Monday, August 29, 2011

Catha's Birthday Dinner by Cyrille Soenen @ Impressions.

Around a week before Catha's birthday, I asked her where she wanted to hold her birthday dinner, to which she replied that she wanted to have dinner by Cyrille Soenen. As luck would have it, Cyrille is currently heading Impressions (3rd Floor, Maxim's Tower, Resort World, Pasay) while working on opening his new restaurant in Greenhills.

Through a brief exchange of SMS messages and e-mails with Cyrille, the dinner was quickly set and we were at Impressions for dinner on Saturday, the 27th August 2011 - Catha, the children and I.

To start, I brought a bottle of Champagne La Grande Cuvée de Michel Arnould. Domaine Michel Arnould is a family-owned-and-run firm which produces a line of bubblies from fruit from its own grand cru vineyards located in Verzenay in the Champagne region. This particular cuvée is mainly pinot noir (70%) from selected plots in the Moulin de Verzenay , with the remaining 30% of chardonnay from the Côtes des Grands Blancs. This blend is, as I understand, from vintage 2000 but, for some reason, was not branded/labelled as a vintage champagne.

This is a floral, heftily rounded, creamy-fruited champagne that shows a nice, plumpish middle with an underlying theme of white chocolate, brioche and hints of nougat in its dominant fresh apple, pear and very minor citrus. Very approachable, definitely a crowd-pleaser of a champagne. Catha asked me to immediately get more bottles. This is not locally available, so I'll have to order more from abroad. No problem.

Catha & the youngest.

The two teenagers.

We were immediately offered an assortment of breads. I've really missed Cyrille's Mini Baguettes which he always served fresh at his old Restaurant Ciçou at the Hotel Céleste, so I immediately went for this in the basket. Served with a heavenly Isigny-Ste-Mère butter, I tried my best to refrain from eating too much of it as I had ordered a full course meal, but I still wound up having 3 baguettes and 1½ containers of the butter. Love it.

We were served some Chapati...

...and platters of Prosciutto and Pancetta as well.

We also had two platters of Fresh Oysters... go with the champagne. Fantastic.

Amuse Bouche

Catha's first course was a dish not on the regular menu: Crispy Prawn Wrapped in Fresh Herbs, Rougail Salad and Citrus Dressing. She really liked this. I wonder if it will be put on the regular menu sometime. Cyrille joined Impressions only early this month, so he is likely still in the process of establishing a regular menu (as well as continuously conjuring specials).

For a first course, Renzo and I each had the
Soft Boiled Farm Egg w/ Sea Urchin, Green Pea Broth & Mashed Broccoli.

For their soup course, the eldest and youngest chose the
Cream of Spinach Soup w/ Goat Cheese & Salmon Ravioli...

...while the second and I enjoyed bowls of the delicious
Delicate Cream Soup of Mussels w/ Ravioli of Mashed Watercress & Oyster.

For our main course, I brought a bottle of 1996 Château Rauzan-Ségla.

Our main course was ordered a few days ahead of time: 24-Hour Sous-Vide Veal Shank w/ a side of pasta, Fresh French Chanterelles, Lardons, Baby Carrots, Small Potatoes, Shallots and Cherry Tomatoes. The sauce was a rich glaze from the veal's own juices. This was absolutely wonderful - the veal was melt-in-your-mouth tender and moist, the veal's flavors clean and focused, the sauce perfection. Together with the sides, it was a textbook of completeness and harmony.

Cyrille carves.

Off the bone it goes cleanly.


Wonderful in itself...

...and an excellent pairing for the 1996 Château Rauzan Ségla. I've had this wine a few times in the past, the last bottle I opened being in mid-December 2007 with Catha, Rocky & Apple Villadolid over dinner at Elbert's Steak Room. My notes then were as follows:

1996 Rauzan Ségla - Mid-December 2007, at Elbert's Steak House for dinner with my wife and the Villadolids from San Francisco. What struck me most about this fine Margaux was its mouthfeel: so smooth, seamless, flexible and vibrant mid-palate, I kept holding it there much longer than politely possible, enjoying the layers of well-extracted (yet not over-the-top), well-rounded, sweetish, small red berry/ripe cherry over cassis, dark plum and cedar undertones. I kept thinking of dark violet flowers at its finish. Exceptional balance and harmony, with good depth. A fine wine indeed, one I will definitely buy more of.

