Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Carnivore Churrascaria

Carnivore ChurrascariaI love churrasco, and I had been wanting to come here for a very long time now but never really had the chance to until today (Chijmes #01-29A, 6334-9332). Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. While the service was friendly and prompt (and the caipirinhas were decent), nothing really stood out about the meat. None of it was overcooked or anything, but none of it really made a good impression either. I was pretty bummed. The feijoada here was probably decently authentic thanks to their pig's feet (I wouldn't know for sure considering that I've never been to Brazil before), but I felt that it just didn't have the rich flavor that I was looking for.

In the end, this place just left me stuffed but unsatisfied, which is not a good feeling (what a waste of ingested calories). In fact, they even gave a feedback form at the end of the meal - I could check "excellent" everything (service, promptness, etc.) with the one exception of the food. I still prefer the quality of the meat at Mamma Lucia instead (but avoid their pasta). Well, the next time I crave churrasco, I know that I'll be headed there instead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wagyu Shabu at Azuma

Wagyu Shabu

This shabu shabu place interestingly opened just a couple doors away from Ohsumi, one of my favorite spots in Singapore. I was actually at Ohsumi last night, but things had changed a bit since the last time I was there: the staff's attempts to keep you serviced were excessive, the physical menu and logo had been altered, and it was really crowded (the manager was very defensively unfriendly when I asked if the owner had changed or something - and he adamantly denied that anything had changed). Well, the food was still of very good quality, but then I started to wonder if all of those changes were because of the pressure that Azuma was giving it next door. So tonight I went to Azuma to find out (Cuppage Plaza #03-01/02, 6738-9395).

The rice-and-egg closerAzuma turned out to be the single-serving bar-style that the old Kiraku back on the second floor used to be like. The chef prepares all the ingredients in front of you, starting from the salad to the slicing of the meat, and on to cleaning some of the shabu shabu pot for you. The only beef selection was the wagyu beef though, so it was a bit pricey, but of course that money goes into the soft tenderness and tastiness of the meat. The portions were smaller than Ohsumi's, so I nearly reached for the menu to try to order more. Fortunately I didn't. He finished off the meal with a rice-and-egg mixture using all the remaining broth in the pot, which was quite a nice touch.

So is it better than Ohsumi? Yes, but it was more so because of the wagyu beef, which you had to pay more for...nearly twice as much. Ohsumi's quality is still really really good (and I like their sesame sauce better), so my choice is still to go back to Ohsumi (especially since it looks like they have started to offer an "all-you can eat" version, including beer and sake). Still, I plan to come back to Azuma to try out their sushi one of these days. They've split the restaurant in two, and the other half is a sushi bar. I'm still on a quest to try to find good sushi in Singapore.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Sikh Temple Meal

Lunch at a Sikh temple

Apparently it's common to eat at a Sikh temple after the ceremonies, so after a wedding today, we went into the cafeteria downstairs where we were served a surprisingly good vegetarian meal. It featured the usual peas, potatoes, rice, yogurt, and chipatis, but what also made it fun for me was that this was the first time I ate with my hands (when in Rome...). It's a lot harder than it looks, and I found that I really lack skills in this regard, considering that I was dropping rice everywhere. But I eventually made do (by the time I got to the yogurt, I just brought the bowl up to my mouth and poured it in).

Handing out a warm oily sweetAlso worthy of note was the warm gooey sweet handed out during the ceremony (I forgot the name, but it was good as it was more oily than sweet). Interestingly, some of the desserts given out at the end were also more oily than sweet. It's cool to see so much food associated with all of this.

Jingisukan at Ohsho


Whoa. I had just watched Japan Hour on Channel News Asia earlier in the day, when they discussed jingisukan, a Hokkaido speciality of sliced lamb (i.e., "Ghengis Khan," get it?). (Interestingly, the Japanese also call buffets baikingu, or "Viking" - as in smorgasbord.) And after some drinks tonight (and a failed attempt to go to Noodle House Ken as they had run out of broth already), we headed over to Ohsho, where - lo and behold - they had new menus with jingisukan prominently featured in the center of the menu. Unfortunately, it was obvious that this was prepared in quite a rush given the egregiously thickly sliced onions in here. And frankly, the taste was a bit boring.

