June 16, 2011

A very unhappy birthday dinner

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It was supposed to be my "birthday dinner", with just the parental units and me.  Then we added Foodie Wannabe to make it a foursome, which was fine with me as I relished the opportunity to teach him a thing or two and broaden his perspective.  Finally, I got a call as I rode the bus to dinner, informing me of the addition of another person.  My systolic blood pressure probably went above 180 during the split second that the news registered in my brain, and stayed that way for a while.

A few people close to me know that, just like them, I'm picky about who I eat with.  For casual meals I'm not really going to mind, but if it's supposed to be a "gourmet" dining experience, I prefer to eat with foodie friends who know and can talk food.  I don't want to eat with people who can't appreciate what they're eating, as it detracts from my own enjoyment.  Yes, I'm snobbish like that.  I'm willing to shell out big bucks for a good meal, and I want my money's worth.

So imagine how pissed I was upon being told that my birthday dinner, at a restaurant I had never visited but has been wanting to try out, would have the company of someone who has no appreciation of fine cuisine, has practically zero table manners, and who would on any given day rather spend 1/20th of the money to eat at one of Taipei's many night markets.  Why the fuck do I have to spend 3 hours eating with HIM?

I was still livid when I arrived at Justin's Signature - the newest of three outlets operated by Justin Quek.  I had been kinda disappointed by the other two outlets, so I was never eager to try this place out in the past.  Anyway, I sat down at the edge of the long table as I was being anti-social, and tried to calm myself down.

The amuse bouche arrived, and the freaking kid immediately started to talk about how he was still going to be hungry after this meal, and that he would have to hit the night market to fill up his stomach.  I wanted to yell at him to get the fuck out of the restaurant, but I couldn't.  The parental units - who were responsible for this situation - were there; and he was, after all, family.  So I bit my tongue as my blood pressure rose again.

The first amuse bouche came with two spoons, each bearing one mouthful.  There was the tomato marshmallow, with sprinkles of Parmigiano and topped with a thin slice of chorizo.  The waitress had introduced it as "Spanish ham (西班牙火腿)", and I couldn't figure out what kind of ham it was... until I queries the captain and was told that it was chorizo.  The other spoon contained what seemed to be a thin slice of scallop that had been wrapped into a ball, with a dab of truffle oil.

The second amuse was a dollop of cream on top of some salmon and mayonnaise mix, with a layer of salmon mousse at the bottom of the shot glass.  Not bad.

Summer flavor: gazpacho, ocean catch ceviche with basil oil, tomato sorbet - I love gazpacho, especially in warm weather, and this thicker version was pretty tasty.  The raw sweet shrimps (甘エビ) were pretty nice, but there was nothing "ceviche" about this dish... The tiny zucchini flower was a nice touch.

This is where my meal went wrong and my blood started boiling again.  We had been informed that while there was only one set menu, we were able to opt for a cheaper version by removing a few of the dishes.  As mom never goes for a lot of food, she had mentioned that she was happy to go with a smaller set.  As I was still fuming, apparently I had missed the conversation between her and the captain, informing him that we were all going for the smaller set.  I had assumed that she was only talking about herself, while the rest of us boys would take the full set.  So I was a little shocked to see the next dish show up, when I was expecting something else between this and the last course...

Was I over-reacting? Perhaps.  But I was already pissed and resented the situation, and the last thing I needed was for something else to rub me the wrong way.

Duck foie gras: light grilled foie gras, summer vegetable & salad, chicken jus & sauce vierge - I must say that the foie was flawlessly executed, with the charring imparting the lightest of smoky flavors, while the center remained soft and creamy like panna cotta.  The squash and zucchini flower tempura were nice, too.

Signature: duo of our oyster selections, fresh with yuzu jelly & gratin - the oysters from Nagasaki (長崎) were pretty tasty.  The one with the yuzu jelly was nice and refreshing, and I liked the little brunoise of zucchini on top.

The version with spinach and cheese gratin was not too bad, although I was never a big fan of baked oysters...

Taiwanese ocean: chef's creation - the ornate jobfish (金雞母魚) had a very interesting texture... very springy, almost to the point of crunchy, like a piece of cuttlefish.  The crayfish was pretty decent.  But what made the dish, of course, was actually the shellfish sauce at the bottom...

M9 wagyu beef: French roasted rib eyes, potato & chorizo tian, shallot jus - I totally forgot to ask them to substitute something else for the wagyu...  I know it says "French roasted" but from the look and the texture, I'm guessing that this was cooked sous-vide.  It was clearly not raw, but the smooth texture and the uniform color suggests slow-cooking at a low temperature.  Maybe it was done as arroser like what I had at Narisawa...  Anyway... very delish.  Mom and dad sent theirs back to the kitchen.

Asia inspiration: JQ's bah kut teh - mom was only too happy to save some money and not have this dish.  The soup was kinda dark, with strong spices such as star anise, but there was also the kick of pepper in the background.  I'm thinking this is actually a blend of the Hokkien (Malaysian) and Teochew (Singaporean) styles...  Not bad, and kinda interesting to serve it here.

Refresh: Cointreau granite, Sauterne jelly, honeydew melon juice - the staff made a pretty poor introduction of this one... The Cointreau granite was introduced as "lemon", and they didn't mention the Sauternes jelly at all...  All in all, though, this was a very good palate cleanser.

Fruity: tropical sensation - the coconut "cake" was interesting as there was some kind of spice that stuck out, which turned out to be turmeric (waitress said "curry").  Coconut foam, pineapple sorbet and passion fruit coulis round out the mix.

Heavenly: "Snickers" version 2011 - surprise! Surprise!  Turns out the Snickers comes in the form of a soufflé.  Texture-wise mom thought it was the best she's had in Taipei, and I agree.  There were bits of roasted peanuts at the bottom, which I must say did match my memory of how the peanuts tasted inside a Snickers bar.  The sauce was chocolate, although the waitress started talking about Kahlua and I questioned her about it.  After all, Kahlua is a coffee liqueur and there's no coffee in the candy bar.  Unfortunately, there was no sign of any caramel...so the verdict is "close, but no cigar"!

Justin's got some of the best canelés in Asia, and I wasn't disappointed tonight.  The fruit jelly was very, very good... soft and silky texture.

1995 Joseph Phelps Insignia - minty, black fruits, Asian spices, forest and nutmeg on the nose.  Amazingly, still tannic on the palate with a full body and a long finish.  This has been in my collection since 1999, and I find it to be still incredibly young for its age.  I guess I won't open the next bottle for at least another 5 years!

I sat through most of the dinner silent, anti-social and looking like I wanted to kill... but I did warm up a little towards the end.  This was the worst birthday dinner I've gone through in many, many years - although it had nothing to do with the quality of the food.  I really hope I never have to go through this again.


Anonymous said...

You sound like you are 12 years old!!
What's wrong with you?

Peech said...

Um... I must have suffered a relapse into childhood... Well, I think I'm entitled to act childishly once a year for my birthday... =P

Anonymous said...

odd how you aren't married.

Anonymous said...

My god, I hope I never have to eat a dinner with you...

Peech said...

To the last anonymous: there's no chance of that, since you should by now that I'm very choosy about who I eat with.

flying said...

I think it will be very interesting to have a meal with you! I will certainly learn a lot :)


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