Friday, December 16, 2011

Quiche Lorraine

When I think of picnic, I think of checkered mat, rattan basket, quiche and champagne. Don't ask me why - I don't even do picnic often. Anyway, a few Saturdays ago, a few friends and I went for a picnic and to check out the farmer's market in Tuen Mun. And this is what I made in the morning to bring along - a quiche lorraine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter Wonderland

I feel like walking into the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters as I was being led into The Chopsticks, "the restaurant that guests never see" at the Mandarin Oriental. I was invited by my gracious friend at MO to join their Christmas Media Party held at their staff canteen aka The Chopsticks this year, and of course, seeing this as a cool opportunity to step into a place not usually open to the public and me being curious to see what's behind the scene at this well-run hotel, I simply cannot refuse such an invitation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Breakfast Panini

Whenever my brother comes home from the States is always good news to me. Well of course that's mainly because I can get to see him and hang out, but more importantly - in a way - he can also help bring me goodies from the States that I cannot get locally. Why need Amazon when there's a personal delivery available?

I saw this cast-iron panini press online a few months ago and actually went around local kitchenware stores to see if they carry it. But either they have no idea what I am talking about, or only have those really bulky electric models (like those George Foreman type). So as my brother's coming back for a short trip last week, I just have Amazon sent it to his home and he brought that back to me. This one made by Lodge, an American company specializes in cast-iron cookware, is just perfect for those who already owned a ribbed grill pan. Now the grill pan can double as a panini maker and open up a whole new set of possibilities for casual cooking.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Above any other - Robuchon au Dôme Macau

Nothing excites us more than trying new restaurants - but this time it's purely coincidental. We have planned this short getaway for a while (courtesy of a complimentary hotel night coupon we got for Banyan Tree Macau) and made dinner reservation at Robuchon Macau as part of our anniversary celebration. The surprise came when a few days before the trip, we realized that the restaurant - as it's known as Robuchon a Galera then - has closed and.... indeed moved to the new location on the rooftop dome of the Grand Lisboa hotel next door. Even the name has changed - now it's called Robuchon au Dôme. That means we got this opportunity to try it in its first weekend of business - even before its official opening gala dinner. Wow aren't we lucky.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beyond Impeccable - Caprice

When it came to celebration of some sort, we have the tendency of trying out "new" restaurants (by new we either meant one that are newly opened or simply places that we have never been). However, this year around with nothing particularly interesting coming in sight, we decided to go back to the one that we had high regards previously - the place i vividly recalled having an "impeccable meal" last year.
We have certainly built up our expectation over the dinner at Caprice, from our past experience and from what we heard from others over the years (and from the accolades it has earned, of course) This time, we left it entirely to the chef to decide on our menu and our evening still turned out to exceed every bit of what we expected and more.

We started off with Milk Fed Veal and Caviar Tartare with Taleggio Panna Cotta and Braised Sweetbreads (after an amuse bouche of brioche with spinach and white bean mousse). This almost can be counted as two courses - as the tartare and caviar came in one dish while the panna cotta was served on the side in a separate bowl. The distinct flavors of the veal and caviar came out as a winner while the panna cotta serves as a perfect accompaniment with its creamy texture and softed taste - what a balancing act.

I would not consider our second course - Warm Duck Foie Gras and Apple Tatin in Cider Sauce - a creative combination, but it's cooked perfectly and with "picturesque" presentation - seared foie gras and the apple tatin put side by side in the middle with green apple bits and jelly "dotted" around the plate.

Our third course was Tourteau Crab Tiramisu with Fruity Marinade and Tandoori Spices. If I have to name one favorite dish of the night, this would be my choice. Can't go wrong with crabs with layers of with hint of sweetness (from that of the tropical fruit coulis in the middle and mascarpone on top) and spices. And so colorfully presented that I was in awe just by glancing at such beauty. Absolutely sensational.

Langoustine Ravioli with Veal Sweetbreads and Chanterelle Mushrooms in Shellfish Bisque. One light dish was followed by a richer one. Strictly speaking it's not a ravioli dish per se - pieces of cooked round pasta was placed on top and bottom of a poached langoustine (cooked sous vide?). It's served on a bed of a sauce with bits of chanterelle mushrooms, tomatoes and lobster bisque. The sauce basically went well with almost everything - very nicely done. Once again, the whole dish was a great combination of classical ingredients and cooking.

