Friday, June 30, 2006

UA Domestic First Class Sandwich?

UA Domestic First Class Sandwich

The flight attendant said that the meal choices tonight were either a roast chicken or a turkey sandwich. Neither of those descriptions was very accurate. My sandwich was actually sliced sausages, bell peppers, and melted cheese onto a single open slice of bread that you pretty much had to eat with a (plastic) knife and fork. The other meal looked a lot better, as the roast chicken was actually a salad. But I really didn't want to eat this filling stuff. At least the chocolate chip cookie was warm and moist.

Nuts in a porcelain cup - and ginger ale on an airplaneIt looks like they do still have the porcelain cups for the nuts after all (and they heated the crap out of the thing too). Like my glass of ginger ale on the airplane, BTW?

The Salt Lick at Austin Airport

The brisket and sausage platter

At long last, we made it to the much anticipated Salt Lick at the airport. I still like this place the better than Rudy's. The ladeled-on sauce was more agreeable, the sausages had more bite, and the brisket had a surprising amount of tasty fat in it. The beans were uneventful, but the celery seed infused coleslaw was still unique, if delicate. Well, all three places this week were good (and much better than anything in Singapore), but I still like this place the best.

Habanero-based hot sauces on sale at a shop in Austin airportOn a quick side note, it looks like there are some other interesting things worth exploring at the east end of the airport terminal next time, including a shop selling a bunch of habanero-based hot sauces, another BBQ place called Harlon's (the meat looked OK from a distance, but there was close to no line there, unlike the Salt Lick), and interestingly, another Salt Lick stand selling breakfast tacos and "Salt Lick Tacos."

Huh? What the heck is a Salt Lick Taco? Items on the posted menu included things like Baja Brisket Tacos ("chopped brisket with crisp cabbage and a creamy roasted poblano pepper sauce"), Green Chile Pulled Pork ("slow pulled pork shoulder, pulled fork tender and topped with green chile tomatillo sauce"), and Salt Lick Carne Guisada ("lean sirloin braised in onions, tomatoes and peppers with chipotle and dark chile power") for US$3.95 each, and all with a peculiar "special half corn - half flour tortilla". This all sounds like a bit of an identity crisis if you ask me (right down to the hybrid tortilla), but I suppose that if I get sick of their great traditional BBQ (or if I am short on time), I can try these tacos next time just to be sure.

The Way Bacon Should Be

The way bacon should be

Here we go. This is the way bacon should be: paper thin, extra crispy, and of course, super tasty. This is common in the States, but I can't understand how anyone can eat it soggy, limp, and lacking the time on grill to bring the flavor out.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eddie V's Edgewater Grille, Austin

Iceberg Wedge with Creamy Blue CheeseThese crappy photos don't do the food any justice, but it was really dark in this place (301 East 5th, 477-9794). It actually looked strikingly like Morton's with its linens and little lamps on the tables. But there were no wheeled carts here, and the place is actually more of a seafood place (in addition to steaks).

The food nonetheless reminded me of Morton's too, if just half a notch down. For instance, the iceberg lettuce wedge with creamy blue cheese just went straight down my throat, seeing that I can't resist fresh veggies and blue cheese. But it was just a tad short of Morton's when they had the little cubes of tomato and bell pepper on the side, which seemed a bit pointless to me.

Sauteed Gulf Snapper with Lump Crab & Lemon Chive ButterMy main course was the sauteed gulf snapper with lump crab and lemon chive butter. This was a nice one. While it was a bit thicker and crustier than I was expecting, it was fresh, went very well with the rich lemon butter, and packed in a few surprise morsels of fun with the crab. And, just like at Morton's, the sides, like the broccoli, come in huge clusters, and yet were very simple in preparation with just some hollandaise sauce. Finally, my dessert was just some fresh berries with fresh whipped cream, which had some delightfully sweet pieces, but was also a bit short of what I would have expected, as the cream was a bit tasteless, as were some of the berries.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. By and large, this place was definitely very posh and worthwhile. Next time, I've just gotta use the flash on my cameraphone (and bring a coat or something too, as it was freezing in there).

Rudy's Country Store and BBQ

Rudy's Country Store and BBQ

Here's another meal from Rudy's. What impressed me today was again the meat quality; some of it just crumbled apart when you picked it up, which was suggestive of the roasting process it took. The sauce didn't seem as bad this time either. The only letdown was the beans, which looked promising with little strips of meat in the beans, but unfortunately it wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped. Nonetheless, the meal was generally pretty good.

