Thursday, September 29, 2005

Aburiya, Holland Village

Counterclockwise from top: yasai mori, jo tan, and karubi

Hmmm...what's open late at night aside from hawker centres and McDonald's? Oh yes - Aburiya now runs a shop in Holland Village until 1 AM! Ahhh...gotta head down there.

It was worth it. I'm relieved to say that the small pieces of meat were only an acute instance of my ordering the cheaper tan negi. I upgraded to the jo tan tonight and ahh...finally bigger slices. The hosonegi sarada was quite a delight: raw slices of leek marinated in sesame oil and salt. Mmm...that's all my favorite condiments in one bowl - a bit similar to the scallion strips at the Corner Place in LA, but here the negi was so potent that it stung(!). Vampires and first daters must stay away, as this obviously manufactures the worst case of dragon breath ever as a result (especially when combined with all the 20-some-odd garlic cloves provided in the yasai mori).

Unfortunately, I worry that they won't be open that late much longer. It's down on the other end of the street where no foot traffic passes, and there were nearly no customers in there tonight at 11 PM. I'm going to try to go there as much as I can just in case they start cutting down on the hours soon (hmmm...yakiniku for a post-drinking snack? an expensive one at that...).

Buffalo Wings at Brewerkz

Buffalo Wings

I went back to Brewerkz today to try to reverify what I found last night. Unfortunately, it turned out that the etoufee is not served at lunch time. Crap. Well, at least I could get the buffalo wings.

So, did the beer cloud my judgment last night? Not really. The buffalo wings still turned out decently good, with the solid suicide sauce, blue cheese dressing, and not much meat on the bones. Actually, it wasn't that consistent: some wings were relatively crispily fried with not much meat on the bone (yay!), but some other wings near the bottom were a bit too meaty and soggy. Regardless, the suicide sauce proved consistently spicy and sour, as it did yesterday. So if the wing quality would just be consistent, then we're in business.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Etoufee at Brewerkz

Just the other day I was thinking how I'll never get cajun food in Singapore, and lo and behold, Brewerkz (30 Merchant Road, #01-05/06 Riverside Point, 6438-7438) had a fried catfish and shrimp etoufee on the menu. Still unconvinced, I told myself that it couldn't be good, and that there was no way they could do it right. But damn, that was a shocker - it was really good. It doesn't look like much here (sorry for the crappy picture here as we were seated outside at night, and my cameraphone sucks), but it was rich, spicy, tender, and fresh all at the same time. The food at Brewerkz had always been a bit so-so to me, so this was seriously a surprise. Wow.

Note that Brewerkz is not a cajun place (in fact, the waiter was baffled when I told him I wanted the etoufee - he kept referring to it as "the catfish"). It is a microbrewery (owned by Canadians?) serving burgers and buffalo wings. Still, they had etoufee on the menu, and boy, was I glad I ordered it. Maybe it had just been so long since I've had cajun food.

Separately, the buffalo wings (get the "suicide" sauce, of course) were surprisingly good today (spicy, sour, greasy, yet crisp), in contrast to lackluster Brewerkz experiences in the past. I wonder if all that pre-dinner beer distorted my taste buds, or if the food really was that good. Well, there's one way to find out: I'm going back there soon!

Pearl River Palace Restaurant

Peking Duck

I was impressed by this place. Tucked away on the third floor of the Suntec Convention Centre, it's not exactly a place that one would find great food. But every single dish in our Chinese banquet stunned me, starting with the Peking duck (tasty and delicate yet not greasy), to the shark's fin soup (full of flavor, delicate crab meat, and firm shark's fin - sorry, animal rights folks), through to everything else like a sesame encrusted chicken, which was borderline excessively salty but just enough to say "mmm...hey are you going to eat that?"

Maybe I just haven't had good Cantonese food in a while, but I was impressed with this place. If for some reason you ever need to host a nice lunch at Suntec Convention Centre, try coming here. I didn't find a single dish in our banquet that I didn't like.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Nanbantei, Far East Plaza

Daikon Sarada

This had always been one of my favorite places: top-quality yakitori with great service, albeit at expensive Japanese prices. I hadn't been here in a while, but all that talk about daikon sarada prompted me to come here (Far East Plaza #05-132, 6733-5666). Sure enough, the daikon sarada at Nanbantei remains the king out of all those other places lately, featuring fresh ingredients in moderation accompanied by two mild yet tasty dressings (they had a spicy miso dressing a couple years ago that was really nice, but they seem to have taken it away).

