Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ta Vie Hideaki Sato

Ta Vie, from its inception in mid 2015, has become the talk of the town. It should be no surprised because Ta Vie's head chef and part owner was the former chef de cuisine of Tenku Ryugin (2-star) named Hideaki Sato. Ta Vie's name was translated as "Your Life" in French and "Journey" in Japanese. It's Chef Sato's intention from the beginning that his restaurant will be the place for the people to interact while enjoying the journey and exploration of his creations, mainly using Asian high quality products. Ta Vie is probably different than many other fine dining restaurants owing to Sato-san's strong background in both Western (French & Italian) and Japanese cuisine. In addition, he was also skillful in baking bread, making pastry as well as a qualified sommelier. Thus, Hideaki Sato is the main 'brain and muscle' of Ta Vie. The attention to details was applicable in all aspects. For instance, there was a bottle of Azumino mineral water (soft, mild and natural) from Japan with ta vie's label. Furthermore, the homemade sourdough bread (soft inside with good crust outside) and churned butter (pleasant) were made daily in the kitchen. With regards to the main attraction, there was only one degustation menu but, of course, guests were encouraged to share their dietary restrictions upon making the reservation (if any).

Tasting menu featuring Asian produce

Caesar salad topped with Hotaru squid served with Hotaru squid caesar dressing - Hotaru Ika is one way to say that "It's Spring". The Firefly squid was tender and bursting inside with an oceanic & acquired taste. This concentrated umami flavor (also from the dressing) was a good combination for the crisp romaine lettuce, fresh mountain vegetables, parmesan cheese and some croutons. An interesting and tasty dish; quite a strong beginning I would say

"Clam chowder" served with whelk "Matsubu" twist clam and peas with chef's twist - Another unique interpretation of a famous dish by Hideaki Sato. The hot clam soup was light (not too intense); this way, the ingredients inside could shine such as the crunchy and sweet Tsubugai, earthy green peas, and fresh Spring vegetables. You will not feel heavy at all ...

Homemade pasta with "Aonori" sauce and Hokkaido Uni - It was an extra dish from the kitchen and one of Chef Sato's specialties. My main issue here was the texture of the pasta and it seemed deliberate that it's made to be uncharacteristically soft instead of al dente. However, the green seaweed sauce and creamy (Bafun) sea urchin was well-absorbed by the pasta, thus make this dish flavorful. Overall, I still enjoyed this delicate creation

White strawberry and Chioggia beetroot served with fruits tomato tossed with Thai basil and Burrata cheese - This 'intermezzo' was surprisingly tasty - juicy & aromatic pineberries, rather sweet and earthy Italian beetroot, fresh and savory tomato - were good combinations, The soft & milky burrata with aromatic basil + balsamic vinegar acted as the "sauce" for these fruits. Awesome!

"Civet" braised abalone covered with "Abalone shell" - The abalone 'shell' was edible and tasted like crackers. The awabi and shiitake were nicely intertwined in their meaty texture and a contrast of earthy & sea flavors. The caramelized onions and brown sauce (prepared with cognac & madeira) provided more depth to the dish's overall flavor - a winning creation

Japanese langoustine with pork tail, Yunnan ham and langoustine broth - I think it's the first time I consumed Tenaga-ebi; the size was large with elegant flavor and firm texture. The perfectly cooked langoustine was enhanced by the broth to make its flavor more complex yet still balanced. On the side, this langoustine was accompanied by a cabbage dumpling filled with pork tail as well as Yunnan ham to enrich the taste; the 'chicken consomme' also contained some flavor from the long-armed prawn. One of my favorite dishes for the dinner

Beef tongue stew served with onion nouveau and fresh Yunnan morel - The beef tongue was actually thick and carefully cooked with Chinese yellow wine. The back part was tender & fatty (hence more delicious) while the front part was meaty / crisp. The Yunnan morel, having sponge-like texture, was decent though the taste was not as intense as its French counterpart. The best part here was the sauce - a perfect old school French saucing resulting in rich and delightful flavor

Almond ice cream with meringue Served with fresh strawberries & scent of Sakura blossom; covered with fragile candy glass - A beautiful dessert for Spring. It was the feast for the senses: cool plating, pleasant & refreshing scent, soft vs hard texture contrast, a few flavors worked altogether - sour, sweet, nutty. Enjoyable ..

Caramelized French toast served with black truffle toffee, golden Oolong tea ice cream with salted egg yolk - I found these dessert had different degree of flavor intensity. The french toast, topped with shaved cashew nuts, was probably the best one - soft & tasty. The black truffle toffee was very strong with predominantly truffle flavor; on the contrary, the oolong ice cream was delicate with a hint of grated yolk (to reduce any cloying taste). It was quite good

