Sunday, May 12, 2013

Vask: Living Up to the Hype?

Dinner of Thursday, the 2nd May 2013, was at the new and much talked about VASK in Bonifacio Global City. We were there upon the invitation of Juan Carlos & Mari de Terry who treated Catha & I. It was just the four of us. JC, as I saw, supplies some of Vask's wines (even from a distance, I recognized some displayed bottles). As I perceived, JC did not order any specific dishes (save the foie gras); rather, he let the chef, Jose Luis Gonzalez, do the choosing.

We were to meet up at Terry's 2º Piso at around 7:15pm and proceed to Vask. I just came out of a meeting in Pasay at a little past 6pm, so headed straight to Terry's a bit before 7pm. Not having had lunch yet, I finished off 100gms. of Jamón de Trevélez Gran Reserva with some bread and a glass of house white. JC eventually joined me while waiting for Mari & Catha to arrive.

Chef Jose Luis (to whom I was first introduced by common friend, Pepper Teehankee, during the Sileni wine dinner of JC several months ago), a compatriota of JC, has a most impressive resumé, in that he has worked at no less than El Bulli, Arzak, Mugaritz, and Celler Can Roca. Marketing-wise, such a resumé can be both boon and bane, as expectations are extremely high. Like everyone else, I suppose, mine were. In other words, I was looking to be "wowed" - i.e., to enjoy at least a comparable level of cuisine as those in the mentioned star-studded bastions of Spanish cuisine - which, looking back, admittedly, is not fair - after all, we weren't going to the restaurants he used to work at, which use different - and much more expensive ingredients. More on that later.

A Shrimp Ceviche of sorts, nicely fresh and summery. The brunoise was rather chunky, which interfered somewhat with fully appreciating the fresh shrimps' texture - but that chunkiness was likely by design for a touch of rusticity (well, maybe, anyway). With this we started on a bottle of (all wines brought by JC) young, vibrant, cold-stony, mineral-led 2011 J-P Marchand Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Lechet. Nice typicity, appetizing dryness, and good acid balance.

This dish of Bacalao was very clean tasting - not much of the saltiness or pungency that may throw off some who are not familiar with traditional preparation. A bit heavy on the rich emulsion topping  though, which, to me, masked a lot of the fish's natural flavors. Thankfully, we had the aforementioned white to refresh our palates between rather palate-cumbersome bites.

The Calamares à la Plancha I enjoyed a lot. Nice texture and a remarkable smokiness without the often-accompanying burnt notes of a lot of other establishments' renditions. Notable precision in execution. Simple, but memorably delicious. The accompanying, pale green, gooey dipping sauce, however, was less than visually pleasing, and, save for the added heat in the finish, added nothing to the calamares - which was more than fine on its own.

The Mejillónes were submerged in a very dense, thick, gluey, quite cumbersome sauce that I could barely taste through. Pity. Those mussels have such a nice natural flavor otherwise. The Croquetas de Pollo were nicely, cleanly executed. Good chicken croquetas which should please most everyone. I, generally, don't eat chicken if I can help it - much preferring more flavorsome fowl such as duck, pigeon, and goose - but that's just me.

After this dish, I was done with my share of the Côte de Lechet and started on JC's bottle of 2010 Château Petrus Gaïa - this had been breathing in my glass for around 20 minute by then. Big, bold, concentrated dark fruit/berries, a good dose of licorice, with big, rounded-ripe tannins - pretty typical of 2010 Bdx as far as I've had - not that I've had more than a handful since I wasn't able to attend any en primeur or Vinexpo tastings featuring vintage 2010. From whatever of 2010 Bordeaux I've had, though, they are (generally) markedly richer, hotly riper, and more stylish and forward than the equally highly regarded vintage 2009.


Two renditions of squid then followed (or was the one on the right cuttlefish?). The batter of the one on the left was a bit raw inside, sad to say. I can't say anything good about it, though I would like to. The one on the right I enjoyed and reminded me a lot of the similar looking offerings in Hong Kong dimsum houses. Nice - I did like it (both texture and flavor), but it was certainly not what I expected from such an establishment.

The above-depicted Gambas were nice enough, and I can certainly imagine popping a lot of them with a good, chilled verdejo, viura, or even Sancerre, or, some nice craft witbiers or IPAs of Jim.

Catha favored the Kadaif-Encrusted Prawns.

As earlier mentioned, the only dish JC specifically requested was one with foie gras, to go with the late harvest white he brought along. The kitchen responded with the above-depicted Foie Gras on MangoThe dollop of foie gras sat atop a circle of mango which was just a bit under-ripe (kalburo, it tasted to me), which made the otherwise nice little tidbit a bit awkward.

