Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Reunion Dinner 2009 @ The Goose Station.

Rocky & Apple Villadolid are in town from Hillsborough, Ca. for the holidays, so, on the 30th December 2009, Sunil & Chinky Shah and my wife & I took them to dinner at what is surely the newest and hottest restaurant in town, Rob and Sunshine's The Goose Station. Thanks to part-owner/Usual Suspect Rene for arranging our reservation. It has certainly been difficult to get one lately as the restaurant's been jam-packed for weeks on end.

L-R: Rocky, Chinky, my wife, Apple and Sunil

Though Apple is in Manila around once every 3-4 months, Rocky, due to work, visits much less frequently. I used to bump into Chinky on the golf course almost every Saturday as she is very active with her kids' golf, but, since she started playing in the mornings, I've not seen her in quite a while - or Sunil either, for that matter.

Thus, last night's dinner was a great opportunity for a little reunion of wine and food loving friends...

...especially for the wives who have known each other from way, way back.

Sunshine & Rob

Since Rocky has been on a big German riesling phase, I made sure to bring several bottles of the ones I've been enjoying lately, opening only 1 red for the evening (we usually have at least 3-4 different ones when we get together with Sunil and Chinky). As luck would have it, most all the featured dishes on Rob & Sunshine's new Signature Menu (a 9-course degustación, which we all went for) were easy pairings for the versatile rieslings.

For the first 6 courses, we went through a couple of bottles of the wonderful, just off-dry 2007 Dr. Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett. I've written about this wine very recently, in my post on a pre-Christmas dinner at Je Suis Gourmand, to wit:

2007 Dr. Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett - My bottle, from Germany's famed Mosel Valley. I had never tried this before, but brought it along because: (1) I know 2007 is an excellent year for German rieslings (upon release, Berlin-based chef, Martin Barz (Zwick), enthusiastically recommended them to me); (2) Doc, Mrs. Doc and my wife like German rieslings (plus Doc favors kabinetts for apéritifs); and, of course, (3) J-Lab assured me it was good.

The wine was, indeed, well-received. It's fresh, light, bright, playful, off-dry, low alcohol peach, apricot, quince flavors infused with precise minerality were made bright by healthy acidity. Good focus, very quaffable and, thus, an ideal apéritif, particularly with the rich foie gras and the salty lardons of the flammenküche.

The wine's pure, well-focused, vibrant, off-dry fruit (I noted previously undetected sweetish lime and citrus flavors) and bracing acid lift instantly brightened up the Foie Gras Cones amuse bouche... well as the following Potato Paper and Caramelized Onion, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Prosciutto and Brie; the fruit notes a whimsical interplay with the caramelized onion and peanut butter - and a nice counterpoint with the prosciutto's inherent slight saltiness and the brie's creamy goodness.

The savory, smoky/creamy Roast Squash and Chorizo Bilbao Soup with Sage Butter is always good.

A new dish, it was the first time I got to try their Salmon Tartare - White Asparagus Foam, Mango, Cilantro, Daikon Sprouts, Avocado oil and Caviar. This will surely be a crowd pleaser, and, with this dish, I appreciated more the drier/minerally side of the riesling kabinett.

This was followed by one of the most loved courses of the Signature Menu: Eggs Benedict 2007 - Poached Egg, Hollandaise Foam, Bacon Tuille, Fleur de Sel, White Truffle Oil. This was an instant hit with the Alabang Group from back during Rob & Sunshine's Gourmandise Dinner days and remains to be so at The Goose Station.

With the Villadolids and the Shahs, it was, unsurprisingly, also a hit as well. Everyone I know who has tried this dish has loved it - and with very good reason, in my opinion as it impeccably blends the new and novel with the familiar and comforting.

Next was the Beet Garden Salad - Textures of Beetroot, Orange, Goat's Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Leaves, Aged balsamic, Lightly pickled Vegetables. I wish more salads could be made this innovative, entertaining and delicious.

