July 12, 2015

The journey of your life

Pin It

I've been a very big fan of Chef Hideaki Sato (佐藤秀明)'s over the last 3 years, paying a few visits each year to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) during his tenure as chef de cuisine.  The Tiggers and I were sad to hear that he was leaving our beloved restaurant, so I made sure to pay him one last visit just days before his departure.

I was, of course, looking forward to see what he would create with his new venture.  Ta Vie 旅 replaces the much-ballyhooed but totally underachieving Holytan - which is totally awesome for me, since it's just right across the street from my office.  I tried as hard as I could to stick to my policy of not visiting a new restaurant in its early days, but finally succumbed tonight - some two months after the place opened.

The restaurant usually doesn't open on Sundays, but since Sato-san was in Bangkok for a couple of days this week, they decided to make up by staying open tonight.  The reservation was in the name of a friend, so Takano-san was very surprised when I showed up at the door... and even more surprised when the Man in White Tee Shirt showed up for dinner, too.

Sweet corn puffed mousse with "aburi" lightly torched botan shrimp in shrimp broth jelly - I know the chef's love of sweet corn, so I had high expectations for this.  Digging in with a spoon, one finds barely torched botan shrimp (牡丹海老) from Hokkaido marinated with olive oil and finely diced chives.  Surrounded by sweet corn mousse embedded with corn kernels, and topped with shrimp gelée.

This was an awesome way to start our dinner, since it was cool and refreshing.  There was a combination of textures from the crunchy corn to the still-largely-raw shrimp, and finally the light and fluffy mousse as well as gelée.  Flavor-wise, you've got a good balance between the sweetness of the corn, the sweetness from the raw shrimp, and the savory/umami of the shrimp gelée... all accented by the very fragrant olive oil from the south of France.  Wow!

"Surrealism": poached oyster wrapped in wagyu beef with grated celeriac ponzu jelly - this is instantly recognizable for anyone who has patronized Tenku RyuGin over the last year or so.  The Japanese oyster is just the right size for a mouthful when cut in two, and it's enveloped in a blanket of A4 beef from Miyazaki (宮崎), which was just lightly cooked shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)-style.  The ponzu (ポン酢) gelée on top made everything just perfect.

Pan seared abalone and green asparagus, curry spiced asparagus puree and onsen egg - I'm not such a fan of the Japanese way of pan-frying thin strips of abalone, but I really dug the onsen egg with the sauce made with asparagus and Japanese curry - which means it wasn't too spicy.

This cute little loaf of homemade bread was made with nukazuke (糠漬け) - vegetables fermented in rice bran.  In this case I believe turnip (蕪) and red carrots were used.  Very, very delish, and perfect for scooping up the runny egg and curry sauce.

Millefeuille of eggplant and snow crab with homemade fresh cheese - this was an extra course not on the menu.  Japanese snow crab (ずわい蟹) meat was mixed with some soft, fresh cheese and diced tomatoes, then sandwiched  between two pieces of Japanese mizunasu (水ナス) eggplant.  Once again, very clean flavors.

Chicken consommé - part one of our chicken course.  Made with bell peppers, and one could see the ground black pepper at the bottom of the cup.

Charcoal grilled chicken with yuzu-pepper dressing and roasted bell pepper - of course we know that Chef Seiji Yamamoto (山本征治) thinks that Lung Kong (龍崗) chicken is "the best in the world", so no surprise that the same chicken is used here.

Just look at that paper-thin, crispy skin!  The meat itself was incredibly succulent, and juices were still oozing out when I bit into it.  We asked Sato-san how he was able to make the skin dry and crispy, and apparently he exposes the skin to the dry air inside the fridge for about a day or so.  This was really delicious, and all of us would have wanted a second serving...

Stout beer battered Taiwanese bambou and dragon beard grilled scallop, shitake mushroom paste - the Japanese scallop was perfectly grilled.  The chayote shoots (龍鬚菜) - commonly referred to as dragon's beard - and bamboo were covered with batter made with stout, and I definitely tasted the deeper flavors.  The paste made with shiitake mushrooms (椎茸) was kinda interesting.

Fresh uni and risoni "alla carbonara" with cauliflower - this was simply amazing.  This little pile of sea urchin-flavored orzo, topped with sea urchin and accompanied by the incredibly smooth cauliflower purée on the side, was just a little slice of heaven.  Instead of using other top-end Japanese sea urchin like Hadate (羽立), which comes in wooden boxes, Sato-san prefers ones from Yoichi (余市) because they are shipped in plastic containers suspended in sea water.  And I gotta say... I would have loved another bowl of this, too!

