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Monday, February 14, 2011

Sous Vide: The Pressure Starts

Ever since I bought Thomas Keller's Under Pressure a few years ago, I wanted to try some of the recipes in the book. However, cooking sous vide requires buying some new equipment that were either very expensive or not readily available to the average consumer. Recently, PolyScience came out with an immersion circulator that is sold at Williams-Sonoma; the store also sells an accompanying vacuum sealer. With the new tools in hand, I am finally ready to do some low-temperature cooking.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Battle Egg Tarts

Before I went to Hong Kong, I read that there are two places to go for egg tarts: Tai Cheong Bakery 泰昌餅家 and Honolulu Coffee Shop 檀島咖啡餅店. Since the two stores make their egg tarts differently, some people prefer one over the other. When I did a quick survey amongst my friends who are familiar with Hong Kong, the verdict was split. Therefore, I decided to visit both places and to see which egg tart reigns supreme.

The two stores are located a few blocks from each other: Tai Cheong is at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central 中環擺花街35號 and Honolulu Coffee Shop is at 33 Stanley St, Central 中環士丹利街33號

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Tai Cheong is a just a bakery store without any seating and there always seem to be a line out the door. It is not a long wait, less than ten minutes or so.






















Unlike the traditional egg tart, Tai Cheong uses a shortcrust pastry as the shell. The unique butter cookie-like crust provides more contrast in texture to the soft filling. We bought half a dozen to sample back at the hotel and they were really good.





















Since Honolulu Coffee Shop has seating, we simply went and ordered some egg tarts with a few milk teas. The egg tarts here are made more in the traditional method with Chinese puff pastry.

The egg tarts are also really good. The puff pastry is light and crispy and the custard is creamy. They were just delicious.

So which one did I like better? I am going to cop out and say I like both. I can't decide.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinner with Chef Angelo Aglianò

When my brother and sister-in-law came back to visit from the U.S. in early January, we decided to treat them to dinner at my favorite and, in my opinion, the best western restaurant in town: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei. This would be our first dinner with the new chef, Angelo Aglianò, who took over from Chef Yosuke Suga late last year. Chef Aglianò has made some changes to the menu and I was eager to try some new dishes. In short, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders and the dinner was amazing.

Since we were a party of six, the restaurant preferred that we pre-order to facilitate the service. As with before, instead of the six of us picking individual dishes, I asked the chef to just cook for us; we would all have the same menu. This time, a couple in my party had some diet restrictions - no raw seafood and no crab. Unlike before, we sat at a table instead of at the bar as a couple in my party insisted. It is true that with a party of six, it is easier to have conversations sitting across each other than spread out along the bar. However, one is a bit detached from the actions in the kitchen.

For this blog entry I actually have pictures of some of the dishes we had. The pictures were all taken by my sister-in-law with her iPhone. While she took pictures of all the dishes, some of them didn't turn out too well due to the low lighting conditions.

The Chef started us off with an amuse-bouche of a mousse topped with nuts and mushroom signaling the arrival of winter in Taipei. There was also the excellent bread basket that I always enjoy.

The first course consisted of three things: a small salad, caviar topped with gold leaf, and a scallop. The scallop was beautifully seared with a nice caramelized outer surface. The sweetness of the scallop paired well with the saltiness of the caviar, and the salad provided a bit of contrast.



As with my previous visit, I asked the sommelier Benoît Monier to pick the wine for us. It is always fun to talk to Benoît and learn a bit more about wines. This time I found that his Chinese vocabulary has increased dramatically; I am afraid pretty soon, his Chinese is going to be better than my French.

The second course was a risotto with saffron topped with some red shrimps and fresh herbs. First of all it was a visually attractive dish with vibrant colors of yellow, red, and green. The rice was not only cooked to the proper chewy texture but with the creamy consistency that is all'ongda.

The fish course was a filet of amadai that was perfectly cooked with crispy scaled skin. Instead of serving the fish in a yuzu and lily bulb broth as Chef Suga used to do, Chef Aglianò served the fillet with a light mint sauce and pea purée. I must say I like both versions equally. The scales gives the dish a nice crunch. Benoît joked the dish was a play on the English fish and chip with mint peas.

The meat course for the night was a free range chapon from Landes. A chapon is a castrated rooster which is more tender and flavorful. The chapon was prepared as a ballotine stuffed with dates confit and candied chestnuts, served with a light sauce, vegetables, and a small herb salad on the plate, and the famous mashed potato, this time with truffle shavings, on the side. It was simply a delicious and elegant dish with great flavors; a dish not often seen anymore. As my brother said, the dish shows the chef has great fundamental techniques and he cooks with finesse. It was just a pleasure to eat the dish.

After the main course, a pre-dessert of grape sorbet with grappa flavored mousse and jelly was served. 

The dessert was a molten chocolate cake with coffee mousse and milk ice cream. As always the dessert is an architectural composition of different rounded shapes with contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures. The chocolate tuile and different nuts provided nice accents to the dish. It was a beautiful dish, extremely satisfying for a chocolate lover like me.

As usual the dinner ended with a macaron and for me a double espresso. 

The service, led by Vincent Hsu, the manager, was impeccable and relaxed. The courses were also well paced. 

Every course of the dinner was excellent. All of us were extremely happy with this memorable meal. Before we left we chatted briefly with Chef Aglianò, who is just a very warm and engaging person; his personality and generosity really come through with his dishes. I hope to go back as often as I can.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Arbitrage: Lawry's

Recently good friends of ours treated us to Lawry's Taipei. It was actually my first time in a Lawry's. I followed my friends' suggestion and ordered the 7.5 oz English Cut: three thin slices of roast beef served with a salad, mashed potato and Yorkshire pudding. I quite enjoyed the roast beef, which was prepared simply and served without much fanfare. According to my friend, the quality of the meat in Lawry's Taipei is not too far off from the branch in Los Angeles.

While I can't compare the restaurants in terms of taste, I can play a little game of arbitrage and compare the prices. In the U.S., the English Cut is US$34, and adding the sales tax and the service charge, the total cost is around US$43 or around NT$1270. In Taipei, the total cost of the same dish, including 10% service charge, is NT$1650; quite a premium. At least the cost is about the same as the branch in Hong Kong, where the English Cut is HK$451 (410 plus 10% service charge) or around NT$1680.