January 30, 2023

One star too many

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Another intimate team lunch today, again on pretty short notice, so I decided to get us a table at Ying Jee Club (營致會館). I wasn't really impressed with my first visit a couple of years ago, but it's close to the office and fits the requirements.

No surprise that I was tasked with ordering

Honey glazed barbecued pork (蜜汁極上豚肉叉燒) - this was pretty good as one would expect. Very fatty, very tender, charred here and there, and drenched in honey glaze. This used to be my style of char siu, and it's still very tasty, but these days I prefer less sticky glaze.

January 25, 2023

Italian omakase

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I cringed a little when I heard the words "Italian omakase" come out of Chef Paulo Airaudo's mouth. The term omakase (お任せ) has been grossly misunderstood and misused here in Hong Kong. To many Kong girls (港女) - and boys - it now refers to, specifically, a meal of Japanese sushi (and not any other genre of Japanese cuisine since, OF COURSE, Japanese food means sushi). There is at least one Facebook discussion group where people in Hong Kong discuss these type of "omakase" sushi experiences.

The Dining Austrian first introduced me to Paulo about 5 years ago, as he was discussing with local investors about opening a restaurant here in Hong Kong. My friend thought Paulo could use a local perspective. But somehow I never got around to meeting him, and while there was a chance to meet up together with the Dining Austrian towards the end of 2019 when he was in town opening Amelia, I missed that opportunity since I had to attend a company offsite in China. So our paths never really crossed...

January 23, 2023

Taking the expensive option

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Small Uncle came back to Taiwan very early this year, and as I also came back to spend Lunar New Year with the Parental Units, this meant we were able to overlap and have the chance to see each other. He offered to take me out to a meal while we're all here as a token of appreciation. This would be the fourth year that they will be staying in my empty apartment while he's teaching in Taiwan, and I'm glad that the place isn't completely unoccupied while I'm away.

Well, the idea only came up 2 days before Lunar New Year's Day, and I could only do the meal on the second day of the new year, so we were in a pretty tight spot. I pinged a friend whose family runs a famous Taiwanese restaurant, BUT OF COURSE they were completely booked. Small Uncle then proceeded to check with more than 10 Chinese restaurants, and all were fully-booked or not open for business.

So... two days ago I went through the exercise of finding a bookable restaurant for the 6 of us. Obviously I wasn't going to call each and every restaurant that came to mind, so I started with the Michelin Red Guide for Taipei. I browsed through probably 80 restaurants on their website, ignored the places that are too casual, and looked for ones which can be booked online. After checking about 40 restaurants for availability, it became apparent that the Ukai Taipei was our best choice.

The only problem is that a meal here ain't cheap. The two available options were priced at TWD 6,600 and TWD 7,700 before service charge, and there was even a Lunar New Year special menu priced at TWD 8,000. I know that Small Uncle isn't used to spending this kind of dough when dining out, so I sheepishly called and told him about this... and we agreed that he would book the cheapest menu for the 6 of us in a private room.

Our evening did not get off to a good start. The Parental Units had huge trouble finding a parking spot, as there was a long line of cars waiting to park at Taipei Nanshan Plaza. As I knew they were running late because of parking, I called dad and suggested he try the big parking lot under Taipei 101.

January 19, 2023

An old favorite shines less brightly

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We're back in Taiwan and Four Sheets has arranged to meet up with Little Rabbit. Lvsang Canteen (呂桑食堂) was one of the first places I introduced to Four Sheets on our first trip to Taipei, and it's a place we both miss. It made sense to go back to one of my favorite places in Taipei.

I was running late and asked the ladies to hold off ordering until I arrived. With a hungry Little Rabbit in tow, of course we would end up ordering way, way too much food...

Shredded smoked duck (宜蘭鴨賞) - the duck was definitely smoky and lightly cured, and pretty tasty.

Rice with pork lard (豬油拌飯) - can't come here without having a bowl of steamed rice drenched in lard and soy sauce! But in reality, this was a mistake...

January 18, 2023

A little street sweeping

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Not having been back in Taiwan much during the pandemic years, naturally it also means I haven't visited any of the famous night markets. As we had a "free" night on our first day back in Taiwan, I asked Four Sheets what she wanted for dinner. I was somewhat surprised that she wanted to visit a night market, but I guess it's something that both of us kinda miss.

I grew up right next to Tonghua Street (通化街), so that was the first night market I got to know. It's also the market closest to the hotel I used to stay at on my many business trips back in the day, and I'm most familiar with the stalls there. Many, but not all, of the ones I used to patronize are still around today.

My first stop was at Shi Jia Gua Bao (石家割包), an old favorite that's been around since 1953 serving something that has become famous all over the world - guabao (刈包), or otherwise known as bao. Slices of fatty pork belly - and I only want the pork belly without any slices of lean pork in my guabao - wedged in a fluffy steamed bun together with pickled mustard greens (梅乾菜) and a generous sprinkle of sugared peanut powder. Very, very satisfying. But then again, how could it not be when there's fatty pork?!

January 17, 2023

The twin towers

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After our misadventures last week, the gang needed another outing with V while he was still in town. Some people seemed stuck on the idea of going somewhere with the existence of a "Peter menu", so when I suggested Petrus and commented that this would be one of those places with such a menu, the gang overwhelmingly voted yes. Another vote of confidence came from Monsieur Jamin, who chose to join us for this dinner while skipping the last one.

So I pinged Uwe and told him that the "Peter menu" has been requested, and that he should "bring it". I think he got the message... I did tell him, though, that we would be drinking more reds than whites tonight.

