Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Simple + Elegant = Cafe Gray Deluxe

香港的dining scene可愛之處, 就是每一年總有一兩間新餐廳, 令人充滿著期待. 今年我的no 1 choice, in terms of anticipation, 必定是Gray Kunz在這間新建成位於金鐘的精品酒店頂層的餐廳. Gray Kunz可能不是美國最享負盛名的廚師, 但論才華, 是絕對可以和那些Who's Who相提並論. 記憶中, 能夠被Ruth Reichl - 這位曾經被譽為紐約最具影響力的食評家 - 評為最高級別的紐約時報4星餐廳, 真的屈指可數, 當年Gray Kunz打理的Lespinasse就是其一 (其他的, 還包括了Daniel Boulud和Jean-Georges Vongerichten以自己為名的餐廳) 後來, 他在可能是全世界米芝蓮星星最密集的地標Time Warner Center裡面, 開了Café Gray, 也曾獲得了米芝蓮一星的評價. 早幾個月, 風聞Gray Kunz會回歸香港, 那時候已經開始數算著幾時可以第一時間品嘗. 所以, 10月份酒店一開幕, 已急不及待立刻訂位.

踏進這間名為Café Gray Deluxe的餐廳, 有點兒回到紐約的感覺 - 餐廳就在酒店的頂層, 一面是hotel lobby, 另一面穿過走廊就是餐廳. 豪華但不耀目的裝修配上casual的furniture和tableware, 很切合"deluxe cafe"的風格. 餐廳的一旁是半開放式的廚房; 另一旁就是長長的酒吧; 看到餐廳盡頭從高處望下去中環及維港的夜景, 才頓時把我從紐約的midtown拉回來. Décor typical但舒服, 一點也不uptight, 高貴而不花巧.

Menu是短短的兩頁紙 - first plate, second plate, dessert, 只此而已. 簡單的餐牌, 從來都不是個問題, 能不停轉換就成了 - 姑且看看這裡能不能做得到. 驟眼望上去, menu上大都是french bistro的典型菜式- beef tartare, crab bisque, coq au vin, foie gras, 還有其他. 跟Jean-Georges Vongerichten一樣, Gray Kunz早年也在亞洲待過好些日子(包括香港), 所以很多時都會用上亞洲菜常用的香料, 很subtle的fusion cooking style. 相反, wine list是厚厚的一本, 以old world為主, new world反而選擇較少, price range也十分friendly - 由300多元, 簡單的beaujolais到$30000的一瓶DRC La Tache都有, sommelier 也十分helpful. 麵包配上了aioli, 不過還是喜歡用回傳統的牛油.

前菜我們分別點了foie gras和crab bisque, 另外主菜是lamp chops with carrot emulsion, 和braised short ribs with polenta和 meaux mustard sauce. 點了菜不久, 前菜已經準備好奉上 - to our surprise. Crab bisque配上了crouton和crab salad, 湯是席前才從壺中倒到碗子上, 熱呼呼的, 頓時濃香撲鼻. Presentation, 味道... absolutely nothing to complain about. 主菜的燜燉牛小排骨是傳統的做法 - 醬汁很甜, almost like Korean, 看來不只是carrots, shallots, tomatoes 之類一般的材料 - 去了骨的牛小排早已燜煮得快要化開和入味, 配上輕盈的polenta和grainy的芥末忌廉汁, 正好中和了牛小排骨的濃味, 份量也不多不少. 據說, 這一味braised short ribs是chef kunz在Lespinasse年代已經是他的Signature Dish, 怪不得. CYY對她點的羊架, 看來也十分滿意 - lamp chops加carrot emulsion並不是平常的配搭, 再略加上咖哩的香味, 不過聽說也做得好.

我的甜品是meringue配以紅酒浸煮過的草莓加籃莓和crème anglaise, 也不是甚麼創新的菜式不過味道口感就一流, 每一層都帶出不同的味道, 有時間在家也可試弄一遍; CYY點的甜品, 是用中式竹籠蒸的chocolate gateau, 像糯米雞般包在荷葉裡蒸, 賣相固然帶著驚喜, 而出來的效果就像如心太軟蛋糕般, 不過用蒸的煮法, 外面的質地更為軟綿綿也較濕潤. 在menu中也看到數款chilled sweet soup加sorbet的組合 - very obvious of asian influence - 下次必定要試一試.

甜品過後, 移到了隔璧的lounge, 原本躋在那兒的客人們早已散了, 我們倆選了個僻靜的角落, 坐下來倚著窗望著海景, 慢慢享受餘下的紅酒... i think we have found a perfect chill-out spot.

回家看了一下其他人放在網上的分享, 有人評論說 - "簡單是美", 雖然是老生常談, 但一點也不錯. Café Gray Deluxe的selling point, 就是這種simplicity加elegance. 老實說, 兩者分開, 做得到的好餐館也很多; 但加在一起而又令人回味的, 在這城市中, 沒有多少間. 據聞Gray Kunz是個完美主義者, 這個晚上, 我們絕對是這種性格的beneficiaries.

when? october 13 2009
where? cafe gray deluxe, 49/f, the upper house, pacific place, hongkong
occasion? birthday dinner
menu highlights? Braised Short Ribs of Beef. Polenta. Meaux Mustard Sauce
drinks? Domaine Michel Magnien Morey St Denis 1er Cru 1999

Get the flash player here:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A dazzling star

It's a surprise that a pianist of such caliber has attracted so little publicity prior to her debut recital performance in hong kong last week - let alone for one that's thought to be the most promising chinese prodigy in the circle. I am talking about the Yuja Wang's Piano Recital held in the City Hall just before the National Day holiday.

