December 31, 2010

Celebrating 100 years of Chinese democracy

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It's New Year's Eve and I'm spending it in Taipei this year.  I have wanted to watch the fireworks at Taipei 101 ever since they started doing it, but for one reason or another I have always ended up elsewhere.

Tonight, on the eve of the 100th year of the Republic of China, there would be a spectacular fireworks display.  The organizers have hired Cai Guo-Qiang (蔡國強) for the job.  For people unfamiliar with his art, he was the man behind the fireworks display at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China (not to be confused, of course, with the Republic of China...)

December 30, 2010

Last Michelin starred meal of the year

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I had a quick lunch with Tigger today at Pierre, which would be my last fine dining meal of the year.  Dinner tonight will be something at the airport... probably Popeye's.

Amuse bouche was a dollop of potato salad with onions and what I thought was mackerel, since it didn't taste salty enough to be anchovies.

December 29, 2010

Burgundies in Vogue

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Thanks to the face-off this evening, I arrived at the Specialist's home a whole 45 minutes late, a little buzzed.    The rest of the guests were already sipping the bubbly while the canapes have been laid out.  I quickly got down to business by opening my bottle and grabbed a flute.

I started with some raw oysters and gravlax from my favorite club in Hong Kong.  Thankfully the rest of the meal was home made... We were then served with a couple of crab cakes, which were curiously made with some diced sandwich ham.  These were pretty tasty.

Face-off at Classified

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The last MNSC dinner on Monday confirmed Pineapple's position at the top of the MNSC league this year, but also left us with a tie for last place - between the Ox and myself.  As this has never happened before in the last 7 years during which we've been scoring our blind tastings, Lord Rayas - last year's loser and the current convenor - proposed a taste-off.  The boys got all excited and wanted to get it done before the end of the year, and we agreed to meet up at Classified in Exchange Square today.

December 27, 2010

The dirty dozen

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Pineapple hosted the final MNSC dinner of the year tonight, at the Hong Kong Club.

Seared quail breast salad with leek and truffle terrine, Champagne and walnut vinaigrette - not impressed at all.  The quail was kinda bland.

December 26, 2010

Burgundian brunch at home

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One of the most memorable dishes I had on my recent trip to Burgundy was œufs en meurette - poached eggs in red wine sauce.  I loved this hearty dish so much that when I found myself with good leftover wines - yes, the Colgin Cabernets - which I was loathe to pour down the drain, I immediately thought about using them to make this dish.

However, I quickly realized that this is a dish best made with wines of its native region - Burgundy.  As I don't have any leftover Burgundy reds around the apartment, and had foolishly poured my leftover Williams Selyem Pinot down the drain a month ago, I decided to open a new bottle.  The half-bottle of 1997 Etude Pinot Noir I had lying around seemed perfect for the job.

December 25, 2010

A pretty expensive beef stew

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It's Christmas Day and I've invited my Favorite Cousin over for dinner.  On holidays such as this I've always found it more interesting to do something at home, even if it involves me cooking in the kitchen.  I've had a couple of half-empty bottles of Colgin Cabernets sitting at home for the last 2 weeks, and the best way to get rid of it was to pour it into a pot for a beef stew.

I went back to my neighborhood butcher for the beef, and was looking to avoid grain-fed US beef for environmental reasons.  Unfortunately, the only Aussie short ribs were bone-in and frozen... so I picked up the same USDA Prime boneless short ribs as last year.

December 23, 2010

Another black truffle evening

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I met up with a friend for dinner on her only night in town as she "transits" in between 2 trips.  I hadn't expected to go back so soon after my last visit, but I found myself at On Lot 10 once again.  As this was a last-minute decision, I hadn't given David time to prepare anything out of the ordinary, but that was completely fine.  We sat down and waited for David to send out goodies from the kitchen.

