Thursday, June 28, 2012

From Thar to Turduckenqua: Wellington on a Plate 2012

The programme for this year's Wellington on a Plate festival in August was announced ten days ago, and I was surprised to discover that amongst the restaurant deals, tours and events on offer, I actually learnt something new.  That something was the existence of an animal called thar (or tahr), which you can sample as part of the Logan Brown Ata Rangi Wild Game Degustation Dinner.

Apparently, this relative of the wild goat has a huntable population only in New Zealand, which draws people from around the world; in fact, it is so numerous here that the DoC considers it a pest and has put in place Control Plans for the Himalayan Tahr, although other thars in other parts of the world are endangered.

At the risk of sounding like a voracious carnivore, I was also amazed to see that there would be Turduckenqua at the Larder.  I had heard of turducken before, but stuffing quail as well inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey was new to me.  Given that this event is sold out already, I am not the only one who finds it novel.

And novelty is definitely in, with events dedicated to feet (all five sessions sold out already!) and offal, as well as themed dinners such as R.M.S. Titanic: The Last Dinner, featuring an 11 course menu as served to first class passengers on 14 April 1912.  I was also pleased to see traditional Māori food on offer, including braised muttonbirds with horopito on creamed pūhā.  Even the participants of the Burger Wellington challenge are striving for uniqueness: The Cheeky Pipi Moa Burger has an ostrich patty, and The Larder is offering The Brain Burger with gremolata-crumbed lambs' brain, of all things.

I also discovered (not from the programme directly, but through inspired web browsing) that people eat lamb fries in many places around the world. These are very different to lamb's fry (the former is testicles, the latter liver), which is a traditional dish available from such institutions as The Green Parrot, which has been open in Wellington since the 1920's!

None of the above elicits a shocking reaction as much as a shellfish called geoduck (pronounced "gooey duck"), which is nowhere to be seen in the festival, despite being apparently commercially harvested in New Zealand.  Maybe next year.

Apart from promising new foods to try, the festival programme has highlighted some movements in the Wellington food scene that I was previously unaware of.  For instance, Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, which is due to open its doors in September, is available for a sneak preview, and its Cuisine and Pâtisserie Introduction courses are already sold out.  And where the greasy Munchen Burger joint used to be (next to Logan Brown), a new Spanish and Argentinian grill restaurant called El Matador will open in July, a new project by the owner of Ernesto Cafe.

All these exciting things has prompted us to purchase our flights to the capital already.  We are still planning what to eat, and I suspect many items will be sold out before we get a foot in the door, but I am sure we will encounter many culinary delights.  As a fallback plan, you don't need to make a booking for Oyster (a "food truck style" event in a carpark daily), where you can apparently get six kinds of oysters every night, though I suspect they just mean served six ways.

Bon appétit!

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Birthday Dinner, and Cultural Observations

It was my mother's birthday today.  For the second time this year.  It's not really the paradox that it seems, because she celebrates her birthdays by the Chinese lunisolar calendar.  While the Gregorian or Western calendar adjusts for discrepancies between the calendrical year and the astronomical year by adding a leap day in the years which are divisible by 4 (except for those also divisible by 100, but not by 400), the Chinese calendar inserts a leap month, or intercalary month, based on complicated rules to ensure the northern winter solstice always falls in Month 11.  This year, Month 4 was repeated, an uncommon occurrence that my mother naturally wanted to celebrate.

We went to Hee's Garden for dinner, because they have a special for the month of June (advertised on Chinese TV) whereby you get two courses of Peking Duck for only $35 (normally $65).  It was pretty good quality duck too.  The first course was, of course, the crispy skin on a bed of prawn crackers, served with thin flour pancakes, cucumber and spring onion sticks, and hoisin sauce.   The second course was a bit boring though, just the chopped up chunks of meat, as opposed to the flesh being used in something requiring a bit more effort, such as sang choi bao (lettuce wraps) or tofu soup.

Peking duck first course, the leftovers.
Mum spied a group of young students at the next table, and wanted to tell them about the Peking Duck deal, but they had already ordered before she could do that, selecting... almost unbelievably... fried rice, lemon chicken, and BBQ pork.  Surely this is Chinese takeaway-style food from 20 years ago?  Over at another table, a couple had steamer baskets full of dumplings in front of them.  What, asked my mother out loud, are they doing, eating brunch for dinner?

I have been guilty of eating dim sum for dinner myself.  It's great that you can eat what you like when you want to, though I wish people from other cultures would let me know when I am doing something totally weird.  Like, are you only supposed to have masala tea after your meal, rather than during it?  And when you order tsukemen, must you dip the noodles in the soup, rather than pouring the soup over the noodles?

