September 30, 2014

Goodbye, September

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It's the last day of September, and I sorely needed something to take my mind off of the mense horrendum I just went through...  While the rest of Hong Kong either participated or talked about Occupy Central/Hong Kong, I chose to dodge the action and holed up at my favorite On Lot 10 instead.  I wanted to divert my attention away from the topic, if only for a couple of hours.

As usual I had requested specific items ahead of time, and we discussed the rest of the menu with David upon arrival.  Once again I was playing my usual duty of ambassador-at-large for the restaurant, introducing a few friends who had yet to discover the place...  I can't remember whether it was David or one of the staff who joked that 60% of their customers show up requesting dishes they have read about on this here blog.  While this is undoubtedly a flattering exaggeration, I do know of real instances where friends of mine have shown up at the restaurant and told the staff that they know me... in the hope of getting "special treatment".  I've thought about this before and I'll bring it up again... when is David gonna start paying me some commission?!  Methinks it's about time we come to some sort of arrangement... SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!

All joking aside, food has always been fantastic here, and tonight was no exception.

Ovoli salad - radish, greens, Parmigniano-Reggiano, chervil, and very thin slices of Italian ovoli mushrooms.  While these mushrooms are very much sought-after as a delicacy, I don't think my palate is delicate enough to appreciate their very subtle flavors...  Nevertheless the salad was very delicious and enjoyable... and in stark contrast to the heavy assault of flavors later.

September 29, 2014

What, no holes in my tablecloth?!

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An old friend is back in town for a visit after a prolonged absence, and we made plans to catch up.  In spite of the inconvenience of Occupy Central, we decided to stick to our original plan and meet up for drinks at Butler.

I started with a more "girlie" drink... It's been years since I last had a melon ball, and since I was at a Japanese bar...  This was not bad at all.

Then I was ready to move on to a "real" drink... and these days I'm liking negroni.  The version here was pretty damn bitter, with nice citrus flavors and fragrance.  Yum.

We nibbled on some sausage platter, but still needed a real dinner!  So we adjourned right next door to Spring Deer (鹿鳴春), one of the classics in this town.  I haven't been back here for more than a decade... and I was pretty excited about going back.

September 28, 2014

Watching Hong Kong going down the toilet

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Let me start with a little background on myself:  I'm Taiwanese by origin (I tell people I'm MIT... "made in Taiwan") and spent some years in my youth growing up and being educated there.  Which is to say that at one point I was brain-washed by the KMT about parts of China's history.  My grandpa served under Chiang Kai-shek and always hung a portrait of the Generalissimo that he received from the man himself.

As I grew up and spent my years from puberty to adulthood abroad, I became exposed to different points of view, and (I hope) matured into someone who embraces democracy, freedom of expression, equality for all...etc... you know, all the "Western" values.  In a recent interview with a journalist from a US paper, I stated that I am "as liberal as they come" when it comes to the issues and ideas related to freedom and equality, although I respect the right for people to have opinions different from mine.

I'm certainly not the world's foremost expert when it comes to anything, but I have spent a number of years watching China and its leadership from different points of view.  I lived through the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 as a college student, and that had a significant impact on me.  So you can understand that I'm not the biggest fan of the leadership in Beijing.

Nearly twenty years ago, I made the decision to relocate with my firm from New York to Hong Kong.  It was a good career move, and I landed here in June 1995.  The plan was to stay for two years, and move somewhere else before the Handover in 1997.  Well... it's glaringly obvious how that plan worked out...

September 25, 2014

The 'plus one'

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A good friend of mine who is certainly an A-lister in town was invited by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to dine at Pierre tonight, and was kind enough to invite me along as the "plus one" instead of my friend's spouse.  As I had been a longtime fan of the restaurant and of Pierre Gagnaire, I was only too happy to accept the invitation.

We were treated to a 6-course menu dégustation, which featured a few dishes from the upcoming "Magic 8" dinner celebrating the restaurant's 8th anniversary, amd Pierre himself will be in town for the festivities.

