January 22, 2020

XS, S, M, and L

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A couple of months ago Virgilio Martinez pinged me to let me know that he was coming to Hong Kong with Pía León for an event with the Bromance Twins - Agustin Balbi and Ricardo Chaneton.  At the time I wasn't sure that I was going to be in Hong Kong, since it was just a couple of days before the start of the lunar new year holidays. 

This '8-hands collaboration' (imagine my eyes rolling to the back of my head as I contemplate this) became 'Raices I' - which implies there are more to come...  The collaboration was meant to showcase the common 'roots' shared by the four chefs from South America.  Thankfully I don't fly home to Taipei until tomorrow, and I was fortunate enough to have Ricardo save me two seats tonight at Mono.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I would run into friends tonight - including The Great One.  So we moved ourselves one seat down the counter so I could be seated next to her.

I was very happy to see Virgilio and Pía again, especially since I still have not managed to fly over to visit them in Peru.  And Virgilio didn't hesitate to remind me that I had promised to visit them since 3 years ago...

I was busy fidgeting with my camera as soon as I sat down, since the restaurant's lighting produced some banding.  In the middle of all this, we were offered a complimentary glass of bubbly as an aperitif:

Ulysse Collin Les Maillons - nice and ripe.

Each of the boys came to present his starter:

Duck escabeche, from Central - the duck had been lightly cured and served with an escabeche sauce, along with mash of a purple root as well as flowers such as purple borage.

Arepas, from Mono - with sea urchin, plankton emulsion, and coriander.  The sea urchin flavors were a little stronger than I expected, but perhaps this was a result of the combination with the plankton emulsion.

Saba tataki, from HAKU - while others got their tuna, Hello Kitty and I got mackerel instead.  With akegarashi (あけがらし), deep-fried "white kombu" (白板昆布), and Goldfinger being Goldfinger, decided to top my serving with a little gold foil which he claim to have come from the Incas... (*cough* BULLSHIT!)

The soy sauce - which Goldfinger's team smoked themselves with some apple wood - was pretty smoky.  The flavors were especially strong as I still had some remnants of sea urchin on my tongue.

Scallops / maca / kiwicha seed, from Central - served with maca purée, kiwicha, and seaweed.  The acidity worked really well with the sweet scallops, and the big chip on top was very, very tasty.

Maca purée was ladled into dried shiitake and topped with maca ash.  This had a combination of both sweet and salty flavors, which was really nice.

Local root / avocado / carabinero / Andean mountain grain, from Kjolle - so we've got carabineros chopped up and mixed with chunks of avocado and jicama - all served in a jicama bowl.

On top there was a sprinkle of some powder along with kiwicha that had been dyed with purple corn, and thin strips of crispy pumpkin skin.   There were good depths of flavors here, which involved nice savory flavors without being too overpowering.  We've also got a nice contrast of textures from the creamy avocado to some bite from the prawns, then crunchiness from the pumpkin skin and kiwicha.

Foie gras / mole / mukago, from Mono - I had seen posts about Ricardo finishing the mole in front of diners, and we got to watch him in action by putting it all together in a heated stone mortar.  Of course, most of it had been put together earlier, which was a combination of three different types of chocolate (70% chocolate, cocoa nibs, dark chocolate powder), eggplant, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, activated charcoal, spices, and chili.

The foie gras from Landes came in a thick cut, and was very nice.  Topped with some puffed buckwheat for texture.  The little propagules (零余子) from Japan came with the mole, and apparently similar aerial yam also exists in South America.

Lentils / Amazonian palm / mushrooms, from Kjolle - I watched Pía and others hand-shred the long sticks of palm hearts, which were then arranged on top of a bed of lentils, along with flowers and dried oyster and shimeji (しめじ茸) mushrooms.  The shredded palm hearts were so, so tender... and the dried shrooms were full of flavors.  Meanwhile the lentils came with a sauce full of spices that was really tasty.  For a guy who normally doesn't care for lentils, I thought this was one of the best dishes - if not the best dish - of the evening.  Even Hello Kitty was impressed by this vegetarian dish.

We were next shown a monkfish that had been aged for 4 days and marinated with spice rub which includes annatto seeds.  It was then roasted on the bone.

