June 3, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 4: go west

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It's our last day exploring Kyoto together, and our itinerary would take us to the western side of the city - hitting some of the key temples there.  When we realized we had just missed the Raku 101 bus from Kyoto Station and the next one wouldn't come for a while, we switched to No. 205 and got off at Kinkakuji-michi (金閣寺道).

I was surprised to see that we were so close to the Hidari-daimonji (左大文字), which is on Daihoku-san (大北山).  Kinda interesting to see it in daylight when the fires aren't lit.

Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺) is most famous for its pavilion that has been covered in gold leaf, hence it is popularly known as Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺).  Not surprisingly there was a horde of tourists this morning - as there would be on any morning - so it took a while for some people to get to the right spot for photos.  I was so thankful that the sun was out again today, and the gilding on top reflected the sunlight well.

I wasn't at all surprised by a sign by the temple entrance which warns that it is forbidden to fly drones here.  Having rebuilt the pavilion after it was burned down in 1950 by a monk with mental issues, the last thing that the temple wants to see is some idiot crashing a drone into the national treasure.

June 2, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 3: wooden mountain

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Tonight was my biggest hope of getting some high-end kyo-ryori (京料理).  I knew I had no chance of getting into the most sought-after places since I didn't start planning my meals until about 2 weeks before the trip, but I still wanted to pick a nice place for kaiseki (懐石料理).  Thankfully I found that Kiyama (木山) - which is highly rated on Tabelog and on the OAD Top 100+ Japanese Restaurants despite having only one macaron - was still available via one of the paid concierge services, so I booked us in.  Maybe it's because the place has only been only for about 2 years.

We were led to a private room just off the entrance, so the 5 of us would be on our own.

Grilled eel with glutinous rice (鰻御飯) - kinda surprised that the chef started us off with rice, and even more surprising that it's glutinous rice.  Nice fragrance from the sansho leaves (木の芽) on top, and interesting to have chopped bits of pine nuts mixed in with the rice.

We were offered a welcome sake, which was dry and came from Fukuoka.

Kyoto 2019 day 3: Higashiyama

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I didn't get much sleep last night, as I woke up early and decided to update the firmware of my DJI Mavic Pro.  After going through the necessary steps and thinking I was ready to go, I began reattaching the propellers - as I normally have them removed before boarding a flight.  That was when I realized that I had brought the wrong combination of propellers... so I carried my drone to Kyoto for nothing...

We decided to get an earlier start this morning, and headed to Kyoto Station in order to board Raku Bus (洛バス) No. 100 - one of three routes designed for tourists.  We would be exploring the eastern side of the city today.

The first stop of the day is Higashiyama Jisho-ji (東山慈照寺), which is otherwise commonly known as Ginkaju-ji (銀閣寺).  The design of the main structure was meant to emulate the famed golden pavilion of Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺), and the pavilion was meant to be covered in silver foil, but the latter was never executed.

This was my second visit and took place more than 20 years after my first, and I think I finally gained more appreciation for this temple.  I can see why my friend Ninja likes it so much.  We enjoyed a stroll along the path up the small hill next to the temple, admiring the luscious, moss-covered surroundings which looked so green and serene. 

June 1, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 2: Karhu's hangout

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It was supposed to be perfect.  I had planned our day's itinerary so that we would end up around Gion (祗園) during early evening to try to catch any geisha (芸者) shuffling down Hanamikoji-dori (花見小路通り) on their way to dinner appointments.  Then we would have dinner nearby at a restaurant serving traditional kyo-ryori (京料理).

But due to our late start this morning and the need for my friends to check-in to the hotel - and our insistence to use public transport - we missed the golden hour to stroll down what would have been undoubtedly a tourist-filled lane.  So we ended up just strolling around the restaurant before getting seated in an upstairs dining room at the Sueyoshicho (末吉町) branch of Yagenbori (やげんぼり).

As we were removing our shoes at the genkan (玄関), I noticed a copy of Karhu@77 - the book featuring the works of Clifton Karhu published by my friends the Tolmans - was prominently displayed.  As we entered our private dining room, I saw that a Karhu print of the exterior of the restaurant hung on a wall.  And the cardboard coasters we got for our cold drinks - a different one for each of us - also featured drawings which are reminiscent of Karhu's annual calendars.

