Monday, November 29, 2010

Rene's Birthday Dinner 2010.

Last night, the 27th November 2010, was Rene's birthday dinner. Venue was back at Manila's finest private table, Tita Bella, Rene's mom-in-law, as usual, prepared a feast for the eyes, palate and soul. Truly inspired cuisine. We were 11 in all: Rene & Aimee, Miguel & Ria, Santi & Maite, Nico & Neny, Catha & myself, with Deeg arriving alone. Of the guests, only Miguel & Ria were there when we arrived, so we were able to chat a bit with Tita Bella before she started cooking, and, casually enjoy a few glasses of champagne as well.

Tita Bella, Catha, Rene, Aimee, myself, Miguel & Ria

1998 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon - Rene's, he opened a couple of bottles of this. It's taken on marginally more weight from the last time I wrote about this. The fruit is a little more pronounced mid-palate and the parallel I drew then vis-a-vis the 1988 version remain. Well, that and aside from the slight underlying coffee nuance past mid-palate, the wine hasn't seem to have budged too much. My old notes are as follows:

No introduction really need be made for Moët et Chandon's (n.b., the "t" of "Moët" is pronounced) luxury bottling. I've had this vintage several times since the last quarter of 2006 (this vintage was released, I think, in 2005) and, previously, noted it as steely, minerally, taut and ultra-focused in its bright white grapefruit, citrus, yeast with just a the merest hint of creaminess surfacing just past mid-mouth. I also noted it several times as linear in character - always likening it to their 1988 vintage - especially after having it side by side the 1990, 1995 & 1996 at my sister's house in Indiana during New Year's dinner 2006.

I note now that it has put on a bit of heft mid-palate, picked up more creaminess and brioche notes and the citrus has taken a step or two towards the background. It's linear personality, laser-like focus and drive, however, remain the same. Bracingly refreshing, I could have easily over-indulged early. Excellent and indulgent apéritif.

Santi & Maite, Nico & Neny were delayed by traffic on the SLEX, and Deeg, unfortunately, experienced some car trouble. Everyone eventually made it in the end though...

Catha, Ria, Maite & Aimee

...and we eventually moved to the elegantly understated Christmas-themed dining room for dinner proper.

The Menu

The Anticipation

The amuse bouche was Mango-Melon Soup with Prosciutto & Apple-Mushroom Dumpling Bisque, the former a thrillingly creative spin on the ubiquitous Italian melon and prosciutto antipasto. Note that the mango-melon soup was contained in a test tube, the mouth of which was wrapped in prosciutto, the entire thing kept child in a solid ice "shotglass". On the other hand, the subtly fruity, earthy combination of the dumpling with the bisque was complex and sublime.

I know the amuse bouche is supposed to just tease one's palate, but I simply had to have another serving of it. The creativity in concept, preparation and presentation translated perfectly on the palate. Wonderful.

With this, Rene and I had intended to serve the first of 2 types of Dönnhoff rieslings I brought, namely, the 2009 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett.

Due, however, to the virtually identical-looking bottles, a mix-up occurred and the 2009 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese was served in the kabinett's stead (the latter meant for the following foie gras course).

No problem, though, everyone seemed to love the spätlese anyway. As Rene said, he has yet to serve a Dönnhoff reisling to anyone that hasn't liked it. Same with me. I mentally thanked Rocky Villadolid for introducing me to Dönnhoff's rieslings around 2-3 years ago.

In any event, since I had brought 2 bottles of the spätlese, it still was able to make its way to pair with the intended foie gras course.

Grilled Goose Liver on a Bed of Caviar
with Potato Sticks & Pepper Sauce

2009 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett* - There seemed to be a little more residual sugar in this than other kabinetts I've tried, but the citrus, slight peach and lime flavors were properly slatey, edgy and very well focused. Notable purity and quite fruit-driven. Nicely crisp as well. Light-footed, lots of charm.

2009 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese* - The Usual Suspects, Rene included, got to try this new arrival just over a month ago, during the Stockbroker's birthday lunch at Shang Palace. Then, as now, it was superb. My notes were as follows:

What can I say? I've been a sucker for Dönnhoff's Nahe rieslings since I first tried them, and this is yet another reason why. It is extremely difficult not to simply gush about this incredibly pure and focused, exceptionally balanced and complex beauty. I can't try to "break down" the flavors without doing it injustice. Wonderful alone and paired admirably with the slightly spicy beef course.

