Sunday, September 30, 2012

Champagne Laurent-Perrier Dinner

Dinner of Friday before last, the 21st September 2012, was at Sala Restaurant for a Champagne Laurent-Perrier Pairing Dinner organized by Straits Wine Company Manila. I've done a couple of distributor-organized champagne dinners before, the last one featuring the house of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin back on the 2nd December 2009. Even before then, I was of the opinion that champagne, though great as apéritifs, to finish off a meal, and/or with certain lighter fare, just can't hack it when we start talking more substantial main courses. Well, not for me, anyway,

In any event, I try my best to keep an open mind. One never knows. Besides, two of the Usual Suspects, J-Lab and Richard, said they'd attend; so I figured, with their presence and Colin Mackay's food, it would be a fun enough evening.

The Menu
I was running late that day, coming from a client's office, passing by yet another client's office, before making a 5:30pm tasting at Sommelier Selection for some bubbly and to meet the current French ambassador and his wife. I got caught up chatting about food, restaurants, and wine (of course) with Jerome Philippon and Herve Laumond, and, thus, got caught up in traffic (the ambassador and his wife arrived late, but I still managed to meet them before I had to leave). The first course was already being served as I walked into the subject dinner.

1st Course: Coral Trout Fillet, Dukkah-Crusted Prawn, Leek Velouté paired with NV Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut - This is bright enough in its strawberry, raspberry, citrus, slight orange peel and currants, and faint minerality. Fleeting mousse and notably fine, persistent beading. A pleasant and charming nv rosé, if rather straightforward and simple for me. Good, surely, but with the nv rosés of Billecart Salmon, Drappier, Ayala, etc. readily available at materially lower retail prices, unless one can easily tell the difference between them blind and choose the subject bubbly as one's favorite, I see no good reason for spending more.

2nd Course: Sweet Shrimp & Shimeji Mushroom Risoni, Porcini & Truffle Cream. The truffle oil's pungency made it difficult to smell the pairing champagne, but the dish itself was absolutely superb - the flavors all on point, seasoning perfect, the pasta perfectly al dente.

This was paired with what for me and most everyone else was the star of the evening, the 1998 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Rosé Cuvée Alexandra - which was, for me, easily and by far the best bubbly of all that night. This deeply complex, yet approachable and evidently refined bubbly is the latest release of this limited cuvée which was named after the late Bernard de Nonancourt's daughter, Alexandra. Beautifully rounded, strawberry, cherry, ripe apricot, with discreet mineral undertones and added rose petal and orange peel notes. Very harmonious. Pretty stunning, actually. This is a beauty of a champagne.

I understand that this retails at P23,000/bottle, which is materially more than one has to pay for Salon in these parts. Though I love this champagne, the price disconnect, however, is too much to ignore.  One can readily buy this in the US for well under $300/bottle, but, if one doesn't want or can't be bothered to bring it in one's self, it is available at Straits Wine along Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati.

Third Course: Roasted Duck Breast with Parsnip Purée, French Beans, Root Vegetable Pavé & Cranberries. The pairing Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, though nice enough, was a study in mismatch. I continued with another glass of the lovely 1998 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Rosé Cuvée Alexandra instead.

The duck main course was, like the risoni, spot on in all aspects. Organizers of wine events are best advised to look to Colin for their dinners. He has, time and again, proven that he can deliver a special menu to a packed house with absolutely no dip in quality and attention to detail, not that I've ever experienced anyway - and I've been to many wine events in Sala.

Colin Mackay & Laurent-Perrier Export Manager-Asia, Ludovic de Lageard.

The 2002 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé followed- Green apple, pear, white peach, slight grapefruit, toastiness, hints of the lees, this shows good potential but is still quite tightly wound. Notable neatness, focus and precision here. Will look into this again around 3-5 years down the road and see what is up then.

Dessert was Strawberry, White Chocolate, & Macadamia Brittle Semifreddo with Rhubarb, refreshing yet substantial yet light on the palate and belly, its flavors dancing light-footedly on the tongue. Reminiscent in style of Colin's signature Mango & Passionfruit Pavlova. Very nice.

