Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Press Room: Springalicous Tasting Number Two

I was invited to another press tasting for the Springalicious event today, this time at The Press Room. I've wanted to check this place out for a while. In a way it is in the same vein as Liberty Exchange but a little bit more high end (they have a raw bar)and definitely more expensive.

Most of the tastings I've been invited to consisted of a few courses with pretty small portions. This, for some reason, was not like that at all. The portions were huge (well, if not huge certainly normal) and whereas typical springalicious diners would be able to chose, say, between the fish and the steak, we were served both,and the optional oysters (which would be extra for a normal diner) and a cheese course with desert. Anyway, I'm exhausted.

It started like this. Classic French Onion Soup Gratinée with shallots, red wine, brandy, emmental & Parmesan. This one definitely did not have the same cheese problem as the Liberty Exchange version but unfortunately it did have the same seasoning issue. It was woefully under-seasoned. Well, I did finish the whole thing within a few minutes anyway...

Ah the oyster course: Freshly shucked international trio of oysters, wild salmon & Atlantic cod ceviche with lime, chili, cilantro, garlic and horseradish. I love oysters. As far as I can tell the chilli, cialntro, garlic and horseradish from the menu were all in the cocktail sauce which tasted deceptively like the store-bought stuff (not complaining, love that stuff)and the citrus on my plate was lemon not lime, but who cares. As for the oysters themselves? The first was nothing. Really almost no taste, not briny, not sweet. The second was super-briny. Too briny. Floating in brine. And the third? Well the third (pictured) was delicious: meaty, sweet, slightly briny. Scrumptious. The ceviche was fine. I love ceviche and I really enjoyed it but it didn't pop off. Sometimes ceviche can seem almost shockingly refreshing and this didn't. Still good though. I would definitely order it again.

Next up, the Boston lobster risotto with star anise, Parmesan and french butter. Nope. This was the worst dish of the meal. Way too over-spiced. It just tasted strong. Too much salt, too much pepper and none of that smooth, rich bisqueiness that I love in lobster risotto. I only had a spoonful of this. The lobster meat was good though...

Now came the two main course options at once...

Yeah! Now we're talking! Chilean Sea Bass with black truffle butter, tagliatelle and peas. This dish was great. It made me happy. The fish was perfectly cooked. The pasta was al dente and spot on. You could smell the truffles before they got the dish to the table but still they didn't over-power anything. Very nice, simple and well executed.

And then...

Prime steak frites featuring a grilled, dry-aged, US prime sirloin with BĂ©arnaise sauce. Another home run! The best steak I've had in Hong Kong. Delicious meat. Perfectly cooked.

See! Great flavor, great char, great blood, yummy fat. Oh and the fries were awesome. I'm starting to get very very excited about the quality of french fries in Hong Kong. Who Knew? Oh, and let's not forget what is perhaps the greatest part of this dish the Bearnaise sauce. Just perfect Bearnaise. I want Bearnaise shampoo. I finished my little pitcher of then started dipping my fries in my neighbor's, then his neighbor's. Let's just say it was a scene.

Next up, the cheese course. Eh... I do love Stilton but skip that onion mess. The menu said the cheeses were supposed to come with quince paste which would have been much nicer. The bread was good.

Desert time! Calvados Parfait served with apple & cinnamon fritters. Another great effort. The fritters were basically fried slices of apple, nicely puffed up and dusted in cinnamon and sugar. They looked like little donuts and tasted like baked apples, very yummy. The parfait was a light moose on top of a cake base. The moose was somewhere between whipped cream and marscapone cheese and subtly flavored with Calvados (I love Calvados, send me a bottle). It went perfectly with the apples. A surprisingly light and lovely end to the meal.

You know, admittedly this meal was spotty in places (I'm looking at you risotto) but at opther times it was really delicous and in the end it left me feeling satisfied and in a good mood. Not perfect for sure but I am considering canceling my Bo Innovation reservation and taking my girlfriend here for Springalicious instead.

