Saturday, January 26, 2013

ART OF TAO



YB Senator Kohilan Pillay (left) with InterContinental KL's GM Mr Phil Riley at the opening of Tao

After a two-month extensive facelift, InterContinental Kuala Lumpur finally unveiled Tao – its opulent Chinese restaurant with a series of special dinners that unleashed the culinary tour de force of its executive Chinese chef Wong Lian You and critically acclaimed chef Sam Leong from Singapore.
The honourable Deputy Minister doing the opening ceremony honours
A rousing lion dance performance kicked off the official opening night that saw was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs YB Senator Kohilan Pillay as guest of honour. 


Elegant opulence underscores the new interior of Tao
As invited guests sauntered in, gasps of admiration were audible when they spied the glassy panels painted with multiple stems of pale pink peach blossoms flanking both sides of the entrance way and the stunning swirly cloud-shaped pin-prick lighting. Richly accentuated with dark wood and Oriental motifs, more vivid peach blossom accents adorn the main feature wall and carpet underfoot.
Chefs of a feather flock together...Wong Lian You and Sam Leong
With a slew of accolades and countless awards under his toque, the affable Sam Leong soon had everyone eating out of his hands and gushing over his famed Crispy Wasabi Prawns with Mango Salsa. Creamy with faint bursts of tongue-tingling wasabi, the springy crustaceans were perked up with an appetising mango salsa that intensified their natural sweetness.
Springy freshness to savour
Deep-seated briny, sweet flavours of the sea were prevalent in the Double Boiled Sea Whelks Consommé with Fresh Cordycep Flowers and Conpoy. We adored the soup's smooth unctuousness. The textural union between a whole, large conpoy (dried scallop), chewy sea whelks and strands of fresh cordycep flowers was amazingly surreal and lodged itself into our memory.
Soup-er indulgent treat
Robustly tart, salty and citrusy nuances reminiscent of Thai tom yum set our tastebuds alight as we sampled Leong's creation of Steamed Soon Hock Fillet with Spicy Tomato Broth. Spiked with garlic flakes and slivers of tomato, this distinct treat was a nice departure from the usual soya sauce and fragrant oil steamed fish.
Thai-rific influence reigns in this fish dish
My favourite dish of the evening was the Braised Free Range Duck Leg with Eight Treasures. Laid out on a handful of pickled julienne cabbage, it was a breeze devouring the delectable boneless duck roulade that came stuffed with lotus seeds, water chestnut dices and a host of other ingredients. 
You'd take to this sublime speciality like duck to water
Not to be outdone, Wong sifu (master) displayed his prowess by proffering Stewed Sea Cucumber with Dried Scallop and Winter Melon. A golden pool of carrot sauce surround a tender winter melon ring that had a whole conpoy in it. Paired with a dainty spiky "liu sum" sea cucumber and a baby bok choi, there was no faulting its artful melding of delicate sweetness and tender textures. 
Tender textures to tantalise your palate
It was a shame that we couldn't do justice to the Sautéed Broccolini with Wild Forest Mushroom and Crispy Yam. Despite the mashed yam ring's airy-light crust, we only managed to polish off the fungi pieces as the portion was far too generous after the succession of dishes we had.
One yam ring to rule them all
Thankfully the Wok Fried Glutinous Rice with Crab Meat and Whole Abalone proved more manageable. The fluffy grains were surprisingly light with none of the heavy stickiness that is normally associated with glutinous rice. Of course, the luxurious addition of crab meat and abalone helped tremendously to ramp up its irresistible quotient.
Grains of delicious truth
The night's icing on the cake turned out to be Green Tea and Mango Fondant with Lychee and Black Sesame Ice Cream. Murmurs of appreciation were heard all around even though the mango failed to make its presence felt amidst the strong green tea-based, molten centre fondant. Fortunately, the lychee fared better in the dulcet black sesame ice cream.
A dessert to make you go green with envy
Overall, it was a spectacular showing by the Tao team. Perusing the a la carte menu, our interest were piqued to find traditional Peking duck that could be 'pimped up' with foie gras, truffles or eringi mushroom, poached lamb fillet a la 'bak kut teh' style and chilled slow-cooked beef with mandarin skin and spices amongst some of the house specialities. Such interesting creations definitely call for an encore.

Tao, InterContinental Kuala Lumpur, 165 Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2161 1111.

