Monday, July 31, 2006

Mee Doo Korean Restaurant

Kimchi Jige

I had noticed this place (26 Tanjong Pagar Road, 6224-2882) whenever I headed over to Amici, but it always looked unattractively tacky on the outside with these huge colorful banners hanging outside, advertising pictures of their food. Still, seeing that it was one of the remaining Korean places in the area that I hadn't tried yet, I decided to go inside to see whether the food was any good.

And to my surprise, the inside was rather elegantly decorated (at least, compared to the other Korean places around here) in a modern and minimalist sort of way. I went for the kimchi jige, which turned out fine, and I rather enjoyed some of the kimchi sides. What was surprising though was the wild rice that appeared when I took off the lid of the metal bowl. This seemed out of place in a Korean restaurant (especially since I'm used to seeing the red color from the kimchi jige penetrating into steamed white rice as the meal progresses), but nonetheless it did the job, even if it were a bit grainier.

Well, I didn't really try anything else to be able to say whether or not I liked this place better than the others around here, but it worked for me. Interestingly though, I found out afterwards that these guys also run the Korean stall up at the Amara food court, where one can get the same dish for about half the price. In this case, I'd be willing to pay for the restaurant instead, as the food court version doesn't come with such a wide variety of kimchi on the side. Besides, the restaurant version is just S$10 (US$5.90), and you don't have to fight for a table at the hectic food court in the process.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Paella from Via Mar, the Esplanade

Paella de Mariscos

I finally got the chance to try the paella at Via Mar today. At first, we were a bit worried since there seemed to be some changes afoot with new menus (physically speaking that is - the food selection still seemed the same) and an unfamiliar staff. Fortunately when the food came out, things seemed OK, with still surprisingly fresh gambas al ajillo, and generally the same experiences with my other faves, the gazpacho soup and chorizos fritos.

Then came the paella. Now, while I liked this one better than some other ones available around here (and definitely much better than that Eau La La place), it was still disappointingly soggy (curiously too, they provided one of those small local calamansi limes instead of lemon wedges). Well, if I come back here, it won't be for the paella. It will be for the tapas, which at least are still some of the better ones around town.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The New Vongole at Amici

Spaghetti Vongole

Here's the spaghetti vongole from the better chef at Amici. Surely enough, he used the smaller clams (yay!). It was indeed better and tastier than the old one. It may not be the best in the world, but it's good enough. At it's still only S$8 (US$4.70).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Al Hamra Lebanese & Middle Eastern Cuisine

Kofta Kebabs

More than half a year after checking out the little stand at Singapore's Changi airport, I finally made it down to the real restaurant in Holland Village today for lunch (23 Lorong Mambong, 6464-8488). I more or less ordered the exact same things as I did at the little shop: the hummous and the kofta kebabs, both of which turned out very well (and much larger). I was pleased with the fact that they gave some onions too, even though it was a bit odd that they served the kebabs in Moroccan tagines. Too bad they didn't give any rice with this either, although that was easily corrected with a side order of some of their rice with nuts.

From top: hummous and baba ganoushWe also got the baba ganoush, which interestingly was more like chunky Mexican salsa rather than the pasty dark-colored stuff that I was expecting, but it was still fine. Their shish taouk was also surprisingly tender, making them almost seem like fish rather than chicken. All in all, this place was better than the sleeping man's Lebanese, but it was also a lot more expensive: each plate of kebabs went for S$22 (US$12.95). It's also quite a long ways for me to come out for lunch, but I suppose it's worth it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Forgettable SQ Curry

Some chicken curry on SQHere's a forgettable chicken curry on SQ. Actually, the chicken was fine (as were the potato salad and coconut dessert), but it wasn't as good as other Thai curries I've had on SQ. I don't know what the mushy things on on the right were either.

The other choice tonight was some kind of spaghetti, which probably would have been better in retrospect. For some reason, I was still craving Thai food tonight though, despite having eaten it for so many days in a row already.

Saab Issan Behind the Sindhorn Building

The sauce on top was the hotter one, while the bottom one was more sweet (but still spicy)

Now this was my kind of place. A couple of my colleagues originally took me to some safe Thai cafe nearby that was clean and halfway well-decorated. Seeing where the food there was going to be headed, I told them that I'd rather eat at a down-and-dirty outdoors place where it is very hectic and crowded with locals instead. A smile appeared on their faces, and we got up and left for this other place tucked away in some small alley behind the Sindhorn Building on Wireless Road. The name of the restaurant is Saab Issan (09-8950252), but unless you can read Thai (or have local Thai colleagues around like I did), you won't be able to tell which one it is as there is not an English word around (the menu is completely in Thai too). This was actually more of an open patch of asphault covered by a tarp rather than an actual building, but it was completely packed at lunchtime. And apparently, Saab Issan literally translates into "very, very spicy Northeastern Thai." With a name like that, I knew that we were in for a treat.

