On Honest Hens And Wooden Spindles

July 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

A: Meet me at 12.45 pm. Central star ferry pier.

No questions asked. I have faith that whatever’s up A’s sleeve, regardless of whether it is a chinese dai pai dong or a 3 star restaurant, would not disappoint.

See, I really think my friends are like my secret agents.

A ferry ride across the harbor later, we made a left upon gracing the TST shore and found ourselves in front of Harbor City.

Hello, Al Molo.

This place, I would say, has an air of sincerity about it. Maybe it’s the decor – the white washed tiles, the exposed brick walls, the wooden spindles, the array of wine bottles and (somehow I particularly noticed) a glazed china sculpture of an artichoke the designer himself apparently spent an hour arranging on the top shelf above the bar. Maybe it’s the lighting – the floor to ceiling windows pouring in stories from a rainy day, the warm glow from the hanging glass globes bouncing off the rustic walls and the wooden ceiling…

Then of course, maybe it’s the food – simply judging from its antipasti bar – a sensible variety of the freshest cheeses and meats (such good proscuitto) and salads. The game hen I had was delightful. I could still remember the heat seething out from its core as I let the crisp, golden skin, the meat and the jus dance and change partners and again and again in my mouth.

Faraona. Roasted hen, savoy cabbage, porcini mushrooms, pancetta, rosemary.

Risotto. Acquarello risotto, wild mushrooms, parmigiano

Tiramisu. Italian mascarpone mousse, espresso soaked lady fingers, salsa ciocolata.

Tartaletta. Gianduja chocolate tart, orange zabaglione, hazelnut crunch gelato.

As per usual, when dessert arrived: the fear of overnutrition, syndrome of a child raised in a developed country, settled like a black crow at the back of my head.

Chocolate, on the contrary to my favorite saying, is not always an exception. I love saying it, but I’m a shameless hypocrite. Chocolate too sweet, too stale, too hard, too soft, too oily – chocolate cakes too crumbly, too dry, and again too sweet, cookies too sugary – would be looking at the fate of the bin.

But here is a chocolate tart that could roll through the gates of fashion skinnydom with exaggerated swagger and no stick animal would dare stand in its way. It’s a tart with a thin,   crisp pastry crust that holds in its midst a toasted hazelnut bottom and a pool of the most gorgeous and silky gianduja chocolate.

I like this place. The attention to the littlest things and the unpretentiousness of this Michael White joint delights me.

Another thing, you have no idea how grateful I am for restaurants with the right menu size, and a graceful maitre d’ who knows the answer to ‘What is good today?’ and ‘Surprise me’, as it happens to be the case at Al Molo. It happens much too often that when a waiter arrives to take our orders, I would look as if I was strapped to my seat by some invisible wires – a deer trapped in headlights, terrified eyes oscillating spasmotically between ‘roast leg of lamb with blah blah balh’ to ‘grass fed beef…’ to ‘pan-fried….’ until everything on the menu in front of me becomes a confused shower of alphabets.

Please, I begged myself in silence, whether you’re ordering a side of potato au gratin or not – is not going to change your life.

Freedom of choice, I have come to discover, does not always bring freedom.

Good meals, I have also come to discover, always bring good days.

And that was a pretty good day.

The pretty sassy bar... makes me miss NYC

*

Al Molo, G63, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Decor: 5/5
Service: 4.5/5
Taste: 4.5/5
Price/head: 200-300 HKD (lunch)

Life, At 170 Degree Celsius, For 20 Minutes

June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Baking is a very calming activity.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. With Toasted Almonds. With Cranberries. With Dark Chocolate Shavings.

My limbs were moving back and forth emotionlessly, my eyes and hands and body were coordinating mechanically – according to some written instructions typed in Times New Roman by a chocolate obsessed grandma, and my mind… my mind was galloping between the smooth, slick surface of the batter and a void somewhere along the Milky Way.

My eardrums suddenly picked up a song, a familiar, blue kind of reminder of the heartbreak period from some time back. I wondered if I should feel saddened by it. As if that actually happens by choice.

If you want to be happy, be. A familiar quote. I smiled a little. Leo Tolstoy.

I realized that I haven’t skipped a single song on my iTunes. Only several hours ago on a cab home I was listening to the same playlist and skipping and cutting almost every song, sick and absolutely furious of those overfamiliar tunes blaring on my earphones like a nagging mom. Now the same songs sound like the good kind of company in a kitchen – the kind that doesn’t look concernedly over your shoulder every two seconds and ask if you need help. The kind that just sits on the stool, reads a book, maybe occasionally comments on something completely irrelevant.

Somewhat like a kitchen cat really.

