Thursday, November 30, 2006

Por Kee Eating House 1996 (Air-Con)

Dry Beef Ho Fun

Yes, that is the full name of this place that they seemed to display everywhere...presumably since they opened in 1996 and are proud of the fact that they provide air conditioning? This was actually a totally unplanned visit. We needed something quick tonight on the way home, and figured that we would go check out the new Tiong Bahru Market. But while walking towards it, this restaurant in particular was emanating a rather pleasant smell of grease. So we stopped to eat here (69 Seng Poh Lane #01-02, 6221-0582), a random little local restaurant in the middle of a parking lot, of all places.

Champagne Pork RibsThe very humble and friendly wait staff told us that their signature dishes included some Thai-style fish, cereal prawns, and something called champagne pork ribs. Seeing that I'd never had the last one, we gave that a shot. What are champagne pork ribs, you might ask? Apparently they are pork ribs marinated in champagne beforehand. Actually, I couldn't even really taste the champagne in it, as it ended up being covered up in some dark sweet sauce, which kinda made it like Guinness Pork, but substituted with an alcoholic beverage of their choice (hmmm...Jaegermeister Pork, anyone??). It tasted very similar too, with a greasy sweet taste, and was pretty much what I was hoping for anyway.

We also got some of their dry beef ho fun, which I had a few hesitations about at first, seeing that I hadn't been able to find one locally that could compare to Hong Kong. And the pointless covering of shredded lettuce on top when it arrived further didn't make things look any brighter. But after getting that lettuce out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very enjoyable greasy taste that was not that much unlike the real deal. In fact, I was surprised that I didn't even need that Cantonese red chili oil stuff with this. Wow...nice job.

So this ended up being a totally random yet decently pleasant experience, which is always nice to have. It's good to note that they are open late too (with a discount during the wee hours), so maybe it's a place to hit up again one of these days. Maybe one of these days, it will also be worth it to finally make it to the new Tiong Bahru Market...let's just hope that another one of these side restaurants doesn't distract us from reaching there.

Viet Express Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine

Pho Dac Biet

This was a place that I had noted to myself last week, and so I finally made it down here today (3 Pickering Street #01-34, 6536-9914). These guys were brand new, with wait staff trying aggressively to pull people into the restaurant (and seeming a bit surprised that I was actually already intending to go eat there). They had quite a bit of interesting stuff on the menu that I'd never seen before and wanted to try, but in order to really get a good sense of what these guys were about, I went for the usual pho and rice paper rolls today.

Fresh Rice Paper RollsIn general, thumbs up. While neither the pho nor the rice paper rolls were any particular knockout to me, they did the job very suitably, and were much better than many others around here, including their neighbors Cafe Banh Mi. Admittedly, I think I still liked the broth from Viet Inn just a tad better, but this still did the job, and perhaps would do even better than Viet Inn on some of those other dishes (read: yes, I do plan to come back here to find out).

Indeed, one very interesting thing that I was not expecting but was rather impressed with was a little bowl of soup on the side, complete with a white pepper shaker explicitly for this little bowl. I was a bit puzzled as to why they would provide a bowl of soup on the side of a bigger bowl of soup, but when I finally dug into the little bowl, I realized why. This little thing was something else, with a very carefully balanced unpierced egg yolk floating in the middle that was a delight to eat as it oozed out inside your mouth. I'm still not sure what this was about (is this the way it's done in Vietnam?), but I liked it.

The wait staff here was still undergoing some huge teething issues during these first few days of their operations, but it didn't matter in the end. I'm coming back, with Cafe Banh Mi pretty much now swept out of the picture.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tonkatsu Tonkotsu Ramen at Ichiban Tei

Tonkatsu Tonkotsu Ramen

Just the other day, there was a discussion about the difference between tonkatsu and tonkotsu, and I wondered to myself if anyone had actually tried creating tonkatsu ramen instead. Well, whaddya know...the special menu at Ichiban Tei tonight featured tonkatsu tonkotsu ramen, thus bringing both into one bowl. It pretty much tasted exactly like one would imagine it to be: a deep fried piece of tonkatsu pork cutlet sitting on top of a bowl of tonkotsu pork bone broth noodles, with the pork all the while getting soggier the longer it sat in the bowl. The broth here, while still tastily rich, was thinner than Hakata's and thus a tad less favorable in my opinion (I guess there's the answer to the shootout suggested between Hakata and Ichiban Tei then).

Daikon SaradaThe daikon sarada here was also a bit of a letdown, with the daikon cut almost as thick as McDonald's French Fries (ironically enough, this thing featured shoestring potatoes on top) and with a dressing that paled with others. Oh well. It was interesting to see tonkatsu ramen anyway.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Da Paolo Il Ristorante, Club Street

Vendure Griglia

No, we're not intentionally trying to repeat restaurants these past few days. It's just that coming here tonight (80 Club Street, 6224-7081) was convenient, and we'd never tried the Club Street variant from these guys before. I saw the osso buco on the menu and ordered that without much contemplation, and added some grilled veggies to start. The veggies weren't anywhere as tasty as Original Sin's (and still quite a ripoff at S$16, or US$10), but hey - at least it was healthy.

