Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Li Bai, Sheraton Singapore

Sliced Abalone with Sea Cucumber and Hong Kong Seasonal VegetablesThis place was pretty good. Located at the Sheraton Singapore (6839-5623) is basically a Cantonese place, meaning you can get a full Chinese multi-course banquet here suitable for weddings. And, in accordance with that, you can start with the usual cold appetizer plate with jellyfish and the like (the suckling pig skin on this plate was so crispy and tasty that I knew that we were off to a good start). A "thick soup of abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw and dried scallop" was impressively nearly as tasty as the more traditional shark's fin soup, so PETA folks can rest easy. Abalone is also a specialty here, although I was decently impressed with the accompanying sea cucumber, which is normally not a fave of mine, but this one was fairly delicate and almost mushroom-like in taste to me.

Sauteed Prawns with Walnut, Celery, and Capiscum in X.O. Sauce with Deep Fried Scallops coated with TaroOther dishes, ranging from various seafood in "X.O. Sauce" (note that it doesn't mean there is XO brandy in there...it's just that XO brandy is so prestigious in Hong Kong that "XO" is associated with being of high quality) to a pan-fried Canadian cod that was filleted whole (surprising for a Cantonese restaurant) did the job too, even if they are nothing that I'll crave.

Pan-fried Canadian Cod with Garlic and Spring Onion SauceAnd of course, such banquets close with roast duck (gotta love the skin), although I was a bit bummed with the strange "Japanese style" noodles (they sprinkled shredded seaweed on it...hmmm...), and the glutinous rice balls, of which the black-sesame-filled rice balls themselves were good, but the almond soup (or "paste" as they called it) was disappointingly bland. (I wanted to add some sugar...and this is from a guy who doesn't like sweets!) Anyway, I can imagine that this place's catering for a big event would still fare decently well, so that's one more to note in the annals of hotel catering.

Yeo's Ice Lemon Tea: Authentic Asian?

Look underneath the orange bar at the bottom: Authentic Asian Drink

This is just a local run-of-the-mill boxed drink here, but I noticed something today that struck me as a bit odd: the bottom of the box says that this is an "Authentic Asian Drink." Is it really? This tastes like that powdered Lipton Iced Tea with lemon stuff that we had as a kid. I suppose tea itself is originally from Asia, but I'm pretty sure that this sugary concoction is American, right?

Monday, May 29, 2006

More from Flavors of India

Makhmali Kebabs

I went back to Flavors of India today to go after some of those dishes I missed last time. The first item I got was the Makhmali Kebabs, or chicken marinated in cheese and spices. Hmmm...chicken marinated in cheese, eh? I imagined something like the yogurt-marinated chicken, but instead this thing turned out nothing like it...they looked more like cylindrical tubes of rice toasted on a fire (almost like cylindrical yaki onigiri), and yet they still had chicken inside the crispy cheese coating. I don't know how else to describe it...it wasn't bad, although not as tasty (nor as kebab-like) as I would have hoped.

Clockwise from left: Dhal Makhni, Zaffrani Chawal, and Noor JahaniNext I grabbed what was allegedly one of the greatest things here: the noor jahani, or fish stuffed with minced meat and almonds and simmered in a delicate cream sauce. When I heard "cream sauce," I was thinking of something like a carbonara sauce. Instead, this was red in color (a bit like butter chicken). And just as with above, it wasn't bad, but my expectations were probably set too high. Fortunately, the dhal makhni, or creamed Punjabi dhal lentils with mild spices and butter, pulled through. This finally was what I was looking for: something to rival the greatness of Bukhara's dhal. While not as amazingly spicy nor rich as I remember Bukhara's to be, this still did the job with a good amount of flavor and heartiness. Nice one. Finally, I got a zaffrani chawal, or Basmati rice cooked with saffron and spices to finish it off. It wasn't that much different from Shahi Persian Pilaf aside from missing the orange peel and fried onions. I'm glad I at least found the dhal.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill, Singapore

Potato Skins

Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill (91 Tanglin Road #B1-01, 6738-2800) is one of those places that I can easily turn to when I crave some food from back home. Featuring all-time classics like clam chowder, ribs, and apple pie, these guys fortunately are fairly authentic with little or no localization effects. Amusingly enough, they even have statements on the menus saying "WARNING! We Serve American Portions" to its local patrons (apparently these guys have locations in Hong Kong and Taipei too).

