Saturday, August 31, 2013

Catha's Birthday Dinner 2013.

Catha decided to have her birthday dinner with the kids the day before her actual birthday since the college boys would be in class until late on the day itself. She chose Colin's always reliable and consistently good Sala Restaurant as the venue; just the 5 of us for dinner.

We started off with a bottle of bubbly from the restaurant's reasonably marked-up wine list: Champagne Delamotte Brut - I've written about this consistently pleasing non-vintage champagne so many times, there is no need to repeat myself now. Suffice it to state that I consider this currently the very best non-vintage champagne readily available in the Philippine market, bar none (n.b., available at Premium Wine Exchange). It also happens to be very moderately priced, and, thus, represents excellent bang for the buck.

A champagne toast to the birthday girl.
Joaqi had a soup course: Seared Scallops & Mushroom Velouté.
Catha's Salad of Burratina, Fresh Peach, Prosciutto, & Hazelnuts.

For the middle of the table, I ordered two orders of the immediately above-depicted Deep-Fried Squash Flowers & Chèvre Salad (n.b., this is not on the menu, but they will happily make it for you if they have squash flowers on hand),...

...and, naturally, two orders of Colin's timeless Twice-Baked Prawn & Feta Soufflé with Dill.

For her main course, Catha had the Trio of Duck: a Salad of Smoked Duck Breast with Walnuts, Pears, and Truffle Honey; Rillettes of Duck Leg with Fig Chutney; and, Seared Foie Gras Medallion with Leek and Chestnut Purée. This is actually an appetizer on the menu, but Catha didn't want to have anything too heavy for her main course.

Mauro & Joaqi had an order each of the Dry-Rubbed and Grilled Lamb Cutlet and Tenderloin, with
Pumpkin Pansotti, Spinach, and Goat's Cheese.

Lorenzo & I each had an order of Juniper & Thyme Roast Duck Breast, Roast Pears and Parsnips, with Carrot Purée and Cranberry Jus.

I had brought along a bottle 1970 Château La Fleur-Pétrus* - I did not decant this, but opened it once we arrived, and poured it a little over an hour later, around 10 minutes before the main courses were served. This was an absolutely stunning bottle, showing breath-taking balance of power and elegance (without ponderous weight or ham-handed blockiness) typical of Pomerol's best estates.

Perfumed bouquet, with deep, deep, dark, cedar and violets infused rich, silken fruit, seamlessly interwoven with dark minerality, a breath of licorice, and cep undertones. On the lighter side of full-bodied, it is neither quite as concentrated nor as stylish as Pétrus, but it has stunning balance and head-turning, yet understated elegance. Catha loved it; and so did I.

Since Mauro stopped at half a glass (his stomach was not the best that night), and Joaqi didn't want any (he chugged 2 glasses of the bubbly, though I did warn him twice about drinking it too quickly), the bottle was pretty much finished by Catha, Lorenzo, & I. I definitely need to buy more of this.

* Purchased in 1952 by J-P Moueix (same owner of Châteaux Pétrus and Trotanoy), its approximately 14-hectare vineyard (90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc) is situated in the northeastern portion of the Pomerol plateau, across a small road from Château Pétrus, and part of it is adjacent to Château Lafleur.

Desserts: Mauro's Affogato al Caffé w/ Sala Biscotti...
Lorenzo's Marmalade Steam Pudding w/ Vanilla Sauce,
and Fig & Armagnac Ice Cream
Joaqi's Chocolate Soufflé w/ Caramel-Pecan Ice Cream...
My Mango & Passion Fruit Pavlova (which I shared with Catha).
Double espressos ended the meal.
Happy birthday again, Catha. Many, many more to come!

Impressions Re-Opened!

Impressions recently re-opened after some weeks of renovation (among others, they have a private room now that accommodates up to 10 persons), so Alex and I got a little group together for last Friday, the 23rd August 2013, to check out Cyrille's new digs and try out the new items on the menu.

The Mini Baguettes and French butter, the same as in Cyrille's Brasserie CiÇou, were excellent as usual. I had to force myself to stop at two pieces in order to last until dessert.

One of the new dishes on the regular menu is a Côte de Boeuf purportedly good for "2-3 persons". J-Lab and I decided to share this for our main course. When the slab was presented for inspection before cooking, we saw it was HUGE. Definitely good for 3-5 persons, assuming they have starters and intend to survive into dessert.

Since it appeared nobody had brought any champagne or white as apéritif, I ordered a bottle of champagne, but cancelled the order as JC & Mari de Terry arrived shortly with two bottles of Alsatian white currently available at Terry Selection, which both turned out to be quite impressive (more on that in a bit).

