Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stags' Leap at Stoked - Great Whites, Forgettable Food and Reds

10th August 2016

This one promised much. Yankee wines that we don't often see with an inventive menu of food dishes to match. Sounded good. 

Ended up disappointed. Raised expectations killed me again. Not that the food or wine was bad - just that the excitement of the chance to taste some allegedly top end American reds and whites gets a bit out of control and the result at the table didn't quite match the visualised gourmet heaven that was anticipated. Hai yaaaaa….   When will I learn? 

We signed up pretty early via the usual email and got a table with some of our usual suspects from the IWFS (Texas, May, FBQ, The Governor) in addition to the Baron and a new friend from Korea. I dropped Lenglui at the entrance and spent ten minutes trying to find somewhere to park. DBKL is doing something along the main Jalan with the result that the erstwhile parking on the roadside now no longer exists. Jalan Kasah is clearly popular with all its eateries and trying to find parking near the Stoked after 7pm is presently a nightmare. 

Walking through to the private room at the back (where we were seated for the night) I didn't see too many familiar faces. Totally different crowd. Which is good, I suppose. Got sat with a glass of the delicately pleasant fizz just in time to witness the Wine Man getting introduced and giving us a quick run down of what was in store. Very smooth and seasoned and handles a crowd well. He stopped talking before we got bored, which shows good audience sense. Can learn from this. Didn't catch his name, though his accent proclaimed Horse-Traylian. No Yin-How tonight - apparently overseas doing something on his MW. 

The delightful Trio of Canapes
The Trio of Canapes were delightful and excellently tasty - a shaved slice of fresh truffle on a spring crispy sushi roll was the winner, though the softened pecan nut on wholemeal rustic bread came close. The duck with seaweed wrap on some sweet green spongey possibly durian something made for a tasty morsel and went very nicely with the soft and delicately bubbled fizz. Seems a lot of time and labour goes into creating this Domaine Brut - my notes say 22 days on the lees and hand riddled. The website notes give it "delicate flavors of apples and citrus and lively acidity… the perfect accompaniment for… spicy fries, artichoke or cheese dips, calamari, salty snacks." Whilst it lacked the full meat and bones body of a Champagne (the Ste Michelle is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris) it was far from lightweight and made for a pleasant aperitif and partner to the delicate flavours of the canapes. On reflection, maybe should have bought this one, but then… Nah - we have loads of bottles of fizz in the fridge at home waiting to get drunk. Never seem to find the occasion. Need more parties. A lot of the table left their canapes on the plate, so I happily scarfed up any sushi truffle and pecan nut toast within reach. No reason was given for their refusals to eat. My rule is: if it's good, don't waste - there might be something not so tasty ahead!

The Eroica Riesling is "a labour of love" between the Old World Dr. Loosen Estate of Germany and the New of Chateau Ste. Michelle in USA's Washington State. Taking inspiration from Beethoven's Third Symphony, the name seeks to reflect a shared heritage and history in which both producers are rooted - 200 years of Dr Loosen production and the championing of the grape by Chateau Ste. Michelle since the 1970s. Eroica made its debut in 1999. The website talks about the wine being a result of "where old and new philosophies intermingle to create exceptional techniques" which I didn't quite understand. Never mind, I'm sure someone will explain should the need arise. Goes well with "Asian dishes, Indian curries, crab and scallops" apparently...

On its own, it was a darling - light, fragrant, quite fruit driven, with a long spritzy and somewhat sweet finish. Stealing up on the senses and bewitching them beautifully. The wine notes suggest "sweet lime and mandarin orange aromas with subtle mineral notes (and) mouth-watering acidity… beautifully balanced by flavourful Washington Riesling fruit." 