Kyoto 2019 day 2: an easy start

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MorgChop and family arrived in Kyoto this morning, and we would have the next three days together.  It's been a few years since I last saw him, but it's been more than 15 years since I last saw his wife and son.  In fact, the last time I saw the little kid was before he turned 2... and he's headed to Shrimp Buddha this fall.  How time flies...

Our first stop today was Nijo-jo (二条城), the castle that was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shogunate. It's been more than a decade since my last visit, and they have since renovated the famous Karamon (唐門) which leads into the Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿) and gardens.  No wonder the gilded parts were looking so shiny under the sun...

May 31, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 1: Kobe in Kyoto

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Tonight's dinner is arguably the most-anticipated meal during our short trip.  As I didn't plan my meals early enough, some of the most sought-after reservations in Kyoto were no longer possible for us.  As I scrolled through the offerings of one paid concierge service, though, I was kinda surprised to see Miyoshi (肉の匠  三芳) still showing as being available.  I've certainly seen enough people post about this place, and figured that Hello Kitty would enjoy having some good Japanese beef, so I took two seats and ordered up the menu featuring Kobe chateaubriand.

We were the first to arrive for our late seating, and we ended up getting stuck at the far end of the counter... which wasn't ideal for me to take pictures and videos.  I did, of course, ask for permission to use my big camera.

Given how so many people were posting pictures on Instagram from this place, perhaps it isn't surprising that out of 11 guests for our seating, only 4 were Japanese...

As we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive, we watched Chef Ito Tsutomu (伊藤力) prep for the meal... and this hunk of beef definitely got us drooling... The chef brought this hunk of beef around to show all the guests, and of course some of the Chinese guests immediately had to ask what grade the beef was... (It was A5)

Beef dashi with peas (豌豆) - the peas were still a little hard and crunchy.  The beef broth was very clean and pure, with shredded ginger on top.  Nice to have this to warm our stomachs for what's coming.

Beef tongue sashimi (牛タン刺身) - I was totally amazed at how thin these long strips of beef tongue were...  And they were soooo tender, sooooo beautiful...

Taken with ponzu (ポン酢) as well as some crushed dried kelp (昆布).  A pity we only got two thin strips each...

Aitchbone tataki (イチボたたき) - aitchbone (イチボ) is a really nice cut, and serving it as tataki (たたき) means it's just barely cooked on the outside while being mostly raw in the middle.

Served with some salt on the side, or with some oroshi (おろし) with minced ginger and soy sauce.

Braised beef with Kamo eggplant - the kakuni (角煮) was very, very soft and tender from braising.  Submerged in the broth below were "noodles" local Kamo eggplant (賀茂茄子), seasoned with kuro shichimi (黒七味).  Garnished with chiffonade of leeks as well as green yuzu (柚子) zest.  What a delicious bowl!  That fragrance from the yuzu zest was amazing!

Oshinogi (お凌ぎ) - traditionally meant to be served near the start of a kaiseki meal to quell the diners' hunger, this actually came in the middle tonight.  The steamed sticky rice - which came a little more wet than expected - was served together with sirloin tartare, sea urchin from Hirado (平戸) in Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県), swordtip squid (剣先烏賊) sliced into strips, quail egg yolk cured in soy sauce, and some wasabi and nori.  Pretty tough to not like this...

Chef Ito started to cut these big, long spears of asparagus from Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) - which had been breaded with panko (パン粉) and deep-fried in the fat of Kobe beef.

These were then draped with thin slices of raw Kobe ham - kinda like an ultra-premium version of the classic ham and asparagus roll (アスパラのハム巻き).  The asparagus was beautiful, and the Kobe ham didn't need any additional seasoning or salt.  Nom nom nom...

Palate-cleanser (お口直し) - the onion had been cooked and served cold with a sauce that was made with onions.  The consistency of the sauce was almost like raw egg white.  This was sweet with natural sugars, and very cool and refreshing.

Chef Ito then started slicing the sirloin, which looked absolutely gorgeous...

The white asparagus from Hokkaido were blanched in a copper pot in two stages, and were wrapped in cling wrap in between.  The sirloin was blanched for only a few seconds in the water that the asparagus had been dipped in.  Needless to say the sirloin shabu (しゃぶ) was very tender, but the asparagus was really, really sweet.

