September 30, 2015

Back to the sky dragon

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It's been six months since our last visit to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) before Chef Sato Hideaki (佐藤秀明)'s departure, and Babu has been hankering to go back for her "Japanese food".  When scheduling conflicts prevented us from booking a table at Ta Vie 旅 on short notice, we ended up going back to Tenku RyuGin instead so that Babu could get her fix.

It's always nice to go back to a place where they know you.  The minute I gave the receptionist my name over the phone, she asked if I was the one "who doesn't eat tuna"...  And even though Takano-san has made the move to Ta Vie 旅 with her husband, the staff still remembered that I always ask for a copy of the Japanese menu, and I had it in my hands mere seconds after I asked for it.

I was eager to see any changes Chef Seki Hidemichi (関秀道) may or may not have made since taking over in April, but I had the utmost confidence that the food would still be at a very high standard.  After all, he had been the restaurant's sous chef and, in fact, is said to have been under Chef Yamamoto Seiji (山本征治)'s tutelage since RyuGin opened in Tokyo.

Cold noodles topped with white shrimp, caviar, abalone, and abalone liver sauce (白海老と煮鮑の冷製そうめん  キャビア  鮑肝ダレ) - cold somen (そうめん) has always been my favorite way to start a meal at RyuGin, and tonight in addition to the usual caviar and glass shrimp (白海老), the chef also added slices of abalone.  All of which are among Babu's favorite ingredients.  Of course, nowadays everyone's also making sure they serve the abalone liver sauce.  Garnished with the usual perilla flowers and scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ).  So refreshing and very, very good.  Babu was already happy after one course...  Only nine more to go!

September 28, 2015

2015 Mooncake roundup

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I'm not a big mooncake fan, so I normally only buy mooncakes to bring home to Taipei for mom so that she can give them to family and friends.  This year, however, I chose not to go home for Mid-Autumn Festival since I had just spent a week and a half with the parental units in the U.S... so I cut my mooncake purchase to a minimum this season.

The only mooncakes I did buy this year were from Da Shi Jie (大師姐).  Having tasted her very special batch a few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being able to order this very limited batch of old school mooncake with lotus seed paste, three yolks, and Indian almonds (古法三黃欖仁蓮蓉月餅).  Last year these were made in such limited quantities that they were only given out to select friends.  The production was increased this year to a reputed 500 boxes.

September 27, 2015

Mid-autumn in Hong Kong

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My Favorite Cousin pinged a couple of days ago and informed me that her parents are in town, so we arranged to have dinner together tonight... which was perfect as a family gathering on Mid-Autumn Festival.  I didn't have any opinion on where to go or what to have for dinner, so she decided to book at table at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源).  It's been a while since I was last here, and as it happened, my last meal here was also with My Favorite Cousin.

Double-boiled winter melon soup with shrimps, Yunnan ham, fresh crab meat and fungus (鮮蓮冬瓜盅) - normally we wouldn't be having this first, but since we didn't start with any small dishes, we were served soup as our first course.  The whole winter gourd was supposed to serve 4 but it was more than enough for the 5 of us.  In addition to the winter gourd itself, there was shrimp, crab meat, roast duck, conpoy, lotus seeds, loofah, bamboo piths, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms.  Great way to cool down the body on a warm day.

September 26, 2015

A couple of new neighbors

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Tonight was an occasion to introduce a couple of friends to my favorite Neighborhood, and a chance to check out some new dishes.  We wanted an early night and decided to take the early seating.

As soon as we were seated, we were informed that the restaurant has a stash of white truffles now that the season has started.  I picked out the biggest one in the box, had it weighed, and set it aside for later.

September 25, 2015

Pork, pork, goose

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Late lunch today with Hello Kitty, who was introducing the famous goose from Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) to a friend.  Since there were four of us today, the usual order of half a roast goose would seem insufficient, and we ended up ordering more roast meats for a sumptuous lunch.

The half roast goose (燒鵝) seemed prettier than on previous visits, but the taste remained as good as ever.  Love that crispy skin and the spices they use.

September 23, 2015

One star dinner for one

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I'm in Macau for our annual board meeting, and this time I came alone.  Staying at the Venetian Macao has one big drawback, and that's the dearth of decent dining options.  After some deliberation, I decided to revisit the restaurant I dined at before last year's board meeting - Golden Peacock.

