Friday, December 28, 2018

Tasty Stuff I Ate in 2018

Last year I missed out posting a miscellaneous "tasty stuff" post like I did in 2016, 2015, and 2014.  I simply did not wander into enough hole in the wall restaurants to put together a post.

However, by visiting a ton of places in Asia this year, I have plenty to write about this year.  So here's a list of random tasty stuff I ate in 2018 that didn't get into one of my bigger restaurant write ups.

1) Noodles & Wontons @ Mak Man Kee Noodles (Hong Kong, China)

There are many "Mak's" noodles in Hong Kong.  I know that there is a lineage between a very famous chef, his proteges/family members, and all of the "Mak's" noodles around the town.  I don't know this particular restaurant's lineage, but I can say the noodles were delicious.  There's a good "chew" to the noodles that doesn't really exist in more mass manufactured ones.

2) Congee @ Fu Kee Congee (Hong Kong, China)

While there are other famous congee places in Hong Kong, this is the one me and my +1 liked the most.  I don't know what they did to make the broth (i.e. it's clearly not just water), but it was delicious.

3) Steamed Milk Pudding @ Yee Shun (Hong Kong, China)

Before my trip to Hong Kong, I don't think I ever had this dish before.  But after trying it, I was hooked.  The above pic is the ginger flavored one, which gave it just a bit of a zing along with the milk.  But the plain one was delicious too.

4) Fish curry balls & wontons @ Block 18 Doggie's Noodle (Hong Kong, China)

This street stall in Hong Kong is pretty famous for their noodles, but I couldn't get over the fish curry balls & wontons (they are separate orders, but they put it in the same togo container).  Spicy and with tons of flavor, way more than any curry fish balls I have ever tried before.  And the wontons had these wonderful chewy texture that I loved.

5) Shrimp @ Chuen Cheng (Taipei, Taiwan)

So Chuen Cheng in Taiwan is most famous as a shrimp fishing bar/restaurant.  I believe Anthony Bourdain went there during his Taipei No Reservations segment. Many guides online go over the fact you can rent a pole, fish for shrimp, and grill up your catch in the back (just search "taiwan shrimp fishing" to learn more).

Unknown to us until seeing a sign (it's not in English), you can actually pay the staff to cook the shrimp for you if you don't want to do it yourself on the grill.  And you can have it cooked in many different ways.  We just asked for a recommendation and they picked this, which was stir fried with some type of lemony kind of sauce.  Delicious because the shrimp were so large and fresh, but the lemony taste imbued into the shrimp.

6) mandu @ Myeongdong Kyoja (Seoul, Korea)

Myeongdong Kyoja is most famous for their noodle soups, but I was more blown away by their dumplings.  Larger than most Chinese style dumplings, they have a really thin skin that sort of "hugs" the meatball inside.

7) Kiawe Wood Smoked Heritage Pork and haupia tart @ aina (San Francisco, CA)

Had a great dinner at aina this year, and they're going to get 2 dishes mentioned.

I'm not the biggest fan of pork, perhaps having eaten too many dry and overcooked versions in my life, but this was the most tender and delicious pork I've ever had.  I assume it was sous vided and then smoked?  I have no idea.  Along with the ginger chimichurri, the dish was amazing.

The other dish I'll mention is the dessert.  The menu lists coconut pudding, coconut shortbread, and sweet potato vinegar ice cream in this tart.  Some macerated berries were on there as well.  An incredible mixture of flavors and some good crunch from the shortbread.  The ice cream was particularly delicious, which would not have been expected ... b/c it's vinegar flavor.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

IBM acquisition of Redhat

True story, my wife and I were watching TV when my wife asked, "What's Redhat?".  I then explained that Redhat was a company that (loosely) packaged open source software together and sold support for it.  Because my wife was familiar with Cloudera, I told her that it was the Cloudera of the Linux operating system world.

Then she blew me away by then asking, "Why would IBM want to buy them for $30 billion dollars?"

As a software developer that has worked almost exclusively on Linux in his career, it was a huge announcement.

After sitting back and pondering it for awhile, I was beginning to think about the move and it was a good move by IBM.

