Street Food Saturday: Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

I will never forget the first time I ever tasted an empanada. I was 18 and working with a girl from Argentina who brought them in one day for us to try.

I was immediately hooked. 

Those empanadas were definitely integral in opening my eyes to the world of culinary travel an unmentionable number of years ago.

For today’s post on the A to Z Blog Challenge, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my favorite empanadas here in Belize. They are masa based, stuffed with fish and served with a cabbage relish that is divine. They are lighter and less filling than many other empanadas I’ve had, which means I can easily scarf down an entire order on my own.

If you visit Belize, I definitely recommend giving these a try! Also, try the coconut shrimp curry – it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time! 

Empanadas Elvi's Kitchen Belize

Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

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

Traditional Catalan Cuisine: Pont Vell Restaurant in Besalu, Spain

If your travels take you to the Catalonia (Cataluyna) region of Spain, consider a stop in the charming village of Besalu. Here you will find an interesting array of history, including a Jewish Quarter and a 12th Century Romanesque Bridge.

Situated right at the base of the bridge, you will find Pont Vell Restaurant. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better view and the food is traditional Catalan cuisine.

Interior of Pont Vell Restaurant

Pont Vell Exterior Dining Area under the Bridge

Pont Vell opened in 1981 in an 18th century building next to the bridge that crosses the river Fluvia. Owners Artur and Nuria have perfected dishes that are certainly on par with the superb location.

View of Romanesque Bridge from Pont Vell Restaurant in Besalu, Spain

We were invited guests to Pont Vell, along with a private group of other bloggers. Two other bloggers, Kate (Adventurous Kate) and Michael (Go, See, Write) had eaten there previously and absolutely raved about the food. Pont Vell rolled out the culinary red carpet for us. We ended up sampling a host of their specialties, and the owners were more than gracious with us as cameras flew around the tables documenting every plate that came out.

The evening kicked off with a host of starters including Escalibada, which was eggplant, onion, and red peppers all roasted on a grill. We also had fresh onions and tomatoes from their own garden.

Escalibada appetizer

Fresh Tomatoes and Onions

Other appetizers included my personal favorite – the homemade pate — and we had a plate of beautifully prepared green asparagus with a Romesco sauce.

Pate Appetizer

Beautiful Fresh Green Asparagus

The evening’s star of the show was definitely the fideua. It’s very much like a paella, but made with noodles. We always called them fideo noodles growing up in Southern California. They are often used in a Mexican soup I ate a lot as a child “sopa de fideo”, basically a tomato noodle soup.

We had the clam fideua, which could’ve probably fed the entire village of Besalu. The presentation was impressive and the taste was even better. Fideua is available on the regular menu for two or more people. They also have a black one, assuming made with squid ink that would be interesting to try.

Clam Fideua

If the fideua was not enough, they served two additional main courses – leg of lamb and sweet and sour rabbit. I’ve read numerous mentions of the sweet and sour rabbit as a Pont Vell house specialty.

Leg of Lamb Entree at Pont Vell

Sweet and Sour Rabbit -- A Pont Vell Specialty

One note about Pont Vell and cuisine from this region – you are likely to find a lot of game meat and fowl. Guinea hens, pigeons, rabbit, and other hearty meats are used in a number of dishes. Don’t be dissuaded if you are not a fan of the stronger flavor meats. Personally, I do not typically order deer, rabbit, or pigeon, but I’ve found the sauces and accompaniments often tone down the “gamey” flavor, creating an enjoyable dish.

Surprisingly, we managed to find a little room left and sampled some dessert – the brownie with strawberries, raspberries, and kumquat.

Brownie Dessert with Strawberries, Raspberries and Kumquat

Pont Vell
C/Pont Vell 24
17850 Besalu (Girona)
Phone: (+34) 972 59 10 27
Email: info@restaurantpontvell.com
Website: http://www.restaurantpontvell.com/

Hours: Lunch 1pm – 3:30pm, Dinner: 8:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday nights, and all day Tuesday. Also closed from 20th of December to 20th of January and the first week in July. However, after that, they are open Sunday nights in the summer months of July and August.