From left: namtok and larbMy colleagues ordered all sorts of things, including my favorite namtok and larb dishes. These were a little different from ones that I've had in the past, seeing that the namtok was a little fattier than usual, and the larb had slices of liver as well as clear pork skin in it. They still had the full kick of flavor that I have come to love about it though (and yes, the ground rice sprinkles on top). Other dishes that we got included a grilled fish (which was a bit lukewarm again and hence not necessarily one of my faves) as well as a vegetable soup, which like the bone soup that I got the other night, was darker in color compared to normally red tom yum (but it was still spicy).

Kanohm Jin, UnpluggedMy colleagues also made sure to order more kanohm jin noodles, plain as can be. This now makes sense to me, as it's basically just a form of carbs like rice that you pair with whatever you want, be it curry or what have you. In fact, they also got a papaya salad that was mixed with kanohm jin noodles for an interesting twist in texture. That salad was so blazingly hot due to some dry chili pepper flakes used too, thus providing further credibility behind the place's name. I also rather enjoyed the fact that they gave two hot sauces here, one being sweet but still rather spicy, and another that wasn't sweet at all but definitely spicy. Not all the dishes were as spicy as this, but it was a good find. My stomach is still burning a bit from the salad.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Vertigo, Banyan Tree Bangkok

A view of the Bangkok skyline from VertigoI had heard about this place's 61st floor rooftop dining before (21/100 South Sathon Road, +66 2 679 1200), but a nice chichi restaurant was the last thing on my mind when being in Bangkok. Still, I was catching up with some old business colleagues tonight, and hence figured that it'd be a convenient place for a nice dinner and drinks too. It's a good thing that I didn't let my snobby "I hate posh restaurants" attitude get in the way, because this was actually pretty darned good in the end.

Australian ribeye - with bone marrow and some Bernaise sauceAt first, it didn't seem like much, and I rather seemed to scorn at the fact that they brought out amuse bouche and sorbet, not to mention doing seemingly unnecessary things like covering each plate with one of those silver dome things and pouring soup out of a kettle at your table. Yet, they had a separate steak menu, so I went for an Australian ribeye (yeah, I passed on the pricey 6000 Baht or US$150 Matsuzaka beef). This turned out to be surprisingly tender and tasty (sorry for the crappy photo, but as you can imagine, it was pitch-dark up on that rooftop), and I just gobbled that stuff up. More impressively, they included some huge piece of roasted bone marrow as a side to every steak, which I also inhaled quickly, thanks to my newfound love of the stuff.

So that was a much nicer meal than I would have expected, and I wouldn't mind coming back here again for a business meal. Surprisingly, it wasn't too warm nor humid up there was actually rather comfortable and refreshing rather than being covered in the smoggy haze or anything like that. It sounded like they had some huge fans blowing to help create a comfortable breeze, and yet it wasn't so strong that it blew everything all over the place either. This all fit in rather well in the end. Too bad that they didn't really have any Thai food on the menu though.

A Couple New Bangkok Street Food Finds


I was short on time for lunch today, so I ran out onto the street to see what I could grab quickly and bring back to the office. After a quick circle through the nearby alleyways serving things I'd already seen before (like papaya salad and even some stuff that looked like economic rice), I found this one guy on the street with something that looked pretty tasty. Basically he would start by taking some deep fried (potato?) balls and mash them up. Then he'd add in the rest of the stuff, ranging from what appeared to be cooked turnip slices (kinda like the stuff that goes into kueh pie tee?) as well as the chili pepper flakes, scallions, ginger, sugar, peanuts, lime juice, fish sauce, etc.

Making yum-nam-sodWhat resulted in the end was something called yum-nam-sod, which kicked ass. It was spicy yet full of a variety of flavors and textures, including an occasionally refreshing bite of ginger to cleanse the palate for more (he also bundled in a bunch of the industry standard basil, cabbage, and some sort of huge green leaves on the side that helped toward that end too). This was awesome, and it was only 20 Baht (US$0.50). That was another excellent piece of street food that was incredibly tasty yet amazingly cheap.