With the next, richer and indulgent course of Unagi and Foie Gras Terrine with Caramelized Apple Tartare, Brioche, Gingerbread – Chocolate “Soil” we switched wines to a sweeter, late harvest riesling from the town of Wehlen in Mosel, the 2007 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese.

I've also written about this wine a few times before, my latest notes from a lunch at the Taipan on the 21st October 2009. This late harvest riesling is evidently/inherently sweeter and heftier than the kabinett, yet still retains a thrilling acid balance to its dominant minerally peach, ripe apricot, slight lemon tart flavors, highlighted by fleeting suggestions of candied ginger.

The wine's purity and vibrancy of fruit, its bright minerality and acid lift lent much-needed cut and palate refreshment between bites of this rich, creamily indulgent dish.

With the next 2 courses, we switched to the evening's red - an obvious, recent favorite of mine: 1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva. I've loved this wine since I first had it at one of JC de Terry's dinners at 2º Piso (2nd July 2009) during which JC paired it with an excellent Pan-Seared Scallop with Fricasée of Spring Vegetables in Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce. I've gone through many bottles of this, my recent notes from the Alabang Group's dinner at The Goose Station are very apt:

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - my bottle, of which I, unfortunately forgot to photograph. I've written about this a few times, the last being at a WSCP event on the 28th October 2009. Last night's bottle I decanted for around 1-½ hours before serving.Willy admired its "complex nose" and noted scents of licorice, violets, cedar and vanilla in its dark fruit. On the palate, he described this shades-over-medium body Rioja as "complex and graceful". I couldn't have put it better myself. I purchased the last case of this from Terry's Selection. JC de Terry now has a new vintage of this wine available, but I've yet to try it out. Rest assured I shall post on it when I do.

This Riojan gran reserva (after decanting for aeration for around 1 to 1½ hours) is just so elegant, subtly complex, harmonious and graceful, it can well pair with seared scallops as well as meat courses.

That it also married well with Rob & Sunshine's Squid Ink "Fideuà" with Seared Scallops is a testament to this wine's subtlety and elegance. This tinto is no pansy, however, make no mistake. It has the structure, heft, push, power and the presence to just as nicely pair with steak and lamb dishes - as it confidently and successfully demonstrated with my evening's main course of a Duo of Lamb Ribs and Lamb Loin with Horseradish Potato Puree, Port Jus and Haricots Verts - like any proper Rioja gran reserva should.

Sunil observed that the chunk of morcilla gave the dish a great, savory push. I definitely agree - it, indeed, brought on a meaty, spicy and smoky "oomph" to this spin on fidueà.

Dessert then followed, a delicious "Bread Pudding" of Brioche Pudding, Bacon – Maple Syrup, Banana and Dark Chocolate Sorbet.

Honestly, I've never been a big fan of any sort of bread pudding before, but, with this rendition, I am now a convert. I absolutely loved this. As if the moist and luscious brioche pudding with the maple syrup weren't enough, the natural dark chocolate and banana combination just pushed me over the edge. Everything worked. Loved it. Sunil noted that the dark chocolate sorbet contained tiny bits of bacon - a touch I've been seeing as of late, it called to mind the old local champurrado and salty tuyo (a local salty dried fish) combination of yore.

With this I opened a bottle of dessert wine: 2003 Clarence Dillon Wines Clarendelle Amberwine (I forgot to take a photo of it, unfortunately) - a gift from Keiichi; it is a sweet white from Monbazillac, composed of the typical Sauternes blend of botrytis-infected semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle. As I understand, 2003 is the maiden vintage of this charming, tangy, wild honeyed, honeycomb, preserved apricot, canned cling peach, pear, touch of sweetened lime and orange blossom wine (launched in mid-late 2006).

Produced by Domaine Clarence Dillon (the owners of 1st growth Château Haut Brion), this certainly has a lot of pedigree to live up to.

Two other kinds of desserts were on the table as well, plates of the signature Chocolate Candy Bar Earl: Grey Mousse, Ganache, Bisquit; and, a new one - a baked, flaky pastry filled with a raspberry compote with a side of creamy vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, I didn't note this dessert's proper name nor was I able to take a photo of it. Rocky liked the latter dessert the most.

