February 24, 2023

The big birthday celebration

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The reason for our trip back to Taipei was to help mom celebrate her 80th birthday. Normally it would just be the four of us, but as it's a BIG birthday, we decided to invite all of the Parental Units' siblings for the occasion - much like dad's 80th celebrations which took place on the same night as our wedding. I would, naturally, play host to this dinner... so I dutifully called each of my uncles to invite them.

There were a couple of potential venues that I considered, on account of wanting a private room that could be booked for this weekend. Thanks to the Parental Units' indecision in terms of a date, my first choice became unavailable. After checking around for comments on the two remaining candidates, it was decided that we would gather at Ya Ge (雅閣) in the Mandarin Oriental Taipei.

I usually find set menus at Chinese restaurants unimaginative, but mom wasn't satisfied with my choice of dishes at our so-called wedding reception last year, so she insisted that I take the Ya Ge Classic Menu. I did manage to replace one of the dishes with something I felt was more interesting.

Black pork, honey, barbecued (雅閣叉燒皇) - decent marbling but there's more bite than expected.

Jelly fish, aged vinegar, marinated (陳醋海蜇頭) - the acidity here was significantly sharper than usual thanks to the vinegar.

Suckling pig, roasted (金陵燒乳豬) - OK la...

Sea urchin, superior broth, egg, deep-fried (海膽戈渣) - creamy, as one would expect, but under-seasoned.

Matsutake, conpoy, fish maw, double-boiled (松茸瑤柱墩花膠) - apparently boiled in water with a pH of 9.0. Pretty clean flavors, and definitely more on the alkaline and savory side.

Lobster, almond cream, egg white, wok-fried (杏汁白玉龍蝦球) - curiously, the lobster from Penghu (澎湖) came on top of a pile of fluffy egg white seasoned with sweet and bitter apricot kernels (南北杏). I didn't mind the flavor combination, but I didn't care for the greasy egg whites... so I chose not to finish this.

Buried at the bottom was a pile of rice crispies, which made the dish slightly more interesting due to its crunch and, let's face it, anything deep-fried is a plus. No?

Crab meat, onion, oven-baked (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - I love baked crab shells, since the crab meat is also stir-fried with some onions and cream. This was fairly decent, and I liked the spherification of balsamico in lieu of the usual Worcestershire sauce.

6-head Australian abalone, goose web, braised (6頭澳洲鮮鮑魚扣鵝掌) - this was OK, but the abalone was just a tad more firm than I would have wanted. I hope the uncles didn't have too much trouble chewing...

Sliced ham, mushroom, chicken, steamed (麒麟蒸鮮雞) - I was kinda thinking of this dish at Seventh Son (家全七福) when I saw this on the menu, and I must confess to being a little disappointed when the dish arrived in front of me. The seasoning was much more heavy-handed than I had expected, seemingly the result of some oyster sauce. We also had asparagus instead of bamboo shoots, and the presence of the latter between slices of ham and chicken would have lightened the flavor profile. Oh well... at least the chicken was tender.

Barbecued pork, shrimp, jasmine rice, wok-fried (揚州炒飯) - the portion of the flied lice was a lot bitter than I was expecting... in fact, about double of what I'm used to.

Leafy amaranth, superior broth (上湯莧菜) - I added this as there wasn't really any veg on the set menu, which I found strange. This was pretty nice as the leafy amaranth was young and tender.

Tangerine peel, red bean, double-boiled (遠年陳皮紅豆沙) -

Petit fours (文華迎美點)

Grape financier (費南雪) - DAFAQ? You send me a Japanese daifuku (大福), explain it as such, and still call it a financier?! Have you ever seen a real financier before??

Chocolate puff - also with grape filling. Meh.

Longevity buns (壽桃) - something extra on account of mom's birthday, filled with custard.

A special birthday requires some very special wines, and I brought along three bottles to share with the elders.

1943 Cheval Blanc, Eschenauer bottling - level was mid- to low-shoulder, much worse than another bottle opened in 2017. Nose was still very fragrant, with leather, animal notes, along with rose petals and other floral notes. Fairly light in terms of body once the sediment is discounted, but the fragrance was very lovely.

1943 Mouton-Rothschild, from Sotheby's Sale May 2016, Wines from the Cellars of William I. Koch - a bit more leather on the nose, mity, definitely more cigar notes, and certainly tastes like a Pauillac. Condition was still fairly good after nearly 80 years.

1943 Sisquelle - kinda nutty, a little coffee, almost, and certainly honey.

Food-wise, this wasn't as good as I had hoped. This wouldn't merit a star in my book if it were in Hong Kong, but I guess we have to lower our standards a little since we're in Taiwan. The important thing, though, was that the Parental Units were happy, and in fact, the whole family had a good time. Service was very good, and the wines were handled very professionally. That's enough for me...

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