Friday, March 31, 2006

Marina South Curry Delights

Fishhead curry and some chicken curry on the side

This was a first for me. I'd had fishhead curry before, but this place in Marina South (Marina Mall #01-26) was different in that it was more of a Chinese-style curry rather than Indian. And I've gotta say that I prefer the Chinese version instead, as it's a cleaner taste without the huge amalgamation of spices used in the other versions that I've had.

This place does a pretty good job with some tofu, okra, and tomatoes surrounding the fishhead, plus a vegetable curry on the side packing some cabbage and string beans (gotta love the potatoes in the chicken curry too). If it sounds like I ate a lot of vegetables today, then it's true. I hardly touched the chicken, mutton, or fish, sticking to the veggies and rice surrounding them instead.

The one thing that I did venture into was the cheeks in the fish, which I also had for the first time today. At first, it just seemed like really tender fish. But when I grabbed some of the normal "body meat" for comparison, I realized that the cheeks were much more tender and fatty, and hence being much tastier. Nice - now I see what all the commotion is about.

Anyway, this was a nice break from eating those Indian-influenced fishhead curries all the time. This was good and spicy, although not so spicy that it was unmanageable. Someone told me that this is Gurmit Singh's (a local Singaporean celebrity) family's place or something, although I don't know if it's true or not. But it is pretty good - and darned crowded during the lunch hour (despite being waaaay out here in the middle of Marina South), I might add.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Baladi Lebanese Cuisine, Singapore

Fom left: garlic dip, tahini, tabbouleh, fattoush, and hommos. RA by KBall

Hey that wasn't too bad. Baladi is at 709 North Bridge Road near Zam Zam (6396-6451). We grabbed the Platter Baladi Special for S$24 (US$14), which includes just the right amount for two people: grilled lamb chop, chicken shish taouk, beef kafta, garlic dip, tahini, tabbouleh, fattoush, and Lebanese bread. We also added some hommos and stuffed grape leaves. It started well. The hommos was tasty, the fattoush was fresh, and the tabbouleh was so surprisingly well-done that I actually liked it and wanted more (I normally hate parsley). The chicken was grilled just right, and the lamb chops were tender and tasty. That was impressive, especially considering the crap we've been getting at some of the nearby places.

Grilled Lamb ChopStill, there were a couple things to pick on. The beef was a bit dry, and the sides for each platter were identically boring, each featuring the same tomato, pickles, and French fries formula. It would have been much better had they put these all on one big plate together with some fluffy rice. The service today was also rather unpolished, and they didn't have some of the speciality drinks like kamareddine (the jallah date-based drink with pine nuts and grapes was decent though...and I usually don't like dates).

But that's just nitpicking. This is good enough for me to want to come back and try others on the menu, including hopefully some combo platters for someone to bring back to the office (it reminded me of the old Green Cedar places before they shut down). This was a relieving find.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pan Fried Fish on SQ Econ Class

Pan Fried FishThis wasn't anything worth remembering. The fish was cut very thickly and flavored with spices that I didn't care for too much. The macaroni salad was forgettable too. At least the apple crumbler was good.

The Golden Arch at Bali's Airport

The Golden ArchThis is interesting. Once you are past the immigration counters at Denpasar, there is a McDonald's kiosk with only a single arch instead of the golden arches (cue John Amos' scene in Coming to America). You are supposed to order here, and then you have to wait 15 minutes for the food to come to you. Seeing as there was no real McDonald's kitchen behind the kiosk, I assume that the wait is because they have to run back out to the actual McDonald's outside to fetch your food for you. I didn't end up eating there, but it was interesting to see (I didn't see anything unusually localized on the menu either).

Note to self though: next time you depart Bali, be sure to eat before going to the airport. The food choices (aside from McD's and Dunkin Donuts outside) are limited to a Japanese place (I ate there a number of years ago, and it was nothing memorable), some little cafe stands, and a number of not-worth-it Indonesian places called Prada (even the SQ lounge's spread upstairs was marginally better). Instead, we noticed a number of local hawkers on the streets just minutes outside the airport; that probably would have been the better choice, assuming that you are not schlepping around any bulky luggage with you at that time.

