Thursday, December 24, 2009

Schloss Neuschwanstein

After they arrived at Munich airport, they went straight to the Hertz Rent-a-car center to pick up the rental car they have reserved. The lady at the counter's first question was, "Do you need winter tires? The car reserved has summer tires."

They were given a choice of taking the default car with summer tires, a BMW 318i with winter tires or going back in 30 minutes for more options with winter tires. The last option seemed to be the most sensible at the time and they decided to explore the area around Munich airport while pushing their trolleys of suitcases. Right outside the airport terminal, there was a small Christmas market selling everything from hot food, ie sausages to X'mas decorations. But then airport trolleys and Christmas market were not the ideal match and dad was glad that 30 minutes went like a breeze in the wintry open-air market.

It was 30 minutes worthwhile waiting for. They were given Range Rover Sport 4.2L Diesel with Twin-turbo engine. And this came without needing to pay extra for the bigger and more powerful car, which probably carried a price tag double that of the BMW 5 series reserved. They only paid extra EUR 60 for the winter tires, designed to improve grip under lower temperatures.

"I can't where to slot the car key in!!", mum said after looking up and down the dashboard near the steering wheel on the left side of the car.

"I think it's a "key-less" car.", dad mumbled after seeing the "Start / Stop" button. The engine started after one press at the button. Apparently, the attendant at the Hertz Rent-a-car drop-off in Frankfurt had similar problem in figuring out how to start the car upon its return. Blame it on modern technology and you normally don't expect a quick-start manual to come with a rental car. The rental car in San Francisco had satellite radio, this one had iPod / iPhone connectivity as they found out accidentally while fumbling for a place to put drinks.

Overall, they liked the Range Rover especially when they pressed the gas pedal hard to overtake cars traveling at 160-170km/hr along Germany's famous autobahn. The car clocked more than 190km/hr at some open stretch of the autobahn but average more than 140km/hr for most of their journey.

The GPS was built-in with other controls in the car's dashboard and it was a breeze to use once it was switched from German to English. After the address of Mandarin Oriental was input, they drove all the way to the destination without taking a wrong turn. Instructions were timely and clear. One would only appreciate such luxury if they had experienced the stress of driving in a foreign country using nothing beside a compendium of maps. "Ah, we are meant to have turned out from the last exit." Then you spent the next 10 miles, if you're lucky, looking out for the next exit and tried to steer back onto the right route after you turned out.

The hotel sat right in the middle of Munich's city center. They just couldn't wait to visit the Christmas market there once they settled down in the hotel. They braved the frigid weather and started exploring the market. It wasn't long before they concluded that there were only two food items on sale in the market, sausages and gluhwein. The gluhwein were served in porcelain cups from different shops which you paid a deposit for and the sausages were served piping hot in bread roll. As usual they kept walking until they found the stall with the most people queuing and bought some sausages there. It wasn't long after they had their first taste of this Bavarian speciality that they decided that it was just too cold and retreated back to the warmth of the hotel bed. Dad hasn't slept for 40 hours since waking in New York the morning of the day before.

6:30am was when the hotel's restaurant opened for breakfast and they were there five minutes after it opened. This Chinese lady from Nanjing, China was still busy putting out all the breakfast buffet items. The buffet had a good spread of items and they tried the boiled Bavarian white sausages with honey mustard and pretzels as well as the safer choice of egg benedicts. Apparently, you need to take the sausage's casing off before you dig into the stuffing of the sausage and it tasted great.

The frigid weather continued and the snow covered trees and slanted roofs really lent a great deal to the Christmas feel of the whole place, especially along the journey from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein. It was like looking at an extended picture of X'mas card.

The castle image of Schloss Neuschwanstein is perhaps one of world's most recognized but you probably won't associate the image with a castle in Germany, but instead a castle in your dream or in the US, in Disneyland. In fact, this is perhaps the only example in the world where the replica is more famous than the original.