Tuna-based amuse bouche.

Upon JC's request, Cyrille quickly whipped up an elaborately plated foie gras based second amuse bouche...

...voila... go with his bottle of 2005 Rolly Gassmann Gewürztraminer de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives -  Nice depth to the sleek, supple slightly spicy, moderately honeyed, ripe lychee and peach. Gaining weight as it warmed a bit in glass, it was around medium-bodied, light-footed, the acid balance enough to keep things fresh, and the palate wanting more. Very nice alone and with the foie.

J-Lab had the Bonito Consommé for his soup course. This is another new item on the menu.

The Tartine Iodée of Sea Urchin, Scallops, & Oysters, Assorted Cress, & Sea Urchin Parfait in Cucumber Confit has been on the menu for several months, but was as delightful as ever. Alex asked Cyrille to whip up a new scallop and sea Urchin based seafood course, but he ate it before I could take a photo of it. It looked very appetizing though; and, judging from the speed that Alex finished it off, it must have tasted pretty good too.

With the Tartine Iodée, we had JC's bottle of 2009 Rolly Gassmann Riesling Réserve Millésimé - Very impressive white, it showed good ripeness in its notably complex, cold limestone nuanced pear, green apple, and slight grapefruit with petrol whispers. Good purity, focus, and gentle expansion. Very well-balanced, appetizingly dry, and food-friendly. Loved it. Classy wine. This is a definite buy for those who want to explore/enjoy very good Alsatian riesling at a reasonable price.

We also shared Cyrille's new salmon dish just to try out.

A few of us went for an old favorite - Cyrille's Pithiviers of French Pigeon & Duck Foie Gras with Asparagus Spears, French Morels, Chanterelles, & Truffle Jus. The French pigeon now is farmed, not wild, as it is long past hunting season.

The Côte de Boeuf is served.
I did mention that it is quite huge. Flintstones-sized, really.

It was so imposing, we sought help from the rest of the table. Alex, who quickly finished off his special Seared Scallop and Uni seafood course and Grilled Lamb Chops main course, made a try at it, but there was still quite a bit left over as it was so huge.

The reds for our main courses.
I convinced Alex to spare his 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild since the last two bottles I opened were still far too young and needed over 4 hours' prior decanting even just to show off its powerful primary fruit. Patience, I advised; and he relented.

2006 Descendientes de Jose Palacios Moncerbal - Alex's bottle - he obviously favors this as he bought a case immediately after trying it out the week before. Absolutely singing. Full-bodied, deeply veined, multi-layered, spicy, dark, virtually creamy fruit. Very rich, stylish, boldly fruited (with hints of kirsch, raisins, and cocoa), intricately woven, notably complex wine. Very impressive, and it went very well with the côte de boeuf. Lusciously-oaked, it still stands in balance. An impressive, well-crafted specimen of higher-end Bierzo.

1995 Bodegas La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 - J-Lab's bottle. I've had this wine countless times and have written about it repeatedly. My last notes (which may or may not have been the last time I had it) was from a dinner at La Tienda on the 28th July 2011), as follows:

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.
This subject bottle of Alex was popped-and-poured, no decanting for aeration or otherwise - redolent with creamy vanilla, slight toffee, hint of cinnamon, likely displaying its American oak ageing. Lush, plush, full, deep, rich, loamy, spicy, complex. The smooth creaminess translated onto the palate. Finishes long and with a stylish flourish. It's bouquet, depth of fruit and well-integrated, creamy vanilla-oak reminded me of the old Castillo Ygays. Very nice indeed.
1993 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Champans - Alex's bottle. I've had this thrice since early April this year, and it was as good as ever. My last notes over dinner at Sala on the 9th July 2013 are as follows:

1993 Marquis d'Angerville 1er Cru Volnay Champans - Alex's bottle. Typical Volnay grace and finesse, JC noted it is comparatively less feminine - thus, more masculine - than most other Volnays. I mentioned that the 1er Cru Champans climat is known to produce Volnays with such characteristics. Beautifully layered and complex, with alluring nuances of violets and ceps in the ripe yet light footed dark fruit. Precise ripeness and acid balance. Lovely wine; as nice as when I had it a couple of months ago in La Tour d'Argent.
This was pretty much unanimously called the red of the night.

1996 Domaine A-F Gros Grand Cru Echézeaux - My bottle, decanted for aeration for over an hour before serving. A few notches above medium-bodied, firmly structured, good acid balance to its cedar and violets touched, masculine dark cherry, raspberry, dark plum, with slight sous bois, sanguine, meaty, and cep notes. Catha liked it a lot. Quite nice now, but I'd hazard ageing this more for around 5-8 more years for more maturity. Already enjoyable with decanting for aeration, but no rush at all to open. 


