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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year !

Wishing You All The Best in 2012.

Before we welcome the arrival of 2012, I will do a little personal review of the world events of 2011. This past year seems to be packed with big news, more so than 2010 and other years past.

Is it me (who is bored or just me consuming more information because of the electronic gadgets)?

Are more things in the world going out of control? or is it the efficiency of news gathering and dissemination? Probably a bit of both, depending on one’s point of view, access to and appetite for media.

Remember these news and how they grab your attention in 2011?

  • Changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen – people rising up against repressive establishments.
  • Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor disaster – can people afford to not have nuclear energy ?
  • Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadaffi, Kim Jong-Il – better future for the people now ?
  • Steve Jobs – greatest toy maker of all time !
  • Royal wedding – cheers, yawn …
  • European financial crisis – mismanaged establishments galore.
  • Anti-austerity protests, London riot, and Occupy movement – people rising up against mismanaged establishments.
  • News International phone hacking scandel – the people, the paparazzi and the establishment.
  • Wikileaks, Anonymous hacks – some people rising up against some establishments.
  • US political deadlocks – a mismanaged establishment that cannot be fixed by petty and radical people !

I just came across an article “On Distraction” by Alain de Botton (more about him in the next post) which touches on what I am thinking:

The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties—something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellows. We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds …

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

Let’s see how 2012 turns out, I hope for the better for all of us.

In case you are wondering, the above photos were taken in Hong Kong (crowd), Berlin (graffiti), Lausanne (sculpture) and Barcelona (spiral).

This is part two of the food porn post of my birthday dinner at Anne-Sophie Pic at the Beau-Rivage Palace.  Read part one here.

We had rose champagne to start and a Petite Avrine white wine from Valais (a low production local specialty). The water glass was remarkably beautiful – a Baccarat.

Sue chose the Autumn menu which was a bit more expensive than mine. We tried two different amuse bouche while perusing the menu.

Sue’s commentary starts here:  Doesn’t this look like crème brûlée with burnt sugar crust?  Well, it isn’t.  It’s creamy foie gras underneath and the cream on top had a light citrus flavor.

Mediterranean anchovies, baby leek and caviar, iodized broth flavored with Matcha tea.  Looks like a flower, doesn’t it?  Plus, I found an extra ingredient:  fish scale.  Are you kidding me?  I thought this was fine dining !  Maybe I should just be thankful that I only found one fish scale (even assuming that it did come from the fresh anchovies).  I quietly put the scale away on my napkin.  I didn’t say anything to the staff.  I just said it quietly to Chris: “look what I found!”

Crayfish slowly roasted in crustacean butter, lightly smoked vegetables, consomme perfumed with Tonka bean. The colors on the plate, like the one above, are beautiful !

Line-caught bass with aquitaine caviar – as the menu stated, a dish loved by the chef’s father in 1971.  Apparently, a family classic.

Bresse poulard supreme, melting turnips and chutney of Medjoul dates with Voatsiperifery pepper, poultry juice.

For palate cleansing. The thing inside has a very delicate white shell.

The dessert was pineapple and lapsang souchong tea compote and double cream from Gruyere as a contemporary vacherin cake.

More sweets. The one on the left was really a big drop of sugary liquid held by a membrane.

Ok, you’ve seen the pictures of food above.  Here’s what I have to say about the whole experience.  The decor and ambiance was great.  The wait staff were even better.  Our table was in front of a huge window which would have had a view of the lake and mountain but it was in the evening so you see darkness.  But it’s all good, the hotel was decorated for Christmas and the lights inside and outside made the restaurant and our table very private and romantic.

As Chris said, we started with champagne.  Very nice start.  Right before eating, we were offered bread.  I chose olive bread.  Little did I know I chose wrong.  I didn’t start the bread until the meal started.  Then, as I said, I found the fish scale in the appetizer.  This is when the second Michelin star of this 2-star restaurant started to flicker.  THEN, I ate some of my olive bread with the appetizer and guess what?  I found an olive pit.  I bit down and nearly broke my tooth.  I asked if the bread was made on the premises.  I was going to tell them that if they were buying their baked goods from a bakery, they should go and find another.  However, they proudly told me that all breads are made on the premises.  Sigh.  Oh well, I tried to give them an out.  I showed them the olive pit.  A manager/supervisor came over to apologize and gave me her contact information in case I have to go visit a dentist.  I should have saved that fish scale.  No, I did not have to go to a dentist.  My tooth is fine.  I think.

After the two unexpected extras, my expectation of fine dining at this place dropped.  Really low.  All the food that came after was just ok.  They tasted fine but my enthusiasm and expectation of great food disappeared.  Would I ever go back to this place?  No, would you?   Would I recommend this place?  Yes, if you’re into spending this much money for lovely ambiance and great service.  All in all, I’d give this restaurant a big fat ZERO stars for food and two stars for service.

