July 31, 2018

Roast goose fix

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It's been a while since I last hit up Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), so I went for a quick fix at lunch.

Roast goose chest with rice noodle (鵝胸瀨) - they were strictly allocating the goose drumsticks - as they always do - and weren't giving out any.  The breast meat was just about half the price of the drumstick, so I was pretty happy to save some money.

July 28, 2018

Lunch #2 with bongwater

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Not long after I nibbled on some overpriced Russian canned food, I went over to Caprice Bar to see Hairy Legs and Victor.  This was my real lunch date, and I brought along a bottle of bongwater that I had carried all the way back from Paris.

First came a plate of charcuterie...

Canned food for Russian cosmonauts

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Today is the 1-year anniversary of the Soyuz MS-05 launch, which I traveled to Baikonur Cosmodrome to watch.  Even if it's not "once in a lifetime", it's still a very special day that I will remember for a long time to come.

While shopping for souvenirs at the Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum, I picked up two cans of food meant for the Russian cosmonauts.  The pricing of around USD 20 for each can was definitely a rip-off, but I guess I'm the exact kind of idiot they were looking for...

So I decided that today would be the perfect time to open those cans and taste how bad the cosmonauts have it up there.

Токана мясо-овощная (Tomato with meat and vegetable) - creamy texture in the vegetables with onions, red pepper, and potato.  Was there perhaps a little cheese?

July 23, 2018

Dining with the rich and famous

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Over 2 months ago my friend L told me she wanted to dine at Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう) in Hong Kong, and told me that she would make her way here as long as I got a booking, so I got us 4 seats at the counter tonight.  But L's schedule changed just before I left on my extended European vacation, so I ended up asking around for replacements.  Thankfully Baller was more than happy to step in and brought along a friend.

This was the first time for me to sit in front of Fujimoto-san, as I had always been served by Kobayashi-san on my previous visits.  They know about my preference not to have any tuna, so there would be appropriate substitutes along the way.

Steamed abalone (蒸し鮑) - very tender after being simmered for 6 hours.
Octopus (蛸) - chewy in the middle but very soft and almost liquefied on the outside.  A little sweet as expected.

July 22, 2018

Celebrity Cuisine with celebrity chef

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The Great One and I try to take Gaggan Anand out whenever he's in town, partly as a way to reciprocate the favor since he's never allowed us to pay for a meal in his restaurant or at his pop-ups.  We know he loves the local food in Hong Kong, so The Great One booked us a table at Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊) for some dim sum.

We have always been fans of Chef Cheng Kam-fu (鄭錦富), although I vaguely remember my last dim sum lunch here years ago as being underwhelming.  I guess that's why I haven't been back for lunch in many years...

Fried rice roll with XO sauce (XO醬炒腸粉) - always happy to have this.

July 21, 2018

Bongwater with Gaggan

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I had just paid my first visit to The Flying Elk two nights ago with a bunch of people from the industry, but when Gaggan Anand comes to town and invites you to dinner... you don't utter the words "...but I just ate there!"   So I bit my tongue and brought a few bottles of bongwater with me to dinner.

Once again I did not have to order from the menu, because everything was up to Chef Jim Löfdahl.   I've tried most of the dishes two nights ago, anyway, so I won't bother with notes on the same dishes.

Boneless chicken wings, Kvibille cheese, crispy parsley, clarified butter - still pretty good.

July 19, 2018

Jim's new playground

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I rarely hang out with my professional peers socially, but one of my good friends invited me to join a networking dinner with people in similar positions at myself - people I normally only run into at conferences.  Since the dinner was gonna be at The Flying Elk, I agreed to join the gang even though I knew I might be tired after my long trip to Europe.

I was ever so grateful that, for once, nobody asked me to do the ordering. Not even for the wine. I was happy to just go with the flow.

Truffle popcorn, Västerboften cheese, dried mushroom - meh.  Kinda fun for the first couple of bites, but we all kinda lost interest quickly.

Boneless chicken wings, Kvibille cheese, crispy parsley, clarified butter - these were a little more salty than I expected, with a dab of blue cheese on top.  Almost tasted like chorizo...

