Archive | May 2015

Dining and wining highlights from Bangkok – Part 2

Part 1 of Bangkok’s highlights was a bit of a departure from the usual focus of this blog in that it featured cocktails. In Part 2, it’s back to wines (save one fantastic cocktail I had as an aperitif that I thought was worthy of mentioning here).

Eat me

The next dinner we had in Bangkok was at Eat Me. Eat Me is not a Thai restaurant and its menu is a medley of international cuisines. They have a great bar, which serves impressive craft cocktails. Here’s my martini, served with olives and an oyster.

cocktail

For my appetizer, I had one of my favorite foods in the world: bone marrow, served with a parsley sauce, toasted bread, and shaved truffles:

bone marrow

For me, nothing goes better with bone marrow than a glass of champagne. Nothing fancy – NV Veuve Clicquot Brut. Bone marrow is delicious because it is such a rich and buttery food. It is generally served with some version of a parsley salad to freshen up the dish. The reason why Champagne goes so perfectly with bone marrow is similar to why parsley is often found on the plate – to lighten up the dish. You need the high acidity and the bubbles of the champagne to cut through the fat and refresh the palate in between each bite. The parsley salad can also high in acid (too much acid in the food and the wine together can make the wine seem astringent). However, the champagne works here because the parsley salad is not a dominant feature of the dish and both the wine and the parsley work together with the wine to lighten the dish, rather than overwhelming it with acidity.

For my main course I had the grilled octopus, served with razor clams:

octopus

The classic pairing for octopus is an Albariño from Spain. I had a glass of a 2013 Rias Baixas produced by Santiago Ruiz. Albariño is a crisp and light white wine. Especially with simply prepared seafood dishes (such as grilled and without sauces) need simple wines so that the wine doesn’t compete with the food but rather complements it. And I always find that wines with citrus notes, such as the Albariño, pair really well with seafood. You can substitute lemon wedges (which I find often overwhelm and mask the flavors of delicate seafood) with a citrussy wine and have the flavors of the food shine.

At an earlier trip to Eat Me for lunch, I also had the Wagyu steak tartar served with a fried quail egg.

tartar 1

When it comes to steak tartar, my go-to wine is a Cotes du Rhône. Syrah features prominently in Rhône Valley wines and I opted for a glass of 2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz (The Footbolt) made by d’Arenberg from Australia – I really love Shiraz from Australia! The dish was a bit spicier than I expected (this is Thailand, after all) but the pairing still worked, though I might experiment with a different wine next time.

Nahm

Next restaurant we tried is Nahm, which focuses on traditional/ancient Thai food. The restaurant has both à la carte and tasting menus. We opted for the chef’s choice tasting menu (you can also select your own dishes to go in to the tasting menu).

We started out with a bite-sized amuse-bouche of pineapple and pork.

amuse bouche

We had a selection of four appetizers, each of which had varying levels of heat. We were told the order in which we should eat them (so they got progressively hotter).

The first one we tried was the prawn and coconut wafers with pickled ginger. This was my favorite!

App 1

Then we tried the blue swimmer crab with peanuts and pickled garlic on rice cakes:

App 2

Next up was pork and lobster with shredded ginger and Thai citron:

App 3

Lastly, we had the chiang mai larp of guinea fowl. This was definitely hot. Wowza!

App 4

It can be a challenge to pair Asian foods with wine. The first reason is the heat in the food – and our appetizers were definitely hot. Then there is also the multitude of spices and flavors that can added to a single dish, which give Asian foods so much flavor and aromatics.

When you pick a wine, these challenges need to be kept in mind. First, you need a sweet wine to offset the heat in the food and you also need a complex and highly aromatic wine so it doesn’t fall flat in the presence of the many flavors in the food. My favorites, especially when eating spicy, are either an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer. I absolutely love both wines and we opted for the latter. Gewurtzaminer is one of the most aromatic wines I know, with such aromas as flowers, lychee and Turkish delight, and spice like ginger.

Gewurz

This wine has a hint of sweetness but it is nicely balanced with acidity. The sweetness works great to balance the heat in the food. And it is complex enough to stand up nicely to the flavors food.

