Sunday, August 7, 2016

NYC Pop-up: Birds and Bubbles

I was at ISONO at PMQ a few Sundays ago for a special event to preview their summer menu in collaboration with Chef Sarah Simmons of Birds & Bubbles from New York City, featuring some of their signature dishes, including the fried chicken and champagne pairing (hence the name of the restaurant). I enjoyed the food so much that we decided to return a couple Sunday later, this time, to catch up with some friends over brunch.

The restaurant is part of the dining complex taking up the top two floors of the historical PMQ building. I have not been back since when they first opened a few years back so I am curious to see how they have transformed. I don’t think one could ask for a more comfortable space for a leisure meal with a tastefully designed, spacious dining area and plenty of natural light coming in from the glass roof and huge window on one side.

For weekend brunch, they serve this single 4-course menu – all we need to do is to choose the dessert and drinks. Most of us went for the free-flow champagne option. Overall I thought the dishes were well-executed and menu well thought out, giving us a good sampling of the southern-influenced cuisine that Birds & Bubbles were known back in their hometown.

We started with a platter of “Brunch Pastries” with three types of bite-size goodies coming straight from the oven. “Pop Tart” was their take of the classic supermarket breakfast snack, with sweet jam filling inside a ravioli-like crispy crackers, while the sticky bun reminded me of the cinnamon rolls. My favorite was the coffee cake, which was soft and super fluffy, and full of buttery flavour.

Despite the rather ordinary look of the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, it was mind-blowing. I have not had a better piece of buttermilk biscuit since I moved back to Hong Kong. It came out hot, fluffy and risen just to the right texture – I simply couldn’t stop laying my hands on them. And the filling was excellent too – the scrambled egg and cheddar was soft and delicate and almost runny, and the bacon was fried crisp but not dry. I only wish there are more places making this a regular item on their menu.

Well I had their buttermilk fried chicken a couple weekends back so there’s not so much of a surprise here and they delivered right on par with the one we had then. Chef Sarah and her partner Aaron shared with us the secret of making the perfect fried chicken, with the meat dry-brined, coated with breading then pan-fried, resulting in juicy meat inside and a well-seasoned and crispy skin outside. Each of us were served two pieces – thigh and leg – and they were both delicious. I think they did earn the right to be called the best fried chicken in New York City - definitely a notch above "Finger Licking Good!" At first I did think the portion was a bit small but turned out with everything served it was just right.

We thought the side dish of crispy potato salad was also remarkable. What we thought would be an ordinary potato salad with smearing of mayo was actually a bowl of potato chunks deep-fried to a dark, caramelized crust and dressed with aioli, herbs and fried capers.

My dessert was the chocolate chess pie – served deconstructed with a quenelle of rich chocolate icecream with thin pieces of brown butter tuile, crumbled chocolate cake and a dab of buttermilk ricotta served in a small plate. The house champagne was the same as the one served at the preview event, and I thought it was decent, with a good citrus notes, sharp acidity and a medium finish, great with deep-fried food, I suppose.

When? July 31 2016
Where? Isono Eatery and Bar, 6/F Block B, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Birds and Bubbles Buttermilk-fried Chicken
Drinks? Champagne Legras & Haas Traditional Brut NV

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