KawaAnyway, the point of coming here is obviously more for the yakitori, which, as I mentioned, is top-notch. Don't come here with preconceived notions of yakitori based upon experiences at that fast-food Tori-Q chain (yes, the one with that automatic grilling and dipping machine in the window) as this is worlds apart. Witness the kawa (chicken skin): it's crispy with lots of tasty fat, bringing it leaps and bounds beyond soggy Tori-Q. Everything else simply kicks ass on this menu too, be it in the asupara maki, nasu, yaki onigiri, or otherwise. It's also nice to be able to start and end the meal with non-yakitori items too, like maguro natto and ochazuke.

Yaki OnigiriThis place was recently recognized by the Tatler, which, unfortunately, also brought crowds with it, and thus makes it a lot harder to get seating at. Today's food quality was also a bit off: the ebi wasn't as fresh as it usually is. I hope this isn't the result of the Tatler recognition. It'd be a shame if it were.

Moevenpick Marche Restaurant

Rosti with cheese sausage and cream of mushroom soup

From the Swiss Moevenpick group, Marche is an interesting concept of a bunch of really nice-looking stalls serving different kinds of food. Just head up to whatever looks good, and the server will mark what you eat on a card before you check out at the cashiers at the end. The bulk of their activity, like hotels and food, appears to be in EMEA, but for some reason, they have opened a couple stores in Singapore (one at the Heeren and one at Suntec). There are some Asian dishes (stir-fried seafood, for instance) - maybe because of localization? I usually head straight to the counter serving rosti, which is kinda like a huge hash brown cooked in butter, and is effectively the national dish of Switzerland. I prefer the cheese sausage to go with it, as well as a big heaping of sour cream (OK, this isn't the healthiest thing in the restaurant, but they do have lots of salads if it makes you feel better).

As you can imagine, it's a great grease bomb of flavor combined with a "burnt-just-right" crunchy texture. Add some mustard for contrast with the richness of it all, and it's a plate of goodness there in front of you. I like their cream of mushroom soup too. It beats Campbell's to a pulp: not only is it richer, but the finely diced bits of mushroom really accentuate the taste. Yum.

I've never really tried anything else here since I like the rosti so much, but it's a good place to come when you've got a group since people can get their own thing. The ice cream crepes are quite a favorite here too.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thohirah Restaurant, Jalan Kayu

Kambing Soup and Prata Kosong

I don't know why signs say that his food is Thai Muslim, but he's basically serving the same stuff as everyone else down the street: roti prata, roti john, kambing soup, etc. We just stopped by for a quick afternoon snack. The prata kosong (literally prata zero, or plain prata) wasn't anything great, although the curry was decently tasty. The teh halia was a bit weaker than I am accustomed to too. But the kambing soup was one of the better ones that I've had: spicy, rich, and hearty.

Well, he's at the top of the street (258 Jalan Kayu) near the carpark and is open 24 hours, so it's convenient, that's for sure.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tonkichi Seafood (seafood, really?)

Rosu Katsu Kare

I'm not sure why this place is called Tonkichi Seafood, seeing that there really isn't any seafood on the menu aside from the ebi furai. In fact, I was recommended this place by a Japanese journalist here in Singapore not for "seafood," but for quite the opposite: cheap but good tonkatsu (breaded pork). And it's well deserved: the pork is deep fried to a light and lean crisp but still tasty and tender. They also give you unlimited refills of a very finely shredded lettuce, in case it helps your conscience after eating all that fried pork. I haven't tried much else on the menu here aside from the curry, which isn't the best that I've had, but there aren't very many places to get Japanese curry around here (I was disappointed with one curry place near Raffles City as they spiced it up for local palates a bit too much).

Anyway, the tonkatsu here is really worth coming for, and is definitely very affordable (in the realm of Japanese food, anyway). But try to avoid this place (three locations: Isetan Scotts, Ngee Ann City, and Suntec) on weekends as it can get pretty packed.

Samples of Chirimen with rice at Isetan

Did you see the Lost Boys where he ate Chinese take-out rice but thought they were maggots? Today I stumbled into the Isetan market to buy some soap, only to come across a "Kyushu Fair," upon which a booth minder stopped to ask if I wanted to try some "baby sardines" (or anchovies?). As you can see in the photo, they looked like little white worms or something, and, interestingly, these are meant to be eaten by sprinkling them on top of steamed rice...whoa it's the Lost Boys! Strangely though, it actually sounded pretty good to me, so I tried it. I couldn't really taste it at first (the mango ice cream sandwich taste was still in my mouth), and so she sprinkled on even more of the stuff! Actually, it was pretty good: it was salty and mildly fishy - pretty much what you would expect from Japanese food. They had several mixtures too, including seaweed variations, which I nearly considered buying until I slapped myself on the head, pointing out to myself that I never cook at home anyway and it would just go to waste. But it was just funny because the Lost Boys kept coming into my head the entire time.

