Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tak Lung: Eat Your Fats

("Golden Coin Chicken": no gold, no coin, no chicken... but absolutely delicious)

According to mother, we used to go to Tak Lung in San Po Kong all the time to celebrate Grandad’s birthday when I was still little. Funnily enough, I had absolutely zero recollection of the place. But lucky for me, I had the opportunity to revisit on Tuesday night and I was more than ready to reacquaint myself with the days I didn’t remember.

We started the night with the restaurant’s signature “Golden Coin Chicken,” which, for some reason, contains no gold, coin, OR chicken. Props to the guy who came up with the name for this dish. What this dish IS though, is a thick slice of pork fat, topped with a sliver of goose liver (rhyme!), a piece of chaxiu and a thin slice of ginger for good measure. This. Was. AWESOME. Really. The fatty pork was amazingly ungreasy, being rather, somewhat crisp on the bite before melting like a lovely, subtly savory jelly on the tongue (I’m told they used the fat from the back of the neck, which has an almost crunchy, elastic texture). The chaxiu and the thick sauce (also honey-based, I believe) had a wonderful lovely flavor that balanced out both the richness of the liver and the zing of the ginger. It was so good, I totally forgot that I was literally ingesting a solid piece of lard. Glam. No wonder this is a “must-order-in-advance” dish.

Next up was a nice plate of assorted chicken offal. Not bad I would say, but I’ve had better just last week in Shenzhen’s Yu Mi Zhou so I wasn’t completely blown away. Plus, it was a little on the salty side, especially the chicken intestine, which actually benumbed my tongue for a few seconds with its ultra-savoriness. So it was really good timing when the next course to come up was the Yunnan mushroom soup. This soup was the absolute real deal – I felt like a more wholesome person with just smelling the soup. And, as J said, it was really one of the most concentrated chicken broths we’ve ever had. It was like they managed to liquefy a whole chicken somehow… that may not be the most appetizing way to put it but it really was what it tasted like.

(Mushroom Soup: "the heartiest chicken broth")

But now, if you will allow, I must move onto the real star of the show; the next course was literally one of the funniest things I have ever put in my mouth. I plopped the unassuming bite-size round into my mouth. Broke into a HUGE grin and literally said, “I didn’t just eat what I think I ate…” But sure enough, it really was what I thought it was – a big hunk o’ fat (again). This “Chicken Roll” is made up of pork fat (again from the back of the neck) wrapped around some chicken meat and then – as if that weren’t enough – deep fried into crispy little golden boxes. Good? Yes. Healthy? Ha! This dish came with some random sausages and another stellar dish – “Golden Coin Eel”. Pork fat again, matched with a slice of eel and some crunchy diced water chestnuts. And though none of it tasted the least bit oily, I definitely think I officially clogged three arteries then and there. Probably good that the following course was a plate of greens

("Chicken Roll," "Golden Coin Eel," Sausage: amazing-ness)

("Chicken Roll" : Look! I just ate a piece of fat!)

Following was one of the best sweet and sour pork dishes I’ve ever had. Already, the appearance (think a lovely, bright orange) was a winner. The pork was deep-fried to an absolutely perfect crunchiness but was warm and fluffy on the inside, retaining all its meaty juiciness without being covered by the flavors of the deep-fried flour coating or the tangy sauce. ‘Twas quite beautiful. And next came the most surprising dish of the night – I’m usually totally not into Chinese style cooked whole chicken so I wasn’t exactly excited about the chicken platter that was placed on our table. I took a small piece, bit into it, and…wow. Really wow. I am not making this up – the chicken tasted like bacon. It was absolutely amazing. It was the first time I’ve ever had smoked chicken and really, I have to say it again, wow.

(Sweet n' Sour Pork)

(Smoked chicken)

The super-sweet restaurant staff and owner then gave us a complimentary heaping bowl of clams in spicy sauce with a buckload of chopped chives. A nice gesture but a confusing flavor. I think steaming with a little rice wine may have been nicer as the sauce had a strange sandy and overly-bold flavor that covered up the freshness of the clams. Thinking the meal was close to ending, a giant pot was brought to our table, set over a mini stove. This smelt so good, bubbling away. They lifted the heavy cover to reveal a beautiful scene of braising taro and goose. The goose was nice, yes, but it was completely and utterly overshadowed by the chunks of sandy-soft taro. Of course, being a tarophile, I’m naturally biased towards the tuber, but I wasn’t the only one on the table waxing lyrical about ‘em. Soft without being mushy, subtly sweet with a wonderful aroma… this was my single favorite food item of the night.