Las Vegas Restaurants: First Food and Bar inside The Shoppes at The Palazzo

I was in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier  this year for a food and travel writers conference (IFWTWA) and some of the attendees were talking about this fantastic restaurant called First Food & Bar. Sadly, it was not on my rotation schedule of restaurants I was to visit as part of the conference. So, I ducked out one afternoon between sessions and went to check it out myself.

Despite being mid-week, and post-lunch rush, many of the restaurants we passed in The Shoppes at The Palazzo were still packed. I was a bit worried we were not going to get in, but relief set in when they said they could still take a party of two on a walk in.

I did some reading up on the chef and the menu before we went and one main menu item kept popping up…

Doritos Mac N Cheese

Oh yeah! Voted “Best of Vegas” By Las Vegas Weekly, this interesting side dish had made it on nearly every review, blog post, and article I read.

There was only one problem though…pretty much everything on the menu had come highly recommended. I warned Mom to loosen her pants and get ready to chow. Sadly, we didn’t get to sample as much as I would’ve liked, but it was enough to know that I will definitely come back on my next trip back home to Vegas (why oh why did all these great restaurants come after I moved from Sin City!?!)

Here’s a look at what we sampled:

 

Warm Goat Cheese “Souffle” ($14)

The warm goat cheese was crusted with pistachios and had cranberries, Asian pears, and white balsamic vinegar. My mom has never had goat cheese and is really not an adventurous eater at all so I was shocked that she ended up loving this.  And I do mean loving it…to the point that she still talks about it months later!

The goat cheese was soft and just a hint of sweetness. Combine that with the sweetness from the cranberries, the tartness of the balsamic vinegar, and the crunchy saltiness of the pistachios — definite home run for me.

Warm Goat Cheese Souffle appetizer

I love goat cheese and the best I ever tried was home made at a winery in Australia.  I loved it so much we bought a jar to take back to the hotel with us.  I have since searched for goat cheese that rivaled this for three years since, without avail. This goat cheese was the closest in flavor profile so I was nearly moved to tears.

Yes, I almost cried over goat cheese!

BBQ Pulled Pork Eggroll ($15)

This dish I had to try because of the BBQ sauce, which is made with Dr. Pepper. I have a friend in Belize who is literally obsessed with Dr. Pepper and many of his followers swear by BBQ sauce made with it. The eggrolls also had buttermilk slaw and corn slathered on top.

I will probably be chastised for saying this…I did not get a whole lot of Dr. Pepper flavor, but it was extremely good. The pulled pork was moist and juicy and the BBQ sauce was rich and had just a bit of spicy tang.

Dr. Pepper or not, I’d definitely order these again.

Egg Rolls with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce

Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings ($17)

Asian dumpling, meet Philly Cheesesteak. Enough said!

This is a match made in heaven for the other half of Our Tasty Travels. Brett is a bit of a Philly Cheesesteak connoisseur growing up near Philadelphia, so he would’ve jumped on these no doubt. They are served with a spicy siracha ketchup that was amazing.

These still call out to me in my dreams. I will have you again…one day!

Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings

 

Waldorf Salad ($15)

Moving on to more entree type dishes, my Mom ordered the Waldorf Salad with toasted walnuts and the most interesting croutons — frozen grapes! I only had a bite of her salad as I was pretty much already stuffed after splitting three appetizers.

Waldorf Salad with Frozen Grape Croutons

Doritos Mac N Cheese ($10)

Now, this is listed as a side dish, but was easily an entire entree for me…one I still would’ve had difficulty finishing without devouring three appetizers. It’s made with four different cheeses, including pepper jack and cream cheese, and then finished off with a crust of crumbled Doritos chips. Rumor has it, there is even Doritos seasoning in the mac n cheese itself.

Doritos Mac n Cheese

Would you believe this was actually taken off the menu at one point, but after tons of requests, they put it back on. My guess is it will always have a home on the menu now.

I would love to say we sampled some desserts, but alas, the food coma was already taking hold and I had to head straight to a wine tasting seminar (such a rough life, I know!)

I’m dying to get back to Vegas so I can tackle First Food & Bar’s dessert menu, but I probably need about 10 people to help me.  Double Down Dirt Cake, Delilah’s Brulee, Matt’s Moochin’ Monkey Bread, and Milk & Cookie Dough Truffles…you will be mine!