Almond tofu with peach compote fresh lychee and "monkey picked" oolong tea jelly scent of rose flower - O-M-G.  THIS was da shit.  The perfect dessert for a summer day.  Initially we snickered to ourselves at the mention of almond tofu (杏仁豆腐), as the Japanese have a particular fondness for this childhood favorite of mine.  But I found myself staring wide-eyed at the contents of the bowl.  The quenelle of peach sorbet was smooth and refreshingly delicious.  The chunks of Japanese peaches were ripe and sweet.  The fresh and seasonal lychees (荔枝) were bursting with incredible sweetness, and among the best I have tasted this season. The almond tofu at the bottom was, of course, great, but it was the jelly made with Monkey Picked Oolong tea (馬騮搣) that added something really special to the mix.  Such delicate fragrance.  Throw in some rose petals and a roselle (洛神花) petal to add some color and additional fragrance and flavors.

To underscore the awesomeness of this dessert, someone - not yours truly - wondered out loud whether the chef could send us an additional bowl of it.  All of us were pretty much loving this, so said person grew some pretty thick skin and made the request with Takano-san.  Minutes later, 5 more bowls appeared in front of us.  A second helping of heaven, it was.

Vanilla ice cream and banana wrapped with passion fruit gel - after having 2 amazing bowls of the last dessert, whatever follows was bound to under-perform...  Here we have chunks of Filipino banana served with some vanilla ice cream, topped with a layer of gel made with passion fruit.  The banana definitely overpowered the passion fruit here.

I know it's gotta be the fact that I was just at Langham Place hours ago looking at the exhibit, but I definitely see Gudetama (ぐでたま) here...

Another "extra"... this time this was Japanese apricot, apricot consommé gelée, and homemade cheese.  Sato-san loves apricot since it comes from his hometown of Nagano City (長野市).

Knowing my Taiwanese heritage, Sato-san asked if I wanted to have a cup of their organic coffee - sourced by a Japanese retailer who is nuts about Taiwanese coffee.  After experimenting with different ways of brewing, they decided the best way was go with a French press.  The aromas were very delicate, and the palate was pretty soft.  In fact, I had to move to the different table to be able to smell my coffee properly, since the rest of the boys all chose to have the house herbal tea - which was made with fresh mint and pandan leaves, among others - and the aromas of this tea was too overpowering.

While I enjoyed having this cup of Taiwanese coffee, the environmentally-conscious side of me was feeling a little guilty.  You see, the coffee is grown on the hills of Alishan (阿里山), and is actually covered by a canopy of betel palms (檳榔樹).  This means that the coffee grower chopped down the trees originally grown on site and planted betel palms and coffee trees - the very same type of behavior highlighted in the famous documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (看見台灣) which contributes to the destruction of the environment.  So yes, I sipped my coffee with mixed feelings, but stayed silent.

Chocolate and kaffir lime pudding - Sato-san tells us that he serves different petits fours depending on whether the diner orders tea or coffee, and with coffee comes this chocolate pudding.  But this ain't just any chocolate pudding... as the fragrance of the kaffir lime leaves was incredibly alluring.  Someone noticed the look on my face as I spooned one mouthful after another, and I wished that my tongue was long enough to reach inside the jar and lick it clean.  Yes, it was THAT good...

Walnut meringue - the other petit four served to those having herbal tea.  Not too sweet due to halving the amount of sugar, but no skimming on the walnut flavors.

It's no surprise that this gang brought plenty of wines for dinner, and there were also backup bottles we ended up not opening...

2002 Agrapart Vénus - a blanc de blancs brut nature, so there's no dosage.  From old vines planted in 1959, and the vineyard was plowed by a mare called Vénus.  A little yeasty, with some sweet caramelizes sugar... especially evident after extended aeration.  Toasty nose.  Ripe on the palate but still got the acidity, with a tart and long finish.  Drinking very nicely now.

1998 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne Collection - late-release.  Ripe on the nose and palate, with red fruits like raspberries and also minerals.  Not showing as well as the Agrapart.

1988 Cheval Blanc - drinking very nicely now, with good red fruits, mint, a little pencil lead, and a little smoky and earthy.  Smooth and silky on the palate.  Very, very nice.

2007 Suduiraut - lovely nose of honey and orange blossom.  Classic botrytis nose of polyurethane and acetone, along with ripe honeydew melon.  Pretty sweet on the palate.

Michel Couvreur Pale Single Single - a Scotch Whisky matured in Burgundy.  Took it with a cone-shaped cube of ice.  Pretty nice and not too peaty.  I guess it was indeed "floral"...

This was a fantastic evening.  The food absolutely matched the high expectations I had for Sato-san, and when we were the only table left in the house, Sato-san came and spent a long time chatting with us.  I ain't no Michelin inspector, nor do I claim to know how one of them thinks (that much is obvious), but I'd be surprised if this place doesn't nab a star or two come December...

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map