Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ringing In the New Year

We rang in the new year of 2017 with several delicious meals in the first week, one of which was at this private kitchen venue far far away in the countryside village of Kam Tin on a Saturday evening. My friend A spotted this place, called Choy Choy’s Kitchen, being named one of the best private kitchens in town, so he started to organize a dinner to check the place out with the group of us and worked out the logistics details with chef-owner Grace Choy beforehand.

What looked like in the middle of nowhere from the map turned out to be a relatively straight forward, 45 minute drive from where we lived, except the last bit of the journey when we tried to locate the exact spot of the private kitchen among the rows of village houses. Anyway, everyone managed to arrive relatively on time and settled in this little house owned by Grace, right by the main road. The place was super cozy, with the well-equipped open kitchen at the back and then a couple tables outside covered by a canopy – that’s about it. It’s a bit tight but not to the point of being uncomfortable.

The other table was already in the middle of their meal when we arrived, so Grace and her two sous-chef/helpers were well underway with the cooking preparation for them, and soon, for us. While we were busy sorting out the wines we brought in and the glasses etc at our table, she brought us a surprise dish to start, the homemade taro cake. It’s one of those traditional dishes we eat during the Chinese New Year, made with julienned taro root mixed with rice flour, dried scallops, shrimps and Chinese sausages, then steamed and pan-fried before serving. It was the first batch she made this season in preparation of the festive season in 3 weeks' time, so she let us have some to try. Usually I am not a fan of taro root but I did enjoy the taste and texture of the dish.

The rest of the dinner was served pretty much home-style, with dishes brought to our table whenever they were ready in no particular order. It’s obvious that she picked excellent ingredients for her dishes, from the Hokkaido scallops in the appetizer, the decent-sized sea cucumber in the soup, to the local chicken used in her signature soy-sauce chicken. Or even the simple plate of sautéed vegetables – it’s based on whatever she could get at the local market on the day, usually provided by the farmers in the neighborhood.

The soy-sauce chicken was definitely my favorite course of the evening. The chicken itself has just the right fat and super tender meat – it was steamed with the constant basting of the homemade sauce giving it the shiny dark color and also the flavor. Bowls of rice just came in handy for us to scoop up the sauce with. We were joking that a bowl of rice and that sauce from the soy-sauce chicken were all we needed for a satisfying meal.

The spicy tiger prawn was another great dish – with the chili sauce loaded with flavors with a hint of sweetness working well with the large tiger prawns which were sautéed with onions. They were finger-licking good, and certainly another dish working well with some more plain rice. There were quite a few of seafood courses - including the baked "Yim Tsai" mud crabs served with sticky rice. I thought the rice could be done a little drier, but the crabs on top more than made up for it with excellent umami taste with minimal seasonings and served in very generous portion.

Chef Grace used local ingredients wherever possible, or at least whatever she found in the nearby market, and she definitely took advantage of the rural setting of her kitchen with many of the fresh produce readily available in the proximity. While the food was more in home-cooking style rather than those sophisticated courses coming from a professional kitchen or well-trained chef, she certainly cooked with heart and it showed in her dishes.

In the middle of the meal, another off-menu dish appeared, which was the pork knuckles stew with salted plum. The seasoning was spot-on with that tangy, savory-sour taste balancing the fatty meat from the knuckles. To finish off, we each had a bowl of homemade icecream with two flavors – cucumber and ginger-milk. I thought they were a bit icy but both were refreshing.

With some of us having to drive home we went light on the wines, starting with a champagne, then a couple red (Pinot and Barolo) and white choices (Riesling and Chablis), each of quite different styles. We finished off with shots of yuzu-cello that I made at home last month – something for a change and worked well as a nightcap, of course, except for our kind designated drivers. But with the gentle wind breezing outside, conversations and laughter hitting through the roof, wine glasses clinking and serving plates wiped clean by all the hungry souls, it’s definitely a perfect way to start the new year with. We were glad to make a trip out to the countryside for this meal of great value and very decent quality prepared by our lovely host.

When? January 7 2017
Where? Choy Choy's Kitchen
Menu Highlights? Signature Soy Sauce Chicken
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee Extra Brut MV
2000 Domain Albert Pic Chablis
2009 Egon Muller "Kanta" Riesling, Adelaide Hills Australia
2011 Bascand Estate Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
2008 Sandrone "Cannubi Boschis" Barolo

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