Monday, September 19, 2011

Honda Japanese Cuisine: Taipei, TAIWAN

Date:  26 juillet 2011
Location:  1 Alley 7, Lane 303
NanJing East Road Section 3 #1
Taipei, Taiwan
Tel:  886 02-2545-8828

There is excellent sushi in Taipei, if you know where to go.  The sushi here made made me shed a tear (or two!) of happiness, you know, when you are masticating that piece of soft, melting, flesh and your eyes roll back in delight and you think to yourself - "wow, I am so lucky I am here - and experiencing this ridiculous food and wine that which most people could never even fathom."  My good friend Henry of Henry's Gourmet Guide ( arranged three of four nights of thoroughly planned wine paired dinners for my Taipei visit.  I could not have asked for a better friend and host to be my guide and food and wine eating buddy.

Very hard to get a reservation here - every night is a full house.  The Chef hails from Japan of course, and it certainly helped that Henry speaks fluent Japanese (even though he is Taiwanese) and is also friends with the Chef.

Henry also brought some very special champagne to celebrate and enjoy with our dishes.  To start, a Delamotte blanc de blanc of dry, acidic, aromatic, bubbly, perfectly slightly steely effervescent bubbles popping in my mouth.  Wonderful!!

Fried chicken and salad starter.  The chicken juicy and tender and salty sweet, the outside is crispy with just a tad of white pepper.  Great way to tantalize our taste buds for the upcoming hedonistic slices of sushi to come...

Henry's blanc de blanc Delamotte champagne.  Thank you, friend! 

This is where I first shed a tear.  The best fatty toro I ever had.  DO NOT CHEW.  Only let it rest on your tongue, and the warmth from your tongue will quickly melt the fat in this hedonistic, soft yet perfectly tense piece of fish.  Wow.

Of course, we had to have Cha-blissss with our raw fish.  1er Cru 2008 Les Lys Domaine William Fevre.  

IKURA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Perfectly balanced saltiness and slightly crunchy individual Ikura eggs.  Each one popped gently in my mouth and my tongue savored each tiny bite.  

Tear number two.  Hands down the BEST UNI I have ever had in the world.  I was beside myself... we ate in silence... each one of us appreciating these ridiculously fine pieces of sushi...  so fortunate.  

Vegetable tempura! Not usually a fan of tempura but guess whaaatttt.....  Honda's tempura will make you want more helpings of their lightly batter fried tempura, with very fresh and sweet vegetables.  Great quality of ingredients for all their dishes.

Mmmmm....  dried fish egg.  This is the perfect with Japanese beer!

Roasted salted fish...  so good.  Ridiculous.  Also perfect pairing with Japanese beer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo: Central, Hong Kong

Date:  jeudi 28 juillet 2011
Location:  Shop 202, Alexandra House
8 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong.
Tel  +852 2537 8859

Video as filmed by my eating mate Simon Ng, sitting to my right that night.
Typhoon Level 3 (Whilst dining at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo - Hong Kong):

The Italian cuisine here is perfecto.  The ambiance is classy, sophisticated, sleek, sexy (and still warm).  There are a lot of restaurants in Hong Kong.  It can be challenging to know which ones to visit.  Even a recent stop in at the Michelin 2 or 3 Star @Amber in Hong Kong (somehow voted one of best Restaurants in World) was disappointing - I won't be blogging on that experience here.  However, I  redeemed myself by stepping foot into this clean and sophisticated space at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo in the Alexandra House in Central, Hong Kong.  8 1/2 was recommended to me by Henry Chan, owner of Yang Sing Dim Sum San Francisco (see blog on a recent visit with Henry and my friends at PWMWine

Some may think it strange to seek out European cuisine in Asia.  To me, this is not strange at all.  I love all kinds of ethnic cuisines.  And it just so happens that sometimes (actually a lot of the time), when I am not in Italy, that I crave some very serious authentic, sophisticated, first class Italian cuisine.  You know, the kind that onlookers oooh and ahhh about and feel a little jealous that you experienced something they didn't.  This of course includes perfectly al dente house made pasta and naturally (see photo below!) - a fantastic Italian wine list.