A Bowl of Bakso Off Kuta Beach

Bakso

Ahh...this little bowl of delight from a tiny streetside stall on Kuta Beach made my day. Bakso is a bowl of meatballs together with rice vermicelli and other fried goodies in an oily and savory broth, all for only 7,000 Rupiah (US$0.75). And it really packs a punch. Just a sip of the broth made my eyes open wide, forcing a big smile onto my face. The meatballs were tasty with a good texture, and the other bits just added to the variety. Throw in a scoop of the hot sauce, and it exposes another dimension of the dish. It was so good that I ordered another one right after (plus the bowls were pretty darned small).

Selling Bakso on the Beach - never mind how the bowls get washedAwesome. Simply awesome. This is a must-have here. It reminds me a bit of The Beef House in Singapore, but obviously in a much different (and better) way. Apparently there are a number of little warungs (streetside wheeled carts) around that serve this stuff, including an area just north of Ayu Nadi supermarket in Tuban. Hmm...maybe I'll go get another bowl later.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Brem Balinese Rice Wine

Brem

We hopped down to Made's Warung (a local institution near the Bemo Corner in Kuta, 755-297) for a late night snack tonight, where I picked up some brem, a local rice wine that is apparently made from black glutinous rice and coconut milk. It tasted a bit like soy sauce when I first tried it but my tastebuds eventually gave way to think of it more as something like prune juice. It doesn't sound very appetizing, but I grew to like it very quickly.

Prawn LumpiaWhile I was at it, I grabbed a quick plate of lumpia, this one being cooked (and with little shrimp) this time. It was surprisingly good. Although the skin was thick, the tasty and finely diced stuffing made it all worthwhile.

I was also excited to see that they had babi guling, a crispy skinned suckling pig unique to Bali (remember: Bali is largely Hindu rather than Muslim) that I have been wanting to try. They also required one day's advance notice for it, but it turns out that it is so big that you need five people to finish it. The waitress told us that the alternative is to go to the night market for individually sized portions, but it is only open from 5 PM until 10 PM, by which time we'll be leaving Bali. Oh well. No babi guling this time, but I'll definitely take note of this next time I'm here.

Bebek Betutu at Ketupat

Bebek Betutu

At long last, our duck was ready, so we marched right on back to Ketupat tonight to fetch our much anticipated bebek betutu (200,000 Rupiah, or US$21.90). It was a bit of a surprise when it came out, as it looked like just a brown lump of mud at first. Of course, those were just the pasty spices covering up the duck inside the banana leaf. After digging in, it turned out to be some of the tenderest duck I'd ever had. The moist shreds just fell off the bones, somewhat akin to pork lau lau in Hawaii. I suppose the slow roasting method probably is pretty similar.

Still, I was looking for more of an edge. While the meat was suprisingly moist and tender, I was hoping for something to knock me off my feet, be it a tongue-singeing spicyness, a crispy fatty skin, or maybe even a hint of smokiness in the flesh. It had none of these. The spices were respectable (that is a big compliment for someone who generally doesn't like the spices used in Indonesian and Malaysian food), but at the end of the day, they still weren't anything to get super excited about. Maybe there are better variations on this depending on where you go? At least the lemongrass-scented rice was really tasty.

Was I disappointed in the duck? Yes, a bit. Did I regret making all this effort (so as to even put a deposit down on it) to get it? Absolutely not. I still got to try a local specialty that is not readily available anywhere else. And like I said, it was really tender, so it's not like it was a bad meal or anything. I would still recommend it to anyone visiting the area and looking for local food in a nice sit-down setting. I just won't be craving it, that's all.

Pisang GorengOn a side note, this place's sambal chili sauce is very memorable. It wasn't particularly spicy, but the oil used made it very rich and great for dipping prawn crackers in. Yum. I also got an arak-based drink oddly called "Ugly! Buzz!!," which mixes arak, Coke, and a fresh chili pepper. It sounded like something that would provide a real kick, but instead, it just tasted like Coke and alcohol (the chili pepper was intact rather than sliced up or penetrated in any way to get some of that heat out). Finally, we ended the meal with pisang goreng deep fried banana fritters featuring a caramel sauce on the side (not bad; a bit crunchy, in fact), as well as some Indonesian highland tea (it tasted like weak Lipton). Anyway, on to the next meal...