Dining by oneself is not always fun, and the lack of a tasting menu at this establishment with a macaron meant I wasn't able to try out the same variety of dishes as I would have liked.  So I decided to go simple...

First, some papadum, murukku, and namak para to start me off...

September 19, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 11: Vegas wedding

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Today's the day.  There was only one item on the agenda today, and that's my cousin's wedding.  The reason my parents and I flew across the Pacific.  We were the sole representatives from our side of the family bearing the groom's last name.

Lunch was a casual affair at the godparents'.  Ganma made some flied lice while I polished off the leftover General Tso's chicken and the beef and broccoli from the other night. Yum Yum.

Late afternoon found ourselves at the Siena Golf Club for the ceremonies.  I had kinda complained to my aunt and uncle at the choice of venue, as I've been to outdoor weddings in tropical climates where the whole party was roasted under the sun and sweating like pigs... but I guess it wasn't their choice.

September 18, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 10: simple eats in Vegas

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Now that we're back in Vegas, the last two days of my trip are focused on family.  After all, the whole raison d'être of this trip was a family wedding and gathering!  My aunt and uncle wanted to catch up with the parental units before the wedding, so we arranged to have lunch today.  For reasons unbeknownst to me beforehand, Cheesecake Factory in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace was chosen as the venue.

As it turns out, my aunt had been told that this place was quiet and therefore a good place for conversation.  Well, I wasn't the least bit surprised when the music turned out to be pretty loud, but I was surprised when my aunt flagged down our waiter and asked him to turn the volume down!  As if the place wasn't noisy enough to start with, the Fall of Atlantis show is literally right outside the restaurant, so... nope, this ain't no place for a quiet conversation...

September 17, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 9: Sedona red rocks

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Decided to take it a little easy today and not torture the old fogeys by going back to the Grand Canyon again this morning.  Instead we headed south to Sedona, where there are beautiful red rock formations all around town.  It was a destination that none of us have ever been, so everyone was looking forward to it.

Once we went through Sedona going south on 89A and veered onto 179, the rock formations were all around us.  First and foremost among the sights would be Cathedral Rock, and we went onto the Back O Beyond Road and parked at the trailhead.  I spent a little time snapping pictures here, as it was a magnificent sight.

September 16, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 8: Grand Canyon sunset

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We're on the road again today and heading east towards the Grand Canyon.  But our first stop today was the Hoover Dam, since it is just east of Vegas and on the way.  I chose to forgo walking on the new bridge over the dam, and just spent a little time on top of the dam itself.

It's obviously a real feat of engineering in its day and pretty impressive.

September 15, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 7: Red Rock Canyon

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Instead of sleeping in on our scheduled day of rest, I dragged my ass out of bed again early this morning.  Ganba offered to drive me to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and I jumped at the chance to get some good pictures in.  We headed out shortly past 8am, which meant we got there past the "magic hour"...

As we turned into Red Rock Canyon Road, I could already see that I was gonna get a ton of good pictures.  We turned into the Scenic Drive and stopped by the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, which has information displays explaining about the geology as well as the people, flora, and fauna of the area.  It also has several strategic vista points to get one started - especially since it's very close to Calico Hills.

We kept going and came to the Calico Hills 1 Overlook.  Here you get real close and you can actually go and climb up these beautiful red rocks.  The clouds were low this morning, and the light kept changing depending on whether the sun was hiding behind the clouds at any given moment.  But when the lighting was right, the rocks looked simply stunning.

September 14, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 6: crossing the Mojave Desert

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After staying in Bakersfield overnight, it was time to head into Vegas.  We went back onto State Route 58 and headed east, and soon entered the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert.

Naturally the landscape looked a little bleak, and the only thing worth noting was the huge windfarm in the area, so it was pretty boring for a while.  Suddenly, I looked out the window and saw what seemed to be a collection of airplanes near a control tower.  Was there an airport here in the middle of nowhere?  Suddenly I remembered about the famous airplane boneyard in the Mojave Desert, and sure enough, the Mojave Air and Space Port was right here besides Route 58.