In my opinion, it is a great move for IBM.  But the probability of it being a success is low.

In one article I read, a Redhat engineer said: "I can't imagine a bigger culture clash."  I think that pretty much sums up the thoughts of myself and many other engineers.

Here were some differences I thought about after the sale was announced:
  • IBM engineers are typically told to be wary of the GPL to avoid potential code pollution, Redhat engineers work with the GPL all of the time
  • IBM often requires signed license agreements for code contributions to their code base, Redhat works with the open source community on tons of things as is
  • IBM legal likes to get their hands into the middle of many things
This of course doesn't even get into the fact that Redhat & IBM have different competing technologies.

I read a tweet (which I'm having trouble finding), but it said something to the effect:
  • IBM just paid 30% of their market cap for Redhat
  • Redhat's headcount is only 3% of IBM's
  • Unlike IBM, Redhat does not really have much intellectual property (IIRC, IBM has the largest patent portfolio of any US company)
  • Unlike IBM, Redhat does not really have much capital assets
and I'm going to add
  • Unlike IBM, Redhat gives away its product for free
  • Unlike IBM, Redhat employees can leave Redhat and take leadership of their product with them
It's a huge culture clash.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Dining @ Trestle in San Francisco, CA

About two years ago I dined at Trestle and loved it.  For a very affordable price (nowadays $38 dollars), you can get a good three course price fixe meal.  For an extra $10 you an add an additional pasta course.  For San Francisco, it's a great deal for a meal.  It's regularly been listed in Michelin's Bib Gourmand listings for years and the San Francisco chronicle's top 100 restaurants list.

Here's what we had this time around.  It's worth noting that you can request some bread, but we had a late lunch and elected not to have any.

1A) Leek & Fennel Soup - Fingerling Potato, Black Pepper Crème Fraîche, Caviar

1B) Pear & Chicory Salad - Guava, Coriander-Lime Yogurt, Pecans, Ginger Vinaigrette

I had the soup on the top while my +1 had to the salad on the bottom.  The soup was rich, hearty, and delicious.  There were potatoes, creme fraiche, and caviar in the soup.  My assumption is that potato was used as the thickener for the soup as well.

Unfortunately, I can't comment on the salad as I didn't try it because I'm allergic to guava.

2) Garganelli Pasta & Shrimp - Bottarga, Spicy Tomato, Basil, Caper

Not much to really say about this dish, as it was good.  The pasta was perfectly al dente.

3A) Ginger-Scallion Crusted Salmon - Swiss Chard, Shiitake Mushroom, Huckleberries, Butternut Squash

3B) Pork Loin - Persimmon, Braised Savoy Cabbage, Mustard Jus

I had the salmon on top while my +1 had the pork loin below.  Just like my last visit to Trestle, the salmon was absolutely amazing.  It was barely raw in the middle and perfectly soft.  The ginger / scallion crust was crisp and added a good hit of flavor in the middle of bites.  This is despite the fact I'm not a big fan of salmon.  (Although, at some point, I'm going to have to realize that my general dislike of salmon may simply be that I need to have really good salmon more times.)

Of the few bites of pork loin i tried from my +1s, it was also quite good, although not quite as good as the pork loin I had from a recent trip to aina.

4A) Anson Mills Polenta Cake - Kaffir Lime, Satsuma Mandarins, Meyer Lemon

4B) Milk Chocolate Custard - Pomegranate, Pinenuts, Kabocha Squash

I had never had polenta as a dessert before, but this the polenta cake was delicious.  I'm having trouble describing the texture, but it was certainly something I hadn't had in a dessert before.  Along was the citrus sauce and orange chunks on the side, it was delicious.  My immediate thought was I had to try and bake this at home.

The milk chocolate custard below was also good, although I felt it was a bit rich after a few bites.

Overall, another great meal at Trestle.  Can't wait to hit it up again.  It's worth noting that we were in and out of Trestle in about 1.5 hours.  So it's a pretty quick meal as well.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Is Chinese Food Culturally Disadvantaged for Food Critics?

Watching an old Anthony Bourdain episode, I came upon the name Fuchsia Dunlop, a chef/writer specializing in Chinese cuisine.