It was 3:30pm when mum and dad finally arrived at the foothill near the castle and the sky was starting to get dark. No more tickets for the entrance into the castle as they asked the man behind the ticketing booth. He then showed them the picture book of what's inside the castle and said, "Now you have seen it all!! To get to the castle, just walk up the slope from here." Having been told earlier by a lady with kids that they should take one of the horse drawn cart up the slope. They decided to take the walk up. Since most of the pictures of the castle emphasize its external beauty, it probably wasn't a big loss not being able to see the inside.

The track up the castle was lined with horse manure all the way. One of the workers would drive an open top lorry to scoop up the individual pile of manure along the way. The sight of the manure washed down by the melting snow wasn't particularly appetizing unless you had an innate fascination with faeces like us, doggies. And this really put the chapter of "Superfreaknomics" by Steven Levitt on the problems brought by horses before the advent of automobiles into perspective.


"Guess we should go and visit SoHo, since you've never been. And we don't have much time before going to the airport." Dad said to Mum. So after stuffing themselves in the two Momofuku restaurants they went to SoHo. There really wasn't much time exploring the artistic side of the area. They got sucked into Dean & Deluca and then the closing down sale of a shoe shop. So not a lot of story, we can only let the photos tell the stories.

1. They have Pet Adoptions Day too. Abandon dogs everywhere in the world. Please don't give us out as gifts and presents. We are a lifelong commitment.

2. Distinctive architecture in SoHo.

3. The ubiquitous cobblestone street in the Cast Iron District.

4. The ultimate stimulus package - Obama Condoms. For hard times. You see them on sale everywhere.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So what about the restaurants? Why's there no mention of any Michelin stars?
Mum was busy working during this trip in New York and dad survived on eating 2 meals a day. With the American serving sizes, he could probably do with 1.5 meals a day.

The exceptions were Momofuku and Daniel.

Momofuku is a chain of restaurants opened by the Korean Chef, David Chang. He started with Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2003 (Momofuku is probably a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the father of instant noodles). Upon its success, he opened Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Momofuku Ko and the Milk Bar afterward. And the latest restaurant due to open was Ma Peche inside the Chambers Hotel in 56th Street near 5th Avenue. You can read about it all in the wikipedia entry above.

Mum ate the Ma Peche menu 3 times during her trip and dad ate once. Yes, we did say, the restaurant wasn't opened yet. But they started serving the Ma Peche menu in the lounge of the Chambers Hotel before the restaurant was ready.

On Saturday, before they took off for Germany, they went for a trip exploring all the Momofuku shops before making a short visit to Soho.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar is a causal diner serving a mix of everything. Its latest claim of fame is perhaps being the first and only restaurant to make the Perrier Top 50 restaurants that takes no reservations. It ranks 31st. This is quite an accolade when you consider how many famous chefs there are in the world.

As Dad wanted to try the noodles with ginger and scallion, they went to the Momofuku Noodle Bar after having their starters in the Ssäm Bar. The place was not very well sign-posted and instead of entering the Noodle Bar when they saw the Momofuku sign, they went into Momofuku Ko, which was a tiny place and very quiet with only a few customers in there. Momofuku Ko, takes reservations online 6 days in advance and serve 2 fried chickens. And this is a Michelin 2-star restaurant. They were kindly told that the Noodle Bar was just next door and the restaurant was full.

When they entered the Noodle Bar, it was a completely different ambience. The whole place was buzzing with people and there was a 15-20 minute wait for seats at the bar. They ordered a sashimi and the noodle with ginger and scallion. The sashimi was fresh and the condiments refreshing. The noodle was cooked to just the right tension and still piping hot from the open kitchen. It tasted just like 薑蔥撈麵. If you use the ginger-scallion sauce from the best Hainanese Chicken rice store in Singapore, you might not be able to tell the difference. Such a simple dish, but the execution made all the difference.

Christmas in New York

Other than the most famous X'mas tree, New York has many other signs to remind you that Christmas is coming. These are just some of the photos we like.

