Monday, September 7, 2015

Chocospoon – A new way to hot chocolate in Luxembourg

The Chocolate House in Luxembourg is right across from the Palace of Grand Dukes. It serves up hot chocolate in a very ingenious way - in a pre-packaged chocolate cube with a wooden spoon!

I ordered the Ginger and our friends ordered the Hot Chili Orange. The latter was a hit! If you can take heat, you should definitely try the Hot Chili Orange.

And if you order one with alcohol, the package comes with a small tube of the desired alcohol/liqueur. 

Really, really clever!!
Warm milk, and a packet of Ginger hot chocolate
The Menu
Hot Chocolate Packets for Sale

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A 'Pure C' Seaside Lunch in Cadzand, The Netherlands

On the windy shore of the Nord Zee (North Sea) in The Netherlands, just across the Belgian border, is an elegant restaurant called Pure C.  It is owned by well-known chef Sergio Herman, who had the famous (now closed) Oud Sluis in a small village a few minutes away and who currently operates The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium.  But Pure C should not be overlooked.

Panoramic views over the dunes to the sea formed a stunning backdrop to our lunch at Pure C, which began with an amuse-bouche that looked like rocks and were served in a bowl with actual rocks.  It was hard to tell the difference visually - good thing the server warned us about the seasoned but inedible stones!  The edible treat was a puff crisp filled with a cream of anchovy, mushroom and bleu cheese. The flavors blended wonderfully, with the bleu cheese providing just a hint of richness. Truly a delight!

The anchovy "stones" were accompanied by spheres of carrot filled with foie gras and camomile, and a small bowl with quark, wheat and celery.

The next amuse-bouche was cockle, beetroot, rosemary and horseradish, served on the shell.

We were too full to order the tasting menu, but shared Langoustine served three ways and Lobster served two ways.

The Langoustine began with a raw preparation served on a locally grown and completely edible mini corn stalk, together with lime, lavender and soya sauce.  This was a real hit at our table!  The second preparation was with Chinese cabbage, a ribbon of butternut pumpkin and watercress.  The third and final course was with eggplant, dashi and tarragon.

The first lobster course was served with shiso and pearl barley, followed by a second course with tomato, olive and zucchini.

Our meal concluded with a lovely berry dessert and a selection of petits fours.

It's worth a detour to Pure C for a breath of fresh Nord Zee air and a delightful meal served by a gracious staff in a modern atmosphere.

Carrot Spheres (left, filled with foie gras and camomile) with Anchovy Stones (right, filled with a cream of anchovy, mushrooms and bleu cheese) and a mix of quark, wheat and celery (bottom).
Can you tell the difference between the edible Anchovy "stones" and the actual stones?
Cockles, served with a seaweed-based crisp
A tasty olive-based bruschetta-style appetizer
Fabulous crusty bread served butters (one infused with seaweed) and seasonings
Langoustine #1, on an edible mini corn stalk
Langoustine #2, with Chinese cabbage, a ribbon of butternut squash and watercress
Langoustine #3,  with eggplant, dashi and tarragon
Lobster #1, with pearl barley and shiso
Lobster #2, with tomato, olive and zucchini
A berry good dessert ;)
Petits Fours

Lightest, Crispiest Belgian Waffles in Brugge

Craving Belgian waffles the first morning after arriving in Brugge, we chanced upon Verdi Tearoom. To be honest there are not that many places that are opened at 9 am in the morning. Love the Belgian lifestyle, or is it more generally the Europeans! I ordered the waffles with sugar, my partner ordered it with strawberries and bananas. Wow!! Never had waffles that light and crispy. Like a good crusty bread, you know that it's good when you hear that 'sawing' sound. 

Really good waffles! Highly recommend it!!

Waffles with strawberries and bananas

Waffle (half) with powdered sugar for 4 euros

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Good heart, great talent, nice value - Zeno in Brugge

Had a really enjoyable meal at Zeno in Brugge. With a decor that's mostly white, spare and clean, this restaurant is run by a husband and wife team - the chef Reinout Reniere is a very talented man who worked at the 3-star restaurant de Karmeliet in Brugge. He serves most of the dishes himself with his wife running the front of the house. 