Ice Cream off the streets of Singapore

One of many Ice Cream Men on Orchard Road

Here is a truly Singaporean thing. Do you remember those "boxes" of ice cream we used to buy at the supermarket? And do you remember those cheap 25 cent square ice cream scoops we used to get at Thrifty drug stores? In Singapore, these have been taken to another level. On the streets of Singapore, ice cream men will dig boxes of ice cream out of their portable carts and use a Chinese butcher knife to slice right through it, cardboard and everything. (It's a bit like cutting into a big melon or slab of meat, but with ice cream instead.) From there, they remove the cardboard and ask you if you want it wrapped in a slice of bread (multicolored, I might add), or wafers, which is my preference. Pay S$1 (US$0.60), it goes into a sheet of plastic for easy carrying, and you're off! I laugh because it seems like such a lazy way to do things (kinda like what a bachelor would do in his apartment, drinking milk straight out of the carton), but yet it's effective and commonly accepted here.

There is some localization here. Ice cream flavors (aside from the usual chocolate, etc.) include mango, honeydew, and durian (!). He ran out of honeydew today, so I settled for mango, which wasn't exactly bursting in fresh taste, but one can't exactly expect this from rectangular ice cream cut with a knife for only US$0.60, now can we?

The ice cream men still have cones and cups, but then he has to dig into this mysterious central vat full of mixed flavors to get you a scoop. Given what he does with the box slicing, I seriously wonder where he gets these flavors to mix into one big vat in the center. sounds a bit too convenient.

Friday, September 23, 2005

More dishes from Hometown Sichuan

Water Cooked Beef

Here's just a couple more Sichuan dishes from Hometown (9 Smith Street, 6372-1602). The first is the "water cooked beef," which as you can see, is drowned in an excessive amount of grease and chili for a very good (if unhealthy) taste. I like it better here than in the mainland as they don't use as much peppercorn here. (I also like to save the leftover oil to douse upon leftover steamed rice the next day, but don't tell my doctor that!)

Dry Green ChiliInset here is the "dry green chili," which is also a bit of a misleading name given that the peppers are drowned in grease again. But that's pretty much what it is: stir fried chili peppers, and not much else, aside from some salty Chinese black beans for taste. It's (again) not the healthiest thing in the world (and the vitamin C in chili peppers does not count!), but it can be pretty tasty with some steamed rice. ...only in moderation!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Catchup Chronicles #4: Mainland China

I wish I had started this blog about four years ago, when I really started to give my passport and frequent flier accounts a workout, going to new places around the world. Well, in an effort to try to make up for some of that, I've dug up some old photos that I've taken, and will post them here in sections from time to time (especially when I don't see any upcoming travel for a while). This episode: China.

This was the economy class meal on Air China from Shanghai to Beijing, in commune-style metal tins and meat-stuffed bitter gourd (yuck! I didn't realize it was bitter gourd until I put it in my mouth and spit it out right after - ugh!!). My friend in Beijing chastized me for eating that airline crap, as we subsequently went for the very greasy and numbingly spicy "water cooked fish." It was similar to the one that they have at Hometown on Smith Street, but the key difference being an excessive amount of tongue-numbing peppercorns that - to me, anyway - made the experience a bit unpleasant.


Still, there were quite a few other delights in China worth noting (but not pictured here, unfortunately). This ranged from the Peking Duck in the old alleys of Beijing (nice), a dumpling place right off the big Chang An drag boasting of over 100 varieties of dumplings, and the little spicy mah hsiao crawdads on "Ghost Street" for late night snacking (a spicy grease bomb). I was also pleasantly surprised to find in Shanghai the tastiest hsiao long bao dumplings I've ever had (not a laboriously-refined as Taiwan's Ding Tai Fung, but tastier), as well the very oily yet bearingly good white pepper eel, which is apparently a very popular home-cooked meal in Shanghai.

Food in China isn't the exactly healthiest stuff in the world with all the excessive grease (and hardly resembles the "Chinese" food you get in the US, let me assure you), but it can be pretty tasty if done properly. I did get a bit sick of it after a week in China though - so much to the point that the first thing I got when I got back to Singapore was a salad just to cleanse my system out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Aburiya, Robertson Quay

Daikon Sarada

After several rounds of yakiniku that left me yearning, I had to come back to Aburiya (60 Robertson Quay, #01-03, 6735-4862). And I'm glad I did. The karubi was tender and only mildly sweet, the tan negi was of good quality, and the daikon sarada was tastier and more daring than Daidomon's with ham and full sheets of nori.

