March 22, 2016

Eating art, 2016 edition

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Art Basel Hong Kong is upon us, and every year around this time, Chef Uwe Opocensky and his team at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong - the Official Hotel Partner for Art Basel Hong Kong - would come up with an "art menu" to celebrate the occasion.  I've had some of those creations in the past years, but this was the first time I came to the Mandarin Grill + Bar just for the Art Basel dinner menu.  I've been meaning to come back and visit Uwe during this period, and when My Favorite Cousin offered to take us out to dinner to celebrate her promotion, this became an easy choice.

The menu tonight was presented on an artist's palette, and since Hello Kitty and I are silly people, she decided to pose for a picture with the menu... Peek-a-boo!

First came the little nibbles:
Mushroom sabayon - what's not to like about warm liquid packed full of mushroom flavors?

Fermented sourdough sticks with pickled onions and flowers - the sticks are still pretty hard.

Spherical olives

We were also presented with some bread - including the Parker House rolls that I love so much - and an array of olive and avocado oils from around the world.

Chinese calligraphy: brushes, Alaskan king crab, coriander, wasabi, orange - served with 5 different dips : Japanese orange was pretty sweet and zesty with seasoning; red bell peppers with Madagascan pepper; coriander pesto as by far the best; yuzu (柚子) seemed to have some dashi (出汁) added as it had distinct savory notes; and wasabi (山葵) mayo.

The tips of the "brushes" contained shredded Alaskan king crab inside puff pastry, with a little bit of spiced caramel holding the tips in place.  We dipped them into the different "inks" one by one.  So much fun to eat!  Uwe did warn us, though, not to draw on the tablecloth with the brushes...

Street art: hands, chalk, carrot, beetroot, cucumber, pumpkin, tofu, onion - inspired by street artists Uwe saw in Paris, who painted with chalk.  In place of chalk Uwe has served up their selection of organic vegetables, which were either marinated or roasted.  Underneath the veggies was a pile of mayonnaise made from tofu (豆腐) supplied by Kanda-san...  Very delish.  Too bad I couldn't have used the "chalks" to draw anything...

"Floating Illusion" - a dish inspired by Damien Hirst's iconic artwork: mackerel, langoustine, cucumber, horseradish - inspired by Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, Uwe has replaced the shark with mackerel here... and we're not exactly gonna eat formaldehyde, either.

Uwe brings out the 3 boxes, with sections of the mackerel suspended in jelly.  Obviously not quite as impressive as a whole tiger shark, but this was still pretty cool when displayed on the table.  I had seen press pictures of the dish before, but only when the boxes arrive did their scale hit me... and I realized that we weren't gonna dig into these boxes for our food...

The jelly was made from fish stock, cucumber juice, and horseradish.  The mackerel was stuffed with langoustine and nori (海苔) seaweed.  I love mackerel, so this all tasted fine and normal to me... but apparently many Asian diners felt the dish was too fishy... especially the jelly.  I guess I don't have an Asian palate, then... because this didn't taste a whole lot different from pickled herring and stuff, although there was the distinct taste of pepper in the mackerel.

On the side there was langoustine tartare, fresh and pickled cucumber salad.  This was pretty nice and refreshing.

Paint box: red, yellow, white, black, green, beef - a whole lotta different colors for us to paint with!  The purée included spinach, parsnip, pepper, baba ghanoush, cauliflower, truffle, pumpkin, onion, garlic... plus fermented mustard seeds, deep-fried garlic, flowers, truffle mash potatoes, and regular mash potatoes.

We were encouraged to mix and match the "paints" with the hunk of slow-cooked beef short rib, which was really, really tender and tasty.  And lots of fun to eat, too!

Art excavation: box, chocolate, ice cream, cake, sand - no surprise that we would end up with another playful dessert.  This huge box was brought to our table, and we were instructed to use the brush and shovel exactly the way they would be used on an excavation...  So I took the brush and started to brush away some of the top soil, which seemed to be made of graham cracker.

So there were some gold coins made with chocolate...

and some of these lions made of chocolate...

which were filled with yuzu ice cream.  The gold bars were chocolate whisky cake, and there were also medallions made of mud cake.  The bottom soil seemed to be made of chocolate.

But there was simply too much... which isn't anything new when it comes to Uwe.  The surprising thing was that My Favorite Cousin - who is normally a chocolate fiend - actually controlled her intake.

I brought along a bottle of bubbly for My Favorite Cousin:

2000 Egly Ouriet, dégorgée en Mai 2008 - lots of caramelized sugar in the nose here, with a good balance between acidity and ripeness on the palate.  Also notes of Chinese licorice (甘草) and marmalade, and ended up pretty ripe and slightly bitter on the palate.

I hadn't planned on drinking a bottle of red tonight, because I thought that 2 bottles might be a little much for the three of us on a school night.  However, Uwe very kindly sent us a bottle to go with our beef...

1998 Grand Mayne - decanted upon opening.  Sweet nose with straw, sweet grass, leather, mint, and a little earthy and smoky.  Classic and just drinking beautifully right now.

Once again we ended up having a really enjoyable and fun dinner here.  I must sound like a broken record, but my friends and I always have tons of fun when we eat here... maybe because we still haven't grown up and like to play with our food.  I'm so glad we came back for this special menu, and look forward to more of Uwe's creations in the future!

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