As far as solo performance's concerned, I always prefer the more cozy City Hall than the one across the harbor in the Cultural Centre - at least you can have a good view of the performers and their expressions as they play the pieces. The program commences with a quartet of sonatas by domenico scarlatti and concluded with the sonata no 6 in a major by prokofiev - gee she made them look so easy. Her style's been subtle yet full of youthful energy, with facial expressions that shows confidence and passion without pretentions or arrogance. Finesse usually is the word rarely used to describe a young artist but on this occasion, it seems to be a perfect one. It's hard to believe this is only her first year on tour since graduating from Curtis in 2008.

Too bad we were slightly distracted by a family of nouveau riche in the front row whose kids keep talking, moving around and making funny faces for the entire hour as if they were on a merry-go-round in the amusement park, with the helpless maid accompanying them. We found ourselves lucky not sitting right behind them and definitely won't blame the couple behind that were for walking out after the intermission. Well, as our city was desperately seeking a share of their new money with knees down and open hands, we would have to bear with that for a while, I suppose.

During her triple encore, it's hard not to be impressed by Yuja's magical touch on a "paraphrased" piece of Mozart's Turkish March. It's the same version featured on her CD as a bonus track, but seeing her moving the fingers around the keyboard as smooth as silk is simply jaw-dropping. This is probably the best version I have ever heard of this familiar - almost cliché - piece of music.

Anyway, an absolutely delightful evening - and hopefully she will continue to rise for stardom. If you have missed it, no worries - she's coming back at the end of HKPO's current season, in June 2010. In the meantime, run for her first CD - you won't regret it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Concourse is Our Playground

There used to be an ad slogan by Nike that says "The World is my Playgound". Well, if MTR has to use a new one, it may as well be "The concourse is our playground", judging from what I saw this morning on my way to work.

I don't commute by public transport much these days - spoiled by the option of driving - but today's one of those rare occasions that I felt too lazy to be behind wheels in the rain, and never did I realize it's actually fun watching people commuting like sheep being herded from one place to another. It is really quite a scene that is worth mentioning on any Hong Kong travel guides - well, talking about the Rough Guides!

Then I started to wonder, with the East Asian Games coming to town this December - "You are the Legend", we were told, whatever that means - I am surprised the organizer didn't consider putting our MTR concourse to be the sporting ground for some of the events and have a separate category of "MTR Commuters" to compete against the world's best (at least the best from the East Asian side of the world).

Take 100m sprint for example, I can see many people have been training hard day in and day out on the concourse on Admiralty station, at the Tsuen Wan Line-Island Line interchange on their way to work and back, and from what I saw, many of whom are definitely up to par with the professionals, finishing the race in less than 10 seconds. I am sure they would have done even better if they didn't don their suit or dressed to the nines with high heels to do the run. How about race-walking? I was told I am a speed walker myself too, but nothing compared to those who can walk from Hong Kong Station to Central Station (a 500m walk, according to information from Google) in less than 2 minutes, including the time wasted to avoid the not-so-fast crowd that often cram on the moving walkway.

The organizer can even consider having new events in MTR - well, I figure since ballroom dancing has become a competitive event at the Games, what can't be? How about dancing to iPod music on a moving train for a change? It's a combination of art and balancing skills, you know, and we can even get sponsorship from Apple. Or newspaper picking - like those old ladies outside the station? Hey that requires endurance, physical strength, patience and a little bit of charm and luck - everything that is needed for any competitive sports. Or even "People Dodging" - having 2 teams facing each other at a narrow Mongkok Station entrance and team members have to reach the other side without being bumped by any one of the opposing team. Trust me, I tried, but I can never accomplish that.

See, commuting can be fun if you start day-dreaming!

Monday, July 20, 2009

10 things I like about my iPhone (and 5 things that I don't)

Things I like:
1. All-in-one Unit - I don't need to carry my phone, music player, and PDA separately anymore. Just one iPhone will do!
2. User Interface - After comparing it to my old Windows mobile machine, I wonder why I didn't make the switch sooner.
3. Functionalities - now I can make phone calls, check emails, listen to music, play games, watch TV... that makes daily commute so much more fun.
4. Stability - 7 days into using it - never an instance did I run into a system freeze. That compared to at least 3 times a day for my old pda (LG KS20 running WM6.1).
5. Looking Cool - since everyone's using it, I don't feel awkward holding that piece of brick on the street.
6. Great Camera - now I can take snapshots at anytime!
7. Interesting Apps - and most of them are free/cheap. My favorite so far: OpenRice. With that I can locate restaurants nearby (thank to the GPS capability), get their information (address and phone) and call them direct! No more 1083!
8. GPS - Not a lot of practical use at the moment, but looking forward to a software that can give me turn-by-turn directions (TomTom's coming out with a version soon, I heard)
9. Speed. I don't know how that compared to the old iPhone, but it's amazingly fast when compared to my old pda.
10. Apple. They never disappoint. Maybe it's time to ditch my PC and switch to a Mac too? I wonder.