Ribeye steak and a baked potatoSo true to form, we went in for all the artery-clogging goodness, starting with the potato skins, complete with oil oozing out of the baked-on cheese plus all of the bacon bits and sour cream. Next I moved in with my usual rib eye steak, which I've ordered here at least ten times, all of which had been very consistent. Strangely though, tonight's rib eye was a bit thin and lacking in taste, and their accompanying vegetable skewer was totally underdone; the mushroom was even cold. And there were more disappointments tonight too, be it the sauteed mushrooms (fair, but not even close to the garlicky buttery taste of Morton's), clam chowder (it seemed as if canned Progresso had more taste to it), or the overstuffed chicken quesadillas featuring pre-made salsa (ugh!).

The World's Smallest SundaeThen again, who goes to Chicago to get Tex-Mex anyway? I find that as long as I stick to things like the steak, then I'm fine (tonight must have been an off-night for them). They also had a pretty cool "World's Smallest Sundae" in a shot glass for S$3 (US$1.75). It's too bad that these guys aren't open for breakfast; it's not easy getting an American breakfast around here, and I heard that their HK branch does open in the morning, so it's a bit of a shame. The good thing though is that it looks like they have finally put Vienna Beef hot dogs back on their menu here, so I'm definitely coming back here for that. Well, while tonight I learned of a few things to avoid here, by and large this place is delightfully free of localization, and hence something I can still turn to when I need it.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Handle Bar, Lock Road

Blossom Onion

I had heard a few things about this place in the past and finally came by here to check it out. Tucked away in Gillman Village (1 Lock Road #01-01, 6475-9571), this very casual place has a decently big patio and a not-as-tacky-as-it-could-have-been biker-bar-themed interior (it only dawned on me later why this place is called the Handle Bar...get it?).

Beer Battered Fish & Chips...with a Bad Attitude Jalapeno in the lower left cornerAnyway, with so much discussion about fish & chips lately, this was pretty much already on my mind when we arrived. It generally turned out all-right, with some decently sized portions and a piping hot and crispy batter. This wasn't without a bit of localization though. The batter had some pepper in it (although definitely not as heavily as at Chippy's), and malt vinegar was nowhere to be found. After I walked to the kitchen to ask for some vinegar, they poured it into a little dish for me, which made it a bit interesting to try to douse onto the fish. At least it wasn't in a spray bottle.

We also grabbed a few starters like the jalapeno poppers (or as their chalk-scribbled menu outside called it, Bad Attitude Jalapeno), as well as their blooming onion (or as their menu called it, the Blossom Onion). The jalapeno poppers were better than El Patio's as they used the whole jalapeno rather than just half, thus packing in a respectable amount of heat (although they still used cream cheese, interestingly). The blooming onion was decent as well, although I could also sense a bit of that pepper in the batter, and was still short of Black Angus' version (or even Tony Roma's onion loaf...oh God, have I decended into chain restaurant hell?).

Anyway, the gist of the story here is that while the food was just a tad short of other available places around here, it was still above average and primed for a repeat visit (the burgers, steaks, and ribs looked worthy of a try). They also had some gumbo that I'll have to check out.

Flavors of India by Nirvana

Tangy Potato Chat

I once got a flier to this place (61 Stamford Road #01-07, 6333-9479) not long ago that cited all sorts of lavish praise from the likes of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. The Australia Post apparently even called it the "World's Best Curry House." And the menu included North Indian kebabs, vindaloo, and even one chaat dish. With all that at stake, I knew I had to come check it out. It's an interesting place. On the ground floor they have an "Indian Bistro & Chai Bar," whatever that means. They took us up to the second floor though, which is billed as "fine dining"...an appropriate description given the posh decor.

Murg TandooriWhile they didn't have a full chaat menu, they did have a Tangy Potato Chat, which was decently good, even if it seemed a bit like an Indian version of potato salad. Then we got the Murg Tandoori, which wasn't quite a kebab like the waiter had told me, but nonetheless it was marinated in yogurt (ever since Bukhara left Singapore, I've been trying to find a yogurt-marinated kebab simlar to their murgh malai kebab). It was decently tender and tasty, even if it still wasn't Bukhara.