December 21, 2010

Winter games

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It's been a few months since my last visit to Caprice, and I've been dying to try out Chef Vincent's seasonal game dishes.  I finally got around to arranging a quiet dinner at my favorite French restaurant in Hong Kong.

Amuse bouche - the deep-fried potato ball stuffed with foie gras had a tangy flavor not unlike ginger, which was pretty nice.  The rillettes I think was made with mackerel.  The lentil velouté was surprisingly good.

I had asked for the chef to put together a tasting of his game dishes for me, which turned out to be a series of three:

Tasting 2007 Ponsots

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Altaya Wines organized a tasting of 2007 Ponsot wines at the Press Room.  Laurent Ponsot was in town, and it was good to see him again a few weeks after our visit to his domaine.

2007 Ponsot Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de Mont Luisants Blanc - nose of minerals and lemon. Quite pleasant to drink. This was labeled Vieilles Vignes as the vines were almost 100 years old...

December 20, 2010

Margaux vertical

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Juliano very generously hosted another MNSC dinner tonight at Wagyu Kaiseki Den.  It's been more than 6 months since my last visit, so I was pretty happy to have a chance to return.

Grilled dried puffer fish

Chicken wing - not a bad way to start.

December 19, 2010

Not exactly Giant's Causeway

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I got up this morning for a photoshoot of 3 generations' of BMW M3s, as Tigger got all excited about his new toy.  After a couple of hours of sticking my camera out of the sunroof of a car while traveling along the winding roads around town, I left the guys to meet up with Froggie for my second photo expedition of the day.

We'd been talking about going to explore the Hong Kong Geopark (香港地質公園), and wanted to check out the East Dam section of the High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), including Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).  This area is home to hexagonal columns of rock, which evokes images - in my mind at least - of the Giant's Causeway.

Froggie and I took a long bus ride from Diamond Hill, and got dropped off just inside Sai Kung West Country Park.  We began our trek along the Sai Kung Man Yee Road, which also happened to be Stage 1 of the MacLehose Trail.  This 10km section winds its way around the High Island Reservoir, where the water was surprisingly clear and reflected a beautiful shade of blue from the sky.

December 18, 2010

White truffles, eggs and cream

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A friend is in town from Taipei, and wanted to try Otto e Mezzo after reading my blogposts.  I was of course only too happy to oblige, as I love the place and eager to have some more delicious white truffles while they are still in season.

I wanted to drink a little, so I took a glass of Michele Chiarlo Gavi Le Marne but forgot to note down the vintage.  Ripe nose with marmalade and mineral and banana notes.  Highly floral and aromatic, but a bit heavy on the oak.

Do I need my decoder ring?

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While at dinner last night, Amy told me that she used one of my quotes for an article in the Scene Asia blog of the Wall Street Journal.  The subject of the article was cryptic menus and diner's perception of them, and Froggie was also quoted.

How dishes are written on a menu has a large impact on the likelihood of those dishes being ordered by diners.  In addition to telling us which ingredients are used in the dish, it should also give information regarding the method of cooking/preparation.  This helps the diner form an mental image of the dish, which will either appeal to the diner or not.

In general, I don't like cryptic menus where I have difficulty forming an accurate image of the dish in my mind.  It's one thing if I'm at a restaurant whose menu I know well, or if I'm in an adventurous mood and just want the chef to surprise me.  Sometimes I walk into a restaurant and give the chef free rein, like placing yourself in the chef's good hands with omakase in Japanese restaurants.

Most of the time, however, I'm browsing through a menu and trying to see which handful of items jump out from a page among a few dozen.  I need all the help I can get to determine which dishes I'll be most happy spending my money on.  The restaurant won't be doing me any favors by withholding information.  If I order something and it comes out completely different from what I expected, and I happen not to like the dish... well it's gonna affect my desire to come back and spend more money.