TenshinhanWe also ordered the tenshinhan, which is basically a crab omelette on top of steamed rice. Yawn! This was a bore too, especially with that excessive amount of corn starch-based goo dumped all over it.

It's too bad that Noodle House Ken ran out of broth tonight. I should have heeded my own advice and stuck to the chahan and gyoza when falling back on Ohsho.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Raj Prime Vegetarian Restaurant

Pani Puri

No, I didn't intend to go on such a chaat eating binge, despite my personal calling for trying more. I just happened to be in Little India today, so I figured that I'd better try this place out as I had been meaning to come here for a while anyway (76 Syed Alwi Road near Mustafa, 6297-1716). This vegetarian spot boasts of being from Calcutta, and features both North and South Indian cuisine. Most importantly though, this place features a chaat station up front, stocked with fresh ingredients and spices dedicated to making those awesome little sour and spicy appetizers. It turned out that I came at the right time too, as it looks like the prime chaat serving hours are after 2 PM, and my favorite pani puri is available only on weekends. It was a no-brainer as to what I was gonna order.

The chaat assembly station in the frontThe pani puri did not disappoint. There were a number of differences between it and Bombay Woodlands': for one, the shell was a bit thicker and greasier. It was less spicy than Bombay Woodlands. Finally, there were fewer veggies sitting inside (and no onions - and hence, no dragon breath). If I had to choose one, I'd probably choose Bombay Woodlands for its lighter shell and more robust fillings, but that's only if I had to choose. One could argue that Raj's is better thanks to its slightly greasier shell and a bigger capacity for the spicy juice (what the heck do you call that stuff, anyway?). In fact, Raj's almost seems purposely geared for the spicy juice, given its fewer veggies, more rigid shell, and the fact that the juice comes in a little metal pourer. I like both - and just like this morning's dahi batata puri, I just may opt for Raj's more often when I don't need to be saddled with the dragon breath that Bombay Woodlands' pani puri provides.

Cheese Masala Dosai

One other very noteworthy item was the cheese masala dosai. While it didn't have that one kick-ass rich chili-based chutney that Bombay Woodlands provides, it was made with a sharper and richer cheddar cheese...this literally tasted like a giant Cheez-It. Frankly, I'm surprised that I never really saw cheese dosais bring pushed in the US, given how basically everyone there has grown up eating Cheez-Its. I suspect the problem is that Indian food in the US is unfortunately saddled with the bad perception of being based on those buffet-style troughs of curry and rice.

Would an ambitious entrepreneur like to take this up? I suggest you go to a trendy place like LA, where Los Angelinos tend to latch on to "exotic" trends and tell their friends about it like it's an exclusive secret. Don't serve it at an Indian restaurant (lest they be deterred by the misperception of the buffet troughs there) - instead, dedicate a shop to dosais and create a cute and catchy Westernized name (and logo) that people will remember and spread by word of mouth like a virus. (Maybe try in a college town too, and keep it open until 4 AM for post-drinking belly-filling.) Start with the cheese version, and make sure it's a sharp cheese so as to approximate the taste of a Cheez-It as much as possible. If you're successful at effectively creating a cult following (i.e, make it the next Krispy Kreme or In-N-Out), then commercialize it via venues like shopping mall food courts, introduce some non-cheese dosais, and then send me some royalties or equity in your company. Ha ha - remember - you heard it here first. :)

A proud sign outside boasting of the chaat hoursAnyway, I digress. Raj's is worth coming to. It is decently well decorated inside, and the staff is very friendly (they seemed so surprised that I knew what chaat and pani puri were, and they loved talking about it too). It also looks like they have another location at 80 Biopolis Way #01-03 (6478-9495).