Petits fours of heavenly Hazelnut & White Truffle Macarons.
The night's bubblies.
J-Lab, Freddie, & Richard with Ludovic de Lageard.

The evening ended before 10pm, which was way too early for J-Lab, Richard, & I, so we headed off to Masetto's Bar "M" for some single malts and snacks, and finally calling it a night at around half past midnight. Pleasant evening. Until the next!

Los Golfos Dinner 2012 at Home.

Dinner last night, Saturday the 29th September 2012, was at home, for my regular Saturday golf group that jokingly calls itself "Los Golfos" (Castillan slang for "bums" or "layabouts" since, save for a few - myself included - they are men of leisure). Always such a fun bunch of guys. I don't get to play with them on Saturdays so regularly these days, so this was also a good way to spend more time with them.

L-R: Sal, Quito, Tito Chito, Tito, Henry, Jos, Raffy, & Chicho.
We were 10 for dinner, just us guys: Sal Lacson, Quito Moras, Tito Chito Legarda, Tito Linggoy Araneta, Tito Reynoso, Henry Hagedorn, Jos Moraza, Raffy Villarreal, Chicho Haurie, and myself. Unfortunately, Miguel Moras, Bobby Paradies, and Mackie Cui were out of town and so couldn't join us.

By around 6pm, while waiting for everyone to arrive, we started off with some flutes of Champagne Taittinger Brut Réserve - Nicely fresh, with charming white florality and very pleasant and lively white fruit. The toastiness is mild and discreet, making for a nicely balanced nv bubbly. For welcome drinks, apéritifs, cocktails, it is a solid choice for bubbly.

I must note that, in the late '90s, I stopped buying this champagne because the bottles I used to get from Säntis back then seemed to me a bit too tart, its citrus way too obtrusive. However, around 2 years ago, champagne aficionado and drinking buddy J-Lab told me Säntis' stock of this bubbly was much nicer and fresher - so I gave them another try and have been buying them again since then.

Assorted deli for pica-pica.

Chicho brought a couple of excellent Tortillas de Patatas (a favorite comfort food of mine, and his are always so much better than I can make myself): this one was the one with chorizo. The other one was with onions, but I, unfortunately wasn't able to take a photograph of it. The tortillas were quite large and so good that the guys were concentrating pica-pica efforts on them. Chicho and I noted that maybe we'd better slow down or we could easily get too full for dinner proper.

Tito Linggoy made it by the midst of cocktail hour(s).
Catha made a nice Salad of Greens, Tarragon, Pine Nuts, Parma Ham, & Parmesan w/ Honey -  Mustard Dressing...
...some really good Paella...

...and arranged for my in-laws' cook to make us our main course of Roast US Black Angus Roast Beef with Red Wine & Mushroom Gravy. I liked this menu; it was simple, hearty, but good. Though Catha wanted to serve separate seafood and vegetable courses, I dissuaded her, saying that the salad would be fine for our greens and the paella already had enough seafood in it. Besides, us guys would likely concentrate on the roast beef anyway...

...which is exactly what happened.
With the main course, I paired mainly the 2003 Descendientes de José Palacios Villa de Corullón - I've had this several times before, but had not tried it again for around 3 years. At this point, it is nicer than ever. The notably ripe and deeply-veined fruit is softer and mellower than before, the tannins now velvety, blueberry notes now lead the black cherry, raspberry and blackberry. Its minerality and oak-realted spiciness are now more subdued and finely-knit into the fruit. More rounded and harmonious than before. I opened two bottles of it and they were both finished easily.

We also had some 1998 Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva - This is one of my most favorite wines that Aaron and I bring in. I don't want to say too much about it now since I am seriously considering bringing more in, but suffice it to state that of all the wines we bring in, this refined, Bordeaux-reminiscent beauty is one I make extra sure I have a good number of for my own personal stash. Tito Linggoy, a confirmed Rioja aficionado, Quito, and, as I recall, Henry too, though they also enjoyed the preceding tinto del Bierzo, favored this wine last night.

