauce spiced with some ginger...

Lamb's wool : Rhug Estate / ragout / mint - the dish arrived covered in candy floss, which melted as sauce was poured on top, infusing the sweetness into the sauce.  Underneath were two distinct pieces of organic lamb from the Rhug Estate in the UK: the top piece looked to be lamb loin (or did the waiter say it's actually lamb shank which looked like lamb loin?) and was very tender - probably sous-vide.  The bottom piece was definitely minced lamb shank.  Both were pretty yummy.

Leather : sirloin / onion / truffle - O-M-G this was an amazing dish.  The "plate" arrived first with a thin layer of cowprint purée - where the pale area had been made with onions and the black spots with black truffles.  Both were absolutely delicious.  Then came the hunk of sous-vide Matsuzaka beef (松坂牛), which melted in the mouth and gave us such wonderful flavors thanks to just the right amount of charring and salt.  Let's not forget the black truffle sauce that was poured on top of the beef.  When you have all of these ingredients together in one mouthful, one can get a little glimpse of heaven.

Light bulb : coconut / ginger / electric - these looked like a lot of fun.  Break open the sugary shell and reach in for the coconut foam.  The ice cream in the bowl was made with ginger, tickling and waking up one's tastebuds.

Chocolate engine : silver / cylinder / oil - the dark hunk of chocolate lying in the middle of the "road" didn't look really attractive, but cut open to find the chocolate raspberry mousse and cherries inside.  The decorate pieces of chocolate on the side were meant to look like engine parts.

Metal : nails / screws / bolts - the crowd cheered the arrival of these plates.  The chef has fashioned everything out of chocolate, and they looked amazing.  Being a bunch of juvenile boys, we joked about picking up the wrenches and whacking each other over the head...  I took some of them home just for fun.

This being the Krug Room, the drink of choice is of course Krug Champagne.  Each diner gets a total of 4 flutes of 3 different wines, but we also decided to bring our own...

Krug Grande Cuvée - always my favorite and did not disappoint.  Honey, lightly toasted oak, yeast and a little sweet on the nose.  Kinda acidic.

Krug Grande Cuvée en magnum - I figured we wouldn't have enough alcohol so I brought the magnum that I was dying to get rid of...  Definitely more "fresh" and lively compared to the 2 bottles we drank up earlier.

1998 Krug - pretty sweet and toasty nose, with lots of ripeness and caramel later on as it opened up more.

1970 Montrose - given to the birthday boy as a present, the condition of this bottle (sourced from my friend at Altaya Wines) was impeccable.  Exactly what I would want and expect from this wine.  Mint, sweet grass, sweet fruit, cigar smoke and even some savory notes.  The wine has clearly aged and developed but it tasted incredibly fresh and vibrant.

Krug Rosé - minerals and oak, with some salty preserved plum (話梅) in the nose.

Estrella Damm Inedit - this was the famous "El Bulli beer", as it was made by Estrella Damm especially for Ferran Adria and his team.  The label says it's brewed with spices, and I definitely thought it was a floral, fruity version of Hoegaarden.  After all, the beer was brewed from hops and wheat, so there are similarities with the famous Belgian white beer.

This was a very, very, very fun evening for all of us.  I really appreciated and enjoyed the creative dishes, and there was clearly too much Champagne for me.  I'm pretty sure all of us had way too much to eat.  There's always hell to pay after a night like this...

October 26, 2010

The beef belches loudly

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I went to an interesting wine tasting tonight held at Classified Exchange Square. Louis Mitjavile was in Hong Kong to showcase the wines from his family's estate. It's been a few years since I last tasted wines from this estate, and the twin vintages of 1989 and 1990 were justifiably famous. I looked forward to getting re-acquainted with the "belching beef"...

2007 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf - fruity, smoky, sharp alcohol, soy sauce (or in any case definitely something savory), roast meat. Obviously a little too young. On the palate the wine was actually reasonably soft and approachable.

1996 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf - nose was very open and beautiful, a little sweet and jammy, with mint, herbs and a bit smoky.  Initially I thought the wine was smooth on the palate, but with each following sip I felt the chewy tannins more and more - pretty surprising for this vintage.

