Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crossover at Yardbird

We were at Yardbird just this past weekend in one of their rare Sunday afternoon openings to try out an one-day-only special menu prepared by chef/owner Matt and the visiting Korean-American chef Corey Lee.

Working through the ranks in the kitchens from New York to London to France to Napa, most notably under Thomas Keller for 8 years before opening up his own restaurant in San Francisco in 2010, Chef Corey's legend status in the American culinary scene reached a new height last year when his restaurant Benu was awarded the Michelin 3-stars, joining only a handful restaurants in the Bay Area region, including Keller's The French Laundry, where he left as their head chef before Benu.

This time he's stopping by Hong Kong for a brief stint to promote his new book, and the gig at Yardbird was one of the 2 public cooking events he participated while in town (the other being a guest chef's dinner at Amber hosted by Chef Richard Ekkebus).

Yardbird was "notorious" for the long waiting line outside almost every night of the week, as it is extremely popular and takes no reservations, so we weren't too surprised to see a line already formed at the door when we arrived 20 minutes before the event, which was supposed to start at 2pm. Soon, the door opened and there came the rush of people filling both the ground level and lower floor space eagerly wanting to check out what's on offer at this special event at this usual hour.

Unlike the elaborate, fine-dining dishes Chef Corey usually do at Benu, the menu this afternoon was much more casual - think of this as its pop-up, food truck version and closer in style to what Yardbird normally serves. Chefs Matt and Corey worked together, each responsible for part of the menu. Some of the dishes were prepared at the bichotan grill inside the kitchen downstairs, along with a couple cold items assembled at the side station and free-flow of alcohol from the bar upstairs throughout the afternoon.

And everything was beyond amazing. We began with a pair of skewers - the "dduk gal bee" was similar to the Japanese "tsukune" (minced chicken) served with a mild brush of sweet and spicy Korean gochujang sauce and topped with pickled cucumbers and scallions. Both the cooking and the combination of flavors was perfectly executed. Same for the asparagus which were crunchy and smokey from the grilling. I didn't get much of the taste from the black truffle oil generously splashed on top but the combination of cilantro and floss was mind-opening - once again, they took a twist on the tradition and presented the dish using other Asian ingredients.

The squid was another interesting dish with thick slices of squid charred and served with new potatoes skewered in between and finely-chopped capers and parsley dressing on top. And the pork belly was tasty too with a slightly sweet marinate and garnished with slices of daikon and aromatic sesame leaf. In comparison, I thought the pieces of Spanish Mackerel, wrapped with shiso and garnished with ume sauce (Japanese plum) were a bit predictable, even though the fish itself was well-cooked and had good texture.

I also loved the 2 raw items that were passed around. The "Shigoku" oyster was compact (like the size of a kumamoto oyster), firm and plump, briney with a hint of sweet after-taste, and matched seamlessly well with a light sauce of red shiso vinegar and a dash of sudachi juice. Likewise, the razor clams were beautifully presented on a ice bath, and garnished with lime, gin and basil. It sounded simple but it's perfectly done with the right balance of flavors, especially the kick of gin augmenting the fresh taste of the razor clams.

A number of drinks were available for the afternoon - my favorite was a cocktail called "Sunday Tea" - with Hwayo 41 soju and ginger ale (equal parts?), garnished with a pine needle and lemon zest. It was strong, thirst-quenching and perhaps went down more smoothly than I wanted (as I probably had a few more than I should on a Sunday afternoon).

Something notably missing this afternoon was something sweet - if they served desserts too it would have been a perfect meal. Despite his Korean heritage, Chef Corey's cooking drew from a wider, pan-Asian influence, and everything worked naturally together. Of course it wouldn't make any sense trying to compare the food we had to the dishes he normally serves at his Michelin-starred restaurant on his home turf, but the craftiness of the dishes was evident and the combination of ingredients was well thought of. If this provided a slight glimpse of what I should expect for his tasting menu at Benu, this is definitely something I was eager to try one day.

Both chefs Matt and Corey spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen downstairs, busy working to feed the hundreds of hungry souls who packed the venue from front to back. Only later in the afternoon when the kitchen was less busy they were able to go around and mingle with the crowd.  Despite the absolutely packed venue and the lack of air conditioning inside, I enjoyed the afternoon with all the nibbles and drinks going around and to hang out with other food-loving friends. Initially there's a rush and long wait for the food to come out from the kitchen, but at the end, I think most of us had more than a fair share of food and drinks to try. And each of us got to go home with an autographed copy of Chef Corey's new book too, which I look forward to reading shortly.

More pictures on my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157652168209319

When? March 10 2015
Where? Yardbird, 33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Web: yardbirdrestaurant.com

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I like to try this squid dish. The presentation is cool and it looks interesting. It has a thick slices of squid charred and served with new potatoes skewered in between and finely-chopped capers and parsley dressing on top. Sometimes new cuisine is worth the risk if you found satisfaction. Am I right?