Friday, September 8, 2017

It Never Rains...

Let’s get the rant out of the way first for one of our recent dinners at 11 Westside of Kennedy Town. Problem #1: we had a reservation for 6 persons at 7pm and confirmed in writing by the restaurant team 3 days before, but when I walked in at 6:45pm I was told they only had my booking for 4 persons at 7:30pm (and the maître d’ even tried to correct me til I showed her own email in her face suggesting otherwise). Problem #2: to make up for their mistake they tried to offer me a square table for 4 with 2 additional chairs pulled up instead and asked whether that would be okay – are you f*cking kidding me?

Problem #3: It’s pouring outside when many of us arrived, but they refused to let us in through the elevator at the backdoor and insisted that we walked up the dimly-lit long staircase on the side of the building without any cover. So my friend was actually angry before the dinner even started and I wish they could be more helpful and accommodating. Problem #4: Wait-staff tipped over glasses of wines while serving and made a big mess not only on the table but all over some of us. Problem #5: First they offered to comp the entire meal because of the wine misplacement but later rescinded, suggested we heard it wrong and offered to take away only part of the bill, which was definitely not cool. (we didn't expect anything in the first place so just don't promise anything if you can't deliver at the end and lie to our faces about it. Take note AW if you are reading) Problem #6: Original menu mentioned four drink pairings by their beverage director, we ended up getting one welcome drink, one house wine for our main (we were offered the choice of "red" or "white" - no kidding - I didn't even see the bottles) and one shot of horchata at the end. Where were the "pairings" supposed to be and aren't we missing something there?

Okay, back to the rest of our dinner at this new restaurant for their pre-opening menu. It’s unfortunate that our meal had to be pushed back one week after from the original date because of typhoon but we were still excited about being able to visit before its official opening in early September. After all, with the chef (Esdras Ochoa) being touted as LA’s Taco King, we had high expectations that this Mexican restaurant - his first in town - is the real deal and we wanted be among the first to try and verify. But as you could imagine, given the experience I just mentioned, our excitement waned somewhat even before the first dish was served.

Nonetheless, I thought our 7-course menu went off to a decent start, with avocado and condiments wheeled in on a cart and the staff began making the guacamole at the table-side. That was served with tortilla chips and bowls of salsa brought to our table. I thought the guacamole and salsa were very nice, though I could definitely live with more condiments to the guacamole mix for a more complex flavor rather than just the overwhelming avocado taste, despite the great texture and perfectly riped fruit - just as they described on the menu. We asked for our salsa slightly spicier on refill and I definitely liked that more with the extra heat and taste.

I also loved the Seaside Caesar Salad that was served as our second course – the Tijuana egg-less dressing might bit a tad-bit too salty and the house-made croutons might not be the crunchiest type – but I did like the picked crab meat mixed in for a twist, working well with the fresh and crisp romaine hearts and grated parmesan cheese topping.

More of the dishes came our way in the lovely clay bowls (that’s before the wine incident), first the sweet corn then first of our tacos. I thought the baby sweet corns were tasty, smothered in butter and served with grated strong cheese (queso anejo). The seafood taco was served in regular size with shrimp and crabmeat, and topped with a smoky salsa with tomatoes, cilantro and beans. It’s salivating, though I wish the taco shell was a bit crispier. It was a bit soggy by the time we got our hand to it.

Three other tacos were served, this time in mini-size. I loved the toppings, especially the one with achiote and pineapple-roasted pork and fresh pineapples, and the one with beef shortrib marinated in Mexican ponzu sauce. All of them were served with the salsa moleajete and all the usual condiments tucked in. That said, we did have some issues with the taco shells – I don’t know what exactly the problem was, but we thought they were all a bit too doughy, almost like they were either undercooked or had too much water in the dough to start with. When we held up some of them it’s as if it’s been steamed like those Chinese jianbings – could be the weather or the cooking time thing, or a combination of both. We were caught off-guard by that.

After half the wines went onto the table-top and on someone’s pants and dress, we finally settled down and had the main courses of hangar steak and fish, which quietly arrived while all the clean-up was happening. I did like the fish, the red snapper fillet was well-cooked with excellent flavor and flaky, moist meat and spice rub on top, but I thought the hangar steak was a bit overcooked, definitely more than the perfect medium for this challenging cut which tend to get tough when cooked for too long. The meat we got had only the faintest of red even in the thickest part of the hangar steak. Both main courses were served with flour tortillas, which suffered the same problems as the previous course.

Took a long hiatus before our dessert course arrived, which added to the anti-climax when the bowls finally landed on our table a good 20 minute after we finished our main courses with our table all cleared up. What was described as “Churros III Way” was nothing more than a small stick of churro (for each person) with cajeta at the bottom of the bowl (which looked and tasted nothing more than regular condensed milk to be honest with one-dimensional sweet taste) and popcorns which were somewhat soggy - probably exposed in the air for way too long while waiting for the churros to be (over)cooked. I had better churros at any stall at a State Fair (the ones they made were way too hard) and definitely much better sauce to go with it. And you wouldn't want to know how some of my friends described the sad-looking presentation – we had picture to prove in case you thought we were out for a vengeance after what had happened (picture shown was portion for 2 persons). After we told the manager what we truly thought of the dessert, we were given a second one though we were too full (and upset) to eat by then – this time a corn flan with popcorns, candied pistachio and whipped cream (described as house-made whipped cream - duh!) - with the promise that it would blow us away. Sorry, flan too firm, popcorn too soft. Good try - but it's more mind boggling than blowing - and another lesson of don't promise something you can't deliver.

So that’s all for our evening. I tried not to make it sound more dramatic than it actually was (trust me this is already my best effort to tone down after a few renditions), but the series of (somewhat) unfortunate events did taint one much-anticipated meal which promised so much but came up *a bit* short. Of course taking account this is a brand-new restaurant project there's always the hope they will strive through after sorting out some initial "teething" issues, but then to us, our experience this evening definitely left a mark in our mind that would be hard to get rid of, just like the way wine stain left on the fabric.

When? August 31 2017
Where? 11 Westside, First Floor, The Hudson, 11 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Guac Tableside, if I must name one, but I guess there were way more “lowlights” this time.

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