Lamb Vindaloo and Shahi Persian PilafFinally, we got a vindaloo and the Shahi Persian Pilaf, or saffron rice cooked with butter, fried onions, and orange peel. The vindaloo was disappointingly mild, but was admittedly still pretty exquisite. And while I didn't care to much for the sweet orange peel in the rice, it was fairly buttery and definitely rather sophisticated. On the drinks side, the lassi was probably one of the thickest that I've had (almost like a milkshake), while the Punjabi tea was probably the richest.

What's interesting is that this is the sister restaurant of Nirvana and Moti Mahal, and I suspect that all that press coverage is actually for one of those restaurants rather than this place (this one only opened in September). The waiter did say that there are some common menu items across these restaurants (it looks like they have some locations in Poland, Canada, and Brazil too?).

Anyway, this was all worth coming for. Even if not everything was exactly what I had hoped for, I can definitely see why this place got so much praise (and the decor here would make it worthy of a business lunch...at fairly reasonable prices, I might add). I do plan to come by and try some of those dishes that the Wall Street Journal allegedly claimed to be "enough to bring a visitor back to Singapore": the Shan E-delhi and Noor Jahani, both in some kind of a cream sauce. I'm also hoping that their Dhal Makhni is like Bukhara's dhal with the ghee in the middle...mmm...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Soup Central, Caltex House

Hungarian Goulash

I used to go to Soup Central a lot when there was one at International Plaza, but that has long since closed. Today I found one of their outlets at Caltex House (30 Raffles Place #01-31, 6720-SOUP), with generally the same soups like bacon & cheese (and so-called "free flow baguette") as well as of course the Hungarian Goulash. While many of the other soups here are pretty good too, the goulash is the one that draws 'em in. Fortunately, it was pretty much the same as I remembered it, with stewed vegetables, tender meat, and a pretty spicy kick too. I have no idea if this is authentic or not as I've never been to Hungary before, but even if it's a local interpretation of Eastern European food, it's good (and much better than that Soup Spoon competitor). Too bad they don't have the butter rice that the old place used to have though.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some Chicken Wings from Newton Circus

Some random dude's chicken wings at Newton Circus

Chicken Wings and Tiger BeerThis wasn't anything special - they were just chicken wings from some random guy at Newton Circus (albeit the new temporary location). But it just looks kinda cool to have them all on a rack. Actually, this guy's wings kinda sucked, but anyway...Newton Circus was just a quick impulse decision for some quick and convenient food after a late night in the office.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More from the Post Express Deli

And all this was shoved into that ridiculously excessively sturdy bag in the back

No, I didn't intend for this to be sandwich week. We just happened to be in the neighborhood today and stopped by. Seeing how the sandwich I got last time was so small here, I decided to try their "Make Your Own" sandwich instead today, grabbing German salami with smoked cheddar and all the veggies.

When I saw them making it though, I hit myself on the forehead, realizing that it was still pretty tiny, so I grabbed a Caesar salad from the shelf too in order to make sure that I would be full. Just for extra measure, I threw in some Kettle Chips again and rounded it off with a drink. Admittedly I did order a bit too much in the end, but it was a satisfying meal.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Annalakshmi, Excelsior Shopping Centre

Clockwise from left: Jeera Pilau, Chilli Gobi, and Malai Kofta

Wow - this place (5 Coleman Street #02-10, 6339-9993) totally exceeded my expectations. Annalakshmi is of course the place with no set prices - you just pay what you want. And while I knew that this location was an actual restaurant (rather than just the little food court stall), I didn't think it would be this good (nor well decorated - this place almost reminded me of Shahi Maharani at Raffles City Mall).

The menu was decently extensive, so I opted for a few things that I had never tried before. The first was chilli gobi, or as the menu put it, "a mouth watering starter, where cauliflower is dipped in a fine paste of ginger, garlic, and flour, with a dash of spices and deep fried." While I didn't necessarily taste that many spices (although it sure made it look like little red chunks of tandoori chicken), I was very impressed with what a good job they did in frying this thing: it was perfectly crispy. Gotta love deep-fried vegetables!