July 17, 2018

Europe 2018: the final tally

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It's been more than a decade since I took such a long holiday, and I figured it's worth looking back at some statistics:

Total days in Europe: 18

Number of countries visited: 4 (but mostly in Belgium and France)

Number of cities/towns visited: 15

July 16, 2018

Europe 2018 day 17: escape from Paris

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It's our last day in Paris and we have a few errands to run.  After storing our luggage at Gare du Nord - which involved a 1½ hour taxi ride with our luggage as a result of Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées being completely blocked off and jammed - we crossed the river for a quick errand, before coming back to the 8ème. I was looking for an easy lunch spot that wasn't an obvious tourist trap around the Place de la Madeleine when Hello Kitty came upon Chez Nicolas, the wine bar above the wine shop.We got ourselves a table by the window overlooking L'église de la Madeleine, in the comfort of air conditioning. Lo and behold, they even have something that's totally up my alley!

Andouillette Duval 5A, sauce moutarde poivre maison - I get to eat andouillette for my very last meal in Paris!  I would never have imagined that!  This was completely smothered in mustard sauce, which was really rich.  The fat fries on the side were pretty nice, but there was just waaay too much of it.

July 15, 2018

Europe 2018 day 16: Champion du Monde

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It's Sunday in Paris where many outlets are closed, including your neighborhood boulangeries.  Since we can't get our caffeine fix at Eric Kayser and we were reluctant to patronize a touristy café with tables on the sidewalk, we decided to grab breakfast at... McDo!

Œuf McMuffin bacon et beef

McMuffin jambon Emmental fondu

We grabbed a taxi to visit Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is adjacent to the Jardin d'Acclimatation and not far from the apartment. It's an impressive structure designed by Frank Gehry, with terraces where one can relax while getting a view of the nearby parks and the skyscrapers in the distance.

July 14, 2018

Europe 2018 day 15: Bastille Day

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I'm finally in Paris on Bastille Day!  I am very much looking forward to the festivities today, especially the fireworks tonight.

We got ready to explore more touristy sites this morning, and just as we were coming out of our apartment not long before 10am, I saw a whole crowd of people standing in the middle of Avenue de la Grande-Armée.  They seemed to be waiting for something.

A few seconds later I had my answer.  The noise of jets flying overhead reached my ears and I just managed to catch the Patrouille de France fly past us with their tri-colored smoke. I immediately took my camera out of my bag and started filming.

July 13, 2018

Europe 2018 day 14: under the pyramid

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Today is museum day, and I've set aside the daylight hours for the Musée du Louvre.  It's been more than a decade and a half since my last visit, and it would be interesting to see what has changed over this period.

I'm ever so grateful that I don't have to line up and buy a ticket for this place, so getting in was a breeze.  The place is still massive and a total maze, so we devised a game plan and figured out which sections we wanted to see.  Of course, we had to hit a few of the "must-see" works just like most of the tourists here... and these included Venus de Milo as well as La Victoire de Samothrace.

July 12, 2018

Europe 2018 day 13: the little white rose

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The afternoon's shopping session brought Hello Kitty some much-needed happiness after a disappointing lunch. After retiring to the apartment to freshen up, we crossed the river for dinner at Neige d'Été.  Like Passage53 last night, and indeed a number of dining establishments we are visiting this trip, it was not immediately apparent that we had come upon the right place.

There is only one menu, and one has the option of adding caviar or truffle with certain dishes as a supplement.

Deep-fried squid and octopus

Potato foam and watermelon soup - with little bits of watermelon and what seemed to be celery, and a purple chip on top.

Tartare de veau, crème de haddock, pomme paille, avec Caviar Kristal - I chose to add the caviar supplement, but not sure it was necessary.  The veal tartare came with anchovies, girolles, crispy strands of potato, haricots verts, fava beans, peas, basil, and tomatoes.  The girolles were chilled and smoky.  The haddock cream underneath the caviar was also smoky.

Europe 2018 day 13: 10 white men

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There's an outlet of Eric Kayser just around the corner from the apartment we are staying in, so naturally this became our go-to place for coffee and viennoiserie in the morning.  It won't be the best in Paris, but it's good enough to keep us happy.
This morning, though, I had something else to sample: the Pierre Hermé x L'Occitane macarons I bought from 68 Champs yesterday.

Pamplemousse and rhubarbe - fruity, but dominated by cloves.