A Random Plate of Nasi Campur

Nasi Campur

Here is a plate of nasi campur, which is apparently kind of like a mini rijsttafel. This also makes it a bit like the nasi kuning from last night, but with normal rice instead.

Anyway, there is not much to speak of here. It's from a random place on the other side of Bali, and it pretty much tasted like it looks (although I was impressed with how spicy the stir fried meat was, as well as how tasty the soup was). It's always a bit fun to find a place that still serves soda in a glass bottle too.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ketupat, Kuta, Bali

From left: mei selera pedas, nasi kuning, and sate lilit kambing

On my first trip to Bali a few years ago, we rented a private villa. Along with that came the in-house cooks, but they weren't very good (the restaurants that we went out to eat at were nothing memorable either). The only solace was finding this little place tucked away in a back alley off the main strip in Kuta called Ketupat (109 Jalan Legian, 0361-754209), which had a great deep fried fish that finally made up for those bad meals earlier. On this trip, we rediscovered Ketupat, and even found out along the way that this place is considered to be one of the best on the island for true Balinese cuisine.

I had heard a number of times about this great slow-baked duck called bebek betutu available in Bali, so I was elated with joy to find this on the menu tonight. Unfortunately, we were told that it must be ordered one day in advance (more on that later), so we scrambled for other seemingly local dishes, such as lumpia langsing, sate lilit kambing, and nasi kuning.

Lumpia LangsingEach of those struck me as a bit odd at first since they are usually associated with cultures other than Bali's. Lumpia, for instance, is of course largely from the Philippines, but this one was not deep fried (instead, it was raw and stuffed with veggies and thus a bit boring). The sate lilit was unlike satay from Singapore in that it was skewered with a stick of lemongrass. Here it is usually done with seafood like minced fish too (I don't know why I got mutton though; I should have tried the fish). And nasi kuning is something that I ate very recently at Ivins Peranakan restaurant, but here they surround it with all sorts of little potently packaged sides like a spicy eggplant and some sort of deep fried egg (yes, like a Scotch egg, but without the meat).

To round off the meal, we also got some spicy noodles called mei selera pedas, but they tasted way too much like instant noodles. At least I got an arak madu, which is a mix of the local liquor combined with lime juice and honey.

While all of this food was respectable, it still wasn't the home run that I was hoping for (that fish last time really blew me away). But I have faith in this place, and I must try that duck before leaving Bali. So we pre-ordered the duck for tomorrow in the hopes that it is as good as everyone has made it out to be. Stay tuned.

Balinese Storm Beer

Storm Beer Red Dawn Bronze AleHey this was a surprise. Billed as "Bali's First Boutique Brewery," Storm Beer apparently comes in multiple variations, mine being the Red Dawn Bronze Ale. To my surprise, it was very hoppy, almost tasting like a Californian microbrew. The label mentioned some random stuff about the "vast plains of the Serengeti" and wildebeest though, so I don't exactly think that it's intended to be Balinese. It doesn't matter. This stuff is much better than that other stuff around here, and I'm very relieved to be able to drink that instead of Bintang and Anker.

Soto Ayam in Bali

Soto Ayam and Anker Beer

This place, Kafe Dulang (Kuta Square Block C), is smack in the middle of the touristy Kuta area in Bali (surrounded by surf shops), so I was expecting the worst; they had things like club sandwiches and pasta (we came here out of necessity).

They did have some Indonesian food though. And to my surprise, the soto ayam was robust and full of hearty ingredients like hard boiled eggs, glass noodles, and celery leaves. The chili sauce was spicy without being sweet, and the squeeze of lime added just the right touch. Wow.

The Indonesian Anker Beer (not to be confused with Anchor from Singapore nor Anchor Steam from San Francisco) wasn't anything worth mentioning though. Not surprisingly, it was as bland as Bintang.