Anyway, this is just part of a little BBQ streak that I seem to be on here, with Iron Works last night, and the Salt Lick planned for tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Iron Works Barbecue, Austin

The Iron Works Sampler Plate

This place (100 Red River, 478-4855) is apparently quite well-known for its barbeque in these parts. It's a humble little shack by the creekside, where you order a plate at the counter and go seat yourself. I went ahead and grabbed the sampler, which included ribs, brisket, and sausage. The sausage seemed a bit dry, but the brisket was tender. The big standout for me though, was the ribs, as they had an extra layer of fat inside that really gave this bad boy some taste, even without sauce (these come naked on the plate, and the sauce is on the side in a squeeze bottle). The beans and potato salad made good sides, as did the raw onion and pickle and the Texan Lone Star beer to boot. The only letdown was the corn on the cob, which was quite mushy (is that the way it it supposed to be done in these parts?).

Would I consider this better than the Salt Lick? Probably not. I still liked the Salt Lick's sauces and sides better. But this place is definitely a worthwhile and down to earth place to check out too.

Shoal Creek Saloon, Austin

1/4 pound of peel and eat shrimp

I was delighted to see that there were a couple cajun places in downtown Austin, especially given the dearth of cajun food in Singapore. So I popped on down to the Shoal Creek Saloon (909 N. Lamar Blvd. at 9th St., 474-0805) for lunch today. Granted, this is Texas, not Louisiana, but hey - they're next door neighbors, right?

It's a nice, kick-back kind of place. Pick your own wooden bench to sit on, including a choice of patio seating in the back near the creek with plenty of fans to keep a breeze going in the Texan summer heat. The menu featured things ranging from Po' Boys to Fried Catfish/Crayfish/Shrimp/Oysters, but to my surprise, they didn't have some classics like jambalaya and blackened catfish. Nonetheless, I went straight for the etoufee and shrimp gumbo, complemented with a 1/4 pound of peel & eat shrimp.

A cup of etoufeeThe lightly seasoned shrimp were fresh, and the etoufee was rich, but the gumbo was darker and saltier than I was expecting, thus leading to a bit of disappointment (especially when compounded by the lack of things like jambalaya). It seemed like these guys tended to specialize in the fried stuff instead. Perhaps if I lived here, I wouldn't mind coming here to hang out and finally try the fried stuff, but I have to admit that I wondered afterwards if I should have gone to Gumbo's, the other (but more upscale) cajun place in town, instead.

Manzanita Sol and Big Red Sodas

Manzanita Sol and Big Red sodas

Here's a couple more to add to the annals of local drinks. Manzanita Sol is an apple-based drink that Pepsi offers in Mexico, while Big Red is from a company in Waco, Texas. The former pretty much tastes like it sounds, although seemingly lighter in apple taste than Apple Sidra from Taiwan. The second one is a bit harder to describe...I can't quite place it. It's a bit like a cherry or strawberry soda; slightly creamy, and very artificial, but not bad at the end of the day. I'd probably still prefer the first out of these two though.

Migas at Las Manitas Avenue Cafe

Migas Con Queso

Seeing that I didn't get the chance to try the migas at Las Manitas last time, I took advantage of it this morning by stumbling over there for breakfast. This wasn't too bad. The migas con queso, or "two eggs scrambled with crispy corn tortillas, topped with cheddar cheese and ranchero sauce, served with refried beans and two tortillas," was tasty without being excessively heavy, with strips of those crispy tortillas defining the texture. Just as with my last visit here, their hot sauce here wasn't super spicy, but all in all it was still good (and it's been ages since I've had freshly squeezed orange juice!).

As good as this was, I'm not a huge breakfast person, so I doubt I'll be making too much of an effort to come back to get this again. At least I've been able to try it. Apparently this Tex-Mex dish is actually closer to Mexican chilaquiles than Spanish migas, although I've never really had either so I can't really compare. But I guess that's one down, two to go.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Texas Chili Parlor, Austin

From left to right: XXX Hot, Hot, Hot Chili and Habanero Chili

I'm glad that I came here (1409 Lavaca at 15th Street, 472-2828). As the name suggests, this place specializes in chili (we're talking about Texan chili con carne with meat and beans here, as opposed to straight chili peppers). It dawned on me today that even though we ate tons of chili growing up as kids, that was probably almost always out of a can, and I don't think that I'd ever really had real chili made from scratch (aside from maybe on a chili dog or something). Well, when in Texas, get Texan food, right?