I began reading some of her stuff online and watching some videos from her, and she brought up a point about food reviewers and Chinese food that blew my mind.  She's said the point several times, but for reference here's one place she brings it up on her blog.

The high point of Chinese cuisine is really the banquet meal, served family style, which requires minimally 8-10 people, but of course can go as high as hundreds of people (such as at wedding or a large celebration).

But food reviewers are typically 1 person, maybe 2 max.

So how does a food reviewer judge a high-end Chinese restaurant?

She suggests that Chinese cuisine has a disadvantage in the global culinary landscape because most reviewers won't be reviewing what is considered top Chinese cuisine.  In contrast, compare this to the tasting menus that usually top western restaurants serve.  Those menus can easily be served to a lone diner or a couple.

Here's another way to look at it as I thought about it more.

Since banquet meals can sometimes get large (i.e. for weddings), many top Chinese restaurants can seat hundreds of people.  It's the reality of the business.

Needless to say, these restaurants need to generate business when they don't have large banquets going on.  So they offer a large variety of menu options for the a la carte diner, possibly over 100+ dishes.   As a sample, I counted 130+ menu items at Lung King Heen, a 3 Michelin Star Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, and that doesn't count dim sum items for lunch or the items on their tasting menu.

So how does a reviewer review such a restaurant?  Only on the banquet meal?  Or random a la carte items?  Is the restaurant graded on some small subset of random a la carte items?

When reading reviews from Andy Hayler, he has given many Chinese restaurants poor reviews, wondering how they could have received Michelin stars.

So one might ask, how is Michelin reviewing high end Chinese restaurants?  Are they only reviewing the banquet meals?  The tasting menus (if offered)?  Are they reviewing a random subset of a la carte items?  The Michelin guide has stated before that they care about "every dish" being wonderful, but are all their reviewers really reviewing all 130+ items at Lung King Heen?  I doubt it.

Oh, I didn't yet bring up how a restaurant with 100+ seats and 100+ items is disadvantaged on culinary reviews.  It's far easier to concentrate on amazing flavors and to be very consistent at it when you have only 20 seats, 10 kitchen staff, and a menu of 10 items.

I thought Fuchsia Dunlop made an incredible point about how an entire country's cuisine simply might be disadvantaged in the international culinary landscape.  But this doesn't appear to be a West vs East issue.  For example, Japanese cuisine has had kaiseki meals for hundreds of years.  So they can be reviewed very easily by one reviewer.  I'm sure this problem isn't unique to just China either.

As time goes on (which was actually brought up in the Part's Unknown episode), what will likely happen is tasting menu only Chinese restaurants will appear over time, as that style becomes more popular in China as people begin to experience Western style tasting menus.  The same will likely happen in Western countries too as higher end Chinese food spreads in popularity.  I recall that one Chinese tasting only menu in San Francisco just opened up.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dining @ Mingles in Seoul, Korea

While in Seoul we wanted to go on a food adventure. Unlike Hong Kong (but similar to Tokyo), it seemed to be harder for a non-local to get reservations.  While its not surprising to find restaurants without English on their website, I found it even more surprising that a nice chunk of restaurants didn't even have websites.

So with some English and minimally e-mail reservations a requirement, as well as getting a meal that is Korean or Korean fusion (i.e. no pure Japanese, Chinese, or European food),  I eventually got reservations @ Mingles.

Mingles is one of the most talked about restaurants in Seoul and listed on pretty much all of the "best restaurants in Seoul" lists I found.  At the time of this writing, they're listed as the #11th best restaurant in Asia on the Top 50 Asia list, are #89 on the Overall Top 50 list in 2017, and got 1 Michelin Star.

For anyone who may be wondering how I got reservations, I e-mailed Mingles via the e-mail address on their website.  They take reservations 1 month ahead of date on the 1st of the month (i.e. for a June 10th reservation, you can e-mail them on May 1st).  From what I read online, reservations can be hard, so you should e-mail them early.  There's a $100 USD deposit via Paypal for reservations.  You are refunded this deposit when you show up.  In addition, about 48 hours ahead of your reservation, you have to e-mail them to let them know you're coming (i.e. b/c you probably don't have a local phone number for them to re-verify the reservation).