The standouts of the meal were the amuse bouche and the dessert, which is really unique. A composition of malt ice cream, chervil root mousse with fennel seeds and fennel flowers, it is very flavorful and not too sweet. The chef told us himself that he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. At 37 euros, the meal consisting of 4 amuse-bouche, fish entree (appetizer), chicken main course, dessert, palate cleaner and a variety of petit fours, is really worth every penny.
Amuse bouche - picked cabbage
Amuse bouche - beets
Amuse bouche - celeriac with a citriusy filling
Amuse bouche - 'Ratatouille' - eggplant puree, with tomato gazpacho freeze balls, cucumber, sorrel
Bread with olive oil, butter and pork grease with seeds
Fish (crispy skin) with chanterelles
Farmed chicken with onions
Malt ice cream, chervil root mousse, fennel seeds/flowers
Hazelnut delight, canele, chocolate with buttonberry, fruit parfait
Refreshing palate cleanser - coconut balls, basil

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A not over-the-top 3-star restaurant in Paris - Astrance

There are ten 3-star restaurants in Paris. It's a privilege to dine in one. The best way to have this 3-star experience at a decent price is to go for lunch. We did that again! For 70 euros, (about 100 euros including wine), we had a really nice meal at L'Astrance, which is ranked #36 on the list of best restaurants in the world.  We were told that the name came from a small wild flower in the mountains!  Like its namesake flower, L'Astrance is a really small restaurant, located in the Trocadero neighborhood.  It's tastefully decorated with bright yellow leather chairs and grey walls that have an elegant waxed finish. I particularly liked the colorful glass place settings and the wine glasses from Zalto Denk'art. The lunch menu is 5 courses, with additional amuse bouche and sweet treats at the end.
First course - mussels in a light coconut thai infused broth. Just delectable!
Second course -Slice of mushroom/foie gras 'tart'
Third Course - fish with sliced zucchinis with an amazing burnt butter/white miso mayo (top center dollop)
Fourth Course - pigeon with eggplant (green piece on right)
Fourth Course side dish - salad with pigeon leg and pigeon liver
Fifth Course - nectarine, chocolate sorbet +++
Additional sweet treats - egg with jasmine froth, magdeleines, plums with figs
What made this a particularly lovely dining experience is that the staff is genuinely friendly, not hoity-toity. The co-owner, Christophe, joked about the pigeons not coming from the top of Eiffel Tower or the nearly gardens but from the south of France. The sommelier recommended a lovely well-balanced fruity red wine from Sicilly made from the Il Frappato grape - a new one for me!  One would expect that a sommerlier from a 3-star restaurant in France would probably recommend a grand cru from France!!

Monday, January 5, 2015

King crab reigns supreme in Patagonia

Eating king crab makes me a very happy person...indeed.

Having seen big king crabs in Santiago and resisting to order them since they hail from Patagonia and that is going to be our next destination after Santiago.  Finally got to taste this beautiful crustracean in La Cucina on our first day in Punta Arenas. The meat was so sweet and of the perfect temperature, every bite was heavenly. It doesn't need any lemons or aioli (although provided). The salad on the side adds a unique contrast of crunch, some bitterness from the greens and acidity from the salad dressing. Underneath the 3 crab leg meat pieces, it's all crab meat!! All for US$13 only, what a steal.

Other amazing king crab dishes are this beautiful king crab sandwich and king crab pie (chupe), at the Restaurant at the Singular Hotel, where we stayed.

King crab sandwich - with lettuce, eggs on toasted bread
King crab pie (chupe) - gratin with cheese, cream

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Waiter's Choice at Osaka Restaurant in Santiago, Chile

Osaka is a seemingly Japanese restaurant in Santiago, Chile.  Why would I choose to eat at a Japanese restaurant in South America? However, a few days into the trip, I learnt that Chile is blessed with great seafood and I can’t think of a better cuisine than Japanese to take advantage of that abundant bounty.

Osaka Santiago is the second restaurant of the flagship restaurant in Peru – touting Nikkei cuisine – Japanese and Latin American fusion. Online reviews are generally very complimentary of the food, but a number of them criticize the lackluster service. Making the reservations only two days in advance, the only seating was at the sushi bar, which suited us fine.