Whew! What a meal! We were all rightfully stuffed to the gills. It was great to get together again after quite a while.

Happy New Year, guys! Have a great one!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Stockbroker's Year-End Wine Dinner for the Usual Suspects @ Masseto.

Monday, the 28th December 2009, was dinner with the Usual Suspects at Masseto - organized by the Stockbroker. Executive Chef Tippi Tambunting expertly executed the pairing menu that she and the Stockbroker designed. All we had to do was show up, eat, drink, enjoy and pay for our dinners - the Stockbroker, generous fellow that he is, provided all the the evening's wines.

We were joined by Rolly (Dapper D's wineguy) and Mon Cabrera, the latter a NY-based banker/wino who is in town for the holidays; so we were 11 in all.

This evening was really more for light-hearted fun and enjoyment, so my tasting notes will be relatively brief. I was too busy enjoying the wine, food and company to write down much.

2000 Champagne Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru - I believe this is the first time I've tried the '00 vintage of this bubbly (at any rate, I only remember the '96). At first sip, it was readily moderately more lushly fruited, more complex and rounder and moderately heftier on the palate than the non-vintage Brut Cuvée No. 732. The middle exhibited good, creamier froth, but one can still detect the cleanly focused lemon, citrus and white minerally notes that I've found in every single Jacquesson I've had. Very nice indeed. I believe this is available in Premium Wine Exchange, but I may be mistaken.

Aaron, Keiichi, J-Lab, Johnny and Mon.

The Menu

The Evening's Wine Host & Sommelier

Though I continued the champagne with the tapas, we were served 2 reds blind - all the Stockbroker would say was they were from the same producer and from different vintages. At the first sniff and sip, Greg opined that they were obviously Bordeaux - and he was right.

Mystery Red # 1 - Ripe, concentrated, extracted, fuller, riper and much younger (seen in the color which was still youthfully dark shade of ruby red) than Mystery Wine # 2. Right bank. Round, soft plum, cherry, kirsch, chocolate with notable push/power on the palate. This turned out to be a 1998 Château Le Bon Pasteur, a wine I bought many bottles of sometime in early 2005 and finished off quickly by 2007.

Mystery Wine # 2 - Comparatively lighter red with a red-orange tinge lightening towards the rim showed its age. Initially, there was an obtrusive saline aroma that masked the bouquet. Some called it "metallic", a couple called it "fishy". This blew off around 30 minutes later and showed a somewhat reticent bouquet. In the mouth: medium-bodied, mature, plum, cherry, cedar, bottle-age sweetness funneling to tartish cherry and violets in the finish.

This turned out to be a 1982 Château Le Bon Pasteur. I and J-Lab noted that the Stockbroker's previous/recent '82 Le Bon Pasteur (21 December 2009 at The Goose Station) was in much better shape than this one.

The tapas increased their pace: Chorizo Scrambled Eggs (sorry, no photo), and, with the Shrimps with Garlic Chips...

2004 Maison Leroy Bourgogne - Had this a few times before and liked most of them well enough. This was, however, by far the best bottle of this particular wine I've had. Still relatively light, it was a delicately spun Thai silk of pure, cleanly-focused cherry, raspberry, underlying dark plum and violets with an intriguing/charming sous bois nuance. Very nice. To the best of my memory, this is the best basic bourgogne I've had (not that I have very much experience in basic bourgogne, but this was, indeed, very nice).

I note that the Shrimp with Garlic Chips was excellently done - fresh, precisely cooked (I detest over-cooked seafood of any sort) and flavored (I don't like overly garlicy and spicy gambas). Though a common dish, one rarely finds it done as well as Tippi did hers last night. With the rest of the tapas...

...once my champagne was gone, I switched to the 3 New World chardonnays served (not blind).

