September 10, 2011

Cellar dining

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I'm back in Hong Kong this weekend, and for one reason or another, I wasn't able to convince a single fellow sake lover to join me for dinner and share a very rare bottle that I had spotted in a restaurant.  Everyone had already planned their Saturday nights way in advance... After turning me down, the Specialist very kindly invited me to join her for dinner with a few of her friends.

The venue, curiously enough, was at the Hong Kong Wine Vault.  One of her friends wanted to check out the cellar facilities there, and as it happens three of us - including myself - store some of our wines there.  We had booked one of the new private dining rooms, and the menu was being catered by a chef who works frequently with the place.  Dining/entertaining here has its advantages, and chief among them is the ability to walk into one's own cellar and grab a bottle (or two) when the mood strikes...or when there's no more wine on the table...

There were a few starters to tide us over while we waited for the kitchen to deliver the rest of the dishes:

Century eggs and pickled ginger (皮蛋酸薑) - believe it or not, century eggs actually work well with white wine and Champagne.  I only had a little wedge and didn't have any ginger, but the sip of Champagne I took with the egg yolk still in my mouth was pretty interesting.

Vietnamese deep-fried spring rolls - I liked the crispy crust, and the filling with shrimp and pork was pretty nice, too.

Stir-fried string beans (干扁四季豆) - not quite as dry and yummy as mom's, but this is already better than 90% of what is out there.

Stir-fried shark's fin with crab meat and egg (炒桂花翅) - OK, so I normally have a policy not to eat shark's fin, but I've only met some of the others for the first time tonight and I didn't want to be rude or make anyone uncomfortable, so I ate it.  This was very delish, as the onions, egg and crab meat all lent their flavors to the shark's fin and vermicelli.

Stir-fried pomfret fillet with crispy fins (骨香油泡鯧魚球) - cut from a big pomfret, this was very yummy, thanks to the abundance of stir-fried onions.  The fins were given more meat and were a little more crunchy, but seasoned with way too much salt.  I also wasn't able to swallow some of the fins since they weren't deep-fried to a crisp, so I ended up fishing them out of my mouth...

Baked baby abalone with scallion and ginger (薑蔥焗鮑魚仔) - pretty decent.  Interesting that the chef decided to score the abalone so that it could absorb more seasoning.

Stir-fried dice beef cubes with black pepper and garlic (黑椒蒜片牛柳粒) - not exactly the best beef, and there was definitely the taste of baking powder.  The onions were also a little on the raw side.

Stir-fried choy sum (清炒菜心)

Pan-fried chicken (當紅炸子雞) - the chicken was very succulent, although the meat was perhaps a little bland.  The crispy skin, however, was pretty amazingly tasty.

Fried glutinous rice with preserved sausage (生炒糯米飯) -  disappointing.  Interesting that the chef chose not to add some soy sauce to season/color the rice, so this looks more like a regular fried rice Yeung Chow style (揚州炒飯).  The rice also was too soggy so it didn't taste like glutinous rice at all, but more like regular rice.  Bummer... because the overall flavor was not bad.

Walnut cream (核桃露) - we were curious as to why the color was so light and resembled almond cream (杏仁露), and it turns out the chef filtered the ground walnuts.  The taste was definitely walnut, though, albeit the flavors were on the light side and the consistency not as viscous as normal.  

Wine, of course, takes center stage at gatherings like this.  And we had some truly lovely wines tonight:

1989 Bollinger Vielles Vignes Françaises - a very rare treat.  This blanc de noirs made with grapes from pre-phylloxera vines is a pretty rare Champagne, and I was happy to have a chance to drink this.  The Specialist chose not to decant this and served this in a Pinot Noir glass.  Nose was very lovely, caramelized and sugary with orange notes.  Not as lively as I expected but the nose definitely showed the aging.  Pretty long finish.  Later on mineral notes came out and was definitely a little salty.  Very nice.

1995 Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet en magnum - I pulled this out of my cellar to share with the group, and decanted for more than an hour prior to serving.  Initially the nose was very sugary and sweet, slightly tangerine.  The color was a little dark, and I was afraid that the wine - from a vintage like 95/96 where Burgundy experienced widespread problems with oxidation - would be a little advanced in aging.  The wine turned out fine.  A little bit of spice like cinnamon in the nose, too.  Palate had medium acidity, slightly ripe and alcoholic.  I think the wine finally reached its peak some 3 hours after decanting.  Not bad but I had expected a little better.

1986 Mouton-Rothschild - wow... The last time I drank this wine was in Bordeaux 2 years ago, and this was still very backward and young 25 years after the harvest.  Decanted almost 4 hours before dinner, my first pour still tasted very tannic.  Nose was lovely, very sweet with mint.  After breathing in the glass for a little, there was a faint hint of plastic in the nose along with prominent coconut.

1982 Cheval Blanc - the owner of the bottle feared that this wine was in serious decline, and decided to pop open one of his bottles to check it out.  He need not have worried.  Very lovely nose with tea leaves, floral, a little fruity, smoke and forest notes.  Very smooth on the palate.  Like the Mouton, the last bottle that I tasted of this wine was also 2 years ago in Bordeaux...

1997 Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance - we didn't have any dessert wine, so I went downstairs and fished this bottle out of the cellar since someone had mentioned this wine earlier.  Orange, plastic nose, very ripe, a little caramel and a little sharp.  After a while it was really sweet and full of honey notes.  Sweet on the palate but with enough acidity to balance it.

This was a very good evening.  I got to meet a few more wine lovers who generously shared some great wines with me.  Here's to more evenings like tonight!

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