Our main course was Roast Wild Duck with Endive Fricassée, Sweet Red Cabbage and Celery Root Purée in Stout Sauce. That's one of the seasonal items on the menu. The wild duck's as tender, juicy and flavorful as you can ever imagine. Sauce's made from the pan jus plus stout (as in Guiness) slowly reduced to almost syrup consistancy. Not a noticeable trace of alcohol taste but the wheaty flavors from stout greatly enriches the texture and flavors of the whole thing. An elegant interpretation of this rustic dish, and went well with the Pinot Noir we picked.
Cheese Platter. Upon the recommendation of our friend csy, we asked to have a wine-cheese pairing arranged for us. Except the first cheese and wine pairing that I can't remember (some kind of light sheep milk cheese with a Loire white), the rest were (in the order from light to rich) Mimolette with Hoegaarden, Aged Comte with Vin Jaume, Mont D'or with Morey St Denis, and Roquefort with Banyul. Of course, the rich, 40-month aged comte and the creamy Mont D'or that just came right in season - both signature cheeses of the restaurant at this time of year - need no further introduction, but my favorite pairing went to the combination of mimolette with hoegaarden. The nutiness of the cheese couple with the almost floral flavor of a Belgium white beer just worked perfectly somehow. Other wines were artfully matched with cheeses from the same region and of complementary tastes.
Dessert: Lemon Myrtle, Honey Sablé and Calisson Ice Cream. A citrus-based, refreshing dessert was exactly what we needed after our 5 cheeses and 5 wines. Not something technically difficult to make, I should say, but it's simply delicious.

The week before the dinner, I was thinking that everything would probably taste ordinary for the rest of the week in anticipation of this meal on the weekend. Unfortunately I was quite right - with such fine dinner in mind, nothing else came even close.

when? October 15 2011
where? Caprice, Four Seasons Hotel, Central, Hong Kong
menu highlights? Tourteau Crab Tiramisu with Fruity Marinade and Tandoori Spices

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Baked Scallops in Orange Cup

Scallop is perhaps my favorite food ingredient – it’s full of umami flavors, versatile – you can basically do everything with it, be it steamed, roasted, pan-seared, baked, and can go with almost everything, and so easy to cook.

Well this is a dish that I came up with using various components that I have cooked before with some success. The end-result is an interesting ensemble of distinct tastes and textures and can be nicely presented too.

Baked scallops with Saikyo Miso and Butternut Squash Foam in Orange Cup 

Recipe(for 6)


12 scallops – I like those sashimi-grade scallops from Hokkaido that can be found in major Japanese supermarket in town. It came with different sizes (and priced accordingly). The one I used this time is a medium-sized one (4S).

6 oranges – Ideally I would use Yuzu from Oita – the place we visited last month – but it’s almost impossible to find outside of Japan. So I used small oranges instead (mandarin oranges probably work too)

For Saikyo Miso: (I adopted the recipe from The Nobu Cookbook)
¾ Cup Mirin
2 Cups White Miso Paste
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

For Butternut Squash Foam:
Half a butternut squash (around 1 pound) – remove the seeds
Half a stick butter
¼ cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and Black Pepper to taste


1. First, cut off the top of the oranges and save them as “lids” for garnishing. Hollow out the oranges carefully and set aside.
2. Dice up about ½ cup of oranges and make ¼ cup of fresh orange juice from what you have hollowed out.
3. To make Saikyo Miso , bring sake and mirin to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, boil for an additional 20 seconds to evaporate the alcohol. Turn the heat down to low and add the miso paste, mixing with a wooden spoon until all miso has dissolved and there’s no lumps. Turn the heat up again and add the sugar while stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. Remove the heat once the sugar’s fully dissolved. Cool to room temperature. (You will end up more miso sauce than enough - put the extra into the refrigerator and it can be used as a marinate for fish later)

4. Add the diced oranges and orange juice into the Saikyo Miso sauce. Mix them together well.

5. To make butternut squash foam. Preheat oven to 400F (190C). Coat the halved butternut squash in butter and place in a baking dish. Roast butternut squash for 1 hour until soft and caramelized. Spoon out the flesh into the blender, add chicken stock and puree. Pour puree and heavy cream into a saucepan, stir with a wooden spoon and gently reheat – don’t boil. Sieve through the creamy puree into the espuma gun (make sure there’s no lumps in the mixture) Inject one NO2 cartridge and shake.
6. Turn down the oven to 350F (175C). Cut scallops in half, season gently with salt and pepper, and portion 2 scallops in each orange cup. Pour saikyo miso sauce into orange cup to ¾ full (and make sure all scallops are covered).

