September 21, 2018

The Bridge in Macau

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For the last few months, the kind people at Wynn in Macau have extended a number of invitations to me for their guest chef events.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend any of those events for one reason or another.  So I was really excited when I found out that André Chiang would be showcasing dishes from The Bridge 廊桥 - the project he unveiled after he announced that he was closing his eponymous restaurant.  I really wanted to find out what he was up to, and since I wasn't planning a trip to Chengdu anytime soon, this would be my big chance.

Having missed all the festivities last night - and apparently some awesome dishes from Chef Tam at Wing Lei Palace (永利宮) - I finally managed to catch up with a few friends today after arriving at Andrea's in Wynn Palace. Not surprisingly I was seated next to my friend KC, and closest to the door...

The wine pairing today featured a line up that was all from China.  This would be interesting...

Ye'erba with caviar (魚子粽香葉兒粑) - ye'erba (葉兒粑) is a local traditional snack in Sichuan, made by steaming these glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in leaves.  The dumplings could contain either sweet or savory stuffing, and in this case the filling was chopped smoky ham.

We were told to coat the dumpling in copious amounts of the oil that was in the bowl, which came from fish heads grilled over charcoal. The oil was indeed very smoky and flavorful, and added a nice layer of richness to it all.  A very delicious mouthful, and a great start to the meal.

KC and I chuckled at the sight of caviar, as many of us feel that it's one of the most overused and unnecessary ingredients today... used by restaurants when they wanted to make something appear more 'luxe'.  I asked André about the "golden caviar" on top, and he said that they came from sturgeons farmed in Dujiangyan (都江堰).  Well... yes, almas caviar from albino beluga sturgeon can be more expensive than gold when they come from very old fish, and while Cerealia (诗芮) does produce an almas product from 15-year old sturgeon, the eggs in front of me didn't look anywhere near the size of 3.2mm advertised on their website...

Chandon Brut - I don't normally touch the entry-level stuff from Moët et Chandon, but this one from Ningxia tasted a little more interesting than expected.

Next came a series of small appetizers, part of a selection of 18 small dishes normally available at the restaurant.

Signature cordyceps flowers with fermented bean sauce (招牌豆瓣蟲草花) - served with shredded green beans as well as leeks, with a hint of peanut oil and delivered a slightly bit of numbness.

Pickled bitter gourd (野三椒川泡苦瓜) - crunchy bitter gourd with some acidity, and more spicy than expected.  A nice surprise.

Pickled pig trotters (紅糖醬泡豬仔蹄) - neither braised nor marinated, but pickled the way they do it in Sichuan.  Curiously served with some thyme on top.

Spicy chicken with orange fragrance (椒麻橙香味嫩雞) - André called this beggar's chicken (叫化雞), and honestly besides a hint of Sichuan peppercorns, I didn't detect any citrus fragrance whatsoever...

Burnt abalone with charcoal grilled chili (二荊條燒椒鮮鮑) - this was pretty spicy thanks to the erjingtiao (二荊條) chili, and came with string beans as well as pickled raw garlic.  Pretty heavy flavors here.

Classic feipian with chili oil (經典紅油牛肺片) - no, I don't think they served us any beef lung today... but I thought there might have been slices of collagen from the head, in addition to beef slices.  This was pretty spicy, naturally...

Shui Jing Fang "Forest Green" (水井坊 菁翠) - I can't stand Chinese baijiu as I always find it so aromatic but so artificial.  This was pretty sweet with lots of depth on the palate, with almost some fermented umami

Chicken tofu in Matsutake broth (松茸清湯雞豆花) - another classic dish from Sichuan.  In a reversal of the Buddhist tradition of making vegetarian dishes that look like meat or fish, the 'tofu' is actually made with chicken.  The texture was pretty interesting, but for some reason I thought it tasted and smelled like grilled fish... The broth was certainly delicate, and for the first time in recent memory I actually found the matsutake (松茸) fragrant enough to be interesting.

Sichuan-style dan dan noodles (蜀味紅油擔擔麵) - pretty spicy, but pretty damn good.  Not your typical version found outside of Sichuan that is drowning in peanut sauce.