This place was actually a bit more of a bar than a restaurant, but that's also good since that meant that they served food until midnight (good for folks whose flights out of O'Hare ended up being delayed almost six hours in the end!). The food list was actually rather extensive, serving everything from nachos, burgers (including chili and jalapeno varieties of course), steaks, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, and tacos. But I came here for one thing: the chili. Thankfully they offered a US$3.75 "taster" size in addition to the small and large ones, so I grabbed a taster of the "XXX Hot, Hot, Hot" (as opposed to "X Mild - best for beginners" and "XX Spicy - our most popular but beware") as well as the special Habanero ("beef and few pinto beans HOT, HOT, HOT") chili. The bowls came complete with Premium saltines, raw onions, and pickled jalapeno slices.

The "XXX Hot" version was my favorite, as it was full of beans and just about the right degree of spiciness. I wolfed that one down in seconds, and wished I had ordered a bigger serving. The Habanero version on the other hand, took a lot longer to eat. This was not only because of its searing heat, but also because it simply lacked the robust taste (and the beans) of the regular chili. It was in fact rather bland once one discounted the hot factor. Thus, there wasn't a whole lot in it for me to really want to eat this quickly, even after having added the raw onions in an attempt at creating more taste (I'm not sure how one would eat it with the jalapenos too, let alone those hot sauces on the tables). It did leave a bit of a burning sensation around my mouth when I ate it, and I'm sure that it will have a similar effect when it leaves my body tomorrow morning too, if you know what I mean.

Nonetheless, I was very glad to have come here, and I do want to come back, solely just to get a large bowl of the "XXX Hot" version.

United explus First Class Snack Box

United explus First Class Snack Box

Ooh...looks like I've gotten on board one of United's new explus routes, supposedly their answer to typically cramped regional jets by providing more legroom, bigger overhead bins, and even a first class cabin that includes meals on flights over 2.5 hours. The "meal" turned out to be a big snack box, which could have dangerously been loaded with junk food, but was no doubt consciously stocked with slightly healthier alternatives.

And therein lied the problem. The snacks, like the bagel chips, were boring because they were so healthy (the rondele bagel temptations cream cheese lacked richness too...maybe a by-product of the fact that it didn't require refrigeration). I didn't even bother with the other stuff like dried apricots, thus unfortunately letting plenty of food go unnecessarily to waste.

Kings Delicious Fiesta Snack MixIt was quite a shame, especially since I actually enjoyed the economy class bag of King's Fiesta Snack Mix a lot more ("a premium blend of pretzels, roasted red pepper sesame sticks & BBQ soy nuts"...soy nuts? it tasted like a tasty seasoned version of peanuts). In fact, the only interesting thing in the first class box to me was not even a food item; it was the Fresh Nap Moist Towelette, something I had not seen (and more importantly, smelled) in a very long time.

Another Chicago Hot Dog

Another Chicago Hot Dog

Being stuck with a three hour delay at O'Hare (surprise, suprise) fortunately had a silver lining: I now had enough time to grab a Chicago hot dog again. Yum. (Dan Ryan's should be ashamed of itself.) One of these days, someone is going to have to show me how to eat one of those things without all of those great sport pepper and pickle wedge toppings falling off though.

Quick note to self: next time you need to head out of O'Hare's international Terminal 5, go check out the allegedly famous Gold Coast Dogs at the food court there. I wish I could have gone there today, but I didn't think that I could get into the international terminal with a domestic ticket. At least there were plenty of stands here in Terminal 2 that I could grab a hot dog at, even if they weren't the famous Gold Coast Dogs. (I'm not sure what makes them so different, but I want to find out.)

White Castle

White Castle Sack Meal 1

Seeing that I didn't get a chance to stop by White Castle last time I was in the Midwest, I made sure to grab a few sliders today on my way to the airport. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I did, as it was pretty nasty, to be honest. And it's not like I didn't know what it would taste like. Maybe it was just because it had been so long since I had been to a White Castle in person. And I'd been eating the frozen version for so long that I probably secretly hoped that the real thing would be much better. But the only thing different was the pickle slice (and maybe the fact that it was steamed properly unlike my unevenly nuked microwave version). Even the fries included in this "sack" were disappointingly hard. Perhaps the only thing interesting was that the little mustard packs supplied here were labeled "Dusseldorf Mustard," a dark colored version that I suspect isn't exactly the spicy kind that one gets in Germany (can anyone verify?), but I sure liked it better than that crude yellow French's stuff.