1. A huge Christmas Stick
2, 3. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg getting an earful from Rabbi Shmuel Butman after the lighting of the largest Chanukah Menorah in the world
4. Christmas Party at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), one of the finest modern art museum in the world
5. Angels near Rockefeller Center
6. Environmentally friendly snowman made from recycled clothes, found in SOHO

Magnolia Bakery and Cup Cakes

"Ah, this is the cake shop featured in Sex and the City", Mum said enthusiastically like a kid when they walked past the Magnolia Bakery shop in 6th Avenue near 49th Street. But then it was late at night, the shop was closed and all they could see were paper boxes stuffed in between the entrance doors.

So dad bought two cup cakes from the shop which reputedly started the "cupcake craze" back to the hotel the following night, just before the shop closed its doors for the night. One white chocolate and a chocolate mousse. Both of them were a bit wary before eating the cupcake, because the cream looked rather heavy on top. The cream was lighter than it looked and the cupcakes were tasty. But then not sure if it's good enough to start a "craze".

This probably the most filmed cupcake shop in the world, featured in TV shows like Saturday Night Live and Spin City and movies like Sex and the City, Prime and Devils Wear Prada.

Every time they see cupcakes being sold, they always remember this conversation which happened in an elevator in Horizon Plaza in Hong Kong.

Mum - Hey darling, is that that the shop where you like the cupcakes?

Little Girl - No, no!! Those are horrible. They are fake.

Time Square Shooting

Bright, animated advertisements can be see every big cities in the world, Shibuya in Tokyo, Piccadilly Circus in London, but Time Square in Midtown Manhattan has more brighter, larger signs. These signs probably attract more eyeballs than anywhere else in the world. In fact, the LED billboard can be so lucrative that in the case of One Time Square, the whole building is left vacant with the exception of the retail floors below in order to show case the huge LED display that can be rented by the hour for as much as US$10,000 per hour. (In fact the building right across Sogo in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong is emulating a similar model.)

So what's worth blogging about here other than the photos?

The morning after these photos were taken, an incident of a gun fight happened right at the same place where the photos were taken. Shots were fired and the 25-year old gunman was shot down by plain-clothes police. It happened when the area was packed with tourists and the man was peddling illegal counterfeit items. The man failed to do more damage only because the semi-automatic MAC10 was jammed after firing 2 shots.

It's just too easy to get a powerful gun in the US.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Second Biggest Apple in the Big Apple

Surely no good thing could come from a broken computer.

The first night when they arrived in New York, dad realized that the Macbook wouldn't start despite trying to restart, hard reset, reset PRAM, reset SMC and well just about everything other than smashing the computer. Without the computer for the rest of the trip meant no cheap international calls through Skype and couldn't check up on us. So dad went to the Apple store nearest to the hotel they were staying in Fifth Avenue.

Mum and dad went to the exact same store 2 years ago again just before X'mas. The building looked like an ice cube with the ubiquitous Apple logo inside and glass-slab spiral stair case going to the basement where the main shopping area was located. Dad asked the first assistant he saw about what he should do with his broken computer and got directed to the "Genius Bar", an area where a bench full of Apple technicians attend to different issues. He went and made a reservation to see one of the technicians using the computer in front. The next slot was only 10 minutes later. Lucky day!!

His turn came. The technician asked what's the issue and soon started plugging away. There was no question about if the computer was still under warranty etc. While the store-computer was doing the diagnostics on the Macbook, Dad chit-chat away with the technicians, about things like the iPhoto 09 feature of facial recognition and if the software could ID dogs' faces (apparently it might be able to given some training, maybe bribe it with some treats will do the trick). Everything was very relax and professional. All the while, the store-computer was humming away with the diagnostics. After about 10-15 mins, the disk recovery was complete and the Macbook was back in working order. Apparently, boot sectors of the hard disk were corrupted during the previous shut down.