Now, the main courses. We started out with a green mango salad with grilled pork and sour leaves:

green mango salad

Grilled pork cheek with smoky tomato sauce:

pork cheek

Coconut and chicken soup with deep fried garlic, green mango and chili:

coconut and chicken soup

Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi lime:

turmeric curry

Preserved shrimp and crab simmered in coconut cream with deep fried prawns and vegetables:

preserved shrimp and crab

Because our main courses are so much heavier and richer than the appetizers, you need a lighter wine. Otherwise, all the coconut cream, and the fried food can be overwhelming to the palate. Yet, you still want a wine with complexity and the aromatics to complement the food. Pinot gris fits the bill.

pinot gris

We had the Brightwater Nelson Pinot Gris made by Light Band from New Zealand. This is less sweet than the Gewurz because our main course had markedly less heat than the appetizers. This is also a more crisp wine than the Gewurz (though definitely less so than its Italian cousin, pinot grigio). You need the crispness in the wine because of the creamy coconut and the heavy fried elements in our main dishes.

Issaya Siamese Club

The next dinner was at Issaya. This is a very interesting place. The decor of the building is very retro and colonial. They also have a beautiful garden where they grow their own vegetables and herbs. We actually moved to the garden after dinner for some after dinner drinks. Pure bliss!

While we’ve had a variety of great dishes at Issaya, I only managed to take a decent picture of the first dish, which used many vegetables they grow in their own garden. Banana blossom and heart of palm salad with roasted peanuts, fried shallots, and chili jam sauce.

banana blossom

Even though there is chili jam in this dish, it was not spicy so no need for a sweet wine. Contrary to what the name suggests – salad – it was not a very light dish. The fried shallots and the sauce added layers of richness to the dish – so I will pick a crisp wine to balance the dish. Typical of Thai cuisine, there were also many flavor and spice layers to this dish as well, which would be best complemented with a moderately fragrant wine. For these reasons, I went with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand (a dry Riesling would’ve also worked well). Especially with the fried shallots in each bite, this wine was a great match.

And we had so many other great dishes at Issaya, which are not pictured, such as seafood sausage, veal cheek, barbequed pork spare ribs, lamb shank, among others.

Street food

Of course, a trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without street food! While I love going to nice restaurants, my favorite part of traveling is trying the street food (and I am lucky to have a stomach made of concrete!). Bangkok has an impressive street food culture and you can see carts and booths throughout the city serving cheap but delicious snacks and meals. These pictures are but a small selection of what Bangkok street food scene has to offer.

Breakfast on the street: fried quail eggs.

quail eggs

Lunch on the street: squid on a stick. You pick out your skewers and they grill them, chop them up, mix them with a spicy and garlicky salsa and serve it to you in a plastic bag.

squid 1

squid 2

squid 3

And to end things on a sweet note, my mid-afternoon dessert was coconut ice cream served in a coconut (with the fresh coconut inside), topped with candied lychee, peanuts, and sticky rice. Yum!

ice cream

On a different note, I arrived in Paris a couple of days ago. I will spend the summer here and I’m super excited to post all about the wine, the restaurants, and the pairings I try in this beautiful city 🙂

Advertisements

Dining and wining highlights from Bangkok – Part 1

I just came back from a trip to Bangkok. While I’ve traveled to Phuket before, it was my first time in the capital. I know that Bangkok is home to some amazing restaurants and I was super excited to try them out. And I was not disappointed! I would definitely go back to Bangkok just for the food. We had so much food that I have to break this blog post into two entries. Today, I will write only about Gaggan; and the next entry will feature the rest of the restaurants we tried in Bangkok.

Gaggan

My first night in Bangkok, I went to Gaggan, a restaurant specializing in progressive Indian cuisine. They have two set menus to choose from. I chose the more elaborate menu, which had 12 amuse-bouches and 11 courses.