Whereas cooking, say, a piece of steak is part technique (2 mins on each side = medium rare), part instinct (no one ever said it was 2 mins to the millisecond!), baking is almost, all technique. It is all about getting the proportions perfect, getting the temperature of the oven right before you shove the tray in, taking it out before the pie top cracks, but not before the souffle sinks. It is all about following instructions. Thoughtlessly. Following. Instructions.

Which is great as I have come to love doing things that don’t require much thought. Like eating. Like lying on my bed pretending to be asleep. Like sitting on 6 hour bus rides from NYC to Providence. Like baking. They give me excuses for thinking about things that require thought. Like life. Like what to do if I run out of almonds.* Like writing.

Baking, is also the only orderly thing I do in this life. The rest, is the rest.

The oven admitted a series of monotonous beeps. I checked the cookbook. 20 minutes, it said. 20 minutes on the mark it was. I took out the tray and placed it on the stovetop. Stripped naked of expectations, I scooped out a chunk from one of the six dark chocolate cupcakes. Steam snaked out, faint, white, coiling into thin air. The chunk looked uneven, porous, brown, a little ugly. I’ve seen this before, I’ve done this before, I thought. I sent it into my mouth.

And then, baking doesn’t seem so emotionless after all.

Some nutty, cocoa drunk cookies...

Carrot cupcakes in the making... HOLD A SEC, did I say I was orderly with baking?

*I substituted cranberry trail mix instead. Turned out even better

Sailing On Instant Noodles – Saga Of The Smoked Salmon

June 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

NIssan Instant Noodles. Sunny Side Up. Smoked Salmon. Mushroom White Sauce.

6 a.m. Father’s Day. First thought: Why did I get salmon whyyy did I get salmon it’s not like sprawling it across bagels with cream cheese or throwing it in scrambled eggs or just curling it up like a flower on the side of the plate is not gonna make him fall asleep before he even arrives at the breakfast table. And then he’ll think, ‘What’s up with the breakfast setup- OH right, father’s day. Salmon… I was wishing I could have my normal, hearty instant noodles in MSG soup- UH OH… not scrambled eggs, I had been looking forward to poking that egg yolk from my sunny-side-up since 11 last night. Ah well, she tried. She’s a good daughter. Smile, just smile. Hmm What if I ask, would she-‘

So I tried to avoid that from happening.

Maybe it still did.

(Cream sauce was made from sauteed diced mushrooms, cream and a dash of soup powder.)

Arrangement two!

As in, best way to camouflage a screwed-up sunny side up...

I have a certain affinity to crepes, probably because it is the only item my mom makes well, as mom is special in a way that she doesn’t, and basically couldn’t cook. And by that I mean she really doesn’t cook, at all. She would attempt to make congee and turn out something between soup and rice (which is i guess… the definition of congee – but it looked suspiciously like waterbugs in a murky pond). She would attempt to reheat a pork bun in the microwave and after two minutes, take it out and find it hard as crystallized bread. The next time, learning from her mistakes, she would attempt to steam it – and upon opening the lid of the pot after five minutes, find her bun swimming in boiling water and radiating soggy floury bubbles and her favorite glass bowl splintered into chunks because she couldn’t find the steam rack to hold the Chinese pastry up. (And she was using a pot because she couldn’t be bothered to use the proper steam wok.)

But crepes, she makes well. And apparently, according to myths of her recent attempts, vegetable soup as well.

I'm a..... jellllyffiiiiiiiisssshhhhhhhh

Don't worry, I'm not that bad at frying crepes. The picture before this was the last spoonful. Look how beautiful these puddles of brown are.

Crepe. Drunken Strawberries. Melted Dark Chocolate. Freshly whipped cream.

I found the perfect crepe recipe on allrecipes.com. Click here for it.

But basically it’s mindblowingly simple. I’ve tried different flour-egg-milk proportions and so far, this has been the winner. Don’t follow the original recipe, you’ll find lumps in it. If that happens, put the mix through a sift.

1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 milk
1/2 water
2 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt

Beat together eggs, milk and water. Sift in flour. Mix well. Add butter and salt.

Heat up pan. Coat with butter. Pour in a (large) spoonful of mix. Make mix coat pan in circular motion. Around 1 minute on both sides.

Viola!

Strawberries.... they're drunken silly since 6 that morning

And what is Father’s Day breakfast without some trace of intoxication involved?

*


I watch the stars from my window sill
The whole world is moving and I’m standing still

Some mornings… some mornings feel like this.

And others feel like this.


I can’t really say
Why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter
Are the ones you take all by yourself

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on.

The Weepies soundtracks my life.