But first came the series of amuses bouches, some of which I had already tasted at my lunch last month.

Parmesan crumble (domes) and turmeric flavored crispy sandwich with Brillat-Savarin filling (flat ones) - had these before and once again it was the Brillat-Savarin that really kicked ass..

September 24, 2014

Why I'm not worthy to dine at Chiu Tang

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It's not often that I get to eat with Big Mac.  We are usually not in the same city, so we only get to see each other when I visit Taipei.  I was therefore very excited about him moving here, because that meant (hopefully) we would get to eat out together more often.

Tonight's organizer suggested that we meet at Chiu Tang (潮廳), which is an exclusive restaurant/lounge whose cuisine I have enjoyed a few times.  They also know how to handle wines, which is definitely a plus.

I was the first to arrive and had ample time to browse through the menu.  Not surprisingly, the rest of the table left me with the enviable task of ordering the food.  The head waiter came and started to suggest dishes.  Naturally he suggested we start with the classic Chiuchow specialties of marinated goose (鹵水鵝), tofu...etc. but then the usual upselling happened.  He suggested everything from shark's fin soup (which I would never order for environmental reasons) to poached slice conch (which, at upwards of HKD 1,000 per serving, I find ridiculously expensive for something I can't appreciate) to something else I can't quite recall - all of which I flatly refused.  He also suggested the cold flower crab, which I knew would not be cheap but accepted.  Items such as flower crab and conch are listed on the menu as "market price", which is what gave rise to the Cantonese expression of "seafood price (海鮮價)"...

He then asked if we wanted some soup, and suggested that we have the whelk head soup (螺頭湯).  I said OK to this, and he left our private room after noting down other items.  A mere two minutes later, a light bulb went on in my head and I came to my senses.  I grabbed a menu, rushed out to him, and asked him to confirm the soup that he suggested and that I had just agreed to.  It was the double-boiled fresh sea whelk head soup with black chicken and fish maw (花膠鮮螺頭燉竹絲雞), and at HKD 398 per bowl, the total cost for the 7 of us would have come to more than HKD 3,000 after service charge.  I quickly nixed this, and picked a more traditional (and budget-friendly) alternative at a mere HKD 98 per bowl.

It's not the first time that staff at a restaurant has tried to upsell because they felt we looked like a bunch of fat sheep they can slaughter.  Incidentally, the last time it happened to me was at another restaurant owned by the same boss.  I guess it's the clientele that the staff have gotten used to at this restaurant group... If you dare to step foot in this exclusive, all-private-room restaurant, you should be able to just open your wallet and shell out whatever it takes.  And I'm obviously not their target clientele...

Chilled giant flower crab Chiuchow-style (潮式大紅蟹) - first to arrive at the table, which was just as well.  Seven of us split this one crab, which meant that I got to have one piece of the body with two small hind legs attached.  The crab was very good, as I had expected it to be.

September 22, 2014

Gaga for Gaggan

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It's been almost six years since I began my boycott of Thailand - for their government's inhumane treatment of the Rohingya which began two administrations ago.  Given that I haven't stepped foot in the country for more than a decade, it's natural that I haven't paid any attention to what's new and hot in terms of restaurants in the country.  Names like Nahm and Bo.lan simply appear as blips on the edges of my radar and quickly fade away.

The first time I read about Gaggan was from Scubagolfer, and he wasn't particularly impressed with all that foam.  Afterwards I once again told myself that I wasn't missing anything by not going to Bangkok, and wondered whether once again the people responsible for San Pellegrino's The World's 50 Best Restaurants had somehow hyped the place up...

September 21, 2014

Typhoon birthday

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I'm back in Taipei again for a short trip this weekend, this time to hang out with dad on his birthday.  But with me being the "typhoon magnet", this also turned out to be the weekend when Typhoon Fung Wong decided to pay Taiwan a little visit... and totally confuse us by going in all sorts of weird directions.  I was seriously worried throughout the entire weekend that either the restaurant I booked would be closed, or that my flight the next morning would be massively delayed.  Thankfully it all worked out well in the end...