Friday, January 25, 2013

EPIC EATS

Salmon rosettes to grace the ubiquitous CNY salad
"Sou Gong" which means 'finishing work' is a tradition that many Chinese businesses observe as in the olden days, work and business are conducted year-long. No such thing as public holidays and sometimes even weekends off.

Don't be surprised that this practice remains alive and kicking in some industries especially for menial and blue collar workers. As a reward some bosses would treat their staff to a good meal before they "sou gong" and take a break during Chinese New Year (CNY).
Messy merriment...looks like a tornado just hit the plate huh?
For smaller companies that don't have annual staff dinner, the "Sou Gong" meal is considered a sufficient treat and reward for work carried out. In recent years, some hotels like Eastin Hotel in Petaling Jaya have offered special menus so that corporate companies can book tables to capitalise on the festive merriment in the run-up to CNY.

Available from now until February 8, 2013, Ee Cuisine's "Sou Gong" set dinner (RM1388++ for 10 persons) is already being snapped up like hot cakes. You'd understand why after you sample Chef Yong Kam Wah's stupendous offerings!

Great ball of fin and fine textures...a dish worth its weight in gold!
Our rousing Yee Sang opener stood out for its inclusion of "bee chang" or Chinese rice crispies which lent extra crunch to the usual array of vegs, fruits, pickles and whatnots.

But we were truly blown out of the water by the amazing creation of Braised Superior Shark's Fin Ball in Superior Broth. Hats off to Chef Yong (no relation with moi ok?) for his creative efforts...He actually devoted time and effort into mouldng the little bundles of shark's fin mixed with egg into a ball and gently poaching the whole thing; rendering it into a soft, custardy ball.

Placed into a moat of golden hued carrot puree, I thought I had died and gone to heaven at the taste of every unctuous spoonful! The secret lies in the flavourful stock base which had chicken feet, pork and duck bones, old chicken carcass and other ingredients as much as that luxurious sphere.

Smoke gets into our chicken bites
Not contented with serving up ho-hum fare, the chef again surprised us with his ingenuity by smoking the Steamed Chicken with Chinese Wine for a few minutes. The result? A succulent, toothsome and muscly chicken bursting with seductive liquorish nuance and a fleeting 'sometimes you taste it sometimes you don't' smoky tinge. It scored a perfect ten in my book!

Wrap and roll...this chef's creation really rocked
The next dish that rocked us was an eye-catching platter of Stir-fried Prawns with Macadamia Nuts and Bacon Rolls. A clever interplay of clear, uncomplicated and stronger, deep-seated flavours as well as varying textures, I suggest sampling the prawns' inherent sweetness first before diving for the bacon wrapped fish paste rolls coated in a sticky tangy honeyed sauce.

Swimming in a sublime sea of flavours
It seemed this was one night that the chef could do no wrong...the Braised Abalone with Sea Cucumber, Dried Oysters and Vegetables was a work of art; a delightful feast for the eyes and palate. Flanking out from a cluster of blanched broccoli florets, fatt choi (black seamoss) and abalone slices, each plump semi-dried oysters and a finger-thick wedge of spongy sea cucumber came enrobed in a band of beancurd sheet. Doused n a translucent, caramel-hued sauce, it left us hankering for more.

Waxing lyrical over fluffy and fragrant rice mixed with assorted waxed delicacies
If there's one dish that denotes CNY, it has to be the Stewed Clay Pot Rice with Assorted Waxed Meat. Ee Cuisine's version is laden with four different waxed specialities: duck, pork and liver sausages, and belly pork. Rustic, homely and redolent with rich, fatty, briny and wine-spiked accents that sent the gustatory glands into overdrive, you'd find it hard to stop at just one bowl.

Soup's up with tender dried longans, crunchy white fungus and chewy snow lotus seedss
Leaving us in a suitably sweet mood to round off the evening was "tong sui", a light broth of Sweetened Dried Longans, White Fungus and Snow Lotus Seeds. The snow lotus seeds piqued my interest as it was my first encounter with this opaque substance with a firm, chewy texture that's a cross between agar-agar and attap seeds.

Each of us also had a Sino-Japanese pumpkin mochi ball. Dusted with fine dessicated coconut, the centre revealed a smaller glob of  "nin koh" (steamed sweet glutinous rice cake).

