February 28, 2019

Altiplano in Hong Kong

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It's been a while since we last caught up with Mr. Ho, and we were pretty glad he had some free time while he's in town.  Not wanting a formal meal, I decided to take him to Ichu Peru - Virgilio Martinez's outpost which opened last year.  After all, I was overdue for a visit since we haven't been back since the pre-opening invitation from Virgilio.

But I had my reservations.  I had been checking the restaurant's social media page, and I was getting the impression that the place was turning into a club instead, as there are DJs playing music on Thursday nights on the terrace.  So I pinged Chef Sang Jeon about this, and after a brief discussion I decided that we would start dinner early, so that we could leave before the place starts heaving.

As we were sitting in the main dining room tonight, the lighting was very, very dim.  Not as dim as some places where one would need to turn on the torch from one's phone to read the menu, but make it tough to take decent pictures.  Oh well.

We started the evening with a cocktail.  I chose Vida, which was genever-based with roots, barks, and chlorophyll added.

There is a pretty wide range of dishes, so we gave Sang carte blanche and for him to surprise us.  He sent along a bunch of nibbles first:

Rice cracker with kuruma shrimp - on top of the cracker was a combination of tartare of Japanese tiger prawn, a reduction of the prawn heads, rocoto leche de tigre, and lime foam.  The latter delivered a nice shot of acidity.

Sweet potato - grated sweet potatoes infused with chamomile, wrapped inside sweet potato leaves and dusted with beetroot (!) powder.  Hello Kitty's piece came without the offending beetroot powder, but I don't think he realized that I don't care for beetroot, either...

Next came a pair of raw fish - a ceviche and a tiradito.

Pez limon - a ceviche with diced yellowtail, yuzu vinaigrette, corn, diced carrots, and crunchy root chips.  There was definitely more acidity here thanks to the leche de tigre.  But why did I taste a hint of truffle oil???

Pargo al rocoto - a tiradito with Japanese snapper, shaved asparagus, and celeriac together with a blend of rocoto, ginger, celery, onions, and lime juice.  The flavors here were stronger and more savory, and I noticed some diced red onions along with what I thought were tomatoes.

Next came something where Sang tried to combine elements from both Peru as well as his native Korea.  The fried chicken wing was stuffed with a combination of glutinous rice, aji amarillo, and cheese - then coated with a layer of crunchy quinoa.  The sauce was a duo of jalapeño with a combination of tomato and aji.

Look out for this dish at the upcoming Taste of Hong Kong.

Chicken taco - the tortilla is handmade with a mixture of corn flour and maíz morado reduction, giving it a purple hue.  The chicken came with a sauce made with cacao and aji ancho, and along with the greens on top we've got a sprinkle of cancha powder.  This was definitely tasty as the chicken was a little smoky.

Sang said that this was part of the tweaking he has done after getting feedback from the local clientele.  While he realizes that tacos originated in Mexico and not in Peru, it is something that is increasingly popular there... and he tried to make it with Peruvian ingredients.

Palta y rey cangrejo - avocado and king crab on butter lettuce.  Kinda surprised to find bits of candied pecans here.

Champinon anticucho - a combination of portobello and oyster mushrooms with aji panca.

Pez amazonia - this seabass with amarillo sauce and salsa made with shallots and corn (instead of choclo like last time) was the only dish I've had before.  Still very tasty, and the acidity in the sauce worked pretty well with the fish.

Camote crocante - these sweet potato "fat chips" with a 'chalaco tartar' were pretty good.  I certainly wasn't expecting chunks of egg white in the tartar sauce...

Pierna de cordero - this lamb shank - which we did not expect to see on the menu - came with a duo of chimichurri and aji ancho (we were told it was aji amarillo).  This was really tasty, and Mr. Ho kept cutting bits of meat off the bone every couple of minutes.  The meat wasn't soft enough to fall off the bone, but it was certainly tender enough while retaining a nice firmness to it.  The two dips were very different but each was interesting in its own right.  Mr. Ho and I stripped this clean.

When we were done, Mr. Ho and I reminisced about this beautiful lamb shank rendang we shared at Candlenut a few years ago.

Tres leches - they sold out of the dessert I wanted, so I defaulted back to this.  The sponge cake - which isn't one of my favorite desserts - at the bottom came soaked in three different types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream.  Curiously there was a quenelle of carrot sorbet on top, along with meringue wafers.  Taste-wise this was decent, but I just don't like soggy sponge cake.

I brought along a bottle of white wine, as I figured we would be ordering some cocktails to start.

2009 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard - opened an hour prior to serving.  Nose of green apple, muscat grapes, a hint of pipi de chat.  More mature on the palate.

The three of us had a lot of fun.  The food was interesting for the most part, and the flavors were certainly not something that Mr. Ho could easily get in Singapore.  I was also relieved to find that while the music and vibe was lively, it wasn't as distracting as I had feared.  I do wish the lighting was better, though...

Sang was generous and tried to comp us a few dishes, but we would have none of that, so I ended up leaving a tip big enough to cover those.  Many thanks to Sang for sending us a couple of off-menu items and for the hospitality, and congratulations to Virgilio on a successful venture.

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