Kuay-teow-lui-suanSeparately, my colleagues had brought back something called kuay-teow-lui-suan, which resembled those Vietnamese fresh rice paper rolls, but used minced meat instead, as well as a couple varieties of hot sauce (I discarded that sweet one, but the green one packed quite a bit of kick). I still liked the freshness of the Vietnamese version better, but this was still another one for kick-ass street food.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Some Random Issan Place on Ploenchit

Namtok moo

Mmm. We originally went to go look for the Northeastern Issan place that we missed last night when randomly we came across this place on Ploenchit at Wittayu/Wireless Road (that interestingly was closed all weekend). My local colleague mentioned to me that it looked like this place also served Issan food as well, so we figured that we'd give it a try. He'd never been here either, but not a word of English was to be seen, so fortunately he ordered away for me.

We ordered a barrage of items, ranging from the larb to some pork thing and a seafood thing, and of course, papaya salad. He also ordered something he called a soup with "bones that you can eat." I wasn't sure what that meant, but curiosity struck, so I told him to order away. When it was brought over, it turned out that it was basically some kind of pork cartilage or something (I guess some might call it gristle...and I'm not talking about that stuff at the bottom of the pan after cooking bacon). Admittedly that wasn't for me (and the strange tasting leaves in it didn't help), but I sure liked the larb.

More importantly though, we ordered the namtok, which was the salad that I loved from the other night (although tonight it was pork). Mmm...I could eat this all day (despite how salty it is)...and again, it's only available from Northern-style restaurants. This place got pretty packed with locals after a while too, so it was probably the real deal. Unfortunately since it was all in Thai, I couldn't even begin to tell you the name of it, but it was at the southeastern corner of Ploenchit and Wittayu. If you see a lady selling noodles in the alleyway, then this is the place on the eastern side of her alley. I don't know how else I would describe it, but I would recognize it if I saw it with the wood-trimmed cooking station jutting out into the street.

Finally Some Real Kanohm Jin

Kanohm Jin

I think I got duped into some not-so-real kanohm jin on a previous visit to Thailand, so today I had my local Thai colleagues help order me some of the real thing while we were at lunch today at Kalpapruek. Finally I realized that this was basically just spaghetti-like rice noodles that get paired with your choice of a fiery hot curry (mine had lots of mouse dropping chili peppers in there that really packed a punch). OK, that was pretty good, although I think all this talk about kanohm jin just got my hopes so high up that I was expecting something totally unique about the noodles (well, I was told that the noodles will only last one day or something, and that they use some special Thai rice, but the taste all got covered up by the curry anyway). It still tasted good, but it was more because of the curry than the noodles.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Seafood Market and Restaurant, Bangkok

Is this Disneyland or the Seafood Market and Restaurant?

I'm rather embarrassed to have come to this total tourist trap tonight (89 Sukhumvit Soi 24, 0-2661-1252-9), but in my defense, we were originally hunting down a supposedly pretty darned good Issan place in the vicinity, only to find out that it was closed tonight for some reason. So with a bit of reluctance, we fell back on this place, which I'd been to a few years ago and knew it was totally tacky, but it was nearby, and I had an early day of work ahead of me tomorrow. Our objective was thus really just to eat and then get outta there.

The Cooking TeamAnd without any doubt, the place was screaming plastic and neon right when we went in (with tons of camera-touting tourists abound), although admittedly it is a bit of an amusing concept if you hadn't been there before. Basically this huge place is half fish market, half restaurant. Pick out your fresh fish, pay for them, push the cart to your table, and then a separate team asks you how you want it cooked (with a separate charge).

My Clams Sauteed in ButterNow, despite all this bashing on this place, I have to admit that I actually did kinda like my food tonight, be it some stir-fried scallops and veggies, deep fried fish (which was surprisingly light and crispy), or the thing that I do fondly remember from my last trip here: clams sauteed in rich butter.

Was this tourist trap overpriced? Of course: a small meal for about 1-2 people ran 525 Baht for the fish and 310 Baht for the cooking charges for a total of 835 Baht, or US$20.85 (and that price can vary widely depending on what fish you pick...we grabbed the cheap sole). Street food would have been ridiculously cheaper. But oh well. At least this place was light years beyond that sad sister restaurant in Singapore, even if it felt a bit like Disneyland.

