more stars: ming court

After yesterday’s mess hall meal it was a no brainer to accept the invitation to dine at Ming Court, the Michelin two-star restaurant at Langham Place, Mongkok. I’ll be moving to Langham Place in a few days, too, so not only did it give me the chance to do a bit of neighborhood reconnaissance, but it also gave me the leisurely opportunity to sample the contemporary Cantonese menu of chef Tsang Chiu King. Sophisticated yet approachable - and very, very comfortable – it’s an engaging dining experience of traditional fresh flavors, creatively presented: a trio of dim sum; bean curd three ways – with prawns, braised with black truffle & gold leaf, and stuffed inside whole abalone with black mushroom; subtly elegant matsutake and bamboo funghi soup; stir fried giant garoupa; award-winning pan-fried chicken skin filled with chicken and black truffle, accompanied with sliced pumpkin; baked rice with chicken and cheese served in bell pepper; and a refreshing tofu bird’s nest “extravagance.” Best of all, the food doesn’t take itself too seriously. Chef Tsang is obviously – thankfully – focused on form following flavor. Which makes for happy palates – not to mention empty plates.

 

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hairy crab, with style

Hairy crab turns out to be a delicacy best enjoyed in the sleeves-up style of a Maryland crab boil: bibs, mallets, and lots of messy picking, poking, and shell sucking. Following my visit to the wet market, however, a newspaper-covered communal table strewn with hairy crabs was not exactly the meal I had envisaged. Luckily the concierge at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental had a few alternate suggestions – including Island Tang just around the corner from the hotel. This latest venture from Sir David Tang, the entrepreneur behind Shanghai Tang and a host of Chinese-themed luxe dining clubs, oozes nostalgia for 1940’s Hong Kong with antique chandeliers and ceiling fans spinning lazily above an airy dining room of yellow silk banquettes. Tucked into the second floor corner of a shopping mall, the unassuming façade is an easy blink-and-miss and perhaps that’s the point: something tells me Sir David wouldn’t be keen on just anyone stumbling in and spoiling the chummy atmosphere. Dinner started with a bamboo steamer of the fluffiest, juiciest pork buns I’ve ever tasted. In fact, from this point forward all pork buns shall be held up to Island Tang’s imposingly ethereal angel pillows of porky goodness. Braised egg noodles were bound to be a disappointment after the revelation of the bun – even enlivened with tender slices of brisket. Alas, I also forgot that I had signed up for the subtlety of Cantonese cuisine and not the fiery noodles of my neighborhood Sichuan Kitchen. More important, however, was the arrival of evening’s star attraction: hairy crab with fried tofu. Sweet crabmeat, tender as butter, melted into the creamy tofu to create some kind of crazy Chinese version of risotto. It’s the kind of dish that makes you thankful for chopsticks because with a spoon you’d just shovel it in. The rare and elusive hairy crab turned out to be a bit of a misnomer.  Butter crab, anyone? Get the bib – I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.

 

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it’s a bird, it’s a plane ….

 

Actually, no; it’s my new piece of Japanese fetish kitchenalia: a coffee syphon [sic]. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a coffee siphon since I first visited Blue Bottle in San Francisco.  Their version looked more like a renegade backyard pot still than something suitable for the home brewer, yet there was no denying the wonderfully rounded taste of the coffee.  In Philadelphia for the weekend, I stopped for lunch at a little hole in the wall in Chinatown on the recommendation of a friend.  She said I wouldn’t believe it at first, but their coffee was amazing.  I didn’t – and it was.  Aside from serving up inexpensive and tasty Cantonese food, a small section of the front counter was devoted to a handful of siphons and specialty coffees, like Jamaican Blue Mountain and a Japanese charcoal roast I had never heard of before.  The diminutive proprietress took pains to explain the entire process as she performed it before serving the coffee in tea cups laid out formally on a tray with accompaniments.  It was a little like witnessing a tea ceremony without the geisha. I love a good ritual and knew I’d be hooked from the moment she started to fresh-grind the beans.  The  resulting brew was dark and steamy, with a faintly acidic bitterness from the charcoal roasting.  This was no morning java jolt but more like a digestif.  At $6 a cup – and $70 a pound – I wasn’t about to start experimenting with that particular roast but I did opt to indulge myself with a new toy. Stay tuned for future updates as I expound on the ritual of the coffee siphon along with what I’m sure will be a multitude of experiments, too.

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