Osso BucoNext of course came the osso buco, which I was a bit disappointed in at first glance when I only saw one bone surrounded by tons of meat. But the meat turned tender enough to just crumble apart with a fork. And perhaps more importantly, the bone had more marrow in in than I had ever scooped out of a single bone before, with enough to spread over at least a few pieces of bread. Wiping up some of the sauce with the bread too allowed it all to come together so satisfyingly that I ironically found their osso buco to be one of the better ones that I've had thus far (although I really should go to Milan one of these days to try the real deal, especially since I only recently became a marrow convert).

OK, that worked, even if the osso buco made the meal rather pricey. I'm still not sure what the differences are between all of these Da Paolo restaurants, but I guess they do the job.

Pret A Manger (again)

From left: Sausage Hot Pot, Mango and Passionfruit Smoothie, Roast Beef, and Christmas Lunch

In spite of all the fuss that I kicked up yesterday about the wheat bread that these guys use, somehow the thought of this place's sandwiches was still stuck in my head today, so I headed back over for a quick bite.

This time I tried a couple other sandwiches, including the Christmas Lunch that they so proudly boasted about, as well as the Roast Beef sandwich. The first one was pretty much what I expected, although there was one surprise again: the presence of fried shallots inside, which gave it a nice touch without providing too much dragon breath. By this time, I was expecting all of their sandwiches to have some surprising ingredient inside (like the pine nuts yesterday and the aforementioned fried shallots), so I was actually rather disappointed to find that the Roast Beef sandwich was the most basic and traditional of them all. Actually, this in the end turned out to be very welcome, with just a simple horseradish spread and straightforward meat...nothing chi-chi about this. Good.

Since the two half sandwiches were still a bit small, I made sure to get a bowl of soup today too. The Sausage Hot Pot sounded the most interesting out of today's three selections, so I grabbed that. But it was a bummer, as the sausage was neither the spicy nor greasy kind that I would have wanted.

Well, to those that share my concerns about wheat bread and the small sized sandwiches, I did notice that they had some bigger ones on baguette that could easily address both of those issues. Unfortunately I did not notice those until after I had started eating.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Arcadia Chinese Restaurant (Cze Cha)

Szechuan Soup

This place (251A Arcadia Road #01-09, 6468-7473) came as a recommendation a while back, so we went to go check it out. I'd never been a big fan of cze cha before, but since Szechuan was mentioned, my curiosity was piqued. This place was certainly in the least place you'd expect it, and more importantly, it was also the nicest decorated cze cha I'd ever seen, complete with tablecloths, nice floors, air conditioning, and table settings waiting for you (the plastic chairs kept it a bit authentic though). Well, we picked a couple Sichuan dishes and a couple more common cze cha dishes and waited to see what we would emerge.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sichuan dishes didn't quite pull through. The "Szechuan Soup" (basically just hot and sour soup) was a tad sweet, while a sliced pork and Szechuan pickled vegetable plate was much more vegetable than pork. More importantly, these were over corn-starched and simply lacked the characteristic peppercorn taste that one usually associates with Sichuan food. The gooeyness in fact made it taste a bit like American Chinese food (or Indian Chinese food, for that matter).

Some kind of noodlesWell, at least the other more "normal" cze cha dishes like noodles and kangkong turned out very well. And in the end, it was all still very edible (we cleared nearly all the plates nonetheless). It's just that next time, I have to remember not to order the Szechuan dishes...or at least, just don't go in with the expectation of Sichuan food. (Apparently some kind of hotplate tofu is supposed to be the right thing to order here, but we missed it...well, maybe next time.)

Pret A Manger Singapore

From left: Big BLT, Avocado Parmesan, and Orange & Raspberry Freshly Crushed Juice

I had noticed these guys everytime I passed through Hong Kong, but never actually ate there. So when the Straits Times mentioned yesterday how they finally opened up a shop in Singapore (35 Robinson Road #01-02, 6323-4165), I came by today to see what was really behind this British sandwich shop with the unforgettable French name boasting of convenience.

And convenience it was. There was no sandwich station here; just racks of refrigerators featuring a variety of neatly stacked "boxes" of sandwiches. Just grab what you want, and go pay. There were a few that looked interesting, such as the Christmas Lunch sandwich featuring turkey and cranberries, as well as even some soup. But I eventually settled on the "Big BLT," even if the box inherently forced it to be less than two inches thick (not so "big" after all, eh?).

Actually, the boxes presented another issue: while it looked all stylish at first, being in a triangular box with a clear window (including narrative printed all over it explaining how these boxes are not sealed, thus proving that they are freshly made that day rather than days before), it only hit me when I reached the checkout line that these boxes were triangular because they were only *half* sandwiches! Then again, it does say Pret Petit if you look closely enough on the box. I quickly scrambled back to the refrigerator to grab another box, this time of the avocado parmesan variety. And like a little boy, I matched the two triangles together (while still in the boxes), as if to reassure myself that I finally got at least one full-sized sandwich on the more familar square piece of bread. I added a (similarly surprisingly small) bottle of "Orange & Raspberry Freshly Crushed Juice," and then finally paid up.

