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

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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

Riquiqui Dessert Bar (Oct 2010)

The setting in Riquiqui is like a cute little dessert bar. The owners were great and the service were excellent. Three course dessert with choice of wine for $200. First course is an amuse bouche. Second course you have a choice. We chose the Chocolate Ganache Cake with Chocolate Tea Ice Cream and the Pineapple Polenta with Coconut Ice Cream. Third course were some petits fours. For the wine, we went with the Moscato d’Asti which is a sweet sparkling wine.

Choices for your second course!

Amuse Bouche – I think this was a Chocolate Coated Ice Cream Lollipop
A nice refreshing starter.

Chocolate Coated Ice Cream Lollipop

Chocolate Ganache Cake with Chocolate Tea Ice Cream
The chocolate ganache was a bit too rich for me, but the chocolate tea ice cream was a real gem.

Chocolate Ganache Cake with Chocolate Tea Ice Cream

Pineapple Polenta with Coconut Ice Cream
Tasted great and went well with the coconut ice cream.

Pineapple Polenta with Coconut Ice Cream

Petits Fours – apricot shortbread . coconut marshmellow . almond financier
Nothing too special here, but the almond financier was nice.

Petits Fours - apricot shortbread . coconut marshmellow . almond financier

Honestly, the desserts tasted great, but perhaps the price is a bit heavy at $200

Recomended:

  • Pineapple Polenta with Coconut Ice Cream

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Riquiqui Dessert Bar
2/F, 12 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
2868 3302

Al Molo Ristorante Italiano

It was Restaurant Week in Hong Kong and many of the best restaurants participating were booked out fast. Luckily though, new Italian restaurant Al Molo was on the list and available and I quickly made the reservation. A good thing too since soon after, it too was booked out.

Al Molo is a collaboration by chef Michael White who is famous for his pastas. The Restaurant Week deal was $158 for a three course lunch which included an antipasti buffet board, a main dish of either pasta or pizza and a desert buffet with coffee or tea. Clearly, when you are famous for pastas, why would you pick a pizza, so it was a no-brainer that we picked two pastas instead.

Al Molo is a cozy restaurant and on a nice cool day, it would be wonderful to be able to just sit outside and enjoy a pasta with beer. Regarding service though, considering some of the comments I’ve heard, the service was surprisingly impeccable. The staff was very attentive and even made jokes with us. They also made sure that we were taken care of at all times. But perhaps it could have been because it was mainly the restaurant manager serving us? Who knows… it was excellent service though.

Al Molo - the exterior and interior

Antipasti Buffet Board – crisp salads . cured meats . vegetables . bread
While nothing special, the antipasti buffet board had a lot to pick from. Some of the things include olives, salami, parma ham, beetroot, fennel, artichoke and of course my favourite rocket/arugula. The olives and the parma ham were particularly good.

Antipasti Buffet Board - crisp salads . cured meats . vegetables . bread

Casarecci – semolina pasta, clams, squid, spicy tomato
Aside from the squid because I HATE squid, this was a great pasta dish. The homemade pasta was freshly made and you could feel it in the texture. The clams had lots of meat to them and were extremely juicy and the tomato based sauce had just the right amount of spice to it. Minus the squid, this would have been a good dish, but really the squid is not the fault of the restaurant.

Casarecci - semolina pasta, clams, squid, spicy tomato

Maccheroni – cured pancetta, carbonara sauce, black pepper
Oh my gawd! This was just one of the best pastas I have ever eaten. Its so simple yet perfect. Once again, the homemade fresh pasta shone through in its texture. Al dente and fresh… just perfect! The pancetta added to the taste of the dish and there was just the right amount of carbonara sauce so as not to soak the pasta. We were asked if we would like any additional freshly grated cheese and ground black pepper and I gladly accepted the offer. I can only highly recommend this dish.

Maccheroni - cured pancetta, carbonara sauce, black pepper

Dessert Buffet – lemon cream puff . brownie . almond cake . cinnamon roll
There was mini dessert buffet available with the lemon cream puff and almond cake being the highlights. The brownie was also pretty good but probably a bit too rich in taste for me.

Dessert Buffet - lemon cream puff . brownie . almond cake . cinnamon roll

Coffee
The coffee had a nice fragrance to it, tasted great and came with some nicely whipped warm milk

Coffee!!!

Overall, I got a great first impression with this restaurant. We only tried two pastas this time round, but they were at least on par if not better than Babbo in New York. If you are looking for good pasta in Hong Kong, then I would seriously consider Al Molo.