Dahi Batata Puri at Bombay Woodlands

Dahi Batata Puri

As part of my personal mission to try every single chaat item offered at Bombay Woodlands, I moved onto dahi batata puri today, per the waiter's recommendation. To my relief, this wasn't an over-garbanzo'ed plate like the paneer and samosa chaat. Instead, it was back to the round puri balls, except this time, they were filled with yogurt instead of the thin spicy broth. With the yogurt, it's a heavier version of pani puri, but in some ways better as I didn't find too many raw onions in here, thus averting the dragon breath syndrome that would normally accompany pani puri.

Both of them are good in my opinion; it just comes down to what mood I will be in next time. If I want a lighter feel yet stronger taste, then I'll go for the pani puri. If I want something richer, or if I have meetings later that day (or access to a toothbrush or gum), then I'll go for dahi batata puri.

Mmm...Indian appetizers for breakfast. It sure beats Cheerios.

Catchup Chronicles #6: Chiang Mai, Thailand

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: Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Papaya Salad - notice the salted crab legs

Of course, eating off the streets in Thailand is a requisite task. Here is a great papaya salad made from scratch by a street vendor with chili, fish sauce, unripe papaya, dried shrimp, limes, string beans, peanuts, and these (optional) little pickled crabs, still in their shells and carrying quite a salty gooey punch (check out those little dark crab legs in the photo). All of this is thrown into a mortar so that the flavors can blend together with the help of a giant pestle.

Northern Thai sausages at the market

But what's more interesting about Chiang Mai is the huge number of cooking schools in the city. We found a really cool one where the lady basically takes you to the local market to buy supplies, and then takes you to her house where you cook at your own station in the backyard. It's a "mom & pop shop" in the true sense of the word. We took a short half-day all-time favorites course (four day classes are available too), which included tom yum soup, green curry, pad thai, and mango sticky rice.

Fresh veggies at the market, including the notorious mouse dropping chilis

Dried Maggots??On that note, the market was of course full of fresh veggies and those notorious mouse dropping chilis. I picked up some northern Thai sausages from the market too (a bit too many spices in my opinion, but still good). But I didn't quite get around to trying what I think were dried maggots (!). Anyway, definitely do a cooking school next time you're in Chiang Mai. It's a lot of fun, very cultural, and best of all - you get to eat the food after you're done cooking. :)

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Thai Spice" McNugget Sauce

Chicken McNuggets with Thai Spice sauce

One thing cool (well, OK, "interesting" may be the better word sometimes) about McDonald's is the localization efforts they do across the globe. Today in Singapore, I noticed a sign for four new Chicken McNugget sauces: Thai Spice, Wacko Wasabi, Lemon Tango, and Smokin' Sizzler. Thai Spice sounded interesting, so I tried it. It was a bit thicker and sweeter than I had envisioned (the ingredients listed on the packaging read: "sugar, vegetable oil, chili, yolk, modified starch, venigar [sic], fresh garlic, salt, preservative") but it was still good enough that I cleared out the entire dipping sauce tub without even enough left to finish off my last McNugget. It obviously wasn't super spicy, but it did have the flavor. The label said that it was packed by "Srithai Food Service." Cool - that was worth getting. I guess that's one of the benefits of living in Asia.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pepper Ramen at Noodle House Ken