Next was the malai kofta, or "potato mashed into balls, deep fried served in a creamy cashewnut-based gravy." This was richly tantalizing too - and it packed a surprising amount of heat. (The potato ball looked deceptively like a meatball but my mouth still agreed with it.) And to go with this all I grabbed the jeera pilau, or cumin rice. This again surprised me: it was light and fluffy yet very savory with a couple surprise bursts of onion from time to time. Nice. To wash this all down, I got the Annalakshmi special, which is basically and orange and honey based lassi.

Everything went down very well indeed, and, as usual, they asked "how much" [are you going to pay us?] at the end. I loved this meal so much that I probably gave way more than I needed to, but it was worth it (and hey - it was for a good cause!). I'm definitely coming back here. I've just gotta remember that they are closed on Sundays.

Delicatessen, UE Square

The Parmegiano Sandwich

I got a bit worried when I walked into this place (UE Square #01-22, 6235-1778) as the decor looked a bit snooty (kinda like Whitebait & Kale), and the sandwich selection was plagued with chichi stuff like peach & ginger chutney, apricot mustard, truffle oil, etc. They even offered foie gras. Uh oh - this place looks too classy to be good (I just want a plain sandwich, not all that gourmet stuff!).

Fortunately, I liked it. I opted for the Parmegiano ("country bread, parma ham, parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes, char grilled mushrooms, rocket, olive oil, balsamic vinegar"), as it was the "least gourmet" of the bunch that I could find. And it tasted pretty good...I guess this is one chichi place that fortunately also makes sure that the food tastes good. (Then again, I'm a sucker for rucola and cheese shavings.) Anyway, the taste is good enough that I'll come back again, even if my first choice will still be for something less upscale and more down-to-earth.

Lorina Traditional French LimonadeOn a side note, I learned the hard way today (again) that "lemonade" outside of the US refers to 7-UP, not actual lemon juice and sugar. I was a bit bummed when I saw this since I thought that the "Traditional French Limonade" meant the latter. I should have gotten just the regular "Lemonade" then.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Kaffe Krema Does It Again

The Salmon and Avocado Special

Ham and Cheese SandwichThis is the way sandwiches should be: fresh, cheap, quick, and simple. And Kaffe Krema does a great job of this. Here was a special they ran today featuring lox and avocado (take out the avocado and you could almost put this on a bagel!), as well as a simple ham and cheese sandwich I grabbed later for dinner. Both hit the spot just right, and were exactly what I was looking for.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hashima: Chinese Forest Frog Fat

Hashima

This was interesting. The Chinese have a dessert called hashima, which is apparently oviduct fat from a female forest frog, if my information is correct. Prepared in a very thin cold broth together with some Chinese herbs, this allegedly has all sorts of health benefits (like bird's nest soup, another Chinese dessert of similarly strange origins - saliva from a swallow - although I'm told that hashima is basically a cheaper version of bird's nest soup). As nasty as it sounds, it really didn't taste like anything. All the taste came from the mildly sweet broth and the Chinese herbs rather than that jelly-like hashima, which seemed more like a mildly crunchy and tasteless fungus than anything. I won't get cravings for it, but its light nature was admittedly refreshing after a long dinner.

Anyway, this was the only interesting highlight from an otherwise lackluster meal at Teahouse (China Square Level 3, 6533-0660), which is a Tung Lok restaurant. For some reason, it only dawned on me tonight that Tung Lok (and its rival big restaurant chain Crystal Jade) is basically just an Asian version of a chain restaurant. Just as with mass chain restaurants in the States (or Australia?), they have a steady stream of customers thanks to their clean ambience, consistency, and safe food. That's also why I hate chain restaurants: they are so safe that the food - while certainly not the worst food that I've ever had - is simply boring (the hashima above is apparently standard issue at many Chinese restaurants). Oh well...I've had this place's dim sum a couple times too. It wasn't too bad, but again, it's not a place that I'd get cravings for.

Cold Noodles from Kado Man

Hiyashi Chuka

Kado Man is allegedly known for their "cold noodles," so that's exactly what we picked up today from them, both in the hiyashi chuka egg noodle variety as well as the tsukemen dipping variety. As suspected, these were decent, but I've had better at places like Noodle House Ken and Miharu.

