July 23, 2014


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When I had dinner with 娜姐 last week, she mentioned that Neal Martin was coming back to town... and would I be interested in joining them for a casual dinner?  As Neal is an easygoing guy and it's been a while since I last saw him, I figured there was no reason not to join them for dinner.

I had suggested a Cantonese restaurant that none of us had been to, as I kinda wanted to check the place out.  But our hostess was a little concerned about whether the wine service was up to her standards, so we ended up at Holytan (葆里湛) - which was literally across the street from my office building.

I vaguely remember seeing glimpses about this place on social media, so I found a review on Fungry and Fabulous and became a little worried.  Would I have the same kind of experience as a wine dinner a few months ago, where I could only smell the grilled beef and not the wonderful wines I was drinking?  That would be a real shame, since we were sure to bring out some nice bottles tonight.  Fortunately our hosts have been there on several occasions, and didn't find ventilation to be an issue.

I arrived and was relieved to find that the aircon was on full blast, so I wasn't able to smell the kitchen.  After everyone arrived and the wines had been taken care of, it was time to eat!

The amuse bouche was a little skinned cherry tomato with beef gelatin, sprinkled with what I thought was black olive powder.

Wildcat Cove oysters with tomato jelly and caviar - these oysters from Washington State were pretty creamy with a little brine.  Interesting to have the tomato jelly on top, and after reading Lynn's review I found myself being very gentle with the oysters... less I splashed jelly all over myself.

Slow-cooked blue lobster with sake sorbet - we were asked to taste the sorbet first.  I couldn't get much sake flavor but did taste lots of tomato, so I checked with our server and only then was told that it's actually sake and tomato.  The homard bleu was very, very tender, and the fennel was kinda interesting, but I wasn't a fan of the creamy-lemony sauce.

Vegetable soup - Brussels sprout, tomato, radish, potato... and curiously flavored with rosemary.  Pretty nice, though.

The draw of this place seems to be their Japanese beef, and everyone seems to talk about their unique/proprietary "far infrared oven" that cost like a gazillion dollars.  Well, I don't get hard-ons over kitchen equipment like some people I know - because ultimately it's not how much you spent on your equipment, since the question that really matters is "DOES IT TASTE GOOD?" - so I didn't ask to see the oven.  But I was curious to know how they cooked the beef differently, so I asked.  And I got slightly conflicting answers from the kitchen staff and the waitstaff...

In the end I think it goes like this... (keeping in mind that this was told to me when I was a little buzzed, so it may not be totally accurate)  The beef is grilled in a small grill over Binchotan (備長炭) for the smoky flavors, then it goes into the "far infrared oven" - which apparently has two parts - at 88°C for one minute.  Then it gets moved to the other part of the oven at around 50~60°C for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour.  Then I think it goes back to the grill for a second finish over Binchotan... but I'm not entirely sure about this last part.

Kagoshima ribeye - the result was a very nice-looking piece of beef...

...which was very well-marbled.  Very succulent and melt-in-your-mouth.  Lovely smoky flavors from the Binchotan, but not too heavy.  Very delish.  Perfect on its own.

For some reason the staff insisted that we try out their Japanese rice, and instructed us to eat the beef and rice together in the same mouthful.  Well, I do what I'm told... and of course having the rice soaking up all the fatty juices oozing out of the beef ain't half bad...

Cheesecake and mango sorbet - not bad, but I only really like New York cheesecake...

Now about the wines... We discussed the theme a few days beforehand, and finally settled on having everyone bring something from 1998.

1981 Krug - sweet and caramelized nose, with a little straw, Chinese licorice (甘草), minerals and marmalade.  Acidity was pretty high, and there were almost no bubbles left.  Very lovely.

1998 Roulot Meursault Les Vireuils - initially when the bottle was opened, we detected oxidation but wasn't sure if it was premox.  Turned out it wasn't, but it was still a tiny bit off.  Surprisingly dry on the palate, a little dusty, a little flinty, with marmalade.

1998 Haut-Brion Blanc - HUGE nose, slightly pungent, mineral, flinty and lean.  The Sauvignon Blanc was definitely front-and-center, with a little bit of plastic.  Later on it opened up and became a little buttery and fatty, showing its ripeness.  Absolutely awesome, and by far the wine of the evening for everyone.

1998 Prieuré Roch Vosne-Romanée Clos Goillotte en magnum - very cloudy as expected, very toasty corn, plenty of sweet fruit, not clean but a little dirty, slight hint of forest with animal and leather coming out later.

1998 Leroy Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts - nose of toasty corn, also a little dirty, with plenty of nice fruit.

1998 Guigal La Turque - despite being decanted for close to 3 hours, the wine was still pretty closed and tight.  Nose of forest pine, smoky and woody, very clean and cool.  Very fragrant later, and after almost 4 hours we finally found some bacon fat.  This bottle was waaay too young.

1998 Dalla Valle Maya - ripe and smoky nose, still pretty tannic on the palate.  A different animal.  45% Cab Franc and 55% Cab Sauvignon.

1998 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese from half bottle - petrol, flinty, apricot, marmalade.  Nice acidity.

It's hard not to have fun when you're in good company and there are so many good wines at the table.  Many thanks to 娜姐 for thinking of me...

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