February 27, 2015

No more snake (for now)

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It's been almost a year since I last saw Felix, and I was really looking forward to having him in town again.  He has read my previous posts about the private dining facility, and requested that as the venue for our gathering.  I dutifully rounded up a group of friends for the occasion.

It's been almost exactly 6 months since I was first introduced to this place, and I've already been here 7 times before tonight, so it's fair to say that I've gone through a number of dishes multiple times.  While the menu tonight featured many dishes I've had before, I was glad to see two items which were new to me...

Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - this is probably the third or fourth time for me to have this, and I finally felt that this was an amazing crab claw.  Not that the previous ones haven't been delicious, but this particular one - which was bigger than the previous claws I've gotten - was particular satisfying thanks to both the size and the flavors.

February 26, 2015

The touring chef

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Tonight was one of those rare occasions when I accepted an invitation from a PR to attend a tasting.  Most of the handful of invites that come my way really aren't all that interesting, but this was different.  Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa - whose cuisine I first came across at my dinner with Ferran Adria - is embarking on an Asian tour with Ritz-Carlton Hotels, and for the next few days he's at Ozone in the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.  This guy's one of Ferran's disciples, and I wanted to see what he's up to after parting ways with the guys at Catalunya.

We started the evening with a couple of cocktails at the bar...

This melon cocktail - done as a spherification - was served on melon cubes topped with bits of jamón serrano.

The sangria was served with a layer of fruit foam, along with thin slices of strawberries and kumquat.

February 25, 2015

Le pigeon

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It all started with happy hour.  Meeting the Specialist and a few uncles for a few bottles of wine at Watson's Wine Cellar.  We either brought our own bottles, or bought the bottles from the shop and drank them on the spot.  Something I've participated in a number of times over the years...

2001 Musar - smoky, earthy, with a little bit of fruit.

2001 Pontet-Canet - ripe and fruity, a little oaky, with that exotic, tropical, coconut butter.

2002 Pichon-Lalande - sweet fruit, coffee, a little smoky.

1999 Gazin - smoky, a little more green, very fragrant, almost floral like violet, cedar.  Drinking very well.

2010 Le Saint Estephe de Montrose - minty, a little metallic, kinda sweet, with soft tannins.

I didn't have any dinner plans, so I got dragged / arm-twisted / decided to join the Specialist and BFF. Her new favorite venue is ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge, which is of course just a few steps away.  We walked into without a reservation, and ended up sitting on the lounge level just inside the outdoor terrace.  This would normally be fine, but we ended up inhaling some of the cigar and cigarette smoke from people on the terrace while trying to finish up the wines... Oh well.

February 24, 2015

Hearty and bland

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I got a call from Tigger this morning, asking me whether I'd like to lunch with him at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  I know what day it is and why there's a table booked, so I happily accepted his invitation.  When he ended the call by telling me that "it's just you and me", I immediately realized that I was just acting as filler...  althoughI was relieved to find out just before lunch that Mrs. Tigger would grace us with her presence.

I debated about doing my usual thing of just having one course of pasta at lunch, but decided I should try out the dishes on their current set lunch menu.

Black truffle organic egg, "melanosporum" black truffle whipped potato and topinambur - very very yum.  Beneath the layer of shaved black truffle was a soft-boiled organic egg, along with a quenelle of whipped potato embedded with bits of truffle, as well as some mushrooms and cubes of pan-fried topinambour - otherwise known as sunchoke or Jerusalem artichoke.  Perfect combination of hearty flavors that just naturally go together.  I would have loved to have three of these...

February 17, 2015

Last star in the Year of the Horse

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It's movie night and I needed to grab a quick bite before the show, so I took the opportunity to go back to Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).  I haven't been back for almost 2 months, and it was about time I got my roast goose fix.

February 14, 2015

A rich and relaxing lunch

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I'm back in Hong Kong and trying hard to cut back on my food intake, but a friend wanted to meet up for lunch at her new favorite restaurant, so I grudgingly obliged... and dragged my fat ass up to ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge.

Philippe came over to say hello and thanked me for the preview I wrote for the South China Morning Post.  Apparently they got a lot of calls after it got published, and he joked that there are no more pigeons in Brittany...  Well, many of my friends have enjoyed that dish as much as I did, and I'm glad they are doing well.

I'm taking it easy today, so I tried to pick a two-course set lunch.  While there were certainly choices which appeared more healthy, I guess I'm still just a pig at heart because... guess what?  All the dishes which sounded more appetizing were the ones which were rich and fatty!