2003 Roc de Cambes - fragrant and beautiful, fruity, prunes, smoky, exotic, coffee and jammy.  A bit hot on the finish.  A very complex wine, and not at all surprising given the vintage.

2006 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf - sweet nose with pine needle, mint, a hint of smoke.  Generally pretty straightforward.  Second pour was much more opulent and enjoyable.

1999 Roc de Cambes - kind of muted, with a hint of smoked meats, some fruit and mint on the nose.  Smooth on the palate.

2005 Roc de Cambes - nose was really open and showy, with lots of sweet toffee, a little smoke, mint and sharp alcohol.

2000 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf - ripe and sweet nose of toffee.  Powerful and exotic.  Definitely a crowd-pleaser, and the crowd drained the wine in no time!

1997 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf - Louis has a soft spot for this vintage, as it's the first vintage where he helped his father make the wine.  Minty, kinda nice and open, with a bit of sweet grass and a little roast meat.  Smooth and silky on the palate.

Pineapple summed the wines up in a classic one-liner - "These wines are just SEXY!" - a sentiment shared by Mr. Parker.  In fact, Mr. Parker went on record with the following line: "If wines were whores, Le Tertre-Roteboeuf would certainly be a potential candidate."


October 23, 2010

Dinner at the Froggie residence

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Tonight the Resident Froggie kindly invited me to her new residence for dinner.  She had a couple of guests and wanted to see if I would join them, knowing that I had no plans for the weekend.  I was only too happy to accept the invitation, and trekked across to the Dark Side.

I arrived a little later than I'd originally anticipated, and the hors d'œuvres were already laid out.  After I was done prepping the wines I brought, I made a dash for the plates and started munching.

Mini quiches and tarts with blue cheese - my bet is on Stilton - were pretty yummy.

The sight of the big pile of paté de foie gras had me salivating, and it was very bit as silky and smooth as I'd hoped.  I had to stop myself from gobbling down more of this, knowing there was a lot more food coming.

Froggie then served up some pan-fried foie gras with grapes.  Very yum.

All this was washed down with some 2006 Muffato della Sala from Antinori.  Very sweet with lots of honey in the nose.

We moved to the dining table and waited for the hot food to arrive.  Froggie wasn't very happy with how the cheese soufflé turned out, although the rest of us had no complaints.  I loved the combination of Comté and Gruyère.  Salad was served on the side with some homemade semi-dried tomatoes which packed a lot of flavors.

I opened the 2004 Pazo Piñero de Lusco Albariño as I wanted an aromatic white.  Unfortunately I had waited past the wine's prime, and the nose was flinty, mineral, lemon citrus and very toasty.  No more fresh and floral notes.  Pretty high acidity on the palate.

Our main course was veal shank stewed in apple cider, with pan-fried apples and gnocchi.  The veal was very good, and there was a nice chunk of wobbly, rich bone marrow.  I scooped the awesome marrow onto a piece of baguette, and polished it off in two bites.  Doesn't get better than this.  Some of the bone marrow found its way into the sauce for the veal, and I scooped some of it over the gnocchi.

I brought along the 1989 Lou Dumont Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes Léa Sélection to match the veal, although my original plan also called for a white wine to match.  This was a very beautiful wine, which I decanted about 1½ hours before we got to drink it.  Big, sweet and fruity nose, with black dates, sous bois, smoked meats notes.  Absolutely lovely and feminine - just what I'd expect from a Chambolle.

In her first attempt some 3 months ago, Froggie had failed to achieve "marbling" in her chocolate marble cake.  So I held my breath tonight while the first cuts were made... and sure enough, there was a smiley face of sorts... success!

We were still in the mood for more wine, so I opened up the 2005 Kongsgaard VioRus.  Sadly, I had also waited a little too long to pop the cork on this one, so we did not get the floral notes from the Viognier immediately.  But the wine was still delicious, with notes of honey, marmalade, marzipan, a hint of chalk.  The floral notes came out later - almost like osmanthus.

Froggie was eager to drink up the Bijofu Yuzu Liqueur (美丈夫ゆずリキュール) I gave her, so we each had a shot of it.  Still wonderfully fragrant and full of that citrus flavor.  A great way to finish.