Pure, coyly-rounded middle, precise minerality and acidity infuse peach and apricot, whisper of underlying petrol and orange peel. Notably sweeter and deeper than the kabinett - the distinctions immediately caught by Deeg and confirmed by Neny even before I could take a sip (I've been at the wine too often and too much, so I was taking it very slow and easy).

*Both rieslings are readily available at Premium Wine Exchange.

Neny, Nico, Miguel & Catha sharing a laugh.

The next course, the last of the 3 appetizers, was the one many of us were most curious about (having read the menu in advance).

Deep-Fried Bacon & Eggs, Onion Broth

It turned out as above depicted, a nicely crunchy crust enveloping a whole egg, flecked with bacon inside. Excellent. I certainly wouldn't mind starting the day off with this - or even 2 of these. Santi and Miguel had double servings. I wanted another one as well, but prudence dictated I save space for the rest of the meal. After all, we had 2 main courses following.

Tita Bella explains the dish.

With this, no wine was served, but I saw some continuing with the last of the spätlese. Because of the onion broth, I mentioned to Rene that a dry Alsatian pinot gris or even a gewürz would probably have done well.

The first main course was simply named Prawns, Scallops, Squid, Bottarga & Garlic Oil, the simplicity of its name foreshadowing the dish's honest beauty. Impeccably cooked, each individual seafood was allowed to shine on its own, yet all were tied in by the bottarga and garlic flavors. Harmoniously woven, not a single thing stuck out. I had 2 helpings.

With this was served Rene's 2006 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis (which I, unfortunately, forgot to photograph). I've written about this wine (as well as different vintages and bottlings thereof) several times. The last time I had the 2006 village Chablis, however, was on the 24th January 2010, during a dinner at CiÇou of fresh French oysters and Crab Torteau. My notes then were as follows:

I've loved the style of Laurent Tribut ever since Jerome Philippon made me try it several years back. This is the village level Chablis, fermented in enamelled steel tanks, no new oak, no battonage (i.e., no leese stirring) minerally, tense, laser-focused, medium-bodied green apple with nuances of cool steel, cold limestone and oyster shells. The last bottle of this I opened was also at one of Boozze's and Margarita's dinners on the 12th June 2009. My notes then, just for comparison, are as follows:

"My bottle. The domaine is located in the commune of Poinchy, approximately 1.5 kms west of the old town proper of Chablis, and owns 5.2 hectares of Chablis vineyards, including holdings in premier cru vineyards Beauroy, Côte de Léchet and Montmains. It produces wines in the classically lean, tense, steely, sea-shell, minerally, minimalist oak style (fermentation in enamelled stainless-steel tanks, no use of new oak in ageing, no battonage), which I much prefer.

"Those familiar with the wines of Chablis star, R&V Dauvissat, will note a marked similarity between the labels of the two domaines. This is most likely because Laurent Tribut used to work with Dauvissat and, married to Marie-Clotilde Dauvissat, Laurent is Réne Dauvissat's son-in-law and, perforce, Vincent Dauvissat's brother-in-law. I recall reading that Laurent Tribut still helps out occasionally at Domaine Dauvissat.

"My wife and I spent a couple of extremely hot days in Chablis in July 2006, billeted at Michel Vignaud's Hostellerie des Clos (at La Residence du Domaine where they have bigger, air-conditioned rooms) until the weak air-condition system drove us out to look for cooler climes. We didn't leave, though, before having dinner at the hotel's *Michelin dining room (they have a smallish but excellently stocked cellar, the bottles of which are reasonably marked-up from retail).

"I first tried Tribut's Chablis (a vintage 2004) sometime in mid-September 2006. Jerome Philippon recommended it to me when I expressed my preference for old-style Chablis. I've bought every vintage since then, including Tribut's 1er cru Côte de Léchet.

'With around 45 minutes opened, kept chilled in a bucket of iced water, the 2006 holds true to Chablis terroir with clean, pure, nervy/tense, cold-stone, oyster shell notes shining through the softish, ripe white stone fruit/apple, merest hint of white peach (it was a very hot July in Chablis, I can attest). Well balanced with acidity, nicely focused. I'm very happy with this and am glad I still have some as it is excellent with seafood, particularly fresh, simply prepared shellfish...."