Pepper Ramen

Looks like these guys are now called Noodle House Ken (150 Orchard Road #01-17/18, Orchard Plaza, 6235-5540 - sorry it took so long to get that address up there, guys...that was one of my first blog entries before I started entering details in), and they've added a special koshou (pepper) ramen for S$12 (US$7). I decided to give it a try, and I didn't regret it. Using a salt-based yet milky broth, this apparently features some kind of special pepper (from Japan, I assume?), although honestly I couldn't taste it. It didn't matter. It was still really good; thinner than the normal broth at Noodle House Ken, but still full of flavor, thanks to all the borderline-excessive salt. Inside, the fillings are your usual suspects of bamboo shoots, pork slices, and seaweed, but they also threw in an ume plum, which was different. Anyway, I'll come back here for this. This certainly reiterates the point that this is probably one of the best ramen shops on the island. And they are open until 2 AM, which makes it great for post-drinking (or late office night) eating binges.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jian Bo Shui Kueh (Tiong Bahru Chwee Kueh)

Chwee Kueh

Chwee kueh is cool - it's a local breakfast snack of steamed rice cakes topped with a dark salty greasy concoction of stir-fried pickled turnip (and onions, I think) with a side of chili sauce, if you so desire. The Tiong Bahru hawker center has one of the more famous stalls on the island, Jian Bo Shui Kueh ( least, until the new Tiong Bahru hawker center is finished). I haven't really had chwee kueh in too many other places (it's surprisingly not very common), so I have no basis for comparison, but this place sure is good. It's a great excuse to eat grease and salt in the name of a healthy steamed rice-based breakfast. Get 4 "cakes" at a bargain price of only S$1 (US$0.60).

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tokyo Japanese Restaurant & Bar

Quantity over quality

Seeing such a generic restaurant name, I pretty much knew that I wasn't exactly going to be getting myself any real Japanese food here (the Amara Singapore #01-17, 6226-2303), but I still had to try to be sure. And yep, it was indeed a rather unsatisfying "Japanese" meal. It resembled one of those pseudo-Japanese places in a suburban part of the US, complete with that all-time American favorite, chicken teriyaki. What else was wrong? The tempura batter was ridiculously thick, and one piece was even brought to me cold, as if it had been sitting there for a long, long time. The zaru soba actually arrived soaking in the sauce (sheesh!). And the yakitori, while not as horrendous as Sushi Tei's "jumbo" yakitori, was overcooked to nearly a chicken-jerky stage. The only thing I liked about this place was the fact that the sashimi was sliced super-thick. But otherwise, this was a bit of a dismal opening for this new place that took over the old Seiroya Masakatsu venue. Their service staff was still a bit green too.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More from Chuan Restaurant

Chicken in Special Sauce

Hey this was pretty good. Back at Chuan again, this time we tried a few other things, like the Chicken in Special Sauce appetizer. It consisted of cold thin slices of chicken (no bones - yay!) and thick dark bamboo shoots from China sitting in a spicy chili oil sauce with loads of sesame seeds. Given my affinity for chili oil and sesame seeds, this was sure to be a hit. It came with cucumber slices for a nice contrasting chilling effect too.

Sichuan Dumplings

The ma-po tofu is pretty good here, and surprisingly without a heavy peppercorn dosing. We also went for the dumplings, which certainly weren't red oil wontons in a thin skin, but rather the thicker skinned dumplings. This obviously wasn't as great then (especially since the sauce was mildly sweet), but it admittedly wasn't bad either.

It's funny how you can begin to see the "DNA" in a restaurant's dishes as all three of these dishes tasted nearly the same after considering all the chili oil in each of them. The only thing we had that wasn't spicy was the minced chicken soup, which honestly was a bit of a bore given that it was just corn and small bits (not quite minced) pieces of chicken in a thick soup. It would have been nicer had it been shredded chicken instead.