And things that I don't like:
1. Cost. HK$5400 for a phone. Ouch! I'd better not lose or break it.
2. Cost for accessories. I like this new toy so much that I keep looking for accessories to make it look/work/sound better, and cost for those things adds up pretty fast.
3. Battery. I keep worrying that I may run out of battery in the middle of the day and can't take any phone calls.
4. Bulkiness. May need to get a smaller wallet so it and the iPhone can all fit in my pocket.
5. Bandwidth. Many applications do require internet connection to function properly. Now I need to switch to an unlimited data plan with my mobile carrier, but I am sure it's all worth it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Uno Mas

Well, tapas bar wasn't exactly what I have in mind if I have to look for a venue for special occasions, but for a random night out for no particular reasons, it's just perfect.

We already set sight at this trendy tapas bar in Wanchai for some time, seeing all the good reviews in the press and nice words from our friends - I guess this is also why this place's always fully-booked. After several tries, we were finally able to score a reservation on one Wednesday evening, so we went with our friends r and a, who have tried this place before and raved about it. We don't usually go out drinking in the middle of the week, but for this particular time, we all feel we need something like that just to de-stress and let it out.

The restaurant's located on the first floor in a more decent block on Wanchai's Lockhart Road. Decor's chic, casual and comfortable - good atmosphere to chill and chitchat with friends. The food menu's actually a checklist of tapas on one side with several choices of main dishes at the back, so we order by checking what we want on the sheet of paper - sort of like how we order dim sum in a local Chinese restaurant. We ordered mostly tapas dishes with the exception of paella to share, which came in main dish portion.

As for drinks - it's a no-brainer really - Sangria of course! We almost went straight to the Sangria menu without looking at anything else and found that there's a good choice of six or so different types, be it red, white or cava, with all sorts of fruit combinations. We opted for the classic (and later followed by the more refreshing Cava plus Strawberry type). They do have a decent wine selection and other standard bar drinks available as well, and we were surprised to find Estrella Damm Inedit beer on the menu - something we just had a few weeks ago at The Krug Room with its manager telling us then that this beer's not available anywhere else in town. It's an elegantly-done beer with rich and creamy flavor. You will definitely change your perception (or lack thereof) on Spanish beer after having a sip of that. And if anyone knew any local supermarket starting to stock Inedit, please tell me so I can make a run for it.

No particular dish to die for but they are all very decent. The paella took a while to prepare but it's definitely worth the wait; chorizo is well, good old chorizo and you can't go wrong with that, I suppose. The tortilla de patatas is simple but flavorful - thanks to the aioli on top. We like the clams in white wine sauce but not its tiny portion (just 6 of them!). Plus a few more - we ended up ordering probably seven or eight of those to share. That's the beauty of tapas - tidbits of small dishes that have our mind calling more and more as we started digging in.

For dessert, we ordered the caramel flan and churros with chocolate cream, and they were all very good. The portion's so generous that we were unable to finish, even with just two dishes shared among four of us. On the menu it did say each dessert's to be shared by two, but still it turned out to be bigger than we expected.

Well the bar tab didn't come cheap but we were definitely enjoying our evening! Just be merry and happy, and be able to momentarily forgetting the work ahead in the middle of the week, it's worth it. And it feels good.

when? june 17 2009
where? Uno Mas, 1/F, The Broadway, 54-62 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai
occasion? Mid-Week Tapas/Drink Night
menu highlights? Paella
drinks? Sangria (lots of them!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Perseverance and Faith - 20 years ago in history

In one dawn 20 years ago, with tanks and soldiers rolling over Beijing's Tiananman Square, crushing the bones and flesh of innocent students and other protesters (as well as our hearts), history was forever changed. We all witnessed first-hand a defining historical moment that has been haunting us even to this date; and little did we know at that time, this bloody event turned a new worldwide tide against despotism and tyranny regimes, and a few months later, Berlin Wall - the symbol of oppression of freedom, fell, for once and for all, and the world was never the same.

Just when we were still consumed by all the horror news coming from Beijing in June 1989, another chapter of history quietly unfolded a few days later, not in Beijing but in Paris; not on a public square but on a red-clay tennis court; not by a troop of cold-blooded soldiers and political leaders but by one young man, not of a cowardly oppression but a David-vs-Goliath triumph. Michael Chang, 17 years old at that time and merely 5'9" tall, against all odds, has won the French open men's singles, defeating hot favorites Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg along his way. With the stunning victory, he became the youngest Grand Slam male champion (a record still holds to date), the first ethnic Chinese to win a Grand Slam tournament, and the first American to win the French Open since 1955. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The highlight of his road to the championship is certainly the match he played against Ivan Lendl in the 4th Round - trailing two sets to none and in obvious pain in his knees because of cramps, he crawled back one set at a time and won the next three. Many - me included - would probably still vividly remember his cute underhand serve which caught Lendl by surprise and the double-fault that Ivan Lendl made which ended the match (apparently Michael distracted him by making an awkward stance in the middle of the court and forced him to hit the ball well long as a result) That game remained one of the longest in French Open history (4 hours 37 minutes) and one true classic sporting moment.

Michael Chang went on to become one of the greatest tennis players in the world, reaching Grand Slam finals three more times (French Open in 1995, Australian and US Open in 1996), and ranked number 2 at one point. He's a crowd favorite in Hong Kong in the 1990s - mostly because of his charming look - and he repaid us by winning the tournament here (then called Salem Open) three times - more than anyone else. I remember going to watch him play in Victoria Park one year (when he lost in the semis), keeping an autographed match programme as a treasured memento, and wearing his Reebok sneakers proudly on the street when I was young. Who knows how many other local kids picked up their tennis racquets for the first time because of his influences. He's one of the first Asian atheletes who gained worldwide success and fame, and in a sense, paved way for many others to follow soon afterwards.

