Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekend Indulgence (Part 1) - Caprice

The old saying of "it never rains but it pours" seems to hold true to us lately - luckily it's not about misfortunes but memorable dining moments that we seem to have experienced in quick succession. I can't think of a better way to wind down a week's "hard" work than (occasionally) indulging ourselves in good food and wine, so here we are on a Friday evening, at 7:30pm sitting in the dining room of this fine restaurant (of whom many said is the best in town). Oh yes, it's also an early celebration to my wife's birthday too.

The décor's elegantly relaxing - it does sound like an oxymoron, but the surroundings do give you a sense of majesty without feeling uptight. Rows of chandeliers hang on the ceiling with modern lighted floor, open kitchen in the center stage of the vast dining room with magnificent harbor view in front... it's almost as much fun looking at people enjoying their food as chefs preparing them and we were glad that our table gave us a little bit of each.

After carefully surveying through the menu, we opted for the 6-course tasting dinner. Not a difficult decision really given everything on the menu seems so attractive. The wine list has a reasonable selection and good variety but seems to be on the pricier end (yet still have a few good value choices available), and the sommelier has been very helpful to sort out my dilemma of wine selection between a few that I think are equally good. Service's friendly but not over the line - you can feel they did genuinely try everything they can to make you feel comfortable.

Then the next few couple hours can only be described as magical. Everything that was brought out from the open kitchen on to our table is nothing short of flawlessness - by everything I meant from the amuse bouche of potato two-ways, to the appetizer of slow-cooked lobster with daikon raviolo and jellified tomato "gazpacho", all the way to dessert and petit fours. My personal favorite is the salmon, which was smoked and then oil-poached in low temperature, and served with rich-flavored sauteed morel mushrooms and a dash of herb coulis on the sides; while CYY loves the juicy and tender suckling pig which was cooked to perfection and served with cabonara orzo pasta (a risotto-like pasta) and sage jus. The sauteed foie gras crusted with poppy seeds with white asparagus is another dish that I like a lot too.

When the cheeseboard was brought in front of us, we can't help but exclaimed at the variety and interesting selections (that means those we have never seen), and the server was very patient in introducing and explaining and recommending. That certainly was another highlight of the evening - we already plotted to return some time later as we enjoyed our cheese course, even just for more cheese and a good bottle of burgundy. There are some restaurants that we keep saying to ourselves that we will return some day but never did, but I am sure (and hope) this is not going to be one of them.

I never believe there's such a thing called an impeccable meal, but I guess our evening at Caprice was as close as it gets. We had yet another reason to say "Thank God It's Friday!"

when? May 14 2010
where? caprice at four seasons hong kong
occasion? CYY's Birthday Dinner - Part 1
menu highlights? Olive oil-poached Smoked Salmon, Morel Mushroom and Fresh Herb Coulis
drinks? Domaine Geantet-Pansiot Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2005

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Indulgence (Part 2) - Oui Private Kitchen

In our mind, there's never too much food, only too little time to enjoy them all. On Sunday, when a friend of ours suggested this private kitchen to celebrate cyy's birthday, of course we found no reasons to turn it down.

Owned by a passionate foodie couple that have a full-time "regular" job Monday to Friday, the place - called Oui - is only open on weekends and for dinner only (provided they didn't get tangled up with their own social commitments on that day) The place where the private kitchen is run is actually their own home and there are no other staff but just 2 of them - husband's the chef, and the wife is the... well sous chef. And it's kinda secretive - try googling for it, or searching on openrice, you will come up empty (trust me - I tried!). For this matter I can't even tell you the address for fear that it will get busted one day thus deprived us the opportunity to return, since their neighbors and landlord don't know what they are running in their home. They purely relied on words of mouth and return business as their marketing channels - a good indication of their quality and consistancy actually, because they have been running just fine for the last few months.

We promptly arrived at 7pm. It's on the third floor of an old apartment building, and the decoration's simple inside - a long table's in the middle of the living room and there are drapes all over the walls - presumably to hide away normal household furniture and stuff. There is also another smaller room that seated a table for two that evening.

Only one menu's available on any given day, and we were provided with the menu beforehand so it can be modified in case there's any food preference or allergy issue. We started off with an amuse bouche of scallop tartar, topped with chives and caviar and served with a tiny piece of toast. A minimalistic dish - in a decent way. It's followed by the lobster and pumpkin bisque which we found equally enjoyable.

However, the salmon rillettes that came after, while colorfully presented, lacks the rich taste I would have expected. I am not quite sure if it's because of the salmon or the way it's cooked, but I reckon using smoked salmon instead, or at least put that into the mixture, would probably have done the trick. We like the fancy presentation of baby asparagus wrapped around the layers of salmon and pear relish - looks like little green fences - but I would personally prefer using thinly-sliced toast instead, thus combining the chef's original idea and the tradition of how rillettes are usually served. The crunchiness of the toast would probably bring an extra dimension to the texture too.

After the palate cleanser of a dollop of star fruit/mint granite served on shot glass, the main dish of quail with porcini risotto came and we all have to agree that it is the highlight of the evening. I always showed special appreciation for something that cannot be easily done at home - and deboning a quail's probably high on that list. Knowing that he has to do all the nitty-gritty preparation work all by himself - unlike a more established restaurant where there are more helping hands - you can imagine how much time he must have spent on making this dish, and the heart and effort spent certainly shows on the excellent taste and presentation. The quail's deboned, stuffed with risotto with porcini and parmesan, and roasted - all bits done to perfection. I also heard good words across the table re the side dish of Gratin Aubergine - too bad eggplant is simply not my cup of tea so I only tasted a tiny bit before gladly passed that to my dinner companions.

By comparison, the dessert seems to have somewhat waned in quality. There aren't many techniques involved in making a red wine-poached pears served with ready-made vanilla icecream, but this one tasted just like pears in simple syrup - the canned type, that is. That's unfortunate, but I am sure this is something that he is capable in improving on.

It's amazing to see Chef Kelvin managed to prepare for us a 4-course dinner from a kitchen not any bigger than ours at home, with just a husband-and-wife team. As a budding private kitchen, Oui certainly excels in its own rights. It's no Caprice obviously - nor did we expect it to be like one - yet we enjoyed our evening no less.

when? May 16 2010
where? oui, somewhere in causeway bay
occasion? CYY's Birthday Dinner - Part 2
menu highlights? Quail stuffed with Porcini Risotto, Gratin Aubergine, with caramel and vinegar sauce
Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2005
Domaine Benjamin Leroux Savigny-les-Beaune 2007
Pegasus Bay Finale Noble Chardonnay 2004