Ume ChazukeThe portions here were pretty small too, so I also grabbed a chahan as well as an ume chazuke just to try them out. And, just as with the others above, the chahan was decently tasty, but a bit soggy and definitely a far cry from Ohsho. The ochazuke seemed a bit artificial too. Well, at least the food wasn't *bad* - I could still come here if someone forced me to.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Tent Mongolian BBQ, Clarke Quay

My Mongolian BBQ creation - with a Cobra beer from Bangalore

Hey...we finally have another Mongolian BBQ in Singapore (yay!). This place (Clarke Quay Block 3D #01-02, 6339-0200) beats the pants off that Kublai Khan place thanks to its fresh selection of ingredients and sauces. Indeed, the selection is so wide that some of them were really unnecessary (I didn't even bother with the salad bar), but nonetheless I was more-or-less able make my bowl the way I wanted it.

Sauteeing Mongolian BBQ on a Teppanyaki GrillThere were a few deviations from the norm. For one, they used a teppanyaki grill rather than the usual circular grill that they rotate around (I suppose this theoretically makes the meal soggier given that there is no gravity on a flat teppanyaki grill to allow the juices to roll off like a circular one does, although they did a good job of keeping it from getting too soggy here). Secondly, the meats were not in the thin frozen slices that one is accustomed to; rather, they cubed the meats, which created a slightly different taste and texture, although not so badly that it would prevent me from coming back here. Finally, there were a few things missing in the sauce selection like cooking wine and fresh sprigs of cilantro (they had a tiny little cup of "chopped coriander" instead), but I still got my sauce to taste pretty good.

This place wasn't as cheap as back home either: they charged S$26 (US$15) for all-you-can-eat, but this was in a much nicer setting than places from back home (they brought the bowl to your table after they finished cooking it...and in a really nice porcelain bowl, complete with a lid that held your table number tag). They had a single bowl option listed for less, but it was only available from 11:30-6:30. I actually called them earlier today to see if they were open for lunch, but they said it was dinner-only (I guess you're forced into the higher priced meal for now then!). I don't blame them...I was the only person in there at 7 PM on a Saturday.

Clearly this new place was suffering from a lack of awareness...not only of the restaurant (they are tucked away in the back near Marrakesh, away from all the foot traffic), but probably because many folks didn't know what "Mongolian BBQ" was. Actually, Mongolian BBQ isn't really from Mongolia...it's from Taiwan, and of course is rather commonly found in all parts of the US. And what makes it "Mongolian" in character is the thin slices of meat (that's also the alleged origin of shabu shabu). That's why it was a bit strange that their meats weren't of the thinly-sliced variety here.

Well, just as with Sichuan hot pot, the assembly of ingredients and sauces is up to you, so if you choose poorly, then it can create a potentially boring taste (I avoided that horribly long list of sauce mixes that they listed on signboards and went straight for my own sesame and chili oil-based version). I was also a bit worried when the staff told me that they consider this place to have a bit of "fusion" (oh no!), but fortunately I was able to dodge those elements and pick the right things to save the meal. Indeed, it looked like these guys are owned by a neighboring Indian restaurant at Clarke Quay, which also explained why they had a section of vegetarian sauces as well as Cobra beer from Bangalore (and for those of you back home, that was not to be confused with King Cobra malt liquor...this was much smoother...I actually liked it better than Kingfisher). Well, either way, this place is leaps beyond Kublai Khan. And while it still isn't completely the same as the places from back home (or in Taiwan), I'll definitely come back again. (Hopefully they'll take action from my comment card suggestions and start slicing the meat more thinly too.)

Kao Soi Gai at Nooch

Kao Soi Gai

Nooch (Paragon #B1-35, 6732-3313, with another location at Citylink) calls itself a "noodle bar" with a selection of Japanese, Thai, and local dishes. A lot of the dishes don't look that great, but I've always been a big fan of their kao soi gai. To be honest, I can't remember how this compared to the real deal that I had in Chiang Mai, but I do like the crispy noodles, oily chili pepper flakes on top (like the Cantonese stuff), and pickle/onion/lemon condiments here. I don't really ever veer from this at Nooch though - everything else here looks kinda nasty.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Paulaner Brauhaus, Singapore

Schweinshaxe crispy pork knuckles

I had always known that Paulaner Brauhaus (Millenia Walk, 6883-2572) had some great crispy pork knuckles, but I hadn't realized until tonight that this was Schweinshaxe, something I was able to pick up in Berlin last year. And for some reason, this one seemed a lot better than the one I had out there, being tastier, crispier, and easier to cut and eat. (They had that spongy potato dumpling here too.)