Oh well. Like one Chicagoan once told me, nobody really eats White Castle as a real meal. It's just something to eat late at night when you are drunk. I don't think I'll make as much of an effort next time to eat this next time I'm in the neighborhood.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Al's #1 Italian Beef, Chicago

Al's Italian Beef and Cheddar Cheese Fries

"Italian beef" is a sandwich unique to Chicago. It's basically like a French dip sandwich with sliced beef in it, but spiced up (hence, "Italian"). Al's boasts of all sorts of accolades about being the best Italian beef, and has now spread stores across the area. Apparently some locals argue that there are even better places, but I wouldn't really be able to judge; the only other time that I've had an Italian beef was back in college when my Chicagoan roommate brought a few back after a trip home, by which time they were cold and mushy. It was only today when I had a fresh one that I realized that they were supposed to be mushy - they are drenched in the beef's juices until the bun is soggy and dripping wet (so unlike a French dip sandwich, this one is already pre-doused in juices).

It was definitely much better on the spot. The beef was tender and flavorful, only to be complemented by the extra giardiniera spicy topping that I asked for. This place allegedly was awarded one of the ten best places for fries too, so I grabbed some cheese fries along with it. While I don't know if I would go so far as to say they were one of the ten best that I've had, they were still full of artery-clogging goodness. All in all, that meal was better than I was expecting, even if it was a bit unhealthy. Now I'm ready for a nap!

Flans, Frittatas, and Omelettes on UA?

Mushroom and cheese flan with red pepper sauce

That's weird. I always thought that flans were custard-based desserts. But the menu on today's United flight featured "a mushroom and cheese flan with red pepper sauce," which was actually just an omelette (or I suppose one could call it a frittata). Despite its unnaturally cylindrical appearance here, this was actually pretty good. Then again, I'm a sucker for anything with mushrooms in it.

Another Filet Mignon on UAL

Another Filet Mignon on UAL

United's meals are becoming a bit too predictable these days. Aside from the usual omelette in the morning, one can expect one of the next meal choices to consist of filet mignon (they also had an herb-crusted cod and orzo today that I think I once had on here a while ago).

Well, I still went ahead and got the filet, and at least there was some mild variety in the sense that this was done in an "oven-roasted garlic sauce" today. I was a bit surprised as this was a black pepper-based sauce that one might expect to find in Asia, but it wasn't too bad in the end. The meat itself was tender and starter salad and ham/shrimp plate were not bad either, but the veggie saute was soggy and the oven roasted potatoes had too many herbs for my liking.

Well, one can't exactly expect Ruth's Chris on an airplane (and I did rather enjoy the light chocolate tart for dessert), but I just wish that there would be some more variation in their menu. Nowadays, I have simply come to expect some form of filet mignon whenever flying UA.

Mr. & Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix

Mr. & Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix

I don't know why ginger ale is such a popular drink of choice on airplanes, but I suppose it's partially because it's not often that one finds it (at least, compared to Coke at places like McDonald's and such). In a similar line of thought, canned Bloody Mary Mix (sometimes called simply "spicy tomato juice") is something that I'll usually try to get whenever I fly American airlines, but is not necessarily anything that I'll regularly try to seek out outside of an airplane. Sure, this canned stuff has a bit of an artificial taste to it and could be much fresher, but it still packs a burst of savory and spicy flavors (in fact, perhaps a bit too much since I usually take it virgin without any vodka to loosen it up).

On a side note, it looks like United has swapped out its usual porcelain bar nut cups for cheapie little disposable foil ones. It doesn't really make a difference to me, but it is interesting to note.

UAL Biz Class Frittata

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Here's the "bacon and onion frittata with deviled sauce" that they served on UA this morning. Yep, it's another omelette, even if open-faced and with an Italian name. It tasted fine, but I didn't really eat much of this anyway, seeing that I just ate a bit in the lounge with the express intent of not eating the UA omelette.

The New SATS Premier Lounge at Changi T1

The Spread at the New SATS Premier Lounge at Changi T1

Whoa. It looks like the folks at Changi Airport not only refurbished the SATS lounge in Terminal 2, but now also the one in Terminal 1. This new one is about 2-3 times larger than the old cramped one, and comes complete with a Playstation section as well as a row of OTO massage chairs. Nice work.

The spread here was physically much more spaced out than the one at Terminal 2, but the food wasn't anything great. The fish congee interestingly had the fish on the side for you to put in yourself (and it didn't taste the freshest either, thus making the fish congee much better without the fish itself). The dim sum baskets had some dumplings with a peculiarly red stuffing leering through the skin (I realized later that it was char siew inside...strange), and there were a lot of local dishes like noodles and sambal vegetables, the latter of which's odor was a bit of a turn-off for me.

