August 19, 2019

Californian Bong

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It's August and once again, we find ourselves at only our second MNSC dinner of the year.  Just like last year, I was tasked with hosting.  With several chef friends announcing job changes while others go on their summer break, I was at a loss trying to choose a venue for us.  I then explored the somewhat crazy idea of hosting the dinner at Neighborhood, and surprisingly the boys seemed to welcome the idea.

While The Man in White T-shirt is on his European vacation, I have full confidence in the kitchen when it comes to execution.  We just wouldn't have any special fishies - which was fine, because of the wines I would be serving.  Once the logistics for decanters and glasses were resolved, it looked like it could work.

But we weren't gonna be in a private room tonight - as we almost always are - so I cautioned the boys about keeping their voices down and to watch for colorful language.  We don't want to be the assholes that other diners hate.

I noticed a familiar face after I walked through the door.  It was Bong, who used to be our friendly waiter upstairs at On Lot 10.  He's put on a little weight (well, so have I...) and changed from wearing white to wearing black.  I always wondered what had happened to him, but I was happy to see him.

I also noticed a table next to us with a couple of old fogeys, and wondered why they had chosen a restaurant with a rather noisy environment.  One of the older gentlemen looked familiar, but I didn't think much about it.  Two minutes after the appointed time for dinner, the first of the boys finally strolls in.  The Ox clearly noticed the older gentleman at the neighboring table but did not react.  When Pineapple finally arrived, he immediately greeted the tycoon.  That was the point when the boys realized that they REALLY had to behave tonight... at least while uncle was still here.

I had reserved two of the large dishes ahead of time, and picked a few small dishes to go with the wines.

Mochida tomato / salted plum / melon - I had ordered this but cancelled it minutes later, thinking that it would mess with our palates.  But the kitchen had already plated it, so they offered it to us on the house... I love these fruit tomatoes from Mochida Farms (持田農園) for their ripeness and sugar levels, and tonight they came with thin slices of Italian melons. The sweetness worked well with the acidity and savory notes of the salted plum powder.

Basque saucisson "Noire de Bigorre", culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - delicious as always.  Such depths of flavor.

White asparagus / bacon gratin - the diced white asparagus came with a bacon and black truffle béchamel.  The bits of bacon were pretty salty, but this was nice and comforting.

Fried matsutake mushroom - perhaps not the "usual" way of serving matsutake (松茸), but I like 'em.  Served with a dip that's made with black olives and mayo, and topped with piment d'espelette.

Handmade garganelli / spicy scallop skirt / beef tripes - this was pretty awesome.  The texture of the pasta was nice and al dente, and I looooove that kick from the combination of tripe and scallop skirt (ひも).  The little bit of cheese crust certainly brought a little something extra, too.

Buffalo chicken wings / Roquefort - if the last dish didn't do anything to screw with our palates, then this most certainly did.  The sharp acidity in the sauce, with spices, and not to mention the Roquefort dip.  But the reason I ordered this up was because I liked the idea of having simple chicken wings with big Californian cabernets.

Boudin Basque / fried egg / pickled peppers - another of my favorite dishes here... and actually I've loved the Boudin Basque ever since tasting it on my first visit to On Lot 10 more than 9 years ago, and it's only gotten better ever since.  That fried Japanese egg on top was just magic!

Salt baked chicken rice / yellow wine / morel - ever the crowd-pleaser, the 120-day Ping Yuen chicken (平原雞) comes with giblets and plenty of morels, in a cream sauce that is always irresistible.  Tonight we also had a good amount of rice crispies / socarrat at the bottom, which tempted Pineapple to grab a spoon and scrape it up - after he announced that he didn't want any rice.  For the first time ever in all my meals here, there were no leftovers from this pan...

Dry aged Rubia Gallega steak - I gave the boys a choice of Rubia Galega that had seen extended dry-aging, or an onglet from Aubrac.  The vote overwhelmingly went to Rubia Galega.  And the boys were very, very happy at the sight of this.  Plenty of fat here that had yellowed due to aging (or was it due also in part to the age of the cattle?)  Wonderful and deep flavors, especially as it gets closer to cheese.

Of course, nowadays steaks here often come with a bone full of marrow, which has been topped with a layer of sturgeon caviar.  That combination is just killer...

Mashed potato gratin - not that we have a lot of room in our stomachs, but this was very, very rich and tasty.

We had no room for dessert, so we just took the customary canelés to finish.

This is an MNSC dinner, so the focus was squarely on the wines.  I was a little apprehensive about the wine service as well as the equipment, but once we had all the wines decanted and the bottles hidden, and took turns cooling the decanters in ice buckets, it all worked out.

Jacques Selosse V.O. - caramelized nose, a bit flat and mild on the palate, and acidity was not too high.

First flight: decanted 2 hours prior to serving.
1996 Harlan Estate - initially served too warm so alcoholic and hot.  Showed sweet fruit, vanilla, coconut butter, and smoky notes.  95 points.

1996 Abreu Madrona Ranch - smoky, leather notes.  A bit leaner on the palate, softer, and also a bit short.  93 points.

1996 Shafer Hillside Select - a bit more ripe on the nose, with black olives.  91 points.

Second flight: decanted 3 hours prior to serving.  Overall a bit more muted than expected.  Perhaps over-decanted?
2001 Harlan Estate - a bit muted on the nose.  Got nicer a little later with some fruit, maybe a hint of chocolate, and smoke.  Still tannic.  93 points.

2001 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard - a bit of smoke, some stewed fruit, and definitely more fruity than the Harlan.  93 points.

Third flight: decanted 3 hours and 15 minutes prior to serving.
2004 Colgin Cariad - minty, sweet on the palate.  93 points.

2004 Colgin IX Estate Red Wine - nice and sweet.  93 points.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in my own wines. Maybe they were over-decanted, but you'd think big Cali cabs from big vintages like '96 and '01 would be able to hold up. All in all, the first two flights really didn't seem that Californian... which was probably why the boys were very confused and ended up guessing all over the place.

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