June 18, 2018

Writing a new chapter

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It's been a long time coming.  Maxime Gilbert left the kitchen at Amber to open up a place where he could call all the shots, and Écriture was nearly 2 years in the making - undoubtedly an excruciatingly long process for him.  Funnily enough, I had been watching the brand-new building take shape over the last few years, and I can see the restaurant - located on the top floor - from the comfort of my office chair. 

Maxime knew very well my aversion to brand new restaurants, so he played it cool and did not invite me for a tasting immediately when the place opened - choosing instead to wait until I was ready.  Well, a joint birthday celebration seemed like an appropriate opportunity for my first visit.  So I pinged Maxime to let him know that I was finally ready.

There's normally a short prix fixe lunch as well as a longer prix fixe dinner menu.  However, there was never any doubt that Maxime would try to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at me... hence the presentation of the carte blanche menu.

Our first bite was this... dare I call it... tater tots?  Topped with some caviar, of course.

Japanese pumpkin - a mix of pumpkin purée and cream is sandwiched between two discs of pumpkin crisps.

Steamed bun - stuffed with dried seafood... and also topped with some.  It was kinda like having X.O sauce buns, but I didn't really care for it.

Fish cracker - made of tiny baby sardines (ちりめんじゃこ).  Always good.

As the time for finger food was over, the staff brought a box of their custom-made knives for us to choose from. Everyone got to choose a knife they preferred, except me...

This was the knife that I would be using today.  Maxime had decided to engrave it with my nom de plume (or is it actually nom de guerre?). It was an unexpected gesture, and I was certainly flabbergasted... and very flattered.

Last year, my friends who are the owners of Brass Spoon had told me about their idea of engraving the names of regular customers on the restaurant's signature brass spoons, and asked me how I felt about having one.  At the time I told my friends that I didn't think it was necessary to have my own personalized spoon while slurping down a bowl of pho, and that it wouldn't make me feel any special.

Well... I was wrong.  I definitely felt very special today.

Raw amaebi tail, delicate red onion jelly, beetroots feuillantine - the raw Japanese shrimps were beautiful and sweet, served on a bed of white bonito gelée, with citrus and pickled red pearl onions providing the acidic counterbalance.  The staff apparently did not realize that I, like Hello Kitty, also did not wish to have any beetroot... so I got the beautifully crafted beetroot "flower" on top.  It wasn't bad, but those red amaranth leaves were just too damn earthy for me... 

This had been sitting next to our table since the start of the meal, so we knew that caviar would be served at some point.

Royal caviar shrencki cured in Rubia Gallega beef ham, beef bone marrow custard soufflé in seasonal greens, shells fish bouillon - "royal caviar shrencki"... whatever that means... was farmed in China and cured between two large sheets of ham made of my favorite Galician beef.  This was quenelled and placed on top of what seemed like a pile of greens.

Underneath the collection of morning glory, cabbage, sorrel, and spinach was, in fact, bone marrow soufflé.  The creamy and foamy sauce that was spooned on top was made of clams, seafood and parsley oil.  Pretty interesting, but slightly on the salty side.

The second part of the dish was when the "leftover" caviar was served to us on sourdough bread - along with the cured Galician beef. As the others mentioned, this was very, very evil... and took up a good amount of valuable real estate in my stomach.

Hokkaido scallops contisée with black truffle cooked in a crispy beignet, celery roots purée, shaved hazelnuts, Pouilly Fuissé fins fumet - cutting open the crunchy beignets revealed the gigantic Hokkaido scallops stuffed inside.  These had been scored and encased with slices of black truffle from France, then wrapped with nori (海苔) seaweed before being battered and deep-fried.

The scallops were beautiful, as was the crunchy shell.  The seaweed brought its own umami to the dish.  Served with celeriac purée and some scallop foam.  There were four happy campers here after this.

Artichoke millefeuilles butter roasted, sugar peas, ginger, black truffles ragout - the artichoke was lightly poached, then very thin slices were pressed into a block like a millefeuille... then deep-fried and garnished with a very thin strand of pickled ginger.  Hidden in the beurre noisette emulsion were a mix of sautéed sugar peas, truffle, ginger, jamón ibérico, and chives.  Very nice.

We were shown a pretty damn big abalone before our next dish...

Kurao awabi poached in sake and seared, eggplant condiment with grapefruit, Rubia Gallega beef ham, abalone liver's mustard - the abalone was simmered with daikon (大根) radish, kombu (昆布), and sake for 4 hours.  Sliced (our server made sure we knew that the serrated pattern on the slices were deliberate and not a result of poor knife skills) and served atop eggplant purée and grapefruit, garnished with slices of cured Galician beef and sorrel.