Kobe beef chateaubriand (神戸牛 シャトーブリアン) - dry-aged on the bone, I believe.

So tasty.  So good with the tare (たれ).

Hello Kitty thought the beef must have been aged to achieve this texture, and decided to ask Chef Ito... who immediately produced this certificate which presumably shows that the head of cattle was slaughtered less than two weeks ago.

It was finally time for the rice and pickles, but there was something extra that looked pretty interesting.  By the way, the miso soup came with watershield (蓴菜).

Beef fillet kobumaki (牛ヒレ昆布巻き) - the fillet was wrapped with kombu (昆布) and simmered.  Not bad at all.

For dessert, we had chunks of Miyazaki ultra-ripe mango (宮崎完熟マンゴー) along with a scoop of Marscapone ice cream... on top of which Chef Ito poured a few drops of 1997 Yquem.

I figured we should have a bottle of red to go with all the beef we were having tonight, so I tried to pick out something that was ready to drink from the wine list... while keeping to a reasonable budget.  There weren't many choices that fit the bill...

2007 Clos du Marquis - earthy, some sweet fruit, and smoky.

Hello Kitty and I were very, very happy.  Chef Ito created an entire meal with beef, and it was a helluva lot more sophisticated than just putting it on a grill.  I can certainly see why this is rated so highly on the OAD Top 100+ Japanese Restaurants, and its Tabelog Gold Award is well-deserved.  This is probably the best place I've been to in Japan when it comes to beef, and well-worth returning to.

Kyoto 2019 day 1: Hello Kitty x Hello Kitty

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I'm off to spend a few days in Kyoto with my college roommate MorgChop and his family.  The original plan was to go visit them in Hawaii back a few months ago, but my new job kinda rendered a long trip out of the question.  So we figured we would meet up in Kyoto instead, as he's taking his son on a graduation trip before going off to college.  As I haven't been back in Kyoto for a dozen years, it would be a good opportunity for me to check out some restaurants I haven't been to...

We never expected to catch the right train out of Kansai International Airport, but as we cleared immigration and baggage claim pretty quickly, I realized that we could make a run for it.  So we did, dragging our suitcases as we rushed towards the JR station connected to the airport.  Moments later we had the tickets in hand and were standing on the platform.

Then the Hello Kitty Haruka (ハローキティ はるか) train pulled in to the station - this particular one had the Ori-Tsuru (折り鶴) motif featuring the folded crane.  We were very, very glad that we didn't have to wait another 2½ hours at the airport for the next express train featuring the Hello Kitty design...  Hello Kitty happily boarded the train, and 80 minutes later we arrived at the JR Kyoto Station.

May 29, 2019

Occupy Amber: 2.0

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Without a doubt, the most highly-anticipated restaurant opening in Hong Kong in 2019 actually isn't a new entrant.  It's the re-opening of Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental after almost 6 months' of renovations, and the team at Amber has taken to calling it Amber 2.0 - much like the much-lauded Noma 2.0 that has taken the foodie circle by storm.

While I'm a big fan of Chef Richard Ekkebus' and was eagerly waiting for the 2.0, there was inevitably a huge rush to try out the new digs by chef friends, media, and "influencers" who want to show the world that they were there first... so I took a laidback attitude and decided to wait until the hype died down somewhat.  Meanwhile, I fielded a lot of questions from friends asking me whether I had been to "the new Amber"...

Then I received an email from the PR agency working on behalf of the restaurant, and an invitation was extended to me on behalf of Richard.  This is not the kind of invitation one should turn down lightly, so I gratefully accepted in spite of an upcoming busy eating schedule.

The room was markedly different, and the whole vibe was different.  Lighting was better, as they took note of the need for those of us who feel the compulsion to photograph every dish.  Unfortunately for me, the florescent lighting caused banding/flicker issues with my Sony A9, and I was such an amateur that I didn't remember how to deal with it...

Hello Kitty and I got an introduction from Richard about what they are trying to do with 2.0, which of course has already been covered by food media.  Friends had already told me how delicious everything was, and it was time to see for myself whether the removal of dairy and refined sugar would make a difference.

But once change is immediately apparent: the restaurant now serves Nordaq Fresh - water that is filtered on site.  Gone are the bottled water which had to be imported from far-flung locales.  I love that restaurants are moving towards sustainability, but of course Richard has been advocating that for years.