Well, it's not like anyone actually comes to the airport lounge for the food. Still, I'm guessing that UA is going to be serving its usual omelette this morning, and I'm not quite in the mood for something so heavy. That being the case, I suppose that the congee (without the fish) I had was still a good move.

Friday, June 23, 2006

La Braceria Pizza & Grill

Antipasto

An Italian co-worker of mine told me that this place (70 Greenleaf Road, 6465-5918) is the best Italian restaurant in Singapore. After having tried it tonight, I can see why. The antipasto got us started with a good variety of tasty prosciutto, cheese (two types, mind you), and grilled marinated veggies.

SemifreddoFor my main course, I opted for the osso buco (seeing as I have now become a bit of a bone marrow convert). The taste of the bone marrow got a bit covered up by the red sauce and the strong cheese flavor in the underlying risotto at first (normally they use saffron but they ran out tonight). However, I still got to fully exploit the marrow's taste by scooping it out onto a couple pieces of bread (and this was much easier to scoop out than Soup Tulang as these were big thick bones cut just right). Nice. The meat of course was very tender and surprisingly easy to eat, and the semifreddo dessert was an straightforwardly light. I admittedly have no real basis for comparison on those last two dishes, seeing that this was the first time I'd had them, but I did enjoy them both on their own.

Still, not everything completely struck home with me tonight. The ravioli had a fish-based stuffing, which was unique, but perhaps much stronger in taste than I would have liked. The flambeed lava cake was actually bittersweet rather than the rich taste I was hoping for (as in Morton's), and the food took a while to come out (although the service was very friendly).

I want to come back though. The thin pizzas that they pulled out of the oven looked spectacular (and you could hear the crusts crunch as they sliced them...mmm). Interestingly, this place is situated in Ban Guan Park across from Cantina, which admittedly I've lost a bit of interest in lately. Maybe we'll be coming here instead from now on, although this place is a bit classier (and expensive) such that we can't just stumble in in a T-shirt and shorts.

Big Fish Seafood Grill

Fish & Chips

Steamed Littleneck NZ ClamsThis place (85 Upper East Coast Road, 6441-6920) was another reader recommendation. I was a bit concerned at first when the steamed littleneck NZ clams featured slices of fresh chili pepper in it, but then I took a bite and the little morsels gushed of freshness. The white wine broth was nice and savory too. Whoa. That wasn't too bad.

Then came their signature fish and chips, which again, I was a bit apprehensive about, seeing as they had a bit of salad on the side. But the batter on this thing was so light, and the fish was so fresh, that I was thoroughly impressed. I still yearn for a more no-frills American version of seafood, but I have to admit that it was pretty darned good. I'd much rather come here than Fish Tales at Clarke Quay.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Qun Zhong Eating House, Neil Road

Mixed Seafood & Pork Boiled Dumplings and Hot & Sour Soup

A co-worker of mine told me about this place, calling the guy "the Dumpling Nazi" due to his allegedly grouchy demeanor. I didn't notice anything particularly rude about him when I made my way down here today (21 Neil Road, 6221-3060), but then again, I interacted mostly with the staff rather than the proprietor himself. Anyway, the other interesting thing about this place is that they only had 13 items on the "Peking Traditional Foods" menu (four of which were desserts). I went ahead and grabbed the very first item on the list, or the boiled mixed seafood and pork dumplings. While the skin wasn't anything great, the stuffing was pretty darned tasty (and full of soup, mind you), which reminded me a bit of dumplings from Beijing and explained why this place was so crowded. Too bad they only had some basic chili sauce to go with it though.

The so-called Chinese PizzaThe other items I ordered were more forgettable though. The hot & sour soup had a strange sweetish/saccharin-like aftertaste, and definitely paled in comparison to places like Hometown. And the oddly (but I suppose appropriately named) "Chinese Pancake" was composed of the same stuffing that they used the dumplings, but just put into a thicker-than-I-would-like crust, which incidentally was soggy underneath due to the juices from the stuffing. I think the Chinese name of the dish is similar to this chive thing that I like to get in Taipei, but this definitely paled in comparison to that.