(Clams they are a-confusin')



(Fish broth veggies)

(Cheese udon: very strange)

A much-needed second plate of veggies arrived, bathed in a fish broth and topped with a hefty portion of small shrimps. Nothing to write home about but a welcoming dish to a fat-laden meal nonetheless. And to officially end the night, we were presented with a super-random Japanese-Italian fusion, cheese sauce udon noodles dish. But by this point, I was way past stuffed to try this but I believe I may not have missed out much by skipping out on this final course.

And there goes the end of an amazing meal. I guess I really should be berated for having no recollection of a restaurant this awesome. But then again, I was what? Six of seven years old back then…at an age where I would prefer eating rocks over a slab of foie gras. I will use that as my justification. And when my cholesterol level’s started to level off again, I will make it a point to come back here again.

Thanks Isaac for organizing!

FOOD: 4/5
ATMOSPHERE: 4/5 (the night of the dinner); 2/5 (restaurant itself)

TAK LUNG ($$$)
25-29 Hong Keung Street
San Po Kong
2320-7020/ 2322-3783

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bowl Burger: When They Won't Shut Up Behind You

(Burger: The road to get to you was painful)

Wednesday lunch place was supposed to be my choice and I suggested checking out that shiny new Chinese joint that just opened up near the office. Was supposed to be a good plan. But all our way down, I had – not one, but TWO annoying voices behind me going:

“Are we there yet?” “Ohmigawd this is SO far.” “Are we walking to the…omg is this the MTR station?!” “How much further is this place?” “Oh great, look at all these people. Now we’re going to have to wait.” “Don’t tell me you’re lost.” “You’re lost aren’t you?”

I was so disconcerted by these two annoying non-shutter-uppers that I lost all sense of direction, my brain only being able to think: “SHADDUP! SHADDUP! SHADDUPPPPP!” but half exhausted by their sea of complaints, I gave in on my search for the new Chinese place and instead, we dove into the shoebox-sized Bowl Burger on Mercer for a bit o’ beef and carbs.

…which reminds me, I haven’t actually had a fast-food beef burger since moving back to Hong Kong (I had one of ‘em Four Seasons burgers a while ago but, good as it was, it’s just really not the same thing). Weird. We placed our orders and obnoxiously hovered over two just-finishing-up diners with our “we’re waiting for your table, so hurry” expressions.

I went with the #2 single patty beef burger set ($42) with drinks and paper bag of fries. I had read before that the burgers here are all handmade using 100% ground US beef, so I was actually pretty excited to give it a try. True enough, the burgers were perfectly juicy with a good bit of bite. Could’ve been grilled just a little more (I like ‘em kinda charred) but still, would have to say that it was a pretty well-rounded burger overall. Good sauce, good flavor, and none of that ridiculous overflow of unnecessary fillings (my burger pet peeve). The burger was a hefty portion too, though nothing that the food champion in me couldn’t down in its entirety.

(Fries: a paper bag of warm deliciousness)

And special mention goes out to their fries. Leaning towards the thick-cut variety, with perfectly, pillowy-soft potato innards and a hot, crunchy, exterior… I loved. Time permitting, I would’ve downed the whole bag…and gotten another. But time did not permit. Next time then…

So yes, the trip down to lunch was annoying. But the food was good. And on the way back, I had an errand to run so I took a separate, SILENT and PEACEFUL route back to the office. So I guess it ended up being still quite a pleasant afternoon.

FOOD: 4/5

25 Mercer Street
Sheung Wan

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Press Room: Lunch of the Food Champion

I was totally in “Food Champion” mode during Friday lunch at the newly-renovated Press Room. I like the place, with its high ceiling, chalkboard menus (brownie points right there), and casual bistro vibe. It felt like I was taking a lunch break in Chelsea, NY…sigh, if only….