I stuck around a little longer to have some coffee, and also to crack open the box of Turkish delights from Hafiz Mustafa Sekerlemeleri - given to me by a friend who had recently returned from a trip to Turkey.  I'm not really familiar with Turkish delights, but this box didn't look like your run-of-the-mill stuff.  No pieces were alike, so Froggie and I started picking them at random. Loaded with an assortment of nuts and not overly sweet, these were very delish.

I had a great time, and was very thankful for Froggie's hospitality. I was stuffed full of delicious, rich food and couldn't possibly ask for more from my hostess...

October 21, 2010

Returning to the Island

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I've got some visitors in town - friends who used to work in Hong Kong but have been in retirement in the south of France.  I actually met up with them for dinner on Tuesday at OVOlogue, but had another chance to do lunch today.  I was excited about going back to Island Tang (港島廳) as it's been a while since my last visit.  But I was also excited as the latest post by KC is actually about the restaurant, and I was reminded of some of my favorite dishes there.

I ordered up an assortment of dim sum for our guests, including steamed prawn dumplings (蝦餃), steamed rice flour rolls with prawns (鮮蝦蒸腸粉), vegetarian spring rolls with taro (香芋素春卷), pineapple buns with barbecued pork (菠蘿叉燒包)...etc.  I only got to sample a few of them, and the quality was generally high - just as I remembered.

I also ordered dishes I knew would be right up our visitors' alley:  chicken with "Sichuan" peppercorn and chili oil (成都口水雞) plus sweet and sour pork with pickled ginger and pineapple (菠蘿子薑咕嚕肉).  Pretty decent dishes.

But I was really excited about having some honey glazed barbecued pork (叉燒) here.  As KC explains in his post, what is served here is actually pork shoulder (脢頭肉), which is a little fatty yet not to the extent of having strips of fat like pork belly.  The honey glaze on the outside was delicious, and the texture of the meat itself was soft and silky.  This is definitely one of the best in town!

The roasted pork belly (化皮燒腩仔) was awesome, and would easily rival anything else in this town.

Unfortunately our visitors wasn't a fan of duck, so I wasn't able to order my favorite deep-fried de-boned duck coated with taro crust (荔茸香酥鴨).  That just means I have another excuse to come back...soon!

October 20, 2010

The annual pilgrimage to the Russian department store

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It's been close to a year, but we're back in hairy crab season again, and it calls for a return to Tien Heung Lau (天香樓).  Some of my friends have been waiting to come back for a while, so I gathered the troops and trekked across the harbor for dinner.

Those of us who have been coming here for the last couple of years have grown to love a specific set of dishes, and have weeded out the ones we feel are overrated - stir-fried prawns with tea leaves (龍井蝦仁), beggar's chicken (富貴雞) and braised pork belly (東坡肉) in particular.  My past blogposts basically show the same items... but there is a good reason for this.

The restaurant has been around for some years, and so have the waiters - which can lead to some issues.  When the waiter hands over the menu, one immediately notices that only about 20% of the printed items have prices written next to them - don't even bother trying to order anything else.  And even then some of those items with prices may not be available, depending on the season.  The waiter will always steer you towards the same 10 or so items when you order.  I joked that this place is like a Russian department store of the old Soviet era - with very few items on the shelves and the "take it or leave it" attitude.

We seem to run into familiar faces when we come here.  For our Thanksgiving dinner here last year, Chua Lan (蔡瀾) was sitting at the next table.  Tonight I saw Mr. Zee - a former chairman of the Kiangsu Chekiang and Shanghai Residents (H.K.) Association (香港蘇浙滬同鄉會).  So the old-timers keep coming to this place... and we were definitely the table with the youngest average age by far.

Chopped Indian aster and tofu (馬蘭頭) - always a crowd pleaser, but I thought it was a little dry today.  Still get the fragrance of the vegetable and also the sesame oil.

Drunken pigeon (醉鴿) - still very good, but curiously not popular with this crowd tonight. I was tempted to take a couple of spoonfuls of the wine and drink it...

Country paté (肴肉) - this was OK but again not really popular...

Deep-fried freshwater eel (爆鱔背) with garlic brown sauce - maybe it's because I got to the dish late and only took the pieces soaking up the sauce at the bottom, but I found the eel to be softer and not as crunchy as I remember from previous visits.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises the question regarding consistency.