Nasi Uduk on SQ Econ Class

Nasi Uduk

The flight attendant told me that one of the brunch choices on this short two hour flight to Bali was something called nasi uduk, or as she described it, coconut rice with spicy fish. The alternate was an omelette, so I figured that I'd give the local dish a shot.

I immediately regretted it after opening it up. Even though it was similar to nasi lemak with the rice and the sweet-spicy sauce, the fishy stench and cake-like squares just reminded me of otak otak, a fishy paste-cake that always invokes a bad reaction from me. A lot of people seem to like it, but I could barely take another bite before giving up.

Waffles at the SATS Premier Lounge

Help yourself to fish congee and waffles at the SATS Premier Lounge

ooh...they put out waffles at the SATS Premier Lounge this morning. It wasn't anything spectacular (and there was no butter nor powdered sugar around), but hey - it was free. At least they had the usual congee (it was fish this time though), which was decently tasty and stewed to a pulp. It wasn't exactly HK quality, but it was darned good enough to go back for seconds.

It was darned crowded this morning; they were running out of bowls and cups everywhere.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Long Beach Seafood Restaurant

Pepper Crab

This place is one of the better-known chili crab shops in Singapore, with multiple locations around the island, including the East Coast Seafood Centre, which is practically the mecca of chili crab restaurants (for those back home, Long Beach here does not mean Snoop Dogg's home turf, and East Coast does not mean New York). Indeed, I like the food here better than many other chili crab spots that I've been hitting up lately.

Teochew-style seabassThe main reason for this is because of the black pepper crab. It almost had a tinge of smokiness to it, thus adding to the flavor. The chili crab, which is always a distant second for me due to its sweetness, was nonetheless pretty spicy here (and certainly still rich and full of flavor). One thing I do love at these places though is the Teochew-style fish, which is steamed with some pickled vegetables, tofu, and ginger to create a very savory broth to go along with the fish. Sides like sambal kangkong, noodles, and even the chilled honeydew & canteloupe dessert further complement all of this.

Chili CrabAnyway, everyone seems to have their own preferences for subtle differences between each chili crab shop. I've gotta say that while most shops on the island are pretty good, I'll be drawn back here for the pepper crab.

Pav Baji at Bombay Woodlands

Pav Baji

OK, I've been eating this a lot lately, but this one may have been the best thus far. Normally I prefer Raj to Bombay Woodlands, but this one in particular impressed me with the rich and spicy baji and finely sliced onions with a squeeze of lime. What a nice little snack.

Yakitori from Tori-Q

The yakitori selection at hand

Ugh - here is...mass-produced yakitori from the Tori-Q fast food chain, complete with an automatically rotating griller. The chicken could be considered acceptable, but the kawa (chicken skin) is just horrendously soggy, and is nothing like it should be. Well, at least it's quick and dirt cheap if you just need a quick snack.

Beer Battered Fish at Chippy

Beer Battered Fish

I swing back over to Chippy today to try out their fish & chips. A couple minutes after I placed my order for the Beer Battered Fish, I noticed that the sign said "12 pieces" (for only S$4.45 or US$2.60), upon which I realized that this wasn't really fish & chips, but rather small pieces akin to fish sticks. Indeed, once I got this little baggy, they had skewers sticking into it (like the Taiwanese shop next door). To take it another step further, the whole bag effused of white pepper, which only further seemed to taste like Taiwanese chicken and reinforce my belief that this was mildly localized.

What made it even weirder was when I bit into some of these pieces, they tasted like potatoes. Only then did I realize that the fries were battered just like the fish (and hence being nearly indistingushable from the fish on the outside, given the small sizes of the fish sticks). They weren't even really fries; they were more like battered mashed potatoes, if there were such a thing.

Well, I can't honestly speak with much authority on fish & chips as I've never really spent any extended period of time in England, but this sure seems localized to me (their website has a UK domain name but the online menu posts prices in Singapore dollars). And to be fair, I do like the taste of white pepper, so I actually still enjoyed it. I'm not quite sure about the other things on the menu (like the "Triple C" Cheesy Curry Chicken) though.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Samba Brazillian [sic] Churrascaria

ChurrascoI finally made it out here today (902 East Coast Parkway, 6348-8406). The menu was pretty straightforward; it's just churrasco, priced at S$33 (US$19.40) on weekends (or lower for kids and weekdays), plus a 30% pre-7PM early bird discount. On the other side of the menu, they had a drink list, including different flavors of caipirinhas (I guess in Brazil they will call those caipifrutas?), but I stuck to the traditional lime.

