Dining at One of the World’s Best Restaurants: Two Michelin-Starred Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan

Last year, S. Pellegrino released their “50 Best Restaurants in Asia,” a spin off of the regular World’s 50 Best list. Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan, topped the 2013 list — and Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa has been awarded two Michelin stars on top of it. Everything I read indicated it was nearly impossible to get a reservation. We’ve had magical luck in the past with securing reservations at some hard to get into places (still never made it in French Laundry through, go figure), so why not give it a shot for my birthday?

If only I had as much luck picking winning lottery numbers, I’d be set!

So what’s the verdict? What’s the Best Restaurant in Asia like? Here’s a detailed look at our impressive lunch at Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan.

Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Narisawa menu and building in Tokyo, Japan

The menu at Narisawa is continually changing, and the day we dined was part of the “Spring Collection, 2013.”  The theme for this collection was Evolve with the Forest.

Chef Narisawa is known for his mastery of French cooking techniques while showcasing Japanese ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on flora aesthetics. The wine list was quite impressive, featuring a number of local Japanese offerings as well. We opted to go with the suggested wine pairings for each course.

Wine: Champagne Vilmart et Cie

We started off with a glass of Champagne from one of the premier houses in France. The Premier Cru estate dates back to 1890 and is located in the Montagne de Reims region. Beautiful Brut fermented and aged in oak casks for 10 months and specifically labeled for Narisawa.

 

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

I knew we were in for a treat when we were told that the interesting concoction on the table was bread…which would be fermenting right before our eyes!

“Forest 2010″ Bread of the Forest and Moss Butter

Chef Narisawa is noted for his “Bread of the Forest” which rises with the use of candlelight. Several courses in, the bread has grown enough where it is popping over the sides and they bake it table side in a stone pot for 12 minutes. The stone pot has an oak tree lid, with the faint aroma of yuzu seeping through.

Narisawa Bread of the Forest

Chef Narisawa’s creation of “The Bread of the Forest” fermenting at the table

Baking Bread of the Forest Narisawa

Baking the “Bread of the Forest” tableside

Accompanying the bread was a very interesting butter, resembling a pile of moss! The black is dehydrated black olive and we were told the green powder was parsley.

Moss Butter Narisawa

Moss butter served with “Bread of the Forest” at Narisawa

Essence of the Forest

Starting off lunch, we were served three small dishes at once. The first of the courses to arrive was called “Essence of the Forest” and it was meant to symbolize the Spring forest season. Definitely a lot going on with this course and we were told, “it’s ok to eat with your hands.”

Really? In a Michelin-starred restaurant with perfectly pressed white tablecloths? Needless to say, more of my forest ended up on the table cloth versus in my belly.

While intimidating to eat, Essence of the Forest was an impressive presentation. The cup was the key to the forest and contained its “essence”. The cup was Japanese cedar filled with oak-infused water. The forest was created with Japanese herb tempura, the “bark” is skin of the Jerusalem artichoke, while the orange is a kumquat. The forest floor scattered around the plate was made with Japanese soy pulp mixed with green tea powder and black tea powder mixed with bamboo powder.

Essence of the Forest Narisawa

“Essence of the Forest” course at Narisawa

Chiayu, Japanese Sweet Fish

Baby sweet fish in Japan are a delicacy, often called chiayu. We were told the livers were left in, which gives a very bitter contrast. The green dots are sansho pepper leaf sauce and the fish are topped with additional sansho leaves. Lightly tempura fried, the taste of the chiayu was surprisingly mild, however a definite contrast with the bitter livers.

Chiayu sweet fish Narisawa

Chiayu sweet fish with sansho chili pepper sauce and leaves

Sumi

Sumi means charcoal and this is an important element in chef Narisawa’s creations. In this instance, it was akin to a charcoal deep fried onion bread.

Sumi Narisawa

Sumi “charcoal”

Wine Pairing — 2008 Toriivilla (Imamura) Blanc Cuvee Tradition

This pairing was for all three dishes — the “sumi charcoal”, chiayu and “Essence of the Forest.” It’s a local Japanese wine made in the Bourgogne style — very smooth with elegant honey-apple flavors. The mix of mountainous soil and wind coming down from Mt. Fuji makes for a complex minerality on the palate as well.

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

“Soil 2001″

As the name suggests, the next course was not just paying homage to the soil of the forest — it was the soil of the forest. Now, before you go, “ewwww dirt soup”, it was a very calculated course with the terroir of Japan being recreated in a soup. Chef Narisawa created this recipe in 2001 and it comes from the Nagano region. The soup contains no salt or pepper, only burdock root seasoning. We were told the winter soil makes for a tastier soup.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soil 2001 soup at Narisawa

So how was the soil soup? Surprisingly quite tasty. It was one of my favorite courses. And maybe I am just easily swayed once you throw the term “terroir” at me as I’m very aware of the role soil composition plays in the flavor profile of wine grapes.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soup made with “terroir” of Japan — chef Narisawa developed this in 2001, hence the “Soil 2001″ name

Spring Garden

Green asparagus cooked over broiled chicken to retain its flavor and texture — compared to a chicken butter vinaigrette.  In the mix was snapper sashimi with a seaweed sandwich. Pan fried oysters and basil rounded out the dish, which was a wonderful blend of color, texture, flavors, and aromas.

Green Asparagus Narisawa

Green asparagus with sashimi, salad and floral accents

Wine Pairing: Riesling Lion, Edel Wein, 2011

Japanese Riesling from the Iwate Prefecture. Very few vineyards make rieslings in Japan and this is a hybrid of Riesling and Koshu Sanshaku grapes. It is said this wine was once deemed “too delicate” to serve with food and was not that popular, however, this crisp and refreshing  wine has been gaining notoriety in the past few years. Narisawa’s talented Sommelier, Yoshinobu Kimura, does a magnificent job at including this gem in the tasting menus. 

Riesling Lion 2011

Riesling Lion 2011

“Ash 2009″ Scene of the Seashore

The presentation of “Ash 2009″ was rather impressive. The course started off with a beautiful piece of squid and then the ash was created table-side from a mix of olive oil, lemon juice and liquid nitrogen. The ash was spooned over the squid which released a stream of liquid nitrogen across the table. The red sauce was puree of paprika and salami. Very delicate flavors, nice grilled essence from complex paprika sauce, and the squid was perfectly cooked.

Narisawa Ash 2009

Ash 2009 – Scene of the Seashore done table-side at Narisawa

The scene of the seashore concept is to represent the typical Japanese fishermen returning with their catch, the misty ocean at night and the smell of charcoal as they cook the day’s bounty.

Want to attempt this at home? Chef Narisawa shared his grilled squid recipe on Fine Dining Lovers

Wine Pairing: Domaine Andre Vatan 2010 Sancerre Les Charmes 

Hailing from the Loire region of France, this is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Some vines are planted in limestone, so look for a zesty minerality with some smokiness on the palate. This was the perfect wine to cut the richness of the squid.

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Fugu, Blowfish, Hagi, Yamaguchi

Deep fried fugu or blowfish. This was the first time I’ve had fugu outside of a dedicated blowfish restaurant in Osaka. Despite the hype of the dangers surrounding eating fugu, it’s a relatively uninteresting flavored fish (at least how I’ve experienced it). Chef Narisawa managed to make it interesting, give it texture through deep-frying it and a tart finish from the Japanese sudachi. Sudachi is a small round citrus that is primarily used for flavoring rather than eaten. Served on butcher paper, we were told to eat with our hands again.

Fugu Narisawa

Deep fried fugu or blowfish

Wine Pairing: Beblenheim Riesling, Domaine Trapet, Alsace

Alsace is definitely the spot in France for quality Riesling, but add the name Trapet, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit. Jean Louis Trapet is a very well-known name in Burgundy, especially among the great estates of Gevrey-Chambertin. His wife’s family has the property in Alsace and both estates produce biodynamically-farmed wines.

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

“Luxury Essence 2007″ Ise Ebi, Lobster

This complex dish showcases Narisawa’s talent for creatively combining flavors and textures. The lobster was lightly deep-fried and served in a broth made with chicken, pork, ham, and water cooked in a convection oven for eight hours. Add Japanese radish, Brussels sprouts, carrot and more for a unique dish.

Luxury Essence 2007

“Luxury Essence 2007″ with lobster and a broth that requires 8 hours of cook time

On sensory overload at this point, I accidentally missed snapping a separate photo of the glass drop bulbs suspended on a hanging rack that held the steaming broth for “Luxury Essence.” You can get the general idea with this overall table photo I took when they first brought the dish out.

Luxury Essence Narisawa

The start of “Luxury Essence 2007″ before pouring the broth

Wine Pairing: Domaine de L’Hortus Grand Cuvee 2010

This beauty is from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Nice oaky nose with fruity notes on the palate.

 

Domaine De L'hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Domaine De L’hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Rockfish, Odawara Bay

The next course was Rockfish from Odawara Bay, served with Japanese nanohana greens.

Rockfish Odawara Bay

Rockfish from Odawara Bay in Japan

Wine Pairing: Chateua De La Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

This premier cru (1er cru) from Meursault is made from Chardonnay grapes and  comes from Côte de Beaune in the Côte-d’Or region. It’s balances nicely with dishes like the rockfish.

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

“Sumi 2009″ Hilda Beef

The last savory course is where the sumi made an appearance again. The beef was covered in charcoal, made with carbonized leek powder. It was presented whole on the small grill and removed for carving. The meat undergoes a slow cook with heated olive oil continually poured over it for 30 minutes.

Sumi 2009 Hilga Beef Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ Hilga beef presented whole

We were given a cup with sake granita to eat in between bites to cut the richness. Served on a plate that also included Japanese white bamboo shoots, onion, and more sansho pepper flowers, which only bloom about two weeks out of the year. The sansho flowers were also the basis for the green sauce swirled on the plate.

Sumi 2009 Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ served with a cup of sake granite to cleanse the palate

Wine Pairing: Lynsolence St.-Emilion 2001

This Grand Cru is produced with 100% Merlot grapes and hails from Bordeaux’s famed Right Bank area of St.-Emilion. Small production (around 625 cases) and only 20 cases of those were brought to Japan. The wine still exhibits rich color, fruity notes and lots of spice on the finish. The 2001 Lynsolence stood up nicely with the rich taste and fatty texture of the Hilga beef.

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Salty Dog

The first “dessert” to arrive was not truly a dessert at all, but rather a cocktail to cleanse the palate. Salty Dog is made with grapefruit juice and vodka, served in a salt-rimmed glass. Chef Narisawa’s version included Japanese grapefruit with pulp, confit grapefruit skin, and a rim that was a bit sweet and salty.