The Sweet Japanese Prawn had been doused with what felt like some light syrup (which might have been the shellfish oil), aided by some lychee, with some blackened salty garlic and a smear of pureed unagi for contrast. The Prawn itself was excellent - texture, taste, nice little slimy give on the bite - and the flowers and fresh herbs added to the combo made for understated umami with the garlic and unagi spanking the sweet and coating the tongue and cheeks with smoky sweet sour tingles. Belter. 

The excellent Sweet Japanese Prawns
The pairing with the Riesling felt like a battle of sweets - sweet prawn, sweetish wine - and neither really helped the other as a result. The black garlic seemed to bring out a salty dimension to the wine which was quite pleasing, but other than this the match felt a bit snuzz and underwhelming. Something a shade more racy might have given a necessary zing to the proceedings. There you go - these things are often more educated guesswork and crossed fingers than anything. My understanding is that rarely does a restaurant get to try wine-dinner wine beforehand and look to match dominant styles and tastes. At least that is my experience of food and wine tastings for the IWFS - we go to taste food at a prospective restaurant (bringing our own wines) then assess what style (if any) made for a match and go see what we can get from the cellar or elsewhere. 

There was initially some strong rumour that the Free Range Chicken on the plate was apparently once a rooster but had became a eunuch having presumably been castrated by the overzealous farmer. Poor thing. The castrated Kampong chickens are a sought after delicacy in Malaysian Chinese circles because the texture of the meat is both firmer and juicier. And consequently more expensive. The excitement level was reaching a fever pitch when word came out that the rumour was unfounded - the bird on the plate was definitely not male. Suitably deflated, the hordes started attacking. Whatever the sex, the texture of the meat was amazingly tender and finely chewy in the mouth and on the bite. Was just a darn shame there was not much taste on the thing - it was pretty bland. The lettuce and broth lent vegetal crunch and green goodness, and once the caviar started crushing over the combo one did get a sense that there was some sense in the ensemble. I think I got it - textures over tastes. The table was not impressed - no taste was the refrain and chorus. More booze in the glass seemed to help quell this rising symphony. Perhaps we should have had the Eroica playing over the sound system - might have spruced up the chicken.

Slow Cooked Free Range Chicken. Not male.
Perhaps the bird's blandness was deliberate to show off the Stags Leap Karia Chardonnay, which at first blush was stellar. The winemaker calls the Karia "graceful" with "a broad, expressive nose with lemon, stone fruit and vanilla aromas. Medium bodied, this wine has a lovely texture and flavors of red apple, light citrus and Asian pear that lead to a long finish with a hint of creamy oak. There is a nice balance to the acidity and minerality that enhances the freshness and elegance of this wine." Best paired with roast or grilled chicken with lemon or dill salsa and tomatoes, the Karia has been acclaimed as "a picture perfect, well balanced, ultra-premium wine" (WW91) and " fresh and very seductive" (RP). I got big tropical fruits nose and great balance with a sharp orangey fizz fresh spritz in the mouth and a lush long lingering finish. This taste put me in mind of how some of us men feel about our old flames - a little bit bitter and ultimately quite a bit sweet. Wine Man said can keep for three to five years. Hmmm...  maybe. I give it two. Couldn't find much on the meaning behind the name - from a Greek Turkish word "karuwa" meaning "steep country" that gave the name Carian to a people in the Ionian region of Greece. Is also a village in Kenya and an Estonian global meat supplier. Yes. 

It didn't really go with the chicken on the night. Actually, with its orangey fizz mouth I couldn't think of what Malaysian or any food dish it would easily pair with. Maybe Duck a l'Orange or the cracking Lemon Chicken we get at the Hoi Kee (click here to read more on Hoi Kee), but not one that smacked of an easy food match. Perhaps some salt on the chicken might have brought wider dimension and depth. Lovely to guzzle, but not for us.