Home made silken tofu ° heirloom tomatoes ° salted sakura ° virgin almond oil ° - Richard told us how the team had to learn how to make their own tofu, since no Chinese tofu "master" was willing to share the secrets of their craft.  Paired with four types of Amela tomatoes including Amela Rubins (アメーラルビンズ) - which have long been Richard's favorites as they come in at more than 10°Bx.  This also came with cold-pressed tomato juice, almond oil, sakura (桜) salt, and sakura petals.

The home made tofu definitely had more depth of flavors, and the texture was more akin to tofu pudding (豆腐花).

May 26, 2019

Rhone rocks

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I can't believe it's taken till the end of May for the MNSC boys to get our act together to have our first tasting of the year.  The Ox stepped up and hosted us at the Grill Room at the Hong Kong Country Club.

We started with a charcuterie platter with go with our Champagne.  Very nice.

The amuse bouche was marinated cucumber slices with feta cheese and tiny diced cubes of chorizo.

Red prawn carpaccio and Ibérico ham, mâche leaves, green apple, micro celery - the carpaccio was very wet, with a funny texture that reminded me of soft meringue or foam.

Champagne and suckling pig lunch

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It's the last meal for Mr. and Mrs. OAD in Hong Kong, and it was meant to be a gathering of a few people who participate in the survey.  Mr. OAD had visited Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) on his previous trip to Hong Kong, and today we decided to have dim sum at Seventh Son (家全七福).  Of course, the fact that the restaurant is currently ranked at No. 6 on the OAD Top 100+ Asian Restaurants 2019 also made the visit a no-brainer...

First up was the main event for today...

Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - OF COURSE we had to do it.  Just wouldn't be right without it.  And our host enjoyed it.  A lot.  Just look at that crispy crackling!

May 25, 2019

The Opinionated Chairman

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I'm back helping Little Meg entertain Mr. OAD, this time at The Chairman (大班樓).  Given that the restaurant is currently listed at No. 5 on the OAD Top 100+ Asian Restaurants list - and the highest ranked restaurant from Hong Kong - it wasn't a surprise that it was chosen as one of the stops.  A small group was rounded up so that we could have a good spread of dishes for Mr. OAD to taste.

Naturally, Danny pulled out all the stops for the special guest...

Pickled mid-summer ginger root (大班樓子薑)

Crispy fried mushrooms - these were really tasty.  Not sure I remember having mushrooms deep-fried like this, but I'd happily have this to snack on every day.

May 23, 2019

Neighborhood killer

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Mr. OAD is swinging through town after putting on his big event in San Sebastien, and he wanted to catch up with a few of his Facebook friends.  Naturally over a few meals.  One of those dinners would, of course, have to be at Neighborhood... as The Man in White T-shirt is also someone he wanted to meet.  So I asked the boss for a table and rounded up a few more accomplices to make sure we have a large enough party for the good stuff that inevitably would come our way.

What happened tonight was more than a feast.  It was the first real attempt by The Man in White T-shirt to commit murder... and there would have been multiple victims.

A quartet of charcuterie, with Basque saucisson "Noire de Bigorre"culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli"pancetta, and what seemed to be air-dried beef which tasted of five spice or star anise.  Always wonderful to start with these, and tonight we were blessed with such variety!

May 18, 2019

My precious

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Little Uncle has been staying in my pad for the last few months while on assignment, and wanted to take me out to lunch as a token of his appreciation.  When my first two picks didn't work out, the relatives suggested we check out Chou Chou - the casual brasserie run by Lam Ming Kin (林明健).

We dispensed with the long tasting menu and went with the 3-course set lunch to keep things simple.  But I was curious about more dishes, so I took the liberty of ordering an extra starter to share with everyone.

Crunchy scallop with quinoa, fregola, and gremolata - YES, I am Pavlov's dog... The word 'fregola' appeared on the menu and I dutifully ordered the dish.  And yes, I did enjoy the fregola with diced carrots and gremolata gel.

May 17, 2019

Golden anniversary

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I'm back in Taipei once again for the Parental Units' wedding anniversary, and I have been making it a point to celebrate with them for the last 10 years... starting with their ruby anniversary.  This year was another big one, as it's their golden anniversary.  Of course it would have to be something special.