My co-worker tells me that she usually gets the pan-fried dumplings and the xiao long bao instead of that Chinese Pizza thing. I suppose I'll go back to try those instead, but this is the second mainlander place in this neighborhood that has so far been disappointing on the first visit. Maybe I'm ordering the wrong things, but I think my vote is still for Xin Tao Yuan if I had to choose from this kind of cuisine in the area.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Rang Mahal, Pan Pacific Singapore

Laung Ki Seekh and Samosa

Rang Mahal (Pan Pacific, 3rd Floor, 6333-1788) is the parent restaurant of Vansh, and apparently is considered one of the best Indian restaurants in Singapore. Tonight, I finally got to try it out.

The meal got started with a bang. Laung ki seekh, which despite its brown cylindrical resemblance to something not worth mentioning, is actually a "minced lamb kebab with fragrant clove smoke," and really got me going with a killer spicy kick (and I'm not referring to the Indian definition of "spicy" with lots of various spices mixed up, but rather the straight heat from chili peppers). Nice. Many other items followed, including rara gosht, saag paneer, and boondi raita, a cucumber-less version of raita with little crumbs of batter instead. I was also very happy to find that their dhal was spicy and rich, reminding me of Bukhara's when they were still in Singapore.

Gulab Jamun and Fresh FruitThe meal ended with an Indian dessert called gulab jamun, or a fried milk ball sitting in a very sweet syrup (kinda tasting like pancakes). Cool. That was a good meal, even if all the chi-chi plates and swizzles were a bit unnecessary. My colleagues who had just flown in from India verified that the food here was indeed very authentic. I really need to get out to India myself one of these days.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Old Shanghai, Temple Street

Stewed Noodle with Dried Shrimp & Scallion Oil

We had been eyeing this place for a while (55 Temple Street, 6327-1218) and finally came by tonight as a fallback to the packed "Whispering Man" hot pot next door. By and large, the food here was decently respectable. Our meal started off with the Stewed Noodle with Dried Shrimp & Scallion Oil, a nice little bowl of goodness that erupted with a flavorful oil once you stirred it up from the bottom. As is typical of Shanghainese food, this was light but tasty thanks to the oil (and the noodles were done just right too).

Baked Scallion PastryWe also grabbed the Baked Scallion Pastry, which if I'm not mistaken actually had its origins in Northern China rather than Shanghai. Despite that, it was still pretty darned good here being crispy, piping hot, and of course - oily (albeit not as oily as one I had off the streets of Shanghai not long ago).

Now, one thing that I was a bit concerned about was the Boiled Wonton with Hot Chili Sauce. This was something from the Sichuan province rather than Shanghai, and hence something that I had really low expectations of here, especially considering many previously poor experiences that I've had with trying to order Sichuan food in Shanghai. But I just had to order it since I like this dish so much. It turned out better and spicier than I had expected, even if it seemed like they used dried chili pepper flakes that one sprinkles on pizza. Sure, it was still a far cry from the real deal, and not something that I'll come back here for, but it worked for tonight.

Sauteed Eel with Chive ShootFinally, we closed up the meal with two Shanghainese specialties. The first was the Sauteed Eel with Chive Shoots. This disappointingly turned out to be different from ones that I'd been accustomed to from Shanghai, as it featured a heavy dark sauce rather than submerged in the clear bubbling hot oil that I was expecting. I don't profess to be an expert in Shanghainese cuisine though, so I don't know if this was an intentional variant of it (can anyone verify?). Well, even if this turned out to be the lowpoint in the meal, it was still fine in its own right.

Old Shanghai Steamed Pork BunAnd of course, the quintessential Shanghainese closer was the Old Shanghai Steamed Pork Buns, or xiao long bao. I was pretty impressed with the quality here: the skin was fairly thin, and yet they packed a ton of broth into those little bad boys. Granted, I felt that the filling lacked some taste (I wish they had used more lard), but the handiwork here was nearly meticulous enough to rival those of Din Tai Fung.

So by and large, this place turned out decently well. Admittedly, Shanghainese food isn't something that I'll go out of my way for, but at least this will be a nice fallback to keep in mind when needed.

Cold Crab from the Big Bird

Cold Crab

We went back to The Big Bird today, where I gave the cold crab a shot. I had seen cold crab around in Singapore occasionally, but it was never really that commonplace. Thinking of my favorite Swan Oyster Depot back home though, I figured I'd give it a try. This actually wasn't all that different, although instead of melted butter, one got the Big Bird's chili sauce. This sauce was actually specially made for the crab, thus being sweeter than the sauce they have for the chicken. It was still pretty spicy, but admittedly I like the sauce for the chicken better.