Wine Man seemed to be doing a big selling job on the 2012 Merlot. Talking about the grapes enjoying hot days and cold nights, lovely Cabernet feel and nose, very nice Merlot etc etc. Nice story that Cold Creek was no longer a creek and had been dry for many years. The webbies claim that Cold Creek’s 40-year-old vines deliver an intense, big and concentrated Merlot giving black fruit flavors and layers of complexity and great age-ability. WS (91pt) calls it "Fresh and inviting, focusing the black cherry, black currant and coffee flavors into a tannin-wrapped package that carries through a long, well-modulated finish. Best from 2017 through 2022. " whilst WE (90pt) gets "Cocoa, plum and vanilla aromas… followed by creamy-feeling blue-fruit flavors that display a mixture of fruit and barrel. The barrel influence is heavy but it’s delicious all the same" and a Best Buy. Wow and yes. They clearly love it. 

I got soft, sweet, smoky spice and plum, some oak, and quite young and fresh. In many senses, a delightful wine and reflective of the views expressed by the above Powers that Be. But it all made me realise that my senses are not a good match with this single varietal - for me there was something missing. It was like our friend the Kampong Chicken - no balls. I clearly need a bit of oomph in my booze and oomph seemed to be lacking on this expression. Bit leaning toward the bland and needing some fire. Like a secret scarlet woman in search of a scarlet man to complete and release the scarlet her. Wow. What?

My salmon came out a bit old and cold, though well seared. My tempura batter was mushy and equally cold. Perhaps the kitchen had been kept waiting by Wine Man's admittedly entertaining spiel and things went a bit south on the plate as a result. The combo of Salmon, Mushroom and Polenta worked well - the textures contrasted well and the mushroom seemed to dominate. But again, there seemed to be an overall lack of taste in the thing. I rarely add salt and pepper at the table because if the chef has decided that the seasoning is enough then that is what I want to taste. But I was quite tempted tonight. The evil Capsicum got discarded - perhaps this was the taste bomb? They crease me - get windy for days.

Roasted Atlantic Salmon
Didn't also get much sense of match between food and wine here. Thin meets bland. Can't think of much else to say. "No taste" seemed to be becoming a mantra.

Which carried through to the Beef Rib - mine had fair heat, though a shade tough and not much in the taste department. Same with the jus - bit thin. No notes, and now cannot remember. Sorry.

Stags' Leap has been iconic since it scooped the pool at the Paris blind tasting of May 1976, with its 1973 S.L.V. Cab whacking the best that Bordeaux could produce. The Artemis (which is the name of the Greek goddess of the Hunt) is an annual eagerly awaited favourite, and Wine.com's Wilfred Wong declared the 2013 one of his favourites of the vintage. A superior year with a new winemaker, it exceeded expectations and is a fine addition in keeping with the best traditions of the Stags' Leap wine making heritage. 

The Winemaker's notes says the 2013 Artemis "offers inviting aromas of blackcherry and plum with hints of vanilla. On the palate, the wine has a soft entry with ripe mixed berry and plum flavors. The wine has a medium-bodied mouthfeel with round, satin-like tannins." Can be paired with grilled braised short ribs, or pasta with wild mushrooms and prosciutto. So we were well on brief as far as the pairing was concerned. 

Angus Short Ribs
I didn't get it. I mean, I got to taste some of the wine, but I didn't get the enthusiasm for it. When paired against other Napa Cabs I have had the luck to taste, this felt thin in both fruit, nose and weight contexts. Not unpleasant nor badly made, just not the Cab I was expecting given the iconic-ness of its brand. It did improve with the food, but would not be one that would get ordered from a wine list in the future. I go straight for the Phelps - massive wines of wonderful structure, layers and length. 

Half way through it struck me that perhaps the Artemis was the Scarlet Man that the Scarlet Woman Merlot was seeking, so I poured a bit of the one into the other. And so it proved - as they made love to each other in the glass their fusing released a rich firm mouth of berries and spice with length and breadth and by a long stretch the best tasting wine of the night. 

The look of shock and horror on the face of Wine Man when I confessed - no, I DECLARED this - was palpable, though he recovered to say that this was how wine was made. 