Fifty years ago today the Parental Units held their wedding banquet at what was then the 5-year-old and somewhat posh Magnolia Hotel (中泰賓館).  After more than 40 years of operation, the aging hotel was torn down and the Mandarin Oriental Taipei opened its doors in on May 18, 2014 - some 50 years after the Magnolia Hotel first opened.  To mark their 50th wedding anniversary, I chose to take the Parental Units back to the site where it all happened - almost exactly 5 years after the hotel opened.

After a series of dramatic events on the way to dinner, we were finally seated at Bencotto - the Italian restaurant in the hotel complex.  Mom and dad took care of some cleaning up, and it was a while before we even decided on what to order.  While mom ordered à la carte as usual, she surprised me by suggesting to dad that he take the larger of the tasting menus - which has 8 courses and is titled "La percezione, ricostruire la realta".  Of course, this is a celebration dinner so I'm happy to indulge the old fogeys when they want to "live a little".

A trio of amuse bouche came our way, but the guy who brought them simply put them down in front of us and walked away.  No explanation whatsoever.  Did he think we didn't care?  Even if we didn't care, I would have thought he should still do his job of introducing them.

We did, eventually, find someone else to give us the explanations...

Crispy bread with fennel seeds - really hard and crunchy.  Not sure I like this.

Deep-fried cod ball - with arugula coulis and bonito flakes on top.  This was delicious.

Burrata with tomato jelly

May 2, 2019

Why I don't go to brand new restaurants, episode 2

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Mikacina is in town for a few days, and we figured we'd take her out for some Cantonese food.  The Great One had two new places she needed to review, and suggested that we tag along with her.  Apparently one of the hotels wasn't picking up the phone when she tried to call, so we ended up getting at table at Rùn (潤) in the brand new St. Regis Hong Kong.

Since I knew absolutely nothing about the restaurant, I did a quick search on the chef. Apparently Chef Hung Chi-Kwong (洪志光) was last at Man Wah (文華廳) in the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, and Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) at the Mira before that.  Although neither are among my handful of favorites, both are quality establishments I've enjoyed dining in.  So I was very curious about the offerings.

Hello Kitty and I arrived a little after Mikacina and The Great One.  They had a welcome drink sitting in front of them, but I guess the staff just didn't remember to bring ours.  Or maybe you only get it when you're on time for your reservation.

The four of us tried to flip through the menu, but honestly at first glance it didn't look very inspiring.  As with a first visit to any decent Cantonese restaurant, we wanted to try out their char siu (叉燒).  We were told they had run out.  This was before 8 p.m. on a week night, and that's just not acceptable.  I had flashbacks of this meal from a few years ago...

We started with a couple of amuse bouche:

Green beans with sesame sauce

Deep-fried shrimp cake with spicy sauce - we were told that this was drenched in "Singaporean sauce (星洲汁)", but what the hell is that???

April 26, 2019

Friday the 14th

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A few weeks ago Mrs. Birdiegolf pinged us to let us know that there was a dinner tonight featuring sake from Juyondai (十四代).  Since the dinner was held at the Hong Kong Country Club, I figured the pricing would be reasonable enough for me to stomach.  So we happily agreed to tag along.

We started with a few sakes from the Tatenokawa (楯野川) stable during the cocktail hour.  Unfortunately I didn't get to all of them.

Tatenokawa Three Peaks (楯野川 純米大吟醸 33) - made with Dewasansan (出羽燦々) rice from Shonai (庄内), at a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 33%.  Really prominent notes of banana, honeydew melon, stone fruits.  Drier on the palate than expected, with a little bitterness on the finish.

Tatenokawa Eighteen (楯野川 純米大吟醸 18)seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 18%.  Also lots of banana, tropical fruits, and also drier than expected.

Time for the main event, and we sat down for the dinner portion...

Roasted pork belly and chicken liver (燒腩肉 金錢雞) - the roast pork was OK.

"Gold coin chicken (金錢雞)" - lots of fat here, with plenty of Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (玫瑰露酒) in the marinade.

Juyondai Nakadori Muroka Junmaishu (十四代 中取り 無濾過 純米酒), 29BY, from isshobin - made with Miyama Nishiki (美山錦) rice and a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%. Nose of banana.  Sweet on the front palate, especially since it was served very cold.  Finish turned drier.

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