The store was very spacious. All the latest Apple products were there in copious quantity and people were encouraged to try them, iPods, iPhones, iMac and Macbook. The store run hourly workshops explaining a particular concept and how Apple hardware / software could fit into the scheme. Dad listened to a workshop on digital audio, which was quite interesting.

This store used to be the biggest Apple store in the US before a new store in Boston took its place last year. The biggest in the world is currently the one in Regent Street, London. This store maybe the highest grossing Fifth Avenue retailer according to Bloomberg. Anyway, it's a damn good shopping experience!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finally, mum and dad are back

"Where are you?" Mum and dad were never home at night.

Luckily, granddad came over from Singapore to look after us with the maid, so we still got our daily walks and of course most importantly our breakfast and dinner. But still it's not quite the same when our parents not home. You can imagine our excitement and joy when we saw them back at the door with the suitcases full of things. Surely they bought something back for us!!

New York, Munich, Nuremberg, Frankfurt and London - So many places so little time
They started in New York and then Europe afterward. The trip just got colder by the day!! Lets share some of their pictures and stories here.

Festive New York near Rockefeller Center with the world's most famous X'mas tree (first set up in 1931 and celebrated since 1933, this year it was lit on 8 Dec) and the ice skating rink sponsored by the once almost bankrupted Citigroup. Mum did think about trying to ice-skate for the first time in her life but alas good food got the better of her.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Musings on Michelin stars, Tim Ho Wan 添好運 and more

In response to the criticism to the much-maligned 2009 Michelin Guide to Hong Kong & Macau, the 2010 guide, which came out last Thursday, featured two new entrants to the 1-star category who serve traditional Chinese cuisine to the hoi polloi. The additions were definitely well received by the local media and probably the owners / chefs of the two restaurants. But it may not be good news for the loyal customers, the queues are only going to get longer. One of the new entrants is Tim Ho Wan 添好運 which we have mentioned a few times in our blog.

Hong Kong restaurant offers Michelin-starred food for 78p

Michelin dishes available for 1 USD in Hong Kong

The other new 1-star entrant is Hung's Delicacies 阿鴻小吃 in North Point. Mum and dad never heard about Hung's Delicacies before even though it's closer to home. But then again, just can't imagine mum raving about such delicacies as duck's tongue 鴨舌 and chicken feet's tendon 雞腳筋. Perhaps this is for dad to go and try alone some day, once the Michelin's effect wears off a little, ie the Michelin induced queue becomes shorter.

A little of the Michelin's fame has also dusted on us. Our blog hit meter has shown a much higher hit rate since Friday. Initially, we thought there were a new bunch of people interested in our well being. The meter keeps registering higher numbers. We were perplexed until we found out that if you Google search Tim Ho Wan, our blog tops the list!!

Tim Ho Wan and Hung's Delicacies are not the only niche local restaurants featured in the 2010 guide. Tim's Kitchen 桃花源 has been elevated from 1-star to 2-star. And mum's ex-colleagues will tell you, mum used to organize take-away from Tim's Kitchen a few years ago. Those were the days!

And of course, another restaurant that's been elevated in its star status, is Fook Lam Moon 福臨門 in Wan Chai.

Bo Innovation, which mum doesn't particularly like, has been demoted to 1-star. Perhaps mum will write up on her take on the 2010 Michelin Hong Kong & Macau guide similar to this banter in One day, when the guide becomes more established here, you might even see a chart similar to this for the New York guide from us. Enjoy eating, enjoy life!!

View Tim Ho Wan 添好運 in a larger map

Monday, November 23, 2009

Know Thyself

With the warm winter sun shining through the cool, crisp, dry air, we kept running almost forgot that mum and dad were there. With so many brethren of ours doing the same and a few of their owners holding bite-size treats, we were literally out of control. Chasing, smelling, wrestling each other, snatching tennis balls from others, we had a great time time in the Wan Chai Dog Park managed by the SPCA near the entrance of the Hong Kong Island end of the oldest and busiest cross harbour tunnel. The area has improved since its opened over 2 years ago and it's now fenced off into 2 sections. So now even if we get hurt, it would be from fighting with another dog rather than being run over by a speeding vehicle. Sorry no photos, none taken, perhaps we will be there again next week and get some of our pictures taken while we run wild and enjoy ourselves.