We certainly had a ball of a time at Ee Cuisine and weren't surprised to learn that the restaurant is packed to the brim for reunion dinners already. Still if your boss or if you're the boss intend to buy lunch or dinner to "sau gong", I can think of no better place to wrap up the old year in readiness for the Lunar New Year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A SEN5ESATIONAL FESTIVE FEAST


Snake inspired accents slithered their way into The Westin KL's CNY menu review, causing a flurry of excitement among an eager crowd of mainstream media and floggers. Marcomm Director of the Starwood Group in Malaysia Cindy Yoong was in her hostess with the mostest mode; selecting the Abundance Silver Dragon Reunion CNY Set Menu (RM1,388++ per table of 10) for our sampling in addition to a wine decanting demo by the hotel's sommelier.
Shutterbugs had a field day the minute Riedel's unique decanter was unveiled. Its coiled, tapered base with a long, slender flute makes it look like a raised serpent that's about to strike. Aptly it was filled with Shao Xing wine that came served with tiny bits of lemon and plum. The amber liquor tasted deliciously heady of over-riped stone fruits and delicate spices. I like the trail of toasty warmth as the spirit wound its way down.
The technicolour platter of Jade Abalone & Salmon Yee Sang was creatively fashioned into a snake design too. Fingernail-sized baby abalones and thick slices of salmon with crispy strands of flour crackers and the usual condiments added the final flourish before we boisterously messed everything up in our quest to stir up prosperity. Our salad was a tad dry initially but the shredded vegetables and fruits soon lent enough  moistness to pull the mixture of textures n flavours together.
The stuffed clam shells with their spherical stuffing of Poached Sea Pearl Clam and Prawn in Superior Broth looked unerringly like a bowl of witchy brew filled with floating 'eyeballs'! It was sublime though with discernible hints of lemongrass and Chinese wine in the sea-sweet, gingery broth. The bouncy, smooth prawn and fish paste balls with diminutive clams and wolfberries went down a real treat.
Five spice powder lent the Charcoal Roasted Five Sen5es Sar Tin Pigeon a tantalising dimension as we crunched our way through its lacquer-shiny skin and juicy dark meat. The least appetising part was the jerky-dry wing part but overall, the dish passed with flying colours.
Despite its pared down approach, I love the Cantonese Style Steamed Longevity Goby Fish in Soya Sauce. Such a timeless recipe doesn't need reinventing. The fish was a clear winner in our book with its right degree of doneness.
A light batter of orange-gold salted egg yolk encrusted the Signature Golden Sand Sea Prawns with Crispy Rice Cereals, bestowing the succulent, soft shell crustaceans with a rich, slightly briny accent that's pleasant on the palate but not overly cloying.
I was flummoxed when I came across Teeth Mushroom in the menu...what one earth could that be?!! Then it struck me that the said ingredient was nga ku or arrowhead! Also known as swamp potato or Chinese potato, it's a root vegetable grown under water. Crunchy with a mildly bitter aftertaste, nga ku can be stir-fried, sliced and deep-fried like crisps, braised or even stewed. I always know CNY is fast approaching when I see arrowheads being sold at wet markets.
The chef here proffered Arrow Head Stir Fried with Lotus Root, Garden Vegetable and Toasted Pine Nuts - a simple but appetising combination that offers plenty of crunch and delicate nuances. A refreshing change to counter the heavier, meat-laden dishes we had earlier. (Sorry, no pix cuz was too busy eating!)
For the Cantonese and some Hokkiens, waxed meat is a festive staple for the CNY larder. I grew up chewing on waxed duck and sausages as tidbits every CNY so naturally I waxed lyrical (pun intended!) over the serving of Hong Kong Waxed Meat Rice Casserole. I had an overload of liver sausages in my bowl but hubby was delighted to scarf down the extras.
My favourite dish of the whole evening was the New Year Gold Coin Nian Gou with Sweetened Japanese Yam Paste Filling. It was a creative way of presenting the sticky glutinous rice cake - sliced and shaped to resemble old fashioned gold ingots, they were filled with an enticing yam paste in the centre and bore some freshly grated coconut on top. Nom nom nom!

Kudos to the Westin KL chefs and overall team for such a sen5ational feast!