Two orders each of new desserts on the menu: Minestrone of Compressed Fruits with Fresh Strawberry and Mint Broth...

...this new delight called Tentation du Chocolat - chocolate 7 ways with crème glacée and coconut crème Anglaise (you simply must)...

...and Crispy Apple.
Excellent work, Nicole!

Cyrille knew Alex had celebrated his birthday over a week before the dinner, so he sent Alex a surprise belated birthday cake with a sparkler as candle.

Alex loves anything to do with playing with fire.
Surprise birthday applause from the Impressions team.
Remnants of the surprise birthday cake.

For the desserts, some freshly-fruited, complex and reviving 2005 Schloss Schönborn Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg Riesling Auslese - J-Lab's bottle. I do remember liking this a lot, but, because of all the enjoyment and previous wines, I can't accurately describe it now. I do remember thinking that I'd definitely buy this though.

Excellent evening! Until the next!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rainy Wednesday Lunch @ Tsukiji.

Wednesday morning, the 21st August 2013, Catha & I attended the funeral mass of our friends' mom. Since Catha is related to them, we lingered a while after greeting and chatting with some relatives and family friends. It being noon by the time we left, we decided to have lunch in Makati, and, thus, proceeded to Tsukiji for what we intended to be a light and healthy meal.

It was business as usual despite the ridiculous rain in Metro Manila's oldest, consistent, upscale bastion of fine Japanese cuisine.

Hontoro Sashimi from Japan.
Hamachi Sashimi.
Tako, Cucumber, & Seaweed Sunomono.
Tokujo Nigiri (which served as my main course).

For her main course, Catha had the Gindara Teriyaki. We, coincidentally, bumped into Eric & Cinthy Recto who were there for lunch with their sons. Everything we had was of admirable standard - from ingredients' quality, the chef's knife skills, and service. Though definitely a healthy meal, it turned out to be by no means light.

The only thing that annoyed me was this fellow in the next table who kept talking loudly into his mobile (despite my repeatedly staring straight at him meaningfully), conducting his office affairs during lunch - but that was his own utter lack of breeding, and not at all the restaurant's fault. Thankfully, he arrived after us, finished up quickly, then left before we finished our meal. Money certainly doesn't guarantee good manners, or even common decency.

In any event, until the next!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rainy Monday Dinner @ Ramen Yushoken.

The non-stop rain made it a cool and lazy Monday the 19th August 2013 - bringing steaming hot, soupy fare to mind. Classes the next day having been officially called off due to the floods, Catha & I took the three teenagers to a dinner at Elbert & Ryan's southern bastion of authentic ramen, Ramen Yushoken.

We went early, getting there by 6:15pm to avoid the usual line for a table, but, apparently, many felt the same need for comforting bowls of noodles in deeply-flavored broth as the place was already packed, with a long waiting line for tables (and had been that way since noontime). Undeterred, we put ourselves down on the list and waited outside patiently while surfing on our phones. In approximately 25 minutes, Elbert called us in and led us to our table.

To start off, four orders of Aji Tamago - simply a must here at Yushoken - the creamy, rich, earthy yolks sheer perfection. With them, a few bottles of my Japanese craft beer, Hitachino Nest White Ale - as fresh, refreshing, and dangerously gulpable as always. I've loved this beer from the get-go, and always bring my own bottles along for sashimi and sushi at Hanakazu. No need to bring when at Tsukiji, though, as they carry it on their drinks list.

Pretty much all my close friends know I generally do not eat chicken (I find it a most boring fowl). There are a few exceptions though, one of them being Yushoken's Tori Karaage - always freshly cooked, nicely crunchy outside, and meltingly tender and juicy inside. Love it.

Yushoken provides another exception to my personal eating preferences in that I always order at least two orders of their clean-tasting, well-balanced Gyoza, but I do not like or order that dish anywhere else - even at Ukokkei Ramen Ron.

Catha, Mauro, & Joaqi all had an order each of the Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen, eagerly digging into them steaming hot before I could take a photo thereof - so the photo immediately above is from my files, taken during a previous visit to Yushoken.

Lorenzo got his usual Tantan-Men...
...while I enjoyed my usual Miso Ramen.
With our bowls, Lorenzo and I got another round of Hitachino White Ale. I also wanted to get a bottle of saké as Yushoken sells three bottlings of Kiuchi Brewery's Ibaraki saké, but, since Yushoken serves them only chilled, and I wanted some warm, I contentedly stuck to the White Ales.

Excellent dinner for a cool, rainy day. Until the next!