2000 Château Montelena Napa Chardonnay - A blast from the past as I bought a few bottles of this from Premium Wine Exchange ("PWX") several years ago. I vividly recal that I served a couple of bottles of this with PWX's 2002 Darioush Chardonnay both to pair with the Miguel brothers' Lobster & Irish Scallop Risotto course during my birthday dinner at home in May 2005 - thus, it was great to be able to try this again (no more stock in PWX).

Though it does display a good deal of leesy vanilla/oak/butterscotch on the nose, in the mouth, those notes were much, much more subdued and exquisitely integrated - blending nicely with apple, pear, bit of butteriness, fine white minerality. Refined in texture, big, but very pure and focused flavors. Johnny noted that, with additional airing, notes of anise emerged in the nose.

2003 Ridge California Chardonnay Montebello - A whole lot of vanilla/oak, buttered popcorn and baked apple/pear pastry. I couldn't get into this at all, though I did give it a chance. J-Lab and Johnny suggested I try it with the Halibut & Clams w/ Clam Jus course,...

...but, to my taste, the wine was no better with it. Too over-the-top. Que horror, but that's just me.

2006 Leewin Art Series Chardonnay - Still obvious, but comparatively subdued oak notes in nicely pure somewhat minerally and well-focused fruit with lemon/citrus at the fore. Alcohol is relatively high, but I felt it more than I tasted it. Good, solid Aussie chard. I believe this is the new vintage of the Leewin Chard Art Series that PWX now has in stock.

I think Greg liked this one.

The whites were done. It was red all the way from then on in with the Fideo of Squid & Prawns and the Prime Rib-Eye Steaks.

I loved the Fideo - done en su punto - not mushy at all, and the seafood was, again, very fresh, tender and precisely cooked. Top-notch, Tippi, I must say.

J-Lab and Johnny

The Stockbroker was a pouring machine, just grabbing quick bites on his feet between bottles. What a guy.

Rolly was obviously enjoying himself a lot, so I jokingly advised him to look busy for Dapper D to see - to which the former obliged with a serious shot.

Rolly analyzes as an amused Mon looks on.

The Stockbroker served blind a magnum of notably open, forward, warm, very concentrated/extracted red that showed lushly dark plum, cherry, kirsch, coffee, dark chocolate, some violets and a hefty dose of creamy oak. I and some others guessed it to be a New World. We were wrong. Johnny nailed it as a Château d'Aiguilhe from the Côtes de Castillon - one of his favored wines. It was, in fact, a 2000 Château d'Aiguilhe (in magnum; sorry, no photo again).

Keiichi-san says Kampai!

¡Salud! from Rene & Miguel

Yet another pair of reds were served blind:

Mystery Red # 3 - Initially, its somewhat dense, concentrated modern, creamy oaken red fruit over black made me think it was a right bank. After a bit of aeration in glass, underlying crème de cassis, gravel and dried herbs emerged so I decided it was from the left bank. It was, in fact, a 1998 Château Pape Clément. Yet another wine by Michel Rolland that shows nicely. Very readily pleasing. I actually was surprised how much I preferred this over the next wine.

Mystery Red # 4 - Definitely right bank. Smoldering/darkly brooding black fruit, dark plum, black cherry, violets, dark minerality, licorice, underlying black coffee. A couple of shades over medium-bodied. Nowhere near as open and ready-to-please as the previous wine. Right bank for sure. Comes off as a more serious character, if a little surly now. It was a 2000 Chapelle d'Ausone, St-Emilion.

These were had with the Cheese Platter with Grapes and Toasted Walnuts. Aaron, Miguel and I took a cigarette break outside and chatted a bit. Consequently, I missed out on the 2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion that was opened next. No matter, I was very happy with a double espresso and dessert of...

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Meanwhile, PWX Finance Manager, Laraine Lim, also a Masetto part-owner, dropped by to join in the fun.

Several bottles were opened as the night wore on, but I no longer took note of them. Too much laughing and chatting going on.

Near the evening's end, we thanked our generous wine host/sommelier with no less than a standing ovation - more than deserved to be sure.