So how did the sandwiches taste? The Big BLT had an interesting twist in it: the "L" in BLT was not lettuce, but actually rucola, which I didn't mind since I like it a lot, but those that don't like the pronounced taste of the leaves might get turned off. The cheese shavings in the avocado parmesan sandwich was also a great touch, even if the pine nuts in there were a bit of a surprise. But there was one huge drawback of having such pre-made sandwiches: there were no configuration options. And while I generally liked the pre-selected ingredients in these two sandwiches, they enveloped these in wheat bread, which I'm not a fan of (and it had nuts in the bread too - even worse!). Too bad sourdough bread is not common out here. Well, as long as I ignored the taste and texture of the bread, the sandwiches weren't actually that bad, aside from being a bit too small. I believe that the Pret a Manger stores in in England provide both halves of the sandwich in a box twice the size...but still triangular in shape, right?

In the end, there was no doubting that the pre-made sandwiches did make this place super speedy (although the checkout counter guys were still undergoing some growing pains today). If I only had 10 minutes to spare for lunch and were forced to eat pre-made sandwiches, then I'd definitely prefer this place's taste over The Sandwich Shop down the street (interestingly, these guys also had an All Day Breakfast sandwich). But I probably won't go out of my way just for this. It's too bad that Green Cedar shut down too; these guys are sitting on the old site of the former Lebanese takeout place.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More from Hakata Nihon Ryori

Negitoro-don

Yep - back again. Here's the negitoro don from Hakata. This turned out pretty much just as I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite say the same about the tempura, whose batter was surprisingly heavy.

Yaki MentaiInterestingly, they also had yaki mentai, something I noticed at Raku a while back but was puzzled by the objective of it. The taste wasn't anything special either. Is grilling really a common way to prepare mentaiko up in Kyushu? It still comes across as rather odd to me.

And finally, it's worth noting that they were a bit understaffed here. The same was true last time, but I thought maybe it was just because it was a Friday night. On a much less busy Sunday, they still struggled a bit. Well, in the end, it wasn't any huge problem, and I'll definitely still come back, but just a few things to be mindful of next time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Breakfast from Da Paolo Pizza Bar

Omelette Con Salmone

Da Paolo Pizza Bar serves breakfast on weekends for some reason, so we popped on down here today to check it out. There were only about six items on the breakfast menu, consisting of basically just the usual pancakes and eggs and such rather than anything I'd imagine to be really Italian (aside from maybe a frittata). So I just grabbed an omelette, or the omelette con salmone, as the menu tried to put it.

I was a bit surprised when it came out then, that it wasn't salmon inside the omelette, but rather put on the side completely separately. I'm not quite sure what the intention was here then, as the omelette thus was rather plain, and there was no bagel or anything to go with what was basically just lox (and they even included cream cheese on the plate). This was puzzling - it was as if they put two half dishes together, neither of which were complete. Well, the omelette was piping hot and done just right, but being plain made it a bit boring (yeah, bacon...or salmon inside might have helped).

Bloody MaryOther items today were similarly a bit of a letdown. The French toast was a yawner, and the Bloody Mary they made me was surprisingly weak: not weak in alcohol, but weak in seasonings, as if they hardly put any Worchester sauce in it (I had to ask for Tabasco and salt and such at the table just to get this thing going with a little more kick). Even the service that I so delightfully praised about them was a bit off today. Well, in the end, it was all still fine, but just a letdown given that we usually expect so much from Da Paolo.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hakata Nihon Ryori

Tonkotsu Ramen

Rock on. This was a good one (33 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-03, 6836-1039). These guys apparently specialize in Kyushu cuisine, so what better litmus test is there for their food than the tonkotsu ramen? And successful they were with this indeed. The tonkotsu broth was just as rich and savory as I would have wanted it, and the noodles were cooked firmly. I was a bit bummed not to see any mentaiko in this bowl, but it still worked.

Potato no Mentai YakiBesides, there was plenty of mentaiko to come, as we also picked up the supagetti mentaiko and even potato no mentai yaki, the latter of which was simply sliced potato covered with mentaiko on both sides and baked. It wasn't the cheese infused potato mentaiko that I incorrectly expected, but it wasn't bad nonetheless.

Unagi KabayakiAnother highlight was the unagi kabayaki, which was so pleasantly lined with fat that it was like night and day with that stuff I ate last night. Again, rock on! There's definitely going to be repeat visits here. And the good thing is that they are conveniently open late too.

Viet Inn Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine

Pho Tai Nam

To whomever it was that recommended this place: good call! This was a pleasant surprise (49 Circular Road, 6536-1847). They pretty much did at least the bare minimum - if not more - of what I would expect from a Vietnamese place, including the big bowls for the pho and the lime juice made from scratch, complete with a long spoon to stir up the grains of sugar (none of that pre-made crap...next time I should see if they can use soda water too). The broth was light and piping hot, and it all came out super speedy like it should. They're also open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, which makes it a convenient post-Boat Quay drinking snack, assuming you're not out too late. Nice one.