By and large, I was impressed with the food. Most of it was pretty good (and the linguica tasted very familiar, seeing that they procure from Espirito Santo). I devoured the beans, which they had as a "bean stew" that was separate from the feijoada. (Hey I've never been to Brazil before; aren't they supposed to be done together? Well, I liked the beans separate from all those innards anyway.) The caipirinhas were probably one of the best that I've had too; done just to the right amount of sweetness and freshness to make them dangerously addictive (it's like candy!).

Still, this place has one huge shortcoming: the verrrry slow service (and it's not like this place was excessively busy on a Saturday night either; the place was only about 30% full when I was there). Sure, I can understand if they want the rodizio to come out slowly, so as to motivate hungry customers to devour the much cheaper salads and sides that are easily accessible in the middle of the restaurant instead. But if the profit motive were really the driver here, then they should have been much more faster in bringing out the drinks. Every time, they failed to realize that my drink was empty and didn't ask if I wanted another one. Even after I proactively asked them for another drink, they took forever to bring it out to me. They seriously could have realized a lot more money had they been quicker on the drinks, especially considering how tasty their caipirinhas were. What a shame.

Well, this place is definitely better than Carnivore at CHIJMES. But I'd probably still have to tip the scales to Mamma Lucia; their meat quality was just as good (if not better) than Samba's. And despite Mamma Lucia's horrendous caipirinhas, their service is much more prompt (plus, it's much closer to town).

Friday, March 24, 2006

Yuzu-kiri at Shimbashi Soba

Yuzu-kiri Seiro

Making soba by handShimbashi Soba had a special citrus-based yuzu-kiri soba today, so I gave it a shot. There really wasn't much to speak of. It was actually a bit boring. The citrus taste was present, but so mild that it was hard to make out (plus the taste got covered up by the soba sauce anyway). They gave daikon instead of wasabi too (BTW, they are still out of fresh wasabi after so many months, apparently because prices are too high right now or something). And while I love daikon, in this case I needed a bit more punch, so in the end, this was a bit of a bummer. In fact, I ended up getting another plate afterwards, but this time being just normal soba.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Uberburger, Millenia Walk

#1 - the Sirloin Burger

I was walking down Millenia Walk and came upon this new place (complete with plasma TV screens hanging everywhere) by sheer chance (9 Raffles Boulevard #01-06, 6837-0280). I wasn't sure if it would be any good, as the chichi-looking plates on the other diners' tables wasn't exactly a turn-on for me, but nonetheless I hadn't had a good burger in a while, so I figured that I'd give it a shot. After thumbing through a very long and strangely shaped menu, I settled on the most basic #1, a sirloin burger for S$16 (US$9.40).

It was OK. The meat quality was good, even if my "medium" seemed more like a "rare." The salad was bearable, even if the snooty factor was getting a bit thick, based on the sun-dried tomatoes and seeds in there (and notice that they give you a salad instead of fries). What's strange is, if they really wanted to make this gourmet, why then did they give little disposable packets of Heinz rather than some dijon mustard?

This place is apparently done by the guys behind Corduroy & Finch, so that explains a few things. They even had a three-digit-figure-priced wagyu beef & foie gras burger (whoa - it reminds me of Hamburger Hamlet in LA who used to offer a three-digit-figured Dom Perignon and two burger special). Honestly, I still prefer a more down-to-earth burger instead, complete with artery-clogging cheese fries (like at Happy Hound in Los Gatos, CA) served in cheap plastic baskets and paper. But I'll still come back here. They had a steak tartare on the menu that seemed worthy of a try.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ghaangothree, House of Chaats & Shakes

From left: Pani Puri and Dahi Pappadi Chaat

Pau BhaajiThis place (5 Hindoo Road, 6296-6939) allegedly specializes in chaat, as evidenced by their very long chaat menu. So I came down and tried to get a good spread and see how it stood up to Raj. Unfortunately, I think I like Raj better. While selected items like the dahi pappadi chaat were pretty tasty, the pani puri lacked spiciness. The pau bhaaji had a great buttery aroma from the bread, but Raj's had much more taste. I also got an aloo tikki chaat, which finally did have a good spicy kick to it, but still didn't really excite me.