 

About First Food & Bar

First Food & Bar is great because they are open until 2am, making it a perfect late night stop on the Strip. The restaurant has a cool vibe – a bit of modern, industrial grunge and goth style, blended with dark, warm colors so it’s very hip yet casual. There was everyone from tattooed rockers to business men in full suits the afternoon I was there.

First Food & Bar interior design

Chef Sam DeMarco, better known as Chef Sammy D, is the culinary mastermind behind the menu at First Food & Bar. If you are hip on New York City’s dining scene, you might recognize Sam’s name from ironically, FIRST, the restaurant he opened back in 1993 in the East Village.

First Food & Bar
Open Daily 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m.
(702) 607-3478

We were hosted at The Venetian Resort as part of our travel and food writers’ conference, but all views and opinions expressed are my own.

Tequila Tasting at Taqueria Cañonita in Las Vegas, Nevada

Copious amounts of wine tastings, whiskey comparisons, beer samplings, and now I can cross tequila tasting off the list. As part of a food and travel writers’ conference I attended earlier this year, we were treated to a tequila tasting at Taqueria Cañonita inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ready for tequila tasting at Taqueria Canonita

 

I have to say, before I even got situated and ready to take photos, the first thing I spotted was…

 

guacamole!


Fresh guacamole ready to be devoured

 

Growing up in California and living a life deprived of quality avocados in Taiwan, the sight of guacamole always stops me in my tracks.

The verdict?

This was some awesome guacamole!

But, I digress…on to the important task of the day — learning about tequila!

I have to say, learning about tequila under the faux sky of the Canal Shoppes was a bit distracting and confusing as I’m sitting there envisioning my best Mexico memories, but hearing the serenade of gondeliers nearby.

Executive Chef, Reed Osterholt, put on a great demonstration for us, teaching us the nuances between Don Julio tequilas.

 

Chef Reed Osterholt discussing Taqueria Canonita's use of tequila in cooking

The three types of Don Julio tequila we sampled

Blanco: Double distilled from the finest 10 year old 100% Blue Agave. Ultra smooth, rich and clean. Has crisp agave aromas blended with hints of fresh citrus on the nose, a lightly sweet flavor, and bits of pepper on the finish.

Reposado: The Reposado is double distilled and spends eight months in American white-oak barrels, giving it the beautiful golden amber color. Mellow lemon and citrus on the nose with hints of dark chocolate on the palate, and the finish has a touch of caramel apple.

Anejo: The Anejo is also double distilled and this time, aged in American white-oak barrels for around eighteen months. Definite citrus with notes of caramel on the nose, lots of rich, thick, honey sweetness on the palate, and the taste of honey lingers through to the finish.

And, after admiring the different qualities of the tequila, what’s the next best thing to do with it?

 

Flaming dishes of course!


Chef Osterholt uses a "little" tequila in his cooking

Chef Osterholt began an impressive display of preparing one of Taqueria Cañonita’s signature dishes — Roasted Mussels & Shrimp Skillet with Tequila, Pasilla Oaxaca, and Mexican Chorizo.

Chef Osterholt preparing the flaming mussels and shrimp skillet

Roasted Mussels and Shrimp Skillet at Taqueria Canonita

 

Although our menu sampling was limited, I was rather impressed with Taqueria Cañonita. Its menu concept is pretty simple — to recreate the “soul food” dishes of Mexico City, with a New America ambiance.

The native Los Angeles girl in me would’ve bypassed a place like that when I was living in Las Vegas in favor of the cheap taqueria down the street. However, if you are looking for something more upscale with good quality and authentic food, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

And, truth be told…I am still craving that guacamole.

Taqueria Cañonitas
The Venetian Hotel and Resort (Located in the Canal Walk)
3377 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, NV
Telephone: (702) 414-3773
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Daily
Dinner: 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations recommended, take-out available
Website: www.canonita.net

Although I was a guest of The Venetian and Palazzo Resorts, all views and opinions are my own.

 

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.


New Ice Monster Shaved Ice Opens in Taipei, Taiwan

A couple of weeks ago, we heard the bad news that Yongkang 15, the mango shaved ice establishment that replaced the venerable Ice Monster on Yongkang Street in 2010, had closed it’s doors.  This was quite a shock, especially considering that Taiwan was in the middle of mango season, the best time to visit for a mango shaved ice.

