Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saltimbocca alla Romana from Cantina

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Here's the saltimbocca from Cantina. They did theirs with pork instead of veal...and sitting on a bed of potatoes and Brussel sprouts too. The meat was a bit tough and some of the potato cuts sat in the pan so long that they dried out and got hard, but in the end, I still liked this salty-buttery concoction (then again, I guess anything drowning in a pool of butter will taste good).

I've never had this anywhere else, so I really can't compare the merits of Cantina's version to others, but this was good enough that my interest in Cantina has been reinstated. Sure, they do things to a bit of excess (like the ridiculously copious garlic cloves in their aglio olio), but at least they are excessive amounts of ingredients that I like. It was good to finally break free of their pasta and pizza menu too.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Warheads Super Sour Spray Candy

Warheads Sour Spray Candy

Am I the only one that thinks that this is a bad idea? I love Warheads sour candy, but to have it in a spray form was a bit odd (remember Binaca?). Nonetheless, curiosity struck. In many ways it was what I expected: tasting like the addictive sour candy but in liquid form (making it a bit like lemon juice, actually). But being in a spray bottle meant a not-so-elegant spray procedure into one's mouth, not to mention the potential for some of the sour mist to accidentally travel up your nose and irritate accordingly. I can't even begin to imagine what kinds of applications kids with lots of time on their hands would be able dream up with this stuff. Well, the bottle did warn against spraying into someone's eyes at least.

When did this stuff come out? I've been out of the US so long that I am out of touch with when this stuff emerges. Well, here in Singapore, I picked this up at Candy Empire, a total junk food establishment at Millenia Walk (across from Outback) where you can rot your insides out with all sorts of candy from the US and Australia. Too bad they didn't have any Pop Rocks or candy cigarettes for another trip down memory lane though.

Sum's Kitchen & Hong Kong Roasted Meat

Steamed Olive Fishhead

This place on the northern side of Singapore (3 Jalan Legundi, 6757-2118) was recommended to me by a business acquaintance a good while back. We had tried to come a few months ago, but they had sold out of everything already, so we were relieved to see two ducks still hanging in the window today when we arrived. I had three recommendations at hand to try: the Three Egg Vegetable, the Steamed Olive Fishhead, and the signature roast duck.

Three Egg VegetableThe Three Egg Vegetable got the meal started on the right foot with very fresh spinach and a surprisingly refreshing and savory broth that kind of made this more like a soup. At first it almost also appeared as if the "three eggs" meant simply that a total of three chicken eggs were used to create mass (like an omelette) rather than consisting of three different types of eggs, but upon digging further, we did indeed finally come across some chopped Chinese century egg as well as salted egg. No wonder why that broth was so savory.

The fish arrived next. An olive aroma emanated from it, invoking thoughts of focaccia. This was not a good thing for me, seeing that I don't like bread and dislike rosemary even more. I suppose that the fish was nice and tender, done in the usual steamed Cantonese style topped with hot oil, soy sauce, and shredded scallions...although with olives on top. Well, after enough bites, the taste of the olives didn't seem that far out of place; it almost seemed as if they could replace those salty black beans that are commonly used to season Chinese food. But I probably won't go out of my way again for this one.

Roast DuckLast but not least came of course the roast duck. I would have expected more from a place that has gotten many rave reviews, but this was ultimately a disappointment. The meat was rather tough and without that edgy duck taste that we have all come to love. The skin was crispy with fat attached, but that wasn't enough to make up for it. While still edible, it still was nowhere near what one gets in Hong Kong. Oh well. Out of all of these, I would readily come back for the Three Egg Vegetable, but I'll have to find a couple other dishes to go with it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aji Tataki from Hakata Nihon Ryori

Aji Tataki and Hiyayakko

Here's the aji tataki from Hakata Nihon Ryori (plus some hiyayakko while we're at it). Admittedly, this was not much more than just a pretty picture. The aji looked nice, but the deep fried bones came across as a bit tougher than I'd like. The katsu kare that I also ordered was dry and dull. This was a bit of a letdown compared to some of those great meals from here in the past, but at least now I know what not to order.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Men-Tei, Robinson Centre

Tonkotsu Ramen

These guys (61 Robinson Road #01-01, 6438-4140) opened recently, not too far from Pret A Manger and next door to The Sandwich Shop. Clearly they were catering to the busy office worker crowd...which was obvious not only with the location, but also by the sheer fact that they are only open M-F 11-3. Given my previously disappointing experiences with places like Honjin down the street though, I wasn't quite sure what to expect here. Nonetheless, I came by to check it out.