The exception for me would be restaurants where they are very creative, and often these would be the guys doing molecular gastronomy.  The chefs at these restaurants are trying to surprise diners with their creativity, by breaking with tradition and playing on texture, cooking method, flavors...etc.  Here I'm happy even not to see a menu at the start of the meal, and just see what playful dishes can come out from the kitchen.  El Bulli, Tapas Molecular Bar, Krug Room and BO Innovation are all places I'd go back to despite cryptic menus, although one can argue that they all serve set meals where diners don't have a choice of dishes.

My other pet peeve is actually menus which are overly descriptive.  Years ago on my one and only visit to Saint Pierre in Singapore, one of the things which turned me off completely was the menu.  When each dish was written with three lines of text, it became difficult at times to figure out which was the principal ingredient...  I don't think it's necessary to know every single little spice the chef used to flavor the broth.  I'm a food lover, not a food geek who's trying to de-construct each dish.  I haven't gone back to the restaurant since that visit more than 6 years ago...

December 17, 2010

Fried, not steamed

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I joined a special dinner tonight organized by my foodie friend Cha Xiu Bao.  It's been a little over a year since I went to the original Tim Ho Wan (添好運) just before it received the rubberman's macaron.  I haven't been back since, because it's apparently been a mad house since then... So when I was told we would be in the private room (!) of the new Sham Shui Po branch, and that we wouldn't have to line up for a table, I didn't hesitate.

The private room has a special menu with a bunch of premium items, and I was happy to be able to try a completely different menu compared to my last visit.

Steamed rice flour roll with lobster and black bean sauce (豉汁龍蝦腸粉) - not impressed.  The pieces I had were definitely over-steamed, which wasn't a surprise to me.  From my last visit I already knew that they suck at the steamed items.  Besides, this just wasn't tasty to me.  I could neither taste the black bean nor the lobster distinctly.

Steamed turnip cake with crab roe (蟹粉蒸蘿蔔糕) - the turnip cake was again a little over-steamed and mushy.  The crab tomalley added a nice touch, though.

Crab roe xiaolongbao (蟹粉小籠包) - the taste was not bad, although the dumplings themselves were kind of sorry-looking...

Deep-fried puff with foie gras (鵝肝醬炸粉果) - this was my first "wow" of the evening.  Very, very tasty and nice, with stuffing that was soft, smooth, and jelly-like.

Steamed open-top bun with chicken and bird's nest (燕液滑雞窩) - kinda interesting and tasted pretty OK.

Baked puff pastry with abalone (原隻焗鮑魚酥) - this was another item that tasted as good as it looked.  The abalone was pretty tender.

Pan-fried dumpling with pork and crab roe (蟹粉鮮肉煎餃子) - pretty decent, although the chunks of tomalley here were a little tough.

Crispy Chinese crullers with crab roe (蟹粉脆油條) - very, very tasty.  The crullers were very crispy and crunchy, and there was a ton of crab tomalley on top.

Baked char siu buns (酥皮焗叉燒包) - the char siu filling was pretty yummy, but the bun itself was too soft and not as crispy.  A little off on the execution for sure.

Deep-fried salt water puff (家鄉咸水角) - pretty nice and tasty.

Pan-fried turnip cake with preserved meats (煎臘味蘿蔔糕) - pretty decent and tasty, too.

Steamed dumplings with shrimp / har gao (晶瑩鮮蝦餃) - I wasn't gonna have one at first, having no faith in the quality of the skin.  I eventually gave in the peer pressure, and sure enough, the skin was too mushy from over-steaming.  How is it possible that the Michelin inspectors deem this place deserving of a star, when they can't even get one of the most basic dim sum items right?!

"Chick cookies" (懷舊雞仔餅) - OK, so I'm doing a literal translation just for laughs.  What we got were very tasty cookies made with sugar, bacon fat and spices which tasted like Cantonese preserved sausage (臘腸).  Very yummy.

Glutinous rice balls with black sesame filling (薑汁芝麻湯圓) - honestly, this was pretty ordinary, and the soup was a little light on the ginger flavors.

