May 31, 2022

Le French GourMay: a near-perfect three-star

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Thanks to the ban on dinner service, it has been more than 5 months since I last visited Sato-san at Ta Vie 旅 - one of my favorite restaurants in Hong Kong. I've been looking at their post on the new dishes, and as the date for my visit got closer, I found myself drooling a little bit more. Those dishes looked really, really good. In fact, the presentation looked downright stunning.

We still have their house-made butter...

...and their house-made ricotta.

Both of those condiments are meant to go with the signature nukazuke (糠漬け) bread. After 7 years I am still in love with this bread. Just so unique.

Artichoke and potato salad with "hotaru" squid from Toyama-bay - how stunning-looking is this dish?! The way the bracts of the artichoke look is so dramatic. In the middle we have a potato salad with good amount of acidity, in part thanks to the capers. On top of the potato salad we have a few firefly squids which are covered in grated cheese.

I absolutely love firefly squid (蛍烏賊) from Toyama Bay (富山湾). So, soooo packed with flavor when they're fresh.

Once the other parts of the dish had been polished off, it was time to pluck the brachts off one by one, dip into the squid mayo on the side, and enjoy. The heart of the artichoke was nice, too.

Crab and corn: Hokkaido "毛蟹" crab and Japanese sweet corn, Cajun butter sauce - WOW! That is another very pretty dish! In the center we have a leg from Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹), which is wrapped in a layer of minced crab paste, then encased in rows of sweet corn from Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県). We've got a sprinkle of crispy kadaif on top, which added another layer of textures. Loved the flavors of the ocean from the crab, and of course it worked really well with the sweetness of the corn.

House-made pasta with deep-fried "桜-sakura" shrimp and spring cabbage - OK, so after years of loving the signature pasta with sea urchin, I now concede there is a new sheriff in town. That pile of deep-fried sakura shrimp (桜海老) was just so, sooooo beautiful I could eat it 3 times a day. But it was the deceptively simple addition of cabbage, tomato, and basil that gave the dish its boost to the stratosphere. As I wrote in my notes - FUCKING BEAUTIFUL!

As with a similar dish at Godenya (ごでんや), I would be willing to swap 2 other dishes so that I could have three portions of this.

Hokki clam "petits pois à la Française" style green peas, bacon, lettuce - removing the crispy green pea dentelles / tuille uncovered the mix below. The surf clam (北寄貝) from Hokkaido was indeed very nice, tasting sweet and delivering a springy texture. The petits pois seemed a little powdery, as were the foamy sauce. Honestly, though, this could have done with a little more bacon.

Pan-seared lobster with Japanese white asparagus, Manchego cheese, romesco sauce, rocket oil - the white asparagus from Hokkaido was pretty nice and juicy. The wild lobster from Canada, which were gently pan-seared, was very, very nice. The romesco was pretty tasty. Very, very nice.

Charcoal-grilled pigeon from Bresse, France, with padrón pepper and pigeon livre tapenade sauce - one can never go wrong with Bresse pigeon, and the execution here was perfect. The use of sesame oil was particularly interesting, as it reminded us of the seasoning oil of Nissin Demaeicho () as well as Korean bulgogi (불고기). I didn't quite get the pigeon liver sauce that supposedly came with the padrón peppers.

Roselle tea - infused with orange. Always so refreshing and a great palate cleanser.

Bloody-Berry: strawberry / blood orange / whey sorbet - the cylindrical shell is made with raspberries, with fresh strawberries, fresh raspberries, blood orange compote.

As I lifted up the lid for a look inside, what should I see on top of the yogurt whey sorbet but little flecks of GOLD?! As I found out from my last visit, Sato-san has now joined the ranks of chefs putting gold on my food...

This was a beautiful dessert. I loved the fruity sweetness and acidity from the berries, and that bergamot marmalade really delivered an amazing, explosive fragrance in the mouth. Maybe I can trade in another dish for a second portion... or be like DaRC and shamelessly ask for another portion anyway.

Knowing that I enjoy umeshu (梅酒), Sato-san very kindly shared some which he made back in 2016. Love the savory flavors here.

A slice of Miyazaki mango - the slice of mango from Miyazaki (宮崎県) came with sponge cake and mousseline in the middle, along with passion fruit and mango sauce on the side. Always delicious.

Once again I chose to take their herbal tea - with soothing pandan and lemongrass - to finish my meal.

Pandan panna cotta - always a perfect pairing with the herbal tea.

This being the last day of Le French GourMay, where Rhône was designated as the wine region, I brought along two bottles and asked for the same from the Birdiegolfs. The result was spectacular. Every single bottle drank beautifully tonight.

1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs - very lovely and fragrant nose, ripe and caramelized, very soft and alluring like a beautiful woman looking at you with a mischievous smile on her face, beckoning you to come closer. Sipping it with the taste of crab and corn still on the palate drew out lots of minerals. Almost like crème caramel some 1½ hours after opening.

2009 Chave Hermitage Blanc - started drinking 30 minutes after decanting, with a huge nose of toast and flint, along with some sweet vanilla underneath. Beautiful, buttery and silky smooth. Absolutely stunning starting from 10 minutes in and remained so for the rest of the evening.

2007 Clos des Papes Rouge - served from bottle 1 hour and 15 minutes after opening. Pretty nice minty nose with a hint of sweetness, some leather, and a little farmy with ripe fruit on the palate. Very fragrant with almost a hint of floral notes, but also a hint of pungent notes. Some 30 minutes in the nose turned big and toasty. Drinking very, very nicely tonight.

2006 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Tupin - served 1½ hours after decanting. This was soooo fucking beautiful! So floral with lavender, plenty of red fruits. Still a little grippy on the palate. Still beautiful 15 minutes in with cool fruit and eucalyptus, then we got smoke and grilled meats about 1 hour in. I would give this 96 points, but only because the higher than expected acidity detracted from how beautiful this wine was.

This was possibly my best meal ever here at Ta Vie 旅, and I've had a few since the restaurant opened its doors 7 years ago. Just about every dish was a winner - and all were new to me - and a few of them I considered to be homeruns. The team has clearly gone up a level in terms of the stunning presentation, and of course flavors were never an issue here. If there were to be a new candidate for upgrade to three stars, could this be it?

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