The highlight of the evening was the tontoro pork, which, with all its fat and salt, tasted like bacon on steroids: greasy and salty as hell. Yummm! It's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it went down (guiltily) well with the yaki onigiri rice grilled on a fire.

Tan Negi, Karubi, Tontoro, and Onigiri

Still, I have to admit that it wasn't perfect. The meats were sliced way too small - to the point where they shriveled up into ridiculously small pieces. The daikon sarada, although good, is still second-best in my mind to Nanbantei. And I must have gotten a pretty green waiter this time as he didn't quite know what he was doing. All in all though, I'd prefer to come here over the others, short of going all the way to Japan (it looks like they've opened a new location at Holland Village too - and it's open until 1AM - yayyy!!).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ramly Burger at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Ramly Burger and Kambing Soup

Thanks to one of our fellow readers for suggesting this find. One actually can get good Ramly Burgers in Singapore: at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which I heard is actually Malaysian property (kinda like an embassy), and could be why this guy is able to sell them. Anyway, this guy was much better than the pasar malams: he used the right ingredients with mayo, Maggi sauce, grease, and all for S$2.50 (US$1.50). Still, he didn't butterfly the patty, and it seemed a bit short of actual Ramly burgers in Malaysia, but it was good enough. Cool - now I know where to go.

Note that his hours are 4PM - 4AM, so don't try to go all the way there for lunch like I did. At least the 4AM part will come in conveniently from time to (drunken) time.

There was also a guy next door selling kambing (mutton) soup, which I picked up as well. It was decent and full of flavor, but after having eaten a greasy Ramly burger too, I started to feel a little sick. At least I can say that I finally made it to this Ramly Burger guy in Singapore.

Salted Vegetable Duck Soup

This is from a stall (#04-07A) at the Amara food court that sells "Herbal Soup." I'm not a fan of those Chinese herbs, but the Salted Vegetable Duck Soup is pretty good (probably because it is the one thing on their menu that doesn't feature a ton of herbs). It doesn't necessarily sound very nice, but the salted vegetables are kinda like pickled vegetables, which are pretty good. The soup is light and mildly sour (my favorite), and it all goes well with freshly cut chili peppers in light soy sauce as well as their brown vegetable rice. The duck is pretty tender too, although I could do without the bones. Anyway, this is a nice refreshing meal, and healthy, I suppose. They also have pig brain soup on the menu, but I don't think I'll be venturing in that direction anytime soon.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Oosters, Singapore

Sausage platter, Ham & Cheese Croquettes, Meatball, and Bitterballen

Oosters (25 Church Street, #01-04 Capital Square Three, 6438-3210) is a Belgian brasserie, featuring the requisite mussels and variety of beers. Although I like beer and steamed shellfish, I don't get cravings for this place as I wholeheartedly prefer clams over mussels. The celery, carrots, onion and garlic used in the Moules Mariniere mussel broth were a bit boring for me too - I'd prefer much more butter in it. I also find most Belgian beers to be too hoppy, Stella and Hoegaarden aside.

Moules MariniereStill, the food here isn't bad. I was really impressed by the crunchy shell yet tasty mushy insides of the bitterballen ("small breadcrumbed beef-balls with chopped onions and mixed herbs"). Other dishes like the sausages, meatballs, and croquette held up on their own. And there are always the novelties of having dedicated glass shapes for each brand of beer, as well as of using a mussel shell as a utensil for plucking out another mussel.

Well, next time I'm back here, the bitterballen are definitely going to be ordered. But I don't really expect to be coming here too often.

Blue Ginger, Tanjong Pagar

Pickles, Beef Rendang, Ngo Heong, and Ayam Buah Keluak

I've never been a huge fan of Peranakan (Malaysian Chinese) food, but Blue Ginger (97 Tanjong Pagar Road, 6222-3928) is a nice place to bring visitors to get a unique taste that they can't really get elsewhere. I was decently impressed today as the food wasn't as sweet as I remembered it - instead, it had a good spicy kick to it. Being the big fan of eggplant that I am, I loved the Sambal Terong Goreng ("Deep fried eggplant ladened with fresh chilli paste and sweet soya sauce") thanks to its salty spicy toppings. Bakwan Kepeting ("A traditional recipe of minced pork and crabmeat shaped into meatballs accompanied with fine slices of bamboo shoots" in a soup) also struck a chord with me - a clean light taste yet still savory. The little pickles for the starter (kinda like tsukemono but spicy) similarly motivated me to grab more.

One interesting dish was the Ayam Buah Keluak ("Braised chicken flavoured with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass cooked with Indonesian black nuts") - these nuts looked a bit like hazelnuts, and you're supposed to scoop out the black insides to accompany your rice. They were mildly bitter and looked a bit odd, but it was better than I thought it would be (it tasted a bit like Chinese black bean sauce).