Poached egg, crab meat, Parma ham, mushrooms, baby spinach - this sounds relatively healthy... no?  One could never go wrong with a poached egg here, and all the other ingredients worked very well together.

February 11, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour: pleasure, little treasure, part 2

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OK, so my week in Tokyo was filled with visits to high-end establishments with Michelin stars, but the real pleasure of going back to Japan is the discovery of little hidden gems.  Thankfully I had some time to hit a few this week...

For my first meal in Tokyo on day 1, Chicken took a break from geeking out and treated me to lunch at Biffi Teatro, an Italian restaurant just a short walk from their home.  We sat at the counter facing the open kitchen, and I took the simple pasta lunch menu.

First came the bread, which was not only warm but apparently made-to-order.  Very nice.

My daily antipasto selection was a slice of Hokkaido deer pâté, made in-house and wrapped with a layer of caul fat.  This was really delicious.  Served simply with a sprinkle of salt and a little mustard on the side.

Tokyo Michelin tour day 7: one last star

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So I've come to the end of my trip, and I have one last lunch in the city before heading off to the airport.  I've saved this meal for another very specific type of Japanese cuisine - eel (うなぎ).  And once again I turned to the touristy Michelin Guide for help.  Nodaiwa (野田岩) is a chain with several locations in the city, and even has a branch in Paris!  Although the Ginza (銀座) branch is within walking distance from my hotel, it was closed today due to the national holiday.  Fortunately the honten (本店) - a stone's throw away from Tokyo Tower and with a Michelin star to its name - was open today.

I wasn't able to make a reservation as a solo diner, so I showed up at the door of the traditional gassho-zukuri (合掌造り) house - which was transplanted from Hida Takayama (飛騨高山) and rebuilt on this spot - as a walk-in.  I put my name down on the waiting list, and patiently waited inside next to the hibachi (火鉢).  Thankfully I only waited for about 15 minutes before my name was called, and I was led around the corner to the annex (別館).

February 10, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 6: fatty pork chop

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Most of the gang from Hong Kong and Taipei went home today, so I found myself kinda alone in Tokyo for the last 2 days of the trip.  It just happened, though, that one of my cousins from New York is in town for a few months on secondment, so I took the opportunity to catch up with him over dinner.

I'm down to my last couple of meals in town, and I desperately needed to check out specific types of Japanese cuisine.  I haven't had tonkatsu (とんかつ) in Japan for... donkey years, it must be... so it was time to hit that.  Being that shallow tourist that I am, the first place I turned to was not Tabelog but the Michelin Guide.  Lo and behold, I found a place serving tonkatsu with a Michelin star!  And it was within walking distance from my hotel!  Katsuzen (かつぜん) it is, then...

It was interesting to see the restaurant offering full-fledged, multi-course set menus in addition to just the standard breaded and deep-fried stuff, and the two of us both decided to take on the kurobuta tonkatsu set (黒豚とんかつコース).  Kurobuta, of course, is the Japanese term for Berkshire pigs.

Appetizer (先付) - a piece of abalone, served with a sauce made with abalone liver, plus slices of green turnip, red carrot, orange carrot, and a spear of white asparagus.  The carrots were incredibly sweet, especially the red one.

Seasonal salad (季節のサラダ) - surprisingly with romanesco broccoli.

Tokyo Michelin tour day 6: Yoshikazu

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On my trip to Tokyo last year, I had an epiphany when I had the privilege of dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎) for the first time.  At the time I said it was the "best fucking sushi I've ever had", and I knew then that everything would be downhill from there.  A few days later I was totally unimpressed with my lunch at Sushi Mizutani (鮨 水谷), and sure enough, it was downgraded by Michelin from three stars to two at the end of last year.

Naturally I wanted to go back to Jiro on this trip, but somehow we just had a lot of trouble getting a reservation through our usual (yup, Amex is pretty useless) channels.  Finally I asked a friend with connections to help out, and in the end he managed to get me just one seat at lunch, for myself.

I can't even begin to describe the comments I got from my jealous friends, who were clearly miffed that they were left out in the cold.  I would have gladly offered my seat to the Great One so that she could have a chance to try it, except that I was told that this reservation came about as a favor from the restaurant...

So I checked out of the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and moved myself to the Peninsula Tokyo, because the reservation came about thanks to the concierge team there.  It was in the middle of my discussions with the concierge when I made a horrible realization...