Extremely better than when I tested it out it last in mid-to-late 2000, when it was hard, angular and wholly unenjoyable. A little over 7 more years 0f bottle-age did it wonders.
Now, almost 4 years later and almost 15 years from harvest, the wine has evidently and considerably fleshed out and put on weight, showing more warm openness and a pronounced middle (nb: I double decanted this, letting it air in a decanter in my cav for about 1-½ hours before returning it to the bottle for transport to the restaurant). Harmonious, properly ripe blackcurrants, dark raspberry, bit of dark cherry over dark plum and calm warm asphalt, with violets, cedar and slight anise seamlessly intertwined in a body just a notch or two under full. Notable focus and definition. Everything was properly balanced and neatly presented. Discreet and smoldering power without being at all ponderous. Lovely wine. I am guessing this has many years ahead of it, but only time will tell if it will age as beautifully as their vintage 1955.


For dessert, there were Macarons...

...and a Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake, plus a special surprise dessert from Cyrille (no photo) which Catha, the kids and I all love. I cannot mention what it was, but, worry not, as it will surely be available at Cyrille's new restaurant in Greenhills which, hopefully, will open by late October.

It was an excellent meal, a great choice for a birthday dinner.
Thanks, Cyrille, and, again, happy birthday Catha!

Wines & Spirits Club Philippines BYOB Wine & Pizza Dinner II.

The Friday before last, 19th August 2011, was another BYOB (bring-your-own-bottles) Wine & Pizza Dinner of the Wines & Spirits Club Philippines (WSCP) at Gene Gonzalez's Café Ysabel. This was the second time such an event was held, the first one almost 2 years ago having been very well-attended (Gene's wood-burning brick oven was new then).

The Menu

Chef Patron Gene Gonzalez w/ Future Trade's Eric Kahn &
visiting representatives of Viñas Santa Rita (Chile)

Goat Cheese Pizza w/ Red Wine Simmered Onions topped w/ Arugula

Turkish Pride of Lamb Sausage, Chives, Parsley, Olives, Feta & Mozzarella.
This was my favorite. There also were some Pepperoni Pizzas (no photo).

Among others, I brought along a bottle each of 2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis & 2009 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé. I've written about these wines so many times before, there is no need to repeat myself anew. Suffice it to state that both wines went well with the courses all the way before the meat course - the Roero arneis pairing especially well with the lamb & feta pizza.

I also brought along some craft beers that I bought from Jimmyton's Global Beer Exchange. Pizza and beer? It was a no-brainer. The Ballast Point "Sea Monster" Imperial Stout was to be consumed with the cheese course or after dessert; while the Ballast Point "Calico" Amber Ale I had with the pizzas.

Johnny Revilla, Arnie del Rosario, Sanju & Vimla Gopaldas.

Jimmyton Araneta and family joined Ron & Mich, Mauro, Catha & I.

J-Lab with Marly & Pet

Minestrone of Charred Vegetables

Mauro & Catha

Fire-Baked Beef Short Ribs, Spicy Bourbon Glaze, Baked Corn, Napa Style Cauliflower

2004 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (100% cab sauv) - My bottle. Very young; it is an atypical Montelena in that, among others, it is only the 2nd vintage in the winery's history to hit 14% abv, very fruit-driven and a bit low on acid. I brought it precisely for the Fire-Baked Ribs. I had Arnie taste it blind, and, though he immediately identified it as a Napa wine, he couldn't get it as a cabernet sauvignon (whereas he is normally pretty good at identifying the dominant grape). A strange Montelena indeed, but, still, a nice enough and typical Napa cab that went well with the main course.

Ron & Michelle Rapanot

Bodjie Tobillo & Wil Lee

Jin, Bodjie & Eric

Gene Gonzalez working on dessert...

...explaining the details to his sous chef.

Burned Butter Ice Cream w/ Roasted Pineapple topped with Vanilla Salt.
Mauro had a second helping of this.

A round of applause.

Until the next!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday Family Dinner @ Tung Lo Wan (San Juan).

Last Saturday, the 20th August 2011, was at Tung Lo Wan, a recently opened (i.e., July 2011) Chinese restaurant located on the corner of Wilson & P. Guevarra Streets, San Juan (coming from Ortigas onto Wilson, it will be on your right side). My dad had read about this restaurant in the Inquirer and wanted to check it out. Thus, that night, we were 8 in all: Dad, Tad & Chako, Reena, Catha, our bookend boys (the 2nd was at the beach) and I. We arrived first, and, famished after a day of golf, I immediately started ordering.