7. Put orange cup into oven and bake for 15 minutes (without the lids).
I used the iSi Thermo Whip so the foam can be kept warm for a short period of time 
8. Give the espuma gun a few additional shakes and splash out the foam into a bowl. Spoon the foam onto each of the orange cup in abundance – I don’t care if it overflows.

9. Serve warm with the reserved lids by the side as garnish.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

one night, 3 restaurants, 8 food fanatics

one night, 3 restaurants, 8 food fanatics. you know that means it's going to be a blast. the beautiful friends at i love hk were kind enough to invite us to a special sneak preview of the Festival of Wine event that is to be held later this month. Hopping around in the style of txikiteo - a Basque tradition of bar crawl which involves plenty of drinks and food - we had the chance to sample dishes and wines from three participating restaurants while seeing new and familiar faces and enjoying the company of some really interesting people in the social media scene.

we started our journey at goccia, a cozy italian restaurant on top of wyndham over a glass of prosecco and the appetizer of smoked swordfish roll. chef fabrizio at goccia is well-trained in southern italian cuisine with focus on seafood, and it certainly showed. our spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce and sicilian red prawns was nicely done, and the baked red gurnard fillet in fish soup reduction with a quenelle of florentine panzanella is refreshing and well-balanced. The dishes also went well with the umbrian chardonnay and montepulciano di abruzzo.

Just when we were about to leave for our next hop, Chef Fabrizio brought out 2 gigantic dessert platters to us to share - as a surprise - and he certainly saved his best to the last. I particular love the dark chocolate and white chocolate "cigars" - one wrapped in mint ("after eight" style) and the other in hazelnut gelato. Oh god i am such an icecream junkie.

feeling half full already from a 4 mini-course dinner at Goccia, we made our second pit stop at la perouse in the building next door. It's a quiet restaurant with a large terrace with an unobstructed view of the mid-levels - a rarity in the area and perfect for outdoor parties. well, this time we were seated inside, and were served a grilled baby rack of lamb served with pan-fried potatoes and mixed veggies as sides, and paired with a young medoc red. of course, sometimes safe choice doesn't hurt though i was expecting something more "out of the box". It's nonetheless decent - put it this way, i don't usually eat lamb but I had a taste of it then finished the dish.

It's already 10:30pm by the time we walked down along wyndham after la perouse, but we were not ready to call it a night quite yet - so we finished off at robata zawazawa with our dessert and cocktails. At a quiet corner down the stairs on wyndham and in the proximity above LKF, on the outset Zawazawa looks to be the kind of place perfect for a last-stop drink after a long night out. As we walked in and up the stairs, we were immediately attracted by the retro decor with hanging red lanterns from the high ceiling - reminded me of Gonpachi at Roppongi except in a much smaller scale, and rightly so since they are both by the same designer!

Our dessert of the night is houji-cha panna cotta with kuromitsu syrup and rice pops. the smoothness of the Japanese tea-infused panna cotta combined with the super-sweet kuromitsu (a dark sugar cane syrup) and crispy rice pops formed such a sublime flavor and texture not like something i would have expected from a robata place. Wow! And I must say the cocktails store owner Kenji-san prepared for us were equally stunning.

bummer i forgot to bring my regular camera so picture quality wasn't that good, but my fellow bloggers AM and PPS did a much better job to capture our moments with their pictures and words.

one night, 3 restaurants, all wonderful food and drinks. you can't ask for a tuesday night better than this.

when? September 6 2011
where? Goccia + La Perouse + Robata Zawazawa, Wydham Street, Central
menu highlights?
From Goccia: Spaghetti with Sicilian Red Prawns and Spicy Tomato Sauce
From La Perouse: Grilled Baby Lamb Chops with pan-fried tomatoes and baby carrots
From Robata Zawazawa: Houji-cha Pudding with kuro mitsu honey and pon rice pop