Chicken PorridgeOne thing about crab is to never eat it when you're hungry, as the cracking process takes forever for just a little bit of meat (and these were small crabs too - not the big Sri Lankan crabs used in chili crab). Not surprisingly, I was still a bit hungry afterwards, so I grabbed some of their chicken porridge. This was sludged up the way I like it, but the taste just wasn't as full as places like Ho Kee at Maxwell Road. I'll probably pass on this next time, just sticking to the chicken rice and crab.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Big Bird Chicken Rice

Big Bird Chicken Rice

The last time I visited these guys was ages ago when they were still out on Selegie Road. I didn't remember much of them aside from the lotus root soup (nothing I cared to remember) and the chili sauce (something I definitely remembered as being good, but not remembering any of the specific qualities of it). Well, since we were at Balmoral Plaza anyway tonight, we figured we'd stop by (#01-07, 6734-6022) and check out that chili sauce again.

It was a good call. The standout was clearly the chili sauce - damn, did that thing have some punch to it. It was different from "normal" chicken rice chili sauce in that it was very spicy and without as much of that garlic taste, thus being a very welcome and refreshing change. Apparently the guy keeps his chili sauce a closely guarded secret - judging by the shape of the seeds inside (and the heat of it all), he probably uses some special chili pepper that others don't commonly use around here.

What about the chicken rice itself? Even though the chicken was moist and covered in sesame oil (one of the keys to my heart), it was sliced into pretty small pieces and oddly reheated (and didn't even feature any scallions to go with it). The rice was a bit boringly dry too (I prefer Boon Tong Kee's instead). I suppose that one way around it is to douse some of that chili sauce onto it and fire away.

They sell the chili sauce by the bottle here, but I don't know what I'd really use it for. I guess we'll just have to come back and get more of that chicken to eat the sauce with.

Spizza for Friends

Barbara Pizza - Tomato, Mozzarella, Hot Italian minced Pork, Shallots & Olives

Spizza had always been one of the better pizza places around town, featuring thin crusts and decently good ingredients. Today we opted for the Barbara (they name their pizzas after Italian women), which consisted of tomato, mozzarella, hot Italian minced pork, shallots, and olives. It was fine - nothing outstanding, but definitely much better than some of the other stuff out there.

Tullio - toasted wholemeal baguette Bruschetta with tomato and garlicOther items were a mixed bag. The bruschetta (named Tullio here), while tasty, was a bit too salty - and strangely on wheat bread too (the greasiness of Porta Porta's would be preferred). Interestingly, they also had cioppino under the name Trovatore. It was a far cry from what you would get in San Francisco (especially in terms of size), but nonetheless I ate it all. Well, this was all still very edible and above average, but none so outstanding that I would go out of my way for it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cheng Li Yuan, Tanjong Pagar

String Beans

I was getting my hopes up for another great restaurant owned by a couple of mainland Chinese (72 Tanjong Pagar Road, 6227-2551, across from Xin Tao Yuan), but was pretty bummed when I left. Basically each dish got worse and worse as the meal progressed. Similar mainlander-owned places like Hometown do an absolutely perfect plate of string beans, bursting with oil and flavor. Here, they were limp and soggy. The mabo tofo was a bore, and they used so much of that salty bean chili sauce in their dishes that they appeared again in the dan dan mian, at which point we took one bite and gave up.

Shrimp - with rainbow sprinkles??The pinnacle of all this must have arrived when we got the waitress-recommended shrimp, which she pointed out to us in a picture. It looked interesting with all these deep fried strands emanating from it. But when she finally brought us the dish itself, we craned our necks closer to the dish and asked ourselves, "Are those rainbow sprinkles??" They were. Oh no! To be fair, the shrimp, mayo, and shoestring potato combo wasn't too bad on its own (and the sweetness of the mayo to some degree made the sprinkles more palatable), but still, flashbacks of fifth-grade birthday party cupcakes could not be avoided with that taste. That just wasn't right (it was almost like putting flower-power and peace stickers on the back of a Humvee).

Perhaps we ordered the wrong things. These guys are apparenly from northeastern China, so I guess those aren't the right things to order. A neighboring table had some dumplings and flatbread things that looked decently good. Perhaps I'll give it a second chance with those items on a lunch break one of these days. But yeah, this meal was so unsatisfying (and nearly laughable) that it wasn't too encouraging.

Bagel Sandwiches from Aroma's Coffee

Salmon Bagel Sandwich

A colleague of mine mentioned today that Aroma's Coffee had bagel sandwiches today. Seeing that it's not often that I can get bagels around here, I figured that I'd go check it out.