Steamed Live Suaje (500 grams). I always order this at Chinese restaurants whenever available. The ones at Tung Lo Wan are larger than normal, but nonetheless wonderful - bursting with fat at the head and sweetly fresh. Delicious. I'm so glad my boys have long been big enough to peel their own shrimps. Time was I had to do all the peeling for them as Catha's nails wouldn't allow her to do the same.

White Chicken (½ chicken), recommended by our waiter as one of their better-selling appetizers. Generally, I don't eat chicken, but I do like the Cantonese white chicken. This one was soft, juicy and nicely flavored, albeit a bit ham-handedly so. This dictated the style of cuisine - there is no refinement or subtlety of fine Chinese cuisine here; rather, it is a knock-down/drag-out style for joyful over-indulging (like our meals at Under the Bridge Spicy Crab in Wan Chai). We were up to the task.

Roast Pork, a.k.a., Lechon Macau (2 orders). None of us are averse to eating a decent amount of fat, but one of the orders was evidently a little over-the-top with it. That said, we finished off both. This dish, in HK, is usually served with mustard, and, in Victoria City Seafood Restaurant, with a bit of sugar as well. It sounds a bit strange, but it is a delicious dipping combination. Tung Lo Wan gives the table a plastic bottle of mustard and no sugar (though I'm sure they would if asked). The mustard they give is the ubiquitous, rather abrasive yellow commercial stuff sold in groceries - not at all the best, but it will do in a pinch.

The Oyster Cake was passable, but utterly forgettable.

Fried Salt & Pepper Crab, the large, live victim presented for approval before its sentence is carried out in the kitchen. This was very competently cooked, seasoned well, the spiciness mild, precisely cooked and not overly oily. Good stuff.

I've mentioned before that Sweet & Sour Pork is a favorite dish of Catha's side of the family - and my youngest apparently inherited such fondness. He asked to have some, and I, naturally, relented. He said the flavor was ok, but that the pork could have been made even just a little bit crispy.

Roast Pigeon (3 pieces, each pigeon quartered) served with toasted salt. Those averse to greasy food and/or gamey fowl had best avoid this dish altogether, wherever served. Me, I love it, and so does my family. This was wiped out. Not as good as the imported pigeons served at Choi Garden, but this is cheaper and plenty good enough for me and mine. Of course, we had some healthier fare as well:

Szechuan Eggplant w/ Minced Pork & Salted Fish; very nice. Eggplant is one of the vegetables my kids, in varying degrees, actually like. My eldest really dug into this; so much so that I barely got a decent serving.

Szechuan Stir Fried String Beans w/ Minced Pork & Pickled Olives. Chako had this before when she and Tad scouted out this place for dad before he decided to take us, and particularly liked it so we got an order. It was only then that I realized how similar this restaurant's dishes were to those of Master Wong's above-mentioned Under the Bridge Spicy Crab. This was nice, but the olives' flavors are comparatively mute. Actually, had I not read the menu later on, I wouldn't have known there were any pickled olives in there. Still, this is a good dish on its own merit.

Polonchay w/ Red Egg & Century Egg. I'm a sucker for pretty much anything that has century eggs in it, and, wanted more vegetables to ease the guilt of over-indulging in the fried dishes. Even though, this is a vegetable dish worth ordering even without its guilt-suppressing plus; that is, if one likes century eggs.

The Yang Chow Fried Rice was competent; nothing special here.

With regard to prices, it is quite inexpensive: the whole meal plus drinks (a few San Mig Pale Pilsens and cokes) excluding tip came out to under P6000 for 8 of us stuffed to the gills - roughly P750/person. Not bad at all. As earlier stated, this is not the place to look for genteel surroundings, refined atmosphere or subtle cuisine - Ambiance? This is Tung Lo Wan!

~ oOo ~

Wanting some coffee, we made for nearby Café Ysabel, an old reliable we all would frequent when we still lived in Greenhills with Dad. Back then, it was still on Wilson Street; now, along P. Guevarra. Call me a nostalgic old fogey or a fuddy-duddy, but everyone else can keep their Starbucks and what-have-you. I prefer the coffee at Café Ysabel. Of course, with the coffee, we had a couple of desserts:

Chocolate Lava Cake...

...and the Strawberry Shortcake which we all found very nice and moist.

We all had the Irish Coffee...

...except the youngest who had a cup of Hot Chocolate Marshmallow.

Until the next!