Back to Chris:  Should they have offered us a free dessert or after dinner drink as compensation ? Not that we needed it but at least it should be offered as a gesture of their acknowledging a mistake.  While the service as Sue mentioned was great, it was only pro forma.  The offering of a business card was an attempt to compensate for physical harm (if it occured) but what happens to the damage of a fine dinning experience which actually did occur ? The service thereafter was business as usual. The reality here is either poor management or arrogance, or both – the kitchen staff was negligent in their execution – no matter how imaginative are Ann-Marie Pic’s dishes – they were ruined by a careless corp of staff or possibly an unhygienic kitchen.  The restaurant was fully booked that night and the staff was arrogant enough not to worry about one customer whose expectation of a fine dining experience was clearly unmet. Michelin ought to revisit this restaurant and revise down its star rating.

Last week, to spoil ourselves a little bit, Sue booked us a table at Anne-Sophie Pic at the Beau-Rivage Palace for dinner.  The restaurant (ASP|BRP) which earned two Michelin stars in 2009, is named after the chef who was voted by the Michelin guide as the chef of the year in 2007.  She “imagined” the menu but it was executed by someone else. She runs her 3-starred family restaurant – La Maison Pic – near Lyon in France and hailed from a family of accomplished chefs (her grandfather earned 3* in 1934 and 3* by her father in 1973). There is quite a story behind her rise to be the only woman 3* chef (see Wikipedia).

Amuse bouche before choosing a menu: yellow blob on left is intensely cheesey, the middle is a savory macaron, the brown blob on the right is made with foie gras and possibly some dark chocolate.

I chose her Emotion tasting menu and opted to have both the scallops and beetroot dishes.  The taste is very inventive and the seafood flavors are very subtle. We were each given a printed menu to keep, hence the detailed descriptions below.

I started with Purple sea urchins, sea urchin cream and tongues in thin sorrel jelly, runny egg yolk with Cubebe pepper.  It looked great and the combination of flavors is unique except I would like to have a bit more saltiness from the sea urchin.

Beetroot varieties, blue mountain coffee acidulated with barberry.  The colors are great but the piping looked a bit messy – tasted well.  Concept well conceived but imperfectly executed.

Scallops from Normandy cooked in slightly bitter liquorice, smoked (?) eel foam, mixed salad. Yes, the flavors worked well – scallops hidden behind ugly leaf.

Venison saddle smoked with juniper, wild cabbage and fresh mint, strong gravy. Never had venison so tender before.

The selection of cheeses was phenomenal, including marmalade, caramel, walnut.

Sue had her selection of cheeses and I had different ones. Unanimously, the best was the Bleu de Bonneval – on the far right – it’s from the nearby Savoie region, I am going to get a chunk to go with some reds.

My dessert was Quince and “Grand cru bora bora” vanilla from Taihiti (creamy and acidulous yoghurt flavoured with vanilla and quince marmalade chantilly powdered with Tahiti vanilla). It looked rather unusual but it was tasty.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Sue chose a different menu and had a different experience, read the next post to find out. For the occasion, I got a cake too – we did not eat it there but brought it home.

Persimmon – Kaki or Cachi, Loti – as they are known here in French/German and Italian.

We have seen two types of persimmon here all imported from Italy. By far the most lusciously sweet and soft fruit is the one on the right.  The one on the left is firmer and the texture resembles that of a mango, very delicious too but not as intensely sweet as the other.

When the fruit is ripe and upon handling, the very thin membranous skin ruptures.  The result is a gooey mess which requires a spoon to eat.

Looks like tomatoes when they are packed ?

This time of year – November/December – is apparently the season for it.  Been buying it weekly. Yummy.

If interested, there is a wealth of information about this fruit on Wikipedia – persimmon.

If interested, there is a wealth of information on this fruit on Wikipedia – persimmon.

Continuing from the last post about La Chasseral, Jura Mountains

At the top of La Chasseral is a directional radio tower owned by Swisscom.  In fact, one can see this Star Wars-like installation from miles away.  There is a path that leads to the base which offers a panoramic view of Swiss Alps, Northern Jura (above view), the Vosges and the Black Forest.  I got the picture above from Wikipedia since it has the hotel and the tower in the same picture.  The pictures below are all mine.

We approached La Chassarel by car from the north.  You can just see the tower as a little stick near the top of the ridge.  It is 120 meters tall and was built in 1983.

I walked from the Hotel du Chassarel to the base of the tower – thinking it would take a few minutes but it took much longer.  I misjudged the distance because of its height and also the path is hidden by the ridge line.

A few people were flying their radio-controlled model planes – lots of open sky here. I cannot imagine what this place looks like in wintertime … all white and probably zero visibility.

At the base, there is a seating area and a path that lead to a viewpoint on the other side.  The views are breathtaking to say the least.  One feel so small in this vast open space.

It must be the highest thing (1607m, 5272 ft) around for many miles and must be struck by lightning frequently. I wondered how it handles the electrical energy from lightning and remains functional as a transmitter.  Someone must have pictures of it during a lightning storm but I can’t find it by Google Images.

This to me is a fairly typical Swiss landscape, among the picturesque farm villages, cows and pasture, and in the middle of it all is a high tech structure.  21st century installation and rustic 19th century farmhouse comingling.

Sue made this for dinner last night.