February 5, 2016

We like it RAW

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Not being a person of any influence, I've never managed to book a table at RAW on my previous attempts.  One is normally forced to book through the restaurant's website for parties of 7 and less, with parties of 8 and above considered as "chef's table" and open to phone booking via a different mechanism.   When I've tried to book online exactly 13 days in advance, tables have always been booked out within 20 minutes of the start of the booking window.  So while everyone's asked me whether I've been to RAW, my answer has always been negative.

So I had to thank my lucky stars tonight that I got to know Cathy from HaoKouFu (好口福), who gathered the twelve of us and here we were, seated at two tables put together just outside the kitchen.  There was a hodgepodge of people tonight, but half the table turned out to be artisan suppliers of foods that manage to meet Cathy's very high standards - honed from her years of living in Paris.  We had a chocolatier, a boulanger, and a couple of charcutiers.  Shame that I wouldn't have time this trip to pay them a visit.

The chef's table has a slightly better menu than the regular menu - upgrading the protein course and supposedly using better ingredients overall for a roughly 50% premium to the regular price. Of course, I'd prefer an upgraded menu myself anyway... and I don't mind paying for the ability to book in advance.

The restaurant's trying to be cool by presenting a menu listing only the main ingredients - in a manner reminiscent of the grid from Eleven Madison Park.  The menu, which comes in either English or Chinese depending on one's seat at the table, is tucked away in a drawer underneath the table top at each seat - along with all of the cutlery and the napkin.  The only thing, though, is that I was too dim-witted to figure out why any of the three ingredients for each dish appear in their respective columns.

This whipped butter with buckwheat came with our bread.  I'm generally not a big fan of butter that is close to being a foam, but this was alright.

Oyster, sago, red coral (蠔, 西谷米, 海藻) - the oyster was cooked, and topped with tapioca and Taiwanese three-cup vinegar (三杯醋).  Not bad.

Buri, cucumber, water bamboo (青魽, 大黃瓜, 茭白筍) - a very pretty dish.

Underneath the thin slices of water bamboo were cubes of yellowtail and cucumber, along with cucumber gelée.  The staff poured some leche de tigre into the bowl to make this into a ceviche.  Nice and refreshing.

Prawn, cappellini, mussel (胭脂蝦, 細麵, 淡菜) - these Stout red shrimps were pretty tasty, although from the soft texture they seemed to have been previously frozen and not fresh caught.  The shrimps were covered with potato brunoise and a sauce made with mussels as well as a house blend of spices.  The crispy capellini were nice, but the individual strands going in all directions was a real pain to pick up with a fork.  This was when a pair a chopsticks would have come in real handy.

Sweet potato, "bottarga", buckwheat (番薯, "烏魚子", 蕎麥) - here we've got a chunk of sweet potato that's been covered with buckwheat crispies and a sauce made with salty egg yolk.

An indentation was dug into the middle, and a quail egg with runny yolk was lodged inside.

The thin yellow slices on top looked like bottarga di muggine, but it's actually salty egg yolk pressed into shape to look like bottarga, then sliced the same way as it's normally done in Taiwan.  Pretty creative and cool.

Squid, kombu, lovage (中卷, 昆布, 洋當歸) - so here we have the squid noodles that have become pretty popular over the last couple of years.  Very thin slices that look like fettuccine.  With thin shreds of dried konbu and garnished with some lovage.

Then the hot broth was poured into the bowl, and almost instantly the squid is "cooked" and starts curling up.  Makes for a pretty dish, and it happens to be very, very tasty, too!  Very comforting as the broth warms the stomach.

"Taiwan rice", pork, truffle ("台灣"米, 豬肉, 松露) - a more premium version of the Taiwanese minced pork rice (滷肉飯), with delicious cubes of pork belly, enoki mushrooms, and black truffle shavings.  No less than comfort food for many of us, I was really happy to see this in front of me.  The ceramic pot had been cooked so that the rice on the bottom were charred into rice crispies, while some of the pork fat had melted and been soaked up by the rice.  This made me such a happy camper.

Duck (鴨) - the duck breast was pretty nicely done, with a relish made with leeks.

There was also a risotto made with Job's tears and some shredded duck.
Leek, barley (青蒜, 薏仁) - the leek came with a creamy sauce, and crunchy fermented bean sauce (豆酥).

White fungus, soursop, bergamot (白木耳, 釋迦, 佛手柑) - a wonderful dessert to finish the meal, but there seems to be some translation errors here.  The dish was introduced to us in Chinese, so we were told that the sorbet was made with 釋迦 - which happens to be in season.  But 釋迦 is custard apple while soursop is a completely different fruit altogether.  Same thing with the granité, which was supposed to have been made with lemongrass and 佛手柑... the latter of which is actually Buddha's hand since bergamot is something completely different.  There was also snow fungus, marshmallows made with Buddha's hand, custard apple pulp, star fruit, aiyu (愛玉) jelly.  I was told that the green powder on top was seaweed, since I had a hard time identifying it against the incredible fragrance of citrus.

Some bubbly was poured into the bowl after we've had a taste of the "original" flavors.  There was a nice mix of mild sweetness along with some acidity.  There was also a lange of textures, from feeling the fizz on one's tongue to the soft sorbet, then the slightly harder (but still melt-in-your-mouth) granité, to the jelly, and marshmallow, and finally the more solid and crunchy fruits.

The bubbly in question.

We also had a couple of mignardises, starting with a cold version of the famous Taiwanese pineapple tart (鳳梨酥).

The texture here is very different, with a loose, crumble exterior and an acidic filling made with real pineapple.

We were then presented with a box which gave off some smoke when the lid was lifted.  The fragrance from the longan wood was very nice.

Longan wood smoked financier - very tasty.

We brought along a few bottles of our own tonight...

2009 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs, en magnum - very fresh with lots of bubbles.  A little yeasty, a little flinty.  Smooth but a little light on the palate.

2002 J. de Telmont Grande Couronnement - riper on the palate with nice acidity.

1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - nose of ripe cherries, a little animal and leather.  Pretty clean.

2013 Matthieu Barret Petit Ours Brun - forest notes with cool fruit, with a hint of ripeness.

This was a very enjoyable evening.  The food did not disappoint our high expectations, and I am told that the food is steadily improving with time.  Chef de cuisine Alain Huang - who has spent time in the kitchens of Justin's Signature, STAY, Maaemo, and Les Crayères - is clearly doing something right.  I look forward to coming back.

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