Thursday, 23 September 2010

BLU @ Shangri-La Hotel: 3rd Year Anniversary - The Experience

14th September 2010

"Any champagne to start the night, sir?" The waitress asked promptly, after we were firmly rested in our comfortable red seats.

"Two glasses, please," I replied, without batting an eyelid; and more detrimentally, without the slightest clue about the price.

Indeed, the mood of the night was set with that exemplary opening gesture - a night or pure indulgence and bliss, on a sensory and, more significantly, emotional level - as I reached out for her hand.

It all felt so natural by now - and it should afterall; considering that it has been exactly three years since I placed her hand firmly in mine, remembering the caption and the phrase of "holding happiness", from our initial and discreet hand-holding moment immortalized on film.

"Are you ready to order, sir?" The waitress asked politely, as I rested the base of the long champagne glass on the white table cloth, the bitter aftertaste that tore through the sweetness still lingering in my mouth - a delightful sensation. 

"We'll have 'The Experience Menu", I told the waitress. 

"The Experience Menu" - a more than apt word to sum up the dining encounter we had at the Shangri-La as we marked our landmark celebration. 

I've always believed dining to be an art in itself, and more importantly and more essentially, an 'experience' (for the lack of a more suitable word). "The Experience Menu" at the Shangri-La not only reinforces, but utterly validates my point.

Led by Chef Kevin Cherkas, with footprints imprinted on some of the globe's Michelin's Restaurant, his creativity and culinary abilities shone through as we were introduced to the concept of "progressive dining"; which was not only a feast for the stomach, but also one for the eyes and the mind, as we left the restaurant in full appreciation of not only his skills, but also his creative talent and hospitality.

"Foie gras is a must, lobster, beef and if possible, oysters." I recited to the waitress, as she noted my preferences down.

"The Experience Menu" at BLU is a special menu where patrons are asked for specific food preferences, allergies and the like; which is then reported to the chef, who will set customise a menu for the patron based on the patron's preferences, and maybe, a little bit based on the chef's mood on that day. Akin to a degustation menu, except that it is a two-way deal between chef and patron rather than a one-sided affair.

For us, even though the menu was recited to us, the names themselves were inventive and at the same time abstract, sometimes being a little bit difficult to visualize, leaving plenty of room for the chef to surprise us, and indeed, he did with one dish after another.

Looking out of the tall glass window over a quiet stretch that would eventually meander to the much busier Orchard Road, she spoke of how it reminded her of Otaru, or in general, Japan... again. Some things in life probably leave a deep imprint on one's soul, and travelling on a magical getaway is probably one that still thugs at her heartstrings ever so often. Nostalgia is sweet in itself, but perhaps more so for me than her, the memory of sharing special travelling moments with a loved one is more than the icing on the cake, it is the very essence of the Experience; one that can only be fostered over a period of a compromise between a passionate love and a comfortable trust built over a course of time.

Mushroom Bubble

A spoon with an odd-looking bubble-shaped object was placed in front of us, as we were instructed on how to consume it. Placing it on my tongue, I applied pressure from the top of my mouth onto the bubble, causing it to burst and releasing a potpourri of flavours, dominated by those of mushroom and an after-tinge of cranberry sauce.

Analogous to drinking of the potion in Alice in Wonderland, this little bubble only served as our entry point to the more fascinating things to come further down the rabbit hole.

Lobster "Thermidor"

Washing up onto the shores of our journey-towards-gourment-excellence next was the Lobster "Thermidor." A rich dish that served the most succulent bits of the Lobster coupled with a rich lobster-based broth that had roe floating on the surface, pieces that I almost missed completely in my blindness and negligence. The combination of the succulent meat with the mixture of the rich and thick lobster broth brought back memories and inevitable comparisons of the lobsters I had in Boston. 

Memories of a time of difficulty and a time of need, as I remember the lazy Sunday afternoons that I would be sitting in front of the laptop in my dorm room, literally reaching out to touch the face I saw on the monitor in hope of getting just that little bit closer to her, despite knowing an inch wouldn't make a difference to the miles apart, but still did so regardless. 

Stealing more than a Glance

That familiar smell, that beckoning texture; stood right before our eyes, as I uncontrollably used the knife to spread over the top of the slab, just to attest its texture and its firmness. Expectations rose by the millisecond as I dug my knife gently into it, watching it crumble softly, as I raised it to my mouth and pressed my lips tightly closed after putting it in my mouth.