As for the food, I was struggling between the lobster and avocado sandwich and the eggs benedict at first…that is, until the server brought over the chalkboard set lunch menu ($132). A three-course lunch? Done deal. Started off with a simple, light frisée salad with a light balsamic dressing. Standard stuff so nothing to write home about, save the lovely servingware that immediately caught my eye (I’m a huge sucker for nice plates and bowls and stuff like that). The salad did put me in an Autumn-alert mood though, and I found myself looking ahead to frisée mixed in with walnuts and grilled, warm peaches. Can’t wait.

(Frisée salad: would be better if Autumned up)

I went with the beef tenderloin for my main course and, let me just say that I definitely made the right choice. The meat was smoky and slightly charred on the outside, but a lovely, juicy pink on the inside. It was drizzled with a balanced gravy sauce that went extremely well with the vegetables. I loved the rustic presentation of the whole thing, especially the skin-on potatoes on the side, which turned out to be, surprisingly enough, the best part of the whole dish, beating out even the delicious tenderloin. Its slight sweet tinge won me over and I polished off the whole plate.

(Beef tenderloin: take 1)

(Close-up shot of the lovely, juicy, deliciousness)

I had the brownie with chocolate ice cream to end. The brownie was served in a little glass pot, sitting on top a small pool of vanilla sauce. Dense enough, though not as sticky and chewy as THE perfect brownie, with lovely chunks of walnut bits, the chocolately cake went beautifully with the choco ice cream. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of chocolate brownie OR chocolate ice cream (don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like these two things or anything…I’d just usually rather something else) and I had wanted to try The Press Room’s lemon tart instead but it was not a set lunch option. Given that though, I happily lapped up every last bit of my brownie à la mode. So yes, it was good.

(Brownie with ice cream: pot of choc)

I was very proud of my food eating abilities. Especially since I was the only one on our table who went with the three-courser. Whee for me and to a satisfying lunch.

FOOD: 3.5/5
SERVICE: 3.75/5

THE PRESS ROOM ($$$/$$$$)
108 Hollywood Road
Sheung Wan

[SHENZHEN] Yu Mi Zhou: Bugger On

Los Angeles. Circa 2008.

Sitting alone in a dingy Mexican eatery off Palms with vinyl tablecloths and Spanish soaps on the television. A small flour tortilla in the palm of my hand. I fill it up, top it off with bits of cheese, a squeeze of lime. Wrap. Eat. The first time I tried Oaxacan chupalines (crickets). And it was awesome.

Shenzhen. Present day.

Browsing through the extensive menu at dad-recommended Yu Mi Zhou (literally, “Fish Congee”). We were pretty much enticed by the sound and pictures of everything. Midway through the menu though, I saw something I knew I had to try – bug larvae stir-fried with Chinese chives. Fun.

(Crunchy, yummy cha xiu)

But first up was the restaurant’s signature “crunchy-skin” cha xiu. This was…pretty dayam amazing. The cha xiu was actually two parts of already-tender pork, sandwiching a thin piece of fat to make the whole thing a bite of wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. A little bit of honey sweetness to bring out the natural flavors of the barbecued pork and a crunchy exterior to balance the suppleness of the meat. We all fell in love with this dish. The hugely-portioned pork, pear and pig’s lung soup was next. A very light, cleansing respite to the fatty meat we had happily consumed just a few minutes prior.

(Braised eggplant: the best thing that could happen)

And then the bugs came. Tiny wormy things mixed into a sea of green. The taste was almost like a non-crunchy soft-shell crab – a bite saw the crab-roe tasting innards. Protein-packed. Not awe-inspiring by any means but not bad. And probably would order it cooked with spicy salt next time instead of stir-fried. Or, maybe like the chupalines, they needed a squeeze of lime... The bugs were followed by my absolutely favorite dish of the night – braised eggplant and minced meat pot. I could eat these tender, beautifully-flavorful pieces of eggplant (a.k.a. the king of vegetables) all day and all night and never get sick of it. This dish was a star.

We ended the meal with dad’s childhood favorite – chicken innards (heart, kidney, etc. etc.) and pan-fried fresh oysters. The chicken was nice but, personally, I still prefer cow innards with their stronger earthy taste. The oysters were also good – big fatty things with a slighty charred, crispy exterior and a nice, creamy inside.

