Monday, February 29, 2016

Decadent Omakase Sushi Lunch at Sushi Ginza Onodera

Happy leap day!  I was lucky to have the chance to try out an omakase lunch with my friend at Sushi Ginza Onodera, in Sai Ying Pun, last week.

The restaurant is located on the first floor of a building that is not easy to find, but after walking around in confused circles for a bit I figured it out.  Once inside, I was immediately led inside a room with no windows, commanded by a large bar manned by two sushi chefs.  The decor was pretty simple, and not having windows was a little bit discombobulating, but I think most sushi bars shun natural sunlight.
 Sushi chefs never wear any jewelry.
The restaurant clearly emphasizes fresh ingredients.  Part of the fun of eating here was witnessing the preparation.  I love all the various little plates and finders and bowls and saucers.
The chef prepared the ingredients for our omakase in advance, laying out each slice with the precision of a skilled surgeon.  Do you see the bowl of pickled ginger?  It was addictive- so tender, tart and slightly spicy - and this is from someone who doesn't strongly favor ginger!
We got a little egg custard to start, layered with salmon roe and topped with a little bit of fresh wasabi.
 I forgot to take pictures of the first two pieces of sushi that came in our order.  Ooops.  I was hungry and the food was too good!

And now… an onslaught of pictures of pieces of raw fish on top of rice.  Everything tasted wonderful.  This is the kind of sushi experience I most enjoy - pure and unadorned, with every mouthful pre-determined by a master who has already considered the correct proportion of a complex mix of flavors and textures.  The proper proportion of wasabi and soy sauce is already determined by the chef here - no dunking of the fish into a messy saucer here!


My only complaint is that I wish our chef had introduced and explained each piece when he placed it on our platters - I could taste foie gras and garlic and yuzu and I recognized sea urchin and yellowtail and shrimp, but it would have been nice to hear the more subtle ingredients before plopping the pieces onto my palate.
 The finishing dishes were a miso soup with bits of fish cheek, and a choice of desserts (I chose the yuzu sorbet).
Omakase lunch starts at $380 for 10 pieces.  We chose the 13 piece set for $580.  There is one more lunch set that is even more decadent, but frankly I think one would be hard pressed to finish it all!

Sushi Ginza Onodera
1/F, Hollywood Centre
77-91 Queen's Road West
+852 3568 7788

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jayne Eyre and Pre-Theater Dinner at The Spice House Restaurant

Now that I am done with the South Africa trip summary, I can finally move on to the things I have been doing since returning from vacation!

The Hong Kong Arts Festival is in full swing, and it is one of my favorite cultural events of the year here because the production quality is very high and the shows usually do not disappoint.  You have to book tickets for them well in advance, however, because everything sells out so quickly.  I usually go for the theater and ballet, but they also offer music and dance productions.  For this year's shows, I think I booked tickets in October or November.

Jane Eyre was a two part production put on by the Old Vic Theatre and the National Theatre, both well renowned and incredibly highly acclaimed theaters in London -- and you know that city knows how to put on a good show.  Couple that with rave reviews and a novel full of fire and wrath and passion and Mr. Rochester and, well.  I was sold.

Thankfully, the show itself turned out to live up to the hype.  I was a little bit worried when I realized it was nearly three hours long plus intermission, and the opening scenes were a bit odd and slow and took some getting used to.  But the production was really smart, the set design was efficient and worked for every scene, and I loved that they managed to convey the humor through clever touches (the winning touch was probably one of the actors playing the part of Mr. Rochester's faithful but unobedient dog).

Before the show, I went to eat a quick dinner with my theater-going mates at The Spice House.  The place is absolutely no frills, next to the wet market.  But hey, cheap, fast and tasty - nothing to complain about!

With locations all over the city, maybe you will find yourself popping into one of these joints soon!

The Spice House Restaurant
No. 19, Stone Nullah Lane
Wan Chai
+852 2591 4741

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Culinary Adventures and Wine Tastings in Franschhoek

Gosh, the Cape winelands are so nice.  With an impressive winemaking history stemming from the 18th century, the farms here strongly reflect their Dutch ancestry.  Stellenbosch has been famous for wine for a long time, and most people who drink or like wine will have heard of this region in South Africa.  Franschhoek, maybe, is a little lesser known, but fast becoming the culinary destination in the area (in addition to its charming and beautiful wineries).

Our first stop on our wine whistle tour was Chamonix.  They are famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and their winemaker is a young and rising star with a zeal for innovative and elegant single grape varietals.  The whole place was charming and rustic.  The quiet outdoor seating under their big trees, with the wine shop to the side, the restaurant behind, and the bar directly adjacent, was an intimate yet private area to relax and taste wine.
Here, choosing the wines like a boss, thank you very much.
The supplies needed for a good tasting - thin rimmed glasses, a spit/pour bucket, and a carafe of water.  Oh yeah, and wine (preferably good).
We left with a reserve pinot noir, which would turn out to be the most expensive wine we bought on the entire trip, clocking in at US$21.  That doesn't seem very expensive, does it, but turns out this wine was on average 3-4x the price of every other bottle we purchased.
Doesn't matter, I still enjoyed Chamonix immensely and I thought the value of the wine was pretty stellar.
We then headed to lunch at Foliage, a new restaurant in town that has been open for about a year.  It is pretty hard to get reservations here for dinner, but very easy for lunch.  This place was wonderful - a culinary highlight of our trip.
I ordered a squash and pumpkin salad with microgreens, purslane, fig, tomatoes, and many other ingredients that I had never seen much less tasted, paired with creme fraiche and garlic puree.
Michael started with the ceviche, which was a dish bursting with color, garnished with a riot of pea sprout shoots.
My entree was the local meats selection, consisting of kudu, springbok loin, and bone marrow, atop a bed of perfectly roasted root vegetables and wild greens, paired with a turmeric carrot puree.  I am not a big fan of marrow, but the springbok loin was ineffably tender and just slightly gamey and I loved it, loved it.
Michael ordered the pork belly.  
The portions were generous and the taste innovative.  It was clear from every bite that the vegetables were fresh and of high quality.  I loved their use of foraged local ingredients, injecting both unexpected flavors and a bit of whimsy into each well curated dish.