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Salad with Scotch Eggs

My confession: this is hardly an original dish, though to some it may appear to be that way. Hosting back-to-back dinners at home posed quite a challenge to me - especially this is already our fourth in August. Have literally pulled all my tricks up my sleeve trying to do something different every time and to make things more complicated, this time I got children to accommodate. Not so much of a concern in terms of ingredients or ways of cooking, but I want to keep the prep time short so our younger guests won't be too bored sitting around the table overhearing parents chit-chatting while waiting for the food. And this is what I came up with for the salad/appetizer course: mixed greens with scotch eggs and beetroot puree, based on something i tasted/learned/watched recently.
A couple of months ago I was introduced to the wonderful world of scotch eggs by my friend Jen, who made a marvellous, "Asian-influenced" version using local minced pork and Vietnamese spices in one of our "foodies" gatherings. Absolutely fascinated by the combination of sausage/pork and boiled eggs deep-fried together, and even more amazed that the British was able to come up with such fine culinary invention. (at least according to Wikipedia)

The rest of the salad ensemble was inspired by a Masterchef Australia episode when they made a "de-constructed" meatlloaf burger with beetroot feta dip. It's prepared to be a main dish instead of salad, and use this fancy jamon wrapped meatloaf as their main attraction but I adopted some of the techniques and styles with minor modifications to suit my taste. That plus the use of Scotch eggs instead. Anyway, here's what I did:

Mixed greens with scotch eggs and beetroot puree (serves 8)

Pork 300g (or 1/2 catty if you are buying from HK wet market)
4 eggs + one additional for egg wash
Cherry Tomatoes 200g (around 2 for each person - I used both yellow and red types purely to make the dish looks nicer)
Extra virgin olive oil
White Wine Vinegar
Salt and Peppers (thought that's a given)
Dried thyme and oregano
Bread Crumbs
Greek Yoghurt 250g
Fresh Beetroot
Handful of flour
Mixed greens - one I used is a mix of arugula, baby romaine and herbs bought from the supermarket.

Minced pork
For pork, I followed Jen's advice to ask for the collar butt (上肉) from the butcher and mince it at home myself - it's just the right amount of fat and lean meat. If you don't have a food processor at home I am sure your butcher's more than happy to mince the meat for you - won't make a difference. After mincing, I put salt, peppers and dried herbs in and mix everything together. Put in 2 teaspoons of bread crumbs as well and mix. I like a little texture in the minced meat.

Soft Boil Eggs
If you leave the eggs in refrigerator, bring it to room temperature first before boiling. Put the eggs into a pan, cover with water and boil. I wasn't too fussy on the temperature this time, and I just left the eggs boil for around 4 minutes after water started bubbling. Put the boiled eggs in ice water bath then peel. They should be slightly undercooked - the way I like it - so be careful when peeling. (but since we are coating the egg later on it's not the end of the world if the peeled eggs don't have a smooth surface) Set aside.

Beetroot Puree
Preheat oven to 190C. Wrap beetroot in alumninum foil and bake for 1.5 hours. Peel the skin, cut it to manageable size and put it in blender. (be careful handling the cooked beetroot as the color easily stain your hand or clothes - use a glove) Add greek yoghurt in and puree until smooth. Season to taste. Spoon mixture into a piping bag and set aside. (can make it a day in advance and keep in the refrigerator, i suppose) When use, make a small cut at the tip of the piping bag - you don't really need a specific piping tip.

Making Scotch eggs
On a flat surface, lay a piece of cling film and drop a spoonful of minced pork on it. Flatten it with your hand to make a circle of around 10cm in diameter. That's your wrap. Roll the egg in flour and then put the egg in the middle of the minced pork wrap. Then slowly use your hands to mold and form a ball. Don't spread the meat too thin or it won't cover the egg after cooked (as the meat will shrink a bit when cooked) Brush the minced pork-egg ball with egg wash and dust with plenty of bread crumbs. Repeat for all 4 eggs.

Heat the oil in a pan and start deep-frying - make sure oil at least cover half the egg. You would need approx. 4 minutes per side and don't burn your eggs. You don't want your meat all browned in the surface yet undercooked inside - that's what I did on my second try. (Ah!) Use a kitchen towel to remove the excess oil on the egg when done. Set aside until ready for assembly.