September 13, 2015

CANVAS road trip day 5: high 'n' dry

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Got up this morning, took a peek outside the hotel room window, and saw that the sky was still a little hazy... although there was a lot more light at this hour compared to yesterday afternoon.  Decided we should do another loop around the Yosemite Valley and see if pictures would come out better today.

El Capitan looked a little better, but I wanted to do a proper filming of Bridalveil Fall - and I carried my tripod along today.  There was a little more water coming down this morning, but it was still a trickle and not exactly a proper waterfall... Certainly not what it is famous for.  Apparently Spring is the best season for it...

September 12, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 4: bride without a veil

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With our Napa trip cut short, we made an early exit towards Yosemite today.  We had no plans or itinerary other than Yosemite on our calendar, and were gonna take it easy.

Minutes after getting on the highway in Fairfield, we came across the Jelly Belly Candy Company's headquarters.  I decided that we should make the unscheduled stop so that I could pick up some flavors that are impossible to get outside the U.S.

September 11, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 3: two disappointing stars in Napa

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Napa Valley has its share of well-regarded restaurants - and more than a few with macarons from the Rubberman.  Unfortunately, as we started planning this trip too late, I wasn't able to take the Parental Units to the French Laundry... or get into the Meadowood.  In the end I picked a couple of places out of curiosity... which didn't turn out so well.

After our visit to Colgin Cellars' IX Estate, we drove north to Calistoga for lunch at Solbar.  The place is attached to the Solage Calistoga - a spa resort.  The concept of a "healthy" restaurant with a macaron intrigued me, and since it was just down the road from Araujo Estate, this turned out to be the perfect venue.

The Parental Units and the godparents all wanted to eat light, so everyone ended up taking just one course... except me, of course!  I had to have two courses so I could try more dishes here.

Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps, rice noodles, tamarind dressing, avocado and nam pla dipping sauce - I guess I wasn't expecting large, whole shrimps here, but they were pretty fresh.  There was probably a little too much rice noodle in each of the lettuce cups, so eating them became a little challenging, especially with the dipping sauce already dressed.  Speaking of which... the fish sauce I get, but where's the avocado?

CANVAZ road trip day 3: visiting Colgin and Araujo

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After padding our stomachs with simple breakfast at the hotel, we set off for our day in Napa an hour early.  Smooth traffic into and out of San Francisco meant that we arrived in the valley an hour before our first appointment.  So we spent a few minutes strolling Main Street in St. Helena and enjoying the sunny and warm weather.

We had good directions from the winery and navigation help from Google Maps, so we showed up at the gates of IX Estate for our visit to Colgin Cellars.  I've been a fan of Ann Colgin and her wines for a long time, and after meeting her and Joe a couple of times in Asia, I'm glad I finally made it here.

September 10, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 2: 3 meals from 3 continents

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I woke up this morning after some broken sleep, and my friend Ducky very kindly drove us around to get some breakfast.  Neighbor Bakehouse apparently serves up some really good pastries, so I picked up a couple of items and brought them back to her place.

Their butter croissant was pretty good, but what really bowled me over was their everything croissant.  Imagine an "everything bagel"... except that it comes with layers of flaky pastry... and buttery goodness.  Take the butter croissant and add sesame seeds, poppy seeds, toasted onions... and add what seemed to be cream cheese on the inside of the croissant.  So freakin' good!  Those onions really pack a punch!  I wished I had bought 2 more of these...

September 9, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 1: 80s music season

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After much trials and tribulations, an entire day of missed flights, airport diversions, and long immigration lines, I finally arrived in San Francisco about 8 hours later than originally scheduled.  I missed the opportunity to check out a food truck or a taqueria for lunch, but that didn't matter.  Upon arriving at my friend's apartment some 15 minutes before dinner time, I took a very quick shower while she helpfully ironed my crumpled dress shirt (something which she doesn't even do for her own clothes!).  After a short walk of a few blocks, I eventually arrived at my destination about 20 minutes late.

There was absolutely no way that I was going to miss dinner at Saison.  This was the first restaurant I booked when I started planning my trip just a month ago, and would certainly be the culinary apex of my entire trip.  This was the reason I re-routed my itinerary to arrive in LAX and connect to a domestic flight, instead of taking the next available flight to SFO... because I would have missed this dinner otherwise.  And I was so grateful that I took the 8:30 p.m. seating!

