January 28, 2014

In the presence of greatness

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There are a few people I haven't seen for a couple of months, and someone's been asking me to organize a dinner together.  After looking around for interesting places to eat, I figured we could do any of the three restaurants run by Kazuo Okada, and put it to the group for a vote.  Not surprisingly, Messina came out the winner.  I was also not surprised that no one voted for the Shanghainese restaurant with the macaron...

I'd never been to Messina and was looking forward to try it, after my first experience with Kazuo Okada.  I decided that I wouldn't arrange anything special in terms of food, and would let everyone decide for themselves.  After checking to make sure that we didn't all have to order the same set menu if one of us did, I ended up ordering à la carte... and taking one course more than I should have...

The kitchen sent us an amuse bouche, which was a seared scallop with grapefruit and green apple on top.

This was when I first realized that I was in the presence of greatness.

January 26, 2014

Lil' ol' chapels

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We usually do our MNSC annual dinner in January, and I'm thankful yet again that I don't have to play the role of organizer.  Given the boys' recent experience with a bottle of ex-château La Chapelle from an older vintage, the gang decided to do a vertical of the famed wine.  However, due to budget constraints we weren't able to include the legendary 1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle in the lineup.  My attempts to persuade Altaya Wines to give the MNSC members a 50% discount fell on deaf ears...

As the budget seemed a little tight - and I'm not about to get into an argument on this topic - we decided to forgo dining at a fancy restaurant.  Instead we gathered in the Grill Room at the Hong Kong Country Club, which I guess isn't bad as far as club food goes.

Vichyssoise of cauliflower with honey, steamed langoustines and buckwheat pancake - I never see vichyssoise on the menus at places I frequent, as I guess it's too low-brow... So I jumped at the chance to have this even though it's not exactly warm weather.  LOVED IT.  Creamy, rich and smooth.  Wonderful texture that was thick enough without being in overkill territory.  Chunks of langoustines were hidden in the bowl, and they were naturally savory with that sweetness which can only be from fresh seafood.

The only complaint I have is that I wasn't given any utensils with which to crack the claws, so I couldn't get to the meat inside.

The best stuffed crab shell in Hong Kong?

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I was running about an hour late for lunch, thanks to unscheduled delays while meeting a prospective client.  So when I finally arrived at Man Wah (文華廳) and sat down, Tigger and family had already gone through the dim sum items... and had very kindly saved me a couple of things.  I dug in immediately.

Roast goose puff with yanmin sauce (仁棯燒鵝酥) - hmmm... other than coming in a very cute goose-shaped pastry, I didn't find this very special.  Honestly, if you told me it's a barbecued pork puff (叉燒酥) I would have believed you...

January 25, 2014

Be good to yourself

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Some time very late last night - or in the wee hours this morning - I made a decision to take a "me day" today.  Once in a while, it's good to take some time out and make yourself happy,  since - as the song goes - "Be good to yourself, nobody else will".

It's been a while since I last made a major purchase, and I've had my eye on a certain camera body (and a lens) to meet my photography needs.  So I made my way into town in the afternoon and pulled the trigger.

With my new toys in the bag, there was no time like the present to take them for a test run... in another city!  I strolled over to the ferry terminal and hopped on the next available ferry to Macau.  I figured I'd stroll around Macau, turn on the camera's GPS for some geo-tagging, and grab some food while I'm at it.

I was talking to Mo' Unni yesterday about the joys of solo dining, and decided that it's been too long since I asked for a "table for one" at a fine dining establishment.  I'd made a couple of trips to Macau over the last few years, as KC's "plus one" at the invitation of Hotel Lisboa.  One place that we never visited together - and one place I still hadn't been to - was Don Alfonso 1890.  So this was an itch I finally decided to scratch today.

January 24, 2014

The new and healthier Harlan

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It's the last Friday before Lunar New Year, and I decided to take the team out for lunch.  Our little fund launched just about a year ago, and it seemed like an appropriate time to gather the troops and thank everyone for their hard work.  I asked the guys to pick a place, and was a little surprised when the reservation was made at Gold by Harlan Goldstein... instead of Tsui Wah (翠華).  I guess this was their way of telling me that they wanted to be fed good stuff!

We got there pretty early, and I spotted a somewhat familiar figure in the distance.  Of course it was Harlan, but the newer, slimmer version.  We had both been on separate slim-down programs, and I had missed the chance to attend the charity dinner last year celebrating his win in Summer Slim Slam.  So this was the first time we had seen each other in months.  I went up to say hello and was greeted with a bear hug.