Dessert was Cuerva's Cherry Torte, an old family favorite...
...followed by shots of well-chilled La Navarra Etiqueta Verde Pacharán.
Thereafter, some of us moved outdoors for a smoke, Jos and Tito Linggoy enjoying a puro each of Cuban H. Upmann No. 2, while Raffy and I stuck to our Marlboros. Most of the guys started trickling off slightly after 10:30pm, leaving Henry, Quito, Jos, Tito Linggoy, and I lingering until around midnight on the patio listening to old songs. Such a fun and relaxing evening. Lots of stories. Lots of laughs.

Until the next!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Burgundy Dinner for Keiichi.

Three weeks ago, Wednesday the 5th September 2012 to be exact, some of The Usual Suspects got together for dinner with Keiichi who was in town from Tokyo. Keiichi had requested dinner at Brasserie Ciçou, Greenhills for Cyrille's roast capon as main course. Remembering an IWFS Burgundy-themed dinner with the same pairing main course from some years ago (at then Restaurant Ciçou, Makati, which Keiichi attended and enjoyed), I figured he had red Burg on the mind, and, suggested that as our evening's theme.

We were 7 in all that night: Bernie, Keiichi, J-Lab, Richard, Greg, myself, & Henry (a very nice fellow, and a colleague of Keiichi with the Lazard Group - they were both in Manila on business). I had earlier on coordinated the reservations and the roast capon with Cyrille.

Richard and I arrived together with J-Lab & Greg following not 10 minutes after. Hungry, we ordered ahead and waited for the others to turn up. In the meantime, we started off with some Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve - My bottle, an old reliable non-vintage champagne marked, to me, by slight brioche, a nicely rounded mid-palate heft, and a somewhat leesy character. Creamier, riper, more accessible in general and more substantial in the mouth than most non-vintage champagnes, with the IWFS discount Bacchus grants (bringing a bottle to approximately P3500), it has been one of the group's go-to champagnes for the past few years.

I also kept a glass to go with my first course of Grilled Scallops, Fricasée of Mushrooms, & Duck Liver Cromesqui on Squash Soup. Heavenly. Richard and I had this and agreed that it was superb. I do not know if this is on the regular menu - I vaguely recall it was not - but one can surely request that it be made a couple of days ahead of time (with a decent number of orders of course, to make it worth the restaurant's while). Go for it; I promise you will not be disappointed.

A second bottle of bubbly was opened when Keiichi and Bernie arrived: 2007 Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut - J-Lab's bottle. A zippy, clean, nervy, spicy chenin blanc bubbly from the jewel of Vouvray showing citrus, lemon, pear, peach, bit of quince and peach pit with nuances of cold limestone. Lively acidity. A pretty chenin blanc bubbly for sure.

Keiichi opens a red Burg to breathe, as Anna checks in on us.
Bernie Sim & Anna Soenen

2003 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg - Bernie's bottle. Wow. Talk about complexity in nose and on the palate. Goût de pétrole, white minerality, the faintest suggestion of oxidation in the green apple, bit of not-quite-ripe peach, slight orange peel, leesiness, hint of pineapple. Richard and I kept thanking Bernie for sharing this with us.

I tried it with some fresh oysters, but, for me, the wine lacked freshness, brightness, and acidity for said task..

Keiichi's white, a 1996 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (recommended by and sourced from a friend of his who is in the wine business), was, unfortunately, damaged (flat, smelled of rubber and petrol - the latter not in a good way). This was given time, revisited a few times, and, in the end, set aside. Oh, well, it happens.

Lazard Asia's & Japan's Big Potatoes: Henry Choon & Keiichi Miki

As Keiichi requested, as the night's main course was Ciçou's Whole Roasted Pamora Farms Capon with Assorted Vegetables & Gravy; the Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver, Chestnuts, Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. Many thanks to Cyrille for accommodating the special order on relatively short notice. It was excellent: moist, clean, flavorful, the stuffing lending a rich earthiness. Richard eschews pork, so I happily switched white for dark meat with him.