Most of the dogs in the park were well behaved. They might run, they might roll, they might play along. But there were no bullies, or more like, all the bullies were on tight leashes. The same cannot be said about kids and teenagers that walk around terrorizing the streets in Hong Kong. Rude without even the bare understanding of manner, perhaps best described some of the current crop of young Hongkies. A tight leash will certainly be helpful for some of them!

Mum and dad went to see The Christmas Carol 3D Version in Pacific Place AMC cinema in the afternoon on Saturday just before taking us to the dog park. While driving down to the park, they talked about the impressive effects and the magnificent screenplay in 3D constantly marred by this not-so-little girl of maybe 10 incessant kicking of the back of mum's seat. Sitting at one of the back rows in the cinema, the girl kept kicking every now and again whenever she felt like, despite mum having repeatedly asked her politlely to stop kicking. This went on for the whole length of the movie!! When they departed from their seats, they looked at the girl's parents who sat either side of the girl, half assuming that they would at least make an attempt to apologize. But then you can't expect the wrong parents to breed the right kid. The two stood there seemingly oblivious to what happened right beside them. Bad blood stays in the family.

Then last night, mum and dad had dinner in Time Square with a couple of their friends. While waiting for their turn for the table, a teenager wearing an "Indian Piggies" jacket, yellow-rim glasses with dyed-yellow hair walked straight into dad from behind and knocked his iPhone off his hand on to the floor. The guy kept walking with his girlfriend with a pony tail glancing back. Not bother even to utter a word of sorry. They went straight to the counter to get their place in the queue. While waiting for the table, dad just kept staring at them and they would just look away avoiding eye contacts. Cannot even imagine what their parents would be like.

These incidents are of course nothing new and probably a by-product of the modern day Hong Kong education, or the lack of it some might say. This blog title, "Know Thyself", is an Ancient Greek Aphorism promoting the ideal of understanding oneself and by extension understanding of others. One effective way to see more clearly is in the eyes of outsiders. "Concierge" is a free magazine in Japanese distributed in Citysuper among many places. The October issue was about knowing Hong Kong people in the eyes of Japanese. There were some funny and insightful observations worth sharing here in another entry.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Memories II

For those living in Hong Kong, they would probably be familiar with the sight of brilliant red, pink and purple flowers blooming everywhere around Hong Kong from the balconies of high-rise buildings to landscape gardens during the autumn to winter season. These are Bougainvillea (aka Bugambilia, 簕杜鵑 not to be confused with 杜鵑, Rhododendron which blooms at a different time during the year. Due to its ubiquitous presence in this region, it is the city flower for a lot of southern coastal cities in China including, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Weizhou and Xiamen. But Hong Kong's floral emblem is Bauhinia Blakeana 洋紫荊, which is a particular genus of Bauhinia first discovered in Hong Kong in 1880 (just imagine discovering anything new in Hong Kong nowadays).

Bougainvillea holds a special place in our hearts not only because we see the plant every day in the garden right beside where we take our afternoon naps; but more importantly the first bloom last year coincide with the day when Cadet was euthanized exactly 1 year ago. See previous blog entry here.

Whenever there is a starry night, mum would say Cadet is looking at us. Lets hope he's enjoying a peaceful life in dog's heaven with muffins and biscuits falling down like raindrops everyday.

Rapidly developing international health scare

The early advent of the cold weather probably brings with it an earlier start to the flu season here. While no dogs have contacted swine flu yet, we are always wary. You never know when the public opinion will turn around and call for a cull of dogs, as some did during SARS when they couldn't figure out where the bacteria was from.