It turns out, the news isn’t quite as bad as it appeared!

While heading out to On Tap for some fish and chips the other night with some coworkers, I was surprised to see a huge line of people waiting for something on Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, just before the intersection with Yanji Street.  This was still a few blocks ahead of the dance clubs on Zhongxiao, and the crowd was a much more diverse mix than you’d expect for a club, so I knew it couldn’t be for that.  But what was it?

I apologize in advance for some of the photos – I was not expecting this find and only had my phone with me!

Line for Ice Monster

Lining up to get into Ice Monster

As the taxi drew closer, I saw the sign that made my day…Ice Monster is Back!

Ice Monster - a new one or reopened back in Taipei, Taiwan?

Mango Delivery at Ice Monster

Only open again since May 29, we decided to brave the line to try out the new Ice Monster after our dinner.  What better dessert could you imagine than some iconic Bao Bing and Xue Hua Bing?

Display of Ice Monster merchandise outside the shop

Display of Ice Monster merchandise outside the shop

Back after dinner to try Ice Monster in Taipei

Entry and order counter

Pineapple and Red Bean ice pops they serve up while waiting in line

Ice Monster Napkin Dispenser

Decorative glass door at Ice Monster

Counter area when you order

The line went pretty quick, we were around 30 people back and our wait was only around 20 minutes.  There were staff at the front of the line handing out the menu and taking orders in advance of your entering the shop, so that helps the line run smoother.  They also don’t let people into the shop when there are no seats available, unless you tell them you just want to order for take away, then they may let you cut into the shop while those wishing to dine in wait longer in the line.  There are around 50 total seats in the shop, so turnover is fairly quick, and being indoors, it’s much more comfortable than the old exterior seating of 15 Yongkang Street.

Fresh Fruit for the desserts

Ice Cream / Sorbet options

Interesting display tank behind the prep area

Back seating area at Ice Monster in Taipei

Main seating area at Ice Monster in Taipei

Private Seating Room at the back of Ice Monster

Private Seating Room

The Ice Monster menu has four main sections; Avalanche for the Bao Bing shaved ice, Sensation for the Xue Hua Bing snow ice, Mocktail for mixed juice drinks, and Freeze for the frozen drinks.  Many of the menu items seem to be more similar to those that were on offer at Yongkang 15, not quite back to the offerings of the original Ice Monster.

Ice Monster's Menu

Avalanche Section

Sensation menu offerings

Freeze menu options

Mocktail menu options

We ordered two Mango Avalanches for the three of us, we actually wanted one to be a Fresh Mango Sensation, but I misordered! The avalanche was a delicious mix of shaved ice with sweet condensed milk and brown sugar syrup, a mango jelly and a scoop of mango ice cream, with a heaping serving of fresh mango mixed in for good measure.

Mango Avalanche at Ice Monster in Taipei

Mango Avalanche

Mango Avalanche

I do not know why, but the staff could apparently see our enjoyment of the avalanche, and perhaps thinking this was our first / only time stopping in, they decided to sample out some other wares on us!  We were each also given a scoop of their lemon ice, a scoop of melon sorbet to share, and they even gave us a small Fresh Mango Sensation to share as well!

Scoop of Lemon Ice

Fresh Mango Sensation

The Mango Avalanche and Mango Sensation were both outstanding, but I have to say, I think the lemon ice was one of the best I’ve ever had!  This tasted exactly like the Italian ice I used to get as a kid, and I thought the only thing that could have possibly made this one any better would have been the little white paper squeeze cup I remember from my youth.  I’ll definitely order one of the lemon based items on my next visit to Ice Monster, most likely the Lemon Jasmine Tea Sensation which caught my eye.

Mango Avalanche, Mango Sensation, Lemon Ice, Melon Ice.

Ice Monster
1F., No. 297, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District
+886 2 8771 3263
http://www.ice-monster.com
Hours: Monday – Sunday / 10:30 – 23:30

Ambergris Caye, Belize Restaurants: Sunday Brunch at Red Ginger inside The Phoenix Resort

One of the “must try” Ambergris Caye Sunday Brunch spots I keep hearing about from my friend Rebecca at SanPedroScoop.com is Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort.  When I was down in October I had hoped to make a visit, but like usual, ran out of time.  Ironically, we were spending a couple nights at The Phoenix (including a Sunday) during my trip last month, so we planned a morning dive with my friend Robbie, giving us just enough time to hit brunch before it ended.