Well, Michael's story is about perseverance, confidence, hard work, never-say-die spirit, joyful attitude and faith. He dedicated his victory and success to God, and he testified that during his course to the French Open triumph, many times he considered quitting and it's Jesus who urged him to stay on. He shared with us the power of prayers and that he will pray before every match, not for beating his opponents, but for his actions and words be used to glorify God. Overcoming his height (and reach) constraints, he always run around on the court, going after every balls, hitting those "impossible" shots which others would have long given up on. He's always been a model athelete, and never been in any kind of trouble or scandal, which is a rare commodity these days. His professional career outlasted many of his peers (including Pete Sampras and Jim Courier) and after retirement, he continued to be an inspirational figure on and off the court, running tennis camps and sharing his story with others around the world, using every opportunity he has to draw people to Jesus and Christianity.

Just as this month we remember what happened 20 years ago in Tiananman Square and vow to persist until freedom and democracy are upheld in China, let us also remember and reflect upon the historical triumph of Michael, and be inspired once again by his perseverance and the faith in the Lord.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Krug Room

CYY 的生日飯, 今年我們選了到文華的The Krug Room. Krug Room其實即是MO的Chef's Table, 每天只供應Tasting Menu的晚餐, 由酒店的總廚Uwe Opocensky一手設計和炮製, 菜式嘛... 據chef uwe 自己的形容, 是progressive gastronomy 的style, 風格也深受Ferran Adrià的影響, 當然Dining Room內還feature了被譽為全城最extensive的Krug 香檳Collection...

星期六的傍晚, 我們抵達酒店大堂時, 已經看到負責招呼我們的waiter在等候著, 帶領我們從chinnery bar後面穿過一道non-descriptive的門口, 到達我們今晚用餐的"隱閉"地點 - 一間長長的dining room, 只放著一張雲石做的高身communal table, 牆身和地板以橡木作裝飾, 旁邊也放了champagne第一趟發酵用的木筒作擺設, dining room的一邊, 就靠著廚房, 透過玻璃窗, 裡面的作業情況一覽無遺 - Relaxed, 簡單, 耀目而不落俗套. 桌子上作裝飾的碟子, 寫上了詩仙李白的<<將進酒>>: "人生得意須盡歡, 莫使金樽空對月", 此時此刻, 尤為貼切. Oh, 還有, 房間內, 有一面黑色的牆, 上面以粉筆寫上了我們Dinner Menu的"謎面" - 只是些單字 - "Farm", "Pond", "Miyazaki"... 看了, 已有"未進餐, 先興奮"的感覺, 就是想看看每個單字代表的是一道甚麼的菜式, 帶來的是一樣甚麼的味道.

晚飯先以一杯Krug的Grande Cuvée作序幕, 要逐一形容Chef Uwe為我們預備的菜式, 恐怕並不容易. 也為著保留神秘感, 所以在此不贅. 總之, 寫在menu的, 看到的, 嚐到的, 和感受到的可以是截然不同, 雖然可能是些平凡得不可再平凡的食材 - 蔬菜, 龍蝦, 魚生, 宮崎牛... 只是從賣相到味道都充滿了意想不到吧. serve每一道菜之前, Chef Uwe都會親自一一解釋. 細心一看, 其實每一道菜式都表現了分子料理中的不少技術, 同時照顧了視覺, 嗅覺和味覺多元的享受, 從此也看得出他設計餐單的深度和心思, 也給我們上了一趟很有趣的烹飪課.

就例如amuse-bouche後的第一道菜 - "魚子醬", 是以蘋果汁配以香檳, 混入海藻膠 (sodium alginate), 再"逐滴逐滴"放入加入了鈣粉(calcium chloride)的水裡, 形成了像魚子醬般質地的小粒粒, 放在小罐中上桌, 這正是el bulli的得意傑作. And FYI, 這些"化學品"其實並不是甚麼新發明, 而且也經常運用在日常食品中 - 例如麥記的蘋果批的餡就加入了海藻膠, 以帶出糊狀的口感. 其他分子料理的煮食方法如spherification, gellification, sous vide, cold smoke, flash-freezing (by anti-griddle)都一一用到. 書就看得多, 真正見到嚐到又是另一回事, 真令人拍案叫絕.

新意還不單是在食物方面: 晚飯中間, 廚師特意帶來了Ferran Adrià有份參與釀製的Inedit Beer來伴其中一道名為morning mist的菜式, 是很柔和很smooth的啤酒, 剛巧跟菜式散出"一縷輕煙"的香氣和大麥的味道相配. Matching wine就見得多, matching beer反而是頭一遭.

這天晚上, 絕對可不只是一頓愉快美妙的晚飯這麼簡單, 而是體會了藝術與烹飪, 科學與創意一次妙不可言的結合. 要"搭枱"的一餐飯, 這肯定是我們最貴的一餐 - but really is a very chilled, delightful and tasteful evening, and a well-worth one too (反正"千金散盡還復來"嘛, 不是嗎?)

when? may 16 2009
where? The Krug Room at The Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong
occasion? birthday celebration
menu highlights? miyazaki, lobster noodle (I will leave it up to you to imagine what they actually are)
Krug Grande Cuvée Brut
Pazo de Señorans Albariño Rias Baixas 2007
Inedit Beer by Estrella Damm

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

425 days

Just as we feel like we have just touched down at HKG after separate trips to UK and the Philippines not that long ago (in March and April), we are already planning for our big one next year - South Africa!

