Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Meeting Curtis in Macau

We joined the troupe of friends in becoming huge fans of Chef Curtis Duffy ever since we watched the documentary film about him and his Chicago restaurant, Grace, which shot to worldwide fame since opening in 2012. We can't help but felt touched by his life story and fascinated by his cooking, now considered one of the best of our times.

There's a sense of serendipity when we found out he's visiting Macau for a 3-day stint at The Tasting Room at the same time we were planning for a weekend getaway there as part of our anniversary celebration. So without much hesitation we booked ourselves a table for dinner on a Saturday evening, not wanting to miss another opportunity. (he was in Hong Kong last year cooking at Conrad but somehow it crashed with our schedule then)

We enjoyed our lunch earlier this year at our friend Chef Guillaume's Tasting Room at Crown Towers Hotel, so we certainly didn't mind going back to this elegant dining room for another epic meal. We arrived early for our dinner, not wanting to rush through the courses as we fully anticipated a long evening after glancing through the menu.

Caviar, Meyer Lemon, Brioche, Chives
The 6-course menu consisted of dishes previously served at Grace. Menu was listed by ingredients only, some familiar ones (scallops, beef, cranberry) combined with some not so commonly found or used (hyssop, amaranth, trumpet royale mushrooms). We began with a beautiful dish of creamy custard with quenelle of caviar, meyer lemon confit, brioche bits and chives oil on top. I loved the clean tastes presented in this well-plated course with the rich caviar contrasting with the sharp lemon confit with a slight trace of sweetness. The second course showed great creativity of chef combined with flawless execution by the kitchen team. Here's one perfectly seared Atlantic Sea Scallop served on a large plate, then one side, a thin disc of coconut panna cotta topped with hyssop, plus licorice and tamarind sauces in between, which combined to present a harmonic bouquet of distinct, exotic flavors.

Squab, Duck Confit, Cranberry, Sunflower
The poultry course showed how one could use a small set of ingredients to create a complex dish to wow the customer. It started with a piece of tender squab fillet, barely cooked medium-rare, then next to it, some rich duck confit slow-cooked with the softest texture - an interesting contrast in texture and cooking time. The slices of onion were done two ways - one gently sautéed and one pickled with vinegar - giving them contrasting colors and flavors. Same with the cranberries - they were presented as puree, whole and pate de fruit and each has similar yet different tastes (sweet, sour, or even tartness). While scoring high on the concept and presentation, I thought there's definitely room for improvement in execution, as I found the sauce - prepared with the meat jus - was not hot enough when it's poured on the plate, and as a result, became a bit too salty to my taste and out of place with the rest of the ingredients. What a pity - otherwise it could have been my favorite dish of the evening.

Trumpet Royale Mushroom, Oats, plum, Amaranth
The trumpet royale mushroom got to be the most eye-opening dish of the entire menu. The list of ingredients - mushrooms, oats, plum and amaranth - sound interesting enough already. The trumpet royale - dubbed the king of mushrooms - was not particularly thick but very meaty, pan-fried with a slightly charred "crust", served with oats, dried mushroom powder, a wedge of plum, amaranth and the sweet and crispy candied sea moss. All these crazy, seemingly random ingredients just mixed together to become a beautiful and well-executed vegetarian course.

Miyazaki Beef, Pickles, Dates, Dill
I could almost see the meat course as an ode to the American fast food culture, something that ran deep in everyone's culinary journey. Sans the buns and fries on the side, the cubes of the well-marbled Miyazaki beef with thin slices of cucumber, bits of gherkins, sweet dates, grits and dill puree can as well be described as a deconstructed gourmet burger of sorts in an elaborate presentation. It's so straight forward yet so innovative. I enjoyed this a lot, and wondered why wouldn't anyone thought of this combination before.

Kaffir Lime, Banana, Chocolate, Lemon Balm
A shot of black truffle milkshake was served as pre-dessert, with the creamy dulce de leche and very aromatic shake topped with a thin round of black truffle and a grain of salt. Then the final course was served with much fanfare, with the granita "dome" infused with lemon balm served in a bowl. We were asked to crack open the dome with the back of the spoon, and inside there lied a mixture of chocolate mousse and sliced of banana on top of a brown butter cake (with kaffir lime). It's fun and delicious, though it was a bit anti-climactic as the "filling" was just a bit predictable in my opinion.

With the event organized by The Michelin Guide in collaboration with Robert Parker Wine Advocate, the tasting menu came with special wine pairing. I generally like the choices with unusual selection except the Languedoc red which was way too earthy to go with the clean flavors of the beef main course. A crisp and delicate Burgundy would have been a much better pairing, I reckon. The surprise one I particularly enjoyed was the Richard Kershaw Chardonnay from South Africa. Done in true Burgundian style with full-bodied creaminess, lots of minerals, some unripe, gripping citrus fruit on the palate and very gentle oak. We finished with the Martell XO Cognac served in a sniffer glass as digestif, in a true Macau gambling kingpin manner.

On our way out of the restaurant, we ran into Chef Curtis working at the open pastry kitchen for the dessert, making the ice-dome by rolling a balloon filled with syrups in a bowl of liquid nitrogen. Of course we wouldn't miss the opportunity to collect yet another chef's selfie to our collection, as a great ending to our evening of celebration with impressive dishes by an impressive chef.

More pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157675891563231

When? December 3 2016
Where? The Tasting Room, Crown Towers Hotel, Taipa, Macau
Menu Highlights? "Miyazaki Beef, Pickles, Dates, Dill"
Champagne Perrier-Jouet, Grand Brut NV
2015 Fritz Haag Brauneberger, Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
2013 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria
2013 Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec, Loire Valley, France
2014 Richard Kershaw Chardonnay, Elgin, South Africa
2013 Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres “Jadis”, Languedoc, France
2014 Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti “Bosc d’la Rei”, Piedmont, Italy
2009 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Hungary
Martell XO Cognac, France
The Tasting Room: www.cityofdreamsmacau.com/en/dining/detail/tasting-room
Grace Restaurant: www.grace-restaurant.com

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