Friday, March 3, 2023

Over the Moon

We confirmed our booking at Sichuan Moon as soon as we knew Chef Andre would be in Macau at his restaurant on the same weekend we were in town for. We always wanted to visit since they open in early 2019 but never got a chance to get around to do that until now. 

The restaurant sits inside the Wynn Palace resort which was just a short walk from where we were staying. The interior was as fancy as one could imagine inside a casino resort, but the décor in gold and cream color tone was tastefully done I must admit and with plenty of spaces in between the large booth-style tables scattering across the dining area. We began our evening at the “tea bar” on the far end, where the tea sommelier was expecting us already with the welcome tea brewed just in time for us to sit down and have a sip. The pu erh tea came from Yunnan Province, and unlike the traditional version using fermented leaves, this one uses the fresh flower buds with more like a white-tea character with subtle floral aroma, perfect as a “aperitif” – we were also told that the water used for brewing came from glacier spring from Sichuan to give us a true feel of the terroir. 

We retreated to our table for the rest of the meal. “Discovery” menu was the one arranged for us, with 12 different courses kept in a deck of cards to be revealed one by one as each course was presented. The cart full of glass jars was pushed over with different types of Pao Cai, or Chinese pickles, were introduced and we needed to pick a few as our starter course. They came in subtly different flavors and textures, some done in a salty brine, some with a hint of sweetness and acidity, even some with a spicy kick. I love all my choices – including celtuce, young ginger and corn. The pickles were served along with the bite-sized “snack” of Mala Tuna Tartare and Caviar Tartlet in a burnt scallion pastry shell – I like the rich taste with a slight kick.   

We continued with more mini courses, this time presented in a fancy porcelain stacked box - remind me of the Japanese Jubako but made using different material. Small boxes were stacked in 3 layers and each box contains one of those mini courses, and again, each of those featured different ingredients, textures and flavors, a playful representation of the complexity and variety of Sichuan cuisine which was often described as "一菜一格, 百菜百味" (a hundred dish with a hundred flavors and styles)

The lobster was done “yu xiang” (魚香) style paired with chilled radish; the cordyceps were marinated with vinegar and sugar (tangcu 糖醋) with hint of truffle aroma; the needle fish was served raw with yellow pepper and baota cai (寶塔菜) with the distinct spicy flavor, then immediately followed by ice plant with bits of grapefruit offering the soothing flavor. And that’s just half of what’s in our “second course”. (just for the record, others included yam jelly in mousse-like consistency, the salivating chicken (口水雞) with truffle and liver, century egg with chilies, and cod roulade) 

Third course was the crafty Ji Dou Hua 雞豆花. Chicken meat was carefully chopped, minced and steamed until it took on the smooth, custardy texture like a silky tofu, then it’s topped with the rich chicken broth mixed with iberico ham, bird’s nest, white truffles and grated black truffles on top done at the table. This old-school Sichuan dish was known for being “Having Chicken without Chicken in Sight” (吃雞不見雞) and this is definitely the best version I have had with such rich yet comforting texture and unmistakable chicken flavor. 

The next course took up the name of the traditional Sichuan street food but got a much refined facelift in the hands of Chef Andre. Zhong Dumpling (鍾水餃) was traditionally made with pork filling and served with a rich sauce mixed with soy paste, chili oil, soy sauce, and minced garlic. In this upgraded version, it’s done “open-faced” style with lobster tartare filling topped with dumpling skin, potato souffle and caviar, then 8 different kinds of sauce was carefully placed underneath, for which we were asked to mix all up as dipping sauce. I was amazed at the complex and yet harmonious flavor profile of the sauce when it’s mixed together and worked well with the many flavor presented in the other ingredients as well. There’s a hint of spiciness with the chili oil, but done just right without being overwhelming. 

The signature king crab course probably got as much influence from traditional Cantonese cuisine as Sichuan’s. The huge leg coming from a Hokkaido king crab was smoked with spices and crispy quinoa rubbed on top (similar to Cantonese typhoon shelter style) On the side for dipping was a sauce made with fish oil and basil for added flavor. It’s cooked just right with nice aroma. 