Whisk together olive oil and white wine vinegar to make a vinaigrette for the salad. Add some lemon juice if you want. It's really up to you. And some salt and sugar to taste

Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette and divide equally on the plates. Cut the egg in half - I was told that using a fishing line to cut would yield the best result - and placed in the middle. Likewise, halve the tomatoes and put around the plates. Pipe a few dollops of beetroot puree freely as well - there's no limitation how you want to dress up your dish. To finish, drizzle olive oil across and grind salt and pepper to taste.
Well, I am no salad lover but I think this is one I can live with. And it certainly looks harder to cook than it really is.

Oh, btw, I guess I should make a disclaimer on the recipe - I tend to make adjustment as I go along and these recipes are not tested (I am only trying to retrace what I did by memory), so follow at your own risk.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Homemade Ice Cream

Nothing beat summer heat like a scoop of ice cream. Anyone who came to our place for dinner in the past year probably has tried one of the home-crafted versions. It's so easy to make, can prepare in advance and the variations are limitless. Couple weeks ago I even tried making a savory ice cream dish (here's the gazpacho with grainy mustard ice cream, and how about the sausage ice cream I have attempted in the cocktail sausage cookout?)

If you have a sweet tooth like me, ice cream machine is one of those irreplaceable kitchen gadgets, and it's surprisingly easy to make. Of course you can follow one of the many recipes you can find online, but after a while, you can easily live without following anyone and just start create your own formula.

To me, one of the keys for a yummy ice cream is to get the cream-milk-sugar proportion right - the rest are just minor details. What I usually do is roughly 1.5 cup of whipping cream, 0.5 cup of milk, and 0.5 cup of sugar. Of course you don't have to follow this by the book - say if you are making honey ice cream, you would probably need to reduce your sugar. For eggs, I usually do 2-3 egg yolks and I tend to use less for lighter flavors (like that of fruit-based ones) and more for stronger ones. Feel free to play around the cream-milk ratio too to alter the taste and texture, but if I were you I wouldn't go less than half cream and half milk.

Some people swore that one "secret" critical success factor for a creamy ice cream is a dash of salt to the custard before churning. If I remember I usually follow that, but to be honest, I saw little difference even if I forgot. I know as a fact that salt does keep the ice cream from getting too frozen - something I have learnt when I made salty caramel ice cream, but I am just not sure how much a pinch of salt would have helped to that effect.

Anyway, to make long story short, here's what I usually do: I will start beating sugar and egg yolks together in a bowl, while heating up the cream and milk in the pan. Just before bubbles starting to form in the cream-milk mixture, I pull the pan off the stove and pour it into the sugar and egg yolks, which should form a thick pale mixture. Do it slowly (in a steady stream) to avoid egg yolks from getting cooked and curdled up. Give the mixture a good whip before putting it back to the pan to steep the custard further over low heat. I usually do it for a good 10 minutes until the custard start coating on the wooden spoon (probably takes longer if you use more milk) Then sieve it through into a bowl and chill for about 2 hours (up to a day).

After that the rest are easy, pull the chilled custard out, stir it with a spoon and then pour into the ice cream machine. Do what your ice cream maker instruction told you and then put the frozen custard in an airtight container, and in about 3 hours, your ice cream's ready to serve.

Okay, I forgot the part when you need to add the flavors. Well if you are doing a fresh vanilla, put the scrapped pod into the warm custard before it's reheated. Discard the pod before you chill. Same with coffee or tea - you want to give the custard time to take in the flavors in heat. If you do vanilla extract - which I admit I would sometimes do - you can put that in any time you want - it wouldn't make a difference. If you do fruit flavors, puree whatever fruit you are doing and mix that in before you chill your custard. Nuts and other tidbits must be put in just before your ice cream maker stopped churning, so is any alcohol you want to add in.

Hope I didn't miss any step. And I am leaving you with the latest one I have made: affogato with espresso ice cream. (the kind of dessert I would want for every lunch so as to get me through the rest of the day) Enjoy! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A couple dinners of hanger steak

Hanger Steak is not an obvious cut of beef to fall in love with. As far as steak is concerned, most people may opt for the more tender and juicier pieces like sirloin, ribeye or tenderloin, but I personally enjoyed the strong meaty flavors and a touch of chewy texture with a well cooked hanger steak. To me it feels more masculine to have a hanger steak than a cute little filet mignon - just a random thought.