Salty Dog Narisawa

Salty Dog cocktail prior to the grapefruit juice being added

Kuzumochi – Sakekasu – Strawberry

Let the sweets begin! The base was a strawberry sorbet, handmade mochi cakes made with kuzu starch, and sake lees jelly. A fresh milk /cream sauce is then poured over the dessert table side.

Strawberry sorbet Narisawa

Strawberry sorbet dessert

Wine Pairing: Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

This unique wine was more of a fortified wine that had lots of raisin and orange flavors, with a nutty finish. Selosse utilizes a small number of Chardonnay barrels that he leaves outside around six years. He added leftover grape juice from Champagne making and many call it France’s version of Greek retsina. It is called Ratafia and hails from the Champagne region.

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Petit Fours

This was pretty much the equivalent of a dessert buffet. They wheeled over a rather large table filled with an impressive array of sweets. It was overwhelming to choose just a couple, but I did try to refrain some — and then I spotted the tray of mini-macarons. No way was I skipping those!

Petit Fours Narisawa

Petit Fours table at Narisawa

Petit Fours Narisawa

My plate of Petit Fours

Mini macarons Narisawa

A whole tray of mini-macarons!

After the meal, chef Narisawa came out and took the time to say hello to each table in the restaurant. He is extremely down to earth and quite humble. What a pleasure it was to meet him after experiencing one of the best meals we’ve had during our travels.

Chef Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Meeting Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa as lunch was winding down

Narisawa

Minami Ayoyama 2-6-15
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Tel +81-3-5785-0799

Opening Hours: Lunch 12:00 – 13:00 (last order) Close 15:00; Dinner 18:30 – 21:00 (last order); Closed Sunday

Website: Narisawa

Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno at Taipei 101

Last November, Taipei 101 became home to a new restaurant by renowned five Michelin-starred Chef Yannick Alleno. His new venture in Taipei, S.T.A.Y. (Simple Table Yannick Alleno), is the third namesake location following the opening of Beijing and Beirut in 2011.

In conjunction with S.T.A.Y., Chef Alleno designed a more casual outlet to showcase traditional Parisian style tea time, along with signature French pastries. In January 2012, Sweet Tea soft-opened on the 4th floor of Taipei 101, just steps away from S.T.A.Y.

Back in March, Chef Alleno visited Taipei to coordinate a gala dinner and celebrate the official grand opening of Sweet Tea with a presentation for local media. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Alleno at the gala dinner the night before so I was looking forward to the press event and learning more about his latest creation.

Chef Alleno has a background as a pastry chef so the creations at Sweet Tea were quite intricate and extremely elegant. The concept of Sweet Tea is very feminine on purpose and definitely caters to Taipei’s more upscale female population.

The open-air tearoom sits in the middle of the most scenic area of Taipei 101’s mall, flanked by luxury stores and one “leg” of Taipei 101 itself. The theming and attention to detail certainly blend with its location, in the more ritzy XinYi area of Taipei.

Yannick’s vision for Sweet Tea was to have pastries treated as luxury items and, therefore, presented as artful creations. They are showcased as “luxury jewels” in elegant crystal boxes, all of which seemed to be a big hit with the female members of the local press.

Elegant pastry creations available at Sweet Tea

Many pastries at Sweet Tea come in fancy jewel-like boxes

The colors at Sweet Tea also lean to the feminine side, as bright pops of blue, yellow, pink, and green, are found on everything from glasses to the boxes and bags. The feminine design is not nauseating to the point where a man would be uncomfortable enjoying tea and a decadent French pastry as well.

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

One of the benefits of attending a press event is the ability to try the food you are writing about, and, of course, there was an abundant supply of pastries for us to enjoy.  They had created tiny versions of several signature pastries, which was perfect.

While we only sampled a small portion of what is available at Sweet Tea, I am confident when I say that probably anything you order is going to be amazing. All pastries are made fresh daily and include classics like croissants, macarons, and Madeleines.

Samples set up for media presentation at Sweet Tea

Here’s a look at some of what we sampled:

Vanilla Mille-Feuille

This classic French pastry is very popular, but it’s not one that I’ve typically been drawn to. Most times, I find it too sweet and rich for my taste.

Gasp! I know….how could I not like it right?  Well, I’m the girl who scrapes off ¾ of the buttercream frosting on cakes if that tells you anything.

I was surprised to see Yannick’s take on the traditional classic pastry – rather than the expected square, his is round. The cake layer is quite crisp with sweet caramelization on the top.  The filling is one I would never scrape off of anything – a rich Tahitian vanilla – one of my absolute favorite flavors.

Mini Vanilla Mille-Feuille

Full size Vanilla Mille- Feuille

St. Honore

This is named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honore. Typically, this pastry has puffed pastry, small cream puffs, caramelized sugar, and finished with whipped cream that utilizes a special St. Honore piping tip.

Mini St. Honore pastry

Full size St. Honore pastry

Chocolate Croissant

Yannick had come by to talk to me early in the event and told me I needed to definitely try the chocolate croissant as it’s one of his personal favorites and a signature item at Sweet Tea. He calls it “Choc Alleno” and it is pretty much a chocolategasm. The croissant itself is flaky and rich, while the chocolate is decadent without being overpowering.  Not surprisingly, Yannick insists on using only the best French chocolate for this pastry.

Yannick's signature chocolate croissant

Another shot of the chocolate croissant

Macarons and Madeleines

Two other French classics were on hand for us to sample. I’ve become a bit of a macaron addict the past several years as new chocolatiers and pastry shops open in Taipei – many of them renowned artisans from Paris and Japan. Macarons are either hit or miss – they either seem to be perfect or a disaster, never really in between.  I’ve probably sampled macarons from 10 or more shops over the past six to eight months and these were definitely among my top two. The meringue on the macaron was so delicate and light, while the filling was not overpowering or sickeningly sweet ganache.

The Madeleines were divine and next to Robuchon’s, the best I’ve had.

Madeleines

Sweet Tea Macarons

Sweet Tea Macarons

Chef Demo – Sweet’dwich

During the event, Chef Alleno drew the biggest crowd when he demonstrated how to make one of his best signature items, the Sweet’dwich.  Every photographer ran up to capture this while one of the local journalists served as his assistant.  The Sweet’dwich is inspired by traditional salty sandwiches, but contains some beautiful sweet elements.  He uses brioche bread instead of a crispy puff and you can choose from three flavors: strawberry, praline chocolate, and Tropezien. Each one is quite different and Yannick uses a variety of flavors and textures to really create a unique culinary experience.

The strawberry is the most popular, which is a mix of pistachio flavor custard and fresh strawberries, topped with pistachio crackles and sugar powders.

Chef Yannick Alleno demonstrating his Sweet'dwich

Chef Alleno and Loic, the Pastry Chef at S.T.A.Y. and Sweet Tea

What the sweet'dwich looks like completed - yum!

 

Salty Sandwiches

While the main focus is on pastries, there are also a number of tea style salty sandwiches available.  Both at lunch and in the afternoon, there is a small menu of salads and sandwiches. We sampled several of the sandwiches, which were also nicely executed with soft bread and good flavor.

Salty Afternoon Tea sandwiches

About Chef Yannick Alleno

For those unfamiliar with Chef Alleno, he earned three Michelin stars for his work at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris in 2007.  He was elected “Best Chef of the Year” in 2008 byThe Chef Magazine.  In the same year, he developed his own company, “Group Yannick Alleno”, which has since been responsible for his ventures outside of Paris.  In addition, his mission is to help hoteliers and food professionals by offering his skills. He became involved in Le 1947 at “Cheval Blanc” in Courchevel, and after one season, it earned two Michelin stars.  Alleno also took over the F&B operations of “The Royal Mansour” in Marrakech with two “Grande Table” (French and Moroccan), andthe “One & Only The Palm” in Dubai.  In addition to his two S.T.A.Y. outlets in Beijing and Beirut, he also opened a Sweet Tea in Beirut as well.

L-R: Executive Chef Angelo Agliano from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Chef Yannick Alleno

Chef Yannick Alleno

Me with Benoit, my dear friend & awesome Sommelier from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Chef Angelo, Sommelier Benoit, me, and Chef Yannick

While I attended this event as a member of the press and my afternoon was comped, all opinions and views expressed are my own.


Meeting Joël Robuchon at Gala Dinner at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei, Taiwan

Some people are starstruck by actors, actresses, singers, etc. Me, I get all tongue tied around chefs who I have a deep admiration for.  As you can imagine, the mere thought of getting to meet someone as renowned and talented as Chef Joël Robuchon practically sent me into a panic.

Would I say something stupid? Would I even be able to say anything at all? Am I dressed ok? What happened to the five words of French I knew at some point in my life? Will I open my mouth to speak and have food in my teeth?

For days leading up to what could be billed as the greatest dining event each year in Taipei now, I was quite nervous.  After missing last year’s gala dinner because we were out of town, I was an excited ball of nerves in the days leading up to this.  One of our local foodie friends, Stephanie (@smallching), who we met on Twitter just over a year ago, also joined us for this special event.

We were quite lucky to secure a spot for three at the prized counter for this event on December 3, ensuring we had prime viewing opportunities. Thank you Vincent, the manager at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, who facilitated our reservation just through a status message exchange on Facebook!

Joël Robuchon Gala Dinner Place Settings

Christmas decorations in the counter

Not having any idea what the menu included for the evening, I was excited to unroll it and noticed right away it was personally signed by Chef Robuchon already!

Gala dinner menu, signed by Robuchon on the left and asked Chef Angelo to sign on the right

Before I even had much of a chance to peruse the menu, something caught my eye — Chef Angelo Agliano was headed our direction holding several rather large white truffles.

Chef Angelo with beautiful white truffles

Before we started on the menu, Chef Joël Robuchon and Chef Philippe Braun arrived.  We felt quite honored that Benoit brought them over right after their arrival to talk with us.  Strangely, all my nerves melted away as Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun were two of the nicest people I’ve met. I’m not sure why, but I expected him to be very formal and reserved, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right from the start, everyone was joking and the atmosphere was very light-hearted.

POUR COMMENCER

l’emulsion mousseuse de courgette sur une royale de dashi tremblotante aux champignons
The emulsion foamy zucchini with mushroom flavor

Pairing: Bruno Paillard Champagne

Benoit with the Bruno Paillard Champagne

Pour Commencer

Close up of the foamy zucchini with uni and mushroom

The zucchini emulsion had a piece of uni (sea urchin) inside — while the combination of flavors on paper may sound a little odd or less than appetizing, they worked well together.