More dishes from Ichiban-Tei

Tan Tan Ramen

Fried RiceHere's just some more dishes from Ichiban-Tei. This time we finally tried the signature tan tan ramen, which wasn't necessarily anything special, but wasn't bad either. The same goes for the fried rice, which came in a heated stone bowl (thus forcing you to keep stirring it like at Pepper Lunch), and wasn't anything outstanding, but certainly was not bad either. I could offer the same comment about the cold hiyayakko tofu. Anyway, it's good to know that Ichiban-Tei is dependable at least.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Meat on a Fire

A Butterflied Lamb on a Spit

Here's lamb rotating on a spit at Changi Sailing Club, roasted nice and crispy on the outside with encrusted herbs. It tasted pretty good - with juicy meat on the inside and a nice burnt jerky-like outside (yes, I used my hands for those pieces). As curious as it seemed to butterfly a carcass like that, I sure do like meat on a fire.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant

Chili Crab

Money BagI'd passed by this place before, noticing the alleged awards at a chili crab shop in the seemingly nice One Fullerton building (#01-08, 6423-0040). Tonight, I finally tried it at a full ten course Chinese banquet. By and large, it wasn't bad. The first few dishes ranged from deep fried crab claws and squid, to shark's fin soup (chunky bits), and a so-called "money bag," literally translated, and filled with mushrooms and others. A mushroom and asparagus dish was also worthwhile.

Pepper Crab

Still, none of this was so good that it amazed me, even when it came to the chili crab, which tasted like ketchup with chili sauce to me. Then again, I've never been a huge chili crab fan, which explains why the only dish that I truly enjoyed tonight was the pepper crab instead. It had a greasy yet cut-to-the-chase spiciness with none of that sweet sauce getting in the way. I liked this so much that I ended up trying to unseat every single thread of meat from the shell, no matter how small the piece nor futile the effort. I used to prefer the white pepper crab from No Signboard Seafood instead, but this one has changed my mind back to the stronger black pepper crab - it's got more punch to it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chuan Restaurant, Purvis Street

Paper Thin Sliced Pork Belly With Mashed Garlic

I had forgotten how good this place was. I guess Hometown on Smith Street was always a dependable distraction for Sichuan (as well as all the spicy hot pot out there), so Chuan (9 Purvis Street, 6338-6678) kinda slipped outta sight. It only took one bite of the paper thin sliced pork belly to remind me though. This was great: thin slices of pork (and cucumber) hanging off a stand like laundry, but meant to be dipped in a chili oil, garlic, and sesame sauce, which went just right with the fatty pork taste. Nice.

Water Boiled FishThe other reason for coming here is the "water boiled fish" (a really bad literal translation). This place is better than Hometown in that the fish is very fresh and very tasty, and their chili gives a really good kick. The only reason I prefer Hometown for this is because Hometown uses less of those tongue-numbing peppercorns (it's just too much of a distraction to be numbed when you're trying to enjoy the taste). But heavy peppercorns are how they do it on the mainland, so Chuan is technically more authentic. I'll eat it more for the tastiness of the fish, but I admit that I do have some trouble eating this in the end.

Chilled Sichuan NoodleThe chilled Sichuan noodles are worthy of a taste too (and the starter pickles are quite spicy despite the fact that you can't see any trace of chili oil on it). This place was very empty tonight, which makes me worry that they may close down soon, but it is a pretty darned good place. It's hard to believe that these guys also run that nasty Ting Yuan Hotpot place on Liang Siah Street too as the two restaurants are worlds apart. But no matter - I'll just simply have to come to Chuan more often for that paper thin sliced pork belly.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Makan-Sutera Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

Interestingly, this guy in Tanjong Pagar Plaza (#02-40) calls his shop "Makan-sutera" [sic], and even shows a picture of the local Makansutra food guide book on his sign. But in my 2001 version of Makansutra, he is not listed in the book (instead, his competitor just a few stalls down, Pandan Leaf, is listed).

Well, it doesn't really matter. This guy is one of my favorites. Why? For one, his mildly-green colored (from a pandan leaf, I think?) rice is very fluffy and full of coconut flavor, unlike many others that I have had. As well, this guy is more of a Chinese nasi lemak guy (rather than Malay), so he serves pork-based products like Spam (known affectionately here as "luncheon meat"). And boy, do I love the greasy salty taste of Spam! (I sure miss Hawaiian Spam musubi and pork lau lau plate lunches with macaroni salad!) Of course, this guy's chicken is also nice and crispy, and the chili sauce and everything else goes well with it (although he skimps a bit on the little ikan bilis fish). This all comes at a bargain price of S$2 (US$1.20).

