December 31, 2019

The best dishes I had in 2019

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It's been a busy year at work, thanks to me changing jobs at the start of the year.  I definitely did not take as many holidays as I had planned, and in fact I ended up eating out less altogether.  That being said, I still found plenty of opportunities to pig out all over the world.

As in previous years, I have put together a list of the dishes which I thought were "the best", in the sense that they elicited the most amount of positive emotions from me.  They are listed in chronological order here:

Deep-fried garoupa filet (吉列老虎班球), from The Sports Club (五陵會), Hong Kong - there's something about battered and deep-fried fish, and this was probably the best version I've ever had.  I was totally amazed that something like this could be executed at this level... with light and crispy batter enveloping very fluffy and soft fish.  And that starchy egg drop and corn sauce was beautiful.

Braised stuffed sea cucumber (海參鑲肉), from mom - OK, so I'll never grow tired of eating this dish from mom.  Soft and wobbly sea cucumber stuffed with minced pork.  I'm so lucky that mom is a wonderful cook.

Live abalone, carbonara style with pata negra ham, from Caprice, Hong Kong - one of the dishes from Hairy Legs that originally impressed me when he was at The Tasting Room in Macau.  This has been refined further and now made better with some black truffle.  It's such a great dish that I had to make a special request so my friend could taste it.  Who would have thought a French dude would make such a beautiful dish from abalone?!

Golden roast pigs from New Territories Farms (新界農場大金豬), from Red Seasons Aroma Restaurant (季季紅風味餐廳), Hong Kong - these pigs are raised locally and aren't imported and frozen.  They are roasted whole in underground wood-fired ovens, which impart a wonderfully smoky aroma.  The crackling was beautifully crunchy, and even the layer of fat under the crackling had a surprising level of crunch.  A truly special roast pig.

Uni / lardo, from HAKU, Hong Kong - I have been really impressed with how much Goldfinger has improved in terms of his cuisine, and this was a prime example.  The interplay between the sweet sea urchin and savory lardo, with a mouthful of creaminess, was really clever.

Hotaru ika / egg, from HAKU, Hong Kong - I love firefly squid when they're in season, and putting them together on a steamed egg custard with a bunch of sweet peas just made me so, so happy.

Rosy seabass (喉黒), from Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう), Tokyo - I kid you not, I just about cried when I took my first bite of this piece of fish.  It was so tender and succulent inside that it was like eating liquefied cloud...  I have never eaten a more perfect piece of rosy seabass.

Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹) from Aomori Prefecture (青森県), from Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう), Tokyo - this was the most unique piece of sea urchin I have ever had.  If I had been blindfolded, I would have told you that I had just been fed a piece of Jell-O.  It was pretty much that kind of texture, with the sweetness to go along.  An unforgettable piece of sushi.

Bamboo mille feuille and first green pea, from Écriture, Hong Kong - a seemingly simple dish of a millefuille of bamboo shoots grilled a la plancha, with hazelnut foam, sweet peas, and black truffle.  Just beautiful.

Pigeon, Jerusalem artichoke, pine cones and grated lingonberries, from Selfie, at the 4-hands event with Écriture - arguably the most perfectly-executed pigeon I had in the past year.

Hot and sour soup (湯:錦繡酸辣湯), from Sichuan Moon (川江月), Macau - I'm a huge fan of deconstruction, and love it when people try to modernize traditional dishes.  This was both.  It didn't look like any hot and sour soup I've ever had, but it sure tasted like one.

Vegetables fried rice with lychee wood roasted goose (極品燒鵝飯), from Wing Lei Palace (永利宮), Macau - ignore the shaved black truffle on top, as they were unnecessary.  What was underneath, though, was a nice roast goose whose fat had drizzled onto the bed of fried rice below.  A very satisfying dish and I wish I could eat a lot more of.

Foie gras seared, citrus mosaic, fondant carrot, from Chef's Table at The Lebua, Bangkok - at first glance, this may be just another piece of pan-fried foie gras with some acidity.  But the mélange of Asian fruit salsa on top - together with the carrot velouté spiced with ginger - made it really standout.

Natural tapioca boiled in coconut water (สาคูต้มเปียกลำไย) : longan ice / longan jam / frozen coconut milk / grilled coconut, from Sorn (ศรณ์), Bangkok - I love desserts, but very few desserts are good enough to provide the "WOW" factor.  This one definitely did.  The combination of longan and coconut was just too good.

Sardines / Jerez vinegar, from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - this looks deceptively simple, but the fatty sardines together with Jerez vinegar, olive oil, chili flakes, and parsley was pretty magical.