But wait staff can be overly helpful as well.  I was surprised when I was offered a fork at a Chinese eatery, simply because I spoke in English.  At a Vietnamese restaurant recently, the server showed us how to pour the fish sauce over the rice noodles.

I guess you can't have it both ways.  Either you have silent staff, or ones that might end up telling you something obvious.  In the end, I guess it doesn't matter if you eat something "the wrong way".  But I still want to know.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Point Restaurant (葡點) *CLOSED*

[Added 8 August 2012: This eatery is now sadly closed, having been open for only around 4 months.]

It was the photo of a grilled quail which drew us in.  On this cheap and cheerful stretch of Dominion Road, dominated by noodle and dumpling places, animal organs here, rice and lentils there, this little bird seemed almost too exotic to belong.  I was sure that if we tried to order it, we would be told "sorry, we've run out".  The last place I tried to order anything interesting, I was rejected three times before I found an item I could actually have.

Modern and clean look.
Well, I have yet to be told that a dish is unavailable at Point Restaurant. This is probably because most of the offerings at this Macanese eatery consist of noodles or rice, baked or fried (or boiled, in the case of rice porridge), with a repeated selection of accompaniments such as bacalhau (Portuguese salted cod) or BBQ pork.

The fried rice here is one of its strengths, but fortunately the menu also has some non-rice or -noodle dishes.  The Deep Fried Soft Shell Crabs with Wasabi Mayo appears under the "Yummy Snack" section and was beautiful cooked, while being very affordable at $8.50.  The whole Grilled Quail was also a tasty treat.

Partially eaten: Deep Fried Soft Shell Crabs with Wasabi Mayo; Fried Rice with Combination Meat, Cashew Nuts, Pineapple and Curry.

Grilled Quail with Five Spice Salt.
Our favourite fried rice so far is the Combination Meat one pictured with the Soft Shell Crab above, but the Seafood with Tomato Sauce Fried Rice is also pretty good.  I thought it would be like a Spanish paella, but it is definitely fried rice, with less liquid and some egg fried with it.  The seafood reminded me of "Mini-Me": apart from normal mussels, prawns, and squid, it also had tiny versions of the mussels, less than 10 times the size of the regular ones, and little shrimps as well.

Seafood with Tomato Sauce Fried Rice.
We found the noodles less exciting, though we have by no means tried them all, and the Fried Udon with vegetables was not bad.

Garlic Mushrooms and Vegetables with Fried Udon.
The main weakness of Point Restaurant is that there isn't a lot of vegetables to be had.  What dishes there are, the vegies tend to be a minor ingredient, or covered in cheese, and there isn't anything I would refer to as "green leafy vegetables".  Then again, I have felt a lack of vegetables in many other restaurants, even in, say, vegetarian Indian restaurants.  I don't really have anything against cheesy bakes anyway, even the mildly curried and sweetly coconutty ones.

Steamed Mix Vegetables Baked with Cheese and Coconut Curry Sauce.
Although no one was hungry after the large portions we were served, we couldn't go past trying the Serradura for dessert.  Named after the Portuguese word for "sawdust", this pudding looked like tiramisu, but was simply whipped cream layered with biscuit crumbs, garnished with grated chocolate.  Plain, yet enjoyable.

Serradura, or Macanese "Sawdust" Pudding, made of whipped cream and biscuit crumbs.
Point Restaurant is the only eatery I know of in Auckland specialising in the Chinese-Portuguese fusion cuisine of Macau.  It doesn't have the egg tarts and meat jerky slices sold from the sides of cobbled streets, which I've come to associate with this Chinese Special Administrative Region, but it does offer a large variety of other delights such as baked rice dishes and Portuguese sausage, all without breaking the bank.

Panda Recommends

Entrees: Deep Fried Soft Shell Crabs with Wasabi Mayo ($8.50), Grilled Quail ($12.00)
Mains: Combination Meat, Cashew Nuts, Pineapple with Curry Fried Rice ($12.50), Seafood with Tomato Sauce Fried Rice ($12.50)

Vegie Pandas
Limited choice, but be aware that you can look beyond the Vegetarian section for suitable dishes.

Menu - page 1

Menu - page 2
Restaurant Details

Point Restaurant (葡點)
Unit 4, 583 Dominion Road, Balmoral, Auckland
(09) 623 4279

Opening hours:
Mondays closed.
Tuedays to Sundays 12 – 3pm, 5:30pm – 9:30pm

Point Restaurant is in the same complex as Banzai, next to Aji Ichiban.

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