Fine pasta dish - lobster crab filling, and the biggest, most generous flakes of fresh, delicate, seasonal truffle I have ever had in my life - served right at the table.

After a week long feast of different kinds of some of the best Asian cuisine in Hong Kong and Taipei, I longed to go back to my love for Italian cuisine.  Be sure to book here far in advance here.  These A-list type restaurants in Hong Kong are booked full weeks in advance, even on week nights.

We brought our own wine (from SF's PWMWine which paired magnificently, my 2008 Bruno Giacosa Barbera D'alba Piedmont.  Dry, aromatic, cherries, spices - tannic like all Italians should be to pair with the rich Italian food to be served soon.  When our waiter opened our bottle - within seconds the aromas of the wine permeated the 5 feet space between us.  He then decanted it with precision.  Decanting probably wasn't needed for this bottle but why not, I needed quickly to drink a glass so speeding up the opening of the wine was fine by me!

The service was 5 star and unlike most Hong Kong restaurants - 8 1/2 was not overly fussy.  Oh, they definitely had their eyes on us this is sure;  however we did not feel as if our every move would be met with a counter abrupt and brisk follow up to see if everything was alright, or if they could get us anything else.  -->  That's one thing most of the French Michelin's are verrrryyyy good at... staying out of your way during your intimate dining experience, knowing exactly when you need something, and catching your spilled drop of water just before it hits the ground - of course with grace, ease, and swiftness.

The staff at 8 1/2 took impeccable care of us with great respect, catered to our every need, and still let us feel human.  Loved speaking a bit of Italian with the staff, and then going back to British accents with the Chinese staff.  Love Hong Kong.

Beautiful contemporary sommelier serving area - where we were very lucky to be seated directly next to.  Lovely view out to the green flowing leaves of the trees through the window - it was Typhoon Warning Level 3 that night, so the visual of swaying summer green leaves provided high visual stimulation.  This was no mistake, as my friend whom I was dining with - his architecture firm designed the Interior and Exterior and Landscaping of this building and restaurant.  

Little jelly foie gras with chocolate powder to whet our palates.  Of course, it did the trick.  Put smiles on our faces and stomachs, always a great way to start a forthcoming amazing meal.

Lobster in cold melon soup, mint, and Iberico ham.

Poached langousitine, on parsley gnocci, and spicy salami jus, caviar.

Our white linen cloth table with our beautiful wines... in my favorite Schott Zweisel wine glasses.... and some delicious Italian bread, breadsticks, rich and creamy house made butter, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar.  All the very best ingredients and serving accoutrements.  Very nice environment with well dressed and well behaved clientele.  Ourselves included.  

Everyone knows I am a vegetarian... a faux vegetarian, that is.  Colorado rack of lamb, artichoke puree, black olive and lamb jus.

Iberico pork, brasied cheek and roast tenderloin, confit of apple and rosemary, marsala jus.

Wild strawberry, basil and berries salad, white chocolate and yogurt frozen foam.
Finishing with the Italian tradition of espresso.  Yes!

Small dessert finger bites - always welcome and right into my mouth!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Alsace Wine Region & Hugel et Fils: Alsace, France

Date:  11-13 juillet 2011
Location:  Hugel et Fils Winery
Riquewihr, Alsace France

Alsace and Mosel have always been a priority wine region on my top places to visit.  Perhaps not top on everyone's wine tourism list, yet these two regions are known by the pros in the industry as "white wine heaven."  Alsace and Mosel are exceptionally beautiful.  Picturesque might be the best way to describe this special wine region.  I used to read about Alsace in my wine books, then would seek out their wines at my local San Francisco K&L Wine Merchants and Costco!  "The geography of the wine growing area in Alsace is determined by two main factors, the Vosges mountains in the west and the Rhine river in the east. The vineyards are concentrated in a narrow strip, running in a roughly north-south direction, on the lower eastern slopes of the Vosges, at altitudes of 175–420 m.  Those altitudes provide a good balance between temperature, drainage and sun exposure under Alsace's growing conditions. Because of predominantly westerly winds, the Vosges mountains tend to shelter Alsace from rain and maritime influence, and the region is therefore rather dry and sunny."  [Wikipedia].

