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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quote | Dancing

"It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive."

- Merce Cunningham on dancing. Cunningham died on July 26, 2009 at the age of 90.

Monday, July 27, 2009

World Not Interested

The World Games 2009 concluded in Kaohsiung last night. The eleven-day event went smoothly and was quite a success - a great achievement for the city of Kaohsiung and Taiwan. Taiwan won a total of 24 medals and ranked seventh in the standings. The main stadium by Toyo Ito is very beautiful, at least from television (I haven't seen the building in person yet). The fireworks in both the opening and closing ceremonies were very nicely done.

The only thing I find to be very strange about the World Games is the almost complete lack of coverage in some media. For instance, a search for reports on the World Games on the website of The New York Times shows only four reports in the last 30 days, three of which are about Ito's stadium.

A similar search on Wall Street Journal's website shows only four reports as well.

There are even less reports on the World Games in UK's London Times and Guardian. While the media in Taiwan cannot get enough of the World Games, the rest of the world doesn't seem too interested.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sonoma 焱

A good friend of mine recently came from Hong Kong to visit me. I asked him where he would like to go for dinner. He said a friend of his recommended that he try the steakhouse Sonoma 焱 because the friend believes the steaks at the restaurant are better than any of the steakhouses in Hong Kong. I was a bit surprised to hear that so I thought why not go and find out.

There are three branches of Sonoma and the one we went to is located on 敦化南路2段9號1樓. The restaurant is not large, roughly 70 some seats with an open kitchen at the back. There are a few menus to choose from, a la carte, 4 course prix fixe, and a wagyu tasting menu. My friend ordered a la carte: crab cakes, grilled wagyu strip steak, and chocolate dessert. I tried the wagyu tasting menu which costs NT$2800: lobster tail, mushroom cappuccino, salad, grilled wagyu strip steak, and chocolate dessert.

We were first served some warm bread, which was not bad with a decent crust. There were also some marinated olives on the table, but they were just way too sweet.

I didn't taste my friend's crab cakes, so I can't comment on that dish. My friend wanted the steak to be medium well (don't ask me why), but the steak arrived medium rare to medium. Maybe the chef was reluctant to cook a the nice piece of meat to medium well. Nevertheless, the steak was not cooked to the right temperature.

As for my dishes, the lobster dish had decent flavors, but the caviar on the lobster tail wasn't that good. The mushroom cappuccino reminded me of one of Gordon Ramsay's signature dishes: white bean cappuccino. Maybe it was the word cappuccino. In any event, I would have preferred the mushroom soup to be a bit creamier. It was a bit thin for my taste. Strangely the soup was served with a small spoon, almost like a coffee spoon, which made drinking the soup a bit tiresome. The salad was quite fresh, but I wished the dressing had a bit more acidity. My steak was nicely grilled and quite flavorful. It was a good piece of red meat, but it could have been seasoned more aggressively. I wasn't too keen on the sauce, which was a bit too reduced. The dessert at the end was a molten chocolate cake. This was essentially like Jean Georges signature dessert. Sonoma's version was executed well with good flavor. My only complaint is that the cake and the accompanying ice cream was pathetically small. I would think the restaurant can be a bit more generous with the portion of the dessert, considering the total price they are charging.

The service was quite good, my only quip is that since my friend and I had different number of courses, they could have brought out an empty plate for my friend when I was having the extra course, so he didn't have to stare at the table cloth and might have shared some of my courses.

Overall, the meal was decent. The ingredients were good and fresh. I asked my friend if Sonoma was indeed better than all the steakhouses in HK, he said no.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Here's the Beef

Maria wanted steak for dinner, which meant an expensive dinner. A steak in the U.S. is already a relatively pricey ingredient, however, in Taipei the prices are even higher. Good steaks are available only in some of the more western-oriented supermarkets. I bought the steaks at City Super, a supermarket originally from Hong Kong, located at the basement of a Sogo department store. There are many imported beef, mainly from the U.S. and Australia, to choose from. I picked a cheaper cut, U.S. prime ribeye, which goes for NT$200 per 100 gram, or roughly US$28 per pound. This is quite a premium to pay for a steak since a similar cut at Fresh Direct in NY costs around US$17 per pound.

Besides the price, another problem with buying steaks in Taipei is the lack of varieties. The supermarkets mostly just have a few cuts, namely, ribeye, fillet, strip, and sirloin. They don't carry the cheaper cuts that I like to buy, such as skirt, hanger, brisket, or flank.

As for the cuts that are available, the steak in the supermarkets do not come with bones, especially the ones from the U.S. Taiwan only allows boneless steak to be imported from the U.S. because of concerns for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or Mad Cow disease. Therefore, while I typically like to buy a bone-in ribeye, because I think the flavor is better, I have to settle for boneless steaks.

Cooking an expensive ingredient at home always seems to be a bit tricky. If a mistake is made there isn't anyone else to blame, the dish can't be sent back like in a restaurant; it is really just like throwing money into the trash bin. To cook the ribeye steaks I decided to follow Alain Ducasse's advice. Instead of using the oven or broiler, I cooked the steaks on top of the stove to have better control. I did not use super high heat. I seared the steaks first and later added butter and garlic and then constantly basted the meat until they are cooked to the right temperature. Then I let the steak rest for half of the time it took to cook.

In short the steaks were quite delicious. Although they are expensive, it is an indulgence worth having every so often.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quote | Expensive

"My houses are expensive to build, my fees are outrageous, and I’m a prima donna."

- Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen in a conversation with a client.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Five on Fourth

Vera turned five today. We invited a few of her friends over to our house for a little party. Since I wasn't going to entertain the kids myself, Maria asked Vera's art teacher to come to do a class. The theme of the class was party food. The teacher first read the kids a story and then taught them how to make party food with paper clay.

About half an hour or so later the kids created some "food".

I made some food as well because I was in charge of making the birthday cake. Ever since I bought Dorie Greenspan's book, Vera wanted me to make the cake on the cover.

I always told her I would make it for her birthday, therefore I had to do it today. The cake was not difficult to make but required a couple of components. I baked the chocolate layers the night before and assembled the cake this morning. Assembling the cake was a bit like building an architectural model.

The kids seemed to enjoy the cake.

Happy Birthday Vera!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Japanese Names

One problem I have been encountering quite often is Japanese names pronounced in Mandarin. In the U.S. Japanese names are all spelled out in English. However in Taiwan, the Japanese names are pronounced in Mandarin because they consist mainly of Chinese characters. Since I know Japanese people mostly by their romanized names, I often have conversations as follows:

"Michael, you must know the designs by 深澤直人 (Shen Ze Zhi Ren)"
"Uh, how to you say 深澤直人 in Japanese?"
"I dunno."

Conversations like these all require a Google search on my iphone to continue. Most of the times I actually do know the Japanese people in the conversations, just not their names in Chinese characters.

Note: 深澤直人 is Naoto Fukasawa, one of my favorite Japanese designers.