According to Wikipedia, hanger steak (also known as onglet in french) is derived from the diaphragm of a steer (shown on the above picture courtesy of Wikipedia), and it's often called "Butcher's Steak" because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale. It's said to "hang" from the diaphragm hence the name. I was doing some research online about it recently out of curiosity, and surprised that I can't find a "proper" Chinese name for it. Many restaurants called this "牛胸外膜" (literally means diaphragm outside of ribs) which to me sounds more like an anatomical term than sexy food. Apparently it's picking up in popularity among teppenyaki restaurants recently but I don't think the name do the steak much justice in boosting its sales.

Well there are two important keys in cooking hanger steak right -  one is to make sure all the silver membrane lined next to the meat is completely removed. That's unbreakable and often the reason why many people found the meat too chewy. It's not a hard task to do yourself at home but most often your butcher will do that for you, especially when they are asked nicely. Two is to make sure the steak is served well-seared on the outside, and medium-rare inside. Yes you still want a somewhat charred surface to bring out the best of flavors but once it's overcooked, it tastes like beef jerky. For me, I can even live with part of the meat still raw when served. So it's best marinated then broiled in the oven, cooked on a barbecue, or simply seared in a pan. Sous vide works as well if you have the equipment and prefer that be a bit delicate.

There are many ways to serve hanger steak - do it with pomme frites just like how a typical Parisian bistro often do, put it in salad with arugula or spinach and a light vinaigrette, or even make a sub sandwich as a quick lunch option. Better yet, how about a good home-made fajitas served on a sizzling plate with the usual condiments and warm tortilla?

The one hanger steak dish I particularly enjoyed recently is at this new casual Italian restaurant in Central. Marinated, seared and served with a dollop of caramelized onion aioli, the meat's amazingly tender yet flavorful, just what you would expect from a hanger steak. Not melt in your mouth type tender but of the right texture, and the rustic aioli with a hint of sweetness is the perfect complement to the meat. We tried a number of impressive pasta dishes that evening - and by the way, all of them are homemade and prepared with a fusion sort of touch using local ingredients with authentic Italian cooking, but the hanger steak was still my favorite part of the meal. Hats off to Chef Vinny who knew his meat well and did a marvelous job with many of his one-of-a-kind dishes served at this chic restaurant.

Last weekend a couple friends came by for dinner and wine and I did a similar dish for them. This time I sweat some shallots, pour a cup or two bourbon and add a bit of soy sauce in a saucepan, heat that up a little bit to melt the sugar I put in. Then I used the mixture as marinate for the steak for an hour or so in the refrigerator. The marinate was then reduced in heat to syrupy texture and became the sauce for the steak.

The steak was pan-seared in a red-hot cast-iron pan for 3 minutes on each side then I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and left that in a pre-heated oven (110C) for 10 minutes to make sure inside's warm as well. I sliced the steak real thin and on the sides I made a caramelized onions, and use slow-roasted tomatoes I did overnight to go with it. Quick and easy, and went well with a couple vintage Bordeaux we opened. Of course not as good as the one we had at the restaurant, but then it's more chilled and relaxed dining at home (and not to mention, no corkage!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

San Sebastian - Arzak

(I suddenly found this sitting in my draft folder and realise this never made it to the blog - so here you are, some 6 months late)

As self-proclaimed food lovers, it's hard not to fall in love with Basque Country. From pintxos bar hopping along meandering streets to fine cuisine at many Michelin-starred restaurants around (the region boasted the most Michelin stars per capita in the world), there's never lack of choice all year round. That plus the abundance of fresh and unique ingredients from the sea and from the land... it didn't take long for us to go crazy about this place.

After 2 amazing days at Bilbao including lunch at Chef Eneko Atxa's Azurmendi, we arrived at San Sebastian with the sole purpose of making a full "frontal attack" of Basque cuisine. And among the many fine restaurants in town, Arzak is perhaps the most famous and arguably the most interesting of all. This family-owned restaurant (currently in its 4th generation) has been rated 3 Michelin stars since 1989 and was consistently selected as the top restaurants in the world. Behind the kitchen is the father-daughter team of Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, whom we had pleasure to meet and chat during our dinner.