Fresh Rice Paper RollsNo, it wasn't all perfect. The selection of beef cuts for the pho were a bit limited, and oddly they neglected to bring me bean sprouts and such too until I asked for them. But this place was indeed better than most of the other selections around town, and has pretty much leapt to the head of my list of Vietnamese spots in Singapore. Then again, I've been eating so much Vietnamese lately that admittedly I'm getting a bit sick of it (I guess there really is quite a selection of Vietnamese food around here - and there's still a couple more that I haven't tried yet). Well, again, a big thanks for this recommendation.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Honshin Japanese Restaurant

Unaju

I was working late tonight and needed a quick bite in the vicinity. So I hopped on down the street to the sister (mother?) restaurant of Honjin Kushiyaki, seeing how someone mentioned how great the original restaurant actually was (140 Robinson Road #01-00, 6222-2243), despite my suspicions and what the menu unattractively advertised (think: set meals). The posting recommended the buffet, so I took a leap of faith, swallowed my anti-buffet prejudices and asked for it. Maybe it was a serendipitous stroke of luck, but I was told that it was too late already for it. Hmmm...OK, well the seafood was recommended too, so I thus fell back on some a la carte orders of sushi coupled with a serving of unaju.

From left: Negitoro Maki and Maguro SushiEhh...here's a case where I probably should have trusted my initial instincts. The sushi wasn't anything spectacularly fresh, the unaju was way too lean to provide much taste, and by and large this was rather dull. Maybe I came on the wrong night and ordered the wrong things or something, but this didn't do it for me.

Granted, it could have been much, much worse, and in the end, it wasn't so horrible that I didn't eat it, but I suspect that the reason why this place is in business is more because of the close proximity to office locations (or the "value for money" of the buffet) rather than the food itself. In that sense, maybe I'll come back if my sole purpose is just to refuel before going back to the office (it was still bearable at least), but there definitely won't be any cravings for this place. In fact, if it really came down to it, then I'd probably just skip this and go straight to the kushiyaki side instead.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Viet Cafe, Battery Road

Viet Noodle Soup

My mind has still been fixated on Vietnamese food for the past few days for some reason, so I have been coming to the Viet Cafe (6220-3215) at the basement of 6 Battery Road for relief. The basement? Yup...there's an outside entrance with big white signs just outside the stairway. If you can't find it, look for the crowd of ostracized smokers on the steps, wade through the cloud of carcinogens in the air, and descend down to the rather impressively large place.

Viet Vermicelli BowlThey had a bunch of lunch sets on the menu that didn't look that attractive to me, so I'd been going more for the basics: pho (or, as stated on the menu, "Viet Noodle Soup"), bun ("Viet Vermicelli Bowl"), and fresh rice paper rolls. They all turned out a little better than I was expecting, as seen by the decently fresh rolls and a refreshing bowl of bun (dragon breath alert). It was still a far cry from ideal, but given the dearth of choices around, this was good enough.

The service here was a bit spotty though, which was surprising for a place that I would imagine were much more polished due to the busy office worker crowd nearby. I was also a bit bummed that the meat in the bun didn't have much of a grilled aroma, that the pho broth was on the boring side, and that they put all the bean sprouts into the pho themselves. But I guess that the last point was just to help facilitate the operations during the aforementioned busy lunch period. At least the food was was better than Hue and Orange Lantern. And yes, these guys do sell out of food on a busy day, so don't come too late if you decide to make your way here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More from Cafe Banh Mi

Bun with Grilled Honey Pork

Anthony Bourdain's Vietnam episode with the guy grilling pork on a makeshift barbecue on the sidestreets of Hanoi must have planted a subliminal thought in my head today that I could not free myself from. Alas, I cracked eventually and had to give in by breaking away to Cafe Banh Mi for a quick bowl of bun. Surprisingly, they had quite a bit of shredded cabbage or something loaded onto this thing between the pork and the noodles, which I wasn't expecting, but the aroma from the grilling combined with the thin sweet and sour sauce were exactly what I was craving, even if this was a bit overdressed.

Prawn Rice Paper RollsOverdressed? How else, might you ask? Witness the rice paper rolls, which in and of themselves weren't too bad (much better than those limpy ones from Pho Hoa but still a notch down from those tightly-wrapped fresh ones from Phochine), yet covered again with the same shredded carrot garnish. It didn't really impact the taste at all, but I guess I was hoping that they didn't need to depend on the same tricks just to make the food look pretty.