The menu at Mingles is a set tasting menu with a few options for the main and dessert.  There are also some additional courses you could pay more to simply add on.  I wanted to try the extra courses but wasn't sure if it would be too much food.  The waiter recommended we share these additional courses so as to not get too stuffed.  Of the extras, there was 1 consomme / vegetable dish, 1 noodle dish, and 1 broth / noodle dish.  We ordered the first two to avoid too much cross over (i.e. not two soups, not two noodles).  But I think we could have ordered all three and still not left overly stuffed.

Here's what we got.

1) Amuse #1

The first amuse course we got was beef tartare.  It was set in between two different seaweed crackers, one sweetened and one not.  A good amuse, a nice texture difference and the sweetness from the second seaweed didn't overpower.

2) Amuse #2

The next set of amuse dishes started off with a corn soup, with crab and some type of vegetable.  I'm not sure what kind of vegetable it was, but I really enjoyed it.

The tuna carpaccio came with some seaweed paste and some pickled vegetable.
I really enjoyed the tuna carpaccio.  I'm not sure what type of tuna this was, but it was delicious with the seaweed paste.

3) Summer - Summer clam carpaccio, seasonal herb pesto, asparagus

This was the first official course on the menu, with clam underneath this pile of asparagus.  The staff said the pesto was made with some korean herb that I don't know.  Overall, tasty and a good refreshing dish.

4) Zucchini - Zucchini Seon, Zucchini consomme

This dish was one of the two extra courses we ordered.  It's small enough that we probably should have both gotten one instead of sharing it.  It's some cleverly plated zucchini (two types) in a consomme of zucchini and pumpkin.  Good and light.

5) Abalone - steamed abalone with dashima, napa cabbage soon, and zepi broth

Next up we have this abalone steamed in kelp, nestled on top of some cabbage in a broth.  I'm not sure what a "soon" is and what "zepi" is.  Some minimal online Googling has not gotten me far.  I will say that the dish was delicious.  The broth definitely had some flavor that was wonderful, but I was not familiar with.

Included in this dish was some rice cakes to absorb the broth up when we were done.  The rice cakes were also stuffed with abalone and shrimp.

6) Jeju Island - fresh seafood & zucchini flower from jeju island

So this fish was apparently croaker, along with some bamboo, a stuffed zucchini flower (the staff said stuffed with shrimp and pumpkin), and beneath this all was some anchovy risotto.  Overall, the fish was delicious but I especially loved the risotto.  There were little fruit chunks in the risotto that gave it a contrasting texture and flavor I really enjoyed compared to most risotto.

7) Fish Mandu - mingles fish mandu that is reinterpreted Korean court food

Another great dish, the fish was flavorful and stuffed with (I believe) zucchini and shrimp.  To the right is white asparagus and based on the taste, I think the broth is clam or oyster based (although probably has some fish in there too).

8) Jang Noodle - squid ink & seaweed jang sauce, seasonal sea food and mingle's style pasta

This was our second extra course of the night, so we shared this semi-large dish.

This was delicious, probably my favorite of the night.  These noodles were delicious, with good texture, and far better than the typical trash squid ink noodles I've eaten.  The seaweed jang added some good umami flavor.  On top is lobster and uni.  The lobster was amazingly tender, I'm not sure what they did to manipulate the lobster to give it that tenderness of if its some variant lobster breed in Korea.

9) Egg Custard

This is apparently a signature dish from the restaurant.  I missed the details the staff said when describing the dish.  I picked up truffle while eating it.  Online, various ingredients are listed, it might be the case that this dish is altered depending on the season.  There were some crunch bits at the bottom, that might have been chorizo.

I was a little surprised when I dug into the egg, as the white above is mostly foam.  I was expecting something "thicker", so I think I messed up and didn't quite collect all of the flavors at the same time.  Some good flavor here, but the foam sort of threw me off.