Pastel Nibbles

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Scribbles from a while ago

*

I was in a kind of anti-macaron phase for a while when the pastries suddenly started popping up at every street corner in every spare bakery fridge space in Hong Kong. I got tired of its sweetness, its sickly sweetness.

Then this morning, my eyes picked out the word ‘macaron’ in mid post-breakfast stroll along west 23rd street, and given the scarcity of macaron availability in Manhattan (thank lord) (as in, relative to other sweet stars like cupcakes and donuts), I decided to pick out several.

Orange chocolate. Blueberry Vanilla. Lavender.

—-

I was lifted back to the queue in Laduree, three years ago. The peek into the empty, dark, glowing Laduree Bar and its art noveau stools as the queue turns, the salespersons bustling around like Christmas elves behind the pastry bar and the rhythmic dance of gloved hands and colorful sweets and pastel green boxes on the counter. Then there was me, frenetically pointing at whatever that looks edible (everything), ordering in broken Fren-glish and nervously trying to look as untouristy as possible (like every other tourist in that queue).

But I came out on Champ-Elysee, alive, with my box of macarons.

Pierre Hermé, once dubbed by French Vogue as ‘The Picasso Of Pastry’, emphasizes that one should “[use] sugar like salt, in other words, as a seasoning to heighten other shades of flavor.”

The morning light from outside the window makes me squint a little. I closed one eye to scrutinize the cross section of the remaining half – the crumbly, cream-colored porous layers, and blueberry icing in between – threatening to melt while I waited for the sweetness from the last bite to die down.

Maybe, something glorious does happen with every pastel bite.

You only ever see me handle my phone like this when my fingers are sticky with sticky ganache...

*

La Maison du Macaron, 132 W 23rd St (between Avenue Of The Americas & 7th Ave) New York, NY 10011

Decor: 3.5/5
Service: 5/5
Taste: 5/5
Price: 2.5 USD per macaron

Quote Source: Pierre Hermé website

*

There are just some songs I can never get tired of…

You Need An Egg?… Not So Fast!

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hokkaido Sea Scallop Carpaccio. Slow-Cooked Egg. White Truffle Dressing

Gorge on the picture all you like but just to make myself clear: nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can describe how sensual the whole experience was. It was the equivalent of some drug that makes your eyelids flutter in a pre-faint state and your lips curve up ever so slightly from trying to suppress a hit of euphoria and your jaws slow down to a munching tempo of around Largo.

Words cannot describe that absurdly soft, absurdly smooth texture of the egg, how it envelops itself like a liquid snake around those succulent, wonderful scallops and how it sings with that white truffle dressing and dance with the flimsy lettuce strands as those dainty bits of chives do the backup singing.

Do you know, by the way, that the slow-cooked egg is termed by David Chang (of Momofuku) as ‘the sexy egg’? That:

‘A slow-poached egg– say, at 143°F (61°C) for 90 minutes– is that rare, perfect synthesis of greenmarket and high tech. When cracked open, the thing spills out ludicrously egg-shaped and ridiculously soft, the yolk suspended between raw and cooked, the cloudy white freed from that slight rubberiness I never knew bothered me until I had an egg without it.’

Says TIME writer Joel Stein in this article.

Have I caught your attention on the egg yet? For the more experimentally inclined, go ahead and read the paper published on Food Biophyics by César Vega and Ruben Mercadé-Prieto entiteld Culinary Biophysics: on the Nature of the 6X°C Egg (there is a free PDF download), where they explored the time-temperature combination of cooking the slow cooked egg in a more technical and less emotional way than I did… kinda like this:

(credits to Khymos blog post, image from Culinary Biophysics: on the Nature of the 6X°C Egg, fig.8, pg 158)

instead of like this:

Under the influence... (This is not, my friend, posed.)

And then there is the Truffle Parpadelle.

Smoked egg. How did, and could a poutry ovum be so glorious? It was like a damned socialite among the layers of slippery pasta and cunning mushrooms.

Truffle Pappardelle. Wild Forrest Mushrooms, Black Truffle. Smoked Organic Egg.

Incredible. Every time I taste something like this, I feel like my tastebuds stumbled upon Alice’s Wonderland in Pandora’s damned box – an amusement park where truffles bloom like cherry blossoms and drive up your nose to tap dance there.

*

Introducing, lads and ladettes, my partner in gluttonous crime (glime?), F.

When ever we come together, wolfing down Ukranian crepes in East Village or slurping up raw scallops in Lan Kwai Fong, one of us would inevitably at some point, wonder out loud how odd of a duo we are.

Happy is the ladette who just got a art house job offer on the phone...

On the fields of Vassar...

(Grant Wood, American Gothic. http://www.chrisdenengelsman.nl)

I’m starting to think all these friends in initials I address here are like my secret agents.