The menu was encouragingly simple at least. They only had four different kinds of ramen (all at the same fixed price of S$11, or US$6.90), with nothing else to offer but maybe some additional toppings (no butter, unfortunately) and maybe a can of coke or tea...that's all. Fortunately for me, tonkotsu ramen was one of the four selections available, so my choice was obvious. The bowl arrived with a nice little layer of oil floating on top of the broth too, so this was starting to look good.

And yes, the broth turned out to be appropriately rich, so much that I wolfed this down in seconds. The noodles were a bit on the soft side (nor was there any mentaiko on this guy), but that didn't matter as much to me as my priority is on the broth. Good enough for me...I'll be coming back. It is a very small place though; they could barely handle the lunchtime crowd today, and it was in the middle of a week when most people would be on vacation (and it was raining today too!), so I'll be sure to try to come in the off-peak hours instead.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Argentina Epilogue - Yerba Mate

Yerba mate

Having cured my gourd, I finally tried this stuff out today. I don't even know if I got the whole procedure right as one is apparently supposed to invert the gourd cup, tilt the tea leaves to one side, insert the bombilla straw, pour a little cold water in first, and then finally pour in hot (not boiling) water.

Well, basically this did have a rather strong taste...kinda like a dark Chinese tea, but also with a very "green" taste, if that means anything. It was bitter, but it had a hint of sweetness in it too (apparently one can also add sugar if he really wants to). Actually, I'm pretty sure that I didn't do this perfectly as I still got some particles coming through the straw, the elimination of which was one of the objectives of that whole ritual.

I don't know if I put in the correct amount of yerba in either, as I filled it up quite liberally, and thus leaving me with very little room for liquid to brew (and hence requiring frequent refills). It sure was a lot stronger than that toasted mate tea bag stuff that I had one morning in Brazil. Well, hopefully I can figure out how to do this correctly.

Kristang Devil's Curry for Christmas

Devil's Curry

Here was another new experience for me: Devil's Curry, a dish from the local Kristang community that is generally of mixed Portuguese and Asian descent. What makes it even more novel is that apparently this dish can't really be obtained at restaurants; instead, it is often served by families on special occasions like Christmas. In contrast with most Indian curries, this is a bit on the sour side. The one I had today in particular had some little sausages and grain mustard in it too. It is supposed to be very spicy, although I've had some vindaloo that would beat this on the heat meter (hey - vindaloo is technically influenced by the Portuguese too, isn't it?).

Anyway, it was definitely interesting to be able to try this dish from such a unique ethnic group...apparently the Kristangs are really only from Singapore and Malacca, a former Portuguese settlement north of here in Malaysia. We also had some Eurasian smore...not to be mistaken with campfire chocolate s'mores, this was a dark beef stew of sorts. I liked the Devil's Curry better, but that's just because it had more of an edge to it.

A Taste of Swiss Raclette

Scraping off Raclette

This was something new to me that popped up at brunch today: Swiss Raclette. I wasn't quite sure what was going on at first as there was a half round of cheese mounted vertically into this metal structure that initially I thought was just a way to make it easy to shave the cheese. Upon looking more closely though, this thing was actually heating up the cheese to the point where the top layer was bubbling and even browning a tad. The guy then took the round out of the machine and then scraped off some melted cheese onto a plate of various objects such as potatoes, pickles, and air dried beef. Oooh...that had to be good!