Actually, Bourdain might not have even been the culprit today. I've been on bit of a Vietnamese streak lately, having also eaten at Vu's at Bishan Food Court over the weekend (a place that was better than I was expecting for a Food Junction food court, but nothing that I'd go back for). I also had the pho here at Cafe Banh Mi the other day too, which I was quite bummed about, as the broth had some odd cinnamon-like tinge to it (or some other spice that I couldn't recognize, anyway - I didn't even bother finishing the bowl). Well, the streak will be revisited next week, as I spotted a new Vietnamese place getting ready to open just across the way from Cafe Banh Mi, of all places. Called Viet Express or something, these guys said that they were getting ready to open but just needed some final paperwork or something to be completed. They were happy to offer their opinions about Cafe Banh Mi too and how their food was different; hopefully I'll get the chance next week to find out if their food can stand up to their claims.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Ribeye Steak from Azhang

Ribeye Steak

I don't know why, but I was craving that Roasted Corn Salad from Azhang tonight, so I headed on down. I didn't even need to look at the menu as I knew that my main course was going to be the ribeye steak that I noticed on the menu last time. It was nicely done, being very tender and tasty. I normally don't like sauces or toppings, but this red-wine and onion topping was light enough to work well with the simply grilled steak (apparently he used dijon mustard in here somewhere too?).

My only gripe was the reappearance of that salsa as a garnish again. Not that I have anything against the salsa; it was actually pretty good as a standalone. But when I'm having a juicy steak, I want to be able to follow that with some creamed corn or even simply buttered broccoli or something. The raw onions and chili peppers in the salsa on the other hand, have so much of a bite that they come across as a bit unwelcome and out of place.

Dried Seahorses and Butterflied Lizards

Dried seahorses, lizards, and other treats

I saw these dried lizards and seahorses today as I randomly walked by what appeared to be a Chinese herbal medicine store. At first I thought maybe they were touristy toys or souvenirs or something (it was in Chinatown after all), but then I looked closer and found that they were the real deal. I didn't actually eat them, but it did make me wonder how one ingested these...boil them in soup or something?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chatterbox, Meritus Mandarin Singapore

Chicken Rice

I used to like Chatterbox (333 Orchard Road, 6831-6291). Even though they charged literally up to ten times what hawkers charged, the food was good enough that I was willing to pay the S$20 (US$12) or so for good food and even 24 hour availability in air conditioned comfort. I hadn't been back in ages, but when a friend of mine from back home came into town tonight complaining about the humidity while wanting local food, I knew exactly where to take him.

And what a change confronted us when we arrived. Physically speaking, the decor had been overhauled into some red veneer-plastered monstronsity. That didn't really matter as long as the food was the same. It was not. Instead of the humble chicken rice that I was expecting, this thing came out in some fancy porcelainware with chicken sitting on a bed of lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes with chicken rice?? Something was amiss.

Well, the good thing was that the chicken was still tender and moist, and the rice was still tasty. They also gave portions much larger than I was expecting such that we didn't even need to order their boringly-grilled satay. But the chicken slices were of the frustratingly skinny kind, and they hardly provided much chili sauce nor ginger to go with this. In the end, it was still edible, but I was a bit bummed to find this rather boring, not standing out much more than any other chicken rice place out there. That being the case, I'd much rather hit up a hawker and pour the remaining money into my beer fund instead.

I heard that they changed chefs recently along with the whole renovation. Is that true? Either way, it's a shame. This place has fallen from its prime. I guess it is still a good standby for taking visitors to, but I'll probably think twice next time and consider the StraitsKitchen for visitors instead.

Madison's The Super Sandwich Place

Madison's Texas Sandwich

This place at Marsh & McLennan Centre (18 Cross Street #01-06, 6536-3466) featured a number of signs on the outside that stated "The Super Sandwich Place" (in bigger letters than the name of the restaurant itself) and featured a photograph of a sandwich stacked up nice and tall. With such a promise offered, I knew I had to step inside and check it out. I went for their Texas sandwich, which featured roast beef, an onion mushroom sauce, and cheese melt. Hey - if it's Texan, it's gotta be big, right?

False Advertising?Wrong! What came out what laughably small compared to what I was expecting. Not only was there only a few pieces of meat inside, but it looked like they had put this thing into a George Foreman grill or something in order to toast it, which only further compressed this down into this tiny little thing (it also unfortunately squeezed the juice out of the tomato and thus made the bread a bit soggy).

Well, at least it tasted much better than I thought it would, with a surprisingly rich flavor that I really had no complaints about, physical attributes aside. In fact, I liked the taste enough that I might actually return...but maybe just remember to order two next time or something.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bongau (Japanese for Bon Goût)

Bon Gout curry with pork cutlet

You know how casual Japanese places always have series of manga books lined up for you to read while you eat? This place takes that concept to another level. Oddly named Bon Goût, this Japanese (not French) place (60 Robertson Quay #01-01) is actually a bookstore piled high with manga series, and yet also serving casual Japanese food too (or as they officially call it, "a cafe with books and dining"). An earlier recommendation pointed me to their namesake curry rice with pork cutlet, so that's what I ordered, along with a nice refreshing bowl of hiyayakko.