Fortunately, the ingredients were decently good, with the usual cream cheese, lox, onions, and capers. But this wasn't exactly a bagel. It was fluffy bread shaped in a round shape, that's all. That being the case, I'd rather go to Kaffe Krema instead.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Inle Myanmar Restaurant

Nangyi Thoke

This was a surprise. I was originally planning to go to Komala's today until I briefly considered checking out the Burmese restaurant next door (Peninsula Plaza #B1-07, 6333-5438). I'd never had Burmese food before, and I figured that it would be sweet and spicy, something that wasn't too appealing to me at the time. Nonetheless, I went to check out the menu, and a number of the noodle dishes looked interesting, so I figured, "What the hell, let's give it a shot." I'm glad that I did.

One item on the menu that caught my eye was the nangyi thoke, or "thick rice noodle mixed with chilli oil and chicken." It was great. The chicken by itself was seasoned just right, but to make it even better, this plate had all sorts of other stuff in it, including hard boiled egg slices, cilantro, and little deep-fried shrimp chip-like things mixed up in a spicy oil. I was already very satisifed with the dish as it was, but then more than halfway through eating it, I realized that they also gave me some specific condiments to go with this. The twist of lime I then added took this to another dimension. All the spices and tastes reminded me of little hints of Thai and Chinese, but still very independently and unique rather than any kind of lame fusion or anything like that.

Hsi Gje Khau HsweWhile the portions of that plate weren't anything huge, it was technically enough for lunch. Still, one more thing on the menu looked interesting: the hsi gje khau hswe, or "yellow flat noodle mixed with chicken or pork," so I went ahead and got it for the sake of trying it. That turned out to be very worthwhile too, with flat mee pok-like noodles and a savory finish, if a bit oily. (The accompanying clear broth helped clean things up.) I liked the nangyi thoke better as a result, but this was still good.

What an encouraging start for my first taste of Burmese food; none of it was sweet like I was worried about, and by and large it was pretty darned tasty. Then again, I only tried two of the many dishes (and some main courses on the menu seemed like downright boring Chinese-American food, like Sweet & Sour Chicken and Pork in Oyster Sauce). I will come back to try some of the other noodle dishes in particular though. I heard that moun hin ga (traditional rice noodle in fish gravy) and oun nau khau hswe (Myanmar curry noodle with chicken) are supposed to be Burmese specialties.

I have no idea if this was authentic or not (I even got a Myanmar milk tea because it was "specially brewed from imported tea leaves," but it was disappointingly bland), but I did notice some customers speaking a language with the staff that I could not recognize. Presumably they were true Burmese? Well, I don't think I'm ever going to get the chance to go to Burma (or should I say, Myanmar) in this lifetime, so this is probably the closest I'm going to get to it. I'm coming back.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Porta-Porta on Stanley Street

Bruschetta of Fish & TomatoThis was a bit hard to find, but eventually we found the in-town version of Porta-Porta tonight (5 Stanley Street, 6222-7461), which is evidently run by the Changi shop's nephew. To my relief, I found it largely the same here (including the quirky decor), unlike what I had heard. The menu was largely the same too, although they had some different sets, such as the "Sea Catch" and "Mushroom Harvest" (but without that Chef's special thing). I got the former.

Penne Con GamberiMy starter was a set of bruschetta of fish and tomato, the second of which had just the right punch of fresh garlic (and oil) without being excessive. The fish soup in the set was also hearty yet savory. The other items were fairly similar to the other location, be it the spaghetti alle vongole, calamari & fried fish (piping hot yet light, although it was shrimp instead of fish today), and pie & tiramisu (complete in a Chinese tea cup).

Apple Pie and Tiramisu - in a Chinese tea cupOne huge thing thing I like about these guys is their rich sauces, and it was evident tonight in the separate penne con gamberi we got tonight. But alas, the similarities went one too far: the pasta was a bit too soft here, although I didn't mind that too much. I'll happily come back here rather than head all the way out to Changi again. This location also makes it worthwhile for an office lunch, if I don't get my colleagues lost along the way.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Alhambra Padang Satay

Satay - with the dark soy sauce and chili peppers in the bottom right corner

Here's some satay from Makansutra's Gluttons Bay behind the Esplanade. I've always liked satay, but I liked this one even better as they had a dark soy sauce and chili pepper-based sauce as an alternate to the industry standard peanut sauce. This dark soy sauce version is less common (I think I've only had it one other time at one of those places under the bridge near One Fullerton), but I sure do like it more.