It looks like this guy was also featured on Channel U's Yummy King show, assuming his signs are credible despite the "Makan-sutera" thing above. Anyway, keep in mind that he's open from 6 AM to 2 PM, so don't try heading down there to grab a late lunch like I tried doing a couple times - he simply shuts down.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Casa Roma, Bukit Timah

Proscuitto E Funghi Pizza

There's no shortage of good Italian restaurants in Singapore, and Casa Roma is another good example of that (833 Bukit Timah Raod #01-09, 6464-8509). The prosciutto e funghi pizza had to have been one of the best that I've ever had. The cheese was very rich, only to be complemented with surprisingly fragrant mushrooms. Rock on! This place's pizza was seriously better than some of the places I ate at in Italy. The only shortcoming for me was that the center of the pizza was a little soggy, but it didn't matter as the taste of the cheese and mushrooms carried the pie all the way through.

Vongole Vino Bianco and Penne Alla MatricianaThe other dishes here are worth mentioning too. The clam appetizer's broth had a touch of tomato in it (unlike the industry standard butter and wine version), and it was light enough to drink as a soup (I really didn't need to order the minestrone after all, especially since the beans were rather undercooked). The penne alla matriciana was also pretty good and what you would expect. Cantina still wins in the pasta department in my mind, but Casa Roma wins when it comes to pizza. Pasta Fresca (which interestingly has a shop nearly next door to Casa Roma) is a nice standby either way.

Breakfast at Bombay Woodlands

Rice Idli

I finally tried rice idli for breakfast today, and I'm glad I did. These are soft little rice cakes steamed to fluffiness, to be consumed with an accompaniment of chutneys. They tasted just like they look and sound: delicate and light, and - with Bombay Woodlands at least - an amazing set of chutneys to go perfectly with them (especially the mindblowing little orange-colored chili-based one at the top).

Samosa ChaatFrom there, I moved on to try the samosa chaat, which was mashed samosa pastries covered in garbanzo beans, onions, tamarind, and other spices. This was effectively the same thing as the paneer chaat, but with mashed samosas instead of paneer. As a result, I still liked the spiciness, but eventually the excess of garbanzo beans got to me, and I really didn't want to eat any more. I had to force myself to stop and ask to take the rest home. (It's a good thing that I didn't try to order the pani puri again today too.)

Well, I'm definitely coming back here again for idli, but I think I've had enough of the relatively heavier samosa chaat and paneer chaat.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ai Japanese Casual Restaurant

Clockwise from left: Negitoro Temaki, Toro, Amaebi, Unagi, Tamago, and Hamachi

I was craving sushi tonight, and I definitely was not going to head to those horrendous Genki Sushi nor Sushi Tei chains, so we headed down to this new shop at the Quayside instead (60 Robertson Quay #01-04, 6733-1654). It is sandwiched in between Aburiya and Netsuretsu Ichiban-Tei, and (as I would find out later) is run by the Ichiban-Tei owners. In constrast to Ichiban-Tei, Ai's menu is mainly focused on sushi and sashimi, coupled with some noodles and a little bit of tempura and nabe.

Asahi Tarunama Biru and Daikon SaradaThe meal got off on a very refreshing foot, as the cold zaru soba and hiyayakko tofu upheld the clean taste demanded of them. The tempura was just a smidgen excessive on the greasy side, but it was still nice and crispy. The daikon sarada really impressed though, as it emanated a sesame oil fragrance and followed through with a little bit of a spicy kick in your mouth. Definitely get this if you come here.