2015 Jia Bei Lan Baby Feet Pinnot Noir - very fragrant nose with lots of nice fruit.  Light and delicate on the palate.  When paired with the dan dan noodles it actually didn't add oil to the fire, but was rather neutral and even slightly dampening on the palate.  Kudos to the team of sommeliers.  Apparently this wine hasn't hit the market yet, and we were getting a sneak preview.

Dengaku-style aubergine with wagyu and truffle (松露和牛田樂燒) - André called this a taco... with a shell of crispy rice, smoked aubergine, cubes of wagyu sprinkled with leek and scallion powder, garnished with truffle, dried chilis, scallion, shallots, and crispy garlic.

2014 Ao Yun - I didn't get much out of this wine other than a little bit of green pepper.  Still some tannins here.

Steamed marble goby with chili and quinoa (椒香藜麥筍殼魚) - WOW!  What a fantastic dish!  And quite a few of us rated this as our favorite today. My notes show that I wrote down "so fucking spicy" - which was thanks to the erjingtiao chilis - and I didn't even eat a single piece of chili pepper among the pile on top, which had been sautéed with oil from the fish bones!  The piece of steamed, tender marble goby sat atop a bed of sauce made of beurre blanc and blended with the chili trimmings.

Neither KC and I are fans of spicy food, yet both of us powered through the dish because we simply could not stop putting spoonful after spoonful into our mouths.  We did take very different approaches though... He was smart and gobble up everything before his taste buds caught on fire; while I slowly worked my way through and tried to enjoy every bite... as the fire gradually built up on my tongue.  I'm pretty sure my friend was the smart one...

2016 Grace Vineyards Tasya's Reserve Chardonnnay - tropical stone fruit notes, which I did not expect from a chardonnay... Very fragrant and a little flinty.

Bamboo rice with pork and bamboo shoots (藏香燻筍竹筒飯) - the rice was made with both cured pork as well as fresh meat from Tibetan pigs (藏香豬) raised on mountain herbs such as cordyceps and silverweed.

Two types of bamboo shoots were also used in the rice, with fresh ones as well as ones which had been dried and smoked - the latter showing some fragrance similar to what one finds in preserved plums (酸梅).  All this made for a pretty tasty bowl of rice.

The rice was paired with 30 years ripe pu'er tea from Yunnan, which was properly boiled instead of just soaked in hot water.

Jelly with berries and ice wine (冰酒莓果凍涼粉) - OK... this made me wanna get up and slap someone.  I understand that André wanted to do his own take of the traditional snack of ice jelly (冰粉), and he made it with ice wine, along with fresh and dehydrated berries, basil, and mint... BUT POP ROCKS?!  SERIOUSLY?!  IN 2018?!  I really didn't need to have (literally) explosions inside my mouth.  And don't even get me started on that fucking gold foil...

Chateau Tassi Mysterious Bridge Raw Icewine - almost smelled of lychees from a can... In fact it also tasted like the liquid inside those cans of lychees, with slightly metallic flavors on the palate, with pungent and plasticky nose. Not a fan.

Beignets with ginger and Sichuan green tea (川茶薑味糖油果) - with a caramelized and crunchy exterior flavored with ginger, this was chewy on the inside.

Milk jelly - made with kudzu powder (葛根粉) and Hokkaido milk, sprinkled with kinako (きなこ) outside. 

In spite of the pop rocks and the gold foil, I must say that this was an impressive meal.  As André said - which a number of friends like The Man in White T-shirt have also insisted - Sichuan cuisine really isn't all about the chili oil an the peppercorns.  While there are certainly some aspects of those, there's also plenty of room for delicate flavors.  This was what he was trying to show us today.  While I don't know when I'll get around to hitting Chengdu, The Bridge will probably be on my hit list if/when I visit.

Many thanks to the team at Wynn for this kind invitation.  After stuffing myself - and thankfully not getting too drunk on the wines - I made my way back to Hong Kong on the ferry.  I still had a dinner appointment I needed to keep... about 4 hours after lunch finished.

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