Thursday, March 17, 2011

i-Eat pt.1

So, they just opened a huge mall near my apartment (this might not be true, it could be the mall was there all along and I just moved here) called i-Square. Lucky and I always discuss getting dinner there but it's just too daunting. There must be close to one hundred restaurants in the mall ranging from the super fancy to Duke's Deli: home of the third best hot dog in Hong Kong. Anyway, yesterday I had an idea: how about we start at the top and eat at every single restaurant in the mall and it will be a running feature on my blog. I like the idea of not having to think too much or travel too far and I also like the idea of how huge and diverse the experience will prove to be. It kind of gets at what I love about Hong Kong. Everything is so much more vertical than horizontal here, there are lots of examples of buildings that if you wished you would never have to leave, apartments, discos, restaurants, spas, salons, grocery stores, tailors and electronic shops just an elevator ride away from each other.

Last night we decided to start at the top and took the elevator to the 31st floor. Unfortunately that floor's restaurant's cheapest appetizer was about $100 US, so we sheepishly took the elevator down to the 30th. Maybe I'll check out the 31st for my birthday or something.

The 30th is home to Nanhai No. 1 and the attached Eye Bar. I was invited to the opening of Eye Bar the other week and enjoyed myself but somehow managed to miss the presence of the entire restaurant and the view. I must have been seriously distracted because the whole two floor open space is surrounded with floor to ceiling windows allowing an unobstructed view of the city across the harbour. Quite impressive.

The restaurant itself sells the usual selection of Guangdong dishes, of which I am obviously quite fond. Before I get into the food I just wanted to say, I looked up this place on Open Rice (the Hong Kong yelp) just now and saw a bunch of people complaining about the service; well when we came the restaurant was pretty full and they seated us promptly right by the window and for the rest of the meal we were surrounded by smiling server-youth communicating with each other on walkie talkies. The service was really great, super friendly and navy seal efficient. Also, before dinner I ordered a dirty gin martini and was pretty disappointed...somehow even the olives didn't taste like olives. Will someone please tell me a place to get a good martini in this city?

We started our meal with some cold dishes. I was going for something a little refreshing and uplifting to wake us up a little after work and I think we did pretty good.

First we ordered the Marinated Baby Pig Legs in Yellow Wine. Basically these were piglet trotters soaked in scrumptious booze made in the same style as drunken pigeon and the like. I usually love this preparation but have had bad luck as of late with these kind of dishes in Hong Kong as they've either had no wine flavor or WAY too much. These broke that bad streak and were really great, although I'm not sure if Lucky though so. Just enough lovely wine and the trotters cooked to perfection with lots of crunchy cartilage,lip smacking collegian, crunchable baby bones and slick boozy skin.And they were served with an amazing light chili vinegrette! I think I pretty much ate the whole plate.

Next up was Fungus in Preserved Vinegar. I didn't get a great picture of this but it was maybe my favorite dish of the night. Nice black little flappy mushrooms with shredded veggies and tart bangin vinegar. The tiny mushroom caps would fill with vinegar and almost take on the mouth feel of little pickled berries. Very very good. Would somebody please explain what "preserved vinegar" is to me? I see it on menus all over the place here. Isn't all vinegar preserved? I'm just sayin...

Next up was the stewed Spare Ribs in Sweet Dark Sauce with Fried Mantou. This was really nice but so heavy I didn't know if I could handle it. The sauce was sweet but it was nicely complex compared to the cha chaan teng versions of this dish. It was served with pineapple thinly sliced on top. And of course there was the fried man tou! Mantou is Chinese steamed bread. Its kind of the Chinese equivalent of deep frying white-bread and just as delicious. I think your getting the picture by now, super fatty falling-apart-tender beef chunks covered in a sweet sticky sauce, with glazed pineapple and fried dough. Yeah, intense. This dish was pretty damn Gwai Lo but then again I am one so I suppose there's no shame in it. I guess the jury is still out on this dish. It was certainly yummy but too...much.

Now time for another rich and sticky sweet stewed dish! The Three Cup Chicken came right on the tail of the spare ribs. This is one of by back in the day cha chaan teng favorites. The Chinese for this dish is three cup chicken but it was on this menu as Taiwanese stewed chicken. Basically the dish is big chunks of chicken stewed with a sweet and sticky sauce served with mushrooms and garlic cloves and assorted vegetables in a sizzling clay bowl. This version was really good. The chicken chunks were huge and really tender and I liked that they were served with whole garlic cloves and pearl onions. The onions were especially nice as they acted as little sauce sponges. The garlic cloves were yummy but too underdone, a little too crunchy and green tasting. Again, this dish was good but just too heavy it was over-kill and I was starting to feel food-stupid.

Ah ha! Tofu with olive leaves and diced pork. This was really really nice. I barely noticed the diced pork all though it was infused with that nice glistening meatiness that tells you pork is somewhere on the scene. I'd never eaten anything with olive leaves and they where bangin', giving the dish a savory almost herby (but not at all) flavor and added a nice subtle crunchiness to the whole thing. They kind of reminded me texturally of the way they use fried basil in some Thai dishes. The texture of the tofu was really nice too, pan fried skin with a shockingly soft almost liquid center. This was a great dish for eating over rice. Really good.

Next I foolishly and indulgently ordered desert. Well, we split two deserts and desert wine and coffee...

We ordered Asti, the super sweet Italian sparkling wine. My only experience with this stuff before was when I used to buy it at the corner store because it was cheaper than Andre and I was always disappointed because it is just so god damned sweet but this time we ordered the profiteroles with ginger/ vanilla ice cream, banana and warm chocolate sauce and I thought the two might go perfectly. I also ordered my favorite Chinese desert, warm almond cream. I was right that the desert wine went really nicely with everything but to be honest the desert was really the disappointment of the meal. The profiteroles especially were way below standard. The pastry was oddly dry and crispy, instead of soft and flaky. The ice cream was fine but too icy and not creamy enough and the sauce might have once been warm but by the time it made it to our table was cold and hard.

The first taste of almond cream was amazing. It was the richest almond cream I had ever had, frothy, creamy and super sweet but that richness actually sabotaged it as within about one minute of arriving at our table it had congealed into a thick puddly kind of almond pudding. It had nothing on the best almond cream I've ever had from Sun Tung Lok. We didn't finish it.

All in all I'll probably come back to this restaurant. With the view and the ambiance and the reasonable price it would be a great date restaurant. The food really was pretty good and I'm excited to try some of their less white person oriented dishes. Also I hear they serve dim sum...

So, one out of thirty one floors down. I'll keep you posted.

And another thing, before the food they served these amazing little shrimp crackers that tasted like a mix between shrimp crackers and pork rinds, god bless 'em.

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