We had a very flamboyant waiter and when I asked for recommendations, he asked if we would let him order a few dishes for us. Since we are familiar with chef’s choice (omakase), we thought why not ‘waiter’s choice’. The 3 dishes turned out to be absolutely delicious!
Aji Amarillo ceviche
My absolute favorite was the ceviche dish called Aji Amarillo - white sashimi fish, with a 'leche de jaguar' sauce, black sesame and two fried wontons filled with sweet potato puree. Not the usual lime-cured ceviche, the sashimi style fish is light and, coupled with the crunchy red onions and the sauce (which remains a mystery), was a heavenly combination.

Mariscos al fuego - shrimp, octopus, squid in a scallop shell, with fire ablaze. Enjoyed with Austral beer from Punta Arenas
Salmon belly - lightly smoked, topped with quinoa in a ginger soy sauce
Delighted by such excellent choices, we encouraged him to order another round of food for us.

Unagi with Foie
Crispy Quinoa - avocado, crab, shrimp roll coated with crispy quinoa
Crispy rice - topped with salmon
All 6 dishes were really good.  

According to our waiter, he’s able to to order partial portions because he’s selecting and ordering the dishes for us.  Our bill came up to $35 per person, including two beers. Really reasonable for the quality of food and I dare say, the quality of service too. I’m looking forward to a return visit soon!

It's great to know someone in the wine industry - a memorable visit to Maipo Valley, Santiago Chile

From our gracious friend, Lyz, we were introduced to TerraMater Vineyards in the Maipo Valley, about 1 hour south of Santiago. Lyz used to work at DT Asia, a wine importer in Shanghai and through her connections, we got in touch with Catherine Wevar, the Commercial Director at TerraMater.

We were hopelessly lost, mistook Maipu for Isla de Maipo, the latter being the correct location. Almost 2 hours late, we finally arrived at the winery. In the meantime, Catherine got really worried and was frantically emailing us, willing to escort us to the winery, wherever we were!
TerraMater Vineyard with Andes foothills in the background.
Horribly late, Catherine nevertheless greeted us with a smile when we got out of the car. Driving us in her red SUV, she brought us on a very comprehensive tour of the vineyards - showing us different grape varietal plants, types of terroir, irrigation methods, explaining the fruit trees they have and the history of how the founder, an Italian immigrant, started growing grapes on this initially very infertile 50 hectares of land.  She ended the tour with a generous (or should I say, lavish) tasting in the barrel storage room. Opening 5 brand new bottles just for us, we tried a Zindanfel/Syrah blend, a 100% Zin (ya, she knew we were from California and wanted us to compare Chilean Zins with California Zins),  a Carmenere, a 100% Altum Cab, and a Cab/Zin/Syrah blend. We told her that the Altum Cab (pictured on right) was our favorite and guess what happens next? She handed us the bottle and told us to enjoy it over lunch!

TerraMater also produces some very good quality olive oils and, knowing that we are also olive oil fanatics, Catherine did an olio tasting with us too. Not with bread, but with cups, slurping it like wine. Their olive oils are also very good, especially their award-winning Petralia. We would have purchased some, except we would have to lug them to Patagonia.

We were given a truly a memorable and extremely hospitable wine tour (which cost us absolutely nothing) and we got a whole bottle of Cab to enjoy over lunch -- we know this is unique. And even though we told her that we are not from the wine industry ourselves, Catherine continued to show us the grace and hospitality that is rendered to wine professionals.  We know this wouldn't have been possible without an introduction from our dear friend, Lyz.
Amelia (Chardonnay), Don Melchor 2010 and 1992 (Cabernet Sauvignon) from Concha y Toro

Following TerraMater, we headed to Concha y Toro, probably the most famous and biggest wine empire in Chile. The place was massive and being a Sunday over the holiday period, there was a zoo of people. Choosing to just sample their wines at the bar, I opted for their Premium tasting - their best Chardonnay Amelia and their most highly-medaled Don Melchor cab. The Amelia was delicious, reminding of HDV chardonnay, one of my favorite chardonnays. The 2010 Don Melchor (retailing at over $100) was IMO average, the 1992 Don Melchor (retailing at over $200) was again IMHO, way past its prime. I simply cannot imagine paying $200 for a wine that tasted so awful, I couldn't even take a second sip.