December 31, 2020

The best dishes I had in 2020

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The year 2020 is one that many people in the world would like to forget, and that includes yours truly.  On top of the global pandemic which halted travel and confined many of us to our own cities/countries, there has been personal loss on our side.  There has been sadness all around.

Having said that, we have found occasion to dine out and meet friends, to try to inject some measure of joy into our lives in this depressing year.  Other than my two trips to Taipei in January when I mostly ate at home, I haven't been outside Hong Kong the entire year.  Coupled with social distancing measures imposed or recommended by the government, we've dined out a lot less in 2020.

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:

Pineapple bun (菠蘿包), from Dang Wen Li - I love that Dominique Ansel and his team created items inspired by the local dining culture, and what looked like a 菠蘿油 with a slab of butter turned out to be nothing of the sort.  The tropical flavors just worked together really, really well.

Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹), from Softbank Kitchen - still the best version of snake soup I've ever had.  Soooo refined and nuanced.  Love that the chef is carrying the torch on this traditional dish.

Lentils / Amazonian palm / mushrooms, from Kjolle at the Raices I dinner - I normally don't like lentils, and for this vegetarian dish - with lots of mushrooms and palm heart - to merit consideration as the best dish of a meal featuring 4 good chefs... really says something.

Monkfish / salsify / green sauce, from Mono at the Raices I dinner - Ricardo Chaneton always serves up good monkfish, but this one came with an amazing sauce from the Caribbean that would have easily passed for something Southeast Asian.  Stunning revelation.

Salt-baked veal kidney rice / giblets / truffle, from Neighborhood - hands down the best veal kidney I have ever had in my life.  That huge thing looked beautiful even before it was cut open, with plenty of fat on the outside.  Big, gamey flavors.  Even better with the rice.

Signature roasted pigeon (紅燒脆皮妙齡鴿), from Stellar House (星月居) - always the best Cantonese-style pigeon in town.  Something about that milky flavor I find so fascinating.  I still failed to take down three of these as originally planned.  Next time!

Handmade capellini / pork jowl / anchovy, from Neighborhood - on top of the delicious guanciale, the anchovy sauce was really sweet and worked really well with the salty cured pork.  I would have been happy to get 2 or 3 of these bowls...

Hotaru-ika, scallop, white asparagus, sansyo-leaf (蛍烏賊 帆立 ホワイトアスパラ 山椒の芽), from Godenya (ごでんや) - this dish combines two ingredients I really love... firefly squid and sansho leaves.  And thanks to the addition of white asparagus, it was superior to another version of the dish I tasted a few weeks earlier.

Sea bream from Brittany, white asparagus from Loire, caviar, saffron sauce, from Caprice - if you've never had Hairy Legs' saffron sauce, you need to book a table at Caprice ASAP.  It's nothing short of phenomenal.  And usually the seafood that it is served with is pretty spectacular, too.

Blue Mountain coffee tart, from Caprice - this was a special request, using a recipe from Francky Semblat.  By far the most delicious coffee tart I have ever tasted.

Blue lobster, flashed poached, mushrooms duxelle, kohlrabi veil, clam jus bouillon with house cured Japanese ikura and saucisson, from Écriture - possibly the most beautiful dish I have had this year.  Here you have a number of ingredients, each fully able to shine on its own, the sum total of which result in a beautiful symphony where they all come together seamlessly.

Taro bisque Chiang-style (蔣公芋艿羹), from Yong Fu (甬府) - for a guy who normally doesn't care for taro, this bowl of deep-fried lard and taro was nothing short of amazing. Everything just melded together.

Dumplings with shepherd's purse (薺菜水餃), from Yong Fu (甬府) - these dumplings had the thinnest, most delicate wrappers I have ever seen.  

Conger eel (穴子), from Araki - certainly the best piece of conger eel sushi I have ever tasted.  Soft like cotton balls with a crispy underside.

Almond tofu with peach compote, fresh lychee and oolong tea jelly, from Ta Vie 旅 - this has been one of my favorite desserts in the world ever since my first taste some 5 years ago.  The beautiful lychees just worked so well with all the other floral and fragrant components.  Just like getting an injection of happiness.

Spice roasted French lamb belly, from Neighborhood - fatty.lamb.belly.  So, soooo sinful.  Amazing spice rub.

Somen with onions and caviar (玉ねぎ 素麺 キャビア), from Nikushou - of all the things one could throw together with caviar, the sweet, chilled onion purée was just magical in combination with the salt from the caviar.  Happy to have this any day.

L'ormeaux du Japon façon carbonara et pata negra de 36 mois, from Caprice - arguably my favorite dish from Hairy Legs, I'm still amazed that he managed to deliver this beautiful mélange of flavors as well as contrasting textures.  I don't get this dish very often, but always grateful when I do get to taste this little bowl of heaven.

Homemade tagliolini, butter, Parmesan and Alba white truffle, from 8½ Otto e Mezzo - a seemingly simple dish, but it's just another slice of paradise.  All the ingredients were destined to come together to bring joy.

Potato mash / truffle, from Neighborhood - yes, this is a side dish of mashed potatoes.  But the addition of deep-fried beef lard inside, plus the white truffle shavings, made this into something I wish I had infinite stomach space for.

Scampi in consommé, from Caprice - the consommé which accompanied the flawlessly-executed langoustine was delicate and elegant while full of flavors.  After having langoustines here multiple times, this has gone to be the best one yet.

Sautéed baby squid, from Ando - these chipirones from Catalunya - accompanied by a beautiful sauce made with squid juice, clam juice, and squid ink - brought back memories of my breakfasts at Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria in Barcelona.

Nostalgic "money chicken" (和平金錢雞), from Ren Ren Heping Restaurant (人人和平小飯店) - this is the best version of "gold coin chicken" I have tasted since the closure of my beloved Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤海鮮酒家).  The fact that it was served on a piece of rice crispies which could soak up any liquefied pork fat and honey glaze was just awesome.

Hangover seko-kani, lily root, rice (酔っ払いセコガニ 百合根 米), from Godenya (ごでんや) - really, really happy to be able to have female Japanese snow crab with all the tomalley, ovaries, and eggs together with crab meat.  A seasonal delicacy that I got to enjoy without traveling to Japan.

The tally this year comes to 24, which is down significantly from 2019. Not a surprise, given the number of meals dined out and the fact that virtually no travel took place. Still very grateful to all the chefs who fed me this year, and hope to see more of them in 2021.

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