The pairing wine was a 2008 Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest - a delightfully light-footed, well-focused, bright, almost zippy, elegantly honeyed, Barsac-reminiscent wine. I've pretty much stopped having Sauternes (this isn't a Sauternes, rather, a late harvest tokaji by Oremus, which is Vega Sicilia's Hungarian venture) in the middle of or early in a meal, as Sauternes at that stage leaves the palate a bit shot for transitioning to reds with the main course. This subject wine, however, is a very good alternative for a foie gras course, by reason of its earlier mentioned traits.

Jose Luis explains the next trio of dishes.
An appetizing looking trio, at that.

This octopus dish is, I'd imagine, a modern/stylish take/stretch on pulpo à la Gallega, set atop a heavy mayonnaise (I think the same as what topped the earlier-mentioned bacalao) and generously sprinkled with a toasted paprika blend. A few friends weighed in on this dish, one of whom grew up in Spain and has actually eaten at all the rarefied restaurants where the chef has worked in the past - and, well, let's just say an older school, traditional pulpo à la Gallega is preferred by us fuddy-duddies.

The Paella Negra con Vieiras was deeply flavored, rich, and substantial. The scallops that adorned the paella were nicely moist. A bit more caramelization on the top surface would have been nicer though. As regards the paella negra itself, past mid-mouth and to the finish, there was a bit of herbal-citrus flavor that I found a bit strangely distracting, but, in all, pretty good.

The Callos was my favorite of the trio. A little more concentration and resulting viscosity in the sauce, and it would've been perfect for me.

Torrijas de Brioche w/ Vanilla, Chocolate, & Licorice Ice Cream. Torrijas is Spain's take on France's pain perdue, which we English speakers know as "French Toast". The chef made his using brioche, which I thought was very nice indeed (nb: I've had some in Spain made out of croissants, and it was just too rich and cumbersome for my taste). The licorice ice cream is quite gentle, though  unmistakable. I, personally, do not favor licorice in any form of dessert, but Catha liked it. All of us enjoyed the torrijas, and both platters served were quickly wiped out.

The meal was brought to an end with some indulgent, but very nice chocolate-and nut petits fours. Chocolate lovers shouldn't miss these.

As to whether or not Vask lives up to its hype - I'll just say that considering we are in Manila, the surprisingly reasonable prices Vask charges, and the yuppy-directed décor that the owners obviously spent on, I believe Vask reasonably lives up to its hype. If the dishes were materially more expensive, then I'd have something else to say - but, as it is, ya está. Many thanks again, JC & Mari! Next time, my turn for Japanese. Until the next!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Quiet Birthday Dinner 2013 @ Champêtre.

Last Wednesday, the 1st May 2013, I turned 48. Funny growing older. My mind still thinks I'm in my late 20s, but my body sends unpleasant reminders every so often (e.g., threw out my lower back carrying luggage out of the apartment in Paris). In any event, this year, after 18 holes, I just took Catha & the kids out to a simple, quiet dinner at an old favorite, Champêtre.

We started off with a bottle of 1999 Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs - J-Lab, during a brief discussion a few months ago, had told me this still needs some years in bottle, but curiosity got the better of me (well, and because the only other champagne I had at home at the time was more of the Krug Grande Cuvée Brut which I'd been having rather frequently as of late). I had it opened to breathe for around 30 minutes before pouring and followed it for around an hour as it warmed and aerated.

Enthusiastically fresh, minerally, citrusy, lightly honeyed & slightly chalky baked pear, apple and underlying brioche. Acidity is healthy. After a while, the middle broadened and a sort of milkiness to the fruit emerged (something I don't normally get from blanc de blancs, but, rather, with pinot noir laden bubblies - but it was what it was), laced with candied ginger and nutty whispers. Nice performance as a whole.

That all said, it did seem like it was still "coming together" - either that or J-Lab's earlier comment left a subliminal mark. Either way, while it wasn't particularly memorable, it was a good blanc de blancs with a bright future. We had it with assorted, shared appetizers of:

Crottin de Chavignol Salad (excellent).
Duck Terrine in Red Wine w/
Gherkins, Pearl Onions & Mustard
Goose Foie Gras w/ Brioche & Blueberry Compote (2 orders -excellent).
Boudin Noir on Toast (lovely).
As always, Escargots à la Bourguignonne (3 orders)
Mauro's Ris de Veau & Foie Gras Pasta (a night's special).
Catha's Boeuf Bourguignonne
Lorenzo's Algerian Couscous
Joaqi's Tartare de Boeuf
Some Cassoulet for good measure.
My Dry-Aged US Angus Prime Rib-Eye (rare, of course).