Thanks again, buddy! What a way to end the year. Advanced Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

25th Christmas Dinner 2009 @ My Dad's.

Christmas eve and lunch on the 25th is always with my in-laws. There is always lots of food at both meals - way too much. After turkey, ham, etc. on Christmas eve, it was rare US Angus roast beef, turkey (again), paella, pasta...tons of stuff during the 25th lunch.

My side has always celebrated Christmas dinner on the 25th, so there's never been any clash of schedules. It's never been a big affair, just us siblings really, with my dad, a couple of old friends, and, when they are in town, my sis-in-law, Mich, and bilas, Ron (they're based in HK). This year, the latter were able to join us, but the mentioned friends weren't, my brother and his wife are spending the holidays in Tokyo, while my sis who lives in the US with her family didn't make it this year. Thus, in all, we were only 9 for dinner at my dad's.

As usual, we started with beers and pica-picas at the balcony.

My dad, kids and Ron

Due to the massive lunch we just had, nobody was hungry so we didn't prepare much.

Prawn Essence and Shiitake Soup (by my dad's cook)

Spaghetti with Pesto Sauce (by my youngest sis)

Haricots Verts Salad (also by my youngest sis)

Grilled US Prime-Grade Rib-Eye Steaks (by yours truly, of course)

Though Ron brought along a bottle of 2007 Dr. Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett, we didn't get to open it since they were still finishing off their beers when dinner was served. The reds, both from Dad's wine cav, were...

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - I've written about this old-school Rioja gran reserva recently and more than once and very recently:

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - my bottle, of which I, unfortunately forgot to photograph. I've written about this a few times, the last being at a WSCP event on the 28th October 2009. Last night's bottle I decanted for around 1-½ hours before serving.Willy admired its "complex nose" and noted scents of licorice, violets, cedar and vanilla in its dark fruit. On the palate, he described this shades-over-medium body Rioja as "complex and graceful". I couldn't have put it better myself. I purchased the last case of this from Terry's Selection. JC de Terry now has a new vintage of this wine available, but I've yet to try it out. Rest assured I shall post on it when I do.

I only add now that, because this was not decanted, the creamy oak was more apparent (though finely integrated) than usual and the fruit seemed bigger and rounder (though still nicely soft). It's comparatively firmer structure and healthy acidity made for a good pairing with the steaks - for which it was intended.

2000 Château Grand Mayne - A grand cru classé from St-Emilion from a highly reputed vintage. This is still relatively young, but already readily enjoyable and very accesible. Everybody immediately liked it though it was virtually popped-and-poured.

Very open and lush from the outset, with generously curvy, very ripe fruit (dark plum, cherry, kirsch, raspberry, mocha, a hefty but well-integrated dose of toasty vanilla/oak (surely 100% new oak or very close to it) and some underlying crème de cassis, chocolate and licorice. I figured that Michel Rolland is the consultant here, and a quick check at the official website confirms this to be so - since 1973 and with co-consultant Jean Philippe Fort since 1996). Texture is velvety, bold (but not loud); very round mid-palate and a nicely long finish. Acidity is slightly low, but the structure is good. Surely the equation for a good Parker score (recently bestowed a "93", if I'm not mistaken).

For dessert, aside from an apple cake baked by one of my wife's nephews (no photo, unfortunately), we had another Bûche de Noël by Marc Aubry...

...followed by some fresh fruit.

Papyas and Apples

With our cups of coffee, my dad poured us some Hennesy XO Cognac which nursed us through a lot of stories and jokes for a couple of hours more. My youngest just started playing a game on Ron's i-Phone...

...eventually sneaking off to the living room for a short nap.

Another Christmas has come and gone - and it was a good one, though we were not complete. More and more, as I get older, I realize that Christmas is not about the gifts one receives, the food one eats or what name/vintage-droppable wines one opens. Those are fun, without a doubt, and can actually be over-frequent and over-whelming during the season - but Christmas is really all about enjoying the company of one's nearest and dearest in celebrating the season. Sometimes I forget.