Busted! Trying to take a candid shot of Benoit and Mr. Robuchon in the kitchen

LE FOIE GRAS D’OIE
une symphonie soyeuse sous une fine gelee a la feuille d’or
Foie gras mousse in a white truffle flavor with gold leaf

Pairing: Z007 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Zind

Without a doubt, this was my favorite course. On top of the foie gras was a jelly layer made with chicken juice jelly.  The white truffles were so sublime with the foie gras mousse and everything literally just melted in my mouth. This I could’ve probably eaten ten courses of!

Le Foie Gras D'Oie

Close up of the foie gras mousse

On the side of the plate was a small piece of focaccia bread with praline — almond pieces caramelized with red sugar.  Benoit said this was a traditional French way of serving the dish.

Foie gras mousse with transparent jelly on top

Nice details on the plating

The Zind wine is a blend of two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Auxerrois.  The bright yellow wine had slight aromas of lemon with a hint of sweetness on the palate. A wonderful blend from the Alsace, but cannot be called such because of the addition of Chardonnay, a non-authorized varietal.  The vintage is 2007, which is also forbidden given the rules, which is where the unique touch of the “Z007″ comes in.  See, I did not make a typo in the pairing!

Z007 Zind Domaine Zind-Humbrecht wine

 

LA NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES
a la plancha, condiments au kumquat et au caviar
Sea scallop a la plancha with a sauce of kumquat and caviar

Pairing: M. Chapoutier Domaine des Granges de Mirabel 2007

This was quite an interesting course with scallops “a la plancha” (grilled on a stainless steel griddle with olive oil) on top of kumquat sauce and caviar. The red drops are spicy red pepper. With a sauce that has acidity, Benoit paired a wine that was fruit forward, but still respected the delicacy and richness of the scallops. His choice was a M. Chapoutier Domaine des Granges de Mirabel 2007.

Sea scallop with a sauce of kumquat and caviar

M. Chapoutier Domaine des Granges de Mirabel 2007

LE BLACK COD
avec une mousseline de daikon au yuzu
Black cod filet marinated with sake, mirin, and miso in a yuzu flavored turnip hot soup

Pairing: Bourgogne Hautes -Cotes de Nuits Clos Saint-Philibert Monopole

One of my favorite dishes from Nobu is the legendary miso cod so I was quite interested to try a similar version.  There was a small piece of daikon radish in the soup and I was instantly greeted with the sweet aroma from the caramelization on the black cod. I liked the contrast of the tart broth and the bit of spiciness from the pepper sauce against the caramelization and natural sweetness of the black cod.

If you haven’t heard of yuzu, it is prevalent in Japanese cuisine, and is being used more often in western cuisine as well. It typically has a tart flavor, resembling a combination of a grapefruit and mandarin orange.  The fruit itself is not commonly consumed, but it is often used for a zest or the juice in a sauce.

Black Cod

Black Cod - Close up of the Daikon

Close up of the black cod

Chardonnay from Burgundy

The wine Benoit chose was an interesting pairing — Cotes du Nuits is a region in France primarily renowned for its reds, but he had a white wine from Burgundy. He shared that the winemaker was taught by Henri Jayer, one of the most important vintners to the Burgundian region. He brought many innovations to the Burgundy style of winemaking, but passed away in 2006.  His Pinot Noir wines are highly sought after and often fetch thousands of dollars for one bottle.

One of Jayer’s most famous statements, which has been adopted by vineyard owners and winemakers around the world, was, “A great wine is crafted in the vineyard; not the cellar.”

During the break between courses, Chef Braun and Chef Robuchon came around so people could take photos with them.  Vincent was using a digital camera to take photos of each group of guests, but we also had the staff take a couple photos with my camera. Unfortunately, one shot came out pretty bad, but I was able to crop and salvage Chef Braun and me from it.

Picture of the signed photo they gave us during the dinner

Chef Philippe Braun and I

Brett, Chef Robuchon, myself, Chef Braun, and Stephanie

Although we're all looking different directions, still think this is a great shot!

LE COCHON
cuit en cote au plat avec un gel de mais au curcuma
Roasted pork chop and corn jelly with fresh white truffle and homemade tagliolini

Three Pairings:
Chateau Duhart-Milion Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 1998
Gevrey-Chambertin 2005
Casa De La Ermita Jumilla Crianza 2004

The pork chop was roasted with butter, slow cooked for a long time, and then finished on a Teppanyaki grill. The pork was incredibly tender and buttery rich. The homemade tagliolini is easily some of the best pasta I’ve ever had — with Chef Angelo’s Italian roots, this is where he really shines. And more white truffle – enuf said!

Homemade Tagliolini with white truffles

Benoit knows we love red wine so he did three pairings for this and the following course and the three of us shared.

All three of these wines were divine and so different, yet each paired so well with the rich pork dish.  I am still learning loads about Old World wines through our favorite sommeliers in town, and Benoit has done a marvelous job in introducing me to practically all new wines each visit. Pairing three totally different wines — a Burgundian Pinot Noir, Spanish Rioja, and a Bordeaux — with the same dish proved how hard and fast rules in wine pairing may not always apply. We sat with three vastly different wines ranging from the light Pinot to the bold Cabernet, yet all three were spot on.

My favorite was the 98 Bordeaux blend, Brett was partial to the Spanish Rioja, and Stephanie was enjoying the 05 Pinot Noir.

Three red wines paired with the last two courses

LA TRUFFE BLANCHE
d’Alba sur un risotto <<mantecato>> au vieux parmesan
White truffle risotto “mantecato” style with parmesan cheese and olive oil DOP

Pairing: Chateau Puech-Haut Saint-Drezery 2007 Coteaux Du Languedoc

More Alba white truffles! The truffle risotto “creamed” with Parmesan cheese and olive oil containing the DOP designation. DOP stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or Protected Destination of Origin.  Olive oils containing DOP have met rigorous standards to earn the right to include that designation.  DOP certification ensures that every aspect of making the olive oil occurred in the certified area and followed traditional production processes.

White Alba truffle risotto with Parmesan cheese

Another shot of the white truffle risotto

Benoit poured a glass of white to pair with this to see which we preferred. He chose a Chateau Puech Haut Saint Drezery 2007 Coteaux Du Languedoc.

Chateau Puech Haut

Before starting on the dessert courses, Angelo brought around another white truffle for us to photo. Sadly, I wasn’t able to abscond with it.

Beautiful White Alba Truffle

Another shot of the white truffle

LE POMELO
doux de <<Tai-nan>> en kirsch-fizz menthole
Tainan produced pomelo with beer flower jelly, kirsch mousse and mint flavored jus

We had been watching Chef Narita, the Executive Pastry Chef, working on prepping the first dessert course earlier in the evening so we were quite curious to see what creations he came up with for this special event.

Prep work for the Pomelo dessert course

This was a pomelo from the city of Tainan, which is in the southern part of Taiwan, and made an interesting dessert.  It was light, fresh, and definitely cleansed the palate.

Le Pomelo

Brett, Chef Angelo, and me

LE MARRON
onctueux <<Belle Helene>>
Pear souffle with chestnut pudding and pear sorbet, dressing with vanilla-chocolate sauce

Pairings:

1950 Banyuls

Muscat Beaumes de Venise Domaine des Bernardins

2003 Clos du Bourg Vouvray

We had been told earlier in the evening to expect something fun with the dessert course and Chef Narita told us he would be plating ours at the counter.  We’ve become rather spoiled by him as he’s prepared some impressive desserts on the fly and incorporates special touches that continue to blow me away each and every visit.

True to his word, Chef Narita brought out our souffles and plated them individually at the counter for each of us.  Brett managed to capture the whole thing on video as well.

This main dessert course as you hear in the video is a pear souffle with chestnut pudding and pear sorbet, along with a vanilla-chocolate sauce.  Thank you again Chef Narita for the special personal plating!

Chestnut Pudding, Pear Sorbet with Vanilla-Chocolate Sauce

Executive Pastry Chef Narita bringing out our souffles

Presentation of plating the souffles

Chef Narita plating

Pear Souffle with Chestnut Pudding and Pear Sorbet, Vanilla-Chocolate Sauce

Special Robuchon touches on souffle plating

Benoit paired three different dessert wines for us to try — a 1950 Banyuls (always fun to try anything that is a vintage older than your birthyear!), a Vouvray and a Muscat.

1950 Banyuls wine

Clos du Bourg Vouvray dessert wine

Muscat Beaumes de Venise Domaine des Bernardins

LE CAFE EXPRESS OU LE THE
escorte de macarons
Coffee or Tea

Finished off the night with a cappuccino and a French macaron.

My cappuccino with a heart

Macarons

The evening had come to a close and it was time for us to head out — the last ones in the restaurant as usual. Getting to see Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun with Chef Angelo and Benoit was a dream come true. I’ve mentioned in other posts that the synergy with Benoit and Angelo in the kitchen is remarkable and it was an honor to have Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun present to chat with.

During the course of the meal, Robuchon had told me to let him know when I was in Vegas next time as he would make a reservation for me at his restaurant there, which I have been wanting to try.  In addition, Chef Braun made a reservation for us at the new Champes Elysees location in Paris for the following week as we were flying out the following day for Europe.  Full review to follow on that one — what a memorable night!

When leaving the restaurant, we always end up taking a few photos with Angelo and Benoit — which I have quite a collection of now. Certainly can’t complain having too many photos with such incredibly handsome and talented men! Ooo la la!

Benoit, me, and Angelo - love this picture!

On a side note, the next day at the airport I was rushing from the lounge to the plane and I spotted Chef Philippe Braun in an electronics store.  I knew he was flying to New York that day, but had no idea he’d be in the airport the same time we were.  Turns out, he was taking the long way there, and he was on our flight to Amsterdam! We had not upgraded on the flight as they told us Business Class was full so we were stuck literally in the back of the plane (something like row 60), so imagine my surprise when Chef Braun appeared at our seats to say goodbye and confirm our reservation for the following weekend in Paris as guests of Chef Robuchon himself.  Just further confirmation of how down to earth, approachable, and real he and Mr. Robuchon were.

Gala Dinner price $10,000 NT per person, not including wine

Thank you again to Angelo, Benoit, Chef Robuchon, Chef Braun, Chef Narita, Vincent, Grendy, and the rest of the L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon staff that take such good care of us each and every visit.

Grand Opening of Chef Justin Quek’s New Just In Bistro & Wine Bar in Taipei’s XinYi District

Seemingly sneaking in under the radar, noted Singaporean chef Justin Quek opened a new restaurant on Monday in Taipei’s high-end XinYi District.  The new Just In Bistro & Wine Bar fills a niche for those looking for a casual, yet quality dining experience at a reasonable price.

