I love good food and constantly seek out new tastes and experiences. My motto when it comes to food is that I will try anything once. Sometimes it works out great, other times not so much. My most recent fail was veal brains at M. Wells Dinette which got me thinking about memorable dining experiences. I have had quite a few memorable ones over the years but the 10 below are the ones that stood out the most to me.
#1 on my list is The Taling Chan Floating Market in Bangkok. Surprised? So am I. But it truly is my most memorable dining experience of all time. I reflect back on it often because G and I spent such a fun day there. We had low expectations because I had previously been to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and found it to be incredibly crowded and touristy. Not so at Taling Chan which serves locals and domestic tourists. A huge bonus was the incredibly tasty and ridiculously cheap seafood. For under $10USD per person, G and I ate like kings. From the fried whole mini crabs, to the meat stuffed mussels, to the 40 grilled pork skewers, to the huge river prawns, to the freshly fried slightly spicy shrimp, to the curry, to the pad thai (very different from the pad thai in NYC), to the mee siam, and the various tropical drinks. Nothing disappointed and some of it was the best we ever had. For example the grilled pork skewers. We placed an order for the skewers at the tail end of our meal thinking an order would be like 10 skewers. 40 skewers showed up and G and I were like how are we ever going to finish that? 15 minutes later we were fighting for the last stick. The food at Taling Chan was seriously delicious, we ate there in April 2010 and I can still remember every single dish without looking at pictures.
Communication mishaps made the day even more memorable. How we wounded up on a boat thinking that we were going to visit the local orchid farm as explained by the hand gestures and pictures from the guy who sold me the tickets. For more than an hour we thought we were enroute to the orchid farm. Our guide only spoke Thai so she was no help. But during that time we observed so much of the local Thai way of living that it more than made up for missing the orchid farm. We saw traditional Thai housing on stilts, monks and temples, kids splashing in the water, people washing their clothing, the insides of some of the houses, we even saw a woman transporting a twin mattress in a boat similar to the one pictured above. Oh and let’s not forget our tour guide’s voice blasting through the speakers, no doubt explaining the scenery the entire 90 minutes without a single pause. I almost thought it was a recording until the voice stopped for a fraction of a minute while we feed the fish. All in all we spent around 5 hours just eating and exploring the market. I was worried that the bathrooms were going to be scary but they were clean, so much cleaner than the many I came across in China. Best of all Taling Chan is only a 20 minute taxi ride from city center Bangkok. Note that it is only open Saturdays. Even now all I have to say to G is boat ride to nowhere and he would burst out laughing.
#2 on my list is Per Se NYC. It was the first 3 star Michelin Restaurant I ate at and one that truly deserved all 3 of its stars.From the food, to the decor, to the atmosphere, to the service, it set the standard so high that no other restaurant can beat it in terms of overall dining experience. But at over $300 per person sans alcohol, I think I’ll save my next visit for my 5th wedding anniversary. See my detailed review here.
#3 on my list is Fook Lam Mun Hong Kong. This is my favorite Cantonese Restaurant in Hong Kong. Forget 3 Michelin Star Lung King Heen unless you absolutely must have a harbor view while dining. Fook Lam Mun is where the locals dine for special occasions. Oh and you just might run into one of the many tycoons that own Hong Kong if you dine at the Wanchai branch during lunchtime. Don’t be intimidated by the first couple of pages of the menu featuring sky high prices for dried abalone and shark’s fin soup. I am talking about $1000USD+ per person for one serving of abalone. Keep flipping and you will find much more reasonably priced food.
My favorite dish at Fook Lam Mun is their suckling roast pig. At around $200 USD for what is the essentially the best roast pig in the world. No grease, no porky smell, just crispy skin with the right amount of crunch. And let’s not forget the juicy, moist, perfectly seasoned pork to go along with the skin. I also highly recommend Fook Lam Mun’s Chinese style steamed fish though it is pricy. A Eastern Star grouper will set you back approximately $300USD but it is one tasty fish. The only steamed fish I had that rivaled the Eastern Star grouper was a sea bass that my friend John fished out of the waters off of Hyannis Port and gave me. I promptly gutted it, scaled it, and steamed it Chinese Style. My only mistake was that I offered G a taste thinking he wouldn’t take more than a bite since he loathes steamed fish. The joke was on me when he proceeded to steal half of MY fish.
#4 on my list is a James Beard House dinner featuring Jose Garces. Jose Garces is amazing. He made me like foie gras which I previously hated with a passion. I found foie gras to be too heavy and too rich for my palate. I felt like I needed another flavor to cut the fat. And that turned out to be Membrillo,the slightly sweet, slightly tart quince paste Jose Garces used. Additionally everything else served that night was an explosion of flavors that I had previously avoided because I had so many bad experiences with them. Like cold smoked scallop. Another bonus was the fact that Jose Garces was in the kitchen overseeing everything in addition to cooking. Nowadays celebrity chefs seem to spend more time in front of cameras then in the kitchen.
#5 on my list is Yardbird Hong Kong. – Perfectly executed Japanese bar food. Click here for G’s review.
#6 on my list is No Signboard Singapore. – My parents and I loved loved LOVED No Signboard’s cereal prawns. My dad declared it to be the best prawn dish ever and I am inclined to agree. See my detailed review here.