10A) Lobster - Organic Vegetables from Junhyuk's Farm, egg yolk-doenjang sauce

So I missed a lot of the details the staff said when they brought out the dish, so I'm not sure what the sauce in the middle was.  But going off the menu, it's a combo of egg yolk with doenjang, a fermented bean paste.  Regardless, it was tasty.  The lobster was tender and not as chewy as I'm normally used to, although had more chew than the lobster in the jang noodles above.  Unsure if that's due to the cooking technique or a different lobster type.  Either way, very good.  Off to the upper left is a whole bunch of squash, tomato, and something I'm unsure of.  It looks like leek, but had a starchy texture.  Perhaps some potato or yam that was put into a swirl.

10B) Korean Beef - Charcoal grilled 1++Striploin with soy sauce

My +1 got the steak and of the few pieces I tasted, it was absolutely amazing.  I don't know what cow this came from, it wasn't wagyu / kobe, but it was incredible.  The sauce was made with soy sauce, citrus, and truffle, although I don't know what the white stuff in the middle is.  There's also some potato and carrot.

11) Vegetable - Cold soy bean soup, seaweed noodle & tomato tart

Next up we had a (I think) traditional soy bean soup that had seaweed noodles and some other vegetables in it (I recall cucumber and a lima-bean-ish bean).  I tried cold soy bean soup for the first time during my trip to Korea, and this was probably the second time I ever had it in my life, so it's a little hard to judge.  It tasted fine I guess.

The tomato tart apparently had tofu in it as well, but we couldn't quite pick it up.  We were wondering if it was not what we thought of tofu, but some alternate soy product.  Overall, pretty good.

13) Fruit / Palatte Cleanser

This was brought out as (what I assume) was a palate cleanser of sorts before dessert.  It's a cherry and what I believe is called "mountain strawberry", although it looks more like a raspberry.

14A) Jang Trio - Doen-Jang creme brulee, gan-jang pecan, gochu-jang blackrice, vanilla ice cream, whisky foam

So I had to look a lot of this stuff up, doenjang is a soybean paste, ganjang is soy sauce, and gochujang is red chili paste.  I guess the ganjang was used to marinated the pecans and the gochujang was used to flavor the rice above.  Included on top were also the ice cream and whisky foam.

While I have little knowledge of "jang", I loved this dessert.  All the different textures and flavors mixed together were wonderful, the ice cream being thick, the whisky foam being foamy, the crunch of the brulee at the bottom, and all the rice and pecan textures.  Just delicious, it'll definitely crack my top ten desserts of all time.

14B) Summer Citrus - hallabong (jeju orange) sorbet, mango, orange, lemon basil compote, creme anglaise

So I can't comment on this dish because I didn't try it b/c of my tropical fruit allergy.  My +1 said she loved this dessert.  She said the sorbet was more foam-ish than sorbet-ish.

15) Sweets

Finally the mignardise.  Some cookies at the top, some type of root flavored jelly at the left (Korean ingredient I'm not familiar with), and some sesame cookies on the right.  They also served us tea as part of the meal, which I won't bother to post a picture of.

Overall, this meal was wonderful and I can understand why it's ranked so highly.  This reminded me a lot of my meals at Benu and VEA, a French / Western styled meal with strong Asian influence, in this case specifically Korean influences.

Unlike those other meals, I was not as familiar with Korean food or Korean ingredients and did not get as much emotionally out of this meal.  Minimally I didn't know a number of ingredients, and without the Korean cuisine knowledge base, it's hard to know where some of the dishes/ingredients/reinterpretations are coming from (e.g. the fish mandu or the soy bean soup).  If you read the details in my pictures, you can tell I missed a lot.  Perhaps the next time I visit Seoul, I'll be more prepared and can appreciate the cuisine far more.

It's worth noting the price of the meal as well.  In USD, this meal would be a little under $300 for two people if no extras and no drinks were ordered.  That's a pretty good price given this restaurant's reputation.  Even with the additional supplements we paid (two extra shared courses, lobster supplement, beef supplement), the price still came to about $335 USD without drinks.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dining @ MUME in Taipei, Taiwan

While I was in Taipei, I wanted to check out a pretty nice restaurant.  Pretty much every guide and article about the best restaurants in Taipei brought up MUME.  The restaurant sports 3 chefs that are alumni of Noma, they got a Michelin star in 2018, and are in the Top 50 Asia Restaurants List.  Luckily that have easy online reservations, so I snagged a reservation when I had the chance.

