June 11, 2023

Brazil vs. Argentina

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Now that Hong Kong has opened up its borders, many chefs have resumed participating in collaboration events with fellow chef friends. Taking a break from the happenings of the Basque Culinary World Prize in Japan, Chef Manu Buffara of Manu in Curitiba is spending a few days in Hong Kong to hang out with fellow Latin American chefs like the Bromance Twins. I was fortunate enough to have been invited by PR8 to join a few friends at lunch at Andō.

One of the regrets of my life is that I never traveled to São Paulo to visit my aunt and uncle while they were still around. They emigrated nearly 5 decades ago, and after leaving the East Coast of the US to come back to Asia, it always seemed such a long way to travel. I should have made more of an effort years ago to take advantage of the opportunity to get exposure to Brazilian culture. Oh well...

The menu with thirteen courses would alternate between offerings from Andō as host and Manu as guest. We also had a wine pairing.

Tuna Young yellowtail / clams / caviar, from Manu - the ever-considerate team at Andō swapped out the Japanese tuna for young yellowtail (ハマチ) for me. Marinated with honey from plebeia saiqui, and served with a beurre blanc made with clam juice. And of course, Kaviari Kristal caviar. You've got acidity here but actually the dish was also reasonably salty while being tempered, no doubt, by the honey. A pretty punchy way to start our meal!

Sparkling Blood Orange Roaste Mate Tea - definitely very fruity and citrusy, but can certainly taste the mate.

Wagyu beef / avocado / tostada, from Andō - the tortilla at the bottom was fried to make it crunchy like a tostada, then there's a layer of tartare of A4 wagyu, avocado mousse, jalapeño sauce, slices of cherry tomatoes, and garnished with some epazote and chopped chives.

The flavors of the dish were pretty strong - salty, cream, and acidic at the same time, plus a spicy kick from the jalapeño oil that was pretty nice.

Cauliflower / passion fruit, from Manu - one of the restaurant's classic dishes, the cold cauliflower came with cauliflower purée and beurre noisette whose richness was cut by the acidity from passion fruit. Garnished with sage and plenty of grated bottarga.

Aori ika / almond / plankton, from Andō - we are, sadly, no longer in firefly squid season, so we've got bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) on top of the crunchy teardrop teas and an emulsion made with almonds, parsley, and plankton. Garnished, as always, with perilla flowers and some yuzu (柚子) zest.

The squid has been sliced into long, noodle-like strands. Gotta say that emulsion was really, really tasty!

Leek / spinach, from Manu - the real story here lies beneath the big sheet of 'pasta' made of cassava and spinach. The grilled leaks were really sweet and tasty, while the crispy wild rice added nice fragrance and texture. Some acidity and saltiness in the mussel sauce delivered some unfamiliar flavors, but once combined with the cashew nut paste it was much nicer... and when you've got everything together in a single bite, this was really good. Here's a dish where the result was greater than the sum of its parts.

Miolo Cuvée Brut - very easy-drinking. A slight hint of bitterness, decent acidity, very moussy and lively.

Kinmedai / shiso, from Andō - so... fucking Goldfinger strikes again! Somehow my serving came with some added bling...

Underneath the "veil" one finds a piece of splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) which was steamed with kombu, topped with some crunchy lily bulb and springy razor clams. The sauce was made with dashi (出汁), vin jaune, perilla, lime, and white vinegar... making it fairly acidic.

Botan ebi / tomatoes, from Manu - the botan shrimp (牡丹海老) came with a "tomato dashi". I was chuckling with my friends over the description of dashi as I had just read a friend's comment about how annoying it is for (non-Japanese) chefs to call their clear sauces as "dashi". Well, after reading the recipe for this dish, I will say that this is not just simple "tomato water" from the tomatoes Manu brought over from Brazil. By the way, I really do like the turmeric and cumin in the dashi, which had plenty of fruity acidity. And the bits of pineapple on top delivered additional tropical flavors.

The shrimp was a little more cooked than the mi-cuit level we are used to seeing, but there's nothing wrong with that.

2021 Garzón Pinot Rosé de Corte - nose of red fruits, a little flinty. Pretty light and refreshing.

Angus beef / corn, from Andō - the tasty Argentinian beef was marinated in chimichurri, then served with both a corn purée as well as sauce made of huitlacoche - or "corn smut" that is the result of a fungus infection on corn. The huitlacoche sauce was slightly on the rich and heavy side, and I preferred to mix it up with the sweeter corn purée.

2005 Catena Alta Malbec - TONS of vanilla oak, really sweet on the nose, with notes of grilled meats. Still grippy on the palate after all these years.

Carrot / yeast, from Manu - the signature "main course" at Manu, where there is no meat (and certainly no beef) and the "humble" carrot takes center stage. The spices on the carrot give it a nice and subtle kick, the rich yeast sauce reminded me of coconut milk, and the cassava farofa was crunchy and tasty.

Scallop / moqueca / caldoso rice, from Andō - now we have Andō's signature, served up by none other than PR8. Made with moqueca bahiana to give some creaminess from coconut milk, along with small cubes of chorizo.

Uni / yogurt, from Manu - at first glance, this was a quenelle of yogurt ice cream sitting on top of a bed of ponzu (ポン酢) foam sprinkled with white chocolate crunch. I took a small taste of the ponzu foam and immediately regretted my decision. It was so acidic that I winced. It really needed to be taken together with the ice cream and the chocolate for the balance. The dill added a nice touch.

Underneath it all there are tongues of sea urchin along with strands of laver (海苔). The flavors of the sea urchin were a little stronger than what I normally get, perhaps because my tongue was still adjusting to the acidic foam, but it actually worked with the ponzu foam. However, I still didn't care for this dessert, and it was the only dish I chose not to finish.

Hazelnut / coffee, from Andō - this was much, much more "mainstream"... with an alfajor made with hazelnut biscuits, along with Brazilian coffee ice cream, chocolate and hazelnut cremoso, and Marscapone whipped cream. Can't complain about this at all...

Blueberry cushion

Banana and peacan cake

I was very, very happy to finally be able to taste the dishes from Manu, and of course the newer dishes from Andō. Many thanks for the kind invitation!

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