May 17, 2014

Sapphire anniversary

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Forty-five years ago today, the parental units' parents held a little shindig at what was then the very posh Magnolia Hotel (中泰賓館) to celebrate the marriage of their kids.  I popped into the world not too long after, and fast forward a few decades, I had the honor of helping the parental units celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary tonight.

Given the dearth of restaurants that I feel are acceptable for these occasions in Taipei, once again I decided to take us back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Mom was a little hesitant at first, because frankly her experience with Robuchon over the last 7 years has been hit or miss.  But I kinda insisted on this so she didn't put up much of a fight.

In all the times I've been here, I've never seen it as busy as the place was tonight - which was both good and bad.  I'm happy for the staff, since this means the business can be more sustainable.  But I also felt that the service was slipping a little tonight, perhaps because the staff isn't used to being so busy.

The amuse bouche was tomato gelée with a layer of pesto, topped with some mozzarella mousse.  With a rosemary stick on the side.

Asperges blanches AAA - we were told that the white asparagus was one of the specials tonight, and mom and I wanted to try them.

I asked Benoit how the asparagus was prepared, and had hoped for something like the panna cotta or mimosa I had at Robuchon a Galera 3 years ago.  But no, they don't do that now, not when the quality of the asparagus was high.  Apparently Oncle Joël insists on just lightly pan-frying them when they are fresh and the start of the season, and only do something else with them towards the end of the season.

These were very good.  Despite being so large and thick, they were still very tender - except for the very last bits at the bottom.  Interesting sprinkle of herbs and spices... which turned out to have a bigger kick than I expected!

The asparagus was served with some warm hollandaise sauce on the side, which Benoit would have waxed lyrical about if we had let him...

Pâté en croûte - the minute Benoit brought it out to show me, I knew I had to have it.  Not many people do it, and I never miss a chance to have it when I see it.  Yum!  Too bad the gelée had half-melted by the time it got plated and got to me.

Le volaille la cuisse rôtie, aux asperges vertes et champignons - pretty interesting.  The chicken thighs were very tender, and the foam was made with Shaoxing wine.

Le pamplemousse rose en granité au yuzu avec une mousse au gingembre frais - very nice and refreshing, which was just what I needed tonight.  Pink grapefruit wedges and granité, with yuzu and verbena gelée plus some ginger mousse.  Love the fragrance of verbena.

Violet macaron and chocolate truffle - very, very nice.  One of the best macarons I've had here.

The wine tonight was meant to be the main event, since this is a big anniversary.  I had moved this particular bottle from Hong Kong to Taipei about 2 years ago, and it's been sitting in my wine fridge during this time.  I had taken it out of its horizontal position and left it upright in my fridge when I arrived home last night.

I decided to drop the bottle off at the restaurant before lunch, and no sooner had I showed Benoit the wine than I got my scolding.  I had expected him not to be happy about me bringing my own bottle of wine again, but the real reason he was upset at me was the fact that I had brought this particular bottle to dinner.  In his mind, I had committed sacrilege by standing the bottle upright and moving it more than 10 meters from its original position.  He felt I was ruining the wine from its potential, although I dismissed his concerns since I've brought old wines to dinner plenty of times.  I did think that he was shaking up the bottle a little bit when he took it from me...

After we arrived, Benoit brought out our wine and opened it.  I decided that we wouldn't drink it until after we've ordered, which ended up taking about half an hour.  This may have been a mistake on my part...

1969 DRC Richebourg - opened 30 minutes prior to serving, not decanted.  Lots of leather, good amount of sweet fruit, plummy, a little animal.  Very cloudy from sediment being shaken, a little tannic from the sediment.  Much more muted than expected and not showing well.  Very disappointing.

In fact, it was soooo disappointing that for the first time, I wondered if this bottle were fake.  Not that I know what a fake bottle tastes like, but I just couldn't believe how quickly it faded.  Not after that amazing bottle that I had opened for them 5 years ago for their ruby anniversary, which was meant to be a (slightly) interior wine.  Had this bottle come from Rudy?  Well, given that I had bought this at auction from a house whose name was most associated with Rudy, I guess it was a possibility - although I wondered why he would bother to fake a Richebourg instead of La Tâche or Romanée-Conti.

I always try to offer a glass to the sommelier or chef whenever I bring something special.  Tonight I did the same, and asked Benoit to please pour himself a glass. He said "no."  Mom suggested that I pour him a glass myself, so I did.  He said "no" again.

Later on he told me that he had never drunk the wine before, but he didn't want to drink from this bottle, because he knew that the bottle would underperform.  It had been shaken too much, and he didn't want to drink from a bottle that was not in top shape.

Oh well.  This was an expensive disappointment.  I'd always been pretty careful about who I buy old wines from, as provenance is really, really important.  I haven't done any business with this particular auction house for the last few years, and I guess I learned my lesson tonight.


Anonymous said...

Can't believe people still buying from Acker auction house nowadays???

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to your parental units, they sound like great folks! Amazingly, the Mandarin Oriental which sits on the grounds that used to be the Magnolia Hotel held its opening ceremony on the 18th. It is the definition of opulence, you should find the time to take them for dinner there, there is French, Italian and Cantonese, the chefs collectively have 8*'s from the rubber man.

Really encourage you to check it out and stay there on your visit here.



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