After the dessert, I opted for a tea (pandan, mint and lemongrass) as my digestive, accompanied by light mulberry jelly. For the drinks, I had a combination of cold Hakurakusei sake (subtle & delicate with nice aroma) in carafe and 3 glasses of tea tasting, served chilled, consisted of Yunnan Pu'er, Yame Gyokuro and Jinxuan Ginseng. They were interesting and satisfying in general. Ta Vie is located in the 2nd level of a boutique hotel Pottinger at Central. The atmosphere was intimate, charming and quiet. The dining room tended to be dark combining Asian and European styles. It may not be as luxurious as the like of Caprice or Amber nevertheless well-designed with spacious tables and comfortable sofa / chairs. Ms. Hiromi Takano, Hideaki Sato's wife, is the restaurant manager - the same role she had at Tenku Ryugin. Under her leadership, the service was well-paced and efficient. She and another female staff were friendly, passionate and knowledgeable. Overall, it was a very good diningg experience - innovative and delicious food, solid drink selection, discrete and amiable service, elegant dining room. A return here is probable; preferably in different season so that I can try Chef Sato's different creations. The pictures of the dishes can be found at Ta Vie Mar '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94/100

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

De Librije Jonnie Boer

Benelux region has been relatively quiet regarding world class restaurants when compared to other countries in Europe such as France, Spain or Germany. In the mid 00's, Oud Sluis put Netherlands on the map and became the talk among (serious) foodies. Little did we know that a couple of years earlier - in 2004 to be exact, a restaurant named De Librije, located in the beautiful small town of Zwolle, was awarded 3-star Michelin. Early in 2015, De Librije dining place was relocated to the current historic building - a former prison for more than 200 years. The restaurant was at the basement while the boutique hotel under the same name occupied the higher floors. Slowly but surely, De Librije (owned and run by the venerable couple in the gastronomy industry - Jonnie and Thérèse Boer) has become the most iconic and influential restaurants in the country particularly in the past 5 years or so. It was very common to find people who would dine here once / twice annually for several years. After sometimes, finally I had the opportunity to visit De Librije (my maiden visit) for lunch with my wife in the early Autumn 2017.

After we had been greeted upon entering De Librije, the hostess escorted us to the striking salon. The first impression was the bright colors sofa, cushions, grey walls and floors as well as some modern artworks. After that, we moved to another salon in which we were served several canapes. Then, chef patron Jonnie Boer would come and explained the menu. Several minutes later, he returned and took our orders. My spouse and I shared as many different dishes as possible so that we could share. Based on the order of arrivals, the staff brought guests to their respective tables in the huge courtyard with really high ceilings. It was divided into 2 parts: the main dining room accommodating 30+ guests to enjoy their meals and another part was used for the plating of the dishes, putting wines that would be used for the pairings; there were private tables near the kitchen. The interior, mainly designed by Eric Kuster, displayed impressive glass ceilings, some big & live plants as well as strong iron structures. The big tables covered by white linens were well-spaced and the chairs were leather covered. It was a sunny day with lots of natural lights yet the room felt cooling. A beautiful dining room setting as if guests dined outdoor in the nature. Talking about the food, some of the best amuse-bouche of the day were veal tartare with herring caviar (pretty and delicious) and passion fruits with trout roes (refreshing and clean).

Degustation menu
M would refer to my dish; W would refer to my wife's dish; no info meant we had the same dish. I ordered a longer tasting menu by the way

M / Noordzeekrab, kippenlever, kalfshart (North sea brown crab with chicken liver, smoked celeriac and veal’s heart) - An unusual combination that worked well. There were extensive flavors from the mild & tender crab (seafood), velvety liver (poultry) as well as moist heart (beef); all of these produce was brought together beautifully by the smoky juice, olive oil and peppery spices. A solid start ..

W / Ganzenlever, spruit, rookaal, mandarijn (Goose liver, mandarin, Brussels sprouts and eel) - Similar to my first dish, my wife's also had eclectic flavors variations from the land and the sea. The foie gras was smooth while the local eel was light with pleasant texture.  They were in harmony with the refreshing yuzu sauce and nutty & rounded taste from the sprouts. A very good opening ..

M / Noordzeekreeftjes limoenblad, tomaat en eierdooier (North Sea Lobster with lime leaf, tomato, kombucha and cured egg yolk) - It's one of the classic dishes at De Librije. The Langoustine was actually 'fermented' / soaked for a few hours in water, ginger & sugar blend. As a result, the translucent big prawn was very flavorful. It was even enhanced by the turnip, seaweed juice and grated of salted yolks. 

Accompanied by wine: Albarano Spain (fresh & dry, peach & apple flavor, nutty with medium finish - good pairing with the seafood)  

River Trout with lovage, almonds, and sherry - The local Trout was tender with subtle / clean flavor. The white sauce (a mix of lovage, coconut and almond juice) and bright roes improved the dish's overall enjoyment. There were some texture differences especially when including the raw and cooked mushrooms. A nice and elegant surprised dish from the kitchen.  

M / Rivierbaars "kruudmoes" (River Perch “Kruudmoes”) - Jonnie Boer elevated the humble kruudmoes (a combination of buttermilk, bacon, barley etc.) to the gastronomy level. His version was refined and sophisticated yet still faithful to its origin. This perfectly complemented the freshwater Perch which was lovely, tasty and rather firm. It looked complex, but all elements (smoked sausage, thick white sauce) worked harmoniously. I didn't expect to be this good.