Street Food off Ratchaprasong Road

Barbequed fish on the street

So this is what this place looks like in the daytime. I usually hop down here for some late night grub, but we were in the vicinity here late this afternoon and they had already started setting up the stalls, so we figured that we'd grab a quick snack. Unfortunately one bowl of tom yum turned out to be this huge bowl (the same size, if not bigger, than a large pho bowl).

A HUGE bowl of Tom Yum SoupAnyway, the food here was point here was just to see the barbequed fish from my last trip here and had earmarked for the future. And I thought it might be different from that (rather disappointing) fish that I had yesterday, but upon closer inspection (daylight helps), it was the same salt-encrusted thing, even if there were lemongrass strands shoved into it. At least they would have still been hot, sitting on the grill and all.

Polo Fried Chicken, Bangkok

Clockwise from bottom right: Polo fried chicken, sides of veggies, sticky rice, shredded beef, and papaya salad

You know a place is bound to be good when you arrive to find a bag of pork rinds and two types of hot sauces sitting at your table already. A reader had recommended this place (thanks!), located at 137 Soi Polo/Sanamkee, a tiny little street on the east side of Wittayu/Wireless Road (1252-2252) just north of the Suan Lum Night Bazaar and the Lumpini Police Station. As the name suggests, the specialty here is the fried chicken. And this isn't exactly a thick batter with the Colonel's secret recipe or anything like that...these guys have some deep-fried garlic (and those are the miniature Thai variety of garlic, BTW) showered all over this surprisingly moist and tender chicken. It pretty much tasted like it sounds, even though the garlic was a bit salty.

We grabbed a few other things while we were at it, including a requisite papaya salad, which they made extra spicy upon our request, as well as some shredded beef thing. But the latter was unfortunately way too sweet for me (it was almost honey-like). Nonetheless, they provided the standard-issue sticky rice and raw basil/cabbage/string beans on the side. All of this plus a plate of noodles and two bottles of water ran for only 240 Baht (US$6).

Check out that big bowl of deep fried garlic in the bottom right corner

Still, I don't know how much I'll be itching to come back, as I think that a couple stories published in Time and the New York Times that I had also read about this place had built it up a bit too much for me. But, by and large this was good and very unique, and I'm glad to have come here.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Banana Roti off the Streets of Bangkok

Makin' Banana Roti

Banana RotiDespite how great that beef salad was, the portions at that place were very small, and I was still craving a little more. Fortunately, a street vendor selling banana roti was waiting just as we exited the train station tonight. I actually bought some last night too, but I liked this guy's much better, as he made it a total cholesterol bomb with not just a crapload of oil, but also some butter, eggs, sugar, and condensed milk (not to mention a little bit of crispiness around the edges). This hit the spot, and only cost 20 Baht (US$0.50).

Issan Style Beef Salad

Issan Style Beef Salad

Mmm...I haven't had this in a long time. We stopped at some random noodle shop in Bangkok today and ordered a number of things, such as lek-nua-toon (a bowl of noodles in a dark broth, sometimes based on beef blood to make it more tasty). They were all fine, but it was the beef salad that got to me tonight. Beef salad is a favorite of mine when going out for Thai food, but unfortunately it is usually done in a more common basic style. My preferred version though actually comes from the North, where they sprinkle ground up rice bits on top, thus adding an extra dimension to the texture. I hadn't had it this way in a very long time, so I was very pleased to find that this place did it this way (and of course, they made it delightfully spicy too). I wish that the more common Thai beef salads would be more like this, not only in terms of the strong flavor, but also with a generous helping of that critical rice powder.

A Fine Line Between Food and Soap

Sweet Basil Foot Scrub

OK, this isn't food, but I really *did* want to eat it. You know how fancy soap is often scented in fruity flavors and other variations like coconut and almond to the point where they smell like candy or some sort of dessert? One in particular seen at a store here in Bangkok today (upscale soap is for sale all over the city; probably due to all the spas around here) was particularly striking to me: a basil-flavored foot scrub. A whiff of this stuff just reminded me of a nice piping hot bowl of the point where I wanted to eat. And then I had to remind myself that this is a foot scrub. Hmph. They'd better not make a lip balm version of this.

Boots Beer & Egg ConditionerAnother interesting thing I saw was a Beer & Egg Conditioner. I opened this bottle to see what "beer & egg" would smell like in your hair (it sounded like something that would naturally happen after a bad night at an old college party or something), but it smelled just like a normal floral scent used in any other hair care product. Oh well. This technically was from an English drug store chain (rather than the local product above) anyway.