My first helping of the capon. So moist, and the stuffing was delicious. As J-Lab put it, "Yung patatas pa lang masarap na!". I totally agreed.

There was this 1999 Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône Villages "Les Estrambords" opened, I believe it was Bernie's. I first tried this over 2-½ years ago, on the 11th February 2010, at an 11+ hour lunch (a personal record for me). My notes from then state:

Bernie's bottle, of course. Surprisingly youthful and concentrated considering, per Bernie, '99 wasn't a notable vintage for the Côtes du Rhône. Seemed a bit modern in style to me (not that I know much of the wines of the area) with dense, jammy, dried black fruit, prune, cherry, kirsch, some herbiness, all buttressed by oak notes of chocolate and espresso. There is a bit of heat on it as well, but, after pinot noirs and Burgs, the subject wine's abv was probably emphasized thereby.
The subject night, 2-½ years later, also juxtaposed with some red Burg, it doesn't at all seem to be fading. It was still a comparative bully-boy on the nose and palate - modernly bold, unabashed, spicy, dense, and jammy. Quite a bit too much for the capon for me.

With my main course, I pretty much stuck to the 2002 Louis Jadot Pommard Premier Cru  Épenots - My bottle, purchased at Bacchus Int'l. for approximately P3300 (including my IWFS discount). This had been breathing in bottle (given extra space by a couple of experimental pours in glass) for well over an hour before I got to it. Though I normally look to Domaine Comte Armand for wine from this sloped Côte de Beaune premier cru commune (Jadot's vineyards border Beaune to the north), the subject bottle caught my eye because of the vintage (which was comparatively much more ready to drink at this point than the others available).

In a nutshell, I was quite satisfied with this purchase. While it can use more years in bottle to truly mature, with material aeration, I could already detect the beginnings of roasted meaty, mushroomy, compost-esque Burgundy decay in this masculine, slightly rustic, over medium-bodied nicely ripe, mineral-touched, darkly-fruited (ripe, dark plum, dark raspberry, black cherry, mere hint of kirsch) wine. Good structure. Nothing to jump up and down about, surely, but it acquitted itself admirably with the capon. Solid. Notable typicity. Nice. I bought more after.

Keiichi also opened a 1991 Domaine Jacques Cacheaux Grand Cru Echézeaux which was, unfortunately, quite past its prime. Some took a glass of it. I took a bit, sniffed, tasted, gave it more time, repeated, and set it aside. It wasn't terrible, but I didn't see any point in continuing with it.

Richard also opened a bottle of 2007 Pintia (Vega Sicilia's Toro venture) which I forgot to photograph. Since I was carefully watching my alcohol intake (lest my blood pressure spike anew), and, because it was a working day the next day, I didn't have any of it.

Chowhound Cyrene de la Rosa and IWFS Manila Ladies Branch head Bunny Fabella happened to be at Brasserie Ciçou that same night, and Richard and I sent a glass each, blind, of the Pommard and tinto de Toro. When I asked Cyrene which she preferred (before identifying either of the wines), she said she preferred the second red - which was Richard's. She later on mentioned that she really prefers tempranillo-based wines to those of pinot noir.

Pretending to be miffed, I teased her that I would tell JC (who distributes Vega Sicilia's wines in the Philippines) that she chose her Coke as her favorite drink that night.

The last red, but certainly not the least by far, was a 1998 Château Trotanoy - Bernie's bottle, which Keiichi picked out to bring at Bernie's behest. I'd not had this in quite a long time, but it was as I know Trotanoy. Smoothly and roundly muscled, concentrated, quietly powerful, profoundly deep, ripe midnight plum, cherry, pipe tobacco, bit of new leather, violets, cedar, discreet dark chocolate and vanilla undertones. This easily blew all the other reds away as wine of the night. Thanks again to Bernie for this bonus treat; and thanks, too, to Keiichi for picking it out of Bernie's vast collection.