Rene mentioned that it could be rather difficult to switch to this dry, austere, steely, white minerally wine after the rieslings. He's right, of course. I, myself, had the previous dish (i.e., the deep-fried bacon & eggs with onion broth) as a palate-primer - to make the transition from the sweet spätlese to the bone-dry Chablis. I can imagine how the palate would get a bit of a shock otherwise.

Be still, my heart. This course was an absolute dream: Lamb Chops with Apricot Glaze, Gorgonzola Cream Angel Hair Pasta & Sautéed Mushrooms. I felt I died and went to lamb heaven. The apricot glaze was subtle and served as counterpoint to the lamb's smokiness. Perfectly tender and oh, so juicy, the lamb Tita Bella brought in herself from Australia. Aside from our individual servings, 2 heaping platters loomed on the lazy Susan for those who wanted more. Our plates and both serving platters were wiped out. I must have had 5 chops myself.

The pasta was a perfect match as well; the gamey gorgonzola flavors playing well with the lamb's inner/inherent flavor. I finished my first serving in 3 bites and helped myself to more before Miguel could finish it all.

With this dish Rene opened a magnum of...

2000 Château Siran - Another wine I've had many times and have written often about, the last time being around 2 weeks ago from the Vigneron's belated birthday lunch at CiÇou. My recent notes were as follows:

A wine from the Vigneron's Margaux estate, from, in my opinion, a particularly good vintage that is just beginning to really hit its stride (though I have found it enjoyable to drink since sometime in 2005). The Stockbroker had earlier requested that the celebrant open a bottle of this for the subject lunch. I've had this wine so many times, I've long lost track of how many. The most recent bottles, however, were during a Cru Exceptionnel Dinner at Yung Kee organized by Mr. Lau Chi Sun's WINENOW Monthly Magazine (HK) on the 24th may 2010. My last notes were as follows:

"Already drinking well, but with long life and great potential for even more improvement ahead of it, this suave, smooth/supple-muscled, agile light-heavyweight is just beginning to really strut its stuff. Naturally more open than the previous youngster, it already displays depth and complexity underneath the fruit. The distinctive spicy notes, some fennel, iron, leather, licorice are well in play, the wood quite already nicely integrated. I enjoyed this a lot, as I always have."

I add now that the wine seems slightly more expansive with cedar and violet notes coming more into play. Notable balance and a quiet, graceful power. This is a familiar and comforting wine for me.
Rene and I discussed this wine's ageing capacity. My take on it was that, having tried Siran's wines from, among others, 1928, 1948, 1953 and 1959, with proper storage, a magnum of the 2000 vintage could probably go well into 45-60 years or even more.

With all the excellent food, fine wines and even finer company, conviviality and accompanying laughter were in by no means short supply.

Santi demonstrates how to "properly" fall in line in Riyadh.

A cool, light, refreshing dessert of Pineapple, Rum & Raisin Tortilla Stack with Vanilla Ice Cream brought a sweet end to a magnificent feast.

Bravissima, Tita Bella! We simply cannot fathom how you manage to keep outdoing yourself feast after feast, but you always do. As always, we cannot wait...

...until the next! Happy birthday again, buddy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Friday, 26 Nov 2010, Part II: Alabang Group Christmas Dinner 2010 by Ian Padilla

The Alabang Group's Christmas dinner was early this year, this time prepared by Ian Padilla. Ian is now based back in Manila, after his stint in Taillevent, now doing private dinners before he opens his own restaurant. As has been in the past 2 or 3 years, the group's Christmas dinner was at Boozze & Margarita's place - mainly because they offered and only they have a dining table long enough to accommodate everyone. We were 7 couples in all, the Ramoses absent, unfortunately, as they are in Singapore on a family trip.

Boozze relaxing with Ken as the former didn't have to cook for a change.

As stated in my previous post, I arrived a bit worse for wear from my scheduled wine buying chores which turned into impromptu wine sessions.

Margarita, Yvonne & Minnie

Those already there were already making headway into some 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin which I had to pass on since I just had around half a bottle of bubbly at Jérôme's shop.

The champagne didn't go to waste though as Willy, Tonico and Maxie were enjoying it... were Lisa, Catha and Maricel.

The first of three pass-around/amuse bouches.

Amuse Bouche #2

Amuse Bouche #3, my favorite, of earthy, caramelized ox-tail.