While wine is definitely my drink of choice with dinner, this post will instead focus on cocktails. Gasp! I know! The reason behind this big departure is due to the large number of courses on the menu and the sheer variety of spices and levels of heat in the food. Being far (very far) from an aficionado on cocktails, I left the choice up to the manager and the bar tender. I was suggested a selection of cocktails throughout the meal, which I thought worked really well with the food. The sweetness of the cocktails was perfect to offset the heat in the food. And the flavors of the drinks were not too strong as to interfere with the flavors of the food.

Below are the highlights from the set of amuse-bouches. The cocktail I had with the amuse-bouches was Witch’s Portion, made with gin and basil:

witches portion

The bird’s nest, made (I think) with potatoes:

birdsnest

Papadam and Tomato Chutney:

papadum

Keema (lamb Samosa):

samosa

Dhokla, a savory sponge cake made with fermented rice and split chickpeas:

dhokla

Brain Damage, which was a savory macaron-like goodness:

brain damage

Fukuoka Surprise made with cream, melon jelly, salmon roe, and seaweed:

fukuoka

And that was just the amuse-bouches! Now onto the main meal. I had a couple of cocktails with the courses, the first of which was a coconut lassi, made with white rum, coconut essential oil, fresh coconut milk, and tonka beans. So delicious!

coconut lassi

First course was truffle, forest mushrooms in the shape of a log, edible soil and micro greens.

mushroom

Charcoal. This dish came out looking exactly like a piece of charcoal and you had to guess the ingredient. Seabass! I don’t know how the chef did it but you could not tell it was seafood from the smell or the taste.

charcoal

Scallop in spicy roasted pepper masala:

scallop

Daab Chingri, or coconut prawn:

prawn coconut

I then switched to my next cocktail – Aladdin, which was whiskey based:

Aladdin

The next course was the Iberian pork loin prepared over 72 hours, and served with sweet and sour Punjabi pickled mix:

pork

Free-range lamb chops sous-vide, grilled and finished with almond saffron oil:

lamb

We also had fish curry (my favorite!) served with homemade naan as part of the main courses but I was too busy wolfing down my food to take a good enough picture to post here :/

And now, time for dessert!

First up was black carrot ice cream, crispy carrot flower, cardamom oil.

carrot

Then, mahachanok mangoes in a coconut semi-sphere. You get a pristine and perfectly shaped ice cream-based dessert served to your table:

mango 1

When you break open the coconut exterior, you get the mango goodness inside.

mango 2

I finished off the evening with some homemade candy and an old-fashioned, which was infused with smoked red peppers.

old fashioned

This was such an inventive and delicious dinner. This was definitely my favorite meal in Bangkok. Amazing restaurant and highly recommended!

Next post: Dinners at Nahm, Eat Me, and Issaya Siamese Club

A wine to go with every course of dinner: Madiran

The Southwest is one of my favorite culinary regions of France. It is also home to some lovely wines with interesting personality, including the Madiran. The Southwest is a vast region between Toulouse and the Basque country. It is distinct from the Languedoc-Roussilon region (which also produces some of my favorite wines). Besides the Madiran, some prominent southwestern wines also include the Monbazillac, Jurançon, Bergerac, Cahors, among many others. What makes these wines special, in my opinion, is their robustness and rustic quality. At the same time, they also have so much character. To me the Southwest evokes the countryside, farms, and sitting down to a simple yet rich and hearty meal after a hard day’s work like stews, Dordogne pork, and especially duck!

Duck especially features prominently in the cuisine of the Southwest, including such dishes as cassoulet, foie gras, duck confit, and salade landaise. Madiran is one of my favorite wines from the Southwest and it goes especially well with duck.

I’ve already written a post on pairing Madiran with fresh duck foie gras last summer (see: Madiran wine and fresh foie gras? Move over Sauternes!), which has got to be my favorite wine pairing I have done to date! However, since that post was published, I’ve been so amazed by the versatility of the Madiran and how well it goes with so many different dishes that I thought it deserved another post.