(Bugs up-close)

So, needless to say, food was good. The three of us managed to polish off 90% of our six dishes, and the menu still had a whole list of things we wanted to try (especially the desserts). My only complaint would be about the oiliness of the dishes. The bugs and eggplant were literally shining with cooking oil. Though, that was probably to be expected, being that Yu Mi Zhou prides itself on serving authentic, village, homestyle cooking. The service was top-notch and the prices were laugh-worthy reasonable. I felt like I was robbing them blind, almost. Wasn’t surprised at all that the place was packed to the brim by the time we were leaving and won’t be surprised at all if we find ourselves back here the next time we drop by SZ.

FOOD: 4/5

2/F, Chunfeng Road
Lo Wu

Sunday, October 11, 2009

[SHENZHEN] Din Tai Fung: Dumpling it Up

My very first recollectable memory of xialongbao (soupy dumplings) is of us learning how to eat these piping hot packets of brothy pork in Toronto’s Din Tai Fung. Pick them up by the tops, bite a small hole and slurp out the broth slowly. Then down the whole thing. It was a delicious lesson.

(Garlicky cucumbers)

(Taiwanese beef noodles)

(Signature xiaolongbao: so juicy)

(Shrimpg and pork dumpings: even better than the signature)

And since then, I’ve had my fair share of XLB’s. But another dose of Din Tai Fung? Well, that didn’t happen until yesterday. I made my first trip to Shenzhen today and le madre insisted I try the Din Tai Fung up there. Fine, I had no qualms with that. The signature xiaolongbaos were de rigueur orders (RMB$18 for four) and we also slapped on an order of fresh shrimp and pork dumplings (RMB$18 for four). Both arrived in their steamers in all their piping hot glory. Juicy on the bite no doubt…but the best I’ve had? To be honest, no. The dumplings were literally a one-bite size (i.e. I’ve had bigger) and I just didn’t feel as if it had as much soup as the perfect amount. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed the dumplings – ESPECIALLY the ubër-fresh shrimp-filled one – it’s just that I’ve had better.

(Braised glutinous rice “cake”: not perfect but still delicious)

The cold dish – garlic and peanut cucumbers in chili oil was refreshing with a spicy zing but nothing special. Same went with the braised glutinous rice “cake” which was a little too wet for our Hong Kong-er standards (though this, I’m guessing, could well be a cultural differentiation in tastes). But I was a happy camper with the Taiwanese style beef noodles – the noodles were slightly chewy but not at all doughy and the beef was baby-food-esque tender. I also happily lapped up the Taiwanese style rice (RMB$8), topped with a soy sauce braised egg, shredded meat and conpoy. I loved the intense flavors and dipped in for seconds even though I was already full. Healthy? Probably not. But delish? Yessss.

(Taiwanese style rice: a pleasant surprise)

FOOD: 3.5/5

2/F, Zhonghai Shopping Center
1 Xinyuan Road
Luohu District

Brownie Roll-Out, Matcha Cookies: Thank You

“No one’s more important than people!”

That’s the one phrase that’s stuck the most with me when I was reading Julia Child’s “My Life in France” a year ago in a dingy little room in New York. This has rung true my whole life – it’s always the people. So now, I’d just like the chance to say “Thank You.” Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to become part of my life and those who, in turn, let me become part of theirs.

And please, let's all stay in touch.


“Brownie” Roll-Out Cookies

3 cups plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g butter, plus a pinch of salt
1.5 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven to 350°F. Thoroughly mix flour, salt and baking powder. In separate bowl, mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa until well combined. Add flour mixture slowly. Mix until smooth. Shape into a flattened disc and wrap in cling wrap and chill for at least one hour.

Roll the disc out on a floured counter (remember also to flour the surface of the dough lightly, as well as the rolling pin). Roll out to about ¼” thickness. Cut out shapes and place on baking tray lined with grease-proof paper. Bake in the middle shelf of oven for 11 minutes. Cookies should be slightly puffed but firm around the edges. Leave until cool to move and then transfer to cooling rack.

Matcha Cookies

¾ cup icing sugar
140g unsalted butter, cubed
1.75 cups plain flour
3 large egg yolks
1.5 Tbsp matcha powder
Granulated sugar for finish

Preheat over to 350°F. Thoroughly mix icing sugar with matcha powder. Add butter and mix until smooth and uniformly green.