Disclaimer: I got this meal for free. Like a baller.

Liberty in a Non-voting Partial Democracy

So I've been missing a particular kind of food. Just basic restaurant food. I suppose it's American but they have places like it all over the world. Someplace not too expensive, not fast food where I can get a big salad, or a burger and a beer. I love New York for this reason. The quality of the food there is so high that these basic beer and fries joints often make me emotional. Anyway in Hong Kong it is not the same. Simple western food restaurants seem to be WAY over-priced, or suck, or (often) both.

So, I was juiced to try out Liberty Exchange Kitchen and Bar. This place has been around a while (I really have no idea because I haven't been) but they just recently got a new chef Vicky Cheng who used to work at Daniel in NYC which is definitely a good sign for my needs. I interviewed Vicky as my first assignment for my magazine and he made a really good impression. He really sold me when he talked about his burger. We both shared the same disappointment with burgers in Hong Kong, and coming from Daniel I knew he at least knew what a burger should taste like.

Anyway, an opportunity arose this week and I went with a co-worker and her friends to check it out.

Oh! and before I forget, thanks to Jocelyn my gracious co-worker for the lovely pictures, even though they were taken on a blackberry they are WAY better than mine would have been.

Jocelyn ordered the french onion soup and was nice enough to share it with everyone. It was fine I suppose, just way under seasoned. Under seasoned to the point where she had to ask for salt and pepper and really DIY it. Also not very cheesy, but I suppose that's a personal preference thing.

Next up was the calamari. We weren't going to order this but then we saw that they were miso-marinated and served with a shiso mayonnaise. That sounded more interesting and we decided to go for it. They were fine. Typical basic fried calamari, which in itself was kind of nice in a way because it really reminded me of what I would order in a bar at home. That said, I couldn't taste the miso at all. Not at all. Although Jocelyn said she could detect a hint of it. Also I love shiso; I think its such a cool flavor, but the shiso mayo didn't really do it for me. Not enough of the shiso came through and I ended up dipping my little guys in the truffle mayo but more on that later...

Now we're talking. This burger was really nice. Not fancy, not crazy just nice. Really nice. One of my biggest problems (aside from all of the others) with Hong Kong burgers is the fat content. Even eating some of the better burgers out here is like eating a text-book. This burger had a perfect blend of meat and fat. It was juicy. Really really juicy and the butcher board it was served on proved its functionality by gathering all of my leavings in the blood groove. Nice touch. It was also cooked perfectly medium rare and lovely. Vicky mentioned in our interview that he was going to serve his burger with basil mayonnaise and that kind of freaked me out. Basil is just such an over-powering flavor. But, I have to say it worked really well and perfectly matched with the fattiness of the beef and the tomato confit (confit, people love that word these days).

Also, the fries are bangin. Straight up. Hot, crisp in the right places, soft in the right places and lightly dusted in salt and Parmesan. With the burger, the fries are served with ketchup but if you order them as a side they are served with truffle mayo. Of course we asked for some truffle mayo and here is where Liberty gets a lot of points from me, they brought out three tubs of truffle mayo, more than enough for everyone at the table even if they hadn't ordered any fries. And then they didn't charge us a penny for it! This is after I got the fries with truffle mayonnaise at Classified and was given a shallow thimble of the stuff. Good looks Liberty Exchange!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


So here's the thing. I started doing this for fun mostly and to make my friends jealous. As I've been spending more time here, reading more blogs, meeting bloggers and actually working in the food industry, I've had to think a little bit more seriously about this whole endeavour. It's a shame because I hate doing anything seriously and especially don't want to let thought and good intentions get in the way of my snackies but here it goes...

A bunch of other bloggers follow this "Blog Code Of Ethics" thing. Basically it's: don't review free food, eat anonymously, and don't accept money for reviews. Let me say that this is undoubtedly ethically correct. This is the way to go, no doubt.

Now let me tell you what I'm going to do...