As at any testosterone filled table heavily laden with fine food and wine, some appreciative, brotherly fist-bumping is inevitable.

Naturally, we couldn't leave without some orders of Cyrille's cult status Kouign Amann with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Fantastic as always. I never miss this dessert when in Ciçou - and neither, I feel, should anyone else. This we paired with J-Lab's bottle of 2001Chapoutier Les Coufis de Paille d'Ardeche, the specific notes of which are lost in alcohol-addled memory. I do recall we did enjoy it though and it did nicely with the Kouign Amann.

I also made sure to take home a bagful of Ciçou's cannelés (both vanilla and chocolate), assorted macarons, and pain au chocolat for Catha and the boys to have for breakfast the next day.

L-R: J-Lab, Greg, Keiichi, Bernie, & Richard
There were other bottles on deck, but, since we were all busy the next day (except Richard who was still on the tail-end of vacation mode), we prudently called it a night. Wonderful to spend time drinking and dining with Keiichi as always. Visit us again soon, my friend! Until the next!

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Incredible (Impromptu) Asturian Lunch: Terry's Jornadas Gastronomicas de Asturias.

I've known for around two months that good friend and Spanish cuisine maestro Juan Carlos "JC" de Terry was putting together a run of days featuring the cuisine of Asturias. Today, the 20th September 2012, at half past noontime, Catha saw on Face Book an announcement that all JC's ingredients had arrived from Asturias and that he'd already been starting to put out his planned dishes. That's all the news we needed to hop in the car and take a quick drive over to Terry's Segundo Piso, where JC holds culinary court.

Asturias is both a province and autonomous region situated in northern Spain, bordered by El Golfo de Viscaya (a.k.a, the Bay of Biscay) on the north, separated from León by la Cordillera Cantabria  (a.k.a., the Cantabrian Mountains) to the south, bordering Galicia to the west, and the Cantabrian region to the east. My longtime Manila-based Madrileño friend, Chicho, had told me that Asturias is a beautiful province of sea, mountains, fog-laced green valleys, and well-preserved nature parks. The regional cuisine, said he, was delicious, mentioning especially the empanada de erizos de mar* (sea urchin empanadas; "ourizos" in the Asturian dialect per Chicho) and, of course, the fabada asturiana, washed down by the finest of sidras (apple ciders).

* "Erizos de mar", literally, "hedgehogs of the sea" in Castillan.

With all that information, and more, plus knowing well JC's kitchen mastery, I simply had to try it out as soon as possible. And that, at today's lunch, we did; arriving at 2º Piso slightly past 1pm.

Catha requested JC to choose our dishes for lunch.

In the meantime, JC showed me his new discovery of Asturian stemware, nicely weighted, slim in the hand, delicately rimmed. He poured me a simple P300 red in one and asked me to sniff. Indeed, the wine's ripely fruited, slightly spicy and floral aromas were jumping from the glass. Impressive. While I do not want to jump the gun on revealing its price, I will disclose that it is very affordable - certainly fair game for restaurant, catering, and large parties at home.

He also showed me his new sets of Asturian sidra tumblers...

...right and proper for nothing less than Casería San Juan del Obispo Tareco Sidra Natural, the pride of Asturias, that Terry's distributes (more on that later).

It was with the greatest of pride that JC also presented to me his latest treasure, Telva Anchoas en Aceite de Oliva Virgen. JC had been raving about these artisanal Cantabrian Sea anchovies as of late, and both Catha and I were excited to try them. I understand that these are produced by a friend of his named "Beatriz".

Beauties (sans the olive oil for a clearer shot).

First: Anchoas de mi Amiga Beatriz Empapadas en Puré de Almendras al Queso La Peral (“My friend Beatrice’s Anchovies drenched in Almond purée on La Peral cheese*”). Heavenly. The anchovies are quite mildly salty, the fish's natural flavors left pure. Take my word for it: you simply must.

* La Peral cheese is a mild Asturian cows' milk based blue cheese with some sheep butter mixed in, as I understand.