Typical of those of the higher grades, the piece melted slowly in my mouth, emitting an assortment of flavours within my mouth; a tinge of saltiness, the familiar taste and an additional spruce of nuttiness thrown in for good measure, (yes, the official name of the dish) quickly rocketed to the top of both our Foie Gras favourites list, sitting very closely to that of Le Saint Julien's, and playing hosts to a whole deluge of memories. (no, you can't click that)

Memories of the different times we shared Foie Gras. Perhaps a mark of luxury and celebration on our part, most major celebrations in our history is somehow always graced with a platter of Foie Gras at the table; and through these different occasions, I think it is safe to say that we have jointly established it as our favourite couple-dish. Mainly because of the taste, but partially for the memories, the numerous candlelights and romantic-slow-burn dinners we've had over the major occasions in the last 3 years closely associated to the taste of the dish.... the smiles, the tears; the birthdays and the kisses.

The Egg Came First, or so states Chef Kevin's witty answer to the age-old question. My retort: it doesn't matter which came first when the egg tastes THIS good. Cutting down the middle to allow for the yolk to soak in and through the thick onion broth, the combination of the inherent sweetness and saltiness from the egg combined with the sting of the onion in its broth was only made more heavenly with the sprinkle of bread crumbs that littered the top of the dish.

The Egg Came First

A refreshing refresher of grape yogurt and soda-infused grape later, our main courses were served. A fresh snapper with vanilla-scented paella for the Lady, simply entitled "Catch", and the manly Wagyu Beef Mustard for the Gentleman.


Well-coloured and even more well garnished, with the brown sauce taking the shape of a perfect diamond, the Wagyu Beef Mustard melted slowly in my mouth, rivalling the texture of the Kobe Beef that I had savoured in Japan a good while back, before the sting of the mustard kicked in to give the meat a sensational after-taste. Passing her a piece, I saw a similar reaction in her eyes as she savoured the meat through the consumption process.

Wagyu Beef Mustard - A Perfect Diamond

My personal belief is that a good relationship changes a person, ideally for the better; as we work towards the notion of becoming more "complete" through our partners. It wasn't too long ago at Morton's that I instigated and tempted her to break her abstinence from beef, never to look back. And while this is highly debateable on whether it is a change for the better or not (in my books, more than definitely), over the months and the years, I can safely say that we've both changed one another.

No more is she the wide-eyed gal with an infinite sense of wonderment, but blossoming into a butterfly of confidence and an opinion to back it up; and no more am I the impatient, self-centred jerk that I used to be, but blossoming into an impatient, and slightly less self-centred jerk now upgraded with enough room for two in my mind, trying my best to consider her thoughts and her feelings along the way alot more (ok, maybe I didn't change THAT much).

"It was still swimming yesterday, so that's super, super, super, SUPER fresh," he said, pointing to the fish. "Not that it makes it any more appetizing, but it makes it a lot healthier."    

A rarity to see the chef outside the kitchen, but yet Chef Kevin made it a point to make personal trips out of the kitchen over the course of the night to play host and explain his creations to the patrons in the small, cosy 40-to-50-seater lined with a traditional, but nonetheless, elegant decor of velvety reds and soft-wooden browns.

The candlelight continued flickering as her unsteady hand tried to capture a shot of our dessert. The Egg proved to be a highly innovative dessert, shaped convincingly like an egg, but tasting nothing like one - but instead, with a mango centre, and coconut white and finished with passion fruit sorbet at the bottom, the combination of flavours was fruity and refreshing, and served as an excellent finish (almost) to our "experience".

Candlelight is perhaps another one of the totems of our relationships, simply because the abundance of candles in the places we've graced, and when you have a predominant-couple-activity of (fine) dining, it is not hard to find the association.

More symbolically, and perhaps more exaggeratingly though, is that this love has indeed proven to be my Light-in-the-dark cliche. But as much as I hate to conform to such, the truth is that, no matter how frivolous and non-committal we wanted to establish it to be at the start, at many a time of darkness and gloom cast upon my career over the last three years, the romantic candle has often remained my source of strength, simply by the virtue of it's presence beside me, and perhaps to much (of her) chagrin, the listening ear to my neverending moping and the little haven for my perpetual brooding.

