Thursday, May 3, 2018

Some Like It Hot

Just before the Labor Day holiday a few days ago, I took time off doing preparation in the kitchen (more on that later, I am sure) and popped over to Lan Kwai Fong for a quick dinner at Jinjuu, specifically, for the special menu in collaboration with Tabasco as part of their 150th Anniversary celebration.

Well, to me, Tabasco is almost like a forgotten bottle hidden somewhere in my fridge. When you need it you must have it since there’s no exact substitute (unless it’s some rare artisanal hot sauce that people smuggled back from the States or Mexico), but most of the time, all I need was just a few drops here and there in some of the dishes. So I am curious to see how Chef Judy Joo, the chef-patron of her namesake restaurant, cooked up a storm using this small red (or green for the green pepper flavor) bottle in most of the dishes in the special menu, plus a few drinks using Tabasco (and yes, there were drinks made with Tabasco other than the Bloody Mary)

Given our dinner fell on the holiday eve, the restaurant was fairly packed and people were in more relaxed mood. We felt we were dining under the starlight overseeing the busy street downstairs as they opened up the window next to the dining area to let in the fresh air and the live music from the street. I was a bit taken aback when I saw the long menu, and secretly wondered how on earth can we finish all those dishes, but at the end, surprisingly we wiped most of the dishes cleaned (with only little leftover to take home with).

The menu theme was Tabasco, but it didn’t mean all we had was spicy food. We did start with a few milder dishes. The tuna tartare was colorful and packed with flavor, with dices of raw tuna mixed with mustard-miso vinaigreet and topped with the lotus root crisps for the added texture. Then it’s a pair of mandoo, or Korean dumplings which were the restaurant’s specialty dishes. Of the two, I prefer the steamed pork one for the more balanced flavor (the other being wild mushroom with black truffle paste).

Then we kicked up a notch with a pair of small plates prepared with Tabasco sauce. The Tteok Bokki, or spicy Korean rice cake stew was served with tempura vegetables, squid balls and gochujang Tabasco Chipotle sauce. I felt the addition of the Tabasco Chipotle sauce to the already-spicy Korea gochujang paste definitely brought up the level of heat, but to just the right level for me. I definitely preferred that than the second dish, which was sautéed king prawn with kimchi, onions, chilli, tomatoes and Tabasco Habanero sauce – not that it’s not tasty, but to me it’s just a tad bit too spicy, especially with the hot sauce well infused into the prawn giving it a spicy aftertaste.

We were eagerly looking forward to the Korean Fried Chicken because their version was one of the best in town. And this time, it’s spiced up with more Tabasco sauce, this time the green sauce in the glaze. The glaze was more sweet than spicy, which reminds me of those kung pao dishes in those traditional Chinese takeaway places, but it worked well with the tender pieces of chicken with the slightly crunchy batter. On the side we also had a bowl of kimchi (not shown in the picture above), this time marinated with Tabasco sauce rather than going through a long fermentation. It retained much of the fresh cabbage flavor with a good kick of the Tabasco sauce – we enjoyed that even on its own with just about anything.

Their meat dishes were also a crowd-pleaser with bold flavor – that included the bulgogi wagyu beef slider, baby back ribs (glazed with plum doenjang Tabasco sauce) and the slow-braised beef short ribs topped with straw potatoes. If I must pick a favorite, I would go for the baby back ribs with that hint of enticing sweetness.

We were pretty stuffed by the time we worked through all 10 items on the menu, but then when Chef Judy dropped by and asked whether we wanted any dessert, of course we said yes. And soon a few dishes of sweets arrived and we wiped them all up in no time. I love the candied kumquat with the matcha crème brulee and ice cream, and also the soft and creamy cheesecake, not like the New York style but still has a rich taste with an airy texture. With sumptuous meal like this I probably should have skipped breakfast lunch and dinner the next day (and probably off the Tabasco or anything spicy for a little while).

(Dinner was by invitation and based on a special menu available for a limited time only)

When? April 30 2018
Where? Jinjuu, UG/F, California Tower, 32 D'Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Tabasco Korean Fried Chicken glazed with gochujang Tabasco Green Sauce

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