Red Ginger has developed quite a reputation both on and off the island for its tapas, wine specials, and of course, its Sunday Brunch.  The menu is simple as compared to other restaurants you might be used to back home, but the options are excellent, and there are some lunch entrees and flatbread pizzas available as well.

Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Bar inside Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort in Ambergris Caye, Belize

We asked our server what he recommended, or the menu item(s) Red Ginger is most known for during brunch, and he quickly replied with the Huevos Rancheros being number one. Despite my deep-rooted love and passion for Mexican food, Huevos Rancheros is something I typically never order nor have I really ever been a fan of.

Deciding not to shy away from what was said to be the best item on the menu (despite the orange crepes that continued to call my name), I went with the Huevos Rancheros ($18 Belize).

Best. Decision. Ever.

Red Ginger Belize Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros ($18 BZE) from Red Ginger

Especially hungry after scuba diving, the plate arrived and I may have audibly let out a squeal of delight.

If you aren’t familiar with Huevos Rancheros, it’s a classic Mexican breakfast dish that is quite popular in the Americas as well.  Traditionally, it is simple fare of fried eggs on corn tortillas with a tomato-chili like sauce.  Some restaurants may serve it with rice and/or beans on the side as well.

Red Ginger’s take on Huevos Rancheros was a bit more hearty and all-inclusive.  Starting with a large, thick flour tortilla, there was a generous slathering of beans, eggs over-easy (you can choose how you want the eggs cooked), chunky salsa, queso fresco (love the cheese on Ambergris Caye!), and some chopped cilantro.  You can choose a side of bacon, ham, or sausage and I went for the bacon, my favorite artery clogging part of the pig.

Despite being starving after diving and the fact it was nearly 2pm and we were eating our first meal of the day, I could barely finish it — don’t underestimate that thick tortilla!

The Huevos Rancheros had a little spice, but definitely was mild enough for non-spicy eaters.  The thick tortilla with the beans, gooey egg yolk, and fresh crumbled cheese was a definite win.  The bacon was crispy and thick with just the right amount of fat.  Sounds odd, but not all bacon is really the same and I’ve become quite picky about bacon in my world travels.  I’ve found that bacon in Europe is often pretty boring and bland, and pigs in Taiwan make for great sausage, but fall short in the bacon department as well.

Huevos Rancheros at Red Ginger inside The Phoenix Resort

Thick tortilla, beans, eggs, queso fresco, cilantro, and a side of bacon

Sadly, I was fairly dehydrated from diving and all the travel the day before, so I opted not to drink any alcohol, but I have heard fantastic things about Red Ginger’s Bloody Marys and Mimosas.  Given the fact I have been craving the Huevos Rancheros since that day, I think it’s safe to say I need to come back on my next trip in June to get my Huevos Rancheros craving satiated and report back on Red Ginger’s Bloody Marys!

Red Ginger can hold large groups for brunch as well

Red Ginger is open for Sunday Brunch from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and the menu offerings can change every week, but rest assured I think the Huevos Rancheros is a regular menu staple.  If you are a guest of The Phoenix Resort, you are entitled to 10% off your bill at Red Ginger, along with the other affiliated food outlets — Caliente, Wine de Vine, and Blue Water Grill — during your stay.

I was hosted by The Phoenix Resort for this particular (lodging) portion of my media week in Belize, but all views and opinions expressed are my own. For more on travel in Belize and upcoming posts and articles from this media tour, please join my new Belize Travel Examiner page on Facebook.

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.

Australian Wines: Forest Hill Vineyard Dinner at Buen Ayre in Taipei, Taiwan

After just finishing a nearly three month travel stint, I am finally back in Taipei and ready to start catching up on all the overdue posts I have.  But first, we got invited to a wine dinner event the day after arriving back home.  Put on by Adelaide Fine Wines in Taipei, the event featured Forest Hill Vineyard, the oldest cool climate winery in Western Australia.

The James Halliday 5* winery produces all the usual suspects you’d expect to find from a cool climate vineyard, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Seeing as how the winery and the restaurant were both new to us, we decided to check things out.