RacletteAnd good it was. It basically was kinda like fondue, but on a plate (and thus presumably being more efficient in the use of the cheese). The cheese had just the right amount of stank in it to give it real character, but not so much as to be annoying. I was told that an alternative way of serving this is in individual slices and over an open fire, so hopefully I'll get to see that done one of these days.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Il Lido, Sentosa Golf Club

Goose liver lackered with hazelnut and juniper honey with leeks veloute

We'd heard about this place for ages now (27 Bukit Manis Road, 6866-1977) and finally made our way down here tonight to check it out. I normally don't like chichi places like this, on the basis that more attention is usually paid towards appearances than the taste of the food itself. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect here, seeing that this place was also known for having a great seaside view too. Would the food stand up?

Those bread chipsThe good news is that it did. They ran a special Christmas variation of their classic set tonight, and I generally liked all five courses, including the refreshingly light consomme, the heavily saffron-flavored lobster pasta, and the tender truffle-topped turkey. The goose liver starter was rich, and the chocolate souffle pancake sealed the deal. Even the basket of thin crispy bread chips struck home for me, seeing how I don't like bread but love butter.

Were there things to pick on? Sure. I wasn't a huge fan of the nuts and honey used in the goose liver starter, but that's just a personal preference since I'm not big on sweets (at the end of the day, I still respected the effort to try to create a dish of so many varying textures and flavors at the same time). The seaside view was marred by the ugly sight of anchored container ships, but once it got dark, the lights from those very same ships ironically created an attractively dotted horizon (the hacker inside me also got a bit excited at seeing the meticulously maintained green tee boxes and fairway). And these guys pulled a Senso by automatically opening new bottles of water for you without asking, thus hiking your bill. I suppose that we could have stopped them by simply saying "no" though (well, the set meal price was under S$100, or US$60, which was lower than I would have expected for a classy place like this, especially for a set that included truffles).

My stomach finds more pleasure from much cheaper things (like the other day's sandwich), but regardless, this successfully gets filed under my list of bourgeois places that fortunately remembered to make sure that the food tastes good too.

A Local Food Court's "Western Grill"

Pork Chops

Food courts here naturally feature a number of local items, be it chicken rice, yong tau fu, or many types of noodles. One or two stalls might even venture out to some "foreign" food like Korean. And from time to time there is a "Western Food" stall selling things like steak or fish and chips. I never really bothered to stop at one of those stalls (especially upon seeing a rather unappetizing black pepper sauce slathered all over the steaks), but for some reason, the pork cutlet sounded kinda good today. (I must have been subliminally thinking of tonkatsu or something.) Well, let's give it a try.

I didn't quite care too much for the cold beans or pre-fabricated criss-cut fries, but the pork turned out better than I would have thought, with a crispy breading and not being too excessive on the spices (no, there is no sauce on this one). There was also something novel to me about the perfectly round fried egg too (a cookie cutter of sorts was used). While I doubt that I would progress to the steak next, at least this worked for the time being.

Argentina Epilogue - Part I

A chocolate alfajor

Here's a couple followups to some items from Argentina last week, the first of which is a variation of alfajores from a box that I bought at the airport. These came in chocolate and sugar-coated versions that almost made them like Hostess Ding Dongs (but with dulche de leche inside instead of whipped cream of course). They were sweet, but not annoyingly so. I should have bought a bigger box.

Curing my mateI was also eager to try out my mate, which is a tea that the Argentineans take in a concentrated dose in a special cup and straw. It is not available in restaurants since this is apparently more of something that Argentineans do at home with their family (there is some big procedure in brewing the stuff and passing it around...kinda like a Chinese tea ceremony, I suppose). So I had to buy the kit and bring it home. Unfortunately, it turns out that I need to cure the cup first by leaving the tea leaves steeping in the cup for a couple days, so I'll have to revisit this later to see what it tastes like.