Aloo Tikki ChaatThere were a few interesting things here though, including their ghaanghothree special lime, which was a saffron-flavored lime juice. Oddly enough, they also featured "Indian Chinese Cuisine," with things like "American Chop Suey" on the menu. I obviously didn't go there though. Well, this place definitely wasn't bad, but my vote is still for Raj.

Paddy Fields "Authentic Thai"

Tom Yum Sriklong Moo

This place (368 Alexandra Road, 6472-3833) wasn't anything great, so I'm not going to write much. The only thing interesting that stuck out to me was the Tom Yum Sriklong Moo, or as they explained it, "Tom Yum Bak Kut Teh." The only similarity to bak kut teh was the pork rib inside (which incidentally was really tender), but by and large it was kind of a drag. The broth was spicy but thick. And strangely, the normal tom yum soup that we got separately was too bland to get excited about. The other dishes that we got from the "Executive Tasting Menus" were also a mixed bag; while I liked the beef salad, some of the other dishes were a bit of a bore.

The ambiance wasn't bad, with a nice lemongrass scent greeting you when you enter. But I don't think I plan to come back.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Magic Wok Restaurant

Pandan Leaf Chicken and Tom Yum Soup

This place (6542-0422) bills itself as Thai-Chinese Cuisine (and it's Halal at that), and has locations near MRT stations, like Novena, City Hall, Pasir Ris, and Hougang. I went to the City Hall location a very long time ago, and remembered it being exactly that: Thai food with a bit of a Chinese influence, and hence nothing that I would come back for, although they did have a nice and greasy pandan leaf chicken. We were nearby one of the other locations today, and thus stopped by out of convenience.

Unfortunately, it still wasn't anything to cheer about. While the pandan leaf chicken was still just as tasty and greasy as I remembered it, the others were also just as boring as I remembered them. The shrimp in the tom yum soup weren't the freshest, and some sizzling hot black metal platter (with egg on the bottom - apparently part of the Chinese influence) came out with such a ketchupy sweet sauce on top (with onions sliced very crudely) that it could have passed for American-Chinese takeout (a la sweet and sour chicken). Oh well.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fosters, An English Rose Cafe

Sliced Mushroom Soup

I had seen this place (277 Holland Avenue, 6466-8939) a million times before but had never gone inside. Tonight, I was craving fish & chips, so I figured I could try this place out (what the heck is an "English Rose Cafe" though??). It started out well. The sliced mushroom soup was one of the better ones that I've had: rich, savory, and with thinly sliced mushrooms floating inside. Nice work.

Fish and Chips

Then came the fish & chips, which were piping hot and fresh, complete with a good tartar sauce and malt vinegar (not a spray bottle). The fries (chips) were so thick that they were a bit tiring though (I felt a bit sick after eating them all). Well, by and large, I was still impressed, even if I've had better.

So while the fish & chips were OK, my cravings will be for the mushroom soup. I'll also be coming back to try out the roast beef next time. They had a grungy-sounding singer at the restaurant, whom I surprisingly didn't mind too much while eating. It's too bad that they didn't have any English ales on tap though (the closest thing was Kilkenny).

Onion Rava Dosai at Komala's

Onion Rava Dosai

I actually came to Komala's today craving chaat, but they only start serving that at 3:30 PM, so I settled on an onion rava dosai instead. It was fine; nothing bad, nothing fancy.