We needed to get out quickly as the stock market only had a 1-hour lunch break, so we went for the set lunch.  I went and grabbed some raw veggies, salumi and marinated mixed veggies to start.

"Melt in your mouth" Scottish salmon, seafood bisque orzo, chorizo, squids and black ink aioli - I initially wanted some pasta, but Harlan highly recommended this salmon and I figured he's never done me no wrong.  So the whole team went for this lighter and healthier option.

And sure enough, this was melt-in-your-month as Harlan promised.  The salmon was lightly poached - or was it cooked "sous vide"? - and was incredibly tender.  The orzo in seafood bisque was very yummy, and I've always loved the texture of orzo as it yielded a little to the pressure from my teeth.  The chorizo added some kick to the flavors, and that black ink aioli...  Yum.

The coffee gelato was very yummy, and I loved the crunch that was sprinkled on top.  I decided to only finish half, as I probably didn't need the full hit of calories... and I'd just had my second espresso of the day and didn't need more caffeine.  I was actually tempted to pour my espresso on top of the coffee gelato... but that would have been a little too much!

This was a pretty good hit-and-run lunch.  I'd been missing Harlan's food while I was on my diet, and I guess I need to come back and get my fix...

January 23, 2014

Oompa Lupa

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Drew pinged me early in the morning, letting me know that he's in town again.  Normally he hangs out with the head honcho of an auction house whenever he's around, and I've failed to catch him the last few times he has been in Hong Kong.  But this time around his buddy ditched him and went to drink wine with some local tycoons instead, so I happily stepped up as the backup option.  Drew and I used to work together two decades ago - during the last century - and it was good to catch up after a long time.

Since it only popped up this morning and Drew claims he no longer knows Hong Kong, not surprisingly I had a tough time figuring out where to go on a Thursday night.  I called a couple of places I wanted to check out, and in the end settled on Lupa despite their strange corkage policy.

I had never been to Lupa despite it being a high-profile Batali outlet.  The place opened during my absence from Hong Kong, and even when I moved back I had little desire to go.  Every single friend whose palate I trust panned this place.  I'm also pretty ambivalent about Batali's local partners, since they opened lots of mediocre restaurants that don't exactly excite me.  And the general feedback was "Carnevino is better than Lupa".  'Nuff said.

But hey, Lupa's a pretty big place and I doubt they were gonna fill up all 200 seats.  Sure enough, I was told that walk-ins would be OK when I called them.  So I walked over with some trepidation...

January 18, 2014

The most expensive whisky in the world

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The wine auction circuit started again today, with 3 auction houses holding simultaneous auctions in Hong Kong.  These days I've stopped going to the Acker and Zachys auctions, and I dutifully showed up at Sotheby's bright and early.  I was pretty surprised to find the room very full at just a quarter past 10 a.m., as I had expected the other auctions to be busier.

The auction started with some "leftover" lots from some of the auctions last year... especially those which were ex-château.  The largest consignor today offered a good collection of 1982 Bordeaux... notable for both its breadth and depth.  It seemed that any '82s - even those from Fifth Growth or unclassified châteaux - found ready buyers.  Quite a few wines had parcels of 10 cases or more.  And there were plenty of other older vintages on offer, and all of them were snapped up.

But the highlight of the day was one special lot - the Macallan M Decanter - Constantine.  The whisky is a blend of "a handful of casks dating from the 1940s to the early 1990s", which is kinda vague as far as descriptions go.  The selling point here is that it is housed in a 6-liter imperial decanter created by Lalique, and is one of only four in the world.  All four are apparently named after Roman Emperors - with Caesar, Justinian and Augustus being the other three.

This was a charity lot, with 100% of the hammer price going to local charities in Hong Kong.  Sotheby's is also donating part of the buyer's premium to the same charities.

With no reserve and an estimate indicated at between HKD 2 to 4 million dollars, the eyes of the world were on this lot.  Shortly before the action started, I noticed a few of my friends popping in from the auction next door.  Then I noticed Jeff Zacharia from Zachys was standing by the entrance as he, too, wanted to witness the bidding for this lot.

A few weeks ago the Specialist was fretting about whether people would actually bid for this lot.  Sure it's pretty rare, but it was also gonna be one incrediby expensive bottle.  The pressure was on.

But she need not have worried.  Absentee bids meant the bidding actually started at HKD 2 million, and the action turned out to be between two guys in the room.  As the auctioneer, Bob gave each bidder ample time to decide whether or not to go to the next increment, as each increment was a whopping USD 25,000 equivalent.  Eventually the hammer fell at HKD 4 million, which made the total purchase price HKD 4.9 million inclusive of buyer's premium.  That's more than USD 628,000, and set a new world record for a single bottle of whisky.

