December 7, 2023

Excursion to Takao: fly high, butterfly

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The upside of spending a night in Kaohsiung on this short excursion is that I get to have dinner in a city I barely know. Thanks to spending most of my life outside Taiwan, I really don't know places outside of Greater Taipei very well. And given that this trip was a last-minute idea, I wasn't surprised that a few of the places I had wanted to try in Kaohsiung didn't have availability with one-day notice... Fortunately, I could still grab us a table at Papillon at the TAi Urban Resort (承億酒店).

Chef Xavier Boyer and I barely know each other, but the Parental Units and I first met him 10 years ago when he was running the kitchen at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei. I had a couple of visits to Gaddi's at the Peninsula Hong Kong when he moved back to Asia, but haven't had much contact with him in the last 6 or 7 years. So... tonight was a good opportunity to see what he's up to these days.

We were seated at the bar area first for our welcome drink, which was a cup of vin froid aux épicé. As the weather was pretty warm today, it made sense that the kitchen prepared a chilled version instead of the traditional vin chaud.

L'Amuse bouche (開胃小吃) - a collection of four little bites were presented.

The butterfly-shaped croustillant came with katsuobushi (鰹節) mayo, finely-chopped eggs, and string beans. Oh, and GOLD, of course! Naturally, the flavors from katsuobushi dominated while I could still taste a little bit of the egg.

This was pork rillettes sandwiched between two layers of passion fruit gelée, and the acidity of the passion fruit paired well with the fatty pork, and the fruitiness helped to enhance the whole experience.

The final two bites came in this bowl.

Salmon cornet - reminds me of the classic from Thomas Keller, and the salmon tartare came with a lovely citrus fragrance.

Parmesan biscuit - with shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子).

L'Entrée : 紅魽 / 茴香 / 柑橘 - raw slices of greater amberjack came with strips of fennel and some citrus, crème fraîche, and mint oil. It's only the second course of the evening, and the butterfly is already making its second appearance... as a biscuit on the side with some balsamico.

Very fragrant with the combination of orange, fennel, and mint oil. But I did think the mint oil was a little too heavy and greasy. I did like the gold...

En second : 葷菇 / 栗子 / 綠豆蔻 - cream of mushroom soup, which is something mom loves very much, with a few chunks of chestnuts in the soup. This came with a touch of black pepper, which was not unexpected but nice nevertheless. In the middle we've got a mousse made of ceps and cardamom, which was very light, with a soft and smooth texture. The mousse was actually on the sweet side, but the cardamom flavors were pretty strong, though. The mousse came topped with different kinds of sautéed mushrooms and a few bits of parsley sponge. This may look like a fairly simple dish, but it's comfort food. And the important thing is that mom was happy.

Le pain : 味噌奶油 - I can't believe that I was so focused on taking pictures of the Danish bread that I forgot to take a picture of the white miso and mountain litsea (馬吿) butter, which was complemented by a few dots of white miso sauce. The Danish bread was nice and not oozing butter as it sometimes can be, and I was able to taste just a hint of the mountain litsea in the butter.

La pâte : 小章魚 / 櫛瓜 / 西班牙米 - the arroz bomba was cooked so that the texture was firm, meant to be in between a risotto and a paella. The small octopus was lightly grilled, and of course just felt right with everything else.

The flavors of the chorizo - which came both as sliced and diced - were pretty prominent, and together with black olives plus the soupe de pistou foam, the whole thing tasted so Mediterranean. Loved the diced zucchini, too, as it provided textural contrast and made it all the more interesting.

Le poisson : 龍蝦 / 椰子 / 菠菜 - the Boston lobster was, curiously, served with a sauce made of oyster sauce and red wine, and covered in coconut foam. Served on a bed of baby spinach. The texture of the lobster was fairly bouncy with some bite and crunch. The whole thing, though, with the tuile / croustillant on the side, just screamed Oncle Joël to me...

They brought out zee duck to show us how the whole thing would look after cooking. Of course, this wasn't the bird that was actually being served to us...

Plat principal : 彰化玉露鴨胸 / 無花果 / 葡萄 - I was more than happy for the kitchen to serve the duck breast rosé, but they insisted on medium. Still very tasty, though, with a hint of cinnamon at the end. Served with roasted fig glazed with miso, grapes marinated with red wine, kirsch, and strawberry syrup. Plus a sprinkle of fig leaf powder, whose fragrance was very familiar.

The croquet ball of leg config was OK.

Pré-dessert : 香蜂草 / 薑 / 豆薯 - we've got lemon balm granité topped with a quenelle of ginger and maple syrup ice cream, decorated with - what else? - a butterfly tuile. Arranged around the middle we've got slices of jicama and almond panna cotta. With the cold granité and the crunchy jicama, this was so, so refreshing.

Dessert : 地瓜 / 玄米 / 煙燻布蕾 - on top of the smoked crème brûlée (which, to be fair, didn't have a torched brûlée top immediately on top) was a mash made of TARI No.66 sweet potato (台農66號地瓜), as well as genmai (玄米) ice cream. The garnishes on top included crunchy slices of mirabelles, and broken-up pieces of caramelized sugar tuile to finally complete the brûlée. Then there's some coffee sauce. This was an interesting combination, and mom liked the dessert.

Petits fours - we started with dragon fruit mousse tart.

Chocolate financier

Canelés - with fromage blanc on top.

Since the Parental Units don't drink unless it's something special that I bring to the table, I decided to just order a glass or two...

2020 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Les Chanteaux - very, very ripe on the nose, with a little acetone. Really aromatic and starting to cross over into viognier and gewurztraminer territory. Pretty full-bodied on the palate, actually, and sweetish with a slight bitterness on the finish.

2017 La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou - definitely showing black plums, mint, cool fruit with some ripeness, smoke, and almost a little earthy. Very classic Left Bank profile.

I posted something on social media during dinner and tagged Xavier, not thinking that he would notice so quickly... but he came to greet us towards to end of our meal. I was happy to be reacquainted, and hope that business is going well. It's a Thursday night and all the tables seemed occupied, with a few of them seated with people who could be those KOLs I had heard were fans of the restaurant. Well... the feature wall with butterflies is definitely getting a lot of attention, and lots of pictures are undoubtedly taken nightly.

As for me... I was happy to have had a nice meal here, and very relieved that mom enjoyed dinner.

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