Otak Otak and Sambal Terong GorengStill, there are a number of Peranakan dishes that I'm still not a huge fan of. I never really liked the fishy taste of Otak Otak ("Prepared in our kitchen, our homemade fishcake recipe will tantalize your taste buds with turmeric and lime leaves enriched with galangal, chilli, candlenuts and shrimp paste" wrapped in leaves). The ginger and spices in Beef Rendang are also common in other localized dishes (like Burger King's Rendang burger) - a bit of a turn off for me. The Ngo Heong ("Homemade rolls of minced pork and prawns seasoned with five spice powder wrapped and fried to crispy golden brown") and Kueh Pie Tee ("Shredded bamboo shoots and turnips garnished with shrimp in pie tee cups") were decent, but not something I'd come back for. Still, today's meal impressed me more than I would have thought. Next time we bring an out-of-towner to this place, we've gotta get the soup and eggplant.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hawaiian Typhoon Popcorn

Hawaiian Typhoon Popcorn

The Hawaiian Popcorn Company makes a unique popcorn seasoning called Hurricane where you add little pieces of nori furikake seaweed, sesame seeds, Japanese rice crackers, and a butter sauce into a plastic bag and shake it all up. I was happy to see that they had a mail order facility, but unfortunately when I received my package from Hawaii, it looked like I had accidentally ordered the Typhoon mix instead of the Hurricane, which I was a bit bummed about.

The Typhoon mix was still a notch above though. Sour cream and onion powder was in it instead of the rice crackers, but the seaweed was still there, as was the butter packet. It wasn't quite as strikingly unique as the Hurricane, but still better than a "standard" sour cream and onion popcorn thanks to the seaweed and butter. Anyway, if you hit Hawaii anytime, be sure to pick up a few packs of this stuff to bring home. And bring me some Hurricane instead of Typhoon. :)

Miharu's Tokusen Shyo-yu Ramen

Miharu's Kitchen Counter

It had been a while since I'd been here (The Gallery Hotel, 76 Robertson Quay #01-11, 6733-8464, closed Wednesdays). It's still the same great Sapporo ramen, but today I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before: a 1 cm layer of oil floating on top of the tokusen shyo-yu ramen. It's not that easy to see in the photo, and not necessarily healthy, but it sure is tasty!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Yakiniku Daidomon, Keypoint, Singapore

Jo Tan and Karubi

Lacking satisfaction from last night's meal at Gyu-Kaku, I sought more yakiniku in an attempt at redemption. I had heard about this place, Daidomon (Keypoint at 371 Beach Road #01-07, 6295-2077), for some time, and had wanted to come for a while. It turned out to be closer to what I was looking for (more traditional in taste than Gyu-kaku), but it still left me yearning for more.

OK, Daidomon wasn't bad. I started with one of my favorite Japanese starters, daikon sarada (turnip salad), which turned out to be decent and fresh. And moving to the yakiniku, both the jo tan and karubi were pretty good quality meat - tender and tasty. So what's my hesitation here? I felt the seasoning could have been better. The jo tan was a too salty, while the daikon sarada was a bit boring - I've had more "wow"-ing ones at other places (both in and out of Singapore). Apparently this place also takes pride in its unique secret-recipe dipping sauce, but it was also too salty for me.

Anyway, if I had to choose between here and Gyu-Kaku, then I'll chose Daidomon as the ingredients are still good, and the taste is more traditional (not to mention much cheaper) than Gyu-kaku. But I'm still graving that greasy simple punch that I am looking for when I want yakiniku. In that regard, I'm still aiming to head back to Aburiya at Robertson Quay sometime soon.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Shougun Set

Gyu-kaku is a big Japanese yakiniku (basically a Japanese version of Korean BBQ) chain both within Japan as well as overseas (including the US - one of them is smack in the middle of Beverly Hills on Restaurant Row), and they made it here to Singapore not long ago. After ages of wanting to go there myself, I finally made it there today.

And it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Instead of the usual yakiniku taste that I have come to love, Gyu-kaku turned out to be too contemporary. I have the same opinion of Gyu-kaku as I do about Sun at CHIJMES: it's a quality meal, but I simply prefer a more traditional Japanese taste. Don't get me wrong: all the ingredients today were top-notch (very thin yet tasty gyutan, lamb that can be cut like a hot knife through butter, pork dribbling in tasty fat, etc.). And of course there was the wagyu beef, the famous Japanese fat-marbled beef that was quite tender (in most cases, at least). Still, the taste was generally a bit too sweet and "modern," as evidenced by the mayonnaise and deli mustard condiments as well as the Caesar salad. (Who the heck orders a Caesar salad at a Japanese restaurant?? Well, it came in the Shougun Set. To be fair, it was pretty good, but in a light rich Japanese way...not quite TJ. At least the menu said that it used "Japanese Caesar" dressing.)