The good thing is that the curry was able to successfully retain its mild Japanese character while simultaneously trying to be a tad spicier than the usual Japanese curry (they had a "mild" version available too). But the crust on the cutlet was cruder than I would have liked, and I could nitpick on a few other minor things too. I still think I prefer Ichiban Tei over this place as a result, but it was simple and cheap here, and that was all that I really wanted tonight anyway. (Note to self: they had tonkotsu ramen on the menu here that might be worth coming back for.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Azhang, Mohamed Sultan Road

Grilled Calamari

Whoa - who'd have known? I must have passed by this place (6 Mohamed Sultan, 6836-3436) and looked at their menu from the outside at least two or three times on my way to Papi and Banoo in the past few months. Each and every time, I was baffled at what kind of place it was, as the menu seemed to showcase a random selection of meat and fish, generally in a Western style, and yet with footnotes at the bottom that read something like, "If you like it spicy, do ask for our sambal belachan," which is a rather pungent local chili pepper and shrimp paste condiment common to these parts. In an effort to try to get some clarity on the situation one of those times, I asked what kind of food they served, and they replied with only a vague "grilled seafood"...and yet the grilled meat section on the menu was longer than the seafood list. With such an apparent identity crisis at hand, I dismissed it in my head and moved on.

And yet somehow, that "grilled seafood" phrase got stuck in my head, and this afternoon, a light grilled seafood plate sounded rather appealing. So I made my way down here tonight to give it a shot, and boy, am I glad that I did. Only when I sat down did I realize why they really could not define the type of cuisine here: it's almost as if this place were run by a normal guy who just really enjoyed cooking as a hobby and wanted to showcase some of his creations...like a private kitchen of sorts. There was no pretension here at all; just very honest and humble expressions on the proprietors' faces (such humility was further reflected in the simple wooden chairs and paper napkins). The chef was alluded to on a first name basis (Patrick) by the hostess, while the name of the restaurant seemed to have stemmed from his last name, Zhang. And the prices were fairly low with most dishes under S$20 (US$12.50) a plate. Now I finally understood why he placed that rice pilaf recipe in the menu...he's probably running this operation just because he's passionate about food rather than trying to create some unnecessarily upscale restaurant. Wow - respect.

Roasted Corn SaladSo what was the food like? I started with the Roasted Corn Salad, which, as very openly stated on the menu, was butter-coated corn on the cob "roasted over an open flame until slightly charred...the grains are sliced off immediately to retain the juices, then tossed in extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic, salt, pepper, chopped scallions & cilantro...served on a bed of romaine with a simple salsa." This was amazing, tasting even better than it was described. This wasn't any pre-grilled corn either...they took their time to roast each ear of corn to order (don't come here if you're in a hurry). Sure, there were a few peculiarities, like the residual heat of the corn (and sliced chili pepper from the salsa) that seemed rather foreign in a salad. But that didn't matter in the end, as the simple seasonings were done to perfection to create something that I thoroughly enjoyed (no doubt the minced garlic helped quite a bit too).

The care that he took in the food was further reflected in the grilled calamari, which he said that he wasn't going to start grilling until I finished my salad, lest the calamari get overdone. Well, the squid itself was actually a bit bigger than I would have wanted, thus making me wish he had kept the body on the flame for a little while longer. But the tentacles were done to just the right amount of scorching, and the aforementioned rice pilaf that this sat on featured very satisfying olive oil overtones (and this is coming from a guy who doesn't really like olive oil). I was a bit disappointed to see the salsa from the Roasted Corn Salad appearing on the plate again here as a garnish, but it all worked out in the end. And yes, they did give me some sambal belachan to try too...while it was fine, I did pass on it since it overpowered the taste of the calamari itself.

So again, this was kinda as if one of your good friends were really into cooking, spending his free time on weekends creating new dishes, and then inviting you over to his house to eat for dinner. That meant that there were a few rough edges here and there, but his good heart still showed up in the dishes nonetheless (I grabbed some of his beef stew too, which was refreshingly light, as you might expect something homemade to be). They're a very friendly and light-hearted bunch here, as Patrick kept doing his rounds saying hello and asking for feedback, all the while with a glass of red wine clutched in his hand. Apparently they do have quite a number of die-hard loyal fans here, and they even have things like Shepherd's Pie that are only available if you pre-order it. They also have a private room upstairs and exclusive afternoon sessions serving local specialities like chicken rice. Yes, it's a confusing identity crisis that I never thought I would like, but I came away very impressed. Besides, who could complain when the sound system played Tony Bennett covers, and a variety of Scotch was at your disposal? What this place lacked in cohesion was more than made up for by a very endearing attitude. It was very down to earth, and I'm coming back to try more.

A Little Taste of Semiya Payasam

Semiya Payasam

Here's just a little taste of semiya payasam that I grabbed from the lunch buffet at Bombay Woodlands today. It's apparently some kind of vermicelli combined with ghee, sugar, saffron, raisins, and nuts. This was my first time having it, and I sure loved it. As with most Indian desserts, it was very, very sweet (so sweet that I needed four scoops of sugar into my Masala Tea in order to be able to distinctly taste it afterwards), but what I loved about it was the burst of saffron that erupted from the warm gooey stuff. It was comforting.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fried Ladyfingers from Jaggi's

Clockwise from top right: butter chicken, fried ladyfingers, and white chicken kebab

Here are some fried ladyfingers from Jaggi's. The dark mess may look a bit nasty in the photo, but it tastes great. It's basically just like potato chips in the sense that the vegetable is merely just a vehicle with which to ingest lots of unhealthy grease and salt. Mmm...