In addition to having a dress code, Sukiyabashi Jiro also requests that guests refrain from wearing strong perfume.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem for me, as I'd stopped wearing any fragrances when I started drinking wine more than a decade ago.  But while at the Mandarin Oriental this morning, I had applied some Bottega Veneta lotion provided by the hotel to my face.  The scent was very, very strong.  I was horrified at the thought of offending Jiro-san, so I scurried to the restroom to wash the lotion off my face.  Alas, the Bottega Veneta shampoo and shower gel all carried the strong scent, so I was kinda screwed...  Damn you, MO Tokyo!

I walked the short distance to the restaurant's location in Ginza, and arrived about twenty-some minutes before noon.  The familiar sign was out front, informing customers that they were still getting ready and for people not to take any pictures.  I go to the restroom again to try to wash the remnants of lotion off my face...

I finally decided to walk in about a quarter to twelve.  After checking my jacket and bag, I was led to my seat at the counter.  I set my white balance quickly using the warm, white hand-towel, and I was ready to eat.

Yoshikazu (禎一), Jiro's eldest son who has been groomed to succeed him, came out.  I was the only customer at this point, and he quickly put the first piece of sushi in front of me.

So I guess Jiro-san isn't in the house today.  I had heard that he wasn't in the restaurant several days ago, and that usually only happens when he's not feeling well.  Maybe he hasn't recovered.

Flounder (ひらめ)

Golden cuttlefish (すみいか) - wasabi was a little strong.

February 9, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 5: Noma Tokyo

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So the big moment has finally arrived.  Dinner at Noma Tokyo.  The raison d'être for this particular trip, and certainly the one with the highest expectations.

I knew about the Noma pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo in the middle of last year, before they opened up the reservations for it.  I never had any strong desire to travel to Copenhagen for a meal at Noma.  Virtually everyone I know who's dined there came away unimpressed, and the food just didn't seem very appealing.  Ants?!  Moss?!  Plates of cold, raw fish that look like stuff I could get at any decent restaurant in Japan?  One of my friends summed up his experience at Noma, saying that he felt like a reindeer.  No, he didn't eat reindeer at Noma.  He meant that he was the reindeer because he was eating reindeer moss, berries, ants...etc.  So I didn't even bother trying to book.  And it got booked up within hours, anyway.

But late last year, word spread that they were extending the 4-week pop-up by another two weeks.  Fergie asked if I wanted to try booking it.  I figured it couldn't hurt to try, and so we did.  We were lucky enough to secure one of the coveted dinner reservations, which were offered as a package with the hotel rooms.

Tokyo Michelin tour day 5: my favorite tempura

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It's my fifth day in Tokyo, and time for us to move hotels.  We have to stay at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo tonight, because that was the only way for us to get reservations for dinner.  Since we are just across the street from my old favorite tempura (天ぷら) restaurant in Tokyo, and I always need a good tempura meal when I'm in Japan, I thought it would only make sense to take the gang there for lunch.

Hayashi (はやし) is a tiny place with only about 8 seats at the counter.  It's not on Michelin's radar, nor does it rank particularly highly on Tabelog.  But I was blown away on my first visit 8 years ago, and I've been wanting to go back since then.

We were the only customers for lunch today, and the boss gave us a warm welcome and enthusiastically showed us all the ingredients he had prepared for us.  He only uses the freshest ingredients, and lamented that it has become harder and harder to find live seafood that hasn't been chilled.

February 8, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 4: drunken onion, episode 3

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These days, I can't come to Tokyo and not pay Tamanegiya (酒たまねぎや) a visit.  And ever since I introduced Fergie to this place on our trip together last year, it seems that he can't do without a visit, either.  But we were having serious trouble juggling all the meals we had already planned, and the only free night seemed to be tonight.  Which was unfortunate, because this place doesn't open on Sundays and Mondays.  We were so screwed.

Then I was checking Tamanegiya's website, and discovered that they've actually been open on Sundays once in a while.  That got me kinda worked up, and I had Fergie call them up and check.  Yes, they were doing some trial runs of opening on alternate Sundays, but weren't sure whether they would be open tonight.

When the website showed a couple of weeks ago that they would be open tonight, I got so excited that I called up Master myself and made a reservation.  We would not leave Tokyo without drinking some yummy sake!

So... after a delicious yakiniku (焼肉) dinner, we found ourselves sitting in familiar surroundings.  Master only had one other customer tonight, so we pretty much had his attention the whole time.  Even better, the wife's not in the house!  Yay!

First some welcome snacks, which includes some fish braised in soy sauce, along with some tomatoes and a cape gooseberry.  Served in a little kintsugi (金継ぎ) bowl that is just a thing of beauty.