I booked a table for us at STAY via their website and online portal, which was confirmed with a return phone call pretty quickly and painlessly.  While the restaurant called me a couple of times leading up to the dinner to confirm that we were still coming and not cancelling due to the coming wind and rain, my response was simply "if you are open for business, we will come".  On a night like this, I was ever so grateful that the restaurant was situated inside a shopping mall - so that we can pull into the underground parking lot and stay dry in spite of the elements.

Last-Minute Uncle couldn't join us tonight, so both Foodie Wannabe and Sporty Cousin came along with us.  It's actually kinda satisfying to see Sporty Cousin maturing and becoming capable of appreciating fine dining - a far cry from this performance three years ago.

For some reason I've never ordered the set menus here, and I wasn't about to start tonight.  Maybe because my lunch at home was comparatively light (since I was full from taking the Girl Who Ate Everything for a heavy breakfast), but tonight I felt I needed more food than usual... so I ended up ordering two starters.  OINK!

The trio of amuses bouches arrived, and helped us get started:
Zucchini mousse - with a little black olive.

September 17, 2014

No fook mee on the menu

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I did it!!!  I went into Ho Lee Fook (口利福), ate a full dinner, and came out alive and unharmed!!!  Allahu Akbar!!!

Ever since word came out that someone was opening a restaurant with the very cheeky name of Ho Lee Fook, I'd been joking with friends that I wanted to go there and eat some 'fook mee'.  But my plans came to a screeching halt when I found out that the place was run by Black Sheep Restaurants...

Quickie business

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The boss is in town and we needed a place to lunch and catch up.  L'altro happens to be close to the office, and I figured the boss would want a change from the usual Chinese, so we went for an Italian experience.  Their two-course set lunch was just perfect for our purposes.

Millefoglie croccante, carne cruda e ricotta agli aromi mediterranei - kinda interesting, although the flavors here were a little unusual compared to the beef tartare I am used to.  You can definitely feel the different texture of the hand-chopped wagyu.  I guess the crispy millefeuille was OK...

September 14, 2014

Ex-boss at the Boss

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The ex-boss was in town with his family, and no surprise that the responsibility of choosing where to have dinner fell on my shoulders.  Given this was his kids' first trip to Hong Kong and a request was made for "what I can't have normally find (in Taipei)", I naturally took them to a good Cantonese restaurant - since there is virtually no decent Canto restaurant in Taipei...

After checking with a few places in Central, I decided to lead our contingent to the Boss (波士廳), an underrated restaurant which got themselves a little macaron in the last round.  I had only ever been here for lunch, and relished the opportunity to try out more dishes when dim sum items aren't on offer.

Double-boiled almond soup with pig lungs (生磨杏汁燉白肺湯) - definitely something you can't find in Taipei.  First of all, I don't think anyone makes anything savory with apricot kernels in Taiwan... and I doubt that many people cook with and eat pig's lungs.  In any case, I thought the soup was nicely done here... with a rich and slightly thick texture and plenty of fragrance.  The kiddies seemed to like it, too... and even ate the pieces of lung.

September 13, 2014

Hot in the city

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It's been YEARS since I last got together for dinner with a couple of friends, and they decided that it was high time they went out with their "foodie friend" and get some benefits out of eating with me.  Originally they had suggested that we visit a certain new restaurant in town, but upon being advised by yours truly that there was a greater-than-zero chance of being poisoned by the kitchen (I had been rather unkind in a post on another of the group's restaurants, had received hate mail from someone in the restaurant group, and have since then never dared to set foot in any restaurant belonging to the same group), my friends decided it would be in their best interests to try another place like Penthouse by Harlan Goldstein instead...

I was a bit lazy and didn't call far enough ahead to book, and by the time I did the only available table was on the outdoor balcony.  Surprisingly the ladies didn't mind, so I retracted my request to move to the first available table outside.  Then I pinged the big man himself to let him know I was coming, and he promised to show us some magic.