W / Gul, blauwe kaas, sparrentop, tulp (Young cod, blue cheese, spruce tip, and tulip) - A more 'feminine' dish for my spouse. The fresh Cod was soft with mild flavor. It was accompanied by the (thankfully) light blue cheese, delicate and lemony spruce tips as well as tender tulip. It was good but I wish the flavor had been more robust - rather pale in comparison to the pike Perch.

M / Zeeduivel verzuurde paprika en aubergine (Monkfish with soured pepper and eggplant) - The Monkfish's quality was superb; it was perfectly cooked and succulent. The dish was carefully balanced by the fermented bell pepper, butter sauce and onions. A well-deserved classic dish.

Accompanied by wine: Contraste Portugal (fresh & fruity white wine, nice acidity with good finish) 

Milk cow with eel, mushrooms and baharat - Strips of the dry-aged (6-8 weeks) were carefully seared, one-side only, on the hot rocks. Yes, the other side was indeed still raw. It was the 2nd surprise dish for us. The rib eye was served on the cow's shoulder plate, dusted by the cep's powder and a blend of middle eastern spices (sweet & smoky). The beef was, as expected, luscious and tender. The sides of potato crisp, smoked eel and acidic sorrel enhanced the overall experience.

M / Ree, sauce royal, doperwt (Venison with sauce royale and green peas) - The carefully executed venison (medallion + its leg) was really tender / soft with deep flavor. It was enriched by the elegant & deep brown royale sauce. In contrast, the kitchen provided the fermented peas that nicely 'neutralized' any gamey flavor - a refined dish.

W / Boerenduif, baharat, rode kool (Farmers pigeon with baharat and red cabbage) - The breast part was carefully sliced and served with its jus; they were tasty - the best part. The leg was glazed with bbq sauce while the cabbage and pigeon's heart were alright.
Accompanied by wine: red wine Kepos Toscana (medium body, little oak, soft tannin, round)

M / Ganzenlever, lychee, abrikoospit (Foie gras, litchi, and apricot seed) - It was a good example that De Librije's pastry chef was talented. Duck liver as a dessert? The first time I encountered it. This 'sweet' lychee with floral perfume + some aromatic vinegar turned out was capable of cutting through the poached foie gras's rich flavor. The apricot seed gave some bitter sweet and nutty flavor to the dish - smart & interesting.

W / Thai combined with Holland dessert - I don't know how to properly describe this dessert. The 3 separate bowls & plate were enjoyable by itself as well as when you combined them. There were root, ginger with some interesting spice variations such as turmeric & lemongrass. Then, my favorite part was the sticky rice with carrots and banana in coconut soup. Lastly, pandan with kaffir lime & macadamia. We're not blown away nevertheless it was playful and fun.

M / Beetroot rose with lovage - The beets were earthy and a bit sweet. The lovage's ice cream had distinct flavors that worked quite well with the blueberries and liquorice. The presentation was pretty but the taste was only Ok. My wife's 2nd dessert was better ..

W / Compleet losgeslagen Appeltaart volgens recept van Jonnies moeder (Deconstructed apple pie according to the recipe of Jonnie’s mother) - To enjoy and taste this sweet, ideally we would put together a bit of everything - good vanilla ice cream & jelly, solid chocolate, sour & sharp apples - all elements complemented each other. This way, we would re-create our own apple pie; awesome.

Accompanied by wine: sweet wine Anjou (young, lively & fruity aromas, acidic - lovely chenin blanc grape variety)

After the desserts, the pastry kitchen served some mignardises such as Jasmine tea sorbet with grapefruit (refreshing) and Dehydrated orange, black mint and mascarpone (creamy & a bit salty).  Honestly, it was a stunning meal. The last time I was this impressed when visiting a restaurant outside France / Japan for the first time was my lunch at the Fat Duck, nearly 4 years ago. Jonnie Boer was incredibly talented and certainly among Europe's finest chefs. His cooking was sublime and creative; his dishes were innovative and exciting. Everything coming from the kitchen seemed natural and effortless following Chef Boer's instinct and passion. The commitment to source locally has always been his philosophy even when it was not fashionable years ago or when obtaining overseas luxury ingredients was just a phone call away. All of the dishes at De Librije may not always be changed each season, but the cooking would evolve continuously and it's been Jonnie's habit to keep reinventing himself. Bravo chef!

Therese Boer's roles to ensure memorable overall experience were also significant. She's leading from the 2 fronts: as the head Sommelier and as the Lady of the house - she excelled in both areas. Compared to the fine dining in France or Scandinavia, a meal here provided really good values. The same also applied to the wine. De Librije did not push for high end / expensive wines for the pairing, yet without even fully realizing their brand and origin, most of the wines offered went harmoniously with Jonnie Boer's cooking. If one preferred drinking French top wines, the selection was also enormous. Along with Stefan de Wilde, the charming restaurant manager, Therese led the waiting staffs deliver attentive and friendly service in a relax and fun manner. The service was efficient and smiles / laughter could easily be found everywhere. Our lunch was indeed exceptional. I hope this would not be my only meal here. Probably, I would include a hotel stay in the future. The pictures of our lunch can be found here: De Librije Oct '17 

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97/100