The sushi was a bit of a bore to me though. I guess I was expecting even fresher, so I was a bit let down by the occasional limpness I found in some of the pieces tonight. At least the fatty taste of the toro tuna belly was a bit of a consolation. And hey - just like Ichiban-Tei, these guys also have Asahi beer on draft (yay!). Well, I'm definitely coming back here for the daikon sarada at the very least.

PhoChine, Wisma Atria

Pho Bo

There is a severe shortage of good pho joints in Singapore (unlike in California, where apparently most Vietnamese emigrants went, instead of here in neighboring Southeast Asia). We've got Pho Hoa out here (of American Vietnamese fame), but that's about it. There aren't many other worthy alternates, as I'm not a big fan of Le Viet nor that shop up in Funan Centre.

The only other choice in my mind then is PhoChine (Wisma Atria, 6238-3450), which is part of the big Indochine group. I've had some half-decent appetizers and dishes at various Indochine outlets before, but I've never liked them so much that I get the urging to come back; for some reason, the food that I get at these places simply lacks an edge (not to mention the food that many times had turned cold by the time they served it to me). Case in point: witness the pho bo today, which was served to me in a near lukewarm state (ugh), and the beef was sliced disturbingly thick. As well, the key to any bowl of pho is the secret family recipe used to stew the broth all day, and unfortunately, I find PhoChine's broth to be too heavy; I prefer a much lighter flavor (that's why I like pho - it's refreshing...and great for purifying your stomach after filling up on beer the night before). I also wish they would give a bigger bowl, along with some fresh chili peppers (instead of the pickled stuff in the little jars).

Goi CuonStill, I don't go kicking and screaming when I eat here. It's still respectable, all things considered, and the goi cuon fresh rice paper rolls are much better here than at Pho Hoa (here, they are very fresh and tightly wrapped, whereas Pho Hoa has always been limp and frail). But, just like with kebabs and Mexican food in Singapore, I yearn for trips overseas to get better versions.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dharma's Kebabs, Boat Quay

Lamb Kebab

After a number of post-work beers tonight, my brain started to get fixated on filling my belly with those great doner kebabs from Berlin. But, to my dismay, there aren't many kebab shops in Singapore (I'm talking about those cheap-late-nite-kebabs on that vertical rotating spit contraption, mind you, not proper kebabs). One of the few exceptions is Dharma's (40 Boat Quay, 6236-0980).

Dharma's KebabsNow, this isn't exactly like those hugely stuffed kebabs from Europe, but it's the best late-night kebab joint that I've found in Singapore so far. It's edible (I get the lamb kebab for S$12, or US$7), and there is plenty of yogurt and chili sauce on the side that you can dump on top of it if you'd like. They also have some interesting fries with a crispy coating, along with a respectable mint chutney and curry sauce. The portions are smaller than I would hope for, but beggars can't be choosers here. At the end of the day, it's one of the only late-night kebab shops around on the island (they are open until 4 AM on weekends), and it's conveniently located right next to all the pubs on Boat Quay, so let's make do with what we've got.

"French food" at Delifrance (ha ha)

Potato Gratin Set with Cream of Corn Soup and a tart

I still remember my first few days in Singapore, when my housing agent once told me that my apartment was in a very convenient location as I could get French food anytime. He then pointed to Delifrance, whereupon I nearly laughed my head off (hey, their marketing material does describe themselves as "French fast casual all-day dining," and they do serve croissants...ha ha).

And yet as much as I like to bag upon this nearly ubiquitous chain in Singapore, I have to admit that I do come here a couple times a year. Now, that's mainly in an extreme situation when I'm too busy with work and can barely spare enough time for a very quick bite, but it's also because I have found a couple things that are half-bearable. One of these is the potato gratin (of course I'm a sucker for potatoes and cheese). It's baked surprisingly well on the outside but still with a warm and hearty center. The fake baco-bit toppings are kinda funny too, but I guess I have long since set my expectations really low at this place. I'm not exactly expecting gourmet cuisine and escargot here.