My friends arrived a few minutes before me, and was told by the staff that we could not sit facing each other but had to sit in a row facing the city (and away from the restaurant).  My blood started to boil as I received text messages updating me on the situation.  WTF?!  How do you expect the 6 of us to sit in a row and have a conversation?!  I was ready to have a fit and told my friend to let the restaurant have it if they insisted on the moronic seating arrangement.  Fortunately, the situation seemed to have been resolved by the time I arrived... but the evening had gotten off on the wrong foot.

Since I had already been here twice and liked most of what I had, and this was Harlan we're talkin' about, I dispensed with ordering and just asked Harlan to send out whatever he felt was appropriate... giving him carte blanche.  We turned our attention to the wines we brought instead...

Spanish farm-raised bluefin tuna tartare, slow-cooked egg and creamy tuna sauce - didn't end up having this as I was away from the table taking care of the wine...

Send-off lunch

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Babu is making a stopover in Hong Kong in the midst of her globetrotting, and I had a chance to meet up with the Tiggers for lunch and spend a few precious moments with my godson Bear.  Not surprisingly we met up at their go-to weekend lunch spot Man Wah (文華廳), and I arrived after everyone's had their first round of dim sum.  I quickly played catch-up...

Golden taro puff, abalone (蜂巢鮑魚盒) - as good as I remembered and one of the best things on offer here... stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms in addition to taro mash.  What's not to like about deep-fried, flaky taro mash?!
Tiger prawn, bamboo shoot dumpling (筍尖蝦餃皇) - very good.
Conpoy and vegetable dumpling (瑤柱萵筍餃) - pretty interesting, with rehydrated conpoy (瑤柱) providing the heavier flavors and chewy texture, while the diced celtuce (萵筍) stems provided the crunchy texture.

September 11, 2014

Out on the Town

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Those who know me well know that I am never in a hurry to visit new restaurants, as the probability of "stepping on a land mine" is incredibly high.  Usually I wait a few months - sometimes up to more than a year - for places to work things out.  Why pay a good chunk of my hard-earned money if I'm gonna get subpar food and/or service?!

Starting tonight I'm throwing that philosophy out the window... if only for limited occasions.  I've been invited by the South China Morning Post to be a guest contributor to their First Served column - which appears in the 48 Hours weekly magazine and highlights brand new restaurants in town.  It's a short column, but it represents a complete departure of what you normally see in this space.  Let's see if they actually ask me to keep writing this stuff after a couple of times...

The restaurant I chose for my very first review was Town, the latest venture from Chef Bryan Nagao.  I haven't tasted Chef Nagao's food in years - probably not since my last visit to Kokage... but I figured since he's a well-known figure in town he deserves some coverage.

September 7, 2014

Smoky kaiseki redux

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I'm in Taipei hanging out with family, and that means spending time with Last Minute Uncle and... you guessed it, making last-minute plans for dinner.  Sporty Cousin's birthday is coming up, and he had talked to the parental units about going to Toutouan (燈々庵), after asking me about it during my last trip back to Taipei.  A couple of hours before dinner time, Last Minute Uncle picked up the phone and make a reservation, and I would have a chance to see how the cuisine has evolved since my last visit.

Once again I took the Toutouan set (燈庵 会席) for comparison purposes, even though I didn't really wanna be eating this much tonight...

First a shot of apple vinegar, which really was sweetened apple juice with a few drops of vinegar.

Assorted starters (八寸 旬菜七品) - seven different items to nibble on:

September 6, 2014

Mooncake tasting with mom

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It's customary for me to bring home a haul of mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival.  For a few years I was buying them from Lung Hing Heen (龍景軒) at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, simply because Last Minute Uncle liked their distinctive fragrance.