Actually, today's was a little less crispy than I would have wanted, and the butter chicken seemed a bit thinner than usual. (Have they been slipping? I had an egg curry the other day that seemed a bit off too.) Well, despite this, it still worked in the end.

A Bagel From Something To Go

Salmon Breakfast Set

Following up on last night, I stopped by Something To Go today on my way to work to grab one of those bagels. When I asked for cream cheese and lox with it, they pointed me to a so-called "breakfast set" that basically had all the lox neatly laid out in one of their black plastic boxes together with cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, onions, and some thin sour-tasting cream that I couldn't quite identify.

I guess this was a DIY bagel? Fine, although they didn't give any utensils to help with this, so I had to ask them to cut the bagel for me (I tried asking them to toast it for me too, but she threw me a confused look in return). This all tasted fine, and at S$6 (US$3.75) was much cheaper than I was expecting for a place that charged S$27 for that box from last night. But at that price, I would have at least expected them to assemble everything for me.

Well, this wasn't a true bagel shop anyway, as their selection was fairly limited amidst all the other pastries and things they had on display there. It's definitely still better than those fake bagels that I had the other day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Something To Go, The Regent Singapore

Braised ossobuco Milanese-style

If you walked into a place called "Something To Go," you might expect some quick and easy sandwiches or something for around ten bucks, right? Well, that's what I was thinking. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked in here (1 Cuscaden Road, 6720-8000) and noticed that they had some S$27 (US$16.90) osso buco on the menu. Whoa - S$27 for reheated food in a plastic box?? And osso buco as a takeout dish? (Well, this was the Regent after all.) Ehh...let's see what else they had.

So I looked around some more. They had a number of selections all boxed up and ready to go like all sorts of fancy salads, roasted cod, and one of the biggest slices of lasagna I'd ever seen (generally all for around S$15 or US$9.40). They also had some pre-order menu of local dishes like chicken rice and nasi goreng, some of which had a little airplane icon next to them, indicating that they were part of the "PLANE Delicious" sub-menu for those that would prefer to bring food on board rather than eat airplane food. In the end, none of them really looked that exciting to me, so what did I end up getting? The osso buco.

Well, the good thing is that it turned out decently tasty. The meat was tender, the gravy had a sophisticated scent to it, and most importantly, the marrow featured a darker grainier character and an aroma that almost seemed cheese-like (mmm!). The potatoes were slightly undercooked though, and I wasn't a big fan of the chicken consomme, whose taste didn't strike me as anything spectactular (it also peculiarly featured some stems of what appeared to be enoki mushrooms).

Sugar Ring DonutWas this good enough to come back for? (and pay S$27 for without even having a place to sit down at?) I'm pretty certain that is a "no." But at least I finally got that doughnut that someone once referred to here (they do have a pretty big pastry and bakery section here, which is where I suspect they get most of their business instead). The Sugar Ring Donut here was indeed one of the better ones around town, but we're obviously also still a long way from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts. They also had some bagels and lox available here for breakfast that is worth a mental note...maybe I'll try popping down here tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tai Wah Pork Noodle - Refreshed

A S$6 Bowl of Mee Pok-based Bak Chor Mee

This isn't anything new; it's just a better picture of Tai Wah Pork Noodle than the one I took last time. The good thing is that this was still the same great taste and quality as before, and so far still comfortably in the running for the refresh of my Top 10 list next year.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bei Fang Feng Wei, Smith Street

Potstickers

I'd seen this place across from Hometown before, but only now did we come by to try it (18 Smith Street, 6324-2933). These guys specialized in Northern Chinese food, so we went ahead and got some of the typical items, such as potstickers, braised pork buns, hand cut noodles, and scallion pastry.

Braised Pork BunsThey all fared fine (with the exception of the string beans, which were a bit soggy). But there was nothing really so exciting that it would draw me back here right away. Maybe we ordered the wrong things, but I would have rather gone to Hometown if we were in the vicinity already anyway.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Poking out a Pig's Eyeball and Eating It

Suckling Pig

One of the plates in a part of a big Chinese banquet tonight was some roast pork, done up rather nicely with very crispy cuts of skin and fat neatly laid out on a plate (with a little hint of Chinese spices infused into it too). I was pretty happy with this until we were left with only some strange-looking U-shaped piece that remotely resembled a jaw. I dismissed it at first since I didn't think a pig's head would be so small and flat, but when I saw the teeth, I realized that this was the real deal, complete with the same ethereally tasty skin that was on the body.

By the time I peeled and devoured the skin from it, I was left with a rather naked and unattractive skull (OK, half a skull...and it still didn't really look like a pig). I dug into the cheek meat a bit, which turned out nice and tender. By then the only edible thing left was the eyeball. Hmm...I'd never had an eyeball before (not even from a fish). Was I going to try it? Aw, screw it...I'd gone this far already. As grotesque and inhumane as it sounded, I shoved my finger into the skull and poked the eye out of its socket from behind. I hesitated a bit before popping it into my mouth, but down it went.

