February 8, 2019

Eating with chefs: no bongwater for Tara

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It's lunar new year, and Gaggan Anand is back in Hong Kong with his family, trying to expose his young daughter to a little more of the Chinese part of her heritage.  As I was only coming back from Taipei last night, we made plans to meet up for dinner tonight.  Not surprisingly lots of Chinese restaurants are still closed on the 4th day of the lunar new year, but luckily Tasting Court (天一閣) is open for business!

They had a special menu for the festive season, which was - of course - priced at a premium.  It featured many dishes which we haven't tasted before, so The Great One and I agreed that we should go for it.

Baked abalone with aromatic ginger (沙薑焗鮑魚) - this was pretty well-received as the texture was nice.  I definitely tasted the strong and almost pungent flavors of ginger and white pepper, and coriander was pretty front-and-center.

Chinese grilled pork chop with soybean (西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - very tender as always, and as usual there was a depth of flavor not always present in other versions of char siu (叉燒) thanks to the special marinade of Chinese black olives (欖角), black beans (豆豉), and aged mandarin peel (陳皮).

Deep fried crab ball (百花釀蟹鉗) - the deep-fried shrimp paste came with chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves inside, and the Italian vinegar used as dip came with sliced lemongrass.  We also had pickled young ginger on the side as a condiment.  This was OK.

Slow-cooked chicken soup with fish maw and conch (花膠螺頭燉雞) - OK la.

Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged Shaoxing wine served with rice noodle (香醉紅蟳) - uh... NO.  This is not 紅蟳 (mud crab) but flower crab (花蟹).  I don't understand why they still have the wrong name on the menu after all this time...

But it was as delicious as always, and our friend recognized that the same dish also shows up on the menu at The Chairman (大班樓).  The crabs tonight may not have been big, but at least they gave us two of them so that The Great One wouldn't have to complain.

Steamed fish (三豉醬蒸海魚) - we didn't ask what type of garoupa this was, but interestingly it came with a soy bean-based paste not unlike that used for the char siu.

Around this time, some asshole at a neighboring table began to apply an ointment which The Kat said smelled like Tiger Balm (虎標萬金油).  Honestly, it's been aged since I last smelled Tiger Balm... so I could no longer identify it by smell.  Whatever it was, it filled the air in our part of the restaurant, and completely ruined our ability to smell our dishes as well as our wines.  Given that the offending table was just drinking some wine themselves, I simply couldn't understand why they were being so selfishly rude.

Braised pig elbow with pickled peel and plum (九製陳皮華梅豬手) - honestly this didn't look very Cantonese to me... but more like Shanghainese red braised pork knuckle (紅燒蹄膀).  There was a hint of preserved mandarin peel (九製陳皮) but it wasn't very prominent.  I was also a little surprised at the use of Chinese yam (山藥) on the side, but I guess it was to balance out the fattiness.

I was soooooo, soooo happy.  Red braised pork knuckle has been one of my favorite dishes since childhood, and it's certainly worthy of a place on any festive menu.  The meat was tender, and of course the skin with all the fat underneath was wonderful.

Ginseng and wine chicken (汾酒醉香雞) - this was a preparation that we've never had before.  The chicken was first marinated in Fenjiu (汾酒) lees, then deep-fried and dressed in lime juice.  The skin was certainly crispy and tasty.  But The Great One did complain about the fact that it's missing an ass...

Smoked Chinese bacon with stir-fried kale (煙燻自曬臘肉炒芥蘭) - the homemade bacon was very, very smoky... Texture- and taste-wise this was OK.

Stir-fried rice noodles with beef (乾炒牛河) - this is something we order for Gaggan every time we see him, so I asked the restaurant to add it to our menu.  The beef had a lot more flavor than I expected, and while there was a reasonable about of wok hei (鑊氣), I felt the noodles themselves were a little bland.  But our friend asked for the chili sauce, and of course it had to be Yu Kwen Yick (余均益)!

I did feel a little bad, though, when I realized that Gaggan was actually looking forward to the amazing prawn roe stirred noodle with prawn and shallot essence oil (蝦子蝦油蔥油撈麵) that they often serve here.  With the closure of Wing Wah Noodle Shop (永華麵家), he was also looking for another outlet to have the classic egg noodles while in Hong Kong.  Oops...

But at least he enjoyed it with some Schweppes Cream Soda which, as we found out on his last visit to Hong Kong, is a childhood memory for him.

Stir-fried glutinous rice (蠔香八珍糯米飯) - the reason we couldn't order the prawn roe noodles for Gaggan was because this was already on the menu.  While many places claim to stir-fry their glutinous rice from scratch (i.e. the rice isn't pre-cooked), this was the real deal.  Wonderfully dry and chewy texture.  The addition of dried sakura shrimp (桜海老) on top in addition to diced prawns in the rice really made the dish.

Blended jujube coconut juice pudding (椰汁棗茸糕)

Citrus unshiu peel flavored red bean sweet soup with flour dumpling (陳皮紅豆沙湯圓) - I could definitely smell and taste the fragrance of aged tangerine peel, while the two glutinous rice balls were filled with ground black sesame and peanuts, respectively.

Huadiao with dried jujube dessert drink (花雕紅棗飲) - always nice to enjoy this cool and refreshing drink at the end of the meal.

We had an overflowing collection of wines tonight, as three of us contributed to the pile.  Since we were drinking with Gaggan, of course there would be bongwater on the table.

In fact, he had just posted on Instagram Stories yesterday that drinking natural wines is like having sex without a condom.  My counter-argument to that, of course, is that just as having unprotected sex with partners you don't know well is risky, it's also very risky to be drinking random bongwater.  There's a lot of really nasty shit out there!  But I digress...

2008 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Chef de Cave Legacy Edition - pretty easy to drink, with a nice finish that carried more depth.  Not much of a nose.

Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine, dégorgée en Avril 2018 - yeasty and toasty.  Good acidity on the palate with some ripeness, but still reasonably stiff.

2004 Didier Dagueneau Silex, en magnum - high acidity as expected, but still pretty rich on the palate.  Lemon citrus nose with a little bit of pipi de chat.

2009 Bernard Van Berg La Rose Réserve -
nice and fragrant, fruity and floral, with leather notes.  Reminiscent of Prieuré Roch but the nose was not as sweet.  Very enjoyable.

2014 Ganevat Cuvée de l'Enfant Terrible - nice, sweet fruit, with leather notes.  Stemmy and a little pungent.

I dunno whether Gaggan enjoyed tonight's dinner, because the parents were pretty pre-occupied with entertaining little Tara.  It's been a year since I last saw her, and she's gotten even cuter... and a lot more vocal.  Oh, she did take the tiniest sip of wine, and it was glaringly obvious that she wish she hadn't.  I guess she won't be taking any of daddy's bongwater for the foreseeable future...

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