Interestingly enough, MUME does not have a menu on their website.  Research online showed they serve an a la carte menu of about 15-20 different dishes split up into snacks, smalls, bigs, and desserts.  The waitress recommended we get a snack, small, big, and dessert for each of us.

This is what we ended up having, ordered in the semi-random way they came out.


First up we have these two tartlets, one of sweet peas and ricotta, and the other of ginger and (IIRC) milt cod.  The peas are some Taiwanese variant that I was unfamiliar with and the ricotta was a sweeter lighter variant than the typical western type.  Overall, both were tasty, I preferred the cod one.

2) LIVER BRULEE - chicken liver parfait, seasonal herbs


3) COUNTRY SOURDOUGH - smoked beef fat butter

So the liver was an interesting dish.  They did a brulee (think "creme brulee") like thing to the top of the liver, then topped it with all of these herbs.  It gave the liver this extra bit of sweetness, that surprised me when I tasted it.

Not bad, but it was hard for me to wrap my head around the sweetness with the liver.

So the liver above does not come with any bread, so you have to order some.  There are two options on the menu, toasted or not toasted.  They are apparently the same, you just decide how you want it.  We got the untoasted version below.  In hindsight, I think toasted bread with the liver would have been better.

 4) CEVICHE TOSTADA - nixtamilized Taiwanese quinoa tostada

This is the first appetizer dish we got.  It comes out presented with the giant tostada you see above, and underneath was a swordfish ceviche with minimally cucumber, avocado, and onions.  Overall, refreshing and tasty.  The tostada was particularly good.

5) MUME SALAD - 20+ types of seasonal vegetables,  fermented black beans

This dish is apparently a pretty famous dish from Mume.  The salad is made up of over 20 different vegetables and herbs.  Minimally there were atleast three different types of tomatoes, radishes, cucumber, and god knows what other types of the leaves.  Beneath all of this was some ricotta cheese, I think the same as the ricotta in the tartlet above.

This was probably my favorite dish of the night.  With the light ricotta cheese and the light addition of fermented black beans, this was a light and refreshing dish, yet with a lot of flavor.  I would love to see this in a giant size, it'd be great for lunch.

6) PORK NECK - clam sauce, baby cabbage, dill

This is the first main course we got.  Obviously, all you an see is the cabbage with some seaweed powdered on top.  In this next pic, you can see some of the pork underneath.

The sauce was made with a clam broth, creme fraiche, and what I assume was dill.  The sauce was delicious and the pork very tender.  I really enjoyed this course.  Tied with the salad above for my favorite dish.

7) BARLEY PORRIDGE - slow cooked egg, sweet peas, sunflower seeds

So this was sort of a re-imagined congee, but with barley and peas.  There is a slow cooked egg in the middle which you an break up and mix up with everything together.

While not bad, I didn't love this dish.  It did not have the umami I was really looking for in an entree dish.  That said, it was perhaps foolish of me to order the one vegetarian entree option on the menu.  It just seemed neat, so I ordered it :-)

This dish's consistency made me think of risotto far more than congee, even though didn't have cheese.  Perhaps if it had something to add crunch to it, I'd enjoy the texture more.  (I'm reminded of the soft-cooked egg dish from Aster, which has crispy bits of potato in it.)

8) CUCUMBER - yogurt mousse, celery granita, lemon verbena

This dessert was served like the above picture, but once you smash it, it looked more like this:

Basically we have layers of meringue, with celery sorbet/granita and a yogurt mousse layered in between.  We also found some cucumber chunks in there.

I enjoyed the flavors in this dessert, although I wish there was less meringue.  I think a single outer shell would have been enough.

9) PEACH - young ginger icecream, basil, green tea

Finally, we had this dessert.  The young ginger ice cream you can clearly see, with liquid nitrogened chunks of yogurt (I believe peach flavored) all around.  Underneath, there were some green tea cakes to provide a texture difference.

I enjoyed the flavors, but the texture of yogurt I was unfamiliar with. It was sort of airy and light and took me by surprise.  I would have to eat this more times to get used to it.

