November 22, 2016

Occupy Amber: Amber x Central

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About 2½ hours after our flight from Singapore landed in Hong Kong, we had freshened up and gotten dressed up for dinner at Amber - a meal I have been eagerly anticipating for the last two months.  The reason?  Virgilio Martinez from Central is back in town to do a 4-hands dinner with Richard Ekkebus at Amber.  This was not a dinner I was going to miss.

After meeting him at his pop-up last year, we discovered that we shared a mutual friend.  As I plan ahead for a possible trip to Peru, I figured it would be good to catch up with Virgilio again.  Of course, Hello Kitty and My Favorite Cousin were only too happy to see the "handsome chef" again...

First came two "snackings" by Amber:
Guinness Dry Stoute beer with onions and crispy cereals

Kabocha pumpkin and maple syrup - pumpkin purée inside a thin sheet of pumpkin, with caramelized pumpkin seeds.  Nice and sweet.

Followed by two from Central:
Sea urchin, rocoto and black maca - with rocoto chili emulsion and little chunks which seemed like meringue.  There's a nice acidity balance with the umami and the sweetness from meringue.  Very, very delicious.

Tunta, Andean herbs uchucuta - the bitter white potatoes from Andean Altiplano were freeze-dried to produce tunta (or chuño) to preserve them.  They were rehydrated, grated, then puréed, dried, and fried to make crackers.  The uchucuta chile sauce on top was made with Andean herbs, and tasted nice and acidic.

Then we were served alternating dishes from each restaurant:
Ebisu winter oyster coagulated at 70°C with sake leese, lemon, Granny Smith and salicornia, by Amber - the slow-cooked oyster was topped some some creamy sake lees, with some chunks of Granny Smith apple and diced salicornia mixed in.  A thin, circular disc of ice made with Granny Smith apple was laid on top, with dots of lemon and Granny Smith gel.  The Granny Smith and lemon obviously delivered some acidity, and there was some bitter aftertaste from the alcoholic sake lees.  The oyster was a little briny, but it was balanced by the sweetness and creaminess of the sake lees.  A pretty nice and refreshing start.

Razor clams, aji amarillo, jicama, borage, by Central - WOW!  We were impressed by the razor clam dish at last year's pop-up, and this time Virgilio served up a different variation.  And it's even more beautiful than what we had last year, with a few more purple borage flowers.

Inside the paper-thin slices of jicama were chunks of raw razor clams, together with some lime foam.  I'm not sure what the creamy, white substance was, but it almost felt like crème fraîche or ricotta to me... and for some reason reminded me of avocado. The sweetness of the clam was paired with the acidity as well as spicy kick from the aji amarillo.  Delicious.

Cep mushroom, globe artichoke, 'wet' hazelnuts and autumn truffle served like an autumn salad, on the side a cep tea and a cep baked in brioche, by Amber - artichoke purée has been piped inside tubes made of thin slices of artichoke.  On top sat a chunk of cep, with a thin disc of Parmesan as well as autumn truffle as garnish.  Truffle coulis on the side.

Cep tea is always delicious.

The cep inside the brioche was just really sweet, and the sprinkle of diced truffle and chives helped enhanced the flavors.  Sooo delicious.

Avocado, loche squash, kañihua, by Central - chunks of roasted avocado, with thin chips made presumably with loche, and the bowl was otherwise filled with kañihua grown high in the mountains.  Lots of acidity in the sauce here... perhaps it was made with tamarillos, just like last year?  The crunch from the tiny, nutritious kañihua grains was very nice.  The jasmine flowers left a wonderful fragrance in the mouth.

Foie gras poached in mushroom tea with charred Japanese shiitake, pickled enoki and black garlic, by Amber - the duck foie gras was, naturally, very tender from poaching, and worked perfectly with the duck consommé foam.  The shiitake had nice and smoky flavors thanks to char-grilling, and the black garlic certainly stood out.  The thin discs of ceps on top were nice, enhanced by small slivers of kaffir lime leaves.

Beef anticucho, quinoas, muña mint, by Central - Virgilio must have taken some of the feedback we gave to Richard last year to heart, because his beef dish this time around wasn't tough at all.  The anticucho was made with braised rump of beef, although I would have preferred the popular anticucho de corazon...  Once again the dish was served with tricolor grains, but this time they were kiwicha, which were dyed red with airampo and green with quinoa leaves.  Garnished with apple blossoms.

Milk was poured onto the dish, and it was infused with Andean muña mint and thickened with quinoa.  Overall this was almost the same dish as last year, but with a much more tender choice of beef.

Apple poached with virgin almond oil, reine des reinettes and celery stalk sorbet, by Amber - the poached Reine de Reinettes apple seemed to have been flavored with a little cinnamon.  The celery sorbet on top was garnished with chiffonade of celery stalk.  The sauce in the bowl had a hint of licorice, almost as if it were made with fennel...

Cacao, dry plants, clay ash, by Central - no surprise that Virgilio carried over some clay for us.

Underneath it all was a scoop of chocolate ice cream, covered with shavings of white chocolate which have been mixed with chaco clay as well as a mixture of herbs such as muña mint and (perhaps) marku.

Finally, our petits fours:

Raspberry tart

Chocolate mousse with raspberry

The wine pairing was optional at extra cost, and I had little interest.  But My Favorite Cousin seemed to have had a rough day, showed up at dinner a half-hour late, and she needed a few drinks.  So for the first time in a long while, I actually looked through Amber's wine list to try to pick out something.  Sommelier John Chan reminded me that they had picked out a small selection of wines and reduced their prices - something which I had noticed at my last dinner with their top selections of Burgundy like DRC.  But those wines were originally at pretty ridiculous prices, and even the "reduced" prices weren't attractive enough.

Tonight, however, a couple of wines caught my eye.  I ended up taking John's recommendation on a couple of bottles whose prices had become acceptable to me...

1985 Hospices de Beaune Meursault 1er Cru Genevrières Cuvée Philippe-le-Bon, par Remoissenet Père et Fils, ex-domaine - the attraction here was that it was only released in March 2016.  Very ripe, almost a little sweet on the palate.  Nice and fragrant nose, but seemingly just a little tired.  Later on toasty and buttery corn notes came out.

2008 Jean Noël Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet - first pour was a little pungent, later on a bit chalky and dirty.  With the new pour this cleared up and became kinda mineral and flinty.  Acidity was on the high side.  So the restaurant had discounted this from just under 4x retail to about 2x retail, which made things a little easier to stomach...

It was so good to catch up with Virgilio again, and to discuss visiting the different sights of Peru.  I did ask him about his plans for moving Central from Lima to Cusco, which had been reported for some time.  It turns out that due to the proposed new location's proximity to the Inca ruins at Moray - at an altitude of some 3,500m above sea level - he encountered some licensing issues.  So instead of moving the entire restaurant from Lima to Cusco, the new location - due to open in March 2017 - will be a gastronomy museum and food lab which may only serve as little as 10 guests.  Central will stay in Lima, although it, too, will move into new digs.

I look forward to visiting both locations in early 2018, and watching Virgilio deliver his magic on his home turf!


Anonymous said...

Guiness dry stoute beer ??? typos (plural) ???

Peech said...

Ah, yes, the "Guiness" was indeed a typo on my side... but the "stoute" was printed on the menu and I usually copy from the menu verbatim, even when I spot typos


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