Add flour and mix until fully combined. Add the yolks one at a time and mix after each addition until fully combined. Shape into a disc and wrap in cling wrap. Chill fro at least 30 minutes.

In between two pieces of grease-proof paper, roll out the cookie dough to around ½” thickness. Cut with cookie cutters and place on tray lined with grease-proof paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are slightly golden-browned. Remove from oven and dust lightly with granulated sugar. Leave to cool slightly before moving to cooling racks.

(Thank You)

Pop Bites: It Took a Benedict to Remind me of You

(Eggs benedict)

One thing I really love about the office is its proximity to SoHo. Most days though, I can’t be bothered to drag my lazy ass into a cab out to that side for lunch but it’s nice that that the option is open should a special occasion call for it. Well, Friday called for just such an occasion.

Originally, we wanted to pop into The Flying Pan but, as half-expected, it was super bopping during lunch hour. No worries, plan B, Pop Bites, had several free tables and chairs. I went with one of their all-day breakfast options of eggs benedict ($78, including coffee/tea), which – for some reason – I haven’t had since moving back to Hong Kong.

Always slightly unique, Pop Bites does their eggs benedict with toasted French baguette bread instead of English muffins. The two slices of crusty bread were topped with a bed of arugula, slices of ham and a perfectly-poached egg each. The yolk was still runny but not so much that it spilled out all over the place in raw messiness. Delish. The bread sopped up all the yolk and the whole thing really worked when combined with the savoriness of the ham and the slight spicy kick of the arugula. My only complaint though was that the eggs were a little on the small side. Well, that is, compared to what they serve in the land-of-ridiculously-big-portions, a.k.a. America.

Food won’t blow you away but it’s more-than-above-par. Plus, the staff are friendly, the prices are reasonable and, most importantly, it’s a great hangout spot. And thanks to the benedict, for reminding me of what a great lunch option I had, just waiting for me with open arms at the edge of SoHo. Oo...and I STILL haven't tried their delicious-looking cakes!

FOOD: 3/5

3 - 5 Old Bailey St.
Hong Kong

Go Koong: Food Generosity

Maybe I’ve been unconsciously affected by Los Angeles…or the fact that Yvonne has been feeding (i.e. forcing) Super Junior clips into my brain (I still cannot believe I know the members by name now instead of hairstyle description) but I’ve been finding myself falling madly in love with Korean food. It’s crept up and slammed Jap-fare down on the “My favorite Cuisines” list. I guess it can’t be helped – eating K-food brings back happy memories of dinner extravaganzas with the Debs and the Sun and it’s become sort of a comfort food for me. And though Hong Kong’s Korean restaurant scene can’t compete with that of LA’s K-town, we still have some pretty kickass choices here. Enter Eddie’s restaurant – Go Koong.

I admit it – I am shamelessly in love with Go Koong and it’s one of my fave restaurants in the city. I must’ve written about the place at least three times in the last two months alone. So when we had to pick a place for the Nelson’s special birthday dinner, we both agreed it would be no other place than GK.

Ahhh…the wonderful chime of “oso oseyo” (welcome) from the super-friendly staff always puts a giant smile on my face on walking in. We were guided to the table I sat at the very first time I visited the restaurant. Nostalgia. Like all first time Go Koong-ers, The Nelson was very impressed by the restaurant’s hefty, Bible-thickness menu. Choosing from the seemingly gajillion dishes here is never easy. Knowing about the restaurant’s large-and-in-charge portions though, I recommended we just order two dishes first, which should already be more than enough.

(Oyster pancake and potatoes, among other banchans)

And here, let me just say that, one of the reasons why I love Go Koong so much, is for their banchans. They have the most AND the best banchans of any Korean restaurant I’ve been to in Hong Kong and they never skimp. Being a self-proclaimed “Banchanman,” this was a VERY decisive factor in my love for the restaurant. That night, they had the slightly sweet potato cubes that I love so much, as well as an absolutely delish oyster pancake, PLUS nine other things, PLUS a small bowl of sweet pumpkin congee each. Sigh, I love food generosity.