Jasmin, néroli, immortelle - could clearly taste the jasmine, but overall it tastes like L'Occitane hand cream... so I guess that would be the immortelle.

Miel, immortelle and mandarine - much more orange, very sweet.

July 11, 2018

Europe 2018 day 12: from McDo to Michelin

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After bidding farewell to our hostess and Moses, our host dropped us off at Nice Airport - where we once again put our luggage in storage.  We then took the bus and headed into town for some last-minute exploration.  In all honesty, we really didn't see much of Nice on the day we arrived...

When we got off the bus at Jardin Albert 1er, we crossed the street to the promenade next to the beach for a look.  I was in utter shock.  I had imagined pretty, white sand beaches on the Côte d'Azur... but I saw nothing but pebbles and gravel on the beach.  I'd probably have to lay down 2 layers of towels so that the corners of those stones don't puncture a hole in my ass.  Coming from Asia where we have plenty of beautiful beaches... this was certainly a big disappointment.

We needed to grab some breakfast and coffee, so we stopped by Chez Maître Pierre.  I couldn't resist grabbing a palmier that was literally bigger than my face... and with plenty of sugar, too!

After a not-so-quick stop to acquire boîte orange numero 1, we went back to the airport, retrieved our luggage, and flew back to Orly Airport for our second leg in Paris.

July 10, 2018

Europe 2018 day 11: art museum dining, part 2

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Another beautiful day in the south of France, and it was time to explore a few places closer to where my friends live.  Our first stop was Musée Molinard, where we got a guided tour on the processes used by the perfumeries in France's perfume capital.  It's amazing to find out the amount of flowers needed to distill the essence required to manufacture perfume.  Unfortunately we did not have time to go through a few hours of putting together our customized scents, but I'm OK with that.

We didn't find the products at Molinard interesting, so we ended up hitting the the shop at Fragonard.  These guys are much better at packaging their products, and there was a constant stream of tourists coming in.  We ended up buying a bunch of soaps to bring home.

Our last stop this morning was at Champagne Senez to pick up some bubbly for tonight's World Cup match Madame offered us a glass of Cristian Senez Carte Verte while we chatted and decided about what to buy.

After going back to pick up the rest of the gang, we set off for Saint-Paul de Vence for lunch at an institution.  La Colombe d'Or is an auberge which began life as a cafe.  Its claim to fame isn't the amazing food that they serve - although they do a half-decent job of cooking.

July 9, 2018

Europe 2018 day 10: casino royale

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After a late arrival at my friends' house that they are still renovating - and falling asleep in the car - we managed to sleep in due to sheer fatigue despite the absence of any curtains in the room.  And we finally got our first glimpse of Moses, our friends' 110-kg (the last time he stepped on a scale) English Mastiff.  Hello Kitty was very, very happy...

After a late breakfast with goodies from the local boulangerie, along with the lemon cake from Mirazur, we set off for the Principality of Monaco so that Hello Kitty and I could play tourist.

July 8, 2018

Europe 2018 day 9: Franco-Italian-Argentinian garden

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Ever since I first met Chef Ricardo Chaneton, I've always been curious about Mirazur.  And as the restaurant continued its meteoric rise up The World's 50 Best Restaurants, that curiosity got stronger.  Of course nobody I know believes that Restaurant ABC is actually the #8 restaurant in the world... but the fact that a restaurant is popular enough to get the votes required to be among the top means that they are probably doing something right.

So when it came time to plan the French leg of our trip, I asked Ricardo to help book me a table at Mirazur.  I was going to visit my friends who live in the south of France, and I would take them out to a nice dinner.  They picked Hello Kitty and I up in Nice - with our big suitcases in tow - and drove us to the restaurant situated just over 100m from the border with Italy.

The four of us arrived very early before the restaurant even opened, and we were invited inside to wait while they finished prepping.  However, I experienced a few minutes of panic when I was informed that they couldn't find our reservation...  It seemed just a little embarrasing to have told your friends that you're taking them to dinner, come all this way, and then be told by the restaurant they have no idea who you are...

Fortunately it was all a misunderstanding, and they did have a table reserved for us.  Meanwhile we were offered a glass of Champagne while we waited for Chef Mauro Colagreco to come greet us.  I chose to start with Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé as it always goes down very well.