Juyondai Junmai Ginjo Funatare Genshu Origarami (十四代 純米吟醸 槽垂れ おりがらみ) - released in January 2015, with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  This comes with some sediment (おり).  Nose was very fresh, with banana notes.  Smooth on the palate, a little sweet at first but balanced and a little lean on the finish.

Tokyo Michelin tour day 4: happy meat

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I normally don't put up blogs about meals at places at yakiniku (焼肉) restaurants, because we are doing the cooking ourselves and the restaurant is only providing us with the ingredients and the means of cooking.  However, the restaurant tonight deserves a special mention on this here blog, because as Fergie found out from his dinner last night, Yoroniku (よろにく) is the place chosen by the staff from L'Effervescence to celebrate getting their second Michelin star recently.  Now that's saying something!

We chose not to take the set menus, and instead cherry-picked our cuts of meat in order to take advantage of the more interesting offerings.

Seasonal selection of vegetables (旬のお野菜 盛り合せ) - this was actually very delicious, and we definitely needed some greens to balance out all the beef we'd be having tonight...

Korean pancake with Kyoto vegetables (京野菜のチジミ) - pretty yummy, actually.

Thick-cut tongue (厚切りタン) - thick cut is the best way to go.

Tokyo Michelin tour: Michelin star food truck

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In the middle of planning my Tokyo itinerary with friends, I came across a post on Food Sake Tokyo sharing the news that Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, whose Michelin 2-star restaurant Narisawa is one place I recommend to a lot of friends visiting Tokyo, had just launched his food truck.

FOOD TRUCK?!  In Tokyo?!  From a chef with Michelin stars?!

This I gotta check out.

A couple of friends saw the PSA I made on Facebook, and reported back positively on their experience.  My friends who were going on this trip with me were all very excited to find a real food truck in Asia, and were eagerly waiting for the chance to check it out.  I had some free slots during the early part of my trip, and I was determined to get a taste before the rest of my friends arrived - especially since the food truck has been known to close due to poor weather.

So on day 2 of my trip, as the sun was out and the sky was blue, I suggested to Cow and Chicken that we hit the truck.  They very kindly obliged and drove me over to Tokyo Midtown.  The food truck was parked next to the Diners Club Ice Rink, and looked like it was also sponsored by Diners Club.  I was giddy with anticipation as I approached it...

February 7, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 3: Krug with kaiseki

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A few hours after that very big and delicious lunch, it was time to eat again... at another restaurant with 3 Michelin stars.  At our dinner together a couple of months ago, Chef Uwe Opocensky extended a very kind invitation for me to join him and his wife for dinner at Kanda (かんだ).  As Uwe already knows Kanda-san, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.  Uwe was also kind enough to be able to secure seats for both the Great One and My Very Very Very Very Taken Friend, too.

The restaurant seemed to be within a reasonable walking distance from the train station... and it was.  Except that it started to rain once we emerged from underground, and the rain went from a very light drizzle to something a little more serious.  And then I made a wrong turn... and had to double back a little.  By the time we arrived at the restaurant a few minutes late, my hair was pretty wet.

We took our seats at the counter after a round of introductions, and I waited for the magic to come my way.

Steamed egg custard with blowfish milt and seaweed - this may look like just any chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) with seaweed (若布) on top, but...

Tokyo Michelin tour day 3: carte blanche lunch

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After having not one but two breakfasts at Tsukiji Market this morning, it was time to gather the troops together again for a nice lunch.  We are in one of the epicenters of Japanese cuisine, but Tokyo is also cosmopolitan enough to offer some of the world's finest French cuisine.  Quintessence is one such gem, and it has had three coveted Michelin stars for the last few years.

The six of us were lucky to have gotten the private room, because it meant that I was free to take pictures - as the restaurant does not allow photography in the main dining room.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I found out...

We were presented with the menu, appropriately entitled "menu carte blanche" since there's nothing but a (nearly) blank page on the right side.  Well, if you look at the right side hard enough, you may realize that you're staring at yourself... just like looking at the Dragon Scroll in Kung Fu Panda.  (say it with me: "There is no secret ingredient"...)  On the left side is an explanation about the Japanese tradition of omakase (おまかせ), which is, in essence, carte blanche...

February 6, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 2: Stony River

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Day 2 in Tokyo takes me to my first kaiseki dinner, and the first of four meals at a restaurant with three Michelin stars.  Ishikawa (石かわ) is hidden behind a temple just off Kagurazaka (神楽坂), and we managed to secure a late seating for dinner.  Just a day after catching up with him over dinner, I have the pleasure of H-man's company again tonight.  I'm also happy that the Great One has been able to clear her schedule and join us in Tokyo for a few days, although she did have a little trouble getting here...

