Saturday, July 30, 2011

Welcome Back Dinner @ Henry & Nicole's for Yuan & Yanna.

Last night's dinner (29th July 2011) was hosted by Henry & Nicole Morris at their home, to welcome back Yuan & Yanna Ongpin who, after 14 years in northern California, are finally back to stay. I've known Yuan, Apa's brother, since he was a teenager in prep school back in the early '80s; he'd hang with our Ateneo college group while he was in Manila during breaks. It was a great gathering of old friends, and I got to meet some new ones as well.

The evening's hosts, Henry (seated) & Nicole, with Yuan.
Yanna was camera shy that night.

Henry (right) is a longtime friend and also a classmate since our freshman high school days, while Mauro (left) I met through Apa around the same time I met Yuan. We had a lot of fun and crazy times back then. I've aways liked Mauro's name and so used it for my eldest son - well, also because I expected my eldest to be dark like me ("Mauro" is derived from "Moro" or "Moor") - but it didn't really work out as I expected.

These days, Catha and I see Nicole (right) much more often than we see Henry; mainly because Nicole is also very much into wine and we are at the same wine functions every once in a while. Both Catha and Nicole are members of the International Wine & Food Society Philippines Ladies Branch, of which Nicole is a director and officer.

Nicole had mentioned the menu beforehand to Catha, so I knew that she would be serving some Bryan Flannery Steaks (distributed locally by Doc's brother, James; one can order by e-mailing or call 898-1371/76 or 09175446875 during business hours).

Aside from getting to see Yuan & Yanna again, I was highly anticipating getting to try the paella that Yuan had threatened to cook. Now, I trust Yuan and his capabilities and our hosts assured me that Yuan knew what he was doing - but I brought along some alka seltzer anyway just in case.

Well, as it turned out, the Paella a la Yuan was truly excellent - the flavors deep and harmonious. It had a lot of clams which was a huge plus for me as I happen to love paella with clams. Yuan has evidently learned a lot in SF. He is proud of his paella and, to my mind, has every good reason to be. My alka seltzer baon remained unused.

The above-depicted Bryan Flannery Steaks were perfectly executed by Nicole - no gussying up, done a notch or two under medium-rare, the way I like my steak. We agreed that beef of this quality should be treated with respect, to let shine on its own merit. Excellent, excellent stuff - best execution of Bryan Flannery's beef I've had. Nicole certainly did great justice to the fine meat.

Dinner proper began with a nice, crisp, clean, fresh salad to start - one that made me feel less guilty for what more was to come.

As I always say: "Salad muna para healthy".

This was just my first serving. I went back for more, of course.

There was a Calalang Lechon de Leche as well - which was good as always.

As to the evening's wines, with the pica-picas we started off with some 2008 Domaine Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec - bottles from the Stockbroker; a wine I enjoyed during a mid-May lunch at Masseto with the domaine's proprietor, Anthony Hwang. My notes at the time, still applicable now, were as follows:

I have virtually no experience with dry Hungarian furmint secs, save for the broad, masculine and overtly oaked 2003 vintage of Vega Sicilia owned Oremus Mandolás Tokaji Sec which I paired once with raclette. The subject furmint sec, in contrast, is notably svelte, crisp, purer, cleaner and evidently very well-focused with dry white peach, white florality, hint of white grapefruit and an alluring cold, wet stone nuance. Lean, clean, dry and pure, it also has lip-smacking, appetite enhancing acidity. More complex than one's usual summer wine, this is perfect for our weather - all two seasons of it. Nice.
With dinner proper, after the salad course, we moved on to the 2000 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva - two bottles courtesy of the Stockbroker. During my tasting/meeting with La Rioja Alta's Technical Director/Winemaker Julio Sáenz in early April 2010, Julio mentioned that Viña Ardanza is his "pet project", preferring the use of the French barriques of Tonnellerie Francois Frères. I've written a few times about this wine, my most recent formal notes (as opposed to anecdotal mention) on the occasion of the Manila Gentlemen's Club's 2nd dinner by Chef Carlo Miguel. My notes at the time were as follows:

[T]he 2000 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva was, by all accounts, the clear star of all the evening's reds. I found this comparatively the most expressive and giving - presenting immediately captivating aromas of sweetish balsamico, cedar, bit of a minty topnote, well-ripened and concentrated loamy black cherry, hint of kirsch, dark raspberry, bit of blackberry, slight cinnamon, vanilla and licorice. Robert and Richard also commented that this was their favorite red of the evening.

Mauro Agustines, Willy Ocier & Rene Ongpin


For the opulent steaks, I brought along a magnum of 1999 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - a wine I had just early this month during a dinner at home with Miguel, Rene, Enky and our better halves. My 3 week old notes (save that the chocolate notes were more pronounced in this bottle) are still applicable:

1999 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Magnum) - My bottle. I got a couple of magnums of this during the wine auction of Futuretrade/Forth & Tay. I've always favored Mondavi Cab Sauv Reserves. Full bodied and velvety, the crème de cassis and ripe black cherry were nicely soft, complexed by seamlessly interwoven notes of sweetish pipe tobacco, bit of a minty topnote, anise, cedar, violets and a whisper of chocolate. This reinforced my general fondness for Mondavi's Napa cab reserve (certainly better balanced than the 2003 I had not long ago). I'm glad I have more of this. Definitely nice with the steaks.