Midway through stuffing my face with kimchi and listening to gossip the Nelson had to dole out, our seafood pajun (pancake) arrived. This is one of my all-time Go Koong favorites. So crispy around the edges and so moist and chewy in the centre, with generous amounts of squid and other seafood and scallions for an extra dose of flavor. Soooo good. Our other dish was the Nelson’s K-food favorite – Korean ja-jeung mien. The noodles had A LOT of sauce – no joke - pre-mixing, it appeared in its bowl as one big dark brown gloop. I’m not going to lie – personally, Korean JJ mien was never a favorite of mine but I enjoyed the dish enough that night. I like the slight sweet tinge to the sauce and the small bits of pork were deliciously tender.

(I love = seafood pajun)

But just when we thought we had ordered just the prefect amount of food, one of the super-friendly waitresses brought a big fatty plate of japchae to our table, telling us, “a gift from the chef.” Awwww…see? Is it any wonder I love this place? Go Koong’s japchae is nothing short of delish. In fact, I had it with my mom before who, in her own words, “doesn’t like japchae,” but, on trying Go Koong’s version, again in her own words, “did like japchae.” On top of the noodles, the restaurant also gave us two bowls of flavorful yet light seaweed soup to wash down the Korean feast we had. Had to abandon plans for the Korean shaved ice dessert yet again (I’ve only ever been able to stomach dessert ONCE after the main meal at Go Koong…and that was only because Eddie FORCED me to try it, despite my stuffed-to-the-brim-ness).

(Japchae, JJ mien, seaweed soup)

With a refreshing cup of sweet cinnamon tea, we ended our meal at Go Koong which, as anticipated, was awesome as usual. I seriously love everything about this place. From the excellent service (in true Korean resto style, the staff here help you take care of everything on the food-serving side, even helping you flip your meats on the BBQ grill and dividing up the pajun onto your plates for you) to the clean, comfy space to…of course, the effin’ fantastic food. To sum it all up, in four simple words: I Love Go Koong.

FOOD: 5/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5

GO KOONG ($$$)
202, Toyomall
94 Granville Road
Tsim Sha Tsui


Side note:

The times when we used to skip morning PE classes to grab breakfast at McDonald’s. The coffees we drank over long gossip sessions. The embarrassed looks we had when “Gregrid” didn’t let someone eat fried chicken. The “OH MY GOD!” presents (:D) I would receive in my mailbox in LA. The “gift wrapping lady” incident. The excited discussions about Stefano Pilati and Louboutins. All these things.

Happy Birthday hun!

You and Kenj make me very happy. Thanks for being in my life. Thank you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Union J: Making Up for NYC

My biggest regret during my last NYC extravaganza was missing out on a meal at Jean Georges. My food-nerd heart was saying “yes” but sadly, after a meal at WD-50, several Bouchon Bakery excursions, and a very nice white dinner jacket (among other things), my wallet was saying “uh-uh. No mas.” Damn you, wallet. Damn you.

So, suffice to say, I was pretty dayam excited when I heard about the opening of Union J in LKF, a new modern American resto helmed by Jean Georges disciples, Jason Casey and Eric Johnson. Well, that was back in late April when the news broke – in between being unemployed, becoming employed, and then being completely busied-out by being employed, I found my Union J trip continually pushed back. It was like the big fatty James Joyce book that I’ve been meaning to read but never got around to.

That WAS the story…until Thursday rolled about and I finally had the chance to drop by for lunch. I was ready to dole out massive check points already just for the décor. Casual and fun, with a boisterous, “chic-canteen” vibe – SO New York. Plus, I’m biased – any place with a chalkboard menu automatically scores some serious brownie points.

(Keep it RAWWWWW: tartar and runny yolk)

Onto the menu, Union J keep it simple with six of each appetizers (called “small dish” here because that makes it sound cooler), mains (“large dish”) and desserts (“sweets”). I dived into the crusty and still-warm sourdough bread and scanned the two-course set lunch options. Eventually, I opted to start with the steak tartar with cherry olive tapenade. I loved the presentation – so simple, with the bright bold colors of the tartar and tapenade standing stark out against the clean, white plate. Promising. The tartar was also topped with a raw egg yolk…two raw things in one dish? Definitely bodin’ well for me. The tartar itself was fresh and deliciously seasoned. A bite of beef mixed with a bit of liquid egg yolk was an even more fantastic thing. And because I am a (newly-converted) olive fiend, I downed the tapenade like it was ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Lovely with its hint of cherry tartness. The tartar was served with a slice of melted cheese-covered toast which, although lovely in its own right, I was way too enamored already by the tartar to pay it much attention. Sorry cheesy bread, maybe next time.