*

Gold by Harlan Goldstein, Level 2 LKF Tower 33 Wyndham Street | Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong, China

Decor: 2/5
Service: 3/5
Taste: 5/5
Price/head: 300-600 HKD (lunch)
Five years from now, I’m going to remember: Hokkaido Sea Scallop Carpaccio with Slow-Cooked Egg and White Truffle Dressing, Truffle Pappardellem with Wild Forrest Mushrooms, Black Truffle and Smoked Organic Egg. The egg…. the egggggggggg. And also, sadly, the terrible, distasteful, gold and shiny decor. Well, more the reason to CLOSE YOUR EYES WHILE EATING. (The outside lounge area was quite decent though.)

Daddy Day

June 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

New York Strip on sizzzzzzzzling plate

Look at this babe. Basking without the tiniest dollop of shame in butter and limelight. Not  a hint of humbleness whatsoever. Bloody bastard…

Have I mentioned that I was, three months ago, a vegetarian? For environmental reason?

Sorry, trees.

Apple Crumble Pie. Scoop of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice-cream.

Must I zoom in?

*Big, toothy smile*

My camera still hasn’t fallen apart. Might as well take advantage of that while it lasts. (Lost the lens cap though.)

I still don’t know how to spell ‘Häagen-Dazs’, I’ve to google it everytime.

Do you know, by the way, that the name ‘Häagen-Dazs’ is not a word of any language, that it is made to look Scandanavian to American eyes, and that its creator Reuben Mattus sat at the kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked? (An Ice Cream Show, 1999)

‘Hagoo..Haaaaaaagooooooo….Haaagaaah. Hagget. Hagega. Hagegen. Hagen…daaaaaaaaaaa….’

It’s a marketing strategy known as ‘foreign marketing’, as he thought Americans think highly of milk from Denmark.

Back to the pie – It is, to be honest, too sweet, too ginormous, too carby (carb-acious?), too gluttonous (a Rat has limits too) for my liking.

But then again, it’s an American steakhouse apple pie. The too-ness of the pie just seemed…hmmm, hugely appropriate.

DAD, SMILE

HAPPY F-DAY.

To fathers all over the world as well.

One big gluttonous kiss from your favorite rat.

*

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Shop 2&3, G/F, Lippo Centre, 89 Queensway, Admiralty

Decor: 5/5 (Love that shade of wood..)
Service: 5/5
Taste: 4/5
Price: 500-900 HKD (dinner)
Five years from now, I’m going to remember: The steak…. I mean it’s a steakhouse. And they did put enough butter. And the apple pie, because it’s so, so, HUGE.

Made: That Wasn’t a Sandwich, That Was a Movie

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chuck, I think we know who's the wiser one here...

(Slightly runny) Scrambled Eggs. Stilton. Chicken Breast. Whole Wheat Toast.

See I’m the kind of person who when it comes to making something to eat at home, finds herself confronted with several problems: I’m incredibly impatient, incredibly indecisive and incredibly fickle. In other words, I can’t eat the same breakfast twice in three weeks, I can’t be bothered to cook anything complicated, and when I have the luxury of time to stay home and make myself something, I would perch in front of the open fridge for half an hour deciding whether to use ham or bacon, and then end up pulling out 5 different type of cheeses, 3 types of meat, 3 types of bread or crackers, a few couple jars of seasonings and 2 eggs getting cooked in two different ways on the frying pan. Then I would take bits of this with bits of that and basically do a musical chair of breakfast items before settling on the combination that happens to suit my mood best that morning.

Usually when I am done with that, it looks like the inside of my fridge has come out for a carnival.

It was quite a romantic scene: the toast was just stationed there without expectations of any sort, then on comes a pink film of moist chicken breast, then several cool slabs of Stilton, then after a rather suspenseful pause — a cushion of scrambled eggs right off that richly buttered pan. It’s still not of age, and still a little shy and runny. The Stilton, obliged to melt under the heat, embraces the mellow yellow on top and the pinkness below in all its pungent goodness.

First comes the roughness of the bread against your tongue, then an eruption of runny eggs over to the sides at the top (you swear you hear the cooked part that thought it covered everything say ‘shit!’), and then a sudden sharp tug from the Stilton before it retreats apologetically to give you the sweet, humble taste of chicken breast.

Come to think of it, it’s not really scrambled… but it’s my way of cooking beaten eggs. It’s like making an omlette, but instead of having fillings inside, I leave some sneaky runniness in there.

Can you define joy for me in any other way? I think not. Not today.

Lemon and Lime Marmalade. Cream Cheese. Crepe Wafer.


Another musical chair creation. They click so well together. My amuse bouche for the day yes?