We were seated in one of the private rooms, and had pre-chosen to take the more expensive of the two set menus.  I was really looking forward to this, because it's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of having kaiseki at a restaurant with 3 stars.  I was also curious to see what being number 16 on Asia's 50 Best means...

Appetizer: snow crab topped with crab innards covered with broth jelly (先付:津合蟹 菜の花 土佐酢掛け) - a great start with snow crab (ずわい蟹) from Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県), which I just learned tonight was a type of Matsuba crab (松葉蟹). The crab meat was wonderfully sweet and came with the flavors of the sea. That it was topped with crab tomalley (蟹味噌) just made it even better, and the Tosazu (土佐酢) gelée brought along a nice bit of acidity to help whet the appetite. Served with rapeseed flowers (菜の花) and a dab of sweet, white miso.

February 5, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 1: The Foursome

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It's my first day in Tokyo, and I'm crashing with my friends Cow and Chicken after foolishly taking the redeye.  Dinner tonight was a get together of four people who've known each other for the better part of 2 decades, and we're trying to rehash some of the gatherings we've had over the years.  The last time all four of us got together over some food and wine was more than 4 years ago, and that's simply too long!

H-man knows the restaurant scene in town well, especially those that are BYO friendly, so we asked him to pick something casual.  La Ruée vers l'or happened to be fairly close to the Cowfarm, so that was pretty convenient for us.  A menu has also been arranged for us, which would go pretty well with some of the wines we brought.

The amuse bouche was cod mousse in a filo pastry cone.  Pretty good.

Marinated snapper with konbu, spinach purée - very, very nice.  The red seabream (真鯛) is marinated the with konbu in the traditional Japanese method known as kobujime (昆布締め), which imparts delicate flavors to the fish.  Topped with broccoli, radish, chrysanthemum petals, cherry tomatoes, carrots, mizuna (水菜) and horseradish.

February 4, 2015

Last snake soup of the season

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I've been talking about my new favorite private dining facility with a friend in Taiwan, and decided to set a date so that a bunch of them can take the opportunity of a business trip to dine there with me.  So it came to pass that on the day I was due to fly to Japan to start a week-long eating tour, I was busy stuffing myself with some good ol' fashioned Cantonese...

I originally thought the chef would put together a lighter menu because it's lunch, but I guess he wasn't thinking along those lines... In the end I had to ask him to cut out a couple of dishes, which would also help lower the cost of the meal.  It was still a pretty penny to have to pay for lunch, though...

Deep-fried prawns with salt and pepper (椒鹽鳳尾蝦) - first time having these prawns here.  Pretty good, but a little more greasy than I expected.

February 3, 2015

The Asian Western

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Picking out one new restaurant each month to review for the South China Morning Post isn't as easy as it seems.  I'm only doing it 1 out of 4 weeks each month, so most of the heavy lifting is already done by the regular staff.  Trying to find a restaurant that I would be interested enough to eat in (since I'm putting calories into my body, it'd better damn well be worth it!), and which would be just about brand new around the date of my column requires some juggling.  Sometimes you end up with a coveted choice, other times not so much.

For this month I ended up picking Chef Stage, which is run by local chef Eddy Chu.  I must admit that I was a little confused... because I thought this was run by the same Eddy behind Chef Studio by Eddy.  As it turns out, that place is run by Eddy Leung... so not the same.  Aaaaaaanywaaaaay...

I stepped into the restaurant and found myself alone (other than the three staff) in the dimly-lit dining room.  We were apparently the only table for the night, and in fact Chef Eddy himself decided to step out for dinner. The staff had reserved the corner table for us - with nice views of Victoria Harbor - but I found the space too dark.  Yes, one of my biggest pet peeve is dark dining spaces - both because it's hard to me to take decent pictures of the food, but also because at my age with my deteriorating eyesight, I can't even freaking read the menu!  I asked the staff to turn the lights up as much as possible, and in the end decided to sit somewhere else with more light.

The menu was very short and simple, with a total of less than 15 items spread among starters, soups, mains and desserts.  A quick glance told me that the selection was very "Asian" - meaning the dishes were very mainstream and, honestly, looked boring to someone with a jaded palate (yes, that would be moi...)  Well, I knew this was gonna be a little more "local", but let's see how the food tastes!

Prawn tartar with black truffle - the mottled-looking quenelle may not look like much, but it was surprisingly delicious.  The prawn had been diced and shredded, so there were different textures here.  They've mixed in a little bit of black truffle sauce, which added just enough fragrance to accent and compliment the flavors of the prawn.  Quelle surprise!


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