That's because we have bought the tickets for the World Cup 2010 successfully! (can't be more happy when we found that out one late April morning from their website saying our tix application's going through!) It's going to be the Semi-final match at Cape Town, to be played in the new stadium by the waterfront (the picture's only a simulation - they are still racing to complete the stadium on time for the tournament) The tickets ain't cheap, but it's hard to pass up on this once-every-four-years experience.

It's still 425 days to go (oh yes, I already started counting down!), but I am getting excited already. Hopefully my England team can finally make it that far then (and more), and Rooney won't do anything stupid to get himself red-carded this time.

Now we are trying to get a pair of Quarter-Final tickets as well - so we can double the fun! Keeping our fingers crossed on that - we will know in a couple of weeks whether we got lucky.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chicken a la carte - a video about hunger and poverty

I hope this gives you all with something to think about and reflect on - especially next time when you left food on the table...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Something new under the sun

It's been said that the british national dish is not fish-and-chips as many would have guessed but chicken tikka masala; and when we came up with this idea of having Indian food together in London, our friend e suggested this trendy place on Kensington High Street. We were also meeting our friend d who happened to be in town and his friend c. well, d and e are high school mates, e and I crossed path in both Washington dc and boston, and d and I were college roommates. That’s how this dinner gathering came about. Talking about a small world.

The dinner came right after a jubilant afternoon when we saw my favorite football club came out victorious in the big London derby march, so that already set the right mood for the evening for us. The restaurant’s located in the heart of Kensington on the main street and about 5 minute walk away from the tube station, so it’s not hard to find at all.

The menu does take us a bit of time to study over: there are the a la carte ones and also several tasting menu sets we can chose from, and after some deliberation we came up with a consensus to go for the 6-course “Jugalbandi” tasting menu. Turned out it's such an eye-opener – definitely not like any Indian food that we have had before. Ever! On the menu it said it’s a selection of traditional dishes; well if that is so we definitely feel the need for a whole new lesson on Indian cuisine.

Starting off with an amuse-bouche of spiced coconut soup with chicken served in an espresso cup, we then moved on to dishes like scallop in kokum and lime leaf “foam”, trio of chicken tikka, tandoori grouper with “upma”-Indian cous-cous in a champagne and cardamom sauce, and spiced wild mushroom rice with mini papadum and tomato “makhni” ice-cream... and they were all presented so beautifully.

And you can imagine, as with typical Indian, they were so all rich in flavors, with familiar spices and some not so familiar ones, and all in their unique shapes or forms. Every course was such a delight as it’s brought in front of us one by one, and so were the conversations we shared in between, trying to catch up on how everyone’s been in their lives and having a good laugh. Since almost all the courses came in tidbits of a single ingredient cooked multiple ways, we were able to sample quite a bit of different tastes.

By the time we finished dessert, which was a pinekernal, cashew and pistachio brittle with silky chocolate moouse and masala tea icecream, it’s already 10:30pm, and that was the time when we were "politely" asked to move to the bar area for drinks so our table can be cleared for another round of patrons. Well, it's already late and there were actually people waiting to come in, so fair game, I suppose. And my cup of masala tea drew the evening to a satisfying close.

With our regular Indian restaurant of choice being in the somewhat filthy chungking with dishes such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori on a hot plate or garlic naan, needless to say, the evening at Zaika will easily come down as one of our finest Indian dining moments. Always something new under the sun, I must say.

when? march 21 2009
where? Zaika, 1 Kensington High Street, London.
occasion? a get-together with friends
menu highlights? Tandoori Machli: Tandoori Grouper, marinated in ginger and chillies, "upma"-Indian cous-cous, in a champagne and cardamom sauce

Saturday, March 7, 2009

When Vintage Champagne Met Napa Valley Cab

This is one of the few evenings that food's not the major attraction at Kitchen@17a, but wine. I am talking about the "Open That Bottle Night" celebration on the last Saturday of February, taking cue from two Wall Street Journal columnists to enjoy the bottles that we never found an occasion good enough for them.

"Exuding honey, vanilla and light coffee notes, this creamy Champagne straddles youth and maturity. Well-balanced, fine and vibrant. The coffee and vanilla notes will develop with age."

We kicked off the evening with a bottle of bubbly which our friends have graciously contributed - a 1998 Dom Perignon. Well, after tasting it, we jokingly vowed that we would never drink anything else (as if we can afford to do just that). It's creamy and crisp with fine persistant bubbles. A divine wine that went perfectly well with the seafood dishes we began with - I certainly hope our friends didn't regret opening it and sharing with us.

"An elegantly style, this is well-balanced, with a mix of smoke, spice and currant-laced Cabernet aromas that maintain their focus, ending with a long, lingering finish that keeps the fruit at the forefront."

We then moved on to the Napa Valley cab that we picked up last year at a newly-opened wine shop a few blocks down from The French Laundry at Yountville. It's a 2004 Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignon - a small production wine (900 cases) that came highly recommended by the shop owner. As we swirled and enjoyed a sip, it's not hard to understand why people said young Napa Valley cab can handily beat some of the big boys on the other side of the ocean in horizontal tasting. 2004 has been our vintage of choice lately, and we did try a few supposedly famous and coveted ones, but nothing compared to the complexity and maturity of this. Aromatic, balanced, long finish and all that. A classic cab and certainly deserved every bit of the 93 points Wine Spectator gave it. I supposed it’s the scarcity of the wine that made us hesitate to pop this open earlier, but I am glad that we tasted this just at the right time.