New Just In Bistro & Wine Bar in Taipei's XinYi District

Quek operates two other restaurants in Taipei — another Just In Bistro and Justin’s Signature.  The new Just In Bistro & Wine Bar will be one step up from the original one, but still not as formal as Justin’s Signature.  Quek describes his new venture as “Bistronomic” a combination of high-end gastronomic offerings, but at bistro prices in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.  The cuisine is Franco-Asian, playing on his extensive experience with both French and Asian cuisine.

Justin In Bistro & Wine Bar

Congrats flowers filled the lobby and entrance

We stumbled upon the grand opening notice on Sunday and somehow managed to get seats for Monday night’s grand opening festivities.  Just In Bistro features bar seating at the front of the restaurant and a small dining room at the rear.  There is a private room that will be available for booking soon and even a show kitchen.  The dining room is small, with only 8 or so tables.

Show Kitchen

Excellent wine selection available at Just In Bistro & Wine Bar

Within minutes of being seated, Chef Justin Quek came over to talk to us.  He talked about his vision and about his food sources.  He is working with local farmers to provide the freshest of ingredients and all seafood is locally caught.  There is an entire oyster menu that includes delicate offerings imported from France.  One page of the menu includes some classic and signature Singaporean dishes.  In trying to keep a local tie in wherever possible, Quek also shared that the artwork on the various pages of the menu was designed by a local Taiwanese artist.

Menu featuring local Taiwanese artist drawings

After discussing the dishes for a few minutes with Chef Quek, he offered to put together a special menu and individual wine pairings for the evening.  This is always our preferred way to go rather than ordering straight off the menu as you get a real feel for the chef’s talents and specialties.

Baked “Le Creuset” Egg Cocotte, Fricassee of Mushrooms, Homemade Duck Foie Gras Torchon and Truffle Scented Mushroom Jus(NT $270)

Wine: Vueve Clicquot, Yellow Label, Brut Champagne

Infused with a wide variety of flavors, this definitely set the bar high.  The egg was cooked perfectly with a runny yolk — the perfect compliment with foie gras.  The foie gras is homemade and in this dish it is a torchon, which means it is wrapped in a towel (torchon) and poached.  Many of Chef Quek’s dishes have a strong French influence as he worked in France for a number of years.

Baked "Le Creuset" egg cocotte, fricassee of mushrooms, homemade duck foie gras torchon and truffle scented mushroom jus

Breaded “Wu Gu” Bamboo Shoot, Mayo & Truffle Salt(NT $280)

Wine: Vueve Clicuot, Yellow Label, Brut Champagne

Our next course was a special dish that won’t always be available on the menu — bamboo shoots.  Much like the European white asparagus season, Taiwan is known for its white bamboo shoots that are cooked in a variety of different ways.

The type of Taiwan bamboo is “Wu Gu”, regarded as the best available on the island and comes from the Wugu region near Taipei City.  The season just started this week and each day, harvested bamboo shoots are being auctioned off and sold on roadside stands.

If you have the opportunity to visit Just In Bistro soon, be sure to try this before it’s off the specials board and not available again.  The breading on the bamboo is so light and airy, and rather than overpowering the delicate sweetness of the bamboo shoot, it simply enhances it.  The light bit of truffle salt and the drizzle of mayo really elevate this traditional Taiwanese culinary staple.

Breaded Wugu bamboo shoots with mayo and truffle salt

Capellini with sauteed crabmeats “Marco Polo” (Starter NT $480 and Main $680)

Wine: Casa Lapostolle, Chardonnay

This was a dish that we probably would’ve never ordered on our own as we tend to skip over pastas, especially when they involve seafood.  After a few bad experiences in Taiwan, we’ve become quite skeptical ordering pasta out.

I’m thrilled we let Chef Justin surprise us as this was a phenomenal dish.  The capellini was so tender and light and he told us he used the aromatic oils from the crab shell.  Each bite was like a mouthful of succulent, sweet crab.  Justin discussed that the name for this dish comes from the explorer Marco Polo — there was a romantic theory that he brought noodles back from China and introduced them to Italy.  While that myth is considered debunked, there is definitely some truth that Marco Polo bridged a gap between Europeans and Asians.

Capellini with sauteed crabmeats "Marco Polo"

Another shot of the "Marco Polo" with bites of crabmeat

Wok Fried Whole Pepper Maine Lobster Served with Steamed Jasmine Rice (NT $1980)

Wine: Schloss Vollards, Riesling Kabinett

When the wine was poured for this course, we still had no idea what we were being served.  Since it was a Riesling, we certainly expected something on the spicy side and sine Chef Justin had talked about the pepper Main lobster, we were hoping.

Sure enough, we had a whole Maine lobster that was wok fried with a pepper sauce.  It was absolutely one of the best lobster dishes I’ve had.  The lobster was so tender, so sweet, and the pepper sauce was not nearly as spicy as I expected.  It was much lighter than what I’ve typically had with the Singaporean chili crab.

Wok fried black pepper whole lobster

Le Creuset Skillets Souffle (NT $480)

Grand Marnier Navan Vanilla Cognac

I am a souffle fanatic and this exceeded all my wildest souffle dreams.  Made in a skillet, it is a one-of-a-kind souffle that is big enough for 2 or 3 people to share.  The current seasonal offering is apricot with an apricot sauce on top.  The souffle literally melted in our mouths and it more resembled a toasted marshmallow than the egg consistency in many souffles.

Le Creuset skillets souffle

Chef Justin Quek pouring apricot sauce over souffle

If the souffle was not over-the-top by itself, it was paired with a very special liqueur — Navan Vanilla Cognac, which is made by Grand Marnier, and according to Chef Justin, he is the only person who has it right now in Taiwan.  It was served in a wine glass with two small ice cubes and it went down so smoothly — I am definitely going to be on the hunt for this on our next trip outside of Taiwan.

Navan Vanilla Cognac -- I must track this down!

At this point, we obviously assumed we were done but we turned around to find another dessert being brought over to us!

Old Fashioned Crepes Suzette with Vanilla Ice Cream (NT $460)

Another dish that Chef Justin is very proud of is his Old Fashioned Crepes Suzette with homemade vanilla ice cream.  Traditional Crepes Suzette feature a beurre Suzette, a sauce that is made from caramelized sugar and butter, has orange juice, zest, and an orange flavored liqueur, served flambe.  What a treat.

Old Fashioned Crepes Suzette with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Black Tea Chocolate Truffle Mint (NT $145)

It was time for coffee and tea and I was rather smitten with a few of the tea offerings — especially the chocolate truffle mint tea.  This is definitely a tea I wish was served by the pot, not by the cup!

Chocolate Truffle Mint Tea

Justin Quek’s Private Wine Selection

Something I did not mention yet is that Justin Quek has his own private label wine made by an Australian winemaker.  We were curious about it on the menu and he instantly offered to open a bottle and let us try some.  We were on the lobster course and he said it would pair well with it, which came as a bit of a surprise.  However, it did pair quite well and the peppery flavor of the lobster really enhanced the smoky notes in the wine.

JQ - Justin Quek's Private Label Pinot Noir

For those interested in the wine, it is called JQ and is made by Phillip Jones from Bass Phillip in South Gippsland, Australia.  It is a small production and retails at Just In Bistro & Wine Bar for $3,600 NT.  We took the opportunity to purchase a bottle and have him sign it.

There is a magnum private label Riesling for $4,600 NT, but sadly, it has not arrived yet — we were told it’s still on the boat in transport.

Reflections

Overall, we were rather impressed with the new Just In Bistro and couldn’t thank Chef Justin Quek for treating us to one of the most personalized and enjoyable dinners we’ve had.  He even took the time to print out our specialized menu with wine pairings that we could take home, which we had signed as well.  It is not often that a grand opening goes that smoothly and is devoid of major hiccups and issues — quite a testament to the quality staff he has in place.

Our signed wine bottle and menu

Since we had such an enjoyable dinner and Justin was leaving on the 22nd for a wine event in New Zealand, we decided to come back just a day later to try a few more specialty items and have the opportunity to enjoy Quek’s company.  Look for our return visit details in a subsequent post since we tried even more dishes the second time around.

Congrats to Justin Quek and his talented staff on a flawless grand opening and bringing another gem to Taipei’s burgeoning culinary scene.

Congrats on the Grand Opening!

Erin with Chef Justin Quek

Just In Bistro & Wine Bar (XinYi District)
No 30, Songshou Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City 110
Telephone: +886 2 8786 2000
Website: www.justinquek.com
Hours: 11am Bar (light meals) 12:00-14:00 lunch, 14:00-18:00 drinks, 18:00-22:00 dinner, 22:00-00:00 midnight snacks
Credit cards accepted

Located inside the NEO19 停車場 entertainment/dining complex
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French Cuisine: Michelin Two-Starred Pierre at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

One of the most decorated French chefs in the world is Pierre Gagnaire.  Aside from his signature restaurant in Paris (recently named the 16th best restaurant in the world during San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in April), Chef Gagnaire has a number of restaurants in other parts of the world.  One of those happens to be the Michelin two-starred Pierre located inside the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

After enjoying an over-the-top culinary adventure at Mandarin Grill + Bar in January, we were eager to try additional dining options at the Mandarin Oriental, however, we needed some help in choosing between Man Wah and Pierre as we didn’t have time to eat at both this trip.  In chatting with one of our favorite chefs, Angelo Agliano from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Taipei, he mentioned that Pierre was an excellent option as well.

Pierre it was then.  Geoff Wu, fellow food blogger and the Social Media and E-Commerce Manager for the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, was able to secure a Monday afternoon lunch reservation for us — pretty impressive given it was a holiday!

Located on the 25th floor, adjacent to the cool and chic M Bar, Pierre provides a front row seat for sought after views of the Kowloon peninsula.  Despite the dreary, foggy days that are common this time of year, the ambiance of Pierre easily makes up for it.  The restaurant is intimate, only seating around 60 people. The decor is simple, yet strikingly elegant.

Mandarin Grill + Bar has an olive cart that comes around at the beginning of the meal. Well, Pierre has a Champagne cart!  The champagnes offered include:

  • NV Ruinart “R” Brut
  • NV Ruinart “Blanc de Blancs” Brut
  • NV Ruinart “Rose” Brut
  • NV Krug “Grande Cuvee” Brut
  • NV Comte Audoin de Dampierre, Cuvee des Ambassadors, Brut Premier Cru
Pierre Champagne Cart

Champagne Cart at Pierre

Any restaurant that starts off with a selection of Champagnes like this is quickly winning my support.