Nicole had laid out an array of desserts, including, among others, her Home-Made Chocolate Lava Cakes and Apple Pie by Tessa Ong (who happens to be Catha's first cousin on her mom's side). Alas, but I was far too full to indulge any further. The palate was willing, but the stomach was weak, having over-loaded on the steaks and paella.

Conviviality was certainly in no short supply.
Above, the Stockbroker laughs it up with Mariana Yulo.

Paella Boy

It was a most enjoyable evening. Many thanks again to our gracious hosts for the hospitality and magnificent meal. Welcome back Yuan & Yanna; I very much look forward to the next!

Chowing @ The Taipan.

Yesterday's impromptu Friday lunch, the 29th April 2011, was at the Tower Club's Taipan with some friends from LBC Express. We were 6 in all; Enky, Chris, Jeff and I didn't have dress code conforming shirts so had to put on the club's jackets...until we entered our private room anyway.

I think Chris & Enky should have switched jackets.

We didn't have any wine, but we enjoyed several large bottles of Tsingtao beer to go with our many dishes. Aside from some platters of dimsum, we had:

Roast Suckling Pig

Enky attacks the suckling pig (pero walang rice para healthy).

Jeff still hard at work between bites as Paolo digs in.

Peking Duck

Carving the duck for the 1st Way.


JV has at it as Chris hangs his jacket.

Steamed Live Lapu Lapu w/ Fine Soya Sauce
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to photograph it before it was de-boned and portioned.

Kailan in Chinese Wolfberry Broth, a good choice by Chris.

Tower Club Fried Rice

Enky & Jeff.
We also had some Char Kway Teow which was ok, but I forgot to take a photo of it.

Chris reaches for the 2nd Way Peking Duck (minced and wrapped in lettuce) which I also forgot to photograph. I think that's the Char Kway Teow partially visible in the bottom left side of the above photo.

Those of us who had dessert stuck to light, relatively healthy ones. Above is my Almond Jelly with Fruit Cocktail. Some cups of coffee and double espressos later, we called it a lunch.

JV Llamas, Chris Hagedorn, Enky Rey, Jeff Enriquez & Paolo Misa.

Old & New Friends @ La Tienda.

Dinner of 28th July 2011 was back at La Tienda for more of Chef Javi Lecumberri's authentic Spanish cuisine. Apple is in town from California and had been wanting to try Javi's cooking. Of course, Catha and I were more than happy to oblige. With us that evening were Michelle and hubby Tom. Coincidentally, Apple found out that day that her mom is a regular La Tienda customer.

Traffic was pretty bad coming from the office, so we barely made it on time. Apple arrived shortly thereafter, so we started of with some glasses of...

Freixenet Reserva Real Cava - a higher-end bottling of the gigantic Freixenet of Catalonian Sant Sadurní d'Anoia west of Barcelona. This cuvée, blended with select vintages in the style of Champagne, was created to commemorate the King and Queen's visit to the winery in 1987. It is no secret that this is my favorite cava as I have enjoyed and written about it countless times. This is locally available, but in small quantities and only by order from Aaron's ADP Industries.

Having gone through my stock at home, Aaron was kind enough to have some bottles delivered to the restaurant in short notice...and it's a good thing he did. There is no cava I enjoy more with Javi's pica-picas:


Patatas Bravas


Gambas a la Plancha


Michelle (also a longtime close friend of Catha) and hubby Tom (recently retired from a few years cooking at NOBU, NY, and an old family friend of Apple) had arrived in the meantime and joined in further livening up the conversation - chef and foodie, what a fine pair they make.

After catching up with each other, leisurely enjoying the tapas and, eventually, going through the two bottles of cava, the main dishes started making their way to the table:

Besugo al Horno in the typical Basque style.

Basmati Paella de Verduras

Chuletón Vasco. With the foregoing, I opened:

1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 - Last of this I've opened was almost a year ago during a dinner at home for Miguel's mom, Tita Rose. My notes then were as follows:

Of all the times I've had this wine, this was by far the best bottle. The perfumed scents of balsamico and cedar sweetly permeated the red and dark spice-touched pure, dark cherries, strawberries, raspberries and violets. A firm balancing acidity as a backbone kept things interesting throughout. The poise, structure and balance called Médoc to mind, yet I also had to agree with Beto's comment that its flavors were Burgundian in nature (something the Stockbroker, Doc, Eric and I have, in the past, noted in fine, aged Riojan tintos - particularly the 1976 López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva and the 1974 Contino Reserva).
A year later, the wine, consistent in the above flavors and scents, shows firm structure and good acid cut, making it very food-friendly and a good contrasting match for the chuleton. At the same time, it was not so powerful as to bowl over the besugo. Nice eating wine.