Anyhow, the highlight of the meal for me was the buta karubi (sliced pork), which, as mentioned above, contained just the right amount of overindulgent fat that dribbled onto the flame - and thankfully was not sweet. Although I generally am not a big fan of things wrapped in foil, the ebi grill (prawns in garlic) as well as the hotate (scallops) were impressively decent. And the ishiyaki bibimba was a good way to fill up, even if the chili was too mild (a la Japanese cuisine).

This place is expensive (at least, the wagyu is), but is of high enough quality to be considered "worth it," even though I prefer the more traditional taste of Aburiya further down the river. Besides, the service at this new UE Square addition (#01-18/19, 6733-4001) was very unpolished: they must have interrupted our conversation at least five times (probably more) just to ask if we wanted to clear our grill. Well, at least I can say that I've been here, and can check it off my list. I just don't think that I'll be coming here again on my own accord though.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Carl's Jr in Singapore!

Sourdough Bacon Cheeseburger and Chili Cheese French Fries

Carl's Jr finally made it out to Singapore a couple months ago...and I finally made it out there today. It's surprisingly true to the real thing back home (West Coast), including the free refills (rare in Singapore) as well as the little number tags (remember how everyone in college used to steal #69?). The taste was pretty much the same thing too, with most of the signature menu items. The Sourdough Bacon Cheeseburger used the cool round sourdough bread, and the chili cheese fries were surprisingly hot and tasty - I wolfed it all down.

The only downer for me was the fact that my sandwich was a bit cold - and it came out really quick too, implying that it was pre-cooked, unlike that ad campaign they did back home with the song "oh won't you please...wait a little longer" (meaning they only throw your patty on the grill when you order it, and that it's worth it to wait a little longer for a better taste).

And on the note of the menu above, actually there was one big difference - the Six Dollar Burger (which I thought was overrated anyway) is called the Super Star (otherwise it'd be called the Sing Ten Dollar Burger?? ha ha). And to orient locals to the menu (no pun intended), the cashiers interestingly ask, "are you looking for beef or chicken?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tian Tian Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre

Tian Tian Chicken Rice

This place has rave reviews slathered all over it: multiple Makansutra three chopstick awards, the Green Book's Best Chicken Rice, and even praise from the man Anthony Bourdain. This place is so popular that there is usually a queue, and they'll close earlier than their stated 8PM closing if they sell off all their chicken in advance.

I certainly like this place better than Boon Tong Kee, which is a chain of chicken rice places across the island that most folks seem to love. But I like Tian Tian better as the cuts of chicken are very choice, moist, and best of all - generally boneless. She of course has a decent flavored rice and chili sauce to go with it. Strangely, the Tian Tian people never give me scallions until I ask for them...I dunno why.

A Catered Lunch at the Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

Crispy Tiger Prawns in Feuille De Brick, Warm Spinach & Shimeiji Mushroom Salad

I've never eaten at any of the restaurants at the glitzy Fullerton Hotel before (do bar snacks at the Post Bar count? ha ha), but if their catering is any indication, then the other restaurants should be pretty good. At a three-course lunch today, we were entertained with the "Crispy Tiger Prawns in Feuille De Brick, Warm Spinach & Shimeiji Mushroom Salad" to start, followed by the "Tomato Crusted Black Cod Fillet, Roasted Garden Vegetables Mushrooms Tagliatelle, White Wine Foam" as a main course, and the "Ivory White Chocolate Terrine, Griottine Cherries, Spicy Cherry Sauce" to finish it off. Everything pretty much tasted like it sounded: a bit snotty, but pretty good. Each ingredient contrasted with the other in both taste and texture...and in a good way. For instance, the tarty tomato crust paired nicely with the light cod (and the smidgen of pasta underneath was a nice touch), while the fermenting alcohol-soaked cherries provided a good bite against the rectangular white chocolate.

Was the meal really that snotty? If I'm not mistaken, feuille de brick is just a fancy word for a spring roll. And "white wine foam"? I dunno why I keep encountering "foam" in fancy food recently since there really isn't any taste.