I arrived in Alsace on a very warm and muggy quiet Monday afternoon, having just left the German Mosel Wine region via the exceptionally smooth German Autobahn.  I drove and drove with my Ipod plugged into the AUX, with my favorite wine country French and Italian songs.  It's about a three hour's drive.  Naturally, when I entered onto French territory, I felt it immediately because the roads were no comparison to the German's.  ;-)  Upon entering the Alsace wine region, my heart began to race in excitement when I started seeing the signs signalling that I had entered wine country!  Huge smile!

I checked into my hotel, located right outside the gates of Riquewihr (literally a two minute walk) and sauntered back out to explore the little town of Riquewihr, home to the famous Hugel Wines.  With just three or so more hours of sunlight left, I wanted to see as much as I could before heading into my wine tours next day.  Good thing I was wearing sneakers, because this town had original cobble stone roads which are impossible to walk on with heels, unless you are from Italy - whose women are born wearing high heels.

 The architecture in Riquewihr has so much history.  Most everything is still its original make.  Especially, the timber homes and shops, all original moldings.  The roofs are really something interesting to look at.  It is quite a storybook town - something you see in children's story books!  The doors all have carvings on top to signify the profession of the homeowner - ie, a Blacksmith, a Cooper, a Miller... Some of the streets are named after the kind of daily traffic that took place there. Ie, Rue de Cheval rightly named after a street that managed daily horse traffic and carriages through the tiny Riquewihr streets.

I ventured into a restaurant that evening and ordered nine flights of Alsatian wines to taste alongside my Alsatian Tarte Flambee - one of Alsace's famous dishes otherwise known as thin crust pizza!  Ohhh they do it very well here in Alsace.

I had a personal vineyard tour arranged with Hugel et Fils winery the next day arranged by Etienne Hugel himself.  I was in awe and thankful for this unique experience.  As we made our way up into the hills of Riquewihr in Etienne's car (whose aircon had broken down, so it was hot, hehe!) Etienne shared with us all the history of Alsace and Riquewihr and of course, the history of Hugel wines.  The sights are breathtaking.  I cannot explain the feeling of getting up close and personal with these magical vines, with a personal tour by Etienne Hugel himself.  We toured every aspect of the family wine production facility later, including the bottling, labeling, and shipping.  We saw the natural wine cellars - which were old jails during the Franco/German wars.  So interesting!  Etienne picked a few many bottles from these cellars for our wine tasting later.  The bottles had dust on them, I loved this!  Come to fine, Etienne is a huge fan of Taiwan and also Hong Kong... makes sense as Alsatian wines pair beautifully with Asian cuisine.  I would be heading to Taipei and Hong Kong the following week, so Etienne and I traded names of our favorite Taipei (Din Tai Fung of course) and HK restaurants and watering holes.

Moving onto the wine tasting... Etienne personalized our experience for us, and it is this kind of attention to detail that defines success.  We each had our printed wine lists with our names on top, the date, and of course, for my sitting - Etienne also gave me a pair of chopsticks!  I loved that he also had the same wine tasting translated into a few other languages.  Chinese and Japanese, of course.  Have to have an international approach these days if one is to take advantage of global opportunities!

When we finished our 18 flight wine tasting (yes, we spit), we moved onto a great lunch in the Alsatian afternoon sun, just steps away from the Hugel wine making premises.  David Ling and Etienne's son also joined us.  Lovely folks and so warm and welcoming.  Charmed life.

For my recent Mosel Wine Region Germany Blog: