Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (山頭火)

Dropped by this ramen place for lunch. I suppose it has the unfortunate circumstance of having to be compared to my latest great review on Butao Ramen. But having said that, I think that even if I did not try Butao recently, I would have something to complain about here.

Ordered the scallop and ramen set with the ramen in the original “shio” (salty) creamy pork broth. The menu mentioned that we could ask for the noodles to be softer or harder according to our preference; so I ordered my noodles to be harder. The set arrived and I think I would have preferred it if the egg was only half cooked and the yolk runny (溏心蛋).

Scallop and Ramen set

Tried the ramen first, and unfortunately the pork was tough. I don’t think that it was just overcooked, but the slice of pork given just wasn’t that good. The noodles itself though was pretty good. I asked for harder noodles and that is what they gave me. The broth was also decent albeit a bit oily and unlike at Butao, I did not feel like finishing the broth.

"Shio" Ramen

Scallops and butter certainly go together, but in this case, it was not as good as I hoped for. As far as the scallops go, they were fine. But perhaps there was way too much butter? At the bottom of the rice bowl, there was a collection of melted butter that was being absorbed by the rice. I like butter, but this was just too much.

Scallop and Butter with rice

While not the best ramen place around, there are other dishes that I would like to try here such as the 日式撈麵… (sorry, need to figure out what 撈麵 is in English) and so I cannot write this place off yet.

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Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (山頭火)
6/F, Shop 608, 63 Nathan Road, iSquare, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
2721 1298

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Butao Ramen (豚王)

Is it really that good? Why is there always a long line outside this place? In the end, I just had to try this place out for myself. They only serve 200 bowls of noodles a day, so decided to go early. Picked a day with typhoon signal no.3 and looking like it might rain, and I arrived with my friend outside this place at around 10:10am (it opens at 11am). We were 2nd and 3rd in line. Luckily the staff had already lined up stools for about 10-15 people to sit on as we waited in line for the place to open. So we watched and waited as the staff set up to open the restaurant.

Butao
Preparing to open

Throughout the wait, the staff was excellent and courteous. We were offered fans to keep cool. Then when the sun came out for a brief moment, we were offered umbrellas to stay in the shade. We were also offered a glass of cold water as we waited. A few minutes before opening, we were handed menus and a checkbox order form to fill in. On this form you could choose the soup base, how strong you want the soup to taste, amount of oil, amount of garlic, whether you want roast pork or green onions, and how hard (raw) or soft you want your noodles. You can also add additional ingredients such as extra noodles, seaweed, pork or green onions. And remember to order the specials of the free smile and Japanese lessons!

Since it was my first time eating here. I went with the Butao King soup base with everything else normal other than having hard (raw) noodles and adding extra green onions.

Menu - note the free smiles and Japanese lessons!
Soup base explanation
Checkbox order form

Finally, the restaurant opened, and we were able to sit at the bar table right in front of the chefs preparing the ramen. The restaurant itself seemed to sit about only 16 and is pretty cramped. Free condiments and water lined the tables. As we had already ordered earlier, all we had to do was wait for the food.

Chef's at work
Condiments with garlic press!
Butao!

The food finally arrived and smelt great. The soup was nice and thick, and the roast pork was tender and absolutely tasty. The noodles came out really nice and it wasn’t hard to finish all the soup. So, yes, the ramen here is absolutely tasty and excellent. But having said that, it is just ramen and I don’t think that I can really wait more than 30 minutes for a bowl of ramen no matter how good it is!

Butao King! Yum!!
Extra roast pork
All done! Including soup!!

Also, having tried it for the first time now, I can tweak the choices a bit to my satisfaction. This includes adding less oil, more garlic and also ordering super hard (raw) noodles next time. Also, I would like to try the Green King which is basically a basil and parmesan soup base.

Overall, yes the ramen here is good and I would recommend people to eat here but only if you don’t have to wait more than 30 minutes. The other thing is that there are a few other ramen places I would like to try first so that I can compare. I know I labeled this economical. It is under $100 per person. But note that this $100 is just for a bowl of ramen, so perhaps a bit misleading? But I will be back!

Recommended:

  • Butao King

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Butao Ramen (豚王)
G/F, 8-13 Wo On Lane, Central, Hong Kong
2530 0600

Cheesess

We dropped by this place accidentally while walking around Causeway Bay. This unassuming store is super basic with no indication of what was being sold inside. Plain white, with a counter and cinema seats for three, a sign stating Cheesess… and nothing else. It was this plainness of nothing that sparked our interest and got us to walk in and ask what was being sold. Cheesecake!

This store took over the old Awfully Chocolate location (which moved to another location nearby) and the owner is in fact the same. We got to try three different flavours. The Kyoto White Cheesecake, Kyoto Raspberry Cheesecake and New York Cheesecake. All three were pretty good, but it was the extremely light and fluffy Kyoto White Cheesecake that caught my eye and really made me want more. Yummm!!

Packaging

At $118 for the Kyoto White and $138 for the Kyoto Raspberry and New York, they are pretty expensive, but worth it to try something good and different.

Kyoto White Cheesecake
Kyoto White Cheesecake - slice

Recommended:

  • Kyoto White Cheesecake

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Cheesess
Shop 15, G/F, 2-4 Hysan Avenue (Sun Wui Road), Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
2504 5500

Alinea (Chicago) (Jun 2008)

Alinea. Probably the epitome of interesting and experimental molecular gastronomy now that El Bulli is about to shut its doors as a restaurant. I have to say that molecular gastronomy in general though, serves the type of food that you either like or don’t like. There really isn’t too much “in between” foods. Having said that, I personally enjoyed the experience whereas others in my company did not think it was that good.

Back in 2008, before the Michelin peeps arrived in Chicago, Alinea was already making a name for itself. And even though I was given the opportunity to try the now 2-Michelin starred Charlie Trotter’s, I was insistent on going to Alinea which, was rewarded its deserved 3-Michelin stars. Despite saying this, I cannot say that all the dishes were all that good, but there were quite a few that were simply amazing.

Arriving at the entrance of the restaurant, there is no hint that it is actually a restaurant. A very simple dark coloured house and a door. Push open the door and you are presented with a plain but coloufully lit hallway, still with no indication that there was a restaurant behind any door. Only once you get through the second door are you presented with a simple but modern and nice looking restaurant. I went with the 13-course tasting with wine paring.

Menu - 13-course Tasting with Wine Paring
Layout - beginning
Layout - dessert

King Crab – sudachi . avocado . bay branch
Cocktail of Henriot “Souverain” Brut with Banyuls Blanc, Farigoule and Chartreuse
This one bite king crab was an excellent way to start the tasting meal. The batter was light and there was some citrus taste that went well with the crab. It left me wishing I could have another bite. But then again, there were 12 more courses on its way.

King Crab - sudachi . avocado . bay branch

Fava Beans – lavender . banana . pecorino
Eric Texier “Janrode” Condrieu, N. Rhone 2006
This was a strange one to me. There was sweet, there was savory, and then they mixed. The dish was layed on a pillow of lavender scented air which was released into the surroundings via the weight of the plate. While the lavender smelt great, I’m not so sure that the dish worked well for me.

Fava Beans - lavender . banana . pecorino

Rouget – artichoke . garlic . bottarga
Fruhwirth Scheurebe, Steiermark, Austria 2006
YES, probably my favourite dish of the evening. In case you didn’t know, rouget is a fish. I’ve never seen it on a menu before, but this dish was just exquisite. Everything was pretty much deconstructed, and as you pieced it together and ate it, the fish just melted in your mouth with a slight crunch. The artichoke were the square bits, and the garlic was wrapped around the fish. The flavours were just perfect for me.

Rouget - artichoke . garlic . bottarga

Lobster – peas . ramps . mint vapor
Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rose, Loire 2007
Another special dish. A bowl in a bowl. The outer bowl had a bunch of mint leaves in them, and the inner bowl was like a lobster soup. As the waiter poured hot water into the outer bowl, the mint vapour was revealed and hit our noses. The lobster pieces in the foam were sweet and tender and surrounded a green blob of peas. A green blob of peas? Yes… within a round green delicate casing, was liquified peas. As you popped this into your mouth and bite into it, remember to close your mouth because otherwise the surprise explosion will go all over the place. Excellent stuff!!

Lobster - peas . ramps . mint vapor

Short Rib – guinness . peanut . fried broccoli
Paolo Bea Montefalco Riserva “Pipparello”, Umbria 2003
This dish was ok. I enjoyed the fried and crunchy brocolli, and the short ribs were tender. But overall, it wasn’t a memorable dish.

Short Rib - guinness . peanut . fried broccoli

Wagyu Beef – morel . smoked date . blis elixir
Prince Florent de Merode Pommard “Clos de la Platiere” 2003
The liquid nitrogen frozen wagyu was actually placed in front of us before the lobster dish came out to “defrost”. Two courses later, the wagyu was ready and the waiter laid the wagyu over a bed of morel mushrooms. Ok, so the beef was great. The mushrooms were good. But once laid out, there really wasn’t all that much and it was finished in an enjoyable but short two bites.

Wagyu Beef - morel . smoked date . blis elixir

Duck – chocolate . blueberry . thai pepper
Mino Calo “Quarantale” Salento Rosso, Puglia 1998
Another dish that didn’t really make sense to me. But again this is because of the mixing of savoury and sweet tastes together. I agree that it actually does work sometimes, but perhaps I have a thing against chocolate… it just didn’t work out too good here. The duck is inside the chocolate bar.

Duck - chocolate . blueberry . thai pepper

Rhubarb – ginger . basil
Strawberry – violet . nicoise olive
Bacon – butterscotch . apple . thyme
These three courses came out at the same time. Two were good, and one I just didn’t understand.

First the bacon. I didn’t get it. While presentation wise, it was different and it tasted pretty good, I don’t know why I have to pay so much to eat a slice of bacon. The savory and sweet mix worked together well here, but I can’t see myself paying even US$1 for this slice of bacon… WHY???

Next the rhubarb. Another ball of flavours. This is meant to be taken as a shot, ball and all. Once in your mouth, close it so as not to let the explosion fly everywhere outside your mouth. The ginger and sourness mixed well together and was very refreshing.

Lastly, the strawberry. This was like a dessert and you could just pop it into your mouth and let the nice strawberry flavours melt out.

left to right: BACON - butterscotch . apple . thyme, STRAWBERRY - violet . nicoise olive & RHUBARB - ginger . basil

Sorrel – honey . fennel . poppy seeds
“Braida” di Giacomo Bologna Moscato d’Asti “Vigna Senza Nome”, Piedmont 2007
Great dessert as you mixed everything together. The honey and sorbet went well with each other.

Sorrel - honey . fennel . poppy seeds

Whole Wheat – almond . apricot . chervil
Tamellini Recioto di Soave “Vigna Marogne”, Veneto, Italy 2001
This dessert seemed to have a lot inside it, but overall, I did not enjoy it as much as the sorrel.

Whole Wheat - almond . apricot . chervil

Chocolate – blueberry . hazelnut . thai pepper
Hmmm… it looks like a whole bunch of powder. In fact, it pretty much is a whole bunch of powder. Just take in like a shot again and let your mouth hydrate it back into chocolate. It was ok I guess… not one of the better dishes though.

Chocolate - blueberry . hazelnut . thai pepper
Restaurant decor

Overall, I was impressed with the food. Not all of it, but like I said, you either like it, or you don’t. Hopefully I will be able to go back one day and try a longer tasting menu than just 13 courses to experience more interesting and experimental love and hate of food that I think this restaurant brings to the table.

Recommended:

  • King Crab – sudachi . avocado . bay branch
  • Rouget – artichoke . garlic . bottarga
  • Lobster – peas . ramps . mint vapor
  • Wagyu Beef – morel . smoked date . blis elixir
  • Rhubarb – ginger . basil
  • Strawberry – violet . nicoise olive
  • Sorrel – honey . fennel . poppy seeds

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Alinea
1723 North Halsted, Chicago, Illinois 60614, USA
(312)867 0110

Mirror Restaurant (Mar 2011)

Knowing that this restaurant was hard to book, I tried to book a table one month in advance. But nope, all full. So in the end, I booked and waited three months before I could give this restaurant a try. I went with the 6-course dinner off the Signature Menu.

Bread
The bread came out nice and warm.

Bread

Snails lightly roast with parsley sauce and green asparagus
Not a big fan of snails, but this was not bad and the parsley sauce matched with them well. Colourful and well presented.

Snails lightly roast with parsley sauce and green asparagus

Vegetable tarte with eggplant, zucchinis, tomatoes, ricotta and basil with a tomato vinagrette
Really? Looks pretty good on the plate, but there really wasn’t anything special about it. Hard to justify the price with this dish.

Vegetable tarte with eggplant, zucchinis, tomatoes, ricotta and basil with a tomato vinagrette

Onion soup, crispy cheese and bread
This was perhaps the best dish of the night. For a soup to be the best I think says alot, but not to take away from it, the soup was light, refreshing and flavourful.

Onion soup, crispy cheese and bread

Tiger prawns with crushed potatoes and AOC olive oil, tarragon mustard black truffle sauce
Unfortunately, depite loving prawns, this dish disappointed. The prawns I think were over done as they were dry. In addition, with prawns this big, you would devein the prawn. But for some reason, the kitchen decided not and left the intestinal tract inside. Is this just lazy or what? I’m not sure, but surely for a restaurant like Mirror this can’t be the norm…

Tiger prawns with crushed potatoes and AOC olive oil, tarragon mustard black truffle sauce

Veal tenderloin with celeriac puree, vegetables cooks in white wine and bacon emulsion
Pretty good dish as the veal was tender and the whole dish just smelt good.

Veal tenderloin with celeriac puree, vegetables cooks in white wine and bacon emulsion

Poached pear in winter wine and pear ice cream
This was a decent dessert as the pear ice cream tasted great albeit seemed half melted by the time it was served… I like pear and the poached pear definitely gelled with the ice cream.

Poached pear in winter wine and pear ice cream

Petits Fours
Other than some chocolate, do not remember what else there was. Sorry, no photos.

Coffee
The coffee condiments came out in test tubes and the milk was nice and warm. The coffee itself smelt and tasted good.

coffee . milk . sugar

Perhaps it was because I had to reserve a table three months in advance to eat at this restaurant, but my expectations were definitely high. This may have skewed my review abit as overall, I was disappointed.

Recommended:

  • Onion soup, crispy cheese and bread
  • Veal tenderloin with celeriac puree, vegetables cooks in white wine and bacon emulsion

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Mirror Restaurant
6/F, 199 Wan Chai Road
2573 7288

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