August 9, 2022

The secret ingredient is...

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There's a dish at Ta Vie 旅 I've been wanting to try. Sato-san pinged me about 2 months ago regarding a new dish he was developing. It turns out he was trying the new recipe with something I had given him earlier this year, and he wanted to know where he could get some more. Unfortunately, said item is no longer available for sale in Hong Kong, but I happened to have a supply at home thanks to a recent shipment from Taiwan. So I quickly dropped some off for him a few days before I left for our trip to Taiwan.

I followed various social media accounts in the days that followed, as Sato-san and others posted about the new dish. I was either out of town, or locked up in quarantine after our return to Hong Kong. More than a month after the dish first appeared, I was still waiting for my first taste.

When I heard that Sato-san would be returning to Japan for a few weeks, I decided that it was time to find out for myself how much I would enjoy this new creation. We were happy that Fergie could join us on short notice, as he was at the recent special event I could not attend, but did not get to taste this particular dish.

As always, the meal started with their signature nukazuke (糠漬け) bread. This always disappears quickly, along with some of their house made butter and ricotta. Someone ate so much of the ricotta that a second serving magically appeared at the table.

Hokkaido fresh "bafun" uni tarte with brown butter confited carrot - BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR. It's a "tarte" but the crust is only on the side. Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) is always nice, and these came from Otaru (小樽) in Hokkaido. The tongues which appear in lighter color - jokingly referred to as "Impossible uni" by Sato-san - were actually made from purée of brown butter confit carrots, whose flavors were richer and had more depth. The surprise was hidden underneath, with chunks of crunchy and refreshing cucumber. Now... if nobody told you about the "secret ingredient" - the magical dust that's been sprinkled on top - it may be easy to miss its presence. Once you know it's there, though... the flavors were unmistakable. There's an added nuance here. But once the white wine sauce on the side has been added to the mix, it would easily neutralize the secret ingredient and make it less detectable.

Crab and corn: Hokkaido "毛蟹" crab and Japanese sweet corn, Cajun butter sauce - a dish I loved very much from my last visit. A leg from Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) had its shell removed on the upper section, then encased first in a layer of minced crab mousse followed by an outer "shell" of sweet corn from Yamanashi Prefection (山梨県). Loved the crab leg, and of course we made sure to extract the meat from the lower sections, too. The kadaif on top added texture, and I wish we had gotten more of that delicious Cajun sauce.

Sourdough pain de campagne - it's been too long since I last had a piece of this, and I'd forgotten how beautiful this was. The moist, slightly sticky crumb came with a thin, crispy crust.

House-made pasta with grilled "hon-miru" geoduck, and zucchini - we have layers of two-colored beautiful wedge-shaped pasta on top, which came with a very nice bite.

Underneath the pasta were pieces of grilled Japanese geoduck, along with diced tomato, green and yellow zucchini. I'm usually not a fan of geoduck, but this was was very springy in texture and possibly the best I've ever had in terms of how much I enjoyed it. The sauce was made of geoduck jus along with tomato and butter, so it was no surprise how beautiful it was.

Steamed foie gras egg custard with "aka" eggplant Yunnan fresh porcini, consommé infused Shaoxing wine - a very hearty dish, with very seasonal porcini and eggplant.

Pain rustique - the yellow crumb was incredibly light and airy, while the really thin crust was amazingly crunchy - almost felt brittle. What a beautiful piece of bread! I wish I had the stomach space for more.

"Ebi furai" deep fried "Ise" lobster, pressed cucumber with sauce tartare - well... this was certainly the most premium "海老フライ" I've ever had... On the side we had a slice of "mosaic" of fresh cucumber and jelly, topped with a cauliflower, radicchio, and fennel salad

The Japanese lobster was cooked mi-cuit inside the breaded exterior. Nice with the tartar sauce.

Roasted "milk-fed" Aveyron baby lamb, "也菜苗" Chinese baby cabbage stuffed with braised spare rib, black truffle - needless to say the lamb was fatty and delicious, and executed perfectly.

The baby cabbage on the side came stuffed with piece of lamb belly along with slices of black truffle and brunoise of carrots. Very sinful.

A cup of the usual roselle tea infused with orange. A refreshing palate-cleanser.

南華李 / 小梅 / 赤紫蘇 seasonal local plum / Japanese "ume" plum pickles / Japanese muslim perilla - we've got mousse, compote, sorbet, jelly of the three main ingredients, along with crispy sheet on top. The flavors went together very nicely, and the savory notes from umeboshi (梅干し) was pretty evident.

The main ingredients of the dessert: Nanhua plums, ruffled red perilla leaves, and pickled Japanese plum.

Since Sankala doesn't eat desserts, I got to have hers as well. And the kitchen made sure we had different ones - just like for our main courses.

Champagne mousse in a peach - this reminded me of the desserts Sato-san used to serve us at Tenku Ryugin (天空龍吟). Here we have a "peach" sitting atop of some white peach, peach candy, and raspberries - with some Mumm RSRV Champagne poured on top. Very peachy.

Inside the candy sphere we've got Champagne mousse which was really light and ethereal.

Shine muscat with Pernod jelly and yogurt mousse - not exactly the same as the versions I had previously. With Shine muscat (シャインマスカット), lime, and Pernot sauce on the side. First (and perhaps last) time with this combination. Loved the combination of sweetness and acidity, and a little cream. Really, really tasty... especially with lime in the sauce. 

Dessert number four, which was actually Sankala's second dessert:

A slice of Miyazaki mango - always happy to have the mango from Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県), and once again it's got some sponge cake and custard in the middle.

Chocolate mousse - I decided to take coffee as my after dinner drink because I wanted to have my favorite chocolate mousse, and that's only possible when one chooses coffee. Well, Sato-san was at it again with the gold foil...

I am ever so thankful that gold foil has no discernable flavor, so I could still enjoy the unadulterated hit of the kaffir lime blending smoothly into the milk chocolate. Sooooo happy!

We brought 3 bottles with us tonight, thinking that we could order a bottle of Mumm RSRV now that Sato-san is a special culinary ambassador for the Champagne. He insisted on treating us to a bottle and asked us to choose. I wasn't surprised when Fergie's chose the most expensive option...

2008 Mumm RSRV Cuvée Lalou, dégorgée en août 2021 - pretty fragrant like a perfume, very elegant.

Jacques Selosse Version Originale (?) / Contraste (?), dégorgée 04 fevrier 2008 (?) - the nose was sooooo beautiful! This was toasty, mature, with marmalade. Very perfumed, too. The problem here was that the front label says this is a V.O. but the back label is for Contraste. So which wine did we drink?!

2019 Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons - nice and toasty, nice and lemon with a little lemon. Kinda smooth but got the acidity still. The nose was a little more ripe than expected, and very fragrant.

1995 Haut-Brion - served a little more than an hour after decanting. A classic claret, minty and smoky, lots of tobacco. So fragrant and almost a little savory. Drinking beautifully!

I was so, sooooo full. So happy with our meal tonight, and the wines also drank beautifully. We left wishing Sato-san a safe trip back home to Nagano, and look forward to seeing him soon when he's back.

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