While enjoying a glass of bubbly, we found ourselves a bit overwhelmed at the menu options.  There were a surprising number of choices available at lunch — multi-course “Express Lunch” options, four and seven course tasting menus, and the a la carte menu as well.  Brett went with the seven course tasting menu (food $1,488 HK and with wine pairings $2,188 HK) and I opted for the four course one (food $788 HK, $1,128 HK with wine), each paired with a different selection of wines.   The Spring tasting menus just went into service, so we were among the first ones to sample them.

We were instantly greeted with a variety of amuse bouche which set the tone for the rest of the meal — everything Chef Gagnaire does is big and bold.  There is a creative use of ingredients and a selection of multiple dishes for each course.  Geoff warned us that dinner can be up to 4-6 dishes per course! Mental note: don’t eat for a day before if we plan to try any of Pierre’s restaurants for dinner.

The amuse bouche presented to us included:

  • Seaweed Salad
  • Herring + Apple
  • Goat Milk Cheese with Colombo
  • Beetroot Chutney
  • Radish + Celery

 

Beetroot Chutney Amuse Bouche

Goat Milk Cheese with Colombo

The Goat Milk Cheese with Colombo was definitely my favorite.  There was a very subtle curry flavor that came through the goat milk cheese — an unexpected surprise.

After the amuse bouche, we were graced with a selection of freshly made breads. Like so many other good French restaurants, Pierre could easily turn me into a carb lover.  The smell, the softness, and the varied textures were like stepping in a Parisian bakery.  A basket to go please?

Plate of Pierre's freshly baked breads

The first course of our meals was the Duck liver foie gras, glazed pigeon fillets, marmalade of apple and shallots with cinnamon; gellified infusion of artichoke with star anise; tree tomato iced pulp.  Despite my initial fears about the tree tomato iced pulp — this dish tantalized every taste bud.  The combination of spices, sweet acidity of the tree tomato and the umami goodness from the foie gras were sublime.

Brett and I had completely different styles of wine paired with the foie gras course.  Pierre’s sommelier, Hubert Chabot, helps emphasize that wine pairing is not black and white.  Same dish, yet two completely different wines.  Trying side by side was an interesting experiment — both brought out the depth and complexity of the flavors in the dish, yet imparted subtle differences since the Sauvignon Blanc was more acidic over the slightly sweeter dry Tokaji.

My wine pairing: 09 Sauvignon Blanc, Te Muna Road, Craggy Range, New Zealand

Brett’s wine pairing: 09 Furmint Dry, Hetzolo Imperial Estate, Tokaji, Hungary

Foie gras with pigeon fillet

Close up of the Tree Tomato Iced Pulp

The next course was sole fish cooked in the pan with butter then dried; watercress salad, leek stalks, green pepper.  Mariniere of razor clams with seaweed.

I was a bit nervous about the leeks as we had just had a bad experience with leeks and wine on Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton’s Tosca, so I was not 100% sold on eating them with wine only two days later.  The butter helped soften all the flavors and this combination of leeks and wine was matched perfectly.  I had the Austrian wine paired with my dish and I tried a sip of Brett’s Gavi di Gavi, a wine we previously tried in Mandarin Grill + Bar and loved.

Wine pairing: 2008 Gruner Veltliner, Federspiel, Emmerich Knoll, Wachau, Austria

Wine pairing: 2009 Gavi di Gavi, Batasiolo, Piedmonte, Italy

Sole with watercress salad, leek stalks, and green pepper

For Brett, the next dish in the seven course tasting menu was lobster fricassee with fresh ginger, endive fondue with white balsamic vinegar, curry creamy bisque and black forbidden rice.

Wine pairing: 2008 Saint Joseph, Domain Bernard Gripa, Rhone Valley, France

Lobster Fricassee with Fresh Ginger

Another angle of the Lobster Fricassee

Forbidden rice

The black forbidden rice Brett swore looked like the logo for Mandarin Oriental, although I didn’t quite catch that.  I managed to snag a few bites and this was one of the best courses.  The lobster was incredibly tender and cooked perfectly — the fresh ginger and creamy curry bisque were excellent touches.  Even with such a diverse mix of flavors and textures, this dish was a definite hit.

For Brett, next was a palate cleanser course — pink champagne granita, burrata/cucumber flavored with lime, celery, snow peas, and sticky grapefruit juice.  Cucumber and snow peas aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think palate cleanser, but don’t knock it — the flavors work.  If my parents had fed me vegetables like this as a child, I would’ve been hooked!

Pink Champagne Granita

Now, Brett and I were both set to get our main courses.  Brett’s was end of veal loin with lime and honey, Vichy carrots.  It was served with a tenderloin, caper/lemon/Cremona mustard, spring onions, and button mushroom.

Wine pairing: 1999 Chateaul’Arrosee, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France

Brett's veal tenderloin

A shot of the side with the Pierre logo

My main course was similar, but was a French “Dordogne” pork shoulder with lime and honey, Vichy carrots.  There was also a tenderloin, caper/lemon/Cremona mustard, button mushroom, and spring onions.

Wine pairing: 2005 Cotes du Rhone, Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Rhone Valley, France

My pork shoulder main dish

Main dish accompaniment

The main dishes were more casual and homestyle cooking — reminded me of my Grandmother’s signature stew.  We were pleased to enjoy a course that was more hearty, yet not as heavy as we expected based on the menu description.  The wine pairings on these dishes were a welcome surprise as well.  You don’t often find a 12 year old Grand Cru from Bordeaux included in many tasting menus outside of Europe! Thank you Hubert!

Brett had one more course before we moved on to dessert — cheese! It was three types of French goat cheese; ewe milk veloute, almond paste/green tea.  The course was also served with pear sherbet with Roquefort blue cheese, and kaki fruit pulp.  Each goat cheese was among the best we have tried — smooth and subtle in flavor.

Cheese course as part of the seven course tasting menu

Close up of the cheeses

For both of the tasting menus, the dessert just said “Pierre Grand Dessert”….it should’ve had an “s” on the end of it!  For dessert connoisseurs, this was a sweet tooth nirvana.  In the four course tasting menu, I had three desserts:

Vanilla milk jelly, sago, exotic fruit, pomegranate sorbet. I am used to sago in Asian style desserts so this was a welcome change and a wonderful combination of flavors.  Not overly sweet or really tart.  The creamy milk jelly against the pomegranate sorbet was clean and refreshing.

Vanilla milk jelly, sago, exotic fruit, pomegranate sorbet

San Remo: Limoncello jelly, Lemon meringue, lemon parfait.  Lemon meringue, Limoncello and parfait? How can you go wrong?  This dessert was definitely one of my favorites.  I was surprised – with the abundance of different lemon flavors, I feared that the dessert would just be like sucking on a lemon with some sugar sprinkled on top — it was anything but!

San Remo dessert

Coffee: Coffee ice cream and coffee mousseline.  The only way to have coffee in my opinion!

Coffee ice cream and coffee mousseline

Brett’s three desserts were different and just as incredible as those served with the four course tasting menu.  His desserts included:

Preserved orange, orange ice cream, orange mousse, and orange sauce with Campari.

Preserved orange, orange ice cream, orange mousse, orange sauce with Campari

Parmesan cream tart, pear cooked in kumbawa syrup.  This was my favorite of Brett’s dessert courses.  You could get that Parmesan taste, but mixed with the natural sweetness from the cream and pear, it was hard to pinpoint the exact flavor without someone cluing you in.  It’s such an unexpected taste that I might’ve been stumped had the server not said what it was during service.

Parmesan Cheese Tart

Pierre Gagnaire chocolate: water chocolate, chocolate cream, crispy chocolate biscuit

If you haven’t gathered by now, there is a theme with Pierre’s cuisine (and I’ve heard this from a number of other Pierre Gagnaire fans) — his food is intellectual. It envelops all the senses and requires you to think, not just eat.  Had Geoff not told me he could provide a list of all the dishes before we started, I would’ve needed a tape recorded to adequately relate what was in each course.  Dining in a restaurant of this caliber should be a memorable experience — the food should evoke emotion, satisfy all your senses, be innovative, and challenge you to some degree.  I’ve had French food that was complex for the sake of being complex, but complexity that elevates you to a higher culinary experience is a win.

Some helpful tips if you are considering a visit to Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong:

- Secure reservations early.  Allow one to two weeks at a minimum if you can to ensure you don’t miss your desired date/time.

- Book for start of lunch or dinner seating if you plan to do one of the degustation menus.  These take quite a bit of time and you don’t want to be the last ones in the restaurant after they close (like we always seem to be).

- Dress smart.  Like many other premium restaurants in Hong Kong, people dress up for lunch and dinner.  Don’t show up in jeans and tennis shoes — you will feel quite out of place.

- Bring the credit card.  As you can gather from the prices listed in the beginning of the post, Pierre is not inexpensive.  If you plan to do the degustation menu for two, splurge for the accompanied wine pairings — the experience is worth it.

We want to thank both Geoff Wu and the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong for hosting us at Pierre.  We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon and look forward to a return visit.

Disclaimer: Although we were hosted by Geoff and the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, this review is an honest, and unbiased, interpretation of our dining experience.  Had we felt there was anything negative to report, we would’ve included that as well.   — Erin and Brett

Christmas Eve 2010 at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei, Taiwan

After deciding to spend the holidays in Taipei this year, Brett decided we needed to go out for a nice dinner since it was just the two of us.  He has wanted to go back to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon again since there is a new executive chef and sommelier, and surprisingly, Brett was able to secure a reservation at the counter for Christmas Eve.  In celebration of Christmas, Robuchon was offering a special menu for NT $8,880 (about $304 US), which included one glass of Champagne.

Someone from Robuchon called several days prior to confirm our Christmas Eve reservation and find out if we had any food allergies.  Brett asked to have a copy of the menu emailed, however, it never arrived so we showed up with zero idea of what the menu included for $300 per person.  No worries though — it’s Robuchon, how could any of the courses be bad?  We’ve read some interesting reviews lately that suggested the quality of food was not worth the price and they were from the last days of Suga’s tenure so my curiosity was definitely piqued.

Upon arrival, we were directed towards the end of the counter where we had minimal visibility into the kitchen, but we could still see a little of the inner workings.  At least I had an empty seat next to me for all my camera equipment so I was set!

View of kitchen from our seats

The special Christmas menu was already at the place settings, printed on silver metallic paper, and rolled up with Joel Robuchon signature ribbon.  We opened the menu to discover it was a ten course dinner featuring some delectable sounding dishes.  Prior to arriving, we spent a little time researching the new sommelier, Benoit Monier, and decided to put our trust in his hands and go with his wine pairings for each course.