Recommended:

  • Maccheroni – cured pancetta, carbonara sauce, black pepper

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Al Molo Ristorante Italiano
Shop G63, G/F, Ocean Terminal, TST, Kowloon, Hong Kong
2730 7900

Sabatini Ristorante Italiano

This is my second time at Sabatini’s. The first time was a few years ago and it left a lasting impression such that I’ve been meaning to come back since. But as you know, Hong Kong’s vibrant food scene and new restaurant openings has left me trying new things for a while. Finally though, I have arrived back here with high expectations.

For the most part, the restaurant hasn’t changed much. Perhaps the front of the restaurant might have changed a bit, but truthfully, it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember. The Roman Antipasto Table is still there and looked good to try but with so many dishes to try, and so little space, I saved it for another day… again. In addition, the band is also still there and play at intervals during your meal. I don’t know if they are the same people that were there years ago, but if you really wanted to, you could request songs from them. Service from the staff was also excellent as we requested to share the food, and they automatically divided the food onto separate dishes for us before serving. But now back to the food.

Menu . Wine . Bread Basket
The normal menu has a good selection of food with something for everyone. There was also an additional menu that had some Italian southern comfort food as well as some specials that the waiter will probably recommend you as they weren’t on any of the menus.

After putting in our order, we were served with a warm bread basket a trio of spreads and butter. There was also the option of olive oil and vinegar, but I thought that the spreads, especially the pesto like one was sufficient.

For those that love wine, the wine list is huge and given to you in one thick folder book. It consists mainly of wines from all over Italy, but clearly my poor self was only able to go with a bottle of one of the three house whites. I don’t remember the name, but if you ask for the crispest of them, then that’s the one you will get.

Menu . Wine . Bread Basket

Langhirano Ham with Cantaloupe Melon
The ham was good. I’m not sure it was worth the price, but perhaps it’s also because I don’t know how to properly appreciate ham either. Good flavours in the ham and the cantaloupe melon was super sweet. Just a note though, there were actually many tables ordering the more expensive Cinta Senese Ham ($488) which was hand-cut.

Langhirano Ham with Cantaloupe Melon

Lobster Bisque with Croutons, Creme Fraiche and Chives
The lobster bisque was excellent and in my opinion, one of the best in Hong Kong. Full of bold flavours and a large succulent lobster tail. (Yes, the one at Lawry’s was just no good!)

Lobster Bisque with Croutons, Creme Fraiche and Chives

Dry Aged Black Angus Sirloin Tagliata with Rucola, Parmesan Cheese, Porcini Mushrooms in Lemon Garlic Parsley Gremolata Dressing and Summer Black Truffle
The black angus sirloin was damn juicy for sirloin. Medium-rare of course. Just the way I like it. The thin cheese slices went well with the beef and for someone who does not particularly like eating mushrooms, the porcini mushrooms slipped in between the sirloin were just absolutely exquisite.

Dry Aged Black Angus Sirloin Tagliata with Rucola, Parmesan Cheese, Porcini Mushrooms in Lemon Garlic Parsley Gremolata Dressing and Summer Black Truffle

Sole Fillet with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and Mushrooms
The sole fillet was amazing. Normally I would not consider ordering sole because it is just such a dull fish. But this time, it was on the specials and well, why not. The portion was huge and so it should be considering it was more expensive than the angus sirloin. For a non-fatty fish, this was just super juicy and had lots of flavour to it and showed that a good chef can still use boring ingredients to make a great dish.

Sole Fillet with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and Mushrooms

St. Honore Cake . Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
For desert, there was the Sabatini signature St. Honore Cake and the Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. I don’t remember the St. Honore Cake being on their desert menu, and we very nearly missed their signature cake. Luckily, as the desert cart stopped by, this interesting looking cake caught my eye. It was creamy and had a nice crunch to it which gave it great texture. The Warm Chocolate Lava Cake was rich, but I won’t comment much on this because I am generally not a chocolate person.

St. Honore Cake . Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

Coffee . Petits Fours
The coffee had a wonderful smell to it and tasted great. By the time the petits fours arrived though, I was already filled to the brim. They weren’t anything special, but they weren’t bad either.

Coffee

Petits Fours

Overall, this meal was thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to the next time that I return. Hopefully it won’t be as long as the previous time!

Recommended:

  • Lobster Bisque with Croutons, Creme Fraiche and Chives
  • Dry Aged Black Angus Sirloin Tagliata with Rucola, Parmesan Cheese, Porcini Mushrooms in Lemon Garlic Parsley Gremolata Dressing and Summer Black Truffle
  • St. Honore Cake

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Sabatini Ristorante Italiano
3/F, 69 Mody Road, The Royal Garden Hotel, TST, Kowloon, Hong Kong
2733 2000

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