We didn't linger over our meal, as we had wineries to visit!  Our next stop was Glenwood Winery, a small boutique winery located on the backroads of Robertsvlai, comfortably nestled in the valley between some mountains.

It was stunning, and we were the only ones there for practically our entire tasting.  It felt like our own private estate.
So zen.
Now this is the way to sample wine!  We purchased two bottles of their 2014 shiraz before proceeding to the next winery.  Each bottle cost approximately US$7.50.
After Glenwood, we went to Haute Cabriere, a winery specializing in sparkling wine.
We were really hot at this point, so we chose to sit inside.

After picking up three bottles there, two sparkling and one light pinot noir, we headed to Franschhoek Wine Cellars at the southern end of the valley.  This one was not a farm, but rather a winery that sourced grapes from other farms and then made their own wines.  They had two collections, one of which was a heritage collection where they name their wines after landmarks or noteworthy points of interest in Franschhoek.  I don't have any pictures from this visit, but I did pause to snap a picture of their beautiful flowers.
The protea, bright, hardy and robust flowers that are commonly found all over South Africa
Sadly, we did not have time to stop in at a few other wineries that I really wanted to see, in particular La Motte and Lynx Winery.  Alas, next time perhaps.  Most wineries here keep pretty limited hours, opening around 10 am and closing around 5 pm, so you have to plan accordingly.  We tried to go to Boukenhoutskloof (gotta' love the names around here) but they have become very restricted in their tasting schedules, only opening their tasting room for one day per week.

In general, wineries here charge for tastings (but it is usually a nominal fee, like US$3-5 for six pours), and, unlike some places in the U.S., they don't waive the tasting fee even if you purchase wine.  However, with the wines clocking in at about $6 or $7 on average, I think you still end up a winner.  If you purchase a case (considered to be 6 wines here), you usually get a 10% discount.  Win win win.  When I was scouting which wineries to visit, I chose based on our location in the valley, this list, this list and finally, this amazingly detailed and helpful list.

After a full day of eating and drinking, we headed back to our hotel for some rest and relaxation, before… well, eating and drinking again!  Turns out La Petit Dauphine has a highly rated restaurant in house, which we decided to try.
The atmosphere was incredible - think old (except new) French farmhouse, with live piano music, hearty food and, the best part - the pet rooster!

We did notice, though, that we were the youngest people in the dining room by about 30 years, give or take.  And yes, it was a very white crowd.  In yet another typical South African scene, all of the servers at the restaurant were black, the manager was white, and all of the patrons (but for me) were white.  The juxtaposition of race and positions of power is so ubiquitous in this country that you can't help but notice it. 

The rooster spent most of the dinner on the piano, but I didn't want to take a picture until after the piano player was done playing his tunes.
This was our early Valentine's Day dinner, so I couldn't have asked for better in the atmosphere department.  The only minor quibble I had about the place was that the food was a bit heavy for my liking.  This is rustic, hearty cooking; how I picture a (fancy) farm meal at the end of a long day toiling and using your muscles.  Portion sizes were huge, and everything was creamy and filling.  Michael and I chatted excitedly about dessert but by the time we were halfway through our entrees, we were both groaning.
 We chose the same first course, pea soup with a farm egg encased in a deep fried bacon-tied wrapping.
 Michael ordered the beef short rib with a red chili scallion soy sauce glaze.  It doesn't appear so, but it was actually a very spicy dish!
 I ordered the pork belly, paired with tart peaches and a cabbage slaw, but I did not anticipate that it would be a slab nearly the size of my face!  It was fantastic though - they got the skin extra crispy, the immediate layer of fat below melting just so, and the meat below so tender and juicy.  The tart sides helped to undercut the fattiness of the belly.
We gave our server a healthy tip and thanked her for her service, and it made me so happy to see how happy she was to get it.  In truth, it was such a little thing to us, but I think we made her week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Secluded Beach at the Cape + Wine Country (Franschhoek)

I forgot to detail in my last post the last quick stop we made in Table Mountain National Park before we left - a dreamy, beautiful, and, but for some smoking (augh!) fishermen, nearly isolated stretch of beach.
 We had to get to our hotel in wine country but we couldn't resist making one last stop.
 The scene was so pristine, so utterly unpolluted!

 The water was freeeeeezing.

Finally tearing ourselves away from the Cape, we headed through some charming, anachronistic little one-lane beach towns on the southern shore (read: major traffic),
which also took us through some very narrow lanes surrounded by sand dunes on both sides,

 before finally getting into Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

The winelands are beautiful!  Just stunning.

Here, pictures of our resort, La Petite Dauphine, where we were surrounded by grape vines nestled at the foot of the Franschhoek mountains.

 All around us - grapes and mountains!

Oh, and flowers.  Beautiful flowers everywhere.