Deep-fried milk and snow frog (雪蛤鮮奶酥) - the puff pastry exterior looked like the savory versions stuffed with turnip and diced ham (蘿蔔絲餅), but what a surprise inside!  I didn't taste much of the frog fallopian tubes (雪蛤), though...

Steamed egg white and milk custard with bird's nest (燕窩蛋白燉鮮奶) - can you say OVER-STEAMED?  It was painfully obvious just looking at the thing...

That was a lot of food, and no surprise that all the items I liked were either deep-fried or pan-fried.  None of the steamed items made the grade, which really bothers me.  I was happy to have tried out the special items with the premium ingredients, but I'll be sticking to a small portion of the menu if I decide to come back in the future...

We had a few bottles of wine to go with this casual meal:

Azienda Monsordo Bernardina La Bernardina - this was classified as brut but still a bit sweet on the palate.

2006 Grosset Chardonnay Piccadilly - as expected, with a good amount of oak and minerals.

2008 Selaks Sauvignon Blanc Premium Selection - nose was very fruity and tropical, with green apples and passion fruit.  But palate was pretty thin.

2010 Argento Malbec - pretty one-dimensional, with forward fruit.  Did I really drink a bottle of wine that was released in its own vintage year?!

West Region 5 Year (西域烈焰) - a brandy distilled from Sauvignon Blanc in Xinjiang (新疆), I was amazed to find aspartame listed as one of three ingredients...  Typically alcoholic, and soooo not my cup of tea.

December 16, 2010

A very jaded palate

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Jardin de Jade (蘇浙匯) is a fairly well-known restaurant in Shanghai, although I've never had opportunity to dine there on my previous trips.  Somehow we came up with this as tonight's dinner venue.  I had seen some of the reviews on the web so I kinda had an idea what I wanted to order.

Ko-fu (braised wheat bean, 本幫四喜烤麩) was pretty tough and chewy.  Given this consistency I can understand why the pieces are cut with a knife instead of being hand-torn.  Disappointing... Not a good start.

Marinated chicken with Shaoxing wine (花雕醉雞) - this was pretty decent.  Meat was tender without being too soft and mushy, although as others have noted, the taste of Shaoxing wine was pretty weak.

Sweet and sour ribs (特色糖醋小排) - meat was a little tough, and I was surprised by the prominent flavors of ginger.  Reminds me of the gingered pig trotters (豬腳薑) that Cantonese women use to restore their constitution after giving birth.

Thousand layers pork tower (寶塔千層肉) - looked impressive but execution was poor.  The thin layers of pork belly was, if you could believe it, tough and chewy.  The mound of marinated bamboo shoots was OK, but I was surprised at the big pieces of ginger in the mix.  Very disappointed.

Huangqiao sesame cake, salty (黃橋小燒餅,咸) - I asked for this to be served alongside the pork so that we could balance out the heavy flavors of the meat.  These were done very nicely, and were piping hot when served.

Soup with salted pork belly (腌篤鮮) - a very nice, wintery dish made with chunks of salted pork belly, bamboo shoots and knotted tofu skin (百葉結).  I've always loved this classic Shanghainese soup, and the salty flavors are perfect for the cold weather.

Stir-fried rosette bok choy, winter bamboo shoots and salted pork (塌菜冬筍咸肉) - I loooove rosette bok choy (烏塌菜) and will order it whenever I can find it during winter.  I can't get enough of that slightly-bitter flavor, although it was kinda covered up tonight with the saltiness from the pork.

Stewed pork belly with turnip, shrimps, mushroom and vegetables (紅燜賽人參) - this was one big piece of turnip!  It was stewed thoroughly but somehow retained a slight tangy taste.  It came a little too late and we were a little too full.

Pan fried pork buns (特色生煎包) - these were OK.  There was plenty of juice inside, but the skin was a bit too soft and the bottom wasn't thick nor charred enough.  A very, very far cry from Yang's Fried Dumplings (小楊生煎包) in Shanghai.