As for food, I decided to go a little adventurous, and hence a few dishes made its debut at Kitchen@17A. The minimally-marinated salmon was cooked "sous vide" style at 55C for 20 minutes - it's simple yet amazingly full of flavor and moisture - just as what other die-hard sous vide enthusiasts have commented online. No doubt this is the best way to cook salmon, both from effort and taste point of view.

Taking the bloc of foie gras that our friend has given us as a souvenir last year, I then made some "wontons" and served them with bonito-lime broth and porcini mushrooms. It's something that I just made it up, taking inspirations from joel robuchon's foie gras ravioli recipe and dobin-mushi that we tasted at iwanami - one of our favorite Japanese restaurants. I personally found it interesting (especially as an amuse-bouche) but the reviews from the table were mixed - I did make the broth "a little" on the sour side, thinking it would balance the fatty texture of foie gras and showed some contrasting taste to the palate.

For entree, I repeated the duck confit that I made a fortnight ago, and used roasted chestnut and potatoes as side this time. It's a time-consuming process to make the dish from scratch but it's worth it, I think. We ended the evening with cheese and dessert courses - a chocolate fondue (valrhona 72%) with tidbits of strawberries and butter cake. Can't go wrong with that - I figured even if I screwed up with those new dishes I could get some consolation points back from a "safety" dessert.

A good idea copied from someone else turned out to be a great evening for us (and our wines) I think we definitely should make otbn our yearly tradition. Next year, maybe I can convince cyy to let go of those opus ones and lafites that have been sitting in our wine cabinet for too long...

(those words of italic typefaces are reviews from the Wine Spectator - not mine)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Viva Sous Vide!

I have been longing to try out cooking “sous-vide” for a while, having tasted some of the dishes in restaurants and heard so much about other people’s experiences in trying it at home. And here’s the story of my first sous-vide experiment:

In case you have no idea what I am talking about, sous-vide is essentially a cooking technique which made use of a airtight plastic bag placed in hot water for an extended period of time (sous-vide means “under vacuum” in French). This way, food is cooked under vacuum under constant low temperature (below boiling point) and the result is dishes with intense flavor, delicate texture and never overcooked (that means tender and juicy)

It does sound fascinating, even though it’s nothing new really – the French’s been doing this since the 70’s (it’s said to be invented in the kitchen of Michel Troisgros), and soon many other chefs followed, particularly the Americans. Now, the likes of Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter are claimed to be some of its biggest fans (Thomas Keller even wrote a book dedicated to this very subject recently, or you can watch him demonstrate in his kitchen followed by lunch at The French Laundry for a hefty $10,000)

I won’t be too surprised if many of you have tasted the dishes cooked sous-vide style without knowing it – I suppose it doesn’t sound very appealing if the waiter told you that your $300 pork tenderloin actually came out of a pouch boiling in water (like those instant japanese curry) There are numerous news articles about this key technique in the “nouvelle cuisine” as well, and online forums and chat-rooms where people discuss (or even debate) whether 48C or 52C is the optimal temperature for cooking salmon sous–vide, for example. Well, I could go on and on but I guess if you wanna know more, you are probably better off researching on the web yourself - and wikipedia sounds like a good place to start.

Anyway, it came no surprise that many people started experimenting this at home, having tried the result themselves; but it does sound easier said than done. First, you do need some “special” equipment. To start, something that vacuum-process the food. That’s actually the easy part – remember those FoodSaver infomercial on Sunday mornings or weekend nights on home shopping network (for those folks living in the States)? That apparently would do the job nicely. And second, a device that is capable to maintain a hot water bath in a constant temperature, or immersion heat circulator as it’s called technically. A professional one can cause $10,000 plus and even an amateur model – one that attaches to your slow cooker at home - would cost $1000.

For my first experiment, I decided to invest in a FoodSaver and skip the immersion heat circulator; instead I use a cast-iron pot filled with water in the convection oven as a compromise. It’s not the most ideal but at least I have everything readily available. I was able to locate a local distributor of FoodSaver that sells the device online and at department stores’ consignment counters, so within a few days, I have one sitting in my kitchen (despite cyy’s strong protest. Ha ha!) And after some more research on the right recipe to try, I have my eyes set on this duck confit recipe found on Food and Wine Magazine.

Turned out sourcing the ingredients is the trickiest part in the whole process. The supermarket downstairs used to have plenty of duck legs available (along side with foie gras), but when I try to get some, they are all gone. The have-it-all City'Super didn't stock them either – the butcher lady instead tried to offer me lamb legs as alternative (?!!). Finally, I was able to locate a few frozen ones in the fridge of Oliver’s - good enough for me. So now I am ready to rock and roll.

The recipe’s straight-forward – defrost, then cure the duck legs with thyme, salt and pepper overnight, wash it, dry it, seal it in the vacuum bag, then they are popped into the oven (in a water bath) overnight (thermostat set at 110C, in hope that the water can be kept at between 80-90C throughout - in case you want the details) Next morning, the duck legs (still in the bag) are pulled out from the oven and cooled immediately in an ice bath. At that point, what I got is a bag (still vacuum-sealed) with the cooked duck legs wrapped completely in duck fat – and it can be stored in the refrigerator (for up to a week, I was told)

Just before it’s served, I opened the bag, scrapped the fat around and browned the duck legs in a pan (so the skin became crispy). Finally, along with some potatoes (sliced with skin removed), duck fat and jus, I roasted everything in the oven and voila, my duck confit with potato hash’s done. To complete this bistro-style dinner, I also made a cream of mushroom soup and steamed mussels, and open a much-enjoyable bottle of 1998 Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal. What a meal! (esp considered this is just a random Wednesday evening) The confit dish's good (aromatic, moist, flavorful and all that) and I am happy. The totally cooking time did take long (spanned over 3 days) but at least most of the time I didn’t have to attend to it.

