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

Bruschetta burrata e ricci di mare - basically Chef Iacopo Frassi's version of "uni toast".  Gotta say that the bread was a lot more oily than I expected.  There was a layer of burrata above the bread, but there was also a layer of green Plancton Marino sauce underneath the sea urchin.  Needless to say the sea urchin was nice and sweet.

Chef Iacopo Frassi came over to greet us.  He was clearly excited that we had chosen the larger tasting menu, which he said is a product of his years of travels around the world.  While the base of the cuisine is clearly Italian, the dishes from this menu includes ingredients and flavors that clearly is influenced by other cultures.

Animelle di vitello - there was a layer of oyster purée at the bottom of the bowl, which was a little salty.  There was a single cooked egg yolk in the middle, topped with some Italian oscietra caviar.  The sweetbreads tasted of rosemary, and were dressed in a sauce made of chicken bones and yuzu (柚子).  Red seaweed helped complete the "surf-and-turf" mix of flavors.

Tortelli di gamberi in brodo di astice - the tortelli were filled with minced red prawns, Marscapone, and tarragon.  On the side we've got whole prawns as well as tartare, along with peeled cherry tomatoes.  The lobster broth was seasoned with lemon verbena and was pretty strong in terms of seasoning, and surprised with a spicy kick.  We've also got nice fragrances coming from dill and kaffir lime leaves.

Risotto al fegatelli Toscani - the parsnip risotto was nicely done al dente, and came with a ring of saffron sauce along with some balsamic vinegar pearls.  Other than garnishing with endives, there were also a few mini versions of fegatelli - made by wrapping diced chicken liver and heart, capers, and apple in caul fat.  Chef Iacopo said that he added some apple to let the sweetness balance out some of the bitterness of the liver.  This was so interesting!

Pescatrice alla Tarantina - on the other hand, this was not very interesting.  The slow-cooked monkfish did not impress.  Yes, it was still moist and tender, but the cooking brought out the worst of the fish, and I could feel the rough, fibrous texture.  The flavors were also pretty bland and really needed seasoning, and the kitchen could have added a few flakes of salt.  Instead I felt like I was eating a mouthful of spongy cotton.  We also had New Zealand langoustines which were tasty, and mussels which I normally don't care for.  The sauce 'alla tarantina' was made with mussels and tomatoes, but was still rather lightly seasoned.  Mom asked the staff to bring more sauce for dad, as there wasn't enough on his plate to deliver much flavor to the bland monkfish.

Manzo al caffe - the fatty Japanese wagyu came topped with sautéed himematsutake (姫松茸) and other goodies like red amaranth leaves.  The beef was honestly much too fatty, especially coming at this stage of a tasting menu that had dad and I feeling kinda full.  Unfortunately instead of using something to cut through the grease of the wagyu, the chef decided to add some peanut sauce... which was much too thick and viscous, and also very rich.  In fact, it tasted like a slightly diluted version of store bought peanut butter - which wasn't what I needed right this moment.

The other other hand, the espresso sauce on the right hand side of the wagyu was much better... as it delivered strong flavors to stand up to the fatty beef without making me a little nauseous.

Rocher - GOLD!!!!!! More gold leaf!  In fact, the whole thing was wrapped in gold leaf!  This was the kitchen's take on the ubiquitous Ferrero Rocher, except that the chocolate and hazelnut cream we've got foie gras cream in the middle... and still got the crunch of Piedmontese hazelnuts.  A few drops of 20-year balsamico was added on top.

Pera e cioccolato - a ring of crunchy chocolate brownie topped with chocolate cream as well as pear sorbet encased in white chocolate.

Petits fours

This dinner would not be as special without a special bottle of wine, and of course it came from the Parental Units' anniversary vintage.

1969 DRC Marey-Monge Romanée-Saint-Vivant - popped and served without decanting.  Obvious notes of stewed fruit, still a little sweetness on the nose, so fragrant and lovely.  Later on also a little bit of black olive, and almost a little nutty on the nose.  Acidity relatively high but still has a little sweetness on the palate.

A very happy evening.  While the latter half of my menu was less impressive than the preceding dishes, I was still very happy with my meal.  Mom was also pleasantly surprised by the chef's use of local ingredients, as her cod was cooked with pickled manjack fruits (破布子) and came on a bed of white water snowflake (水蓮).

Of course, what was truly special about this evening was that the Parental Units are still holding each other's hands, and that we were able to celebrate at the same site as their wedding.  For that I am very grateful.

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