And it really didn't taste like anything in the end. I was expecting maybe a gelatinous consistency followed by perhaps even a hard inedible glass-like center or something, but it was just like any other part of the meat, all seeming decently "normal." Hmph. It was actually rather boring in the end. As a result, that probably won't be anything that I'll yearn for again, but at least I tried it. And with that, the caveman went back into his abode to rest.

Lucky Chicken Rice at Lucky Plaza

Lucky Chicken Rice

I finally found this place today (Lucky Plaza #02-110). No wonder why I missed it last time - it was indeed tucked away in the back. But I knew I found it when I saw the signboard that read, "Lucky Chicken Rice (Boneless Chicken) Fast Food Restaurant."

And I pleased to say that I really enjoyed it. The chicken, while skimpy on the portions too, was tasty and moist. The rice was fluffy and the soup was savory (none of that sweet stuff). The hot sauce wasn't anything special, but with a full array of condiments on every table at your disposal, it worked for me, and was probably just as good - if not better - than that Alison Eating House place. Tian Tian still goes a step further for me with their huge chunks of meat, but this was good enough. Thanks for the tip!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Barg + Koobideh = Kebab Soltani

The flat lighter colored one on top is the Kebab Barg, while the darker rounder one is the Kebab Koobideh.  Note that this is from Banoo, not Shiraz.

I'm a huge fan of koobideh, and whenever I step into a Persian restaurant, I'm so fixated on it that I hardly even glance at anything else on the menu in these places. So when a Persian acquaintance of ours mentioned how kebab barg is actually more popular than koobideh, I was intrigued and had to give it a shot. In that regard, we hit up Shiraz at Clarke Quay last night, suspecting that their "Shah Kebab" was just a local Shiraz dialect name for barg that he didn't recognize (they didn't have any kebab barg listed on their menu). It turned out that it wasn't barg...instead, it was huge chunks of tender (but too salty) filet mignon on a skewer, something that our Persian friend told us is not really that authentic.

He knew better though - he ordered the soltani, which literally meant that it was fit for a king, he told us. And what was included in such a royal meal? None other than a combination platter of barg and koobideh (hey - that's the best of both worlds!). How did this come about? Kebab barg is a flat contiguous piece of meat, as opposed to koobideh, which is made from minced meat. As you might suspect, the former is considered to be more upscale (and hence why it's more popular and desired), while the latter is more for peasants. So why does the King's platter have food of the masses sitting on it? Because apparently the King also enjoys the taste of the minced stuff, even if he won't be seen in public with it. Fair enough - who could resist the taste of koobideh?

Unfortunately, I didn't like the barg half of the meal as much as the koobideh. While the barg was tender and lean, it was also so lean that it really lacked the taste that I was hoping for. In contrast, koobideh usually just bursts with flavor (even before biting into any raw onion). Just to be sure though, we came to Shiraz's competitor Banoo tonight to try it from a different angle (the photo at the top was our plate from Banoo, BTW...not Shiraz). Now, Banoo didn't have the soltani explicitly listed on their menu, but it was easy enough to construct it on our own. We simply ordered the kebab barg (yes, this one they *did* have) and added an extra skewer of koobideh ...what could be more simple? The barg here was a little more moist and a little tastier than the one over at Shiraz. But in the end, barg as a whole was still just too lean (and hence boring) to me. My preference is still by far for a full-fledged koobideh meal instead. Oh well, I guess I'll never be the King.

Oh...and since we dined at these two Persian rivals here on back to back nights, it's worth noting that Banoo may now be the more preferred choice. The service at Shiraz last night was so spotty to the point that it got frustrating, be it their rather unpolished staff or their peculiar process of waiting until after we finished our appetizers to ask us if they could start grilling our kebabs (and hence, another 15-20 minute wait). Banoo, on the other hand, was much more down to earth (not to mention cheaper). Unfortunately, the crowds don't seem to agree. Shiraz was completely packed to the brim last night (and apparently they have been in soft launch mode this entire time), whereas Banoo was nearly empty on a Saturday night. I hope this doesn't force Banoo out of business...I'd rather go there now than Shiraz.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sole Meuniere from Fishermen's Wharf?

Atlantic Lemon Sole Fillet

That was weird. I came back to Fishermen's Wharf today and ordered the sole meuniere (listed here as the "Lemon Sole Fillet") that I remember from the menu last time. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, as it was basically just battered deep fried fish with chips in a basket again. Sure, this is a fish and chips shop, but still, they made such a big fuss boasting about how these was meuniered that I was expecting the traditional light dusting of flour with a good amount of butter. Well, taste-wise, it was still edible, with an interesting little edge created by what seemed to be a healthy dose of white pepper. But was it worth more than two times the price of the cheapest Cream Dory? Not really (especially since one end of my fish turned out surprisingly dry).

Cream DoryAgain, the portions being a bit small, I confess that I did order two baskets today, the other one being the cheaper Cream Dory, which also allowed me to reconfirm that this was the best of the bunch. That pretty much clears through through most of the menu here for me now, so I guess if I come back, it will still be for that Cream Dory. And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't finish that second basket. All of that fried stuff eventually got me feeling a bit sick, even though it was good going down.