So now I am content to have found the perfect dish for the open-that-bottle-night at kitchen@17A, and next, I am going to take on salmon in my quest to improve my sous-vide technique. i will certainly share more after i did so.

More reading for your interest:
The Joy of Cooking with Plastic Bags – Slate Magazine
Under Pressure – The New York Times
Trying Sous Vide at Home – Wall Street Journal

Monday, February 9, 2009

just right

本來想到樓下的"飯堂"吃個便飯, 殊不知剛好有公司在那裡擺春茗; 與其要等位, 把心一橫, 把車駛到石澳去instead; 為的, 是一間近期在報章看到介紹的串燒店. 石澳的路不難找, 倒是有點兒難走; 在我們家出發也不遠 - 只是二十多分鐘的車程, 不過去到也已差不多九點. 這間串燒店就在石澳大街上, 巴士總站的附近 - 很容易就找得着, 見人車都不多, 管不了這是禁區, 就索性把車直接停在店子門口旁邊的ramp上面 (反正沒有警察這麼晚會長途跋涉走到石澳去抄牌吧!)

店子的裝飾很別緻, 木製的桌椅還有牆壁上仿木的掛飾, 佈置得像間海邊的戶外小屋, 令我想起布吉的Baan Rim Pa (可惜這裡沒有無敵的沙灘海景). 只是寥寥的幾張桌子, 再加上面向大街的吧枱和數張lounge chairs and tables: 不是很大的店子, 不過這樣反而樂得自在舒服 (到過又逼又窄又吵耳的南蠻亭吃串燒就會明白我的意思 - 雖然它的確是城裡最好的其中一間kushiyaki店, 只是有時有點兒覺得侷促).

餐牌十分簡單, 只純賣"日式"串燒, 不過食物的選擇就平民化 – 每間串燒店的staple items如雞軟骨, 雞腎雞肝牛舌之類固然少不了, 還有海產 - 據說是在附近撈獲的數款; 而本地特式的魚片牛丸和芝士腸也有. local adaptation無可厚非, 不過從這該看得出店子的定位, 幸好價錢亦然. 連飲品的選擇也十分straight forward: 只是啤酒汽水烏龍茶, 還有sake… 不過當我們問到sake的choices時, 就只得到有冷有熱還有不同size的"官式"答案 – 天呀! 就算你不告訴我酒名也該告訴我是辛口還是甘口, 是普通純米還是大吟讓吧? 得到這樣的答案, 有點摸不著頭腦, 想來sake也不會是甚麼好貨式, 乾脆要asahi算了. 還有, 串燒配熱sake? 這裡可不是冬天下著雪的北海道呢! 其實, 這樣的環境, 加一個小酒吧, 弄幾樣簡單的cocktail, 也是很好的配搭. margarita配yakitori可能不是an usual combination, 不過我敢肯定一定好過熱sake!

先來第一round的食物, 都是平常在串燒店點開的幾樣, 除了較特別的翡翠螺. 不過不失, 雞軟骨和白鱔還可以, 不過比起我們平常光顧開, 在跑馬地橫巷的那間小店, 水準就差了一截, 用料的差別尤甚. 試完這裡的燒牛舌後就特別覺得吃開的那間才像樣. 至於翡翠螺嘛… 個人還是喜歡生吃. 不過, 每串才十元八塊, 點的時候, 吃的時候也覺得特別暢快, expectation自然也應相應降低一點. 故此第二round, 也不bother試他們的燒蠔, 反正也應該會是此消彼長, 故此只試了烏冬和粟米這些較普通的, 反而覺得做得還好. 可能今天人客也不多, 老板拿了燒菠蘿和燒鱔骨出來請我們試, 都算味美. 雖然只是幾枱的食客, 不過上菜的速度和節奏倒有不少改善的空間... 看來從現在到夏季人流多的季節之間, 在運作磨合方面真的要再做功夫... 最少他們的服務態度也很好, 補救了不足.

就食物的質素而言, 這裡雖然並不是最好, 不過倒還算"抵食". 我想, 當我們把在家附近的餐廳吃厭了的時候, 又想找處地方靜一靜, 我們都會回這裡來. 雖然只是些non-descript的食物, 不過, 如這樣平日的晚上, 遠離一下市區, 隨便將車停在門口, 拿著啤酒, 吃著數串, 有興致的話再到沙灘走走, 也是個 evening well spent. 再者, 在甚麼地方賣甚麼樣的菜, 也算是餐廳的生存之道: 試想想, 如果這裡賣的, 樣樣都是如一百元一串日本A5和牛般的高價款式, 我想它也捱不到夏天旺季就壽終正寢了. 或者做人處世有時也要這樣, be at the right place at the right time doing the right thing, 可能才是上計, 每一樣都不理一切去追求完美, 可能到頭來只是自討苦吃... 只是有感而發吧!

when? February 6 2009
where? Katayaki, 209 Shek O Road
menu highlights? 沒有甚麼特別, 倒是坐得挺舒服