We purposely stayed in a mansion within walking distance to the restaurant so we saved ourselves the hassle of driving or hailing a cab after the meal. It's a comfortable 15 minute walk from our hotel to the restaurant. As we arrived and being led into the dining room, we were surprised at how modern the interior is - well we always have this presumption of an old rustic building (given the restaurant is 100 years old) but obviously we were wrong. Only a handful of tables in the main dining room - quiet and intimate.

Our tasting menu consists of some 16 dishes - some more of a bite-size portion but a few are quite substantial - we did our pintxos run the afternoon before coming to dinner, not a good idea as it turned out, given the sheer amount of food being served at Arzak. It's hard to describe accurately every single dish so I won't even bother to attempt, and for most dishes I can't even tell what exactly they were to this date - with names like "Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea" on the menu didn't help much either. But among the many courses we had, I was most impressed at a dish called  "Egg with earth tremor" - we have had the most amazing egg dishes while in Spain and this is no exception.

Not all the dishes worked to my liking though I should say - for example, the low-tide monkfish was served with sides that was shaped in the form of sea shells and stars, which I think was too playful, texture too strange and taste too bland. Fun to look at, but not too enjoyable to taste, to be honest. But all in all I love how they took advantage of the many seasonal ingredients found in the region and traditional cooking methods and turn the food into innovative culinary creations that were presented beautifully.

Dessert is another area that totally blew our mind off - chocolate in the form of a marble, basil ice cream with chocolate that shaped like a grape on top of strawberry "soup" (soup and chocolate "between the vineyards"), the dramatic mead and fractal fluid - red syrup was dropped into a plate of clear liquid to form the fractal shape before being poured onto the custard, and lastly, petit fours served in the form of a toolbox with screw caps and nails... With four courses of dessert in the tasting menu, if you happen to come here, my advice is pace yourself for that and you won't regret.

Another day, another fine meal. Wish we could stay here longer.

when? February 9 2011 (Spain Trip Day 6 )
where? Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastian - Donostia, Spain
drinks? Lagar de Cerveza Albarino 2009
menu highlights? Egg with Earth Tremor, Soup and Chocolate "between vineyards"

You can also check out more pics on Flickr:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tiramisu - my foolproof recipe

If I am asked which is the one dish that can win a crowd over yet so easy to make at home, tiramisu has to be top of my list. Creamy and sweet mascarpone combined with coffee-soaked ladyfingers - there's simply no way you will make it wrong.
The recipe I have been (loosely) following was first given to me by a friend and I have kept this since college years. Give it a try at home, and I swear this will become the signature dish of your home kitchen, no matter how skillful you were in cooking.


1 lb mascarpone cheese (approx the whole large tub you see in the supermarket)
3 eggs, separated
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

1-2 packages lady fingers
strong coffee (i tried everything from instant coffee to starbucks to mocha press - to be honest it makes little difference)
whisky, rum or brandy (many recipes called for marsala or kahlua, but I usually just pour whatever i can find in my liquor tray. So far cognac is my favorite since I like it strong)


1. Beat together mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla essence in a bowl. Taste and add sugar if you want sweetness. Don't forget that the lady fingers are already sweet.
2. Beat the egg whites to peaks (this takes a lot of time or else a great electric whisk) and fold into cheese mixture.
3. Mix around 1/2 cup of coffee with around 1 1/2 tbsp of whisky (you might want to taste this to suit yourself). Dip lady fingers lightly in liquid and place a layer in a flat dish. (what I do is dip the ladyfinger in the liquid on one side for a quick second then place it upside down so the dipped side is on top. you don't want it too soggy)
4. Pour a layer of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers.
5. Repeat process, ending with a layer of the mascarpone. You should have 2 layers of lady fingers and 2 layers of cheese at least (Depends on size of dish - i would recommend using a not too large one)
6. If you run out of the coffee/whisky mix before you finish the dessert, repeat the mixture.
7. Refrigerate overnight to set. Strain cocoa powder on top before serving.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Worth a detour - Mission Chinese Food in Shenzhen

We are the kind of people that are quite willing to go the distance in search of good food but this one is still quite a stretch by all means. After accepting an invitation from our foodie friend j for this one-night only dinner event north of our border served by a visiting kitchen crew from Mission Chinese Food of San Francisco, I admit there was this moment when we wondered whether it's worth such a detour and hassle. With the original invitation email asking us not to publicize the event before it happened, and the address will only be provided in the morning of the event, we wondered whether this is just a cheap stunt or worse, a scam.

