November 21, 2014

Wine and Chinese medicine dinner

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A couple of days after an unexpected big night out, here I am seeing some of the same people again... for a big birthday bash.  This was always gonna be a highlight on my wine calendar, as my generous friend brings out a string of big and interesting wines to share with us.  I fell asleep at the table last year, and was trying to make sure that the same wouldn't happen tonight...

We're back at Seventh Son (家全七福) - not just because our host is friendly with the owners, but because the food here rarely disappoints.  I saw the lineup of dishes before I came to dinner, and it just looked like a full onslaught of deliciousness - so I tried to have some discipline about having seconds.

We started with four appetizers:

Deep-fried chicken barbecued kidney in egg custard (雞子戈渣) - definitely tasted the chicken broth.

Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - about as good as usual, but I didn't get as much chopped chili on top as usual.

Pig's ear terrine (千層峰) - very crunchy, and coated with a layer of sesame seed oil.  Yum.

Honey-glazed chicken liver (蜜汁燒鳳肝) - a little drier than I would have liked.

Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - I was very good tonight... only took 3 pieces of the thin crackling... and no meat.  Paper-thin and delicious as usual.

Double-boiled soup with moray eel head, gastrodia, Szechuan lovage and Chinese Angelica (天麻川芎白芷燉鱔皇頭湯) - our host chose this instead of the seasonal snake bisque, because it was indeed something very special.  The moray eel apparently weighed 22 catties (!), and only the head was used in making the soup.  The mouth and right eye are evident in the picture...

The skin clearly has a lot of collagen... so the ladies were encouraged to indulge.  It did taste kinda muddy, though... But the soup was nice with all the flavors and fragrances of the medicinal herbs.

But here's where we (or at least I) ran into trouble.  With a string of (relatively) high-priced fine wines we were tasting through, this was running some serious interference with my olfactory senses.  More so than many people who enjoy wine, the joy I get out of tasting wine comes mostly from the wine's nose and less from the palate.  So when you have something that's flooding my nose with "foreign" scents - like when some bitch wears strong perfume to a wine dinner, or when the kitchen continuously pumps out smoke from the grill - you're killing my experience.

Tonight the scent of the medicinal herbs - Chinese angelica in particular - was very strong.  And I had the misfortune of sitting closest to the bowls of soup.  Eventually I had to ask the staff to move the leftover soup away, remove the "dregs (湯渣)" from the table, and go across to the opposite side of the room - just so I could enjoy what was emanating from my wine glass.

Stir-fried shredded soft-shelled turtle with Chinese pickles (味菜炒山瑞絲) - 'tis the season for exotic game like turtle, and the host and I enjoyed another turtle dish some weeks ago.  Tonight our turtle was "only" five catties.

The scent from the Chinese pickles filled the air, and they added shredded green bell peppers, red chilis and celery, along with very fine chiffonade of ginger and kaffir lime leaves.  The soft gelatin of the "skirt" of the turtle shell was finely shredded and had a nice texture, and I also enjoyed the shredded meat along with crispy deep-fried noodles.  A nice mélange both in terms of flavors and textures.

Braised moray eel with Chinese lettuce (炆鱔皇拌唐生菜) - since we only used up the head of the moray eel in our soup, there was obviously still a lot of it left!  So some of it was braised for a heartier dish.

We also have a little pork belly (火腩) in addition to the eel and lettuce.

Pigeon and bamboo pith with pea shoots (鴿蛋竹笙扒豆苗) - I love pigeon eggs, especially when they've been coated with a starchy batter and deep-fried.  The bamboo pith (竹笙) and pea shoots were both pretty good.

Traditional baked chicken in rock salt (正宗鹽焗雞) - very nicely done - even though it's not my preferred chicken preparation - and I liked the liver and gizzard, too.

Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (油鴨臘味煲仔飯) - it's finally the season for claypot rice, and I'm so excited!  Just look at the plate of preserved meats!