Mauro came to give us a tour of the restaurant's gardens, which are split into two parts.  First we got a look at the citrus trees and herbs that are grown right next to and below the restaurant, including a very tall avocado tree which made my friends very jealous.  There are, of course, the lemons that Menton is famous for...

We were then led to the larger part of the gardens, with most of the vegetables along with the chickens as well as the beehives.  Mauro spoke to us about creating biodiversity through permaculture, and it's taken them 4 years to get to the stage they're at.

I loved seeing everything that they were working on, and was happy to meet Mauro's young son.  My sole regret was not asking Mauro for permission to fly my drone over the gardens...

Europe 2018 day 9: a nice day in Nice

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We dragged ourselves up before sunrise, cleaned up the lovely AirBnB apartment we were staying in, saw a beautiful sunrise over the Place de la Bastille, and headed for Orly Airport.  We're spending a few days in the south of France with some old friends of mine, and Nice would be our first stop today.

After landing at Nice Airport, we made our way to Gare de Nice Ville and dropped off our luggage.  There were two museums I wanted to hit while we were here, and the first one seemed just a relatively short walk from the station.

Marc Chagall is one of my favorite artists, and I was very happy to have the chance to visit Musée National Marc Chagall.

July 7, 2018

Europe 2018 day 8: the Rubik's Cube

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Like many others, I have been following Cedric Grolet on Instagram for a while.  During this time I have been deeply fascinated by his creations, which have ranged from fruity desserts made to look like fruit, to his beautiful apple pie, to that most Instagrammable creation of all - the Rubik's Cube.

I knew that he's the pastry chef at Le Meurice, and that his desserts are being served during tea at Le Dalí.  But neither restaurant lists the Rubik's Cube on their menus, and I couldn't figure out where to go and try it.  And there wasn't a whole lot of information available on the Internet...

Out of pure desperation, I decided to contact someone working with Alain Ducasse - with whom I had the pleasure of dining last year - and inquired about the possibility of trying this special creation.  Thankfully this person came to my rescue, and put me in touch with the right people who secured a table for me at Le Dalí today.

I found out in May that the Ho's would also be in Paris today, and we had discussed the possibility of doing tea together.  I figured that the kiddies would be interested in having some sweets, and the creations seemed pretty fun.  So the four adults and two kids came dressed (well, some of us, anyway...) for the occasion.

The desserts we ordered came in quick succession, and soon the entire table was occupied with various plates, pots of tea, and cups.  Mrs. Ho was ever so helpful by keeping the kiddies in check while I tried as quickly as possible to take pictures and record a few videos.

Tomate - one of the seasonal items on offer as part of tea service.  Like the others in the same series, the shell was created the look like the fruit (yes, tomato is a fruit) while the inside was filled with pieces of the same fruit.  This was surprisingly tasty, but some people - including the kiddies at our table - were probably not used to having savory flavors as dessert.

Europe 2018 day 8: phở in Paris

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Another morning, another visit to the boulangerie for viennoiserie.  Today we're going back to Blé Sucré, an old favorite of mine.  Imma getting me some kouign amann today!  The place is kinda within walking distance from the apartment, so we took a stroll over in order to work up an appetite...

Croissant - this was just OK.  Not particularly impressive.  The one I had here 8 years ago was much, much better.

Chocolatine - pretty sizable and decent, but certainly not as fine as the one at Du Pain et des Idées yesterday.

Kouign amann - the reason why I'm here today.  Must have this wonderful and delicious collection of folds with plenty of sugar added.  Yum.

July 6, 2018

Europe 2018 day 7: clowning around with bongwater

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After lunch we hit our first tourist spot - Musée National Picasso.  There was an exhibit about Guernica - one of Picasso's most famous works - so it was pretty interesting.  I've never been a big fan of this artist as I don't care for the Cubist movement, but Hello Kitty was very happy to have come.  I was kinda glad that I finally paid this place a visit after all these years.

We got back to the apartment just in time to watch the France vs. Argentina match for the World Cup, and it was a treat to watch it on a big screen in the comfort of air conditioning.  And it's a good thing that the French won, because we were worried that the cooks wouldn't be in the mood to make any sort of effort to cook for us tonight...