This has to be the first time I'm getting tableside butter service here. We had three types of butter: plain, seaweed, and black truffle.

So they took smaller chunks out of the big piles of butter, and molded them for individual service. Served with grissini baguettes. Gotta say that while all three were nice, the butter made with fresh black truffles was really something.

January 12, 2023

Bromance dinner

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I needed some time to catch up with V after being separated by a border over the last 30 months or so, and we made plans to grab a simple meal together. We had no plans about where to go eat, and we putzed around until we were seated in a moving car in need of a destination. That's when I came up with the idea of going to La Maison.

I had been to the restaurant only once, which was a few months ago when I needed to open a particular bottle of wine and wanted some simple bistro food. The decor was very "Kong girl (港女)" although the service staff are uncles... The food is simple "Western" fare with French/Portuguese bent, and reasonably tasty. Pricing is very reasonable, and best news of all for some - they charge no corkage.

So two guys showed up on a whim and ordered some simple dishes to go with a nice bottle of red...

Shrimp toast - this looked distinctively different from the shrimp toast I enjoyed here last year, but I'm not complaining. Always nice when there are sesame seeds around.

January 11, 2023

The elastic heart

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I'm meeting up with old friends I haven't seen in a while for a second consecutive night. I last saw Mr. Ho when he visited Hong Kong 3 years ago, under less happy circumstances. Now that travel restrictions in Hong Kong have been largely lifted, I'm glad to catch up in person after such a long time. Neither of us wanted a big, fancy dinner, so Testina seemed to be the perfect choice.

The chef's selection for the night didn't have all the interesting stuff we wanted, so we chose to order à la carte.

"Lingua tonnata:, veal tongue and tonnata sauce - this is always a good idea. The thin slices of tongue are always very tender, and very tasty. Pairs perfectly well with the tuna sauce. Gotta wipe the plate clean with some bread.

January 10, 2023

Fun night with VVIP

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After staying with our northern brethren for almost 3 years, V finally decided it was time to come see us in Hong Kong. Our little gang wasted no time in arranging a couple of meals with him, and sought his input on where he wanted to dine. Wing (永) was one of the venues mentioned, and as the Candidate had also never visited the restaurant, the job of securing us a booking fell on the shoulders of our VIP friend The Film Buff. Sure enough, our table in the private room was confirmed in no time.

A few days later I received word that Gastronaut was coming to Hong Kong for a whirlwind eating tour, and he seemed hell bent on trying the crispy chicken at Wing - and we happened to have spare seats at our table - I invited him to join us tonight. This would turn out to be a good call on my part...

According to the 24 solar terms (二十四節氣) we are in "moderate cold (小寒)", so our seasonal drink tonight was eight treasure tea (八寶茶). Thankfully this version does not include tea leaves.

January 9, 2023

Swissitalian dinner, terza edizione

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We had waited far, far too long to do this dinner. The Peanut Gang has been meeting a few times a year even during the pandemic, but the last time we all came to Spaghetti House was some 4 years ago. It's been a long since since I last had their fondue, and that needed to be addressed. Once again, it was just a foursome tonight as FergASS dropped out.

I did extend an invitation to the Juve Fan, as I thought this would be a great opportunity to catch up and have some fun. Alas, he had prior engagements that he could not wiggle out of, but I guess I wasn't really expecting him to join us...

By the time I arrived, the others had already ordered up the first few appetizers:

Mozzarella cheese sticks - these were OK.

January 5, 2023

Panettone from the terrone

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Just two nights after our first team dinner of the year, the team gathered again for a second dinner - this time with the boss, who had missed out on the first event. I gave the team a choice of 4 restaurants and asked them to rank their choices - and the ranked choice voting delivered Estro as the winner. So... I went back again less than two weeks after my last dinner.

With the 8 of us, this was my first time being in the private dining room, and we were already at maximum capacity. The irregular-shaped table meant some of us were getting a little cozy with our neighbors...

Juve Fan put together a menu of a few signature dishes, considering that most of the team has never been here. There are a few dishes I don't mind repeating, of course...

Zucchini tart - with lemon and lime.

January 3, 2023

First star of 2023

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Here we go again. When bookings for the first quarter began for tables at The Chairman (大班樓), I thought it would be a good idea to get myself a table there on the first working day of the year. About a month ago, I figured that it would be nice to do what I did last year - which is to organize a team dinner on the first working day... so I offered the table to the team. I know that most of the team have never dined here, and it is unlikely they would be able to get a booking on their own, so this would be a good opportunity for them to try out the cuisine at one of the most popular tables in town.

The thing about going to The Chairman is that I generally end up going with the same people... and consequently end up having the same dishes. This is partly a function of the fact that I often go with people who are trying it for the first time, so the organizers tend to order a few "must haves" for the newbies. I was determined not to do that this time around, so I insisted that the team collective choose the dishes they wanted to try, and collated the choices to come up with the final menu. I did have to intervene on two dishes to cast the tie-breaking vote...

This was the first time I'm visiting the new location, just about 3 months after they moved. The environment is certainly more elegant, and more homey. My only complaint was that the 7 of us were squeezed into a round table which wasn't very big, but I suppose it was easier to carry on conversations that way.

Cured pork fat with silky tofu and 2-year-aged osmanthus flowers (二年陳桂花冰肉豆腐花) - so some of the silky tofu liquefied back to soy milk, which was pretty nice. Sadly I only got two small slices of cured pork fat (冰肉), which was not nearly satisfying enough. The aged osmanthus came with plenty of sugar, which the newbies didn't know before signing up for the dish. Also got a candied ginkgo nut here.

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