Anyway, we departed from Hong Kong at 4pm on this one Sunday afternoon and one long bus journey, 2 border checkpoints and a taxi ride later, we arrived at a random residential neighborhood in west of Shenzhen at an elegantly-decorated restaurant, where this special dinner event was held.

We did do a little due d beforehand trying to get a better idea what we are getting into. Mission Chinese Food is the brainchild of 2 talented restaurateurs, Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint. It's a "pop-up restaurant" housed within another old-school Chinese restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District, each shared a common dining room with separate menus and separate chefs. Since its opening in 2010, MCF has attracted quite a following with its creative (and somewhat twisted, mostly in a better way) interpretation of Americanized Chinese food, not only among local diners, but critics as well - San Francisco Chronicle named it a Top 100 Restaurant in San Francisco this year and its chef Danny Bowien a rising star. Mark Bittman of New York Times raved about it in his column.

For a good part of June, the entire kitchen crew closed down their shop in San Francisco and ventured around Asia - made their way to Tokyo, Beijing, and then Shenzhen/Hong Kong. Towards the end of their journey, they borrowed a corner of this nice restaurant in Shenzhen (owned by a family friend of theirs) and played host to this one-time event with a selected group of invited guests. Our friend J happened to receive the invitation and she's so kind to ask us (and 6 of her other friends) to join. This is how this event came along and how we ended up here. Well, a pop-up restaurant from San Francisco doing this one-time secretive pop-up dinner event in Shenzhen... hope you are still with me by now.

Anyway, our meal began soon after everyone arrived at around 6-something. The dinner started on a delightful note - the "Nobu-esque" geoduck sashimi served with a piece of ginger-infused cantaloupe and a dash of tomato-flavor is just the perfect summer appetizer I need. It set the tone of what MCF is all about - the dish is clearly Asian-inspired but with a unique, creative touch that is unlike everything we have had before. 

The sashimi's followed by steamed eggs served in a cappuccino cup. This is my favorite dish of the evening - the eggs are steamed chawanmushi-style, with chicken confit at the bottom and a thin piece of scallop and green apple on top, and they are all bathed in a superior broth infused with chrysanthemum. Refreshingly flavorful - the well-cooked confit plus the strong flavor of the broth made this a standout against the traditional version.

After that we were served with 2 main courses. The prawn dish was met with mixed comments across our table. Fresh prawns are salt-baked by the table side, and served with sauteed razor clams and mushrooms. I found it a bit uneasy to see the prawns being "buried alive" - literally - in piping hot salt bath in front of us, but I like its taste and appreciate how the chef tried to contrast the texture and flavors of prawns and razor clams. But the prawns are a little bit undercooked and some might find it a bit too salty to their liking. The duck "3-ways" is decent - duck confit was wrapped in a "money-bag" - a egg flour crepe as the wrap with pulled duck meat inside, along with seared duck breast and deep-fried duck tongue. I would probably prefer the wrapped duck confit be a bit smaller and deep-fried but overall it's still good.

Tonight's soup dish is a fish roulade wrapped with chicken liver in a ginseng broth on a bed of barley. I can't personally taste much of the ginseng flavor, and I found the fish a bit tough and less the delicacy I would expect. Nonetheless I found the combination of flavor and texture very interesting.

Two desserts were served at the end of the meal. First is a glass of sauternes infused with chrysanthemum and mango steen. I am sure wine connoisseurs may shrugged at the attempt to mess up their "heavenly drop" with extra flavorings, but we all thought this is nicely executed and well-balanced. The last course - the cornmeal cake - has more of a southern flavor (of the States, not China) than anything else. It's soaked with cognac and served with chinese pears, whipped cream and again, a hint of chrysanthemum flavor. To me, it's of just the right sweetness, and I wonder how they would match up against the sticky corncake commonly found in everyday Northern Chinese cuisine.

Yes, it's an awfully long journey home after we finished our meal, but with eye-opening food, good company and this being a one-of-a-kind experience, we felt it's worth the detour.

when? June 12 2011
where? Capistrano, Futian District, Shenzhen
menu highlights? Steamed Eggs: Scallops, Apples, Chrysanthemum

You can also check out more pics on Flickr: