January 31, 2016

Deep-fried Burgundy

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It's the start of the year (well, it's still January!) and time for the MNSC boys' first gathering.  Due to scheduling conflicts Gayliao did not manage to host a dinner last year, so he offered to host the very first tasting of 2016.

We haven't been back in Megan's Kitchen (美味廚) with the gang in a while, and the food is always good there... although not exactly complementary with red wines.  We started with a series of 10 appetizers:

Deep-fried Bombay duck (炸九肚魚) -  deep-fried fish fillets that melt in your mouth?  With deep-fried garlic on top?  Yes, please!

January 30, 2016

Lunch at the new three star

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We were catching up with a fellow bloggueur friend over lunch, and kinda throwing a few names around to find something we all could try together.  My one and only visit to T'ang Court (唐閣) had been over a weekend lunch years ago, and since it had been promoted to its new 3-star status only a couple of months ago, I figured it might be worthwhile to revisit...

I chose to leave the ordering up to my friends, although I did pick out a special seasonal item that I wanted to try.

Baked barbecued pork buns (酥皮叉燒餐包) - these were pretty good.

January 29, 2016

French cheese, French wines, French bistro

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My friend from Taipei is back in town, again, and we decided to get together with a couple of old friends of mine.  Many, many moons ago, Rice was the one who first told me about a Taiwanese lady living in Paris who is very knowledgeable about wine, and it took a pretty long time for the three of us to finally sit down at the same table.

The request was for a bistro.  Unfortunately it was a little late to book a table at ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge, so I got ourselves a table at sister restaurant Upper Modern Bistro instead.  It's been a while since I last showed this place some love (since I've been spending my time at ON), and it's always good to revisit and check up on the place.

I arrived a little late thanks to a work emergency, and my friends had already opened the bottles of wine they had brought.  Suddenly I realized that I brought along a couple of cheapies... but I guess I'll have other chances to make up for it.

I left the ordering up to the others, and we ended up going through a lot of starters.

Lentil hummus, croûtons - this was pretty nice and smooth, almost airy.  Loved it with the salmon roe.

January 27, 2016

Four dog night

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I'm not in the habit of throwing fits of tantrum.  At least, I'm not in the habit of doing it in public, in the hopes of getting my way.  I'm also the last person you'll hear using the phrase "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!", no matter how pissed off I might be at someone or a certain situation.  I very, very rarely throw my weight around, because I try not to overestimate my own importance.

But I was pretty pissed off at the staff from MO Bar two weeks ago, and I decided to publicly vent on social media - as I do once in a while about things that piss me off.  A couple of days later, I received an unexpected call from Chef Richard Ekkebus.  He found out about my rant and wanted to know what happened.  Of course he was very nice and apologetic about what had happened, and arranged to connect me with the manager of MO Bar - so that I could be assured of getting a reservation for the pop-up event.  I was ever so grateful for this kind arrangement.

We showed up at the MO Bar at 6pm tonight, and we led to the upstairs area in the back.  The Landmark Mandarin Oriental had made a serious effort to transform this part of MO Bar so that it resembles the original PDT (Please Don't Tell) in New York City - replete with the telephone book which acts as the hidden entrance to the speakeasy.

January 22, 2016

Down for the count, finally

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I've been receiving complaints.  I haven't been to see one of my favorite chefs in a while, and he's not shy about letting me know that he hasn't been gettin' the love from me.  After attempts at a December visit fell through, I waited until Uwe Opocensky returned from his trip to the US to book myself a table at the Mandarin Grill + Bar.

As usual, I didn't bother ordering.  I just let Uwe know in advance that I was coming, and he knew that he would have carte blanche to throw at me whatever he felt like.  The only comment I made to Uwe before dinner started were that "I don't do fish sperm" and "we're not as hungry as you think we are".  After all, just about every single visit I've paid Uwe in the last 3 years has resulted in my stomach almost bursting while still in the restaurant.

First came the little nibbles.  We were told to start with mushroom sabayon.  Very nice and warms the stomach to prep it for the coming onslaught.

Fermented sourdough sticks with pickled onions and flowers - crunchy and pretty.

Spherical olives

January 20, 2016

Good wine, good vegetable, shit service

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Tonight I paid my very first visit to the newest fine dining restaurant operated by the Lai Sun Group, and had a fantastic dinner.  But this was also my last visit, since I won't be going back there.

Why? You ask.  In a word: service.  I don't go back to restaurants where the service is shit, no matter how good the food is.

I had heard about Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡) opening up in Hong Kong quite a few months ago.  News of its imminent opening buzzed around town, and a few of my friends were talking about it.  Although I was initially tempted to dismiss the place as another nouveau riche Chinese restaurant serving expensive ingredients for the sake of pumping up the bill, a couple of my friends had had good meals at the restaurant in Guangzhou, so the food seemed to be legit.  Then I found out that the local partner is the Lai Sun Group, and for me, that is as good of a quality guarantee as one can get in Hong Kong.

But I wasn't in a hurry to pay them a visit.  Word was that the price of dinner ranged from HKD 2,500 to 4,000 a head, depending on how many of the premium ingredients were included.  Since I'm never eager to pay for things like whelk, bird's nest, abalone, and shark's fin - the latter is on my forbidden list for environmental reasons - this place wasn't high on my priority list.

We were getting together to celebrate a couple of birthdays with some old friends, and some of them wanted to try the place out, so I went along with the group decision.  Dinner service was in private rooms only, with a minimum of HKD 16,000 per table, so the seven of us ponied up tonight.  The restaurant was told about my dietary restriction - the fact that I refuse to eat shark's fin - and had prepared a substitution.

I was poured some bottled water the minute I sat down.  I had never had Krystal before, but the bottle clearly screamed "premium and expensive water"... and when your tagline is "The pinnacle of luxury and health in a bottle", I just know these guys are selling pure bullshit to people who just have more money than taste or sense.

January 19, 2016

C'est dans l'air

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I'm back in Taipei for a few days, voting in the presidential election and spending a few days with the Parental Units.  While I either ate very simple meals outside or mom's cooking at home over the last few days, I decided to have lunch at some place I've always wanted to check out.  I managed to drag my friend Cathy from HaoKouFu to L'Air café néo-bistro (風.流.小.館.).  I've passed by this place many times while walking between grandma's and Yongkang Street (永康街), but never had a chance to walk through its doors... until now.

The first part of the amuse bouche was a little cube of pork terrine with pickled cucumber.

These cheese sticks seemed a little bit stale.

January 15, 2016

The reunion

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My first job out of college was in New York City, with a financial institution famous (or infamous, depending on how one sees it) for its trading prowess and its innovation in financial products.  I joined the bank right when its reputation was at its peak, and witnessed the first of the derivatives scandals to emerge - with lawsuits coming in left and right.

As a fresh grad, I saw investments get wiped out as a result of leverage (up to 40x, and sneakily hidden from clients), saw the havoc wreaked by the sudden devaluation of a major regional currency (3 years before the start of the Asian Financial Crisis), and went on a wild ride of the markets after a political assassination.  That was a lot to take in during the first two years of my career.

After those first two years, I transferred with Bankers Trust to Hong Kong, where I met up with old friends from school and made new friends.  After a little more than three and a half years, I left Bankers Trust and followed some colleagues to my second financial institution.  Months later the Asian Financial Crisis happened, and the following year the Russian Debt Crisis.  After that, BT was basically toast, and had to be taken over by Deutsche Bank.

The group of friends I worked with at BT, though, were a close-knit bunch, and we kept in touch after more than 20 years.  But the strong ties among the BT people aren't just limited to the small group of us.  Back in 2002, a reunion was organized for the people who worked for BT in Hong Kong, and more than 120 of us showed up at the American Club.  I'd say that's a testament to the cohesiveness of the organization.

Tonight, more than a decade and a half after the demise of Bankers Trust, around 120 of us gathered at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  There was a buffet dinner at the Happy Valley Race Course, but we didn't really come for the food or the drinks.  We came to see old friends.

January 14, 2016

More swimming scallops from Japan

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Senpai is back in town, and I found myself having dinner at Heichinrou (聘珍樓) in Central again with a group of old friends.  We all used to work together for the same firm many years ago - well, all except ILove Lubutin - and we were supporting Senpai's efforts to support Kamaishi (釜石市).  I had previously attended a dinner here focused on the swimming scallops from the area, and I was happy to come back again for some more.

Once again we were shown the swimming scallops from Kamaishi, supplied by Yamakiichi Shouten (ヤマキイチ商店) and air-flown in saltwater.

January 13, 2016

A light surf and turf lunch

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It's the beginning of the year, and one of my friendly neighborhood prime brokers was kind enough to take me out to lunch so we could catch up.  As Amber was unfortunately unavailable, we ended up lunching at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  As I haven't been back for a few years, it gave me a good opportunity to look into Chef David Alves' cooking.

The amuse bouche came in two parts:
Foie gras royale with cheese foam - a pretty good way to start, as this warms the stomach and preps it for what's to come.  The cup contained brunoise of a crunchy root, which had an interesting fragrance that was somewhat overpowered by the foie and the cheese... although I thought it might have been celeriac.

Cromesqui - made with a type of carrot, with a liquid center containing chorizo.

January 12, 2016

Casual and comforting pasta

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The evening started out on a very sour note.

After sampling The Frenchie - the hot dog created by Chef Richard Ekkebus for the month-long pop-up from New York's Please Don't Tell at the MO Bar - I had been longing to try the other three hot dogs created by three other local chefs for the pop-up.  So I made plans to drop in after work with Hello Kitty.

I wasn't sure whether we would need reservations, since the pop-up occupies a subsection of MO Bar.  So Hello Kitty called them up, and was told that the earliest booking available tonight was from 11pm onwards... but that we could come by earlier.  We didn't understand why we couldn't book an earlier slot, but figured we'd show up anyway...

When we showed up at the entrance to MO Bar shortly after 6pm, I saw a sign displayed indicating that there was a private event at PDT.  So I asked, and was told that there was indeed a private event... and that the earliest we could get into PDT would be 10pm.

I was pissed.  It's one thing to be disappointed about not having those hot dogs, but what pissed me off was that we tried to make sure we would not make the trek to MO Bar in vain by calling in advance to check.  If the place was closed for a private event, the staff should have told us on the phone.  We would have known not to show up before 10pm, and chosen to go somewhere else.  It was a vital piece of information that the staff failed to deliver, and I can't understand why we simply weren't told.

For a few minutes I was just royally pissed, and couldn't think rationally about an alternative.  After a few minutes spent trying to calm myself down, Hello Kitty suggested we go upstairs to CIAK in the Kitchen.  There was plenty of seating there, and we settled in and ordered some simple food and drinks.

January 10, 2016

A very Bau lunch

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While having lunch together last month, The Man in the White T-Shirt mentioned that the next guest chef that Hong Kong Jockey Club had invited to town was Christian Bau, and asked whether I was interested in joining for a lunch.  I know that Victor's Fine Dining - the restaurant run by the chef - is well-regarded and has earned 3 macarons from the Rubberman.  I had also heard a few European friends talk about the chef as someone they respect very highly.  So I didn't hesitate to sign up for this.

Amuse bouche, cold - apparently we were to be served with not one, but two amuses bouches.  This was salmon from the Faroe Islands, with a mix of green as well as toasted quinoa, in a sauce made of citrus and Mexican peppers.  The sauce had a lovely citrus flavor along with some kick from the peppers, and came with little bits of what seemed to be fresh almonds to provide some crunch.  The white dots tasted a little like white miso.  There was also pickled pearl onions.  Very nice balance of flavors, along with an interesting variety of textures.  A great start to our lunch.

January 3, 2016

Peking duck for visitors

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After going back for a little nap after lunch, it was time to meet up with the visiting foodies for one last meal.  A change of heart a couple of weeks ago saw us seated at a window-side table in Yan Toh Heen (欣圖軒) in the InterContinental Hong Kong, with gorgeous views of Victoria Harbour.  This was once my favorite restaurant to take visitors, and I was pretty excited about coming back after a few years' absence.

Unlike at lunch today, I was tasked with putting the menu together for dinner, so I tried to have a combination of Cantonese classics along with dishes I felt would be more interesting to visitors without access to good Cantonese/Chinese food.

The amuse bouche tonight was a prawn on a bed of steamed egg custard, with starch glaze flavored with celery and chives.  I was rather disappointed that nobody bothered to tell us what it was after setting it down.  I had expected better.

Once in a Spring Moon

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Dining in hotel restaurants is a fact of life in Hong Kong.  For the first 10 years that I lived in this town, the number of quality restaurants outside of hotels was pretty small.  Even as the dining scene developed and matured in the last 10 years, I still found myself dining in hotels pretty frequently.  If there is one top hotel in town whose restaurants get no love from me - and, coincidentally, get no love from Michelin - it's the Peninsula Hong Kong.  I can probably count my trips to said hotel's restaurants in the last 10 years on one hand...

The visiting foodies are eating their way around Hong Kong and Macau, and wanted to have dim sum at Spring Moon (嘉麟樓).  My memories of this place are very hazy, and probably come from a wedding banquet some 15 years ago.   I had never had to urge to return in all these years.  So I figured it would be a good opportunity to check it out again.

I left the ordering to our visitors and simply sat back and watch as the food showed up at our table...

Spring rolls with mixed fungus and mushrooms (羅漢齋春卷) - these were OK, but I wonder why the restaurant chose not to cut these in half, as is normally done at other restaurants?


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