The red wine for the night was a 2001 Prunotto Barolo Bussia - Last I had this particular wine was very recently: on the 19th January 2013, also at Champêtre. My notes at the time were as follows:

For the night's red, I opened a bottle of 2001 Prunotto Barolo Bussia - Roses, tar, violets, cedar, blackcurrants, slight licorice, and some citrus peel in the nose. Full-bodied, properly rigid structure and concentration, precise ripeness to the moderately earthy fruit, joined by nuances of black olives and earthy tobacco notes. Clean lines. Acidity is good; could be a little better, but that's picking nits. Good focus, neatness, and typicity. Confident performance from attack to finish.
Locally available at Bacchus International. I don't recall the exact price, but it should be in the neighborhood of around P3500/bottle at full retail.
The only thing I would change from the above notes is that the acidity of the wine from this bottle was much better and more typical of Barolo as I know it.

I ordered and much enjoyed my usual
Chocolate & Grand Marnier Soufflé...

...and then came my surprise gift from Marc - a birthday Paris-Brest Cake (named after the famous, old 1200 kms. bicycle race from Paris to Brest (in Brittany) and back to Paris).

Many, many thanks, Marc. I loved the cake. In the presence of my wife & children, with the great dishes and nice wines, I could not have asked for a better birthday dinner.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dinner for Keiichi @ Sala Restaurant.

Monday, the 29th April 2013, some of the Usual Suspects got together at Sala Restaurant because  Keiichi, our little group's Tokyo-based "big potato" investment banker, was in town for a few days. It was a great reason to get together for some bottles of wine again. J-Lab & I were the first ones there, followed shortly by Aaron and Jojo (the man previously referred to as "the Stockbroker"). With Arnie and Keiichi who arrived later, we were six in all for dinner.

While waiting for the others, J-Lab, Aaron, & I (with Jojo following shortly) started off with J-Lab's nice, lively, toast-underpinned 2002 Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé. Nice breadth, light-footed heft, and poise. Notable purity and focus too. This was materially better than the comparatively and materially tighter-wound, obstinately closed bottles I've had before (nb: J-Lab sourced this from Singapore).

Smoked Salmon on Melba Toast amuse bouche platter.

We then started on the first of two fine whites of the evening: 2005 Domaine Paul Pernot et ses Fils Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru - I brought this; it was a gift from O.C. California-based wine-buddy and fellow wine-berserker, Clem Nieto. Thanks again, Clem! Quite young, it was initially tight, showing only its minerals and citrus; but, with around 35-45 minutes aeration and a bit of warming down, it opened up, gained heft, and released itself into a voluptuous and expansive medium body of butter-and-hazelnut-laced slightly wild honeyed, ripe pear, ripe apple, bit of lemon cream underneath, and slight vanilla bean.

Lovely wine. This is still quite young, but, with some aeration, this will surely be even more delicious in many years to come. It was very nice indeed with my starters of...

Deep-Fried Squash Flowers Salad...
...and Twice-Baked Prawn & Goat Cheese Soufflé w/ Dill.

Arnie and Keiichi had arrived as we had started on Jojo's bottle of 1998 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc - Initially, its scents were virtually limited to sherry and walnut notes, with little more than added apple on the palate. After around 20-30 minutes breathing and cooling down in a decanter, thence in glass, however, it displayed a seductively complex bouquet of walnuts, slightly honeyed,  sherried, pillowy peach, lemon, and pear, with honeysuckle, almond paste, vanilla and truffle whispers.

On the palate, the wine  was very fleshy, deeply veined and mirrored its complex bouquet on a more than medium body of moderately viscous, oily texture (this is heavy on the marsanne after all). Superb.

The main courses then began arriving at table - mine was a delectable Roasted Pork Belly.

After the '98 Chave Hermitage Blanc, we moved on to the reds for the main courses - the first of which was Keiichi's 1989 Château Montrose - none of us had had this for quite a while, though Jojo, Keiichi and I had had it many times in the past. The last I've written about it (and that I can recall) was during a lunch at the newly-opened Masseto with Jojo, Keiichi, and Bernie back on the 22nd January 2010. Aside from many other wines that day, we compared the 1989 & 1990 Montrose blind. My notes on the 1989 Montrose from that lunch are as follows:

Wine # 2 - The fruit was ripe enough, but not nearly as ripe nor sweet as Wine # 1. Though the flavors were very similar, their characters were very different. Other differences were the this wine's far sturdier structure and decidedly more masculine and less yielding character. In addition, dark fruit held sway over red and the leather notes were more pronounced. This seemed comparatively less evolved and the tannins more apparent. This, to me, was more food friendly.*
* Jojo & I were able to identify which was which; but only I chose the 1989 over the 1990.