Special Christmas menu on place setting

One of my favorite touches -- signature wrapped cloth napkins

Wine next to counter seating

Not pairing wines with a degustation menu of this caliber is where many diners go wrong.  I realize the dinner is rather pricey, however, if you are willing to shell out $300 a person for dinner, spend the extra to get the right wine(s)!  Ordering a cheap bottle of wine does a disservice to the chef’s menu and your overall dining experience.  Picking the wrong wine can alter the taste of your food, leaving you less than enthused with the cuisine.  Sommeliers are trained to find the best wine for your taste, budget, and the foods you are ordering.  It is quite a misconception to assume that a sommelier will immediately pick the top priced wines on the wine list.  Many will ask your budget — if they do not and price is a major concern, let the sommelier know what your budget is!

In our case, Benoit suggested we split a glass of wine for each course, which was fine with us.  The glass of champagne included with the special Christmas menu was a Bruno Paillard Brut “Premier Cuvee” served from a magnum.  As Benoit explained, Champagne houses prefer the magnums over 750ML bottles.  It seems that the magnum size allows the wine to age more slowly, allowing for a fresher, more crisp taste.

L’Amuse Bouche

Our first course was “amuse bouche” which is basically a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre.  For this dinner, our amuse bouche was a shot of pureed onion and some type of Taiwan vegetable, topped with onion foam and Espelette chilies.  Espelette is a small village in the Pyrenees region of France noted for its special chilies.  These are harvested by hand and strung on cords.  Benoit said the signature element of this tiny village is the countless strands of chili pods adorning the building walls during harvest time.  I would imagine the contrast of the white buildings and red chili pods would be a sight to behold!

Amuse Bouche

La Saint Jacques

The next course was Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with Oscietre caviar.  Oscietre caviar is also known as Ossetra, which comes from the Caspian Sea and has a stronger taste than Beluga.  With this course we finished off our glasses of Paillard Champagne since champagne pairs beautifully with both scallops and caviar.

Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio

Le Crabe – Paired with 2007 Louis Cheze Marsanne

The next course was “crab steam egg with saffron mousse”.  For this, Benoit suggested a 2007 Louise Cheze Marsanne.  Marsanne grapes are most commonly found in the Northern Rhone region.  I was a bit worried about this course as it had egg and Brett does not eat eggs, but he was a trooper and seemed to enjoy this course.  The plating was so simple, yet elegant.

Plating on the Crab Steamed Egg with Saffron Mousse

Close up of Crab Steamed Egg

Le Foie Gras – 2006 Wwe Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling

Foie Gras!!!  The Menu description said seared foie gras with caramelized Marsala flavored seasonal vegetables.  Benoit suggested a nice Riesling from the Mosel Valley region — one of our favorite wine regions in Germany.  The Rieslings found in Germany far surpass nearly every one we have tried from New World wine regions.

Although the English translation on the menu noted vegetables, the plate (and French translation) had fruits, which were fine with us and certainly paired nicely with the Riesling.  The soft creaminess of the foie gras with the crisp Riesling was such a nice contrast.

Foie Gras with Marsala Soaked Fruits

Le Risotto – 2004 Domaine Michelot Meursault

The next course was a pumpkin and red shrimp risotto.  Given the new executive chef is Italian, I figured this would be one of the best risottos we’ve sampled and it certainly did not disappoint.  A nice touch was the crunchy pumpkin seeds added to the risotto.

Benoit paired the risotto with a Domaine Michelot Meursault “Les Grands Charrons”.  Meursault is from the Cote de Beaune subregion of Burgundy in France.  We were somewhat surprised every course had been paired with whites so far, but we really enjoyed the wines Benoit paired with them.

Pumpkin Risotto with Red Shrimp

Le Merou – 2005 Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits

This course was a seared groupa (assume grouper) with Bouillabaisse.  According to the French notes on the menu, it was to have more of the Espelette peppers as well.  I was excited to see the plating for this course — sounds weird, but this was one of my favorite dishes from our first visit.  The bowl is so simple, yet elegant and has jagged gold edges.  The juxtaposition of the delicate fish and broth served in this giant edgy bowl was very attractive.

With the grouper, Benoit paired another white from the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits.  This is a sub-region in Burgundy, known mostly for reds and roses (Pinot Noir) and whites with Chardonnay as the main grape.

This was another excellent pairing.  The fish was so delicate with a nice crisp.

Grouper in Boullabaisse

Le Boeuf

This was the course Brett was most looking forward to.  He spotted the Pan seared Australian Kobe beef right off the bat.  Since we had not tried any red wines yet, we were prepared to ask Benoit if he could pair a couple wines with this course, but he beat us to it!  Before we had a chance to say anything, he suggested we try two different reds with the Kobe.  In talking about the wines and the contrasting picks for this course, we ended up going for three different ones as we were curious on his New World choice.

The first wine was a 2006 J.M. Boillot Pommard.  The second wine was a 2003 Chateau Tour Seran Medoc.  The New World wine pick was not what we expected.  It was a 2006 Meritage Table Wine from Hahn Estates, located on California’s Central Coast.  Benoit suggested we try them in the order above and it was quite evident how the wines progressed.  The table wine from California was much stronger and spicy over the other two French wines.  The Pommard was soft and silky, while the Medoc was definitely bolder.  But when compared to the Hahn, the Medoc was still much softer and more well-rounded.

Seared Australian Kobe Beef

Benoit with the wines we had up to that point

Le Yuzu Vert

This was basically the palate cleanser before dessert.  This was quite tart, but nice.  It was Verbena jelly and yuzu granite with cachaca mousse.  The tartness came from the yuzu, which is basically like a small grapefruit.  Cachaca is the distilled alcohol used in Brazil’s famed caipirinha.

Yuzu Granita

Close up of Granita

Le Chocolat Noir

The dessert course was a heavenly chocolate delight.  It was a flowing chocolate coulant with coffee mousse and milk ice cream.  When the plate arrived, there was also an orange flavored sorbet and a dusting of pistachio nuts on the plate.  Unfortunately for Brett, he’s allergic to pistachios.  He is not severely allergic so he was able to eat around them with no issue.

Le Chocolate Noir

For the dessert course, we opted to each get a glass of dessert wine and wound up sampling two incredible wines that were complete opposites of each other.  The first was a Muscat that Benoit suggested we try with the orange sorbet.  The second was a great surprise — 1979 Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva.  We absolutely love Pedro Ximenez and actually became engaged over a glass of it! LOL!  Trying a 1979 was quite a treat and definitely a bottle I want to track down more of.

Inside of dessert

Le Cafe Express

Sadly, we had come to the end of dinner and it was time for the coffee and macaron.  The night had flown by!  For one last treat, Benoit brought us something rather unique to try — Guatemalan rum matured in barrels used to produce Bourbons, Sherries, and Pedro Ximenez wines!  The rum was quite strong, but smooth.  I am not a fan of rum straight up, but this was nice.

Coffee and Macaron

Guatemalan Rum

As usual, we were one of the last two parties in the restaurant.  I felt bad since it was Christmas Eve, but was relieved when Benoit pointed out there was another couple finishing up dessert.  Being one of the last has always seemed to work in our favor as we often get the opportunity to chat with the chef and this was no exception.  The new Executive Chef, Angelo Agliano, came out to say hello and we had a few moments to chat and thank him for the ultimate in Christmas Eve dinners.

Both Chef Angelo and Benoit were definitely highlights of our evening.  Sitting at the counter, you have the opportunity to watch staff interactions and how the kitchen progresses, and without a doubt, Benoit was running the show.  From helping bring out plates and staying on top of courses for the next wine pairing, to engaging in banter with a majority of the restaurant patrons, Benoit is a definite asset to Robuchon.  He brings such a down to earth attitude to wine and will be the first to help educate you on the wines versus judge you.

Benoit, Angelo, and unfortunately, we do not have the name of the guy on the right!

We’ve met a number of chefs and restaurateurs over the years, and Chef Angelo is one of the most down to earth.  Working for Robuchon, who is one of the most decorated chefs in the world, you might expect Angelo to be aloof, but he is anything but.  To give you an idea of how personal he is, both Angelo and Benoit walked us out to the elevators to say goodbye.  Gourmet dining is not defined by the food alone.  The staff, sommelier, executive chef, and attention to detail play a big part in whether the entire experience is a success.  Chef Angelo and Benoit bring all the class you would expect from a branch of a renowned Michelin starred restaurant, but with the personal touch and comfortable feel of hanging out with them at your favorite neighborhood cafe.   They are genuinely nice people, not because they are expected to be.

In comparing this visit to our first, we were even more enchanted this time around.  At least for the special Christmas menu, there was definitely more emphasis on French and Italian cooking styles versus the heavy Asian influence under Chef Suga.  Our last menu had a heavy influence of strong Asian flavors that are not always appreciated by western palates.

As I mentioned initially, we’ve read reviews and interesting reports on Robuchon’s success after a year and there was discussion about lowering prices as the reception by the Taiwanese market was not as great as expected.  I question whether it was really the prices or the menu offerings.  The people who frequent Robuchon are not looking for seaweed infusion in every course, but looking to experience fine French cuisine.

We are looking forward to visiting Angelo and Benoit again soon.  We are definitely not waiting another year before coming back — hopefully we will visit again in March after we return from our upcoming travels.

Previous post on our Robuchon visit: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Taipei: Our First Visit After Opening

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Taipei: Our First Visit After Opening

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Taipei opened in November 2009 and we’ve been fortunate to enjoy dinner twice there over the past year.  We had tried over and over again to confirm the opening date last October/November, but no one had any concrete information.  Turns out, it opened while we were traveling in Belize so it would not have mattered much anyways.  Once we arrived back in Taipei, it took nearly a month before they had any openings so we sucked it up and cursed at all the photos we saw posted online in the meantime. LOL

Counter at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Robuchon Taipei decor

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Taipei, Taiwan

Joel Robuchon signature utensils

We started traveling quite a bit after that dinner so we had not had the opportunity to go back until Brett decided to get reservations for this Christmas Eve since we decided to stay local for the holidays.  Since it’s been a year and there have been some changes including a new sommelier and executive chef, I thought it was important to post pictures and a recap of our first visit (we’re a little behind after having all our electronic equipment destroyed in a boating mishap right before we visited Robuchon the first time!)

Brett's excited to enjoy Joel Robuchon's cuisine

During opening, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon featured set menus and a number of a la carte courses, but we opted to try the largest of the set menus to enjoy the true Robuchon experience.  Here is a look at the courses we enjoyed during our initial visit:

L’Amuse Bouche

The first course was amuse bouche and I believe it was a blood sausage with fruit (perhaps apple) sauce.