All in the name of culinary research, right?

Turns out Buen Ayre is a very quaint Argentine restaurant that’s relatively new onto the Taipei food scene.  Open for only six months so far, chef Fernando and his wife, Yko, have done wonders with the place already.  As we learned after dinner, there is no menu available — it changes daily based on ingredients that the chef gets.

In attendance were Paul Byron, the General Sales Manager from Forest Hill, and a special surprise was Australia’s Ambassador to Taiwan and his wife.  The wines are designated by “block” or “estate” with the block wines commanding higher prices.  For those unfamiliar with wine designations, the block wines are picked from the specific noted blocks on the vineyard property whereas the estate wines can come from different blocks within the same vineyard.

Paul talking about Forest Hill Vineyard (the Australian Ambassador's face is visible at the end of the table).

The block wines represent the very best parcels in the vineyard and are hand-picked, carefully selected fruit that will result in wines that can be cellared up to 20 years.  In pretty much every case, the wines we tried were a vintage older than what current releases are — which means we are likely to purchase everything since you can’t get it at the winery anymore!

Forest Hill Vineyard Wines

First Course: Seafood Consomme
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling 2008 (James Halliday 96)

The consomme was served with a prawn, mussel, and piece of squid.  The broth was poured table side – a definite plus. It was a very mild, almost buttery flavor that complimented the richness of the seafood, without overpowering the wine.

The seafood consomme...minus the consomme

Broth for consomme is poured table side

Beautiful seafood consomme

The 96 point Riesling was a dream.  It is said to exemplify the best of what the Mount Barker region is capable of.  And one great note for those who like to cellar –it is a white you can age..for up to 8-10 years.  One of the pairings Paul suggested was oysters.  The richness of the oysters combined with the wine make for a nice meld.  I could definitely see that based on the way the flavors dance on my tongue with the fleshy mussel.  Definite floral and citrus aromas with strong floral on the palate with a lingering mineral finish.

Coming from learning about Riesling from Old World offerings in Germany and France, I’m pleasantly surprised to find I like more and more New World offerings like this one.

Second Course: Scallop with Lobster Sauce
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2007 (James Halliday 95)

A perfectly cooked scallop surrounded by a rich lobster sauce with a little surprise on the side — caviar on a piece of sliced grape.  The scallop was perfectly cooked — one of my biggest complaints (and regular issues I encounter at dinner events).  I was expecting the lobster sauce to be overpowering based on some other Taipei experiences, but it wasn’t in the least.

Scallop with Lobster Sauce

Another view of the Scallop with Lobster Sauce

Paired with the Block 8 Chardonnay, the wine softened the richness of the lobster sauce even more.  The combination of the silkiness of the sauce with the silky texture of the Chardonnay was a nice surprise.  I found the wine to be a bit oaky (in a good way) and a bit similar to some California offerings — don’t worry, it’s not an oak bomb!

Nutty and fruit tones on the nose with spicy vanilla on the palate with a lingering nutty finish.  Pretty impressive Chardonnay that can easily stand up to some of the more renowned wines from California.

Third Course: Foie Gras with Red Wine Pear
Wine Pairings: Forest Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (James Halliday 97) and Forest Hill Estate Shiraz 2005 (James Halliday 94)

Hello heaven on a plate!

This was definitely my sweet spot of the evening (technically, anything with foie gras probably would be, but add an alcohol-soaked fruit and I’m completely in love).

The red wine pair had a beautiful piece of foie gras inside and on the side of the plate was a surprising treat — wine soaked cherries that packed some serious punch.  We thought they were soaked in something stronger than wine based on the taste, but apparently not.  We did learn they were imported from France.

Foie Gras with Red Wine Pear

Isn't it amazing looking?

After two strong white wine offerings, we were excited to sample the reds.  I will be the first to admit as I have in the past, I am very partial to California Cabernet Sauvignons to the point of being called a Napa wine snob.  I grew up with some of the greats and I’ve just been very loyal over the years, finding that many other regions’ Cabs fall short.  I like dirt, I like pepper, and I love fruit…I want to chew my wine, not have it immediately die on the tongue.