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

open that bottle night

okay, i admit it, we too have our good share of so-called wine collection in our cabinet, that we are perpetually "saving" for those special occasions that never seem to come.

and the other day i saw this article and clip on wall street journal about "open that bottle night", or otbn for short - in case you didn't watch the clip, here's the story -

"We invented OTBN for a simple reason: All of us, no matter how big or small our wine collections, have that single bottle of wine we simply can never bear to open. Maybe it's from Grandpa's cellar or a trip to Italy or a wedding. We're always going to open it on a special occasion, but no occasion is ever special enough. So it sits. And sits. Then, at some point, we decide we should have opened it years ago and now it's bad anyway, so there's no reason to open it, which gives us an excuse to hang onto it for a few more decades. So OTBN -- which is now always the last Saturday in February -- offers a great opportunity to prepare a special meal, open the bottle and savor the memories. "
(Tastings: Savoring a Storied Evening --- The Many Ways to Celebrate Open That Bottle Night; Sediment and Sentiment; Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher; 27 January 2006; The Wall Street Journal)

what a great idea that is, i think. instead of waiting for that special occasion to come, why not make opening that bottle an occasion by itself and enjoy a good sip with the good company of friends? at least this way, we will always remember the occasion in which that special bottle was open, and that's more important.

so mark your calendar - this year's otbn's going to be february 28!

Friday, January 30, 2009

10 things that happened during chinese new year

10. Found our wallet bleeding from giving out laisee money as more and more friends are having kids…

9. Eat, eat and eat; one day I found myself having already had three meals before noon.

8. Watching “Marley and Me”, and while I kept looking at my watch thinking why this crappy movie seems like never end, our friends were down to tears.

7. Eating all kinds of “go’s” in all kinds of places – from church to 17A to in-laws’ place to friend’s home…. Now I felt sick even hearing the words “lor bat go”.

6. Enjoying an afternoon of karaoke and gossips over dinner with friends – see how loving we are!

5. Watching yet another meaningless movie and saw how history (at least the version we knew) was tweaked and twisted to suit the director’s own liking.

4. A couple golf games on our extended days off – we hit the green while most people were already back to work – and knowing that felt real good.

3. Watching my favorite football team won only their sixth game this season against an even more pathetic opponent on TV.

2. Meant to prepare a simple meal for friends at 17A; ended up having 8 dishes for the evening.

1. Felt depressed realizing that there’s no more public holidays in all of February and March, but also excited as our UK vacation is inching closer.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Law of the Garbage Truck

- David J. Pollay

How often do you let other people’s nonsense change your mood? Do you let a bad driver, rude waiter, curt boss, or an insensitive employee ruin your day? Unless you’re the Terminator, you’re probably set back on your heels. However, the mark of your success is how quickly you can refocus on what’s important in your life.

Sixteen years ago I learned this lesson. And I learned it in the back of a New York City taxi cab. Here’s what happened.

I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station. We were driving in the right lane when all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, the car skidded, the tires squealed, and at the very last moment our car stopped just one inch from the other car’s back-end.

I couldn’t believe it. But then I couldn’t believe what happened next. The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started yelling bad words at us. How do I know? Ask any New Yorker, some words in New York come with a special face. And he even threw in a one finger salute! I couldn’t believe it!

But then here’s what really blew me away. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was friendly. So, I said, “Why did you just do that!? This guy could have killed us!” And this is when my taxi driver told me what I now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck™.” He said:

"Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.

So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Believe me. You’ll be happier."

So I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the street? It was then that I said, “I don’t want their garbage and I’m not going to spread it anymore.”

I began to see Garbage Trucks. Like in the movie “The Sixth Sense,” the little boy said, “I see Dead People.” Well now “I see Garbage Trucks.” I see the load they’re carrying. I see them coming to dump it. And like my taxi driver, I don’t take it personally; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.

One of my favorite football players of all time was Walter Payton. Every day on the football field, after being tackled, he would jump up as quickly as he hit the ground. He never dwelled on a hit. Payton was ready to make the next play his best. Over the years the best players from around the world in every sport have played this way: Tiger Woods, Nadia Comaneci, Muhammad Ali, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Michael Jordan, Jackie Robinson, and Pele are just some of those players. And the most inspiring leaders have lived this way: Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

See, Roy Baumeister, a psychology researcher from Florida State University, found in his extensive research that you remember bad things more often than good things in your life. You store the bad memories more easily, and you recall them more frequently.

So the odds are against you when a Garbage Truck comes your way. But when you follow The Law of the Garbage Truck™, you take back control of your life. You make room for the good by letting go of the bad.

The best leaders know that they have to be ready for their next meeting. The best sales people know that they have to be ready for their next client. And the best parents know that they have to be ready to welcome their children home from school with hugs and kisses, no matter how many garbage trucks they might have faced that day. All of us know that we have to be fully present, and at our best for the people we care about.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let Garbage Trucks take over their life.

What about you? What would happen in your life, starting today, if you let more garbage trucks pass you by?

Here’s my bet: You’ll be happier.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Saw this on InfoWorld. It's funny how people would say the most stupid thing, well, partly because we have the luxury of seeing things in retrospect to judge.

The 7 Worst Tech Predictions of All Time

1. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, President of IBM, 1943

2. "Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." - Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946

3. "Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years." - Alex Lewyt, president of Lewyt vacuum company, 1955

4. "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

5. "Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet's continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." - Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995

6. "Apple is already dead." - Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft CTO, 1997

7. "Two years from now, spam will be solved." - Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, 2004