Which on one level is true, though I bet few others would have dared such a transgression. Come on, guys, it's only wine. For me, if you don't try, you never know, and O Lord let us never blindly adore our wine idols simply because everyone else idolises them. Only way to keep things honest, which now I think of it is a large part why I write. 

The Plums in the Dessert came across as a shade sour, though the rest of the ensemble produced an ice creamy smooth sweet cold crunch and made for a good contrast between the sweet and the sour. Put me in mind of the rhubarb crumble we would get in school - sourish, probably very good for the system, but not an entirely sweet note on which to end an evening. Indeed, by this time a lot of people had left before the dessert hit the table. Shame. They missed some delightful Petits Fours and some excellent coffee.

Roasted Plum Crumble - creamy, crunchy and boozy
So…  the general judgement of the table was that the food lacked taste. Nothing was bad, just mostly bland and could have done with a good shake of seasoning. For me, I found the earlier dishes very good (canapes, prawn) whilst I think I have to agree that the mains needed a shake of something. I think it is good to support Chef Yau in his experimental ventures, but I remain waiting for them to really connect across the entire menu. I might hazard a guess that his Japanese training and experience has perhaps geared the emphasis more toward textures; it might be good to give taste aspects a bit of a jigger, certainly on the showing of the mains on the night. 

Petits Fours
Wine-wise, I enjoyed the whites - delicate fizz, clean razor like Riesling and tropical citrus Chardonnay. Though outside of the Brut, I felt the whites were not quite value for what they were offering. Yes, they were well made and drank nicely but did not strike as wines to drink at home or elsewhere with food (though maybe good with friends at a party). The Merlot was...  probably a good Merlot but ultimately meh in weight and fruit terms for me. The Cab was… also missing something - great forward fruit, but no real whack. Both would have done well with soft cheese, which perhaps explains their terroir and origins - made for the cheese eating crowd who happily consume both at the Napa vineyards. Would definitely not mind to try this lifestyle sometime. Maybe in the next life. If there is one. Ommmm….

There seemed to be fair distribution of the whites, though it did feel that the surplus red didn't much make it past the first few tables (we were sat at the back in the private room). Which is where the main wine buyers seem to get sat. Which is fair enough - they are the prospective buyers, so should naturally get the lion's share of the surplus booze. Maybe next time I should ask to sit in the open area? No - no point to be greedy. 

Wine Man and...  Wine Ladies, I guess...
The wines were being offered at 30% discount on the night. I didn't see too many orders going in. We certainly opted not to buy. Couldn't think of an occasion or food match where the wine would fit. Also, notwithstanding the regard in which both the Ste Michelle and Stags' Leap output is held, they didn't seem to stun sufficiently to warrant the price being asked. Though the Fizz did come close for me but not for Lenglui. Maybe have to buy a secret few and stash them for surprising when the occasion presents. Nah.

STOKED! Restaurant & Bar
Jalan Kasah
Medan Damansara
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel 03 2096 1645

"I now pronounce you...blended!"
Chateau Ste Michelle + Stags' Leap Cellars at Stoked Restaurant and Bar

Trio of Canapes
Domaine Ste Michelle Brut NV, Columbia Valley

Sweet Japanese Prawn
Lychee, Black Garlic, Shellfish Oil
Eroica Riesling 2014

Slow Cooked Free Range Chicken
Caviar, Grilled Lettuce, Lettuce Broth
Stags' Leap Karia Chardonnay 2014

Roasted Atlantic Salmon
Polenta, Maitake Tempura, Capsicum
Domaine Ste Michelle Cold Creek Merlot 2012

Smoked & Braised Grain Fed Angus Short Ribs
Dauphinoise Potatoes, Broccolini, Natural Jus
Stags' Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Roasted Plum
Crumble, Gingko Nut, Cognac, Cream Sauce

Coffee or Tea
Petit Fours

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