Johnson & Candy, delayed by heavy SLEX traffic, were the last to arrive.

The Ladies.

Johnson lost no time in getting the laughter started... Ian and team worked the kitchen.

The dining room's calm before the storm.

The Menu

Tartare of General Santos Sashimi-Grade Tuna with Sea Urchin, Balsamic
Syrup, Pickled Beets & Sesame Glaze

to pair with the dish's subtle blend of sea freshness (the tuna), slight creamy-nuttiness (the sea urchin), and savory-sweetness (sesame glaze), I served some 2009 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett Oberhauser Leistenberg, the bottle of which I forgot to photograph. I refrained from imbibing, but Tonico and Willy said the wine was not at all too sweet and made for a good marriage with the dish. The wine itself went over very well and disappeared in a trice.

I didn't really get what (or whose) thing Ken was describing...

...but his audience appeared skeptical at best.

Next was a Crème of Mushroom Soup
with a Fricasée of Wild Mushrooms, Almonds, Scallops & Truffle Oil.

Although Boozze, I and several others liked this earthy soup, some opined that the almonds didn't seem to jive with the rest of the ingredients. Personally, I liked the textural contrast and nuttiness they provided. As no full course French meal is complete for this group without some sort of foie gras, the next course provided our cholesterol fix for the night:

Terrine of Foie Gras with Caramelized Fruits and Vegetables à la Alain Soliveres

With this torchon-esque preparation of foie gras, I served an old reliable pairing for terrine of foie gras - with just a little bit of sweetness as I believe sweeter wines such as Sauternes, Barsac or Tokaji Aszú, Alsace SGNs, etc. pair better with pan-seared foie dishes.

2007 Domaine Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Les Éléments - Typical gewürz dominant lychee flavor with a notable dose of ripe cling peach, spice, underlying petrol and minerality, some rose petal in the nose. Johnson commented on what he perceived to be a bit much residual sugar in the fruit. Good heft, slight oiliness in texture, notable freshness, acidity seemed to flirt with the low side, but the over-all balance was pretty good. With the foie, it was a natural pairing. Both bottles were drained.

After a cleansing and refreshing Orange Sorbet with Candied Orange Zest, the fish course was served.

Pan-Seared Lucena Sea Bass with Tomato and Leek Fondue
Chorizo, Razor Clams, Shellfish-Fennel Broth

The sea bass was perfectly fresh and impeccably seared - with a nicely crisp skin and the flesh moist and succulent and juicy. The flavors of the tomato and chorizo bits made this dish reminiscent of a couple of dishes JC de Terry treated me to in the past - and that is a great compliment indeed. The broth showed remarkable depth and complexity, yet holding true to Ian's discreet, subtle style.

As the broth was added to his bowl, Maxie seemed a bit shocked to learn that there were two more courses coming after this one. With the subject course I served:

2008 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet - With a bit of breathing and warming down (I had left it too long in the ice bucket), this, to me, was a quite impressive young 1er cru Chablis. Cold limestone and cold steel infuse its properly dry green apple and whispers of slight white grapefruit and citrus. As it warmed, precisely moderate leesy-vanilla notes emerged. Wonderful stuff. I'd imagine another couple of years in bottle will make this even more complex. Willy and Tonico commented that they liked this a lot.

Ian then came out again, this time to announce and briefly explain his pièce de résistance:

Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly
with Yam-Apple Croquettes, Pickled Radish, Shallot Confit & Red Pepper Demi-Glace

With this Boozze served some 2006 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Napa valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Full-bodied, heady Napa cab showing off a chockful of concentrated and well-extracted blackcurrant, crème de cassis, blackberry, bit of underlying charcoal, unsweetened chocolate, dark/sweetish tobacco, pastry and toasty oak spice. Rich, smooth, broad and full-bodied with a long finish. Powerful, heady stuff. It certainly isn't shy.

Dessert was a light, refreshing Honey Crème Fraîche Sorbet with Basil Gelée, Berries, Ginger Confit & Strawberry Coulis. After such a meal, its lightness was much needed and appreciated. We lingered past midnight over cups of espresso, coffee and a few cigarettes. It was quite late already so we didn't have our usual round of aged Cuban puros from Boozze's stash. Until the next!

NB: For those interested in contacting Ian for private dinners, he may be contacted at mobile number +63917 803 5423.