(It's not that I don't like you salmon, but your mashed potato friend is HAWT!)

As for the “large dish,” I went with the salmon, which was slightly disappointing after the steak tartar high. The salmon steak was slightly overcooked, being just a tad too dry to be perfect. The mandarin segments on top were bland, but the combination of the two in one dish shows the chefs’ creativity (salmon + mandarin orange = potentially beautiful flavor combo). I didn’t loathe the dish but I wasn’t in love with it. But the mashed potatoes that came on the side? Now THAT, I could love. So herby, so creamy, and oh-so-buttery. Sighhhhhhhhh...

I was way too full to stomach dessert, though I did take a greedy glance at the delicious sounding sweets menu while the friendly wait staff were clearing the table. Ugh, I shall come with an emptier stomach next time round. So there ends my long-awaited Union J visit and, I’m happy to say that I am more than satisfied with the restaurant. The atmosphere and dining concept is something I think the Hong Kong dining scene needs more of and I absolutely adored the food… well, the ones worth adoring at least. And with an oh-so-charming “no hopes, no dreams, just real cooking” slogan, how could I NOT love this place? Glad I finally got to try Union J… and maybe now I can get started on my James Joyce book.

FOOD: 4/5

UNION J ($$$/$$$$)
1/F, California Tower
30-32 D’Aguilar Street

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monsieur Chatté: You Can't Always Get What You Want (But You Get What You Need)

I had a very idyllic plan for today.

Type away at the office (klack klack klack). And then…
1) Grab lunch-to-go from somewhere close.
2) Fill up on cookie cutters and colored sugars.
3) Maybe pick up a bunch of flowers?
Skip back to the office.

Well, one out of three isn’t a bad run. I made my much-delayed stop at the rustic red French specialty foods store, Monsieur Chatté. I LOVE the bakery smell that fills the place. And the bottles of wine amidst jars of jams, and boxes of biscuits next to cartons of candy. How lovely.

I picked up a Provence veggie baguette sandwich ($38), filled with thin slices of grilled eggplant, zucchini, peppers, carrots and fresh arugula. I ticked off the first thing on my to-do list. Stopped by Pantry Magic on my way back and realized they didn’t have anything I wanted. Disappointing – I wanted to have a giant shopping extravaganza a la Surfas in LA. No dice on number two. Walked by a flower stall but realized I still didn’t have a vase. Cross off number three.

Well, things don’t always go according to plan. At least I had my veggie sandwich… that’s good enough for today.

Monsieur Chatté ($)
121 Bonham Strand
Sheung Wan

Monday, October 5, 2009

W52: Pasta Potential

It’s amazing how quiet the LKF-ish area is on a Sunday early afternoon. I quite like it. If only Wyndham Street could be this un-traffic-jammed during the work week when I’m trying to get back home at night. If only…

I made the cross-harbor journey today to brunch out with a fellow foodie and restaurant-hunter at the newly-opened W52 restaurant. Being a five-minute cab ride from the office, I wanted to give this place a trial run to see if this could be a potential new lunch spot. The simple, minimalist décor (think light woods and a lot of natural light seeping in) was promising already but I was totally sold when they showed me up to the first floor dining room in the awesome James Bond-esque glass elevator which runs alongside the restaurant’s wine collection display.

(Selections from the antipasti buffet)

We took a look at both the set lunch and the à la carte menus and decided we were more enticed by the latter. The super-nice staff let us order two à la carte pastas as if it were part of the set lunch deal, which included dibs at the antipasti AND dessert buffet and, of course, coffee/tea at the end. The antipasti selection is fairly standard – caprese, grilled veggies (eggplant!), and various Italian meats. Good for chatting along to.