Deep-fried frog legs (炸田雞腿) - poor Resident Froggie had to put up with our potshots ever since her "incident" here last year, and finally decided that she's had enough.  The sight of those wide-spread legs on the plate just made my mouth water...

I knew which dish was coming our way without even looking... Smoked yellow croaker (煙薰黃魚) really is my favorite dish here, and that smoky fragrance just permeates the air around the entire table - and manages to float over to neighboring tables, too.  The flesh has just enough seasoning to make it perfectly delicious, and the smoky fragrance is only partially transferred into the flavor.  A perfect dish.

In all my previous visits to the restaurant - and with my professed love for hairy crabs - I have never thought about ordering a whole crab here.  I still remember hearing about people paying USD 100 for a single crab back before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, and I'm just not willing to pay that kind of price.  Hairy crab (大閘蟹) is something one can easily steam at home for a fraction of the cost.  There's no skill involved and therefore no reason to pay the restaurant a premium.

Tonight half the crowd wanted crabs so I reserved a few.  When some guests dropped out at the last minute, I forgot to adjust the number of crabs so we ended up with an extra.  As no one else was stepping up to take it and it has already been steamed, I gave in to temptation and grabbed it.  Unfortunately, it proved to be another overpriced choice.  The amount of tomalley was a little disappointing, although there was a decent amount of translucent sperm.  I'll probably never pay USD 80 for another one of these again.

The next few dishes were served while half the table was having crab, so that the rest of the group would would have something to do instead of sitting around waiting.  I had to pause periodically from destroying my crab to reach out for a spoonful of each of these.

Braised shark's lips with sea cucumber (紅燒海參魚唇) - OK so I'm still not clear whether this is made from the lip or the tail of the shark, but in any case it's just gelatin.   It's a dish where everything is soft and wobbly... Great for your complexion.

Stir-fried rice cakes with shredded pork and leafy mustard (雪菜肉絲炒年糕) - we know the kitchen can fire up a dark soy version of the rice cakes, but the waiter insisted that this is all that's available.  Did someone say "Russian department store"?

Then came the perennial highlight of the meal - stir-fried hairy crab roe with noodles (蟹粉撈麵).  No way you won't feel full after a bowl of this.  Just absolutely wonderful.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I wolfed this down and displayed very poor form and table manners...

It's still too early for my favorite Shanghainese veggie (塌窩菜) so we had to make do with some stir-fried pea shoots (清炒豆苗).

As a result of our experience last year - when we finished our meal relatively late and didn't get our free dessert - Mrs Dyson decided to ask the kitchen to send out dessert before everyone was done with the meal.  She was able to enjoy three bowls of the glutinous rice balls in fruity fermented rice soup (什果酒釀丸子)... and was definitely a happy camper!

I thought we'd be able to finish more wine, but I guess only a couple of us are actually alcoholics...

2005 Marc Morey Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Referts - nose of minerals, sweet and really ripe.  A little hot on the palate but with a slightly acidic finish.  Nicely balanced.

2002 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage Rich - definitely "richer" and sweeter than your average Brut, since this is Sec.

2007 Ram's Hill Sauvignon Blanc - I think most people had no idea who made this wine, so had very low expectations.  This limited production "reserve" wine from Marchese Lodovico Antinori - who makes a very delicious New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc under the Mount Nelson label - blew us away.  It was intense and rich, with an explosion of fruit like muscat and white grapes, minerals, flint and green apple.  The only other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which gives me this much pleasure is Cloudy Bay's Te Koko, but some of us think Ram's Hill may be even better.  I think this calls for a blind tasting face-off!

2005 Hétszőlő Tokaj Late Harvest - lots of honey, marmalade, acetone and floral notes.  Pretty sweet since it's a late harvest wine.  I was always under the impression that Tokajs are made only with Furmint, but that just shows you how little I know... This was made with 95% Hárslevelű and definitely very fragrant, thanks to maceration with the skin.

A very good dinner overall, but considering that the crab cost as much as the rest of the dinner, I don't think it was a very good trade.  Will continue to eat them at home from now on!


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