I get invited to all kinds of free meals and tastings and other fun food stuff for this job. Seriously, like four times a week, and I want to share it. Also I have opinions about it. I completely get how this causes a bias. To be fair I've been invited to some pretty shit free meals and afterwards I don't blog about it because I felt guilty about it...

Anyway, I will try and make it abundantly clear when a meal is free or what the circumstances around the meals I enjoy are. But if they're still great, or interesting or fun or worth writing about at all I'm still gonna write about them. So there we go. Oh and folks who might be giving me free meals, don't get all butt hurt if I don't like it. Gotta keep it real.

And just sayin' I'm a little too broke to have ethics right now... I don't know how many people would really want to keep reading about the noodle place next to my house. Although that spot is BANGIN.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring is in My Hair

Life is getting really good right about now. Hong Kong is trying to do its own version of Restaurant Week this year called Springalicious and I'm getting invited to try all of these wild restaurants' special tasting menus. Holla.

The first tasting I was invited to was at 1/5 nuevo, a Spanish place that I've been hearing about. To be honest, I have read enough and heard enough from my friends to be a little wary of Spanish places here. Hong Kong is in the throws of a tapas frenzy and there are little mediocre tapas places popping up everywhere. So, my expectations were not high when I made my way to the restaurant. Thankfully I was really wrong about this place. The food was top-notch, the wine was just right and the price was really impressive. A four course meal with a wine pairing during Springalicous is just HK$228 which is kind of amazing but even the normal price of HK$286 seems low to me...

Also, you might notice that my pictures look awfully professional. That's because they are and I want to thank Henry Kao for photographing our meal. And no that doesn't mean I'm getting paid to write this.

Anyway, snackies!

We started with this little trio of cold tapas: a shot of gazpacho, a slice of Iberico ham and a plump marinated anchovy on toast. This was yummy. Iberico ham is always welcome but to be honest the stars of this dish were the other two. I love me some anchovies and this pudgy oily little nugget did not disappoint. The gazpacho was actually extremely good. I wanted a pint instead of a shot. It was so refreshing especially in collusion with the anchovy.

Next up was the hot tapas, which for some for some reason there are no pictures of. Braised ox tail and grilled sardines. This was an exact opposite of the cold tapas. Where they woke me up, these put me in a rich comfy stupor. I feel like a traitor liking ox tail because my father hates it so much (once in a restaurant when the waiter said that day's special was ox tail soup my dad uncontrollably gagged so loudly that they thought he was choking), but I really do love it. It's one of the great, slow, lip smacky meats that always makes me feel like I'm snowed in somewhere. This oxtail was really meaty and cooked very well; it fell apart on the fork and left me feeling full for almost fourteen hours. The sardines were, of course, great. For some reason everyone at the table ate theirs so I ended up eating a whole school of them. Not that I'm complaining.

The main dish, of which I also have no picture was certainly no respite from the richness of the hot tapas. Duck confit with garlic potato and port wine sauce. I've had a long sting of bad western duck experiences in Hong Kong, although I've had an equal number of great Cantonese duck experiences and straight up life changing moments with some geese, but this broke the losing streak. This confit was intense but delicious with crackly skin covered in big flakes of sea salt and fatty tender meat. The port sauce was light and cut the grease of the bird nicely and not at all like the cloyingly sweet versions of this sauce I've had elsewhere. Also, the portion was surprisingly huge. This duck must have been SERIOUS.

To be honest I don't remember the potatoes. Whatever that means.

BA-BLOW!! Desert dropped like it knows what's up! Creme caramel, apple tart and caramel ice cream. The creme caramel was well done. Lovely, no surprises no disappointments. The caramel ice cream was ice cream that had the flavor of caramel. See what I'm sayin? And the tart was deceptively thin for the fat flavour it was hiding. Flaky, delicate, light and gone too soon. Put them all together and you got my eyes rolling around in public.

Also, there was wine! Two reds, a Cava (Spanish sparkling) and a desert wine. That's about as wine savvy as you'll see this blog get. But they were just enough to get me in the right head space to get back to work. Thanks nuevo!