(Simple, fresh, beautiful: buckwheat tagliatelle)

Thank God we only ordered half portions of each of the two pasta dishes because the portions were already pretty hefty. We couldn’t even finish the homemade buckwheat tagliatelle and duck ragout. The tagliatelle was a little too soft but the sauce was spot on. Light, fresh, with a little twinge of sweet tomato tartness. But this dish was totally overshadowed by the casoncelli and pears served with butter sauce. Also homemade, the casoncelli was perfectly al dente – just the right amount of bite without being doughy at all. I also L-O-V-Ed the concentrated savoriness of the filling, just as much as I loved the crispy thin wafer of bacon sitting atop the pasta dumplings. Soooo good. The pasta paired really well with the butter sauce which, impressively enough, didn’t taste or feel overly greasy or fattening. Our waitresses grated just a tad too much of cheese over the pasta but hey, more cheese can’t hurt right? Right.

(The High: casoncelli in butter sauce...and all that cheese)

The dessert buffet was slightly disappointing (especially after that pasta-high) but I’m not going to hold that against them. After all, it’s a batch of pre-made sweets that’s been sitting out…and drying out (well, at least the crepe was). The mango mousse cake was alright but, next time, I’m definitely going to be ordering from the very promising sounding dessert menu. Chocolate mousse with yogurt sauce? Zabaglione? Nice.

(Order off the menu next time: dessert buffet selection)

I managed to get a good glimpse of W52’s potential today. I wasn’t expecting the restaurant to have their A game on (after all, it’s Sunday brunch) but if their casoncelli is anything to go by, this is definitely a spot I’ll be dropping by again real soon. And, as an added incentive, the staff are really great – friendly and thoughtful (they brought us two plates for sharing our pastas without us even asking them). And I totally adore the simplicity of the whole restaurant concept – everything from the no-fuss yet sophisticated food, to the simple, clean, white serve-ware. So chic! I had a nice time…and the best bit? I know it can only get better from here :)

FOOD: 3.75/5

W52 ($$$/$$$$)
52 Wyndham Street

Sunday, October 4, 2009

RED SoHo: Avocado in the House

I have been dying to go back to RED SoHo ever since dropping by for their “just-opened” visit the other time. I’m not going to lie – the shallow side of me was completely sold by their chicer-than-thou interior décor (Carrie Bradshaw and co. would lunch here…if they were based in Hong Kong). And being just a stone’s throw away from le office, I made my long-awaited lunch-stop there to see if the resto had more to offer than just its looks.

After perusing the several set lunch options, I went with the grilled chicken salad, with the “pizza of the day” ($98) as the main. And let me just say, RED SoHo gets brownie points just for the salad’s avocado alone. Since I’ve moved back to Hong Kong from Sunny Cali (i.e. the State of the Avocado), I’ve literally been hard strapped to find a just-rightly-ripe-avocado; avocados in HK are always either under ripe or over…but for some miraculous reason, they’re the perfect fresh consistency at RED SoHo. So effin’ delish – too bad the chef decided to use thin slices of the ‘cado in the salad instead of big fatty chunks. Seriously, I’d have no qualms if the salad was nothing but avocado. I wonder who their avocado supplier is…I totally need to get in on that.

After polishing the salad, my “no-way-I-can-finish-this-on-my-own” pizza arrived. I ordered this for the eggplant (a.k.a. love in veggie form) topping which, sadly enough, wasn’t as hefty as I had wished. Nonetheless, the pizza was effin’ fantastic – the thin crust was perfectly crispy and I couldn’t help but grin at how sinfully gooey the mozzarella (i.e. 85% of the pizza) was. Definitely not the healthiest thing one can order for lunch but…whatever. I actually managed to polish it all off save two slices, which is pretty food-champion status. So proud of myself.

Too full to stomach dessert (though the chocolate layer cake I sampled on my first visit was absolutely lovely), I ended the meal with the di rigueur black coffee (extra $15). A little over a hundred bucks for lunch and a very full stomach = my RED SoHo lunch experience. The food didn’t blow me away but, hey, this ain't Pierre. It’s comforting American food served by smiley wait-staff in a cozy-chic environment. And if that still doesn’t sell you, trust me – the avocado will.

FOOD: 3.5/5
SERVICE: 3.5/5

RED SoHo ($$$)
2/f, Kinwick Centre
32 Hollywood Road

Eat. Love. Write.

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