February 28, 2020

Supporting restaurants: 2 out of 3 ain't bad

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It's Friday night and I'm left to fend for myself.  V is still home alone, so I figured I could grab him and open a couple of bottles over dinner.  The two of us had previously tried to support our restaurant friends who needed a little help in this difficult environment, and we would try to do the same tonight.  We went through a bunch of restaurants - some of which I hadn't been back to in a while - and gradually eliminated a bunch of options.

The first restaurant I called was Frantzén's Kitchen, as we both like the place a lot.  Jim answered the phone, and told me that he could maybe fit us in around 9 p.m. - about 2 hours later.  I was very happy for them to be so busy, but it kinda defeats the purpose of supporting places which would need our help... as they clearly didn't need us tonight.

Remembering Danny's article about the drop in their business, I gave The Chairman (大班樓) a call.  They were completely full tonight.  I guess people still are going out to eat on the weekends...

Then I remembered that I hadn't been back to Stellar House (星月居) in more than a year.  I have always considered their pigeons the best Chinese-style pigeons in Hong Kong, and given that there would be only two of us, I figured I could go all out and have as many as three pigeons by myself.  V called the restaurant, and we had ourselves a private room.

Given that we didn't reserve ahead of time and have the chef set the menu, we had to pick from whatever ingredients were available in the kitchen.

"Shunde" style fish soup (順德魚茸羹) - this is, of course, a famous specialty from Shunde (順德).  In addition to the shredded flakes of fish, we've got pieces of loofah (節瓜), shredded carrots, shiitake (椎茸), sesame, Indian almonds (欖仁), glass vermicelli, and weirdest of all... diced jujube (紅棗).  Honestly, everything else was fine, but the sweetness from the jujube totally threw me off...  Yet somehow I ended up taking a second bowl.  That would prove to be a mistake.

Deep-fried crab claws in salt and pepper (椒鹽鮮蟹拑) - pretty good.  The crab claw was pretty fresh, and the batter was very crispy.

Pan-fried stuffed mud carp (家鄉釀鯪魚) - not something one sees everyday, and yet another Shunde specialty.  What looks like a pan-fried fish would turn out to be something that takes a lot more effort...

So the mud carp was boned, the flesh puréed and mixed with spring onions, coriander, dried tangerine peel, and a host of other ingredients.  Then the paste is stuffed back underneath the skin before pan-frying the whole thing.

Although this was pretty tasty overall, it still managed to retain a little bit of that fatal flaw I find in most deep-fried mud carp/dace balls... the bones of the fish.  Thankfully there was very little of it here, but there was certainly something almost hard and almost sandy that I found in a few mouthfuls - which kinda ruins it.

Braised pomelo pith and goose web (柚皮鵝掌伴翡翠) - the goose web was fine, but DAMN!  My piece of braised pomelo skin was BITTER.  In fact, I don't remember the last time I ate a chunk that was this bitter...

Signature roasted pigeon (紅燒脆皮妙齡鴿) - BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR!  YEAH, BABY, YEAH!  I ordered 3 of these babies for myself while V had allocated just one for himself.

Alas, V had made the mistake of ordering too much food for the two of us.  And I made the mistake of taking a second bowl of the fish soup at the start of the meal.  So I quickly realized that it would be a real stretch for me to take down three of these babies.  I reluctantly offered the third one to V, who begrudgingly - or so it seemed - took me up on my offer.

But I was still so, so happy.  This is my favorite Cantonese-style pigeon in town, and every time I come I wonder why I end up with only one or, at best, two of these babies.  With that 20-year-old master stock (滷水), and the inexplicably milk flavor in the meat, I wasted no time digging in with my hands - plastic gloves be damned.

Next time I'm definitely having three!

Pea shoots in superior stock (上湯浸豆苗) - two lonely guys definitely need to have some veg with all this stuff.

Stir-fried glutinous rice with Chinese preserved meats (生炒臘味糯米飯) - I have not been a big fan of the chef's version of this.  It's not bad, but my favorites are elsewhere.  Tonight the texture was also impacted by my decision to keep the plastic cloche on after the plate arrived, as V and I were still busy with our pigeons.  That means the rice absorbed the moisture from the steam and got a little softer/soggier.  Oh well.

Walnut cream (生磨核桃露) - both V and I felt this was too diluted, so the flavors weren't as intense and satisfying.

V and I each brought a casual bottle for tonight:

2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature, dégorgée Decembre 2014 - yeasty, pretty fragrant, and almost floral.  So easy to drink.

2012 François Lamarche Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Malconsorts - initially a little closed, with a hint of dustiness.  Opened up nicely a little later, with some forest notes, and started to show some sweetness.

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