The rest of the auction went without incident, and I ended up picking up several cases of aged Burgundy for my friends and I.  A few of the MNSC boys realized at the tasting yesterday that I would be here today, and asked me to bid on a few lots on their behalf...  Auction duty today...

This time there were a larger number of wines served at auction:

2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin - yeasty, a little toasty, with lemon citrus.

1982 Pichon Baron en double magnum - smoky, earthy, lead pencil and some fruit.

1982 Pichon Lalande - very lovely.  Smoky, earthy with tea leaves, cedar and woody notes.

1982 Vieux Château Certan - savory, soy sauce, smooth and velvety on the palate.  Very nice.

1986 Climens - lots of plastic, honey, dates, orange blossom water, apricot on the nose.  Sweet but slightly bitter finish.  Beautiful.

1981 Beaucastel - very smoky, burnt rubber, manure, brett.

2000 Beaucastel - minty, forest, berries, jammy, with a hint of sharpness.  Good concentration and there are still tannins here.

2005 Clos des Papes - really sweet and jammy, with lots of forest, pine needle and cedar.  Syrupy.  Opened up nicely.

After the auction, I attended a birthday celebration dinner of a friend at the Hong Kong Club.  The birthday girl was kind enough to serve us something from her vintage.  Not quite the Macallan M perhaps, but very small nonetheless.

1974 The Clan Denny Cameronbridge 38 Year Old - initially this was like paint thinner, but also heavy with sweet vanilla, some marmalade and a hint of smokiness.

January 17, 2014

Disney with Bear

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More than eight years after opening, I still hadn't been to Hong Kong Disneyland.  I never felt to urge to fight with the Mainland Chinese crowds that I was bound to be surrounded by, and my last visit to a Disney theme park was back in 2001 at Tokyo DisneySea - where I stood in line for hours just to get on a ride for a few minutes.

But I have a godson now, and he's a HUGE fan of Mickey Mouse.  So on a car ride back to his house last December, I told the little fella that I'd go to Disneyland with him to see Mickey.  To which he replied: "ARE YOU OK?!"

I was left speechless while his mama laughed her ass off.

Today I made good on that promise, taking a day off from work so we can go on a "weekday".  Tigger had a meeting in town, so we didn't get under way until a couple of hours later than initially planned.  We did manage to get their before noon, though...

January 13, 2014

More Peking duck

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My second and last night in Beijing on this trip, and once again my friendly neighborhood prime broker arranged a dinner with Peking duck.  We were shipped off in batches to Duck de Chine (全鸭季) - the Peking duck restaurant within the complex known as 1949 - The Hidden City.  The complex was formerly a factory and research facility set up in 1949, and this was converted into an F&B complex.  The historical feel of the place was maintained, and looked a little out of place in the sea of tall, concrete-and-glass buildings surrounding it.

The menu, of course, was preset... so I waited for the onslaught of dishes.

January 12, 2014

Everything but the duck

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I'm in Beijing for a short business trip, attending a conference organized by a former employer.  As part of the overall program, I'm attending two dinners hosted by my prime broker, and Peking duck feature prominently at both dinners...

First up tonight is DaDong Artistic Conception Food (大董中国意境菜) - a branch of which I had hit on my last trip to Beijing.  The location tonight was within a shopping mall, and was in fact within walking distance from the Peninsula Beijing.  Pretty convenient for me.

We unrolled the scroll that was our menu tonight, and my jaw dropped at the number of courses we were going through tonight with the Winter Tasting Menu (冬趣).  I'd better not finish everything put in front of me tonight then...

Crispy mushroom in tomato (蕃茄脆菇沙拉) - the tomatoes were stuffed with mushrooms, which was interesting and actually tasty.

Goose liver hawthorn (山楂鹅肝) - half of these were hawthorn (山楂), and the other half were foie gras pâté made to look like hawthorn - much like the foie gras lollipops at Amber.

January 11, 2014

Skanky and spicy

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I was invited by some friends tonight for a casual gathering at their home. Dinner involved two things that don’t feature often in my eating habits – hotpot and spicy food, so things would be a little different for a change.

The hotpot was already bubbling on the table top, but it would have to wait. Our hostess was making fish filets in chilli oil (水煮魚) – a famous Sichuanese dish that I don’t normally eat because it’s deathly spicy.  She was in the kitchen stir-frying a pile of chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and a whole lot of other stuff. The fumes coming out were pretty incredible.