Overall, a good meal, but I wasn't necessarily wowed by it given its Top 50 in Asia listing.  It was a very enjoyable experience, with a lot of interesting/different flavors and textures.  I suspect it went down the "innovative" path a little more than I was knowledgeable about.

The meal actually reminded me a lot of my meals at Aster in San Francisco.  Just like Aster, it was a very casual 4 course meal (although we shared each course here) with some sourdough.   There are a number of interesting dishes throughout but no earth shattering dishes.  No dishes are necessarily umami bombs, but there are subtle and enjoyable flavors throughout.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dining @ VEA in Hong Kong, China

While in Hong Kong we wanted to try atleast one tasting menu.  We also wanted the menu to reflect Hong Kong or Chinese cuisine in some way, so no pure European or Japanese restaurants.

It was actually hard to pick a place.  There are many highly acclaimed Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, such as Lung Keen Hing, T'ang Court, Ming Court, etc.  However, their menus seemed to be far too classic and we wanted something a bit different.

We also looked into Bo Innovation, a 3 Michelin Star Chinese molecular gastronomy restaurant.  We ultimately decided to skip this as the reviews online were very hit and miss.  Either you would love it or hate it.  Opinionated About Dining's 2018 Asia list put this all the way at #200.

Eventually I found VEA, a Chinese-European mixed restaurant I found just by going to the website of every restaurant on the Hong Kong Michelin Star list. I immediately was won over when I loaded the restaurant's website and saw sea cucumber on the main page.  The restaurant is fairly new and doesn't have quite the international acclaim.  While it's listed on Opionated About Dining's 2018 Asia list, it wasn't listed on the 2017 list.

Here's an overview of the meal we had.

1) Amuse #1

First up were these snacks that were sitting on the table when we arrived.  It includes a paprika "branch", spinach "leaf", and parmesan puff ladybug.  Obviously, the lady bug on the spinach leaf looks really cool.

2) Amuse #2

The next set of amuse dishes that arrived really begin to show off VEA's Chinese fusion elements.  First we had caviar, but instead of toast or crackers, it was on top of some Chinese steamed buns.  The soft bun with the caviar was a new and different texture compared to most other caviar courses I've had.

The second item was quail egg marinated in (I think) Japanese wine and smoked with apple wood.  I think this is their version of a "tea egg".  Overall, delicious with a creamy middle.

3) Amuse #3

The third amuse was their version of a sesame ball, but with bok choy and salted fish in the middle.  Then bok choy broth to follow.  The bok choy broth was incredible, and I was initially confused how it could taste so good.  I believe its because it was made with dehydrated bok choy, which gives it a much more intense flavor.

4) Taiwanese Tomato - firefly squid, ikura, kuruma shrimp

This was the first official course.  In the picture you mostly see tomato foam, but underneath it you have squid, shrimp, ikura, and tomato water.  What was most interesting about this dish is that the foam was served cold, which I've never had before.  It leads to this very refreshing dish that is a good change of pace compared to other menus I've had.

5) Silver pomfret - sichuan chili oil, fermented cabbage

Next up we have a pan fried pomfret with fermented cabbage underneath.  This dish is spicy, and if you want to kick it up even more, you can mix in the spicy powder (I think chili powder).  Overall, with the fermented cabbage, really good.

Along the top right of the dish, there is a beautifully plated fruit salad, which serves as a palate cleanser of sorts after the spicy dish.

6) Roasted Sea Cucumber - spanish red prawn, asparagus

This was my favorite course of the night.  Beneath what you see in the picture above is red prawn, and below that is asparagus.  The sauce was made with prawn shells and eggs.  Some shiaoxing wine was sprayed on as well.  Overall, tons of texture, tons of flavor, it was just delicious all around.  This is the first time I've ever tried sea cucumber roasted, and I really enjoyed the texture more than the traditional stewed-Chinese form.

Before you finish this course, some rice noodles are offered up to soak up the remaining sauce.  You can see this in the picture below.

7) Taiyouran Egg - truffle, parmesan, caviar

Next up we have a ravioli with creamy taiyouran egg yolk on the inside, some caviar on top, and a parmesan with truffle oil sauce on the outside.  They also offered up a truffled youtiao (Chinese donut) to soak up the parmesan sauce after you are done.