Especially at the price points (about $60 US for the Cab and $45 US for the Shiraz) these were good wines.  I think some additional time in the decanter and perhaps another couple years in the cellar these could be even better.  It was a little easy to figure out the Cab would likely be nice based on its 97 point rating, and it did not disappoint. The Bordeaux style Cab featured dark berries and a hint of tobacco with some dusty tannins on the finish.  Everything I love in a good Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Estate Shiraz is a Rhone style wine that had some great pepper notes, chewy tannins, and some toasted vanilla and Burgundian oak flavors as well.  One of my favorites — will probably be even better in 2-5 years.

Fourth Course: Roast of Veal
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 5 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (James Halliday 93)

I was figuring this would be my least favorite course given my less than enthusiastic love of veal, but I was wrong.  I admit I picked it up and pulled a less than ladylike maneuver of nibbling right off the bone.  The meat was so tender and flavorful on its own, but the addition of truffle salt on the side makes anything better.

Roast of Veal

Delicate flavor on the veal course

Here was our first introduction to the big “Block” reds.  While it was an impressive wine, it really needs some cellar time and decanting.  I think in 5-7 years, this will be a great wine, but for now, it’s a good wine.  At around $100 US a bottle, it didn’t stand up to the $100 Napa Cabs…yet.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful wine, but the tannins need to soften a little more.  I did love the earthy and tobacco notes so I think once the tannins soften a little, it will be a really well-balanced wine.

Palate Cleanser

Love palate cleansers! We were served a pear sorbet/granita.

Pear sorbet for the palate cleanser

Fifth Course: U.S. Prime Wet Aged Short Ribs
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 9 Shiraz 2007 (James Halliday 96)

This course was definitely going to be a test of the chef’s talents given beef is the center of Argentine cuisine.  I was a bit worried after hearing so many horror stories from my friend, Zac, the “Wine Guy” from The Langham Place, Mongkok Hotel in Hong Kong.  He recently returned from a trip to Argentina’s wine country and it seemed that many of the steaks he tried were not up to par.  I was worried that perhaps this was a trend of restaurants now, but thankfully, my fears were put to rest as soon as the plate appeared.

U.S. Prime Wet Aged Short Ribs

Beautiful plating on the short ribs

The beef was wet-aged to retain its moisture and it did just that.  It was one of the juiciest and most delicate pieces of meat I’ve had.  The consistency and silkiness were on par with some of my Wagyu experiences.  Brett found the beef to be a little bland on its own, but with the addition of truffle salt on the side, it was fine.  While I used some truffle salt, I found the meat to be perfect without any additional seasoning.

The peppery notes of the Block Shiraz more than made up for any spice that the meat might’ve been missing. I loved this wine — lots of rich berries, notable spice, but with a delicate tannin profile already.  This one can easily be aged another 8-10 years and will probably become more developed and balanced after a few more years in the bottle.

Dessert and Hot Drink Course

To finish off, we had a plate with three small desserts.  While two were made by hand on site, the French Macaron was imported from France.

Plate of desserts

French Macaron

Hot drinks offered were from Argentina — I tried the yerba mate while Brett tried the coffee.  Yerba mate is like a tea, made from leaves from the mate plant, which is like a shrub from the holly family.  It’s native to the subtropical part of South America, especially Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, southern Brazil, and Uruguay.

Yerba Mate

Coffee

Overall, a successful evening and quite a charming venue Adelaide chose to hold this event in.  I’m excited to go back and try Fernando’s regular set menu.  We were told reservations are necessary – 1-2 days, but I’d err on the side of caution with Taipei restaurants and recommend 5 days.  I’m not sure how many people it seats normally, but our small group of 20 or so filled the place up.

For wine lovers in Taiwan, Adelaide Fine Wines in Taipei carries Forest Hill’s full product line right now.  To purchase online, shipping is limited to Australia.  Please contact them to find out distribution in your area (if available).

We are often asked how much wine we typically buy at these type of events — usually at least a case and this one was no exception.  We bought two bottles of each of the wines we sampled — all of which were delivered to our door today!  Thanks Adelaide who provides free delivery within Taipei if you order a case or more!

If you are interested in visiting the winery during your Australia travels, they are open daily from 10am – 4pm.  For more information, be sure to visit their website, Forest Hill Vineyard.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...