I’m featuring a different Madiran today: Chateau Aydie from 2010.

bottle and glass

label

While I didn’t prepare duck confit for this post, it would be my top pairing for the Madiran. The key to finding the perfect match for Madiran wine is rich, fatty, and unctuous foods. Duck confit, where duck thighs are cooked in their own fat (and the Southwest is known for its plump ducks), definitely fits the bill. When I opened my Madiran, It was during a multi-course wine and food pairing party and I wanted to make things a bit easier on myself. Instead of preparing a lengthy duck dish, I opted something much simpler: terrine of foie gras. I know that Madiran goes super well with seared fresh foie gras but I also wanted to see how well it paired with the kind you can find in a jar (hopefully in the refrigerated section of the store). My favorite foie gras is entier, meaning the liver is cooked whole; and mi-cuit, meaning it is half-cooked (and generally contains no preservatives). And my favorite duck foie gras producer is Vidal from the Périgord region (also in the Southwest).

vidal jar

Now, the classic pairing for this kind of foie gras is a sweet white wine – especially Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. When eaten with brioche or spice bread and fruit preserves, foie gras pairs perfectly with the Sauternes. However, any sweet white wine will work nicely. A friend brought back a Moscatel produced by Chateau Ksara from his recent trip to Lebanon and it was a great pairing!

ksara

This way of eating foie gras is more on the dainty side. The one word that best describes the Madiran and other southwestern French wines is rustic and I wanted the food to match the style of the wine. So I excluded the fruit preserves and replaced the  brioche with crusty country bread.

foie gras spread 2

It was the richness and the unctuousness of the foie gras (it’s almost like butter) that made this pairing a win. Madiran is a powerful red with strong tannins. The tannins are so pronounced that, they coat the wine glass.

glass

Tannins, while they give structure and body to a wine (as well as aging potential), can also make a wine taste harsh. Madiran, because it is such a tannic wine, would be hard to drink on its own – this is definitely a food wine. Strong tannins is not a flaw in the wine, as long as the wine is balanced. Far from it, this Madiran is an excellent wine and the tannins are part of this wine’s style. You need the right food to bring out the best in the wine. The best tannin tamers in food are protein, fat, and richness. Foie gras has all three and it melted away the tannins! It’s really incredible how smooth the wine became once I started eating the foie gras.

Another great tannin buster is mushrooms. They really do a fantastic job of soaking up tannins in wine and the next dish I’m pairing with the Madiran is a mushroom crostini.

mushroom

I included three types of mushrooms: portabella, shitake, and crimini. I also drizzled some truffle oil at the end (truffles are another specialty of the Southwest). And in order to make the crostini richer, I spread the crostini with a generous amount of butter (amazing fresh butter from the Black Sea region of Turkey that I brought back from my recent trip to Turkey. It was so good that I brought back a whole kilo of it!). Again, the tannins disappeared and the Madiran became so much softer and enjoyable to drink!

Now time for dessert 🙂 Generally, I do not like pairing tannic wines with chocolate, which can also be quite tannic. Tannins in wine + tannins in food = tannin overload (and super dry mouth).

However, I’ve heard of Madiran going really well with ganache and dark chocolate and I just wanted to give this a try. I got an assortment of dark chocolates, especially if it contained ganache.

Chocolate

The creaminess of the ganache gave these chocolates enough fat and richness to prevent the tannin overload. These chocolates were so rich and smooth like butter that they just melted in your mouth – just what was necessary to balance out the tannins in the wine. And because these are dark chocolates, the flavors were strong enough to keep up with the intensity of the wine. I’ve mentioned this before but you always want to achieve an equality of flavor intensity between the wine and the food so neither overshadows the other.

At the same time, the hint of sweetness of the ganache definitely mellowed out the bitterness from not only the tannins in the chocolate but also those in the wine. But dark chocolate is still not too sweet as to make the wine seem overly sour. Sweet foods paired with less sweet wines will make the latter taste sour (that’s why desserts should always be paired with sweet wines).

Another reason why chocolate generally doesn’t work well with tannic wines is that chocolate can be a highly acidic food. Acid in food can make the tannins in the wine feel harsher, making the wine taste more astringent. Again the creaminess of the ganache was definitely a plus in this pairing, precisely because it made the chocolate less acidic. While I would still personally prefer a sweeter red wine (like port) with chocolate, the right balance between the sweetness, bitterness, and richness in these chocolates made it work really well with the Madiran.