The one thing that did stick out for me though was the vada, which is the thing in the picture that looks like a doughnut. I could not help but keep think of Homer Simpson when I looked at it, so it kept surprising me when I bit into it and got a savory taste (with onions inside).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ivins...It's Growing On Me

Ayam Buah Kuluak

Scooping out the black nuts onto the nasi kuningWe were back at Ivins again today, and I was rather surprised that I actually enjoyed the food (I am normally not a fan of Peranakan food). It got started right thanks to the nasi kuning, or "yellow rice," which is made yellow not through the use of saffron, but through tumeric. It was also heavy in coconut flavor (kind of like nasi lemak), which gave this a lot of character. An additional bonus was the interesting black nuts in the ayam buah keluak that you scooped out onto your rice. I had it before, but for some reason, it was particularly enjoyable today (maybe because it went well with the coconut flavored rice?).

Bakwan KepetingOther items we had today ranged from honey pork (self-explanatory), satay babi (little slices of unskewered pork sitting in that peanuty satay sauce), curry fish head, fried ngo hiang, and bakwan kepeting, or tasty meatballs in a thin clear broth. There were plenty of veggies too, including sambal kangkong, longbeans titek, lady's fingers sambal, as well as stewed cabbage dishes nonya chap chye and sayur lodeh, the former being more Chinese (lighter with tofu skin) but the latter being more Malay (spicier). We also got a couple of those tamarind-based Thai-like dishes, assam pork rib and sotong assam puteh. It sounds like a lot of food, but keep in mind that the plates here are pretty small (just a notch bigger than Spanish tapas).

From bottom: assam pork rib, satay babi, and sayur lodehMaybe the reason why I enjoyed nearly every dish today was because I stayed away from eating the tedious tasteless chunks of meat, sticking mainly to the gravies and veggies instead. Granted, I still won't get cravings for this stuff (and I still don't like that fishy spicy stench that greets you when you open the door to the restaurant), but I have to admit that Peranakan food is growing on me. Who'd have known??

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Chico's & Charlie's

Chips & Salsa, Frozen Margarita, and Shredded Beef Tacos

After all that discussion about Mexican food in Singapore, I headed down to Chico's & Charlie's (Orchard Parade Hotel #01-13, 6235-5495) to give it a shot (it looks like it is run by the guys over at Harry's). Compared to everything else that I've had recently, this place got off on the right foot. The chips and salsa were fresh (although paid for rather than complimentary), hot sauces from Mexico were sitting on the table, and the portions were generous. This was loads better than all those other "Mexican" places around here. I was impressed.

Hot sauces from MexicoAt the same time, this was not a home run either. The tacos were drizzled with some sour cream to look pretty (it reminds me of some Tex-Mex chain restaurants that I despise), which forced me to have to use a knife and fork to eat these rather than using my hands. The shredded beef in the tacos also seemed to have been simmered with some salsa and maybe even canned jalapenos; I wish they had done straight beef grilled on a fire instead (and in much smaller quantities before you add your choice of your own fresh garnishings) - like they do on the streets of Mexico for US$1. Well, all things considered, this probably still moves to the top of my list for Mexican places in Singapore. It's good to have found a half-decent contender.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pau Baji at Raj

Pau Baji

This was kinda cool - it was almost like an Indian version of sloppy joes, but vegetarian and spicy. Scoop some of the good stuff on the little buns, complement it with some of the fresh garnishes, and you're good to go.

It was also interesting to see this on Raj's chaat menu. All my experiences with chaat so far have been largely based on tamarind and maybe yogurt, so this was quite a refreshing break from that formula.

S$3 Beer at Carl's Jr

In Singapore, you can get a beer at Carl's Jr

Cool. I just happened to be walking by Carl's Jr when I noticed this sign. It then dawned on me: hey - that's a fast food restaurant serving beer (cue John Travolta's opening scene in Pulp Fiction). Interesting. I didn't actually go in, but it's just interesting to see fast food places serving beer. Does Pepper Lunch count as fast food too?

Santaro Japanese Restaurant

Santaro Special

I was told that this place (Amara Hotel #02-26, 6324-8388) was pretty good, but I was not quite convinced. Fortunately, we got the chance to come by here today and find out for sure. It was lunch time, so we just got a bunch of set lunches, mine being the eponymous Santaro special. It wasn't bad. Featuring everything from tempura to sushi to a pretty darned tasty and fresh fish with mentaiko baked on, this meal was better than I thought it would be.

