May 18, 2016

Two nights with David Lai: First School lesson

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I seem to be the unofficial ambassador for David Lai's restaurants among my group of friends, since I keep getting requests from friends to take them there.  As it happens Winnie the Chew has not been to either Fish School and Neighborhood, but since I'm attending a wine dinner at Neighborhood in 2 days - and my last visit to Fish School was some time ago - I figured we should go fish.

As we opened our first bottle of wine, though, I had a shocking realization - my SLR didn't have a memory card!  I normally check this before taking the camera out, but neglected to do so.  So while my friends very kindly and patiently waited, I ran around the neighborhood in circles in search of a store that would sell such a thing.  Thankfully I managed to find one.

Winnie the Chew was a little worried that, given 休魚期 had just started 2 days ago, what kind of seafood would be available to us.  I, of course, had supreme confidence in the Man in the White T-Shirt, and he arranged everything for us with the restaurant's new Chef's Selections menu option.

Babylonia - it's been years since David served me babylonia, and this buttery sauce was pretty damn tasty.

Razor clams - there were actually two types of razor clams here, but I wasn't very happy with them.  These were barely cooked, and tasted pretty "fishy" to me.  Not a fan despite the smoked pork.

Mackerel tartare / radish / nasturtium - there were both thin slices of raw radish as well as chunks of pickled radish. The mackerel tartare was a little more salty than I expected, and also had an unexpected spicy kick.  The acidity from the pickled radish comes into play while the freshness of the raw radish helps to cool things down.  Also tempered by molasses. Very delish.

Tomato / home-made ricotta / molasses / pancetta - organic tomatoes with a layer of tomato fondue, molasses, beurre noisette, and lemon ricotta on top.  Garnished with begonia, pansies, and radish.  VERY delicious.  The flavors of the tomatoes were wonderful, and you've got the savory notes and umami from the tomato fondue coming through, while there is a bit of saltiness as well as the acidity in the ricotta.

Flounder ceviche / sea urchin / orange leche de tigre - pretty nice, and I especially liked the orange flavors as it made things a little sweeter than your usual ceviche.  The addition of mango also made things a little interesting.

Mantis shrimp popcorn / cured duck yolk - one of the signature dishes here, and for the first time ever I finally tasted the egg yolk... since I can now see it sprinkled on the outside on top of the batter...

...although I wasn't sure if this was also yolk or mantis shrimp roe.  In any case, this tasted better than the same dish on my previous visits.  Very yum.

Marinated raw crab / sea urchin / rice - this was never one of my favorite dishes here, because I always felt that the ratio between the rice and the contents of the crab shell was wrong.  After things are mixed up, there wasn't enough flavor in the mouthful of rice that one takes in... and sometimes one may be eating a mouthful of just rice.  I do have to say, though, that the crab/sea urchin mix tonight smelled a little more pungent... Perhaps a little more fish sauce than in the past?

Tea smoked pigeon / fermented plum / buckwheat - this was DAMN GOOD!  The smokiness from the jasmine tea leaves was immediately apparent when the plate arrived.  The pigeon was done rosé, definitely a more than a little pink, and just the way I like it.  Crispy skin, tender and juicy meat.  The fermented plum sauce on the side was pretty nice, and the buckwheat on the bottom was interesting.

Scallop / tofu / spring onion - the scallop was done perfectly, but it was paired with something that has very little flavor on its own... and I suppose it didn't soak up enough of the delicious spring onion flavors.

Steamed Dover sole - although I would normally expect to get this done à la meunière, I wasn't too surprised to see this steamed in a lobster butter sauce.  This meant that the fish was really, really tender and succulent... to the point that it was almost slippery and would slide around in the mouth.  Soooooo damn delicious.  The fermented roots and, most importantly, the chorizo on top added the additional dimension of flavors.  Simply awesome!

Seaweed rice - we were already pretty full, but this came as a side dish to the sole.  The rice was cooked with nori (のり) seaweed, Parmesan, and sea bream roe that looked like mentaiko (明太子).  Very rich and delicious, but we simply had no room for more.

We didn't have room for dessert, but nevertheless got four portions

Sesame mousse / ginger granita / home-made tofu - very Asian flavors here... with the ginger overpowering the white sesame and tofu.

Pumpkin ice cream / persimmon / melon - this has always been delicious, and we were a little surprised to find fresh persimmon on the plate.  The pumpkin ice cream was rich and sweet as usual, and the pickled melon lent its acidity to balance things out.

We brought a couple of bottles to dinner:

2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres - very nice and buttery, good amount of toasty notes.  Delicious to drink.

2003 Yquem, en demi-bouteille - really sweet, nutty, with marmalade notes.  Rich on the palate.

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