Pan fried jujube cake (棗泥鍋餅) - very nicely done actually.  The skin was crispy and yummy, and I love the taste of jujube paste.  A pretty nice way to finish.

The main event was actually wine, as usual, and we had 2 bottles of Burg.

1997 Baron Thénard Montrachet - I decanted this in the office 2 hours before dinner, and it showed a distinct nose of orange and minerals.  During dinner there were also notes of toasty corn and a little plastic.  For some reason I thought there was a shadow of German Riesling...  It was just a little sweet on the nose, with good acidity balance on the palate.  Later on it opened up a bit more and revealed tropical fruits like pineapple and floral notes which went along well with the chrysanthemum tea we were drinking.  With more aeration the nose got sweeter, and heavy minerals and toast became dominant.

1998 Mommessin Clos de Tart - initially the fruit was very subtle and the nose very elegant and soft.  A bit of smoked meats, forest, a little dusty.  When the wine sat in the glass for too long, the palate degenerated into something horrible.  Near the end of dinner the nose showed a little Chinese medicine... like American ginseng (花旗篸).

Honestly, I don't get what all the fuss is about.  For Shanghainese food, this place is average at best.  Some of the dishes failed pretty badly in my book.  I think I'll stick to my usual list for Shanghainese in town...

December 14, 2010

Stuffed like a duck

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I returned to Tim's Kitchen (桃花源) tonight, my fourth visit in as many months.  I had wanted to take Tigger and family there for some time now, and finally got the opportunity to do so.

Our starter was a plate of roasted crispy baby pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔).  Nice, crispy skin with good amount of tasty fat and tender meat.

I started the rest of the gang on the signature crystal king prawn (玻璃明蝦球), although once again I decided to pass on it.  I did have another wonderful steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸原隻鮮蟹鉗).  This one seemed bigger than the ones I've had before, and again it was steamed to perfection.  The bed of egg white was coated with a layer of starched ham broth.  Very nice.  Everyone was happy.

Now that we are in December and "winter" is upon us, it was time to savor some supreme snake bisque (太史五蛇羹).  I only eat snake soup at a handful of places, and this is one of them.  The snakes were finely shredded and the broth was light and delicate.  I added plenty of deep-fried wonton skins, chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves, coriander and white chrysanthemum petals.  Lovely.

One cannot leave here without trying some of the simple and homey dishes, so we had a piece of the braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦籽炆柚皮).  This is a dish I enjoy every time I'm here, and did not disappoint.  Auntie liked that she was still able to taste the pomelo, unlike many other versions elsewhere which have become tasteless.  The shrimp roe were very well-toasted and provided lots of flavor.  I wish I had a bowl of rice or some bread so I could mop up the sauce, and I jokingly picked up the plate and pretended to lick it clean.  Our humorless waiter immediately came over and took my plate away...

I pre-ordered the de-boned "eight treasure" duck (八寳鴨) as I'd never had it.  It was wonderful... stuffed with barley, egg yolk, offal.  So rich and flavorful, with tender and tasty meat.

I had a similar dish in Macau last year, but the stewed eggplant with minced pork and salty fish sauce (魚香茄子) was really, really good.  The eggplant soaked up plenty of oil and was piping hot and tasty.

We also had some deep-fried frog leg with peppercorn salt (椒鹽田雞腿).  These were pretty good, although not as impressive-looking as  the ones found at Tien Heung Lau (天香樓).

Finally, the fried glutinous rice with preserved pork sausage and liver sausage (生炒糯米飯) - which I had been reminded numerous times to pre-order - arrived.  How I love this dish when it's done well!  The moisture balance was perfect - not so wet that the rice grains became mushy, but moist enough so that the individual grains were still chewy and had bite.  One of these days I'm just gonna come and order this rice for takeout...

Given my last experience here with the desserts, I thought it best to pass on them.  We were pretty stuffed, anyway, and happily went home with our bellies full.


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