Well, I'm not trying to poo-poo on the food: it was definitely really good. In fact, if I had to eat fancy food, then this is a place that I might consider coming back to, especially if there were some important people that I needed to impress. But I would just have to figure out which restaurant within the Fullerton is responsible for this meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Old School McDonald's Apple Pies

I'm only posting this real quick because it's cool that Singapore's McDonald's still feature those old deep fried Apple Pies, which have long since become extinct in the US these days. I guess the baked-variety in the US now is much healthier, but oh so boring! Well, at least the McDonald's at San Jose Airport Terminal A still has the old version. Apparently the reason they can't go to the healthier version is due to space constraints, and there are even multiple websites that track which McDonald's in the US still have the old apple pie. I heard that they make it crispy by adding bits of potato into the crust, which makes it crispy upon hitting the deep fryer.

Actually, if you get a chance to go to Japan, stop at a McDonald's there. Not only do they have the fried apple pies, they even have cool variations, like the Bacon Potato Pie, which is basically the same thing as the Apple Pie, but obviously with salty ingredients instead.

Ho Kee Porridge, Maxwell Food Centre

Ho Kee Porridge - check out the huge vat in the middle

Conveniently open from 7AM - 2AM, this Chinese rice porridge place is located at Maxwell Food Centre. There is another porridge place, Zhen Zhen Pork Porridge, at the same hawker centre that attracts huge queues thanks to its Makansutra three-chopstick rating, but in my opinion, it isn't necessarily that much better. I actually kinda prefer the "cleaner" taste of this place.

Yu Sheng and Pork PorridgeAnyway, if you've never had Chinese porridge, it is pretty darned good. It doesn't sound like much, but done properly, it's a savory bowl. This place boils the crap out of the rice to the point where it's nearly a mushy sludge, the grains of rice having fallen apart. This, in my opinion, is the best type of porridge as the savory flavors pervade. I think this is more Cantonese in style (like getting porridge in HK with dim sum), whereas other Chinese porridge, like in Taiwan, are bland, with grains of rice still discernable. This place prepares the former with several selections such as fish or pork, both of which are fresh and tasty; add condiments like scallions, white pepper, and deep fried shallots to taste. At S$3 (US$1.80) for a huge piping bowl, it's rather filling (although the rice will burn off in a couple hours to make you hungry again). It's cool to watch them scooping porridge out of that huge vat in the middle too.

Another thing I like about this place is the yu sheng, or raw fish. The name is the same as the stuff you "lo hei" to during Lunar New Year meals in Singapore, but this version tastes much much better without any of that sweet sauce or fried wonton skins. At porridge places like these instead, they simply take raw fish, drown it in (sesame?) oil, and add some scallions and sesame seeds. Squeeze a bit of lime on it (or rather, the smaller calamansi variety that is common in these parts), and that's it. Simple and clean. With these ingredients, it kinda tastes like ceviche, albeit much less sour and still raw. And I love it of course - I used to come here for a quick afternoon snack and eat only the fish (no porridge).

Anyway, these guys are open late, so come here anytime. It looks like they have a sister store selling steamed Chinese buns across the island, but I come for the porridge.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Xin Tao Yuan, Tanjong Pagar

Hsiao Long Bao before steaming

String BeansThis place at 63 Tanjong Pagar Road (6323-6367, open until 11 PM) is run by mainland Chinese with "hand-pulled noodles" being done in the window. They are also known for their dumplings. It's pretty good, but not the best. For instance, the string beans are potently greasy and salty with those Chinese black beans, making it a nice accompaniment to steamed rice. But I still prefer Hometown Restaurant on Smith Street, who makes it "drier" and hence tastier. The hand-pulled dan dan noodles are freshly made and cooked just right (it's a nice little show watching the guy in front throw his dough up in the air - kinda like a pizza crust but longitudinal). But the seasonings, while not bad, could be better (again, Hometown takes the cake).

Shredded Pork with Popiah and Special Sauce

The hot and sour soup effused of finely sliced ingredients, making it rather sophisticated, but it still lacked a bit of kick (you can add your own pepper and vinegar though - just be sure to stir ahead of time since a lot of the spices are sitting down at the bottom). One of the house specialties is the "shredded pork with popiah and special sauce" - so much that they even list it on their business card. It's pretty good too: borderline-excessively greasy and salty enough to be tasty, with a nice heaping of scallions (dragon breath alert) in a thin popiah wrapper. But the pan-fried dumplings (dumplings are another specialty here - you can even buy them frozen to cook at home yourself) were a bummer as they were too soggy (simply not crispy enough), even though the stuffing inside was composed of a nice combination of ingredients.