January 9, 2014

Expensive menu change

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It's the start of January, and that means it's time to celebrate a couple of birthdays with the gang.  No prize for guessing that the restaurant of choice was Fook Lam Moon (福臨門)...  What was different tonight, though, was that our resident VIP wasn't able to join us.  With BM out of commission, only a couple of key items were pre-ordered, and the enviable task of deciding what we were eating fell onto my shoulders.

I decided that we should have a menu change, and order a bunch of dishes that I like but don't get to eat with this crowd.

Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - de rigueur.  As good and enjoyable as it ever was.

January 6, 2014

Backdoor cousins

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It's now January and I've gone off the reservation for the last 3 weeks.  I'm happy to see that I haven't gained back all that much weight, but it's time to get back to my diet.  I'm loosening the screws a little this time around, but I'm still gonna try to keep to no more than 2 cheat meals a week.

Tonight's dinner, however, was unplanned.  I've already got my two cheat meals later on this week, so I wasn't very eager to join my friend Susan for one of her restaurant reviews.  It was gonna be somewhere Chinese, so I threw out a trio of high-end Chinese restaurants which had opened within the last 6 months.  The one place that Susan hadn't reviewed?  The new branch of Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂魚翅酒家) in Central - just a couple of minutes from my office.  Ask and ye shall receive, so there was no way for me to back out of going to dinner...

Sun Tung Lok, of course, is historically famous for being the place where countless wealthy diners splurged on expensive ingredients such as shark's fin, abalone and bird's nest.  These days the restaurant still retains the word for shark's fin in its name, although it doesn't say so in English.  Our gang had a little chuckle about this.  A year ago, two of us joined Susan for a review of a new branch of another restaurant whose English name did contain the words "shark's fin".  When the South China Morning Post published a link to that review on this day EXACTLY a year ago on one of its Facebook pages, it unleashed a wave of fury from self-righteous, moronic readers who were mostly expats.

These people bitched, screamed and complained about the SCMP "promoting" shark's fin.  But they were complete MORONS.  Why?  Because I'm 200% sure that NONE OF THEM bothered to read the actual review.  All they saw were the words "shark fin" in name of the restaurant, and they exploded and hurled insults.  If they had bothered to click on the link and actually spent 2 minutes to read the review, they would have realized that at no point in the review was shark's fin mentioned.  Guess what?  We didn't order any!  I refuse to eat shark's fin, and I'm pretty damn sure the SCMP wouldn't have paid for it anyway!  It's amazing how many people in this world don't actually use their fucking brains...

Anyway.  I was the first to arrive after my little wine tasting, and almost immediately started to get a whiff of the overpowering air freshener being pumped through the dining room.  Why the fuck would a fine dining restaurant do this?!  The dining experience isn't just about what goes onto the tastebuds... the Chinese talk about the complete package of color, fragrance and flavor (色, 香, 味俱全).  So what's the rationale for filling my lungs with that much air freshener?!

It took the Worm Supplier and Kung Fu Panda some 10 minutes to go through the menu and figure out what dishes to order, as they tried to avoid repeating dishes they'd already had during their review for the other branch, while trying to order some of the same dishes they'd had at The Boss (波士廳) - the restaurant where, despite being situated just one floor below this one, the entrance is on the opposing side of the building.  The connection?  Part of the kitchen team at The Boss came from Sun Tung Lok.

January 2, 2014

Japanese new year feast

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Believe it or not, despite having spent a few years growing up in Japan and having eaten Japanese food for most of my life, I've never had the celebratory meals taken during the first few days of the year known as osechi ryori (御節料理).  It had never been a big deal to me, and I never remembered to make reservations at Japanese restaurants until it's too late.  This year, though, I decided that things were gonna be different.  I was determined to tick this off my to-do list.

I was too lazy to do research on which Japanese restaurants in town were offering decent osechi... I didn't ask my Japanese friends, nor did I bother to read this post...  It was New Year's Day, and I had just stepped into the apartment after flying back from Taipei... My knee-jerk reaction was to call up Nadaman (なだ万) and put myself on the waiting list for lunch the next day.

I arrived at the appointed time, and the friend I roped in for lunch had already decided she didn't want the special set, so she ordered some sushi instead.  I thought the new year kaiseki (初春懐石) was a little too elaborate for lunch - not to mention a little expensive - but since it was the reason why I was here in the first place... I went ahead and ordered it anyway.

Appetizers (祝肴) - as expected, this is the most elaborate part of the meal, with lots of little nibbles presented very nicely.  They were:


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