White AsparagusOne other thing they featured here today was white asparagus, flown in all the way from Germany while they are still in season. A colleague of mine mentioned that the ones he had in Germany had a very unique taste to it, but that these were rather boring. I have no basis for comparison myself, but these tasted just like they looked (we got just plain butter to go with it). In fact, they didn't taste that much different from regular asparagus, aside from perhaps being a bit more delicate. I don't seem to recall having "asparagus pee" afterwards though. :)

Steak Sandwiches at Morton's Happy Hour

Steak Sandwiches from Morton's Happy HourHappy hour at Morton's Singapore is so popular that they have to close the door at times because they are maxed out to capacity. Why is that, you might ask? Sure, maybe some of it is because of their martini menu. But the real reason is because of the free steak sandwiches. Yup, you heard it right...using Morton's steak (hopefully not leftovers), these guys throw together tender little steak sandwiches with all the tasty goodness of a Morton's steak. Mmm...

Now, of course these are tiny little slices (and they don't come by with these too frequently either), so don't expect to fill up and get a free dinner here. And I was a bit surprised that the bread wasn't the cool onion bread they give you inside the restaurant. Still, you can't beat that killer Morton's steak taste. Now excuse me while I wipe this drool off my face...

Post Express Deli, Fullerton Hotel

A roast beef pickled papaya with marinated grilled artichoke sandwich together with a pickle and lemonade

This is a place that I had been meaning to try for a while in the interests of finding sandwiches in Singapore. Located in an outwardly facing corner of the Fullerton Hotel (1 Fullerton Square, 6877-8995), this is a tiny little place that doesn't even have seating unless you go outside. It's meant to be a bit of a gourmet sandwich shop, featuring freshly baked breads, pastries, salads, etc. Of course, they will make sandwiches for you according to your taste, but there was one pre-made sandwich in the refrigerator that looked interesting: a "roast beef pickled papaya with marinated grilled artichoke" sandwich. So I grabbed that along with some Lorina lemonade (from France, apparently). I noticed they had a jar of pickles too, so I asked for one of those.

The sandwich turned out to be really good. It was tender and tasty, albeit incredibly small. The pickle was a bit of a letdown as it turned out to be a sweet pickle (gotta love Seah Street Deli instead in that sense). The funny thing though is how excessively they will go to make this place "gourmet." Witness the uncessarily thick and sturdy paper shopping bag (like one you would get after buying something from Hermes) to hold all your stuff. And the pickle was a bit hilarious as they put this single pickle in this huge bowl and then sealed it with tape.

The Mushroom Stroganoff from the Soup Spoon (not the Post Express Deli)Anyway, the portions were a bit small too, so I had to head back up and get a bag of chips (yea! they had Kettle Chips!), and then even stop at the Soup Spoon on the way back to get more (BTW, I miss Soup Central when they were at International Plaza...I didn't like the Soup Spoon too much as mushroom soup was actually a bit sweet, despite the great bits of mushroom in here). I'd still come back to the Post Express Deli though - I just have to remember to order more next time.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Soup Tulang: Nothing Was What It Seemed

Soup Tulang

This was definitely an experience that I won't forget. Although I had heard about this stuff before, I'm generally not a big fan of innards, so the thought of some strange red-looking bone with the benefit of eating the marrow didn't quite appeal to me right away. For some reason though, tonight we felt like trying it out, so we headed down to the Golden Mile Food Centre, where there were four hawkers right next to each other (#B1-13 to B1-16) selling this stuff past midnight.

Four soup tulang stalls in a rowNothing was what it seemed. First off, this was sitting in a bright red sauce, which made it look very spicy. It wasn't at all (I heard that the red color was artificial). Secondly, the bright red sauce could also mean that it would be a rather sweet sauce too. It wasn't (which is a good thing). Next, this is called Soup Tulang, but where the heck was the soup?? It was just that red gravy stuff on top. Fourth, it looked like a very straightforwardly cooked bone that you just eat the meat off of. Whatever meat was on there was decently tender, but there wasn't much of it (it was mutton, BTW - and they do make a decent kambing soup too). Instead, the gist of this dish is to eat the marrow inside.