Dinner time rolled around, and we went back out on the Metro to get ourselves to Clown Bar - yet another one of the hipster hangouts that serves casual dishes with a bongwater-filled wine list.  I knew that Chef Sota Atsumi had left and will be opening up his own joint, but I figured this place was  probably still worthy of a visit in the meantime...

The menu was compact, and we sat at a tiny table outside where we were (almost literally) rubbing shoulders with our neighbors, but this is par for the course for Paris...  We picked out a few dishes that sounded good, and as a matter of fact, they were good.

Mackerel fritter / piquillos - what's not to like about deep-fried food?  Especially when the filling is mackerel, and you've got a nice, tempura-like batter made with squid ink.  The piquillos sauce was pretty nice, too.

Europe 2018 day 7: let the bongwater flow

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Our first morning in Paris, and I'm dragging Hello Kitty out for breakfast at a popular boulangerie. I've been seeing friends post about Du Pain et des Idées for a few years now, and it's on the same side of town that we're staying in, so it wasn't too bad of a trek in the morning.

La chocolatine - the layers were certainly pretty, but I didn't think flavor-wise this was necessarily better than many others.

L'escargot chocolat-pistache - one of the signatures here.  Definitely unique.

July 5, 2018

Europe 2018 day 6: Parisien classic, or tourist trap?

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After getting off our train at Gare du Nord, we took a taxi to the apartment we had booked through AirBnB.  This was our first time trying AirBnB, and we took an apartment that is literally next to the Place de la Bastille.

Our hostess Françoise isn't a full-time landlord.  She actually lives in the apartment, but rents it out whenever she is on holiday.  We found ourselves inside a beautiful and spacious one-bedroom, and our hostess definitely has an artistic eye and great taste.

Europe 2018 day 6: last lunch in Belgium

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It's our 6th day in Europe, and not only will we be sleeping in the 6th different bed tonight, we're also leaving Belgium and finally getting to France.  We started by taking a local train from Gent Sint-Pieters station to Gare de Bruxelles Midi.  Like Bruges, it's a shame that we hardly got a chance to see Ghent - which some people feel is just as pretty, if not prettier, than Bruges.

We have a few hours to spend in Brussels, so of course I scheduled lunch at a restaurant we wanted to hit.  I had heard about Restaurant Bozar from friends a couple of years ago, and it's inside the beautiful Art Deco-style Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles by Victor Horta.

The reason for visiting here?  Chef Karen Torosyan was declared the "world champion" at the pâtè-encroûte competition in 2015, and I loooooove pâtè-encroûte!

July 4, 2018

Europe 2018 day 5: the hellfires of Ghent

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After checking into Hotel Harmony, we decided to spend what little time we had before dinner strolling around the center of Ghent.  There were several historic churches and belfries that definitely deserved a look.

We started around the square in front of the Stadhuis and took a look at Sint-Niklaaskerk, which was a fairly big church.

Then we passed by the Belfort which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Belfries of Belgium and France.  Like many other historical sites we have visited in Belgium over the last few days, there seemed to be restoration work being done.

A few steps away was Sint-Baafskathedraal, which is also quite large and impressive with its tall tower.

Before long, it was time for our dinner appointment at Chambre Séparée.  I had received several recommendations from friends to visit this restaurant, and it seemed that this place from Chef Kobe Desramaults is a rising star.

As impossible as it would seem, THIS was the place where I ran into my old friend Little Meg.  What are the chances of running into one of your friends - who is also coming from the other side of the world - at the same restaurant with a booking at the same time?  Simply surreal.

Although I wasn't very hungry - and Hello Kitty was still full from lunch - we braced ourselves for the onslaught of 20 courses coming our way.  But first we had to take a seat outdoors as the restaurant wasn't ready for us yet.

Cucumber water - with verbena and asparagus.  It was scorching outside and this was what they served us.  I was thirsty as hell, and wondered why it was that restaurants in Belgium only give you just 2 sips of these herb-infused water when it was obvious that you could have downed 2 bottles of liquids to re-hydrate yourself from the heat.  I felt the same way at L'Air du Temps a few days ago...

When we were finally asked to move inside, we found ourselves seated at a C-shaped counter facing the open kitchen.

What caught my eye immediately was the presence of the open charcoal grills - plus a wood-fired oven.  Throughout the evening we would watch the fires burn as various ingredients were cooked over the flames.


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