L'Amuse Bouche: Blood sausage with Apple Sauce

Le Caviar

The next course was a “Surprise of Caviar”.  This was Brett’s first time trying a whole terrine of caviar so I was quite interested to see how he would like it.  I think the surprise was the fact that Brett actually enjoyed it.  Oh, how he’s transformed from the beer drinking burger eating Expat in the Netherlands! :-)

Le Caviar

Le Caviar "Surprise of Caviar"

L’Oursin

We moved on to a light carrot mousse topped with sea urchin and jellied beef consomme.  What an interesting combination of flavors.  Brett actually liked this less than the caviar.  I am not that surprised since I find sea urchin to be quite an acquired taste and for the first timer, it can be a bit overpowering.

L'Oursin: Carrot Mousse Topped with Sea Urchin and Beef Consomme

Close up of Carrot Mousse

L’Huitre

The next course to arrive was a seaweed-butter poached Bretonne oyster.  Ahhh, another one of Brett’s least favorite things – seaweed! Fortunately, the flavor was not overpowering — fine for us, but probably a bit disappointing for locals.

L'Huitre: Seaweed-butter poached Brentonne Oyster

Le Foie Gras

This was the star of the show in my opinion!  Foie gras ravioli in chicken bouillon with coriander and espelette cream.

Le Foie Gras: Foie Gras Ravioli in Chicken Bouillon with Coriander

Espelette Cream Served with Foie Gras Ravioli

Le Merou

We moved on to the fish course, which was a seared grouper with gingered leeks and citrus brown butter sauce.  Anything with a brown butter sauce is fine by me!  The combination of the gingered leeks and brown butter were a great compliment to the light fish.

Le Merou: Seared Grouper with Gingered Leeks and Citrus Brown Butter Sauce

Another shot of the Grouper

La Caille

More foie gras! Now we were served a free-range quail stuffed with foie gras, served with a truffled potato puree.  Heaven!  This course definitely took over as #1 in my book at that point.

La Caille: Free-Range Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras Served with Truffled Potato Puree

Les Fruits

This was the first of what ended up being three desserts for us, although there were only two on the menu.  This was described as “fruits Macedonia with sauce feneuille and fleur de biere gelee’ — basically a palate cleanser.

Les Fruits

Le Sucre

This dessert was unbelievable.  It was a sugar sphere filled with passion fruit mousse and coconut milk.  It was so light and delicate.  The sphere glistened in the low lights inside Robuchon and was quite a sight to behold.

Le Sucre: Sugar Sphere Dessert

I was rather excited to try the Sugar Sphere dessert

Another pic of the Sugar Sphere with passion fruit mousse and coconut milk

Inside of Sugar Sphere when Cracked

Le Cafe Express

We finished off with divine French Macarons, which certainly rivaled any from Pierre Herme! As we were enjoying our coffee and Macarons, one of the kitchen staff came over to chat.  She said the pastry chef wanted to offer us an additional dessert, which we certainly did not turn down!  Unfortunately, since it has been a year and my notes are somewhere still packed in a box after our last move, I do not have the exact details of what was in this one.  It was a sorbet topped with some type of foam (obviously).  I do remember that the taste was divine!

Macarons

Coffee and First Macaron

3rd Dessert from Pastry Chef

As usual, we were the last ones in the restaurant and chatted with Cesar, the Sommelier, for a bit before finally heading out.  As we were leaving, the staff suggested we take some photos in the “lobby” and next to the big wine cellar.  Since we never take that many photos together, we couldn’t say no!

Sommelier Cesar Roman

Brett and I in the Robuchon "Lobby"

Brett and I by the Robuchon Wine Cellar

Josef Chromy Wines: French Cuisine and Tasmanian Wine Pairing Dinner at L’Atelier de Patrick in Taipei, Taiwan

I’ve been on the road for two months and literally just returned to Taiwan Sunday night/Monday morning and Brett already managed to find a really unique wine event taking place Tuesday night.  We have an Australian wine specialty store (Adelaide Finewine Cellar) here in Taipei who was hosting a wine pairing dinner in conjunction with Josef Chromy Wines from Tasmania.  The event was limited to 20 people and I figured we had zero chance of getting in the same day, but they made room for us with only one spot actually still available.

Josef Chromy

Josef Chromy Wines at L'Atelier de Patrick in Taipei

Josef Chromy event

Table settings at the Josef Chromy wine event at L'Atelier de Patrick

The event was being held at a relatively new French restaurant here in Taipei – L’Atelier de Patrick opened in July 2009, literally a block away from our beloved Abu Authentic Cuisine.  Since we had not tried this restaurant and want to learn more about Australian wines, this was a win win situation.  For NT 3,000 (about $100 US per person based on current exchange rates), you would receive an seven course dinner paired with 8 different wines.   David Milne, Sales and Marketing Manager for Josef Chromy was on hand to introduce the winery and explain the wines of the evening to guests, which was great for us since we were the only two in attendance that did not speak Mandarin.

We started the evening by sampling the 2008 Josef Chromy Pepik Sparkling Rose wine.  This dry wine had an aromatic nose of strawberries that carried through to the palate.  It is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from Josef Chromy estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania.  This current release would definitely pair well with salmon or a light seafood dish as suggested.

Josef Chromy Pepik Sparkling Wine

Josef Chromy 2008 Pepik Sparkling Rose

First Course (Amuse Bouche): Caramelized Foie Gras Brulee and Sweet Pea Shot
Wine: 2005 Josef Chromy Vintage Sparkling wine

Our first course was the Amuse Bouche, which was a caramelized foie gras brulee and sweet pea shot, topped with onion confit and pancetta sauce.   This definitely left me wanting more!  The caramelized foie gras was so light, yet very flavorful, and it was caramelized perfectly.  The onion confit had the perfect blend of sweet and savory.  The course was a great match for the first wine, which was their signature Vintage Sparkling.  I am the first to admit I am not the biggest sparkling wine fan, but this won me over.  The nose of crisp green apples was quite evident and it had a toasty element on the palate.  This wine is a mix of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay and cellared for 3 years, giving it that toasty element, which will become more evident with further aging.   This is a great wine with pate, oysters, and I have a favorite vanilla bean Champagne scallops recipe from Emeril Lagasse that this would pair perfectly with.  I can definitely see enjoying a dozen oysters with this wine as well!

Amuse Bouche

Caramelized foie gras brulee & sweet potato shot, topped with onion confit and pancetta sauce

Second Course (Soupe): French Clam Soup with Vegetables
Wine: Josef Chromy Gewurztraminer

This was an interesting course.  The French Clam Soup was a thin soup with tiny bits of chopped vegetables.  The soup had a decent amount of clam, but I was not sold on the vegetables.  They were a bit strong and almost overpowered the clams in my opinion.  The wine was quite a surprise as well. I am used to a Gewurztraminer that almost slaps you in the face with its sweetness and I did not get that with this wine.  The rose petal aroma was quite evident and a bit of the spice came through over the sweetness, which I loved.  Although not as sweet as many other Gewurztraminers, still a perfect complement for Asian dishes.  I would have much preferred to see a little more spice in this course to see how the wine stood up.

French Clam Soup with vegetables

French clam soup with vegetables

Third Course (Entree): Pan Fried Halibut with Chorizo, Herb Salad, and Green Apple Sauce
Wine: 2006 Josef Chromy Chardonnay

This course was a true home run in my book.  The pan fried halibut was stuffed with a delicious chorizo and the green apple sauce really paired well with the Chardonnay.  We are not normally big white wine drinkers (except for when we are cooking Asian food) and this was probably our top wine of the night.  The fruit notes of the wine were very evident when paired with the green apple sauce.  This Chardonnay had a lot of the characteristics I love in some California Chardonnays, minus the butter.  It was quite oaky, but still rather fruit forward.  The wine is aged in French oak – 1/3 is new oak while the rest is 1 to 2 year old barrels.  The wine goes through no malolactic fermentation so it lacks the buttery element often found in California Chardonnays and instead retains the green apple quality of the malic acid.  Brett described this one as a mouthful of toasted marshmallows!

Pan fried halibut

Pan fried halibut stuffed with chorizo, served wtih herb salad and green apple sauce

Pan fried halibut

Another view of the halibut stuffed with chorizo

Fourth Course (Petit Plat): Slow Cooked Veal Fillet with Potato Mille Feulles and Bearnaise Sauce
Wines: 2007 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir and 2006 Josef Chromy ZDAR Pinot Noir

We learned the Tasmania region is a cool wine climate and known for its Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wines, and Chardonnay, so we were rather excited to get to this course.  I am not a huge fan of veal, but it was super tender and hey, anything topped with foie gras is ok in my book.  The potato mille feulles was quite interesting and a unique take on the traditional French pastry.  Both of the Pinot Noirs were incredible – the 2006 Reserve was Brett’s favorite.  He really liked the earthy and “dirt” component whereas he felt the 07 was a bit tannic still.  I really liked both, but the fruit was more forward in the 2007.  I liked the mix of fruit and earthiness, but hey, I wouldn’t complain if we had either.  Both were definitely bold Pinot Noirs and two of our favorites of the night.  Dave explained their take on Pinot Noir was to go “back to basics” and showcase the characteristics of the Pinot Noir grape itself.

Slow cooked veal Fillet

Slow cooked veal fillet with potato mille feuilles and sauce bearnaise

Veal fillet

Close up of the veal fillet topped with foie gras

Fifth Course (Palate Cleanser): Granita

Always a perfect palate cleanser and a great way to prep the taste buds for the big course to follow.

Granita

Granita - palate cleanser

Sixth Course (Plat): Pan Seared Pork Rack of Iberian Pig with Truffle Mash and Perigot Sauce
Wine: 2005 Warrenmang Grand Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Warrenmang Estate Shiraz

This was a beautiful course with two bold red wines.  I think I will always be loyal to my California Cabernets, but this was a good offering out of Australia.  This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  An interesting note, each grape is fermented, pressed, and matured separately – in both American and French oak for a period of two years.  The 2004 Shiraz is exactly what you would expect form an excellent Australian wine.  The fruit is hand picked from Warrenmang’s low yield non-irrigated estate vineyard and is aged for 18 months in both French and American oak.  This is a very complex wine with notes of pepper and dark fruit.

Moving on from the wines, this course was heaven on a plate.  The pork had a nice balance of fat and a rich flavor and the truffle mash…ohhh the truffle mash!  The menu listed a Perigot sauce, but I am guessing it was a Perigord sauce, which I believe is a wine and truffle sauce.

