February 15, 2012

Hero to zero

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I'm back in Hong Kong for a few days on business, and as luck would have it, managed to attend the first MNSC dinner of the year.  I was pretty excited to attend the gathering tonight, not the least because we would start off with another face-off - much like the one I participated in at the end of December 2010

We arrived at Chiu Tang (潮廳), the Chiuchow restaurant in the Cosmo Hotel.  Curiously enough, our evening did not start in the private dining room but in the rather spacious entertainment room next door.  We would hang out here while watching last year's bottom scorers - Pineapple and Dr. Poon - try to pick out the identities of the two wines.  We also did get to taste the wines ourselves…

1995 Conseillante - mineral, a little metallic, some fruit, a little medicinal, a little smoke, mint.  Someone mentioned shoe polish… Perhaps.  Dr. Poon took a whiff and declared "I have no idea WTF this is!" …and he would be right.  He didn't.

1995 Dominus - sweeter fruit compared to the Conseillante, with a little smoke, bacon, plum, a little sharp on the nose and oaky notes.  Pretty long finish.  Very nice.  Definitely more ready to drink.  Pineapple took a whiff and declared "This is very familiar!"  …and he would be right, too.  He actually guessed it was a 1995 Dominus.  Wow!

That wasn't just a face-off.  As someone said, Pineapple delivered a knock-out punch!  Dr. Poon will take the job of this year's convener...

We sat down to a great dinner.  This place was set up by a well-known Hong Kong tycoon who owns a string of fine dining restaurants around town.  Naturally the food was of high caliber, and I was very happy to be introduced to this place.  However, the menu was pretty much all wrong for red wine…

Chilled giant flower crab Chiuchow-style (潮式大紅蟹) - I've always liked the way these giant crabs are first steamed and then chilled, giving the crab meat a rather bouncy texture while preserving the sweet taste.  I must have had 3 of the body sections…  Lovely, but even without the offending black vinegar the taste just didn't work with reds.

Soy-marinated goose liver platter (鹵水鵝肝拼盤) - I had never seen pieces of goose liver this size in Chinese cuisine… but it was totally awesome.  While some of the guys passed up the opportunity to have this, months of living in Taipei has deprived me of this delicacy… so I devoured one of the big pieces, then had a smaller piece, too.

The rest of the dish was equally awesome.  The tofu was very silky; the strips of pig's ears were crunchy, and full of five-spice (五香); one can never go wrong with fatty, layered pork (五花肉); and the pig intestines had that familiar, smelly flavor.

I skipped the braised shark's fin (潮州紅燒大魚翅) and offered my bowl, but no one took it.  It was apparently cooked with lard, which I heard made it extra yummy.

Braised freshwater eel (紅炆花錦鱔皇) -  another dish that clashed completely with red wine, thanks to the muddy and fishy flavors of the eel.  Slices of pork and pieces of tofu skin made the dish reasonably yummy.  Oh and lots of garlic cloves, too.

Pigeon braised with dried paddy straw mushrooms (陳草菇炆乳鴿) - wow!  This was an incredibly tender and delicious pigeon…  The meat was basically falling off some of the bones.  Yum.

Ham with Chinese cabbage heart (腿片紹菜膽) - the ham was nice, but the real star was the heart of Chinese cabbage.  Soooo tender and sweet.

Pan-fried rice vermicelli with beef in shacha sauce (沙茶牛肉煎米粉) - I've always loved this dish, no matter where I have it.  The beef was a little fatty, and the spicy shacha flavors was just wonderful.  Again, not a great dish to have with wine… but I couldn't care less at this point.

Deep-fried sweet potato and taro (翻沙金銀條) - coated in sugar and deep-fried with lard, which is the only way to go…  I love sweet potato so it's no surprise that I devoured it, but the speed with which the block of taro disappeared is a testament to how well it was done… given that I'm normally not a fan.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the sweet osmanthus (桂花) liquid may have been the dipping sauce for the sweet potato and taro… but it didn't occur to me until AFTER I drank the whole cup of it…  Very fragrant and lovely, but also a little too sweet.

Nice bowl of fresh fruits.

The Ox was the host for the evening, and treated us to a rare "massiiive" vertical of… Opus One.

1992 Opus One - very fruity, lovely, soft and velvety on the tongue, a little medicinal on the finish.  Smoky with grilled meat.  93 points.
1990 Opus One - more open, bacon, smoky, very lovely.  Tannins are still around.  94 points.

1991 Opus One - farmy, bacon, sweet fruit and rubber.  Also very lovely. 93 points.

1995 Opus One - nose was more open than the first 3 wines.  A little minty, and a bit more animal.  Nose faded very quickly in glass… and became a lot more muted.  93 points.

1996 Opus One - smoky, farmy, a little muted.  93 points.

1994 Opus One - alcoholic and sharp, a little smoke and a little medicinal.  93 points.

Well, I was waaaay off in guessing the identities of the wines tonight.  I had distinctly detected bacon and farmy notes in the 1990 and 1991, so I immediately thought about Rhône… and Hermitage.  Needless to say I was thousands of miles off, and at the end of the evening did not get a single point in terms of scoring.

My consolation lay in the fact that I was not alone.  The man who had delivered the impressive knock-out punch earlier in the evening fared no better than I did.  Someone mentioned the cliché "hero to zero", and that's a pretty fitting description of the events this evening…

Very drunk, and very stuffed.  What a way to spend the first evening back in Hong Kong...

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