Sichuan Green Peppercorn (藤椒) was the highlight of the soup course. The rich and thick chicken and fish maw soup in golden color reminded me of the version in Imperial Tan Cuisine. On the side was thin threads of noodles with green peppercorn sauce and the green water lotus (水蓮) “noodles”. We were told to enjoy each ingredients separately in order for the variations of texture and flavor profile in each bite. 

Ciba (糍粑) was another traditional street snack from Chengdu (capital of Sichuan). Most of the time it's prepared as a sweet snack but here it’s done savory style with the glutinous rice “cake” mixed with cured meat and vegetables, with salted egg yolk espuma on the side and slices of Perigord black truffles on top. 

Mapo Tofu was perhaps the most well-known Sichuan dish and it’s done in the traditional style with an emphatic spicy sauce made using black bean paste, two types of Sichuan peppercorns and two types of tofu served in a special bowl lined with cinnamon leaves with distinct aroma. And completing the dish was a sumptuous scampi from New Zealand placed in the center of the bowl. I personally found it a little too spicy to my liking but it’s well cooked and unlike any mapo tofu dish I had elsewhere. Our last savory course was rice and pickles, with rice (coming from Northeast China) cooked with crab broth and crab roes (from virgin swimming crabs caught in local waters) in a specialized casserole, and at the table, topped with rows of Japanese sea urchins before served in small bowls. It’s loaded with umami flavor and I like the crispy rice added in for the texture. 

The dessert courses were a mix of traditional and contemporary style (which was described as "Revisiting Classics"), consistent with the rest of our meal. Bingfen (冰粉) was done using the most traditional method of extracting pectin from the seeds of a specialty plant as setting agent with sweet syrup. It’s paired with the musk melon syrup. Then it’s a pair of dumplings, one made with glutinous rice flour with sweet peanut filling, and one made with mungbean starch with black sesame, similar to Japanese wagashi Nerikiri.  

A series of drinks were served throughout the meal to complement our dining experience. “Passing By Chengdu” was a special cocktails made using pickling juice and star anise to pair with our Pao Cai first course, then there were a pair of whites, a special bottle of Tsingdao beer (the limited raw beer that was imported directly from the brewery) that was to go with the crab leg. Then there were different kinds of tea of course. Apart from the Pu Erh flower bud that was brewed just as we arrived, we also had Meng Ding Gan Lu, the mountainous green tea with a mineral after-taste, and two more types of Pu Erh. The Wuliangye cocktails was another special one, with the espuma made with the traditional Chinese baijiu made with fermented grains paired with the acidic roselle and plum jelly. That was served to counter the heat from the spicy mapo tofu dish. 

Last but not least, it was a series of mignardises served from a fancy cart, and before that, a gummy candy like snack described as “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy”, with all four different flavors revealed themselves in sequence as we chewed on it. I guess that’s the way of chef reminding us of the many different flavors and the combination of flavors that made Sichuan cuisine so special. 

This is a memorable evening and an enlightening one too, and good to hear from the chef himself explaining some of the thoughts in his creation. Chef Andre is one that’s known for his deep cooking philosophy and creative minds so just hearing his sharing while enjoying the mind-blowing dish one after another was a good lesson learned and four hours well spent.  

The full set of photos are here:

When? February 11 2023
Where? Sichuan Moon, Wynn Palace, Cotai, Macau
Menu Highlights? "Mala" Lobster "Zhong Dumpling" 麻辣龍蝦鍾水餃
Pu Erh Flower Buds
"Passing by Chengdu"
Meng Ding Gan Lu tea 蒙頂甘露
2020 Weingut Keller Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling Trocken GG, Germany
Tsingtao Original Beer 青島啤酒原漿
2011 R Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Bianco, Rioja
2005 Jing Mai Columnar Puerh Tea 二〇〇五年景邁柱茶
2018 Helan Qingzue Jia Bei Lan Baby Feet Pinot Noir, Ningxia, China
2018 Vin de Constance, Klein Constantia, South Africa
Osmanthus Wild Black Tea

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