Customarily, I wrapped up the bill and passed it to her after paying for the dinner, as she picked up the hand-written menu based on our "Experience".

And as we walked out of the doors of the restaurant with happy bellies, I knew deep in my heart, that there was more to the night than that. More so than a Celebration of a Milestone, a Celebration of a Record, a Celebration of History, a Celebration of the Future, a Celebration of Memories, or a Celebration of Love - it was a Celebration of an Experience.

ex·pe·ri·ence (k-spîr-ns)


c.  the totality of a person's perceptions, feelings, and memories

Monday, 6 September 2010

Dark Metamorphosis: Stage I - The Over-Achiever

met·a·mor·pho·sis   /ˌmɛtəˈmɔrfəsɪs/

1. Biology . a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly. Compare complete metamorphosis.

2. a complete change of form, structure, or substance, as transformation by magic or witchcraft.

3. any complete change in appearance, character, circumstances, etc.

Metamorphosis. Caterpillars to butterflies.
"Profound" is definitely the ideal word here to describe the process of change from a wormy green caterpillar to a dazzlingly beautiful butterfly. 4 different stages to become a butterfly, and as a striking parallel, so too can my life be divided into 4 different stages before the Immortal Vampire of today took his Flight of Darkness.
 As with all things, it all starts with an egg; and in me, deeply implanted was an egg of ambition...
The class gathered round and waited with bated breath as she held the stack in her hands. The warm afternoon sun peered in through the open windows, as sweat from most of our bodies had visibly penetrated and soaked through some portions of our uniforms - uniforms that we would wear for the very last time, but at that moment, none of us really made a conscious effort to realise or remember, as all our gazes were fixated on the stack.
She reached down into the stack, and drew the first sheet out, announcing the top score, and a name - my name. 
Shock, awe, joy, fulfilment; all came rushing in at the same time. Applause from all around, as the friends around me patted me on the shoulder and the back. My (then) best friend and closest rival held my neck, wanting to drive my head into the table; partially in jest, but perhaps partially as an outlet to vent his frustrations on the eventual outcome.
I had left as I had came, marking the first and the last years being at the top of the class - the cohort in fact; and at the moment, all the years in between where I had "fallen" started to fade away from my mind - all the tears I shed, the disappointment I endured, and the envy in my eye as I saw my peers race ahead in front of me; all just dissipated with that One Moment of Glory.
That was my world; that was when it mattered - when it mattered more than anything else. Means never mattered, only the Ends did; Results over Process. That was me, implanted deeply with the eggs of ambition, wanting to be the best at everything I did, of worse, at everything period.
The role-model student on the stage reciting the pledge - that was me. The group leader and overall in-charge of the boy scouts - that was me. The class monitor who gained the trust of the teachers - that was me. The swimmer who raced towards the finish line during the weekly swimming lessons - that was me. The one who stood out as the natural leader among my peers - that was me.   
I had my hands in many different cookie jars simultaneously, and in each cookie jar, I wanted nothing but the best cookies. It was often about the competition, but it was always about the victory. Rivalries abound in everything that we did, finding any form or basis for comparison. Victories were always sweet, but defeats were all the more bitter, often too bitter to stomach.
I remember the first time that I had fallen from grace, and fell to a rank of sixth from first, tears ran down my face with no restraint, as the reality sank in and my peers watched on as I took it in, as I took it all in. My (then) best friend still tells me this day that he never forgot that sight, and even felt bad for actually doing better than me, when in retrospect, it was my fault firstly, and secondly, and more importantly, it doesn't matter anymore when you look back at it now.
But yet, that was me; and that was my world then. I thought the world to be my oyster, and myopically, I believed that I had the world in my hands to shape; a world full of ambition, a world full of ideals, a world full of hope, a world full of confidence, and a world that was about to be shaken drastically in the years to come...
I sprinted across the familiar fields in exhilaration and joy, wanting to rush home the soonest possible to share the good news with those I loved. The uniformed onlookers muttered words like "crazy" under their breath through the weird stares they gave as I whizzed by. But it didn't seem to matter, I was the King of the World at that moment, and more importantly, I was definitely going at a pace too fast for any of them.
Perhaps I ran a little too fast that day, too fast for myself even, as in my mad dash ahead, I seemed to have left something behind on the green grassy fields that very day; I left a part of me behind that was never to be found again...
Delusions of Greatness-to-Come

Many Different Seeds