Kok Kee Wan Ton Noodles, Singapore

Wanton Mee

On the way back from the airport, we stopped real quickly at Lavender Food Square to grab a quick bite. This stall (#01-06) had the longest lines, so I figured I'd give their wanton mee a try to see what all the fuss was about. It didn't turn out to be anything special to me in the end, as it was all a bit on the ordinary side with no real edge or kick to it, even with the chili sauce. If there were anything that stuck out to me about this place, it was that it was a bit on the sweet side.

I ever come back to Lavender Food Square again, then I'll probably just hit up that Whitley Road Fishball Noodle guy about five stalls down instead, where the dry noodles were pleasantly greasy and spicy instead.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pseudo-Japanese on UAL from Japan

Broiled yellowtail with teriyaki sauce

This wasn't officially listed on the menu as a Japanese meal, but upon pairing the "broiled yellowtail with teriyaki sauce" with the sushi starter and such, it effectively became one on this final return leg from Japan.

There's not much else to say here as it was pretty much what I expected. The fish was a bit too thick at one point, but at least the rice wasn't dry this time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Japanese Meal Selection on UAL

The starters of the Japanese Meal

I've had some mixed experiences with Japanese meals on airplanes before. So why did I pick it again tonight? Because the other selections tonight were some Chinese citrus chicken with cashews as well as the filet mignon (surprise, surprise)...and not in an Argentinean fashion either. Besides, after all of that meat in the past week, I could use something on the lighter side here.

The good thing is that I liked it better than those last two Japanese meals on United, but I suppose that there are limitations to what one can do on an airplane. The noodles were stuck together, the rice was dry, and the tea was cold. The salmon was again of the smoked variety, but at least they stated it as such on the menu this time. Well, I suppose it was healthy though.

Midflight snacks on UAOn a side note, here are some of the snacks that they provided mid-flight today, which included Jelly Bellys, complete with its little decoder sheet of flavors. The packet was small enough that one really couldn't do any of the mixing-and-matching, but it was more of a little nostalgic thing for me anyway.

Potbelly Sandwich Works, Dulles Airport

A Wreck from Potbelly Sandwich Works

Oh man, that was one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. I'd heard about this place a number of times in the past, but seeing that they were mainly a Midwest thing, I'd never really had the chance to go. Stuck with a layover of a good number of hours at Dulles today though, I was happy to see that they had made their way over here too. I popped on in and grabbed the Wreck, which featured salami, roast beef, turkey, and ham with Swiss cheese plus mayo, mustard, hot peppers, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, oil, and Italian seasoning. Their sandwiches are toasted by default.

I was floored with just the first bite. Wow - that was amazing! It had everything I wanted in a sandwich: it was rich from the mayo, it had bite from the peppers, and most impressively, the bread was airy and light enough to motivate this non-bread eater to nearly jump for joy. Now I see what all the fuss was about. Every single bite of this thing brought me sheer excitement. Having a bag of Utz salt n' vinegar chips nearby made a nice companion too.

It wasn't all so brilliant though. I grabbed a cup of chili, which turned out to have a strangely sweet aftertaste that even a healthy dose of Tabasco could not cure. I also grabbed a bottle of Cricket, an alleged micro-brewed cola even featuring green tea in it or something. This interestingly reminded me a bit of Chinese sour plum juice, which was still fine, but I guess I was hoping for a more chocolatey taste like RC Cola had done a while back.

Anyway, the sandwich is obviously the most important thing here, and it rocked, hands down. If they opened up shop in Singapore, I'd be there nearly every day for lunch. Until then, I guess I'll have to wait for my next chance to pass through Chicago, DC, or even Texas.

UA Filet Mignon, but Latin

Pan-seared filet mignon with tomato chimichurri

What? After all that griping about United's filet mignon (not to mention more than a week of eating nearly straight beef), what the heck was I doing getting the filet mignon on United tonight? Because this one sounded kinda interesting featuring a tomato chimichurri and South American beef. I figured that even if filet is always offered on United, it won't be often that I'll get it done in a local fashion like this.