The Aw Taw Kaw Market, Bangkok

Grilled fish and prawns

The Aw Taw Kaw Market is diagonally across from the southwest corner of the Chatuchak Weekend Market, featuring everything from live seafood and produce to spices and cooked food. We popped on down here today for lunch like kids in a candy store, grabbing a little bit of everything left and right.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the grilled fish, which they happily handed over for a wallet-busting 140 Baht (US$3.50). This one was a bit of a bummer, actually, as it had been sitting there for a while, and hence was lukewarm. They provided some hot sauce that rescued it somewhat (don't make the mistake of eating the salt-encrusted - and still scaled - skin like I did...peel it off first), but this was still a bit dull. I still want to try to get some of those other ones off the street like I saw last time.

Mmm...crispy porkFortunately, there were some knockouts to come, most notably the crispy pork (I think it was kop mu yang), somewhat akin to Schweinshaxe, but with a couple Thai chili sauces. These kicked a$$, with a thick crispy and tasty degree of fat yet moist meat underneath. We got some curly pork rind slivers on the side too, which also came with a green pickle dip. And yakitori-like skewers of all sorts were abound, including tasty pork-based ones.

Simultanously making papaya saladOther treats to be found included the standard-issue papaya salad, as well as these deep fried little shrimp disk things. The latter unfortunately was a bit of a bummer as it wasn't as light as I would have imagined. Oh well. In the end, this place was a bit of a mixed bag for me, but it is always kinda fun to come look at food markets around the world.

Bugs and Beer in Bangkok

From bottom: crickets, some kinda of larvae, mealworms and scorpions, and grasshoppers

After a bit of a walk down the street and into the surrounding alleyways, we encountered a couple stalls selling fried bugs. Take your pick; they featured everything from a (relatively) safe mealworm to the more tentacled crickets, gangly grasshoppers, some kind of larvae, some bigger winged bug (Madagascaran beatle or something??)...and eventually the pinnacle of it all: scorpions. I started out first with a simple grasshopper (he charged me 5 Baht, or US$0.13 for a single insect), which, based on a previous experience with deep fried crickets in Taiwan, I had originally expected to be rather light, salty, and greasy, even if it looked like something out of Alien. It wasn't bad, honestly, but I was hoping for something more dry and potato-chip like. Instead, what I got was a bug that was a bit mushy in some parts (the Maggi sauce that he sprayed on didn't help that, and it just covered up the taste anyway). The grasshopper’s exoskeleton was also a bit thicker than I was expecting, thus leaving some mildly disturbing bits of insect parts stuck inside my upper mouth.

Cheers BeerWe were distracted by some alcohol afterwards, starting with this local beer called Cheers, claiming to be "full-flavored smooth beer" on the label but on the contrary having little or no flavor at all (and just leaving one feeling unnecessarily bloated in the end). What an unnecessary waste of stomach space; I'll definitely pass on this one next time.

But one bottle of that harsh (but dirt cheap) local Sang Som rum (and Coke) later (consumed by a few of us), we somehow found our way back to one of the bug stalls after the Bangkok-regulated 1 AM closing. I decided to pick up some of the meal worms this time. These were much better than the grasshopper. They were very smoky in taste, and a bit rougher in texture, almost to the point where it really reminded me of beef jerky a bit. I also picked up a cricket while I was at it; this one tasted the most bug-like, but wasn't that bad in the end. I never did get around to trying the scorpion, but I was told that it was rather mushy in the middle, which just didn't really appeal to me. I'd hate to think of how mushy that really big Madagascaran beetle (?) must have been like. Mmm…tasty bugs!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Food on Khao San Road, Bangkok

Boiled rice pork chop

Quail EggsNot having had enough to eat from that airplane meal, we were quite tempted when we hit Khao San Road in Bangkok tonight, a bit of a backpacker hangout. The first thing that caught my eye right when we entered the area were the tiny little quail eggs being done sunny-side-up in little tako yaki-like grills. Cool. I picked up a little bowl of nine eggs for 20 Baht (US$0.50). Size aside, they didn't taste that much different from chicken eggs, but they sure were tasty thanks to the butter-basted grill and the Maggi sauce that they were doused in. Nice start.

Another barbequed corn ladyPad thai stalls were everywhere of course (as well as the occasional fruit, barbequed corn, and banana crepe places). But then I spotted some boiled rice pork chop thing that, to my surprise (and after adding some dry chili pepper flakes, fish sauce, and chili pepper condiments on the side), was actually like a rice soup that I'd had for breakfast in Phuket before, although this had little pork ribs in it that required a bit of subtle spitting of the bones somewhere so that it didn't look like littering or anything too grotesque.

Chicken or Fish on SQ Econ Class

Chicken on SQ Econ Class

The quintessential airplane food question was asked tonight: "Chicken or fish?" I ate the chicken, which was curiously seasoned with a few peppercorns, and the chicken came in surprisingly big pieces (but was fortunately both boneless and moist). The alternate was some nasty fish cake thing.

But enough about the chicken. I can live without it. I was more impressed with the Japanese sesame salad dressing they gave, as well as the light yet tasty chocolate banana cake thing at the end. Here's to hoping that SQ includes more of the last two in future meals.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mapo Doufu Restaurant, Beach Road

Knife Cut Noodles

We drove by this place today (345 Beach Road, 6396-3132) when we noticed its name, and wondered if its eponymous dish would be any good. We decided to give it a shot. The first item we got, a hot & sour wonton, was off to a good start, with a tasty wonton stuffing and decently good seasonings. Something seemed a bit strange though when I took a sip of the broth it was sitting in though; it had overtones of slightly rank swine, if you know what I mean. Well, I brushed it aside for the time being, seeing that the wontons were better than I was expecting.

Next up was the knife-cut noodles, which are cut by hand, but nothing like the methodic exactness of soba. Instead, these were more like intentionally erratic slices of hand-cut dough rather than noodles, and they turned out pretty tasty too, with an impressive texture. Unfortunately, the broth in this one also had a bit of that rank swine taste...hmmm...

Mapo TofuThat's when things took a turn for the worse. The stir-fried string beans were soggy, and the namesake mapo tofu featured too much of that salted black bean stuff but not enough of that mainland peppercorn (despite the presence of a ground brown powder sprinkled on top). More importantly, it just wasn't spicy enough and seemed a bit toned-down.

So what's the verdict? Well, it was better than I was expecting, but it was definitely not as good as Chuan nor Hometown. Was it worthy of a second visit? Barely. There were some other interesting things on the menu that I wouldn't mind trying, like some cold rice noodles as well as a "saliva chicken," directly translated (I think it's supposed to be more accurately translated as "chicken so tasty and spicy that it will make you salivate"). And interestingly, they had Sichuan hotpot available too, although the broth didn't look like anything great from a distance (actually, it looks like they have a steamboat place at 271 Geylang called T-One, as well as a master restaurant at Sin Ming Plaza on Upper Thomson Road and even another at 251 Outram).

Well, I won't make any huge effort to come back here, but I will admit that I am a bit curious to know if that "saliva chicken" will really make me salivate. At least this place was surprisingly cheap at only about S$5 (US$3) a dish.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Another Change at Amici Tanjong Pagar

Spaghetti alla bolognese

I popped on down to Amici's Tanjong Pagar location today for one of their speedy S$8 lunches. And I wasn't expecting anything eventful to write about, seeing that I'd been here so many times for this stuff already. But some things seemed a little different today. First off, their S$8 (US$4.75) lunch specials had disappeared; instead, there were set lunches at two and four times those prices. I asked about this, and fortunately the proprietor said he was OK giving me the S$8 plates. So I went ahead and got a simple bolognese; I wasn't in any mood to waste time and just needed something quick and dependable.

At first, the food seemed to take a bit longer today, but I didn't think much of it. Then when I got my plate, it immediately looked different too, with shredded cheese, a thicker consistency, and a deeper color. When I finally took a bite, all my doubts were erased; this was indeed different, and in a very good way. The noodles were much thinner and firmer, and most importantly, the sauce was much richer. The previous one wasn't bad, but it was only marginally better than some of that reheated bottled stuff that I could do myself at home. Today's, on the other hand, was much richer and clearly not Ragu.

I asked the proprietor if they had changed chefs, and he confirmed it. The last chef had departed, and so they pulled the chef from their Holland Village location. This guy was clearly much better, and it showed in his food. Sure, it may not have been as speedy as it used to be, but it wasn't excruciatingly long either, and the payoff is in the taste of the food. The best part about it is that it's still only S$8, although you'll have to ask for it as it's not advertised anymore. I'll definitely come back and see what other magic he's whipped up for the rest of the dishes; the proprietor had recommended the vongole to me next time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Alaa El Din Mediterranean Lebanese & Seafood Restaurant

Shish Kebab

I noticed this place (17 Jalan Pinang Road along Victoria Street, 6295-1816) the other day at the former site of the Blue Flame, an alleged cajun/creole place in Singapore that I once noted in a comment but always seemed to be closed. And while I never got to try that place to see if it would be any good, fortunately another spot has risen in its ashes, and what do you's Lebanese! Nice. We made our way down here for lunch today to check it out.

It was actually quite an amusing first experience, as the sign said that they were open, but the doors were locked, and all the tables/chairs were packed away inside. My colleague started banging on the door and windows in frustration, and to our surprise, not only did the door open, but it was some guy who clearly just woke up out of bed and wasn't even dressed for duty yet (it was 12:10 PM at the time). He assured us that his food was ready though, so we sat down at some of the couches on the side and ordered away.

From left: Hummous and Baba GanoushWe started with the classic hummous and baba ganoush, which turned out decently well and with some piping hot flat breads. Then I moved onto a basic shish kebab. I was a bit apprehensive when it was presented to me at first, as the meat hardly showed any char marks (presumably since he just microwaved it in the back or something rather than actually broiling it on a flame), was covered in a sauce, and there was some sort of salad on the plate that seemed rather useless. But it turned out much better than I would have thought, with tender meat and a sauce that was mild enough to just enhance the flavor rather than overpowering it. I particularly liked the rice, which was seasoned with some "Arabic spices" (at least, that's what the guy called it, claiming that no one else in Singapore has 'em).

While I have never been to Lebanon and thus have no real basis for comparison here, I liked this place much more than Baladi, which interestingly enough is just around the corner from this place but has become too undependable lately (we got served some really stale flatbreads from there about a month ago, and the meat still seems too dry there). BTW, the guy turned out to be the chef, and was pretty friendly in the end, despite his disheveled appearance when first opening the door. He told us that his place has only been open ten days so far. I'm still not sure if anything else here will be any good (strangely, he had fajitas on the menu), but this was a half-encouraging start so far. Stay tuned, as we'll be coming back to try out more.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Korean Restaurant, Singapore


This place (Specialists' Shopping Centre #05-35, 6235-0018) wins the award for having the most creative restaurant name in the world (well, to be fair, I think these guys have been here so long that back then, they were probably one of the first Korean restaurants in Singapore?). Anyway, I'd been here ages ago, and while I remembered the food being decent, I never really made the effort to come back, as I was a bit bummed at the time that they cooked my Korean BBQ in the back for me rather than letting me do it myself (despite the presence of grills on the table). Tonight, we were in the neighborhood, and thus stopped by on the way home for a quick bite. This time, I made sure to tell them that I wanted to cook the stuff myself.

Neng MyonI went straight for some boneless version of kalbi, which they called rosqui or something. To my delight, they provided little dishes of sesame oil and salt to go with it, and - interestingly - some butter to help cook it, even if it didn't really seem necessary. The beef quality wasn't anything spectacular (they claimed to use US beef, BTW), but it did the job. The cold naengmyeon was also refreshing with slices of apple as well as the very frigid (but dressed with scallion) soup.

Something was a bit creepy about this place though. Being only one of two occupied tables in here tonight, the three staff members appeared seriously bored, and basically stood in a line there watching us intently while we ate. It got to a point when I turned and shot a big artificial smile right back at them, after which they finally backed down and tried to occupy themselves with something else to do. These guys were a bit stingy with the kimchi too. Well, that aside, actually I have to admit that I actually did enjoy the food quite a bit. But I'll probably just wait to go to Korea itself or LA rather than make any huge effort to come back.

Potstickers from Cheng Li Yuan


After seeing that comment about Cheng Li Yuan, I came back today for a quick lunch with to see if maybe my first (disappointing) visit was my own fault for ordering the wrong things. I ordered just two items this time: an onion pancake thing as well as the potstickers. The onion pancake turned out better than I was expecting: it was flaky, oily, and salty (although I wish that they had cranked up each of those factors by just half a notch more). OK, that wasn't too bad.

Next up were the potstickers, which surprisingly had a huge amount of broth bursting out from inside, and the stuffing was decent. Something about the skin bothered me a bit though, as it was a bit sticky.