Monkfish / salsify / green sauce, from Mono - besides the piece of salsify which came with shaved lime zest and spices, the green sauce on the side was made with lemongrass, tamarind, ginger, and kaffir lime.  One would think that it was inspired by Southeast Asia, but these were, apparently, flavors found in the Caribbean.  It was wonderful.  The monkfish itself was beautiful with a bouncy texture.  A stunning dish.

Kumamoto gyu / chimichurri / urui / shishito pepper, from HAKU - apparently it is a must for an Argentinian chef to serve beef... but this one chose A4 Japanese kuroge wagyu (黒毛和牛) from Kumamoto (熊本).  Charcoal grilled and served with baby eggplant and white miso, shishito pepper (獅子唐辛子), hosta (ウルイ), and a eggplant/garlic purée.  Of course, we've also got some chimichurri on the side.  I gotta say, though, that these days I enjoy fatty Japanese beef less and less... especially when it tastes like a stick of butter.

King crab caldoso rice / chiles, HAKU - not too surprised to see Goldfinger's arroz caldoso on the menu, but there was something a little different about it tonight.  In addition to the usual king crab, we've got some carabineros in place of the abalone.

But that's not all!  Goldfinger arranged to put some of my beloved gold foil in my bowl - although he fell far short of covering the whole bowl with it.  This was certainly disappointing, and something that needs to be corrected on my next visit.

We were given a small glass of this koshu, which is a blend of sake aged between 10 to 20 years, and told to pour a little bit into the caldoso. Needless to say this added some complexity and depth to the flavors.

Yamabuki Gold (山吹ゴールド) - definitely oxidized like vin jaune or Shaoxing.

Elevation of cacao, from Central - once again, Virgilio has created a dish which uses the entirely of the cacao pod.  This time, there were multiple elements placed in front of us, and we were free to taste them individually or to mix them up together.

But first, I was given a fresh cacao seed covered with mucilage.  This was the first time I had eaten a fresh seed, and I was pretty amazed at how intense the flavors were inside.  As Virgilio said, the seed inside is basically 100% cacao, and I wouldn't need to have any coffee

This was the pure unfermented cacao, crushed and simply heated with some sugar...

This was the crema, the result of whisking fermented cacao with some of the white pulp of the pod.

Mucilage - the gelatin was made from the mucilage that covers the seeds.

Seed paste with cacao oil

Cacao nib crackers

This used the dehydrated skin of the pods, with red powder coming from annatto and the yellow coming from curcuma/turmeric.

Alfajores, from HAKU - I've had these from Goldfinger before, although tonight the dulce de leche seemed a little less viscous and rich.  Still damn good, though.

The mate was supposed to help wash off all that corn flour sticking to the insides of our mouths, but I found it rather unnecessary.  I didn't mind, though...

Instead of taking the wine pairing tonight, I chose a single bottle of wine to make life simple...

2018 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Côte - very floral, very ripe with tropical stone fruit, almost a little sweet on the palate.

Very often I would roll my eyes at the thought of these X-hands collaborations, as many of these simply involve individual chefs presenting his/her own signature dishes, with no sense of cohesion, little or no theme, or anything new for the diners.  For me, the best ones will always be the few GohGan events between Fukuyama "Goh" and Gaggan Anand - where each dish is new and specific to the event, and involve actual input from both chefs.  As for this particular event, it's probably somewhere in between.  There IS a specific theme, and the fact that the chefs all help putting each other's dishes together - and I witnessed plenty of that from the Bromance Twins - was definitely a good thing.

I was really happy to have been able to come to dinner tonight and taste the series of new dishes.  It was especially gratifying to see the four chefs working side-by-side, with a 'guest chef' in the form of Victor Moreno from Caracas.  With the boys standing next to each other, Hello Kitty and I joked about "small, medium, and large".  I'll let y'all figure out which one is which...

P.S.  I promised Virgilio that this is the year I will make it to Peru, as my flights to/from NYC have been booked months ago.  I just need to book the NY-Lima leg and firm up on the itinerary details...


megkoh said...

Hi Peter. How do I get to know collaboration dinners like this? I live in Manila and HK is so near. I've been to Central, Kjolle and Mil. You definitely should go.

Peech said...

Meg, you just need to pay attention to the social media accounts of the restaurants and chefs... Often these are for 1-2 days only and so seats are taken very quickly once the events are announced.


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