The scariest story coming out is perhaps the rapid spread of suspected cases of mutated swine flu in Ukraine. The story itself has taken on a mutation of sorts of its own. Initially, some observers believed that the Ukrainian government was exaggerating the matter as an excuse to impose strict public orders in order to interrupt a general election whose results were likely to be unfavorable to the government.

More deaths and infections were reported and then the World Health Organization (WHO) sent experts to Ukraine and supposed to have verified and reported the situation by now. But there's been unknown reasons for a delay in the reports. More reports of deaths and infections. Now border controls all over Europe have been put on alert for visitors from the Ukraine. As usual numbers get spun out of control, the number of deaths went from 189, a few days ago to 315 now and the number infected from 1 million to 1.4 million. And we still don't know if this is indeed swine flu.

Anonymous doctor said that the lungs of the corpse have gone coal-black in color. All these are reminiscent of the movie "Outbreak" or the book "The Coming Plague".

Outbreak (Snap Case)

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Hope this is just a scare!!

Doggy Biscuits

When we stay home idly listening to the TV blasting behind us, we hear "global warming" all the time. But the last few days certainly do not feel like "warm" at all to us. While those in Beijing can blame the snow storm on rain experiment, but we never hear the HK government fire anything up the sky other than fireworks. So the welcome wintry gust is probably the work of mother nature after all.

As this cold spell continues, there's nothing better than the smell of freshly baked cookies and cakes. Mum and dad are baking more nowadays, after all you don't want to switch the oven to 180C when the kitchen is already 35C. It's a different matter when the kitchen is 15C.

You probably wonder what goes into the doggy biscuits which drive us all crazy. You might be surprised that our treats are very similar to the ones for human consumption, the major differences are

  • No Chocolate, use Carob in situ - one of the most popular human desserts is dogs' worst enemy, the theobromine in cocoa is a killer. You can read more here. Carob is a safe alternative but apparently tough to find in Hong Kong. If you find it in Hong Kong, let us know. Ours are from friends in far away places.
  • No Raisin - Nobody knows why, but never feed grapes or raisins to us. So choc n' raisin cookies are out for us. You can find some dog biscuit recipes with raisins in the web but as in human recipes you never know if they have gone through the trial process.
  • Less sugar or no sugar - most of the recipes use honey instead. Honey is a lower calorie and more nutritious alternative. Sugar will make us fat and rot our teeth.
Ingredients commonly found in dog desserts are - carrot, banana, pear, banana, apple sauce (no added sugar), pumpkin, honey, carob, peanut butter, oats, walnuts, cream cheese, sour cream, tofu, soy milk, cornmeal and egg.
Spices and herbs - cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract.

Quality dog biscuits should be fit for human consumption, just a harder and healthier alternative. Get your mum and dad to start baking. It's fun and delicious.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Garden - A few new things

It's been a while since we wrote about our garden. The cooler weather brought some new crops with it. Some of these may not be that common in Hong Kong. From the top:

Kaffir Lime - Mum and dad have been asking almost 30 different shops and garden centers in Hong Kong for this. None of them carry this seemingly common south-east asian shrub. There was one garden center, KK Horticulture, which cater specially for expat which claimed they had it before but died during winter in Hong Kong, a fairly dubious claim, given the mild winter in Hong Kong. They got their two plants with their luggage from Singapore where they bought them in the market. It's fresh leaves add a distinct flavor to Thai curry and they are often included in the Thai spice pack (together with lemon grass, chili and galangal ginger) that you can buy in supermarket. Lets see if they survive 20C Hong Kong winter.

This big chili pepper is the only plant grown from seed that managed to survive all the rain and typhoon through the summer. Mum and dad probably need to rethink their seed growing program.

Buddha's hand citron
- They got this from a friend's garden center. Positively creepy.