1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 - Last bottle I opened was in late April 2011, paired with rack of lamb during dinner at Sala. I've had very many bottles of this and have enjoyed every single one of them:
I had it decanted for about 45 minutes to an hour before service and it showed quite differently from when it is just popped and poured. After decanting, the otherwise explosive aromas of creamy oak, dill, licorice, black cherry, mocha and kirsch are more self-possessed/circumspect and show quiet depth. In the mouth, more leather, violets and herbs make their presence felt more; and the oak/vanilla and dill are more subtle and seem better integrated. What remains constant, however, is that it is undeniably an alluring wine. Loved it as I always do.
Consistent with the above notes, side-by-side the '97 GR 904, this is evidently heftier, more rounded and with a creamier-fruited feel as well as richer - but well-integrated - oaken vanilla and spice. This never fails to please the people at table. Beautiful wine.

Dessert was one if my favorites: Leche Frita w/ Cardamom Ice Cream

Coffees, double espressos and many stories later, we said our goodbyes and headed off home around midnight. Lovely evening. Thanks so much to Javi, and to Aaron as well, without whose help and indulgence the evening would not have been possible.

Until the next!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Va Bene Indeed.

Just when I thought I'd already gotten over jetlag, I woke up at 4am yesterday morning, the 27th July 2011. Not having anything better to do at the time, I started working and, after a 20 minute break for breakfast, called it quits by 11am. Not bad - around 6 hours of work done before noon - I guess jetlag does have some benefits.

Thus, I was able to join the Usual Suspects' lunch at Va Bene that day (my first time there). I hadn't had a wine lunch with the guys since Aaron's birthday lunch at Mamou over a month ago, and I was really missing these vinous gatherings. Having had to pass by La Tienda first to drop something off for Javi, I got to the lunch past 1pm and the guys were already finishing up their appetizers. We were 8 in all as Miguel is still in Europe on business.

I started off with a very good Beef Carpaccio w/ Arugula & Summer Truffles since Johnny'd had it before and heavily recommended it. Excellent with my bottle of 2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis. I've written about this dry, medium weight, pleasantly rounded, slightly almond-bitter Piedmontese white many, many times, so I need not repeat myself anew.

Greg, the Stockbroker & Mark

My pasta course was Crab Capellacci with my bottle of 1985 Château Gruaud Larose - I knew it would not at all be a good pairing, but, I figured "What the hell". I opened a bottle of this same wine during a dinner at home less than 3 weeks ago and my notes were as follows:

I opened a bottle of 1985 Château Gruaud Larose (in the photo with the bottles of 2009 Tempier Bandol Rosé) and decanted it for around 25 minutes before we weighed in on it. Quite a bit of initial furry, animal funkiness in the nose which significantly eased off after breathing. Thereafter, it was a medium-bodied stream of somewhat linear, sanguine, slightly feral dark fruit, cedar, ceps, bit of underlying asphalt, worn leather, slight violets and anise. "Very St-Julien", noted Rene of the bouquet. Middle was a bit weak; the finish of moderate length.

Good typicity; a more than decent wine, surely, but I expected/wished for a bit more of a mid-mouth statement from a well-respected 1855 2nd growth from St-Julien.
The bottle at the subject lunch was not decanted, just popped and poured and let breath in glass and bottle (while it lasted, anyway). The wine showed more cleanly, with materially less of a feral, animal nature, but, the notes were still there. Still a good, typical St-Julien; though I couldn't help thinking it should have a little more weight on it for what it is. Nice enough, and I still have some at home, but I doubt I'll be buying more of it as I much prefer their 1989 and 1990 (their 1982 is fantastic).

Rene & Arnie

Johnny & J-Lab

My main course was Seared Snapper. The fish was cooked perfectly, the flavors simple, honest, rustic. Enjoyed this a lot. Chef Patron Massimo Veronesi highly recommended it to me, and I , in turn, highly recommend it to all. With this I continued with the 2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis, and, thereafter, went for a couple of other of the lunch's reds.

1997 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Vigna Enrico VI - from the Stockbroker. Slight roses in the discreetly tar, leather, herb, tea, cedar infused dry black cherry, dark raspberry and violets. A notch or two over medium-bodied, firm enough structure, moderate length. Quite nice.

2004 Clos du Marquis - This 2nd wine of Léoville las Cases was either Rene's or Greg's bottle, I'm not so sure. Decently structured, firm enough, properly austere St-Julien. Pleasant and a good enough casual lunch red.

Chef Patron Massimo Veronesi (formerly of Mi Piace) & J-Lab.

My above dessert was fair enough, the strawberries just a shade too tart for me.

The kitchen was having problems with their coffee machine that day, and it showed in my double espresso - watery and slightly burnt. Very disappointing, but, well, technical difficulties and all...I guess I'll have to return to see what it's really like on a regular day.

Still and all, the food was pretty good and it was great to see, eat and drink with the guys again after over a month. The Stockbroker assured me, though, that it wouldn't be too long...until the next.