But last year, mom did a side-by-side comparison of Lung King Heen's white lotus seed paste mooncake with double salted egg yolk (酥皮雙黄白蓮蓉月餅) with the very old school lotus seed paste mooncake with double salted egg yolk (雙黄蓮蓉月餅) from Wing Wah (榮華) - the kind of mooncakes I used to have 30 or 40 years ago when I was growing up.  Believe it or not, the Wing Wah mooncake won hands down.  Not only did it have a richer, denser lotus seed paste, the duck egg yolk inside was still soft with visible oil - while the yolk in the Lung King Heen version was dry and had visible clumps.  That was a revelation.

For the first time in quite a few years, I chose not to order any mooncakes from Lung King Heen... especially now that the Four Seasons Hong Kong has decided to do what the Peninsula has done for a number of years - offering mass-produced, hotel- and not restaurant-branded mooncakes.  I decided to try something new.

A while ago I heard that Dashijie (大師姐) had made some traditional mooncakes with lard.  I got kinda excited, because this was the type of old school stuff that mom would like.  So I got online and ordered some... In retrospect I probably should have asked Dashijie about her mooncakes at dinner a few days ago...

Last week I learned from mom that, for reasons unbeknownst to me, Last Minute Uncle is now a fan of Peninsula's mini egg custard mooncakes (迷你奶黃月餅) that people have been going crazy over.  I myself am not a fan of these, and try my damnedest to stay away from them.  But Last Minute Uncle is someone I need to keep happy, so I quickly placed an order with Mara Js Pâtisserie since I tasted them not too long ago...

I dutifully hand-carried them back to Taipei this morning, and immediately went about tasting them with mom after lunch...

September 3, 2014

Food that don't work with red wine, episode 3

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Two years after his debut performance, Curry once again hosted his MNSC dinner at Megan's Kitchen (美味廚).  There's no question that the MNSC boys all love the food here, but the reality is that many of the dishes simply don't work with the reds that we tend to pop when we come here.  Tonight, though, there was an added bonus.  It seems that the restaurant has been doing some renovation work, and I was hit with the paint fumes as soon as the elevator doors opened.  Blind tasting under these circumstances would be a real challenge...

The host asked the owner to put together a menu for tonight, and given that she is a wine lover herself and knows exactly what we are doing tonight, one can only assume that she was deliberately trying to screw with our palates... perhaps on Curry's orders!

Deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚) - always a crowd favorite, and that sprinkle of deep-fried garlic and chili was just perfect with the Cali reds we were drinking...

September 1, 2014

The speakeasy next door

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A week ago fellow bloggueur Gary pinged me and asked me if I had any interest in joining a dinner that was being organized at a private dining room.  Well, I was completely plastered when he pinged me on a Sunday afternoon, and it took me until well after dinner time to sober up, check out his pics from the last dinner, and respond.

At the appointed time, I leisurely strolled out of my office building, traversed the 10 meters to the other side of the street, and found myself in front of a building that, in my 2 years of working out of my current office, I had never once taken notice.  Dinner would be here tonight, at a private entertainment facility in the heart of Central.

Although I had never had the pleasure of meeting the organizer before, I found myself among familiar faces.  We had chefs, restauranteurs, and the venerable Dashijie (大師姐) - eldest pupil of the late Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠).  I had the pleasure of dining with Dashijie once last year, and tonight we were also joined by Mrs. Chen's godson Wilson.  As I looked around the table, it was very obvious that the person with the least knowledge about Cantonese cuisine - or food in general - was yours truly.

Pan-fried termite mushroom (煎雞盅) - one of the guests supplies wild mushrooms from Yunnan, so we started with twin plates of shrooms.  This was very nice.  Pan-fried without any oil whatsoever, since the mushrooms themselves have enough oil and moisture.

Pan-fried matsutake (煎松茸) - I gotta admit that I'm a Neanderthal when it comes to matsutake mushrooms... I haven't had them all that many times - probably because my first experience left me wildly disappointed - and most have probably been dried slices which were rehydrated.  Tonight, finally, a lightbulb went off in my head and I finally realized what all the fuss was about.  The fragrance wasn't the intense, in-your-face type, but more subtle and elegant - with a long finish.  Very, very nice.


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