El Maestro, orchestrating the dishes.

Second:  Compango Croquetas - perfectly executed croquetas, no oiliness on the palate, crunchy on the outside and meltingly moist on the inside, bursting with the meat ingredients of a typical Asturian fabada (collectively referred to as "compango"), drenched in lovely queso Afuega Al Pitu*. Loved it. I could eat these like popcorn. I'm sure my kids can and will demolish many platters of these. Once the platter hits the table, best get out of the way.

* A deliciously creamy Asturian cheese made from the milk of Friesian and Asturian cows and crosses thereof, which milk can be either raw (under certain conditions) or pasteurized (much more prevalent). 

Third: Cachopitos de Cecina y Queso de Cabra al Puré de Setas y Piquillo (Inspirado en Casa Telva y El Tendejón de Fernando)...

Cross-section shot of said "Cachopito"
...or, in other words: "Crunchy Rolls of Veal stuffed with Dried Beef, Goat Cheese, Wild Asturian Mushroom and Piquillo Pepper Purée”; the inspirations of which came from both Casa Telva and El Tendejón de Fernando Retaurants.

JC explained that a "cachopo" is a form of stuffed escalope - think cordon bleu - so, a "cachopito" is a little version of a cachopo. We also made short work of these, loving the underlying theme of piquillo that ran through the earthy mushrooms, slightly salty beef, and creamy-subtly gamey chèvre. The play on texture apparent not only in the crunchy exterior and moist interior, but in the creamy cheese and bits of beef and mushrooms as well. Of course, I do love piquillo peppers. Masarap siya.

The Tareco Sidra Natural, of which I have written about before, was, now as then, a most refreshing, cool, brightening, light, lively, vibrant, citrusy, fruity, slightly yeasty lunch quaffer - delightfully complexed by underlying sanguine, meaty notes. Catha and I finished the whole bottle very easily...Ok, so I drank 85% of the bottle. I could easily have had another one as its abv is only 6.5%. Perfect for lunch.

JC shows how to properly pour the sidra, at a slight height, the sidra hitting the glass' side, causing a slight effervescence to activate the cider (not unlike the way txakoli is poured). Chicho had asked me if the Terry's waitstaff knew how to properly pour sidra; I assured him that if they didn't then, JC would have taught them by the time the Asturian menu was offered.

Fourth: Tía Genara's Super Fabada - Asturias is known for its fabada, and now I know why. Super talaga! The beans so tender, but not mushy, their integrity maintained but permeated with the delicious sauce. The chorizo, and, especially the morcilla, were both wonderful. I cannot do justice with words. If you like fabada, you'll love this one. We certainly did.

JC plates...

Fifth: Rabo de Toro Cooked in Cabrales* Concoction - I've had a couple of JC's other rabo de toro (i.e., oxtail) recipes, and they've always had his own special twists in it - Cabrales cheese and a bit of cream in this one, the oxtail super moist and tender, at one with the red sauce, melding richly with the creamy, distinctive, moderately gamey flavors.

* Cabrales is a spicey, slightly grainy/crumbly blue cheese traditionally made with unpasteurized cows', goats', and/or sheep's milk.

Dessert: Rice Custard "Carreño" Style - the traditional Asturian Arroz con Leche-Flan with a Terry's Touch. I've said before that JC has the heart of a cook and the soul of a patissier, his desserts are never to be missed. This was no exception. The caramelization was so deep, complex and permeated the rice pudding à la leche flan (his own touch to the municipality of Carreño's style of arroz con leche) that I could have sworn there was some brandy, and even a touch of nutmeg used in it (Catha correctly noted, as JC confirmed, that there was neither brandy nor nutmeg, but only cinnamon).

I've always liked arroz con leche - a comforting dish for me. This one, though, was extra special.

Superb lunch. This was but a "sneak peak" into JC's extensive Asturian menu running from the 20th to the 30th September 2012. Don't miss it. I'll be back with my kids for sure. ¡Un millón de gracias de nuevo, JC, y hasta la próxima!