Overall, tasty with a lot of umami, but this dish sort of "threw me off" a bit.  Up to this point in the meal, the meal seemed very Chinese.  But this dish, minus the youtiao, seemed very western.  Perhaps it was because this dish was truffle and parmesan heavy.  Perhaps if the sauce was more soy based (i.e. think soy milk with youtiao), in my mind it would have matched a lot better.

8) Smoked Goose - sugarcane, preserved Chinese apricot, morel

This dish is pretty awesome.  The goose was dry-aged for 14 days and roasted with sugarcane, which you can taste in each bite.  There was definitely more flavor in this goose than the one I had at Kam's Roast Goose.  You can see the morels on the plate, along with a chunk of cabbage, and a chunk of foie gras.

On looks, this is a purely western dish.  The Chinese element came in the sauce.  The fruit component for the sauce comes from a preserved Chinese apricot jam candy.  I initially assumed they made an apricot jam which replicates the candy, but they actually just flat out used the candy, which I think it pretty awesome.  They gave me a candy piece to try at home which was quite nice.

9) Mongolian Lamb - spring leek, egg noodle, sorghum vinegar

Underneath the lamb is egg noodle, which is probably the best egg noodle I've ever tasted in my life.  Apparently it's a semi-famous duck egg noodle from China.  It had way more flavor and umami then I recall having in egg noodles before.  The leeks are apparently a seasonal leek from some area of China, which I don't recall all the details of what the staff said.  Overall, this was delicious, lots of flavor and with the egg noodles some good texture contrast.

10A) Alphonso Mango - peanut, coconut, coriander

So I can't comment on this b/c I didn't taste it, given my tropical fruit allergy.  All I can say is there were two mangos in this, Taiwanese and Indian.  There were chunks and sorbet.  It is topped with some balls of yogurt, coconut, and peanut brittle.  The peanut brittle topping is in the same style you see in a lot of Taiwanese street food.

10B) Watermelon & Lychee

So this was my allergy substitute dessert, which had marscapone on the bottom, watermelon, some watermelon jelly balls, a lychee gelatin sheet, and on top was "stinky herb" sorbet.  The staff said there was no English word for this herb, but to trust them that it's not stinky.  They were correct.  I can't recall the flavor too well, other than the fact that I liked it.  All of this together was tasty and refreshing.

11) Bean Curd Sheet - gingko nut, puff pastry, barley

I had low expectations for this dessert when I saw it on the menu, because I remember a tofu skin dessert from Benu that I was not overly fond of.  However, this was delicious.  It's an attempt to deconstruct a traditional bean curd / barley Chinese dessert.  In this deconstruction, there are flavors of barley and gingko in the white cream-ish stuff, then around it is bean curd in ice cream, pastry, soft, and soupy-ish textures.  Overall, I really enjoyed this dessert.  A lot of good flavors and different textures.

12) Mignardises

Finally, a ton of mignardise, again with many Chinese elements.  From top to bottom, orange & earl grey madeleines, mung bean eclairs, watermelon duet, condensed milk mochi (condensed milk on the inside), marshmallow with oolong tea.  The eclair with mung bean in the middle was my favorite.

13) Take Home

We got a snack to take home before we left.  I don't remember what flavor they said this was, something ginger-ish.  It was good snack for breakfast the next morning.

Before ending this post, I do want to mention that VEA offers a non-alcoholic cocktail pairing.  I appreciate it when restaurants have a non-alcoholic pairing option since it allows me to participate in the pairing.

Overall, a great meal and one that will definitely crack my top ten all time.  As I was dining here, it reminded me a lot of my meal at Benu.  Both restaurants have a very strong Chinese leaning with their dishes, although I think VEA didn't sway quite as Chinese / Asian as Benu.

My initial thought when leaving this restaurant was, "I wish this meal leaned a little more Chinese", but then I had to realize that this restaurant is in Hong Kong and not San Francisco.  If it were to lean too far Chinese in Hong Kong, it might be viewed as a "weird Chinese restaurant".  I wonder how it would be different if the restaurant were set up outside of Asia.