Now, the 1989 Montose is as good as ever - a decidedly masculine wine with contemplative depth and admirable, fine structure. At a little over 23 years from harvest, this, to me, is in early maturity and drinking wonderfully with its confident stride and finish. I'd say this will hold for many, many more years, and even gain during that time. Excellent now and, I believe, there is no rush to open these, save for sheer and immediate enjoyment.

At the same time, we started on Arnie's 2000 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Upon popping and pouring, familiar Beaucastel animal/gamey/sanguine/meaty notes almost immediately arose (the mourvèdre component speaking, likely). Lush, voluptuous, richly textured like thick, dark silk. Full-bodied and openly/forwardly giving (like its donor), this was all too easy to drink and enjoy.

This, I believe, was the first 2000 Beaucastel I've had. I should get some of this for myself. Notably, after around 20 minutes, the first mentioned animal/gamey/etc. notes had lifted from the nose, leaving the sanguine, iron, and meaty notes to be enjoyed with the lush fruit.

One of two Cheese Plates that followed.

We were having so much fun catching up with one another, discussing the wines, teasing each other, that Keiichi insisted on opening up another of his fine reds; this time...

...a 1988 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello di MontalcinoA beautifully aged, deep, firm, tobacco-and-mushroom laced (some anise there too), loamy, earthy brunello di Montalcino. Served with another cheese course of aged Parmesan, nuts, and Sala's signature fruity bread. Though the deep, dark fruit was notably lush, concentrated and extracted, the acidity was enough to keep things interesting.

Leathery notes emerge in the middle and continued past mid-palate. A bit of wild cherry comes in through a respectable finish. Though I don't usually enjoy reds with cheese, I did like this with the aged parmesan and the nuts.

Not through yet, Keiichi then popped a bottle of 1988 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, but, tragically, it was damaged and utterly flat. Enjoying the company too much to go home, we ordered from the wine list and went through two bottles of bright, fresh, lively and refreshing Champagne Delamotte Brut NV to wrap things up before finally heading home. Great wines, food, and friends. Can't reasonably ask more than that, especially on a Monday night. Until the next!

Friday Dinner Date @ Hanakazu.

Dinner of Friday, the 26th April 2013, was back at Hanakazu, as Catha requested. It was just us two for dinner as the kids were either unavailable or didn't feel like having dinner out. 

This is the back of Hanakazu's menu. I like it that every member of the staff, even the parking guy (at bottom in shades) is included, the owners themselves not hogging the layout. Many establishments, small, medium-sized, and large, like to think of themselves as (or pass themselves off as) "families". Some are, some aren't. I think Hanakazu is.

Complimentary appetizers were sent as always; this time, they were: Baby Squid, Takenoko Salad (Bamboo Shoots Salad), & Renkon Kinpira (Vegetable Root). 

With the first of the sashimi courses...

...of Toro and Uni (flown in from Japan earlier that same day), I enjoyed a whole large bottle of Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner all to myself. Regular readers of my blog know well that this is one of my most favored beers - a strong, substantial, and well-rounded pilsner to which no less than Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto himself saw fit to attach his name. This is readily available locally at Jimmyton's Global Beer Exchange.

Excellent, super fresh Hamachi Sashimi.

Our sushi courses followed: Ikura for me, and Anago for Catha. Just a quick note: ikura (salmon roe) is offered in most all real-deal Japanese restaurants, but, aside from the really good ones (such as Hanakazu, Tsukiji, and those of similar level), what one usually gets is dried-out, overly salty, sticky versions where the salmon eggs are stuck together like glue. The good ones serve ikura that is fresh, and each individual egg noticeably bursts in the mouth - just as they should.

The Deep-Fried, Crispy Crablets have become a staple for us in Hanakazu, ever since good friend/regular drinking buddy, Alex Tiu, showed me how dipping them in Macha Salt opens added dimensions of taste to the little critters (just ask your waitress for the macha salt, and she'll readily oblige).

This was one of the fishes that had also just flown in from Japan that day, one that, upon our regular waitresses' recommendation, we had grilled: Iwashi Shioyaki (Grilled Tamban). Quite nice, but I can't wait until Sanma season rolls around again.

Chef-proprietor, Hiroaki Otsuka, then sent us a complimentary Grilled Hamachi, which is always good, and was greatly appreciated. Domo, Otsuka-san.

Naturally, my being typically Filipino in a Japanese restaurant, I simply had to have my Ebi Tempura on top of everything else. Since it was just the two of us, though, I had only the 3-piece order (Catha doesn't really eat prawn tempura, preferring the vegetables and cuttlefish).

After I asked for the check, a plate of chilled, summery, ripely sweet watermelon was sent to our table - a perfect end to a fine Japanese always in Hanakazu. Until the next!