Hot and Sour Soup and S$3 teaFinally, the service is generally pretty good, but they are a bit pushy. Everytime I come here, they are pushing some dish aggressively (which reminds me of Anthony Bourdain's advice not to eat fish on Mondays). One of those is even the special Chinese tea at S$3 (US$1.80), which comes in a traditional Chinese tea cup with all these Chinese herbs. Typically I don't like those herbs, but this was largely chrysanthemum-based, which I don't mind so much. Anyway, come here for a far-above-average mainland meal. But if given the choice, I'd rather go to Hometown on Smith Street instead.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chikuyotei Dining, Ngee Ann City


I had always passed this place on the way to Tonkichi, but I never came here even though I was intrigued. The only reason we came here tonight (Ngee Ann City #04-28, 6738-8954) was because there was a huge line in front of Tonkichi and we didn't want to wait. It turned out to be a mixed bag of surprises, both good and bad.


The biggest surprise was the yaki matsutake (a difficult to harvest and hence expensive mushroom from Japan), which they priced out at a whopping S$24 (US$14.50) for eight skinny slices. They brought out a little flame for us to grill them on and dip them into a sauce. These mushrooms are supposed to have a distinct spicy aroma, but here's where it disappointed as there was really no flavor - it just tasted like any other mushroom. At about US$2 a slice for barely a smidgen of food, that was not a bargain, and probably not something that I'll opt for again.

This place has always been rather proud of its unagi (freshwater eel) too, as it's apparently flown in fresh from Japan. In this case, the S$24 (US$14.50) price is worth it. You can immediately tell the difference between this unagi and all the other cheap stuff out there - there is a subtle amount of fat in this unagi that provides a much richer taste and delicate texture. Wow - nice one. They also offered a "deluxe" version for twice the price (and a 30 minute wait) - I wonder how that one tastes.

Probably the best thing about this restaurant is thus the ingredients, as further emphasized in the saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel with salt), which had a delicate yet crispy fatty skin for flavor and texture, as well as the negitoro maki (fatty tuna and spring onion sushi). But you pay for it too - the negitoro maki was S$19 (US$11.50) for six small pieces. Apparently that fatty tuna is quite an expensive one, including one dish featuring it for over S$100 or US$60. These guys also had the ever-pricey marbled wagyu beef on the menu for similar prices, which we obviously passed on. Fortunately, the tempura was not that expensive, but was still very light and fluffy, unlike that rubbish one gets in American Japanese restaurants with all that heavy batter.

So anyway, I feel like I got reamed in the end at this place with the heavy price tags and the still unfilled stomach. The prices are justified in the high quality of the ingredients, but I doubt I'll come here again (maybe just for the eel). The service was pretty spotty here too: the servants mixed up orders, ignored us part of the time, while also being too eager to clear beer bottles that were still full. Next time, I hope the line at Tonkichi is not as long as I don't want to come here for a consolation prize.

Halia Restaurant, Singapore Botanic Gardens


Halia, which means ginger in Bahasa, would lead one to think that this place was serving Malay food. Instead, the menu featured fusion. I've never really been a huge fan of fusion (nor Malay food for that matter), although admittedly some concoctions can be good. Unfortunately, this place (1 Cluny Road, 6476-6711) was a bit of a yawner to me.


Our starters included the "crisp black pepper softshell crab with wasabi aioli," "tataki of blue fin tuna belly with arugula, avocado, tomato, kalamata olive, wasabi vinaigrette," and a salad with prawn satay. These were generally better than I thought they would be: the softshell crab had a nice greasy touch, the seared tuna went well with the avocado, and the prawns were grilled just the right amount. But none of it was anything that I would get cravings for.

We shared our main courses too, including the "fillet of char siew salmon with honey soy glaze, haricot beans, arugula and orange dressing," "aubergine & tofu tower - baked eggplant, portobello mushroom, sauteed young spinach, broccolini and agedashi tofu in a light soy broth," "chili crab spaghettini - Singapore-style spicy, sweet and tangy crabmeat sauce," and "linguine vongole laksa - little neck clams in Peranakan-style aromatic cream sauce with blue ginger rempah and laksa pesto." Just as with the starters, they were generally good in their own right, but I had my complaints too. The salmon was prepared delicately but the honey glaze just seemed out of place. The aubergine tower was also very light and fresh yet tasty, but a bit of a bore (and these towers these days are such a cliche!). The chili crab pasta was cooked just right, but lacked the spicy and tangy edge that I'm accustomed to with real chili crab. The linguine was actually probably the best of the bunch with a rich creamy sauce, but I'm not a huge fan of some of those Peranakan (Malaysian Chinese) spices.

The thing that probably bothered me the most about this place was how it tried so hard to be classy. In the process, it just blends in with all those other chichi fusion places and doesn't stand out. It's a bit too snotty for me too (and the service could have been more prompt). The food was certainly above average from a quality and taste standpoint, but the fusion concoctions are simply unncessary to me. I doubt that I'll want to come here on my own accord - I'd prefer to stick to the real McCoys.