March 15, 2018

Eating with chefs: that Cronut guy

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It's been almost 8 years since I first met Dominique Ansel in Hong Kong.  At the time he was still in the kitchen of Daniel, and we showed him some classic Cantonese cooking before going off to do a little partying.  After he started his own bakery, I managed to catch up with him a few years ago in New York - after lining up for hours for his famous Cronut.  It was good to see him before he expanded his empire to include Tokyo, London, and L.A.

He's back in town for a couple of days after a long absence, so The Great One and I rounded up a few friends, and took him for more classic Cantonese.  I passed up the opportunity to have the suckling pig with him at Seventh Son (家全七福) yesterday, but that was because I was already taking him to my favorite Cantonese private kitchen tonight.

But disaster struck before dinner even started.  I had recently switched to shooting with a Sony A9 from my old Canon 6D, and the battery life on Sony just sucks.  While I normally have a habit of bringing a spare battery, for some reason it wasn't in my bag today.  So when I turned on my camera to find that the battery was at 7%, I knew I was gonna have to shoot with my iPhone tonight...

Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - I told Dominique that these were "savory madeleines", which weren't far from the truth.  These were made with egg white, crab meat, birds' nest, and some finely diced ham and spring onions.  The texture was fluffy as usual, but tonight they seemed more wet and greasy than usual.

Stir-fried soft-shell turtle shell (鳳城炒水魚裙) - such a classic dish, and it's been a while since I last had it.

The shredded chili peppers, spring onions, coriander, and pickles all added their fragrances - and the Indian almonds (欖仁) pan-fried in oil were amazing.  The strips of soft shell turtle skirt were a little like jellyfish but without the crunch, but I don't think Dominique was a fan. 

Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - one of our favorite dishes here, and nowadays the chef has begun to add bamboo piths since I don't want any shark's fin.

For many non-Asians, this can be a plate of #fuckno... thanks to the soft and gooey texture of so many ingredients: spiny sea cucumber, pig trotter tendon, fish maw, dried abalone, goose web... balanced somewhat by the crunch of bamboo shoots, as well as more familiar ingredients such as pork belly and shiitake mushrooms.

For the rest of us Asians (Dominique excluded, of course) this was a plate of amazing goodness, and naturally we poured the collagen-laden sauce into bowls of steamed rice and just goggled it up like Pac-Man.

Almond soup with pig's lungs (杏汁白肺湯) - another classic.  Tonight, though, the soup wasn't as pale white as I am used to seeing.  It was also a tad more salty than I remembered.

The 'dregs' tonight were certainly impressive... chunks of lung along with delicious pork belly - the latter with their fat half-melted.  Well, I don't blame our chef friend for not liking to eat the chunks of lung... since I can only handle a few nibbles myself.

Steamed wild sole (清蒸海方利) - standard fare here, and this wild sole came in at more than 2 catties.  Nice.  And this is when we asked Dominique to pose for a pic while holding the fish to his face...  Ideally, we should have had him to an #anselfie with both arms extended - one hand holding the plate while the other holds the camera.  But with a big plate and all the sauce... that seemed a little risky.

Braised hundred-treasure duck (百寶炆大鴨) - another fantastic classic winter dish.  The duck was stuffed with lotus seeds, egg yolk, Job's tears, shiitake mushrooms, duck meat, and chestnuts.  Very yum.

Four treasure vegetables with Yunnan ham (雲腿扒四寶蔬) - it's been a while since I last had this, too... and it was one of the dishes where the chef showed impressive skills.  It may be a dish of vegetables, but the way Yunnan ham broth had been 'fed' to the veggies so that the flavors were absorbed... very much opened my eyes the first time I had this.

Steamed fragrant rice in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) - this may be a pretty common dish at Cantonese restaurants, but this version featured much better ingredients and in larger quantities.  VERY tasty.

Red bean purée with aged mandarin peel (陳皮紅豆沙) - alas, no 50-year-old dried mandarin peel for us tonight.  But this was still delicious.

From experience I know this isn't a drinking crowd, so I only brought 3 bottles tonight...

1996 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese-trocken - not surprisingly the acidity was rather high, but still feels a little rounded and aged.  With flint and mineral notes.

1988 Clinet - a bit smoky, with a little fruit at the beginning.  After airing in decanter, this became nice and ripe, with a little cedar and some tropical, exotic coconut and banana.

It was good catching up with Dominique, even if it was just for a short time. Gotta go back and visit him in New York soon...

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