The ubiquitous abalone liver sauce came on the side.  This version was made with mustard and soy sauce - and was slightly too salty and surprisingly not sour.  We also had dashi (出汁) made of eggplant, which showed sweetness and good balance.  Overall, a pretty good dish.

Line caught John Dory cooked à l'assiette, bigorneaux ragout in sake fumet reduction, kabu leaf to flesh - we were told that this was turbot from Brittany... served with Japanese turnip (蕪) leaves, turnip purée, soy sauce jus with diced tofu and bigorneaux.  Even with the citrus zest on top, the turbot needed the heavier flavors from the condiments.

Prepare at your table whole Hokkaido kinki grilled over open fire - the broadbanded thornyhead / kinki (喜知次) was brought to our table in a pan, before being divided up for service. It was, of course, very delicious.  The fish itself is fatty and succulent. 

Filets with green virgin condiments - served with a compote of vegetables, yuzu (柚子), and seafood such as conpoy (瑤柱).  The accompanying sauce was made with Dolcetto d'Alba.

Jaws finish nicely over the bbq - the collar, with pectoral fin attached, came separately with some lime.

Cheeks and liver with Gorgonzola agnoloti in a 4/4 soup - there was also a bowl with agnolotti stuffed with Gorgonzola, along with kinki liver and cheek in a pretty sharp and acidic tomato sauce.

Special selection Blanc de Blanc Aveyron baby lamb cutlet and loin roasted au autoir, French cabbage a la coupe et a la feuille, miso and seaweed condiment - the 3-month-old milk-fed lamb ( we were told it was from the Pyrénées) was nice and fatty... and gamey - which was exactly how I like my lamb. It came with cabbage, with a cross-section burnt and then sautéed with butter and ginger.  There were also some chanterelles on the side.   Served with a white miso and seaweed purée, topped with lamb floss.

I was beyond full at this point, and went over to the open kitchen to chat with Maxime and Noël.  It was then that I saw a big pile of chicken wings... which turned out to be today's staff meal.  Maxime asked whether I wanted some, and in a split second I was running back to our table to tell the others.  The next minute saw each of us being presented with a wing on a plate.

Yes... I'm having lunch at a fine dining restaurant... and after being stuffed with tons of good food, I decided that I would steal the staff's lunch...  That's the kind of jackass I am.

Pomme autin, vanilla, caramelized puff pastry - this apple pie was certainly very different...

I guess it doesn't get more deconstructed than this... when the apple and the pastry are completely separate.  The pastry was certainly very flaky, and it's clear that the very thin ribbons came from a number of different kinds of apples. 

Spicy cacao custard, spiced mango chutney, peanut ice cream - this was an ineresting mix chili chocolate custard, Alphonso mango with five spice, hazelnut cookie crumble, peanut ice cream, and chocolate chips.

A cup of coconut milk on the side.

Kouign amann - with some crème fraîche in the middle

We were too full to have the chocolate tart...

...but I did find room for these seedless Kyoho (巨峰) grapes.

Even though this was lunch, it WAS a birthday celebration on a public holiday, so we indulged in some wine...

The restaurant very kindly offered us complimentary Champagne to start. Even though the other option was clearly more "luxe" and a very well-made wine in its own right, the wine snob in me found Dom Pérignon Rosé somewhat "pedestrian" and opted for the more interesting choice...

Fleury Sonate n°9 - very yeasty, lots of depth of character, plenty of sharp acidity, and marmalade notes.

2002 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon - decanted for more than 45 minutes prior to serving.  Nose of vanilla, coconut butter, pencil lead, ripe fruit, and smoke.  Fragrant and beautiful.  Tannins are still here, with a long finish. 

1997 Chapoutier Hermitage Vin de Paille, en demi-bouteille  - fragrant nose of honey and medjool dates.  Rich and unctuous on the palate.  Surprising level of sweetness.

1989 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese, from half-bottle - classic nose of polyurethane with fragrant notes of pollen and orange blossom.  Good acidity here to balance the sweetness.

This was a ton of food, and we did have a decent amount of alcohol, so when we left the restaurant after our 4-hour lunch, I got home and collapsed for the next 2 hours. I almost died from the amount of food we were given, and now I have found myself a second chef in town who tries to kill me this way... It would, of course, be a pretty nice way to go for sure! Many thanks to Maxime and the team for spoiling us.

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