Mulberry - This was bought in March and was always looking sickly. No leaves and no fruit were coming out. Then after the very last typhoon, it came back to life!!. The fresh mulberries are great. They are much sweeter and have more flavors than the raspberries that you can buy in supermarket. The leaves are supposed to be nutritious as well. You can put it through food processor to make mulberry leaves juice. You can then taste what silk worms feed on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

San Francisco - Coi, Part 2

Here's a quick run down on what they could remember from the meal but, as in most food blogs or restaurants' reviews, words never do justice to your experience whether they were good or bad.

Summer, Frozen in Time - Plum, Frozen Meringue, Yogurt
The most memorable dish of the whole meal and perhaps the best dish during this trip. It was a literal explosion of flavors. Every spoonful of the icy pink-orange appetizer got a different part of your taste buds to work overtime. The frozen meringue kept the aroma of rose petals from coming out until it was melted in your mouth. The next dip into the appetizer you get the flavor of plum. It was best described by the now overused cliche, like a box of chocolate; you never know what you are gonna get. Only that, it was far better than any box of chocolate.

Melon and Cucumber - Aroma of Mint
After the spectacular first course, this continued to clean your palate while introducing you to a different set of flavors with green being the theme color.

Inverted Cherry Tomato Tart - Black Olive, Basil
Mum is not a fan of olives and she asked for the olives to be taken out. She didn't know what she was missing. The black olives were turned into a crispy top and added texture to the whole dish.

Chilled Piquillo Pepper Soup - Fresh Pole and Shelling Beans, Zatar, Nepitella
A gazpacho style soup which condensed all the natural flavors into another challenge to the taste buds. A quote came to mind:

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in the Physiology of Taste, appearing in 1825, that Bertrand, the steward of the Prince of Soubise, used fifty hams for one supper, but only one ham appeared on the table, the rest being essential for his sauce espagnole, white sauces, and so forth.

A great dish should be something more than meets the eye. You just can't tell how many different ingredients that have gone into that simple bowl of soup. Mixing a lot of ingredients is the easy part, but creating the right mix takes years of experience and flair.

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter - Young Carrots, Burnt Rice, Cocoa Nib, Cilantro
Not their favorite. While there wasn't anything wrong with the dish, like most executions where the chefs tried to introduce the 4 (5 in the case of Cyrus's canapes, the fifth being Umami) basic tastes, they always tasted funny and never quite bring out the best of the food. Perhaps it's the natural human desire to enjoy the right mix.

Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha - Nettle Salsa Verde, Spicy Breadcrumbs, Lemon Zest
Pan-Grilled Matsutake - Potato-Pineneedle Puree
Both dishes were fine displays of bringing the natural flavors of the main ingredients. While the Chinese way of cooking abalone, fresh or dry, emphasizes on the sauces, grilling was a simple delivery. You can adjust the taste depending on how much puree or salsa verde you add.

Slow Roasted Lamb - Chard Leaves and Stems, Garum, Rosemary
Mum is not a lamb fan. She got a piece of beef instead. The lamb was perfectly cooked and very tender. But the most flavorful part was also the most unhealthy part, the lamb fat, probably shouldn't go into too much detail.

Cavatina - Sweet and Spicy Greens
PB&J - Niabel Grape, Pistachio Butter, Apple, Sorrel
Caramelized White Chocolate Parfait, Semi Frozen - Huckleberries, Anise
The cheese was tasty but nothing to write home about. Mum and dad liked both desserts. The Niabel grape tasted a bit like the Japanese Kyoho grapes.

Echoing the very first course, "Frozen in Time", it was well past midnight when they had their fresh chamomile tea to finish the night. The unhurried delivery of the dishes, sometimes by the chef, Daniel Patterson himself and the fading light through Japanese paper left you plenty of time to enjoy and decipher each dish. Time was frozen after all!!

Only when they left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel were they reminded the seedy surrounding area. Some zaftig blondes in super short skirt waiting outside the disco nearby waiting to be ushered in.

PS -

, the last item in the ingredient list, literally means picked from the forest. They were told, the small white alyssum flowers on top of the first course were hand picked by the chef from the forest.