After finally having gotten the marrow outAnd that's where it got even trickier. How the heck was one supposed to get the marrow out of that thing? I tried sucking it out, but that didn't really work since the bone was a bit pourous and could not create a vacuum seal. Then I tried various objects like a straw or skewer to try to help it out, but to no avail. The marrow finally came out only after I inverted the bone and tapped on it to get the stuff to fall out. And when it came out, it looked like a slimy little slug (or a rather disgusting glob of yellowish-brown phlegm from a really bad case of the flu).

Then I tasted it. And it really was nothing like it seemed. Instead of a repulsive iron or liver taste like I was expecting, this was the exact opposite: it tasted like a blend of foie gras and butter. Whoa. And instead of the coarse or grainy consistency that I had figured it would have (with little annoying bits of broken bone in it), it was more like silky smooth tofu. Such a soft texture was a bit disturbing to me at first, but it was rich enough in taste that I was still rather impressed. Now I understand why Anthony Bourdain said in his London episode that bone marrow was like "Butter of the Gods." It really was quite extravagantly rich, and I could finally understand the attraction to this stuff. This was in fact so rich that I don't think I can eat this stuff too often (admittedly I even felt a bit nauseous afterwards), but the English way of eating it looked even better: spreading it on toasted bread. Wow! (And to continue the string of ironies, this extra rich stuff apparently helps reduce cholesterol rather than boost it, if I have my facts correct.)

Hmm...I never would have thought that this was how this stuff tasted. It just goes to show you that you can't judge food by its appearances, and as long as you set aside any preconceived notions about some things in order to give it a try, you might very well find something quite extraordinary. If you come try this, leave those preconceptions at home...and definitely bring a lot of napkins as this stuff gets messy with all that red stuff getting all over your hands. (Napkins are rarely provided by hawkers out here; thus, the ubiquitous little "tissue packs" that one carries and uses to hold his/her seat.)

A Glass of Badam Kheer

Badam KheerThis sounded interesting at Bombay Woodlands today, so I gave it a shot. Badam kheer is, as the menu described it, a "crushed almonds & saffron milk shake." It turned out to be much stronger in saffron taste than almonds, although there were plenty of almond bits inside. It was also a bit sweeter than I thought it would be, but not unreasonably so. I'll definitely try to grab a glass of this again.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Porta-Porta Italian Restaurant

Antipasti Vari

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.

Spaghetti VongoleEverything 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.

Arrabiata Di Pappardelle Al FunghiThe 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.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

SQ's Hindu (Non-Vegetarian) Meal

The Hindu meal on SQ

A Chinese friend of mine once told me that she'll pre-order one of the Indian meals on SQ when she can, not only because you get served ahead of everyone else, but also because it is oftentimes better than the normal meals served from the carts. Seeing that I've been getting a bit sick of airplane food lately, I figured that I'd give this strategy a shot.

Boy, did that totally pay off. This was awesome. Not only did I get served first, but the food was really good (I opted for the "Hindu (Non-Vegetarian) Meal: No beef/veal; contains other types of meat, may include pork" variety). The starter was some kind of a spicy fish salad that didn't go overboard in the curry flavor, while the centerpiece of the meal was a kickass combination of rice, spicy dal, and a fish with a surprising overtone of garlic and a very mildly sour touch. The meal ended with a sticky rice and coconut-based cake that really sealed the deal. (I wonder if that last one was more Thai than Indian though...the labels on the food actually said that this meal was packed by Thai Airways catering).

What's interesting too is the huge number of "Special Meals" that SQ has available for pre-ordering, ranging from religious (Kosher, Muslim, and Hindu) to six varieties of vegetarian (to account for vegan and ovo-lacto varieties as well as different cooking styles like Chinese vs Indian vs Western and even "raw") to a mindblowingly long list of medical types (low sodium, low fat, non-carb, diabetic, and even "ulcer diet" and "bland" meals, among others - wow!) as well as child/infant, Japanese, and even Chinese-style meals. Geez - this stuff is more than what is available from Raffles Class Book the Cook!