We were led to a table facing the kitchen, where my friend Ducky and I were seated side-by-side... rather intimately.  One of our neighbors looked vaguely familiar and we kinda figured he was a famous musician of some sort.  At the end of the evening, we found out that it was actually Kirk Hammett - the guitarist for Metallica.  What a soft-spoken gentlemen he turned out to be.

After checking our dietary restrictions, we were told that there would be about 15 courses coming our way.  We were both pretty hungry by now, and eagerly awaited for the food to arrive.

But my string of bad luck seemed to have continued even in San Francisco.  As I was going through my usual routine of setting white balance for my camera, something weird seemed to be happening.  Many of the pictures had dark shadows across part or even all of the frame, and it seemed to occur mostly when the camera was pointed at a downward angle.  I was never able to properly set white balance, and was pretty much frustrated the whole evening trying to get in a decent shot of each dish.

September 4, 2015

Summer surprise

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It's finally my turn to host my MNSC dinner.  The schedule this year has been somewhat jumbled up, and thanks to scheduling conflicts that often happen over summer, it was finally happening more than 2 months after my birthday.

I was scratching my head a little while trying to find a suitable venue.  The venue for my tasting last year - The Principal - has closed due to skyrocketing rent.  I had wanted to host my tasting at my favorite new restaurant in town, but gave up on the idea when the restaurant couldn't provide enough wine glasses.  This drove me to explore choices located in 5-star hotels, because they generally don't have problems providing a large number of wine glasses.

Someone had recently gone to Summer Palace (夏宮) at the Island Shangri-La and commented that food had improved.  Frankly, I had never cared to dine here.  The place was always crowded - and incredibly noisy - at lunch, and the food was never anything outstanding.  When one has a choice between dining here and at Golden Leaf (金葉庭) at the Conrad Hong Kong just a stone's throw away, it's always been a no-brainer.  Which made it even more puzzling that the Rubberman has chosen to give this place two macarons ever since their very first edition for Hong Kong and Macau in 2009...

Every single one of the boys asked me why I had chosen this place for tonight.  None of us have been here for the last few years, and FourSquare reminded me that my last "check-in" here was more than 3 years ago while lunching with Ann Colgin.  These days the restaurant is well-known to be frequented by Mainland Chinese customers - especially since the hotel itself is popular with this demographic - and a quick scan across the dining room seem to confirm this popular belief.

But hey, they didn't blink when I told them upfront that I was doing a wine dinner and needed lots of glasses and decanters.  They also didn't seem to have any issues when I showed up with the wines yesterday, and explained to them I needed some of the wines decanted a full hour before the restaurant actually opened its doors... so other than the issue of only providing Bordeaux-style glasses for red wines, this place seemed to fit my requirements.

I showed up promptly as the restaurant opened its doors at 6:30 p.m. and was led to our private room at the back of the restaurant.  I should have been relieved at the sight of all the wine glasses and decanters on the side, but I became nervous immediately.  After years of staying away, I had completely forgotten that the signature "Shangri-La smell" filled the entire hotel - even in the restaurant.  This would most definitely have an impact on our ability to taste wines, and I could see the boys slamming me to picking such a poor venue.  Thankfully, that never came to pass.

Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - I've always loved stuffed crab shells, and I wanted to see how these stacked up.

September 2, 2015

Burg and Cali double toast

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A friend was hosting a blind tasting dinner tonight with fellow wine lovers, and the theme involved everyone bringing pairs.  Seeing that there would be way too much wine at the table, my friend very kindly invited me as his "plus one" in lieu of his wife - giving me a chance to taste some interesting wines and adding another body to soak up the excess wine...

It's been a few years since I was last at Wagyu Kaiseki Den.  Well... it used to be my venue of choice for kaiseki in this town, but I kinda stopped going ever since Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) opened.  This was a good opportunity to revisit.

Starters (前菜):
1. Grilled hamo conger-pike, matsutake mushroom (鱧 松茸 焼浸し 菊菜) - the seasonal pike conger (鱧) was lightly grilled and which, together with matsutake mushrooms, perilla flowers, and some yuzu, made for a very fragrant start.


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