I hope there are more tastings coming up...

Monday, March 28, 2011

i-Eat pt. 2

This will be a quick one. We ate at Monster Sushi in i-Square the other day in order to continue this whole i-Eat business. Whack. I hate being critical and I can usually find something to like but not really this time. We ordered some rolls and some tempura (fine, I suppose the tempura was fine). The rolls were all drenched in mayonnaise, the fish tasted old and the rice on one of my salmon pieces tasted like ammonia (Lucky concurs). The real problem was that there was about twenty minutes between the first two rolls we ordered and the last two, AND because we were sitting at the sushi bar we could see they weren't even getting started. Anyway, because it was so whack and taking so long we decided to cancel the second half of our order and go get some frozen yogurt.

I called the waitress over and very politely lied and said we had a ballet to get to so could we maybe cancel the second half of our order? She said that if they had started making it it would be impossible to cancel. This is absolutely fair but I felt pretty safe because I could see the sushi chefs not making it. So, what did the woman do? She stood right next to me and told the sushi chef in Cantonese "Hurry! Start making his sushi!" then, when the chef did start grabbing some rice she said "Oh, I'm so sorry the chefs have already started preparing your order."


Tiger Mom

Just received this email from my mom,

"Hi Charley,

I just caught up on your blog. It is always a treat to read - very witty, but I do worry about your health! I have to make one momish comment. I know blogs are casual and little imperfections add to the charm, but would it be possible to stop using "real" when you mean really or very? I know it is one of my pet peeves but to me it always makes people sound uneducated when I hear it...

Word is bond but as a sort of point counter-point I do wanna drop this.

Obviously it's hard to see how you come off from inside your own head but somewhere between Graham Greene and Ghostface is where I'm headed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I just can't get enough of Chinese deserts! We actually went here just after the da pai dong from the last post but I felt the experience needed its own spotlight. Going out to a Chinese desert place is closer to a drug experience than a dining experience. This is the kind of food that Jerry Garcia would eat on Mars. Where else can you say "I'd like the coconut ice cream over corn soup with tofu, extra peanuts. And instead of the black bitter gelatinous cubes, could I get the pink exploding balls?"
I'm telling you...

Look at this menu! It's a straight up hallucination. And this blurry little cell phone picture isn't even doing it justice. I've been to restaurants PAPERED in this stuff.

Before I get into the real wild stuff I want to take a minute to discuss my roommate Lucky's shameful cake addiction. Seriously I think this guy's tape worm has cancer or something. He's so skinny and wasting away before our very eyes but, as far as I can tell, he spends his days in a semi-somnolent stupor pounding more cake than Marie Antoinette. He's the one in the restaurant ordering a large slice of cheese cake with a side of tiramisu or drunkenly asking a taxi driver at 4am in broken Cantonese where he can score some profiteroles. Anyway this is a picture of the tiramisu he ordered to accompany his iced milk-coffee ice cream float...

This is the float.

This is what Rainbow Ryder ordered. Its an iced coffee (?) with red beans, tapioca balls and a scoop of coconut ice cream all topped with creamy coconut milk.

This hot black sludge is what Piano ordered. It looks just like what fills the sky in Disney movies when things are just starting to go bad.It's black sesame porridge and its actually one of my favorite Chinese deserts. That said, one time our drain backed up when I was living in Africa and this looks EXACTLY like what came out.

This flamboyant plate of Mardi Gras is what I ordered: pink blueberry shaved ice with powdered almonds, chocolate sauce and tapioca balls. I decided to forgo the usual sweet corn kernel topping in favor of the pink exploding balls because... well it seemed like an obvious call. Anyone who has ever had a 'gusher' is familiar with the exploding candy with a liquid center thing but these little guys take it to a whole other level. They are so springy and resilient that at first you think they're just tart gummy candies but just when you think they're a hoax and really bite down on them they explode with vigor showering your teeth and tongue with pink, tart, wildly artificial tasting juice. Madness.