We each got a bowl of rice, and I laid out the range of preserved meats on top, and drizzled some soy sauce on top.  This was sooooo good!  I especially loved the liver sausage (膶腸)... the flavors were just amazing.  But, hey, who am I kidding?  I loved everything on that plate.

After we each had our bowl of rice, I asked the staff to turn the remaining rice into rice crispies (飯焦).  This was done tableside.

Then they poured superior broth (上湯) in and added some coriander.  What an awesome way to have the rice!  I wish I had more stomach space...

Jujube millefeuille (千層紅棗糕) - this was really good... and I ended up having two of these.  Tasty with jujube (紅棗) flavors, but not sweet at all.  Now imagine how awesome these would be if they had just added a wee bit more sugar...

Crystal cakes with egg custard (奶黃水晶餅) - OK but kinda bland.

Mini century egg puffs (迷你皮蛋酥) - always interesting to have this.

On top of the sweetness from the bean paste filling, there's savory flavors from the century eggs (皮蛋), as well as both acidity and a little spicy kick from the pickled ginger (酸薑).

Walnut cream (生磨合桃露) - one of the best walnut creams I remember ever having.  Definitely ground from walnuts and not made from "instant powder", with that telltale grainy texture.  So full of flavor.

But let's not kid ourselves... tonight was all about wine.  Our birthday boy was incredibly generous - as always.  And the wines were tasted blind, as is customary with this crowd.

A pair of rosé Champagne:
1982 Dom Pérignon Rosé - color looked light brown so it was definitely an aged rosé.  Nose showed this was clearly aged, with savory minerals, a whiff of yeastiness, and also sweetness like sugar gane.  A little nutty, too.  Not a lot of bubbles here, and showing good length in finish.

1980 Dom Pérignon Rosé - more lively than the 1982, with some minerals in the nose.  More body here and also a longer finish.

A pair of white Burgundy:
2001 d'Auvenay Meursault Les Narvaux - nice toasty nose with lemon, but also exotic coconut butter and pineapple.  Rather elegant, actually.  With further aeration the toasty notes became even more powerful.

2001 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - a little sinky sulfur at first.  Less toasty notes here, but the toasty notes also became more prominent later.

A trio of red Burgundy from 1980:
1980 Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - the bottle was not in good condition, since the cork was loose and fell into the wine during opening.  Nose of mushroom and wet cardboard, green and grassy.  Pretty light body.  The second pour was a lot better, but the nose was still grassy.

1980 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze - a little smoky, ripe, and a little animal, minty and some mushrooms.

1980 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux - bigger nose here compared to the other two, with more animal, smoky, a little savory soy sauce.  More body yet also more acidity on the palate.  My favorite of the trio even as we tasted blind.

A quartet of 1980s from around the world:
1980 Petrus - really fragrant, almost floral nose, with very sweet fruit, and some mint, a little leather.  with a hint of sweet grass, and later on a little bit savory on the nose.  What a beautiful and elegant wine.

1980 Sassicaia - very exotic nose, with coconut butter, vanilla, sweet fruit, and mint.  Still quite a lot of body here but the acidity was a little higher on the palate.  If this were a Bordeaux it would have been something like a Le Pin or 1990 Montrose.  Could have guessed it was Grange, but there was not enough body here.  A wine with an awesome nose.  My kind of shit.

1980 Penfolds Grange - nose was more metallic, exotic, sweet, coconut butter, a little forest pine.  More body here and definitely a Grange.

1980 Vega Sicilia Unico - a little funky nose, slightly metallic, a little bit animal, some sweet grass, and also exotic tropical fruits.  Light-bodied in comparison.

1995 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese - nose of polyurethane, honey, apricot, and marmalade.  Nice acidity balance here.
I was happy with everything I had already imbibed so I saw no need to taste the rare Whiskies which were also available...  Many thanks to our host for the wonderful food and incredible wines.  

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