Well, this was much better than my last experience here (seeing that I actually ordered the right things this time), but I still won't make an effort to come back. I'd rather walk around the corner to get potstickers from the Dumpling Nazi instead. Besides, the attitude of the service here was so lethargic that it's not a place I can afford to hit up on my lunch break (the proprietor was taking things so nonchalantly today that I didn't even bother ordering the caramelized dessert thing that I wanted; I needed to get back to the office and couldn't wait any longer).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bombay Cafe, Singapore

Ragda Patties

An Indian colleague of mine suggested coming here (332/334 Tanjong Katong Road, 6345-0070) for some of the best chaat in Singapore. So in that spirit, we went straight for the Sadak Chaap ("the famous street foods of Bombay") menu tonight, ignoring everything else they had like the dosa, rice, and tandoor items.

Gol GappaFirst up was the gol gappa, which is another name for pani puri. It wasn't just the name that was different though; this place gave whole shells that you had to poke a hole yourself into, after which you also assembled it all. The fillings themselves seemed more plain than I've had before, and the shells seemed a bit thicker than usual, but the taste was still pretty good in the end. I'm not sure if those differences came along with the alternate name or not, but there was a bit of a novelty in punching a hole into those things with your thumb and putting the little sucker together.

Papdi ChaatNext up was the papdi chaat, which was "layers of crispy savouries, potatoes, pakodis, sprouts, seasoned yoghurt and a blend of chutneys." The dominating taste of the yogurt and tarty-tasting chutneys was a bit reminiscient of a satisfying basket chaat, although of course without that big shell.

Bhel PuriThe next one, ragda patties, was a bit of a surprise in that it was piping hot (temperature-wise, although it was spicy too, with a few slices of freshly cut chili peppers in it). Finally, we got a bhel puri, which was a bit stronger in taste than I would have liked, but still tasty. I also got a shikanjvi drink, which seemed like lemon juice mixed with jal jeera or something.

Anyway, all of this place was definitely good (and there's a lot more that I'd like to try here), although I think I still prefer Raj's more delicate approach. Note to self: remember to keep chaat for lunch rather than dinner; I tend to get a bit carnivorous in the evening.

Troughs of Lukewarm "Economic Rice"

Troughs of slop

"Economic Rice" here in Singapore is also known as Chap Chye Rice, which apparently literally translates into Ten Vegetable Rice. As both names imply, this is basically a plate of steamed white rice accompanied with a selection of random things like veggies cooked in all sorts of ways, and is meant to be dirt-cheap (this stuff also goes by the much simpler and somewhat still descriptive name of "cooked food"). I've adamantly tried to avoid this stuff in the past, since it always seemed to remind me of something one might expect to find in prison or something: endless troughs of sludge that has been sitting at room temperature for hours and gets thrown onto your plate into a sloppy mess. For some reason though, this was something I felt like eating this morning. I'm kinda glad that I did.

My first plate

I pointed at a few of the things behind the glass, such as tofu, string beans, and eggplant, all of which got thrown onto my plate and went for a whopping S$2.50, or US$1.50. It actually turned out a lot better than I was expecting. It was greasy, flavorful, and not quite as stale as I would have thought, despite being unattractively lukewarm. Even though the rice here was a bit dry, these things were paired very well with the rice and went down quite easily. In fact, I liked it so much that I went for another plate (!).

And that's when things took a turn for the worse. I grabbed a second plate with some other "cooked food" at a price of S$3.50, or US$2.00 (the price goes up if you order "meat" dishes instead of "veg"). While the bean sprouts that I picked were fine, I really didn't like this boring soy-sauce chicken thing that I got, nor did I like those soggy (not to mention cold) deep-fried wontons. I had my hopes up for some stewed cabbage thing too, although it was in a curry sauce that I normally like on its own but became a big turn off for me today for some reason.

Oh well. At least my first plate went better than expected, and based on that experience, I wouldn't be as opposed to getting more some other time. I guess I've eaten similar things, such as nasi campur in Indonesia, nasi padang in Malaysia, or even the Teochew porridge here in Singapore, the last of which I rather enjoy (although that is based on porridge with some tasty bean paste stuff rather than plain rice here). I'm told that the better Chap Chye Rice places have high turnover, hence making sure that the food is actually still hot rather than at room temperature. Perhaps my opinion will change after hitting up some of those spots. Well, at least it is affordable.

Going fishing for teaOn a side note, one amusing thing at hawker centers around here is diao yu, or literally, "fishing." No, it's not fish-based drink or anything strange like that. This is just plain hot Chinese tea, and is called such a name because it's simply hot water poured onto a tea bag on a string, thus resembling fishing when you steep away. It sure helped to cut away the grease in the economic rice.