#7 on my list is Caprice located inside the Four Seasons Hong Kong - Technically speaking the food at Caprice was just very good compared to some of the tastier meals that did not make this list. But the keywords are memorable dining experiences. A meal at Caprice is definitely that. It has impeccable decor along with a stunning view. But that is not why Caprice made this list. It is the quality of Caprice’s china. You might think I am crazy, but what is fine dining if not for the attention paid to every little detail like ironing the table clothes so that there are no visible creases. Prior to Caprice, I did not pay too much attention to the quality of china, utensils, cups, and what not used at fine dining destinations as it was mostly just white plates and cups. But at Caprice the plates and cups that they used were so gorgeous that I couldn’t help but take note. For example both G and I took a liking to the exquisite cups that our coffee was served in. I wanted to purchase a set for us so I set about searching for it. Imagine my shock when I discovered that each cup is $176USD! The accompanying saucer is $154USD! See here for detailed pricing on the J.L. Coquet Hemisphere line. Compare that with Inagiku also located in the same Four Seasons Hong Kong Complex, Inagiku uses mismatched $5USD plates and charges fine dining prices! I swear I am not bitter about my Inagiku experience. Just took the advice of a blogger whose taste buds are not similar to mine. Never again.
#8 on my list is Made In China located inside the Grand Hyatt Beijing. Even though I have always loved Peking Duck, I still find them a tad too fatty and greasy most of the time. Not a problem at Made In China. They cook the duck in such a way that all the fat is completely melted off. Arguably the best Peking Duck in Bejing and certainly the best I have ever had. When in Beijing please do not eat at Quanjude, the famous tourist trap Peking duck restaurant. I feel like the only people that give Quanjude a good review are those that never ate Peking Duck before. Many restaurants in New York and Hong Kong and Shanghai serve better Peking duck than Quanjude. But back to Made In China, besides their signature Peking duck there are many other standouts like their beggar’s chicken, squirrel fish, and their sorbets! I still remember how delicious their in-house passionfruit sorbet was. A meal at Made In China won’t break the bank. I think it was around $160USD for the four of us when I ate there in October 2008. Another plus is that the waitstaff speaks English and their menu is fully translated into English. Their decor is also pleasing to the eye. Modern with Chinese accent pieces and an open kitchen design and rated an A by the Beijing Health Department. I also highly recommend The Grand Hyatt Hotel for visitors. I find it to be the most conveniently located hotel in Beijing. Right next to Wangfujing Pedestrian Street and connected to a shopping mall. Best thing about it is that the subway is right downstairs on the coveted line 1 Wangfujing stop. It is also only 1 stop away to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. The subway is your best friend when in Beijing as the city is gigantic and the traffic is horrendous.
#9 on my list is Joel Robuchon at The Mansion Las Vegas MGM Grand. The fact that Joel Robuchon offers a complimentary gold limo pickup and drop-off and a tour of the atrium part of the MGM mansions along with our own private hostess to lead you inside the restaurant forced me to place this experience on my list. FYI, MGM Mansions is for the mega rich and staying there is by invitation only. Only the invited ones have the privilege of paying a minimum of $5000 per night for a one bedroom suite up to sky’s the limit prices for a villa!
A pity that the rest of the meal did not live up to the initial impression, which is why I chose a picture of the MGM Mansion instead of the food. Joel Robuchon’s infamous bread cart was good but not amazing. In fact, the three of us preferred the bread we had at Steve Wynn Steakhouse the previous night. The highlight of our meal was Joel Robuchon’s famed mashed potatoes which was decadent. Though once I found out how much butter was in it was enough to make my jaw drop. 1 pound of butter to 2 pounds of potatoes!
I was about to write Joel Robuchon off as a celebrity chef when the next morning I bit into the pistachio raspberry loaf cake that was in my gift bag from the restaurant. It was scrumptious. Why wasn’t my meal like that? Additionally, why are there black and white framed Nicolas Cage’s pictures scattered about the restaurant? Furthermore, why is the toilet black? I thought black toilets went out of style in the 1980′s.
#10 on my list is The Buffet at Aria Las Vegas. I try to avoid buffets simply because I tend to gorge myself to the point where I get sick. But when in Vegas, it is hard to not try out one or two or six. =) Vegas Buffets I have eaten at from best to worst: (1) The Buffet at Aria (2) Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace (3) The Buffet at Wynn (4) The Buffet at Bellagio (5) MGM Grand Buffet (6) Luxor Buffet. Lest you think I am a total pig, this was done over four separate trips to Vegas.
The Buffet at Aria is currently my favorite simply because they serve King Crab legs during their Fri-Sun Gourmet Dinner buffet. The total price per person currently including tax and an 18% tip is right around $50USD. Considering the fact that Costco sells king Crab legs for $25 USD, the buffet is an incredibly great value. Don’t be fooled by buffets claiming to serve king crabs when it is really snow crabs. Remember king crabs have spikes, snow crabs have smooth legs. Besides the king crab legs, the buffet at Aria grills an amazingly tasty skirt steak done any way you like it. And their gelato bar serves some of the tastiest gelato I have ever had. Same quality as those of Jean Philippe Patisserie which charges $5 a scoop. When I told my father-in-law that, he promptly had 9 scoops of gelato, thereby declaring that he made his money back in full.
I also highly recommend Bacchanal Buffet as the sheer variety is jaw dropping though the wait was long. Bacchanal’s website claims that they serve over 400 different items and I fully believe that. The only reason I don’t rate Bacchanal higher is because I find the quality to be slightly better at Aria. Though if you enjoy Chinese food, Bacchanal’s Chinese station is far more authentic and tastier. Incredibly tasty seafood congee (avoid the ingredients as they have all been cooked to mush) and hot & sour soup.
***And there you have it. My top ten most memorable dining experiences.***