Now admittedly, it still wasn't mind-boggling enough for me to want to crave this place's food, but I'm told that there are quite a few good things on the menu that could be ordered too, be it the fugu, Kobe beef, or otherwise. But they also featured kaiseki, and I'm not exactly looking to pay those kinds of prices. Well, I'm glad I came here either way to see what all the fuss was about.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Salsa Tex Mex, Boat Quay

Cheese EnchiladaI should have known better than to go to a place called "Salsa Tex Mex" (and in such a touristy area), but I guess I was hoping to be surprised with good food (52 Boat Quay, 6533-1282). Alas, I was not. It was downhill right from the start. The service was slow and inattentive; I had to remind them to bring me chips and salsa, the former of which was stale, and the latter of which was likely pre-made and bottled (they had some other one that was fresh, but it was a wierd fruity salsa with beans and corn in it too). The tortilla soup tasted like mildly sweet tomato soup from a can (with barely any tortilla in it, I might add), and the cheese enchilada wasn't much better than a microwaved TV dinner (and it didn't even come with beans or rice).

Well, the hunt for good Mexican food (OK, so this is actually Tex Mex, but who's counting?) in Singapore is still unresolved: this place is not much different from Margarita's or Santa Fe (and I'm not too excited about trying those places in Holland Village either). I suppose it's not really fair for me to try to find good Mexican (pseudo or otherwise) in Singapore though; that would be like trying to find good chili crab in California, which obviously isn't a very likely scenario either.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

SQ Econ Class Dinner from HK

Hickory chip smoked chicken with coleslaw and Sauteed seafood in garlic cream sauce served with selected vegetables and pilaf rice

This meal wasn't anything special. It sounded nice on the menu at first: "sauteed seafood in garlic cream sauce served with selected vegetables and pilaf rice." But it disappointed as the rice pilaf didn't really sport any taste; it was nearly just like basic steamed rice. The garlic cream sauce was lighter than I was hoping for too. At least the "hickory chip smoked chicken with coleslaw" starter was decently fresh and tasty.

On a quick side note, it looks like SQ has finally added more Connexion by Boeing services to other routes, including tonight's coming in from HK. Nice. Good night from 35,000 feet!

Xiao Nan Guo Shanghai Cuisine

Clockwise from left: xiao long bao, some fried stuffed bun thing, crab yolk tofu, and dou miao

This is a chain from Shanghai that has opened quite a few shops across Hong Kong. I had eaten at one of the branches here a year or two ago, and remembered a number of little dim sum dishes that I liked a lot, so we made sure to get them today. One was a deep fried bun (sorry, I don't know the official name), which was tasty thanks to the grease and meat stuffing. We also got a crab yolk tofu, although they were out of one of my favorite Shanghainese dishes, shan hu. And of course, we got the obligatory xiao long bao, although the skin was a bit thicker than I'd like.

The red pork thingy with a steamed bun

One interesting piece was a pork and steamed bun-type thing. A big chunk of fatty pork is tied up and simmered in some red (non-spicy, not too sweet) sauce, which you shove into a little steamed pancake thing and eat away. It was interesting and not bad, although I won't get cravings for it either. Anyway, if you come here, be sure to get some of those fried dim sum plates. It's a bit different from the Cantonese dim sum that one usually gets in HK.

Ocean Empire, Hong Kong

Sliced Fish Congee

Time for breakfast in HK. I was recommended a place near the Causeway Bay MTR station near Lockhart Road (I think it is called Li Yuan or something?), but it wasn't open very early for breakfast this morning, so I settled on another place around the corner (Excelsior Plaza, 24-26 East Point Rd, 2890-6827, but with multiple locations around HK). You can see them making breakfast in the window.

I was told that this place wasn't necessarily anything spectacular, and is just a quick chain place to grab a bite when you need it. I still liked it though, probably because it's not often that I can get real Cantonese congee. The sliced fish congee that I ordered today was boiled to a pulp (where the rice is extra tasty and the grains are nearly unrecognizable). And it surprised with some extra ingredients inside like peanuts and veggies. Anyway, that's it; just a quick breakfast. Hopefully I'll get to hit the other one around the corner next time...or maybe some of the soybean milk places across the way (they are apparently open 24 hours).