Anyway, I'm embarrassed enough, so I'll just leave it at that. Hey - this just may be the one little bit of "French" food that I can bear.

More from Kalinka Malinka

Chicken a la Kiev

Pork Palmeni Dumplings - check out the butter at the bottomKeeping in mind the great experience here last time, we initially thought that we already knew exactly what we were going to order without even looking at the menu: the great dumplings and the beef stroganoff. Fortunately, we did open the menu, and we tried a couple other dishes. Well, OK, we still grabbed the dumplings (they are too good to pass up), and this time there was a huge chunk of melted butter on the side; great for the taste buds, but not so great for the arteries. We also tried some of the pickles to start, such as the ogurchik cucumbers and the gribochek mushrooms. Admittedly these weren't anything special, but they weren't bad either. One is apparently supposed to eat them with vodka.

GolubtsyMoving on to the golubtsy, or cabbage rolls filled with pork and tomato sauce, as well as the Chicken a la Kiev. The golubtsy pretty much tasted like they looked, but were decently hearty with a solid glob of meat wrapped in cabbage in a mildly sweet Thousand Island-like sauce). The Chicken Kiev was surprisingly crispy, and of course it had the quintessential burst of butter. Thumbs up! And all this time, I'd always thought the Chicken Kiev was some lame product of the greedy mass-produced American frozen food industry, not an actual Ukranian dish. (I guess Beef Stroganoff fits a similar description too.) My only gripe with this place is that they use the same sides across their main courses; a little more variety would be nice.

Well, one of these days, I'll have to get out to Russia. I'll just have to get my stomach ready for lots of hearty and meaty be washed down with vodka, of course.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Akbar Restaurant, Lim Teck Kim Road

Egg Prata, Cheese Prata, and Teh Halia

Having barely eaten anything today, I needed a quick snack after a long night at the office. This place (2 Lim Teck Kim Road in Tanjong Pagar) is open 24 hours, and it specializes in roti prata. Normally I like this place, but the standard seemed to have slipped a bit tonight. The cheese prata was crispy given that it was just made, but for my egg prata, I noticed them pulling a lukewarm previously-made one out of a pot and throwing it onto my plate. Obviously that wasn't very good. The teh halia is usually pretty spicy here too, although it seemed slightly weaker than usual tonight too. All in all, I wouldn't say that this place is better than those on Jalan Kayu, but at least this is conveniently in the city for some late night grubbin'.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Creperie Ar-Men, Duxton Road

Escargots Gwer

Normally I am not a huge fan of French food, but this seemed interesting enough to try out. This place (37 Duxton Road, 6227-3389), as you can guess from the name, specializes in crepes, or as they put it, "Authentic French crepes from Brittany." We started with obligatory French fare: escargot and onion soup. The escargots gwer was full of the usual garlic flavor, although the green herbs almost made it look like a pesto. The soup wasn't quite the usual salty French onion soup that I'm accustomed to with cheese baked on top, but it was bearable. So far, so good - at least, for someone who doesn't know nor like French food too much.

Croix-Alpine GaletteBut then we moved on to the savory buckwheat galette selections, the croix-alpine featured potatoes, onions, and bacon in a white wine and cheese sauce. It sounded nice, but it was actually a bit bland - until one found a bit of bacon, at least. The mushroom-based broceliande was much tastier at least (how can one go wrong with mushrooms?).

Hypotrague NoirAnd through all that, I was still hungry, so I switched over to the sweet hypotrague noir crepe instead, featuring chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, and cocoa powder. This was probably the best of the bunch, with a rich chocolate flavor.

I probably won't go out of my way to come here again though. This is not only because I'm not a huge fan of French food, but the prices were surprisingly high here, and worse - I left unsatisfied, especially portions-wise. The food was not bad by any means, and many people seem to like it. But it just doesn't suit my tastes, that's all (and I really don't know much about French food). If I do come back, it will probably just be for a quick sweet crepe.