Razor clam steamed with aged lemon and garlic (廿年鹹檸檬金銀蒜蒸蟶子), from The Chairman (大班樓), Hong Kong - these giant razor clams came with lemons which were preserved back in the early 1990s.  The fragrance was just amazing.

Teardrop peas ° pomelo ° cuttlefish ° wakame °, from Amber, Hong Kong - this dish gave us a contrast in flavors from sweet peas to salty lardo.  It also gave us a range of textures from pea purée to crunchy peas to springy cuttlefish.  It was so comforting to eat that I would want to eat this everyday.

Braised beef with Kamo eggplant, from Miyoshi (肉の匠 三芳), Kyoto - amazingly tender braised beef, but the surprise was the eggplant "noodles" underneath, along with the yuzu (柚子) and kuro shichimi (黒七味) for fragrance.  Totally unexpected.

Aveyron lamb, roti, ricotta, Madeira sauce, from Petrus under Richard Chaneton, Hong Kong - probably the most beautiful piece of lamb chop I've had in the last few years...  Incredibly tender and succulent, and fully of lammy flavors.

Sweet corn puffed mousse with aburi botan shrimp in shrimp consommé jelly, from Ta Vie 旅, Hong Kong - always one of my favorite dishes, this dish has everything - contrast of flavors, contrast of textures... Just 100% in terms of everything.  This is why it was one of the best dishes I had in 2016 and also 2018.

Almond tofu with peach compote fresh lychee and "monkey picked" Oolong tea jelly, scent of rose flower, from Ta Vie 旅, Hong Kong - one of my all-time favorite desserts, featuring some of my favorite things to eat since childhood.  So, so happy to have it again.  Should have asked for a second serving like we did the first time we had it...

Steamed crab claw with winter melon (冬瓜蒸蟹鉗), from Softbank Kitchen (軟庫食堂), Hong Kong - the crab claw was bursting with flavors, while the winter melon came with elegant flavors of the ham broth.

Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體), from Seventh Son (家全七福), Hong Kong - yes, I've had this suckling pig a few dozen times over the last few years, but I swear this particular piggy was the best I've ever had from either Seventh Son or Fook Lam Moon.  Everyone else at the table felt the same way.

Egg and luncheon meat on toast (午餐肉厚蛋多士), from Sei Kee Cafe (世紀咖啡快餐), Macau - that really thick yet fluffy hunk of scrambled eggs reminds me of Japanese omelettes.  Certainly one of the best egg and luncheon meat sandwiches I've ever had.

Tomato collection 2019, from Gert de Mangeleer, at the 4-hands event with HAKU - I'm always happy eating tomatoes from Hertog Jan's gardens, and what I love about Gert's tomato dish is that each serving has a different combination of tomatoes, so each is unique.

Lamb and cucumber : roast belly of lamb, pickled cucumber heart, onions and rock samphire, (c.1830), from Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London - fatty and lammy lamb belly.  'Nuff said.

Medium fatty tuna (中トロ), from Tenzushi Kyomachiten (天寿し 京町店), Fukuoka - the dish that inspired Gaggan to create his own interpretation.  Just magical and rendered me speechless.

Hokkaido sea urchin, from Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, New York - how is it possible not to love this?!  The upgraded version of the signature dish, with a ton of top quality white truffle from Alba.  Fucking amazing.

Pigeon, from Arbor, Hong Kong - probably the best pigeon I've had in the last couple of years.  Perfect execution, with Okinawan black sugar caramelized on the skin.

Tagliolini with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, from 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong - a seemingly simple dish, but it is easy to underestimate the amount of work that went into achieving that perfect balance.  Of course, the white truffle from Alba was perfect with this.

Tuna collar paella, from Neighborhood, Hong Kong - I've always enjoyed the paella from The Man in White T-shirt, and in the past there's been different types of lobsters, Alaskan king crab, kinki, and others ingredients.  But this tuna collar has them all beat, with meat so full of delicious collagen.

Egg (卵焼き), from Sushi Karashima (鮨 唐島), Fukuoka - the egg is one of my favorite pieces to eat in any sushi meal, and I have my favorites among the places I frequent.  But this was unlike any other piece I have ever had.  Essentially a little piece of soufflé, this was airy and ethereal on top - not something I expected at a sushiya.

That makes 32 dishes this year. I did manage to cut down on dining out in 2019, but that didn't seem to result in any shrinkage... Let's see what 2020 has in store!

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