Iberian pig

Pan seared pork rack of black Iberian pig with truffle mash

Black Iberian Pig

Another shot of the black Iberian pig

Seventh Course (Dessert): Tout Cafe
Wine: 2009 Josef Chromy Botrytis Riesling

The dessert course included a rich chocolate cake and sorbet with a dried/candied fruit slice.  According to the winery, the Botrytis Riesling pairs well with both light desserts, like sorbets, to rich desserts, like chocolate cake, so we experienced both ends of the spectrum.  The cake was rich in flavor, but very light in texture.  Both desserts worked very well with this wine, which had floral aromas and a crisp mouthfeel with an orange marmalade finish.

Dessert course

Dessert course - sorbet and chocolate cake

Chocolate dessert

Close-up of the chocolate dessert

Sorbet

Close-up shot of the sorbet

After we were done with dinner, the chef and restaurateur, Patrick, came out to say hello.  He is a very talented chef and has already made a name for himself in just over a year.  We are looking forward to visiting the restaurant again to try some of his other prix fixe menus!  Thanks to Dave from Josef Chromy, the staff at Adelaide Finewine, and chef Patrick for an absolutely wonderful evening!

Chef Patrick

Chef Patrick from L'Atelier de Patrick and Shelly from Adelaide Finewine Cellar

Josef Chromy Wines
370 Relbia Road Relbia
Tasmania 7258 Australia
Website: www.josefchromy.com.au

Adelaide Finewine Cellar
3 locations in Taipei
No. 162, sec. 1, Fusing S. Road
Taipei, 106 Taiwan
+886-2-2777-2279
Website: www.finewine.com.tw

L’Atelier de Patrick Restaurant
42 Siwei Road
Taipei, Taiwan
+886-2-2707-9586
Website: http://patrick-atelier.com/taipei.php

My Birthday Dinner at Abu Authentic Cuisine in Taipei, Taiwan

Tuesday was my birthday and we spent it at my favorite restaurant here in Taipei.  Every time we visit, the owner and head chef, William “Abu” Bu never ceases to amaze me.  He is truly a culinary master and I will bet that if Taiwan ever gets a Michelin Guide, you will find Abu in it.   The name “Abu Authentic Cuisine” adds an air of vagueness, but suffice it to say – Abu definitely gives Robuchon a run for his money in upscale cuisine.   When I leave Taiwan in a year, there will be a few things I will miss and Abu is definitely one of them – both him and his amazing culinary talents.

I’ve written several articles about Abu Authentic Cuisine thus far, both in my Asian Cuisine and International Travel columns, and I really cannot say enough good things about him and his mastery of fine French cuisine.  His restaurant has been open about a year and he serves a packed house every afternoon and evening.  You need to make reservations at least 5 days in advance and I would recommend longer for a special occasion or bigger party.  The restaurant is small by western standards – the main dining room seats about 30 and there is a private room downstairs that can hold 10.

Abu Authentic Cuisine in Taipei, Taiwan

Abu is one of the nicest and most genuine people you will find in the restaurant business.  His passion for his craft is evident in every aspect – from the trendy decor and regal place settings, to the extraordinary prix fixe menu offerings and his over-the-top dessert souffle presentation.  Although he has been voted by some to be the best new restaurant in Taipei and serves local celebrities and wealthy businessmen, Abu remains very down to earth, always coming out to mingle with guests.

We arrived with one of our special wines – our signed 2004 Hendricks Reserve Cabernet from Hope and Grace Wines in Napa, California.  We tried this Cab last May just before I left to move here to Taiwan and we were lucky enough to have the winemaker sign our bottle the day we were in tasting.  This is a powerful Cabernet, with a dense fruit flavor and incredibly soft, silky texture.  2004 is one of my favorite Napa Cab vintages due to the early harvest year, which yielded less fruit, but with a more concentrated flavor.  The wine’s strong nose, combined with the exceptional fruit on the palate, make this one of my favorite 2004 wines.  With a case production of only 200, I am hoping we can get our hands on another bottle or two when we are in Napa later this year!

Brett and I with Charles Hendricks from Hope & Grace Wines - May 2009

Cork from our 2004 Hendricks Reserve Cabernet

Signed Hendricks wine bottle from Hope and Grace

Since we had just visited Abu on our wedding anniversary less than two weeks prior, my husband asked ahead if there was any way he could make a special birthday cake since we just had the souffle.  Mind you, I struggled with this decision since his decadent souffle is out of this world.  When we arrived, we met the new manager Michael and quickly found out we were not only getting a special dessert, but a whole special meal as well! We entrusted our beautiful Cab with Michael to decant, and ordered a nice glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to start.

Sitting down, diners are instantly aware of Abu’s  creative talents with the fancy place settings and signature silverware engraved with “Abu”.  Completing the effect, every table at Abu is set with ingeniously displayed bread chips, perfectly spiced and just enough crisp to easily break apart.

After devouring the bread chips, the basket of evil carbs, err bread, always arrives.  The variety of breads served is excellent and includes a wide range of flavors, from squid ink to sweeter berry or raisin breads, depending on the day.  Included is a small dish of accompaniments – olive oil, rich French butter, and some type of spread.  Previously, Abu made an exquisite eggplant caviar (which was also for sale in the restaurant), but due to some production issues, he did not have any at the time of this visit.  Instead, we had a tuna spread, while still excellent, my heart will always belong to his eggplant caviar!

Assorted breads served during the meal

Tuna spread, creamy butter, and olive oil served with the breads

Our meal started with a large spear of white asparagus in a white truffle sauce with mixed greens on the side.

White asparagus with white truffle and mixed greens

Next was a course of warmed lobster with a creamy cauliflower sauce.  Normally, I am not a huge fan of cauliflower, but it was mild enough as to not overpower the softness of the lobster.

Warmed lobster with cauliflower sauce

The warmed lobster was followed by a soup course – a mushroom cappuccino.  Mushrooms have always been one of my least favorite things growing up, but I have learned to like them and appreciate their taste when served in something other than greasy delivery pizza!  This soup was probably one of my favorite courses of the night.  The rich and creamy consistency, combined with the subtle hint of mushrooms definitely left me wanting more.

Cappuccino mushroom soup

The next course to arrive was Dover sole topped with risotto and  a lobster foam.  The sole was slightly crispy and the risotto absolutely melted in my mouth.

Dover sole topped with risotto and lobster foam

In between courses, Brett surprised me with a wonderful birthday gift!  For Valentine’s Day he had bought me a Tiffany & Co. charm bracelet and tonight gave me another charm to add on!  I get so excited whenever I see one of those little blue boxes!

Tiffany and Co Birthday Gift

The palate cleansing course was next.  Abu makes a delicious organic rose granita, similar to a sorbet and popular in Italy.  This is one of the my favorite and most creative platings I have seen in a restaurant.

Organic rose granita

Normally, this is when the main course arrives, but we were being treated to an extra special course.  Foie gras and pasta – the holy grail!  Although a controversial dish in many places, I have always liked foie gras although it is not something I eat regularly.  Of the numerous times I have tried it around the world, no one does it as nicely as Abu.  Two weeks ago we had a starter course that was a foie gras and quail sandwich – the blend of the crispy quail and the creamy richness of the foie gras was perfect.  The pasta topped with foie gras was a delicious combination as well, as the mild pasta did not take detract from the rich, buttery foie gras.

Foie gras with pasta

We were told earlier in the meal that the main courses would be beef and duck.   Brett loves duck so I let him have the duck and I would take the beef.  The mains were excellent and were a great pairing for our hefty Cabernet.  The beef was a steamed truffled tenderloin with red wine sauce and mashed potatoes.  Brett’s was a roasted duck breast with a reduction sauce.  I had a bite of Brett’s duck which was excellent, but I really loved the beef.  It was so tender and cooked perfectly so it pretty much melted in my mouth.

Roasted duck breast with reduction sauce

Steamed truffled tenderloin with red wine sauce

After finishing our main courses, it was only a matter of time until I got to see what spectacular display Abu prepared for dessert.  I had been told by several staff members it was definitely impressive.  We started with the first dessert course, which was almond milk and a homemade orange cookie.  I’ve had his almond milk once before and I could probably drink it in unthinkable amounts.  I definitely do not want to see the nutritional content on something like that!  Notice the plating – slabs of slate. I love it – such an edgy and fun way to serve these small courses.

Almond milk with fresh orange cookie

Close up of orange cookie

While enjoying our dessert courses, I had to get one of Abu’s cappuccino’s.  Normally I do not drink that much caffeine so late, but it’s such a great accompaniment to the richness of the dessert courses.

Cappuccino

The next dessert course arrived shortly thereafter.  It was a trio of sweet delights.  The first was a small chocolate tower with mousse, topped with fruit.  The center was a small jelly candy, and the last was a spoon of fresh pineapple with rosemary.  We still had a little wine left and the rosemary in the pineapple stood up nicely with the last of the Cab.

Trio of desserts - chocolate mousse tower, jelly candy, and pineapple with rosemary

Close up of the pineapple with rosemary

After enjoying a short break and enjoying our coffee and cappuccino, I saw Brett smiling as Abu and a member of his wait staff were carrying a large display.  On it was the most beautiful cake, complete with hand spun sugar strings extending high above the cake.  I was utterly in awe at his creativity and the time he must have spent in preparing such an elaborate dessert for my special day.

Abu carrying out my birthday cake

Notice our signed Hendricks bottle on the left side!

My gorgeous birthday cake designed by Chef Abu

Abu and I

The Manager, Michael, cutting my birthday cake

After we cut the cake, Michael took it to the back so Abu could plate it.  When he brought the plates back out – Abu had decorated each individual slice with chocolate and spun sugar curls.  It’s important to point out that Abu’s plating for his souffle is nearly as extravagant as this birthday cake (see other articles for pictures of the souffle).

birthday cake

Sliced birthday cake

One would assume after all this we would be done, but Abu had a couple more surprises left.  The staff brought out glasses of port for us to enjoy and shortly thereafter followed our last course – 36 month aged Gouda cheese, homemade raisins, and a special honey for dipping.

port

A glass of Port, courtesy of Abu

36 month aged Gouda, homemade raisins, and special honey

I cannot thank Brett and Abu enough for everything and making this one of my most unforgettable birthdays ever!

Brett and I with Abu on our Anniversary - March 27, 2010

Abu Authentic Cuisine
28 Siwei Road in Taipei
(02) 2707-0699
Hours: noon – 3pm for lunch and 6pm – 11pm for dinner