Five Sen5es at The Westin KL has four CNY menus available priced between RM880++ and RM1388++ per table of 10. Call tel: 03-2731 8333 for reservations.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

SPICY ARTISTRY

 
The Ambassador of the United States of America
Paul W. Jones & Catherine Jones
 
request the pleasure of
Ms. Alice Yong & Guest
 
at “The Artistry of Spices” Program
on Thursday, January 3, 2013
at 6:30 p.m.
(Program starts at 7:00 p.m.)

Dress: Smart Casual
Venue: The Residence, 9 Jalan Langgak Golf, Kuala Lumpur


Imagine my surprise when I received an invitation from the US Ambassador to attend a special event at His Excellency's residence! What a fab way to open a brand new year...

His Excellency Paul Jones delivering his welcome remarks
I felt the butterflies playing havoc in my tummy as we walked into the compound of the Ambassador's residence. But the ladies who greeted us at the door soon put us at ease. We even managed to catch the last few minutes of the official press conference...

One for the album...HE Paul Jones and his wife Catherine Jones with guest artist Brookie Maxwell and the celeb chefs: Amy Beh, Manju Saigal and Rohani Jelani
A US State Department project, The Artistry of Spices merges food and art; to showcase the significant role of spices in shaping the history and culture of our world. Wars were fought, empires rose and fell, and daring explorers crossed the seven seas just for this precious commodity.
Creative use of fresh and dried spices for the table centerpiece
Guest artist Brookie Maxwell who is a curator and founding director of Gallery 138 in New York city travelled to Penang and Melaka for this project; to paint, photography and collect myriad spices for her artistic works which were showcased that evening.

To complement this visual arts feast, three celebrity chefs: Amy Beh, Manju Saigal and Rohani Jelani were roped in to spice up the evening with their culinary masterpieces.

Each chef also conducted a brief demo of their recipes that incorporated spices. Best of all, we all were treated to their handiwork whilst they cooked up a storm on stage.

 
Chef Manju - a Punjab native who has been teaching Indian cooking and running her own catering venture for over a decade and a half - shared with us how to prepare Achari Sabzi (pickled vege), Lemon Rice, Seekh Kebab (grilled minced lamb cutlets) and Kesari Murgh (saffron chicken). Prior to dinner, we were treated to Nimbu Pani, her concoction of lime cooler that was both refreshing and tantalising.

Pungently aromatic, subtly spicy but delectably rich and robust on the palate, we polished everything that came within minutes. This should tell you how good the food was!

Chef Amy Beh brought an unexpected twist to Bak Kut Teh when she rustled up a vegetarian version...should we call it Chai Kut Teh? Purists would be outraged but the resultant broth actually tasted surprisingly agreeable!

Assorted mushroom, beancurd puffs and mock meat (gluten chunks) make unexpectedly tasty Chai Kut Teh

She also showed invitees how to cook Kiam Chye Ark (duck with salted mustard greens soup), Bee Koh (traditional white glutinous cake) and Otak-otak (spicy steamed fish custard). We almost missed sampling the homely, evergreen soup but all was well in the end once the service team realised our table weren't served earlier.

 
Having attended several cooking classes at Bayan Indah and as a long time fan of Rohani, I was more than eager to savour her delicious creations and the Malay cuisine guru certainly didn't disappoint.

Her signature Nasi Kunyit (turmeric rice), Chicken Rendang (dry chicken curry), Masak Lemak Udang Nenas (pineapple and prawn curry) and Onde-Onde (grated coconut-covered glutinous rice balls with palm sugar filling) left us amply replete and happily satisfied.

 
Dinner closed with a sumptuous dessert selection courtesy of Catherine Jones, the Ambassador's wife who is a trained chef in her own right. The rather Christmassy Apple Mincemeat Crisp was sublime and left us wanting more.

We felt so spoilt and pampered when dainty glasses of Curry Ice Cream complemented by Five Spice, Oatmeal Walnut Raisin Cookies and Coconut Macaroons appeared; inducing us further into a sweet and slightly spicy stupour! 

Just as we thought nothing could top that, out came gold-rimmed cups of velvety smooth and ultra-decadent Chocolate Pots with Garam Masala! Digging into the luxuriant death by chocolate treat, I was elevated to heavenly chocolatey bliss...

One of the art pieces by Brookie Maxwell

By the time we left, all of us were literally floating on cloud nine...thanks to the surfeit of conviviality and sumptuous food and drinks lavished on us throughout the event. This was one spiced-up evening we're unlikely to forget in a hurry!