Well, I won't try to abuse this too much since these are obviously provided for very legitimate reasons that I really don't qualify for (I did feel a bit guilty for ordering it), but I've gotta say that I did like this enough that I wouldn't mind trying to get one of these meals from time to time. It sure looked better than my neighbor's "chicken with potatoes" (the other cart alternative was "fish with rice" - ugh!).

Pu-Dang E San Kitchen, Bangkok

Northeastern Thai Food

Now this was a bit more like it. Although this place is located at the upscale All Seasons Place (3rd floor, CRC Tower Seasons Zone, 01-6895608), this was definitely quite down to earth. Filled with locals in a cramped fluorescent-lit (and plastic/Formica-based) room, this place specializes in Northeastern Thai food. Off in the corner, there is a big plate of raw veggies (the requisite cabbage, string beans, and basil) that you go fetch yourself.

Namtok KormooyangThere were a number of items that were fine, but the exciting thing for me was the larb, which is a meat salad common up near the Laotian border. We got a number of varieties, be it the ground beef (awesome), ground chicken (not as great, but what else do you expect of chicken?), or my favorite: the pork-neck-based namtok kormooyang (for some reason, it's called "waterfall," or namtok). All of these were excessively salty and spicy, but that's what made them great, providing the perfect contrast to the fresh cooling basil leaves at your side as well as the sticky rice you can pluck out of the mini basket with your fingers.

There's no short name here...it's simply a combination of each ingredient: tangthai + khaoniowdam + lodchong + namkrathiOther interesting highlights here included many seafood-paste-based things and several different kinds of tom yum soup, one of which was not red at all but still packed a good amount of heat. There was liver salad that I tried; normally I hate liver (aside from the duck/goose variety - ha ha), but this one wasn't as repulsive with all the lime juice and chili peppers adorning it (eventually the classic liver taste came back to haunt me though, so I backed off). And chendol-like dessert consisted of nam kra thi sweet coconut milk, ice cubes, and three different fillings, including those wormy green noodle things (called lod chong in Thai), some local cantaloupe-like melon called tang thai (but milder and softer), and khow niow dam black sticky rice. Well, through all of that, the larb (and all of its variants) was clearly the standout for me. I love that stuff.

Late Night Street Food in Bangkok

Papaya SaladEven though I wasn't very hungry, I still had to come out later to get some street food after that bummer of a meal tonight. So I walked on down the street and grabbed a simple papaya salad. This wasn't as great as some others that I've had, but it did the job, especially when I didn't have much time to spare anyway. At least it was only a cheap 40 Baht (US$1), including a bottle (yes, a glass bottle) of Coke. And that includes the requisite free side of vegetables that is common in Thailand, despite the fact that I was already eating a salad.

I've gotta try these barbequed fish next timeNext time, I'm going to be sure to try one of these barbequed fish things that I saw at some of these stalls. These looked absolutely amazing - not only in the sense of being grilled on a flame - but there also appeared to be scallions (or lemongrass or something) shoved into it for releasing flavor while cooking on the fire. I'm not even quite sure how these are eaten, seeing that they decently big fish, but I'm going to find out next time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tai Thai at the RBSC, Bangkok

Uh oh - it's chi-chi

This place (100 Rajdamri Road, 2251-1705) was a bit of a downer. Allegedly a rather glitzy place, being on the grounds of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, and billed as "Red Hot Spice & SeaFood," this sounded like it might have some promise. But once the first dish came out - deep fried big shrimp wrapped in noodles and stacked up against each other in a pyramid to look pretty - I started to get worried.

Indeed, most of the dishes here were a bit of a bore. They lacked the spiciness that we've all come to love about Thai food. And while some things were interesting, such as a giant prawn and glass noodle thing - almost like a mini-version Sin Huat's crab bee hoon in Singapore - I was bored and wanted to go walk down the street and find a street vendor instead.

Deep fried veggies with shrimpI think the only thing I got excited about was this deep-fried vegetable thing that reminded me of a similar thing that I had in Langkawi a number of years back. But this still paled in comparison, especially since its batter was a bit cruder compared to the one there. Oh well...there's always time for street food as a midnight snack later.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Thai Chicken Curry on SQ

Thai Chicken Curry on SQ

Aw screw it...I still decided to take the meal on SQ tonight anyway. It wasn't a bad move, either. Everything from the salad to the curry to the tiramisu worked well. The curry was surprisingly spicy too. Anyway, moving on...