Monday, October 12, 2009

San Francisco - Coi, Frozen in Time

The journey from Napa back to downtown San Francisco was much smoother on a Saturday and the only small mishap was Dad driving into the Muni bus lane. Oops. GPS was slow to correct its bearings but they still managed to find their way to the hotel. After unloading all the luggage with the hotel porter, they decided to keep the rental car for the night since meter car parks were free from 6pm Saturday. After a brief rest in the hotel watching NCIS back-to-back marathon, they headed out again to the final Michelin starred dinner of their journey. Dad was convinced that he could find the way to the restaurant without bringing a map. But then at night, every street looks the same in a foreign country. After asking a few people in the street including a bunch of Singaporean students, who were probably even more lost than dad, they arrived at Coi.

Coi, pronounced "kwa", is located literally next door to a strip club around the nightclub area along Broadway street. The restaurant opened its door in 2006 and got its first Michelin star in the 2008 which came out in October 2007 and its second star in the 2009 guide in October 2008 (confusing right?!)

They get ushered into their designated table, sat down and were shown the fixed price menu of the day. It was not the most desirable table as mum was sat facing the entrance which looked into a section where all the waiters and waitresses juggle for utensils. So they asked for a table change and was told that there was table that would be freeing up soon. And mum and dad decided to wait to start their dinner after they were reseated. It was 8:30pm and hunger started to set in, as the lunch they gobbled down in Taylor's Refresher was well and truly digested. They kept themselves busy by looking around at the people, the decor and at the menu. There was a menu of the dishes and then there was another page telling you where each ingredient came from. The emphasis was on the use of local Californian fresh produce. The restaurant was the probably the most informal among the Michelin 2 star restaurants in San Francisco and some of the guests were wearing jeans that night. The service was relax and unhurried and the decor reminded dad of Japanese clubs in the 70s and 80s, with the lighting covered by Japanese paper.

There's a limit to how much you could appreciate with an empty stomach. After waiting for what felt like an eternity, 3 tables asked for their bills consecutively and they got a table at a quiet corner of the restaurant. Their first course arrived and it was well worth the wait.

More to follow..........

Wine Country - Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Life turns on a dime. Warren Winiarski, a college professor in the US, bought a 50 acre plot of ranch in Napa in 1970 and turned that into a vineyard. A bottle of his very first vintage (1973) won the now famous 1976 Judgement of Paris against some of the most prestigious red wines from Bordeaux including Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut Brion. The competition was organized by a British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who wasn't selling any Californian wines and didn't think Californian wines would win. Mr Winiarski kept the winery running until August 2007 when he sold Stag's Leap Wine Cellars to a consortium of Chateau St Michel and the Antinori family of Italy for US$185m!!

A renew interest in Judgement of Paris was developed by the movie Bottle Shock, a dramatized version of the event. If you look at the actual score, the difference between Stag's Leap and Mouton-Rothschild was very small, 0.05 point. So for a competition with eleven judges grading each wine out of 20 points with no predetermine grading guidelines, 0.05 point difference was a real flip of a coin. But this coin flip was perhaps the best marketing tool for Stag's Leap for over 20 years.

Mum signed up for the vintage release party for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, the only other item in their itinerary which was pre-booked other than the dinners and accommodation in San Francisco. The estate is located along the Silverado Trail. It has an artfully built decent size man-made lake with a running creek of running water. You know it's man-made as soon as you see the color of the water which is turquoise blue. Dad knows the color well. It's the dye to stop the growth of algae in ponds. Still it's beautiful.

The event provided the tastings of the 3 latest vintage releases, Fay, SLV and Cask 23 in the beautiful surrounding of the estate. They also got a tour around the estate including going into the wine cellar inside the man-made caves and a taste of the freshly picked wine grapes. The caves were deep inside the hill and extended in different directions and there's even a banquet hall inside for special occasions. The ripen wine grapes were small and very sweet.