Porta-Porta Italian Restaurant
Uh oh...Cantina has some competition. This place (971 Upper Changi North Road at Changi Garden, 6545-3108) came highly recommended to me. I'd been meaning to go there for a long time as a result, but never got the chance to go way out there until tonight. Boy, am I glad I did.
Everything here really got me going. I opted for the "House Menu," which is a set course for S$39.50 (US$23.25) that started with mixed antipasti before moving to a "first course" that consisted of a clear chicken soup as well as two small pasta tastings. Today's pastas included a spaghetti alle vongole (clams always shoot an arrow straight into my heart, especially the tiny ones like he had here today) as well as a pesto ravioli. A "second course" followed, consisting of calamari as well as a couple thin slices of a tasty and moist lamb (such small portions almost reminded me of the tiny cuts of prime rib that one gets from a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet line...the quality is obviously completely different though). The set finished with some apple pie and tiramisu.
The a la carte items held up well too: the minestrone featured veggies that had been stewed for a while (just the way I like it), and interestingly did not have any of the typical red color in the broth. The lasagne was thankfully baked well on top, and an egg noodle arrabiata featured some extra tasty mushrooms sitting in a healthy dose of oil. The venue was very small - it looks like they can't seat more than 25 people or so. But that's also why the service was great: they were friendly and flexible, and incredibly fast with the food.
Was there anything not to like? Sure, I guess one could pick on the pasta a bit (the lasagne seemed a bit soft and still wasn't quite the bang that I get at Pasta Brava). And the garlic could have been done a bit more delicately in the arrabiata. But everything here was still good enough that I'm reconsidering my love of Cantina...they've been getting a bit inconsistent lately anyway. (Geez - it's been less than a week since I published my annual Top 10 list, and I'm already contemplating a possible change in the rankings next year!)
Well, to be sure, I plan to come back and try other dishes before concluding on that. They offered a S$48 (US$28) leave-it-in-the-hands-of-the-chef deal, which I'll probably try next time, despite Mr. Bourdain's insistence in Kitchen Confidential on not ordering such things (as they can just be a vehicle for the chef to dump his/her aging ingredients, although that may not necessarily be the case here). They also have another location at 5 Stanley Street in the city (6222-7461)...I was told that the original Changi location is better, but I'll still give the other location a shot, especially since it's a much more convenient spot.