Wednesday, April 21, 2010


躬自厚而薄責於人, 則遠怨矣(論語.衛靈公篇)
(Strict on yourself yet forgiving on others will keep resentment away - a word of wisdom from Confucius)

Too often in our lives we became complacent at other people's mishaps or when things that simply don't sound right. Remember the time when you had a terrible dish at a restaurant yet when the waiter came by and asked how everything is, you told him everything's good without hesitation, because you didn't want to upset the chef? How about the time when someone in your team screwed up but you held back your criticism because that person happened to be your best friend/the nicest person on the team or you just want to avoid any embarassment to anyone? Then what happened? Well he screwed up yet again, and again, and again, because no one has told him so.

I am sure there are hundreds of reasons why we chose to be so: because we have been taught it's part of our traditional moral values; because it's the political correct thing to do; because we always want to be the peacemaker; because no one likes the awkwardness that may result when someone speak their minds. But it is a dangerous path really when we start settling for less, in big or small ways, whether to yourself or to others - complacency breeds mediocrity. And once we decided to go down to this trap of mediocrity there's no turning back: soon enough you would think it's okay for a fine-dining restaurant to serve ready meals; soon enough you would think Genki Sushi's better than Sushi Shin because they got more smiley faces in openrice (or Spaghetti House really is the best Italian restaurant in town); soon enough you would think that random Australian Pinot you got at Park N Shop can rival your treasured DRC Grands Echezeaux; soon enough you would think functional constituency can be considered as part of universal and equal suffrage. Well, hope you got the idea.

It's time for us to stop following this downward spiral - by this I am not advocating people to be hypercritical or nitpicking; I am merely saying people should just say what they truly feel without hesitation of being seen as "political incorrect", or be afraid to offend somebody. Trying to play Mr Nice Guy in a bad situation doesn't make it goes away, and by tolerating mediocrity we will eventually turn into one, when we start to think it's acceptable to be mediocre, or "average" became a new word for "good".

So let us all start by telling the waiter the food's bad when you think it is so, or letting people know that Spaghetti House is NOT an Italian restaurant; that terroir does count in making good wines, and there's no place for functional constituency in equal suffrage. Please...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Night at Maison Boulud

Other than Peking ducks, it's actually an evening at a French restaurant that made it the highlight of our brief Beijing getaway during Easter long weekend.

Maison Boulud - owned by the famous NY restauranteur Daniel Boulud (of the newly-crowned Michelin 3-star Daniel, Cafe Boulud and a handful other fine and casual restaurants), has been in operation since 2008, and since then received nothing but great reviews and won every best restaurant awards you can find in Beijing. One can't possibly argue this is the perfect setting for a fine-dining establishment - located in the storied former legation quarter of Beijing just southeast of Tiananman Square, the restaurant occupies the main mansion of what used to be the US Embassy built during the late Qing Dynasty period.

Now the Embassy building has been converted into a vast "luxurious lifestyle complex" (named Chi'enmen 23) featuring a contemporary art gallery, a Patek Philippe flagship store and two other restaurants (one managed by Claudio Sadler from Milan and the other by Hong Kong-based ZEN restaurant group) and quickly became a new Beijing landmark. As we walked up the mansion and through the door just after sunset, we were greeted by the maitre d' and the troupe of eagerly waiting staff inside, as if they were just expecting us. We felt like we were stepping into history as we walked by the reception area with long staircases and chandeliers, and then wowed by the vast and minimalistically-designed dining room. We were seated in the middle of the room and almost immediately we discovered a wide range of clientele in there - at one corner there are a couple of what looks like a young Chinese entrepreneurs sharing a bottle of nice Chateau Margaux, then there's a Western couple having a birthday celebration, and behind us, a casually-dressed Cantonese-speaking tourist family enjoying an evening out.

We were offered the menu with a la carte choices and also a 6-course prix fixe menu, and for this month, the prix fixe menu is a selection of Burgundy dishes along with matching wines (from the same region). The wine list consists of two "books" of red and white/rose choices, with a wide range of selections, some usual and some rather not so. I was already having so much fun flipping through the pages, appreciating its selections. At the end, three of us opted for the prix fixed menu while mrs m went a la carte.

After the delightful amuse bouche of beets with tuna mousse and beef tartare, We set off with the typical dish of Potée Bourguignonne, essentially a vegetable soup with pork. I can't say it's the best I've ever had, but it's nonetheless hearty and flavorful and we certainly appreciated the lightness of the dish as later on we have more filling courses to come. Next up is the rustic Jambon Persille served with country toast, another classic Burgundy fare which we didn't have a chance to enjoy more often prior to this evening. The third course, a ragout of escargot and pigeon, was my favorite dish of the night. The strong flavors and unique textures of escargot, pigeon and crayfish came together for a wonderful symphony of tastes, and nicely presented on a bed of potato mash along with soft-boiled egg and garlic emulsion on top.

Mr Boulud has been known for his different ways to prepare foie gras dishes - including the mouth-watering DB Burger which he created at his NYC bistro that started off the whole gourmet burger frenzy some years ago. This evening, our foie gras was served with roasted young hen with garlic confit as the fourth course. Boeuf Bourguignon is perhaps the most famous Burgundy dish and the one we had almost countless times, but tonight I think we had the best of it all. Beef - looked like it's from the shoulder cut - was cooked just right and in generous portion, and simply couldn't go wrong with onion confit, mushrooms, and lots of bacon lardon - in my opinion the key ingredient for the best boeuf bourguignon. That's a classic. We concluded our evening with the cheese course.

Each course came with its own matching wine, and they were as impressive as the dishes. Not only that, you can really tell they put the effort in designing the menu as both the dish and the wine brought the best of one another. And in no time did we find our wine glasses empty throughout the evening - the wait staff quickly refilled as soon as we put down our glasses. I particularly enjoyed a sip of the big and rich Meursault that came with my ragout dish and the rounded, lingering Vosne Romanee at the end with my cheeses. And service was as best as we have experienced in all of China - attentive, well-trained and well-mannered. We also liked the comfortable settings of the dining room with big couches, easy-listening music, simplistic decor - never felt as uptight as many other fine-dining French restaurants.

We certainly enjoyed our night away from roast ducks, dumplings and buns and indulged ourselves in such beautiful and historical setting with wonderful food, top-notch service and intriguing dining experience. How satisfying.

when? april 4 2010
where? maison boulud, chi'en men 23, beijing
occasion? Easter holiday
menu highlights? Fricassee D' Escargot au Pigeon
(Menu with matching wine selections)
Domaine Michel Gros Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits Blanc 2005
Domaine Stephane Aladame Montagny 1er Cru Cuvee Selection 2006
Domaine Yves Boyer Martenot Meurseult "Les Narvaux" 2007
Domaine Jean Chartron, Bourgogne Aligote Clos de la Combe 2006
Domaine Pierre Amiot, Morey St Denis 2005
Domaine Christian Clerget Vosne Romanee "Les Violettes" 2006

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Thursday, April 8, 2010


Just a sharing about our dining experience at Tam Keung's Speakeasy a few months back - originally it's in chinese but i re-wrote one in english for them. Surprised they actually picked that and put it on the site. Yay!

(Click on the picture above will get you to the article itself)