It was a good call. The meat was super tender (Plastic knives for airline safety? No problem!). And the chimichurri was pleasantly mild with more of an oily taste than sour. I even ate all of the potato wedges, which I normally don't do when they add too many herbs. Sure, I liked this one. I doubt that I'll be ordering the filet on the next leg here though (assuming that my upgrade request goes through, that is).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Trying Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

Here's a quick plate of some Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá that I picked up this afternoon at some random Copacabana beachside spot before leaving. I figured that I've never really eaten much Portuguese food, so why not give it a shot at a former Portuguese colony instead?

CaipirinhaThis pretty much tasted as I expected it would: salty fish, but not like the Chinese variety where there is a bit of stank to give it some more character. This was just straightforwardly salty, without much else to carry it along (and the inconsistent texture of it wasn't encouraging either). It still tasted fine with the egg, potatoes, and olives, but I probably won't go out of my way to get this again. Or maybe this was just a bad rendition of it, and I should just go to Portugal directly to give it a try. At least the caipirinhas here were some of the best that I've had on this trip.

Beachside Snacks from Copacabana

Selling camarones on the beach

As commercialized as Copacabana beach can be, I actually rather enjoy it since it can also give one a chance to try some local snacks brought straight to your feet. Take for example these camarones (shrimp) on a skewer. I suspect I might have gotten the foreigner pricing on these at 10 Reais (US$5) for a skewer of five, but I sure enjoyed the squeeze of lime and touch of oil on these (they are conveniently eaten complete with the shells.) To wash it down, I got a caipirinha, which I liked better than the ridiculously expensive ones from last night).

Biscoitos de PolvilhoI also saw a bunch of guys carrying around these huge clear plastic bags of smaller white bags inside. Not quite knowing what it was exactly, I pointed at one and forked out 2 Reais (US$1) for a random bag (it looked like he had multiple flavors). These turned out to be Funyun-like things. They were much bigger, but also much lighter.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Marius Degustare, Rio De Janeiro

Yes, he posed for this shot, but all my other pictures were crap

I would imagine that when one comes to Brazil, it would almost be a capital offense not to come to a churrascaria sometime during your trip. Tonight, we made our way to what I heard was allegedly one of the best in the city (290 Av. Atlantica, 2104-9000). I was quite disppointed upon walking in though to find the decor all touristy/plasticky...in a Pirates of the Carribean meets the Rainforest Cafe kind of way. The spread included such things as sushi (and I was a bit surprised to see that they didn't have any of those red/green disks on the table to signal whether you were full or not). Uh oh...I hope we didn't fall right into the mouth of a tourist trap.

Beans and riceWell, having tactfully steered clear of that unnecessary filler, I kept my plate clean aside from some the standard beans and rice. And the good thing was that the meat generally still turned out on the better side, with some cuts nicely salty and tasty from the crispy fat.

I was, however, a bit bummed by the fact that it wasn't as spectactular as I had hoped for, and that the caipirinhas could have used more sugar. There didn't seem to be any of that crispy cheese or pineapple that Barbacoa excelled at either. That being the case, I would actually vouch for Barbacoa over this place. Unfortunately, I won't have time on this trip to try other spots in town to compare, but needless to say, my first churrasco experience in Brazil fell short of of what I was hoping for.

Restaurante À Mineira, Rio de Janeiro

Some shredded beef thing

Churrasco may be one of the best-known cuisines of Brazil, but after so much grilled meat in Argentina in the past few days, I was very happy to find some relief at Restaurante À Mineira (152 R. Visconde Silva, 2535-2835, plus several other locations aross Rio and other cities) today, as they apparently specialize in food eaten by the gem miners in the neighboring Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Now, they did have a grelhados grilled meat section, but I skipped that part. And while many of the dishes were still meat-based, these were at least prepared in ways other than being grilled on a flame. It was also good to get many staple items like feijao preto carregado black beans, the fluffy toasted yucca/tapioca-based farofa and the porridge-like angu cornmeal.

They served everything buffet style, which despite my apprehension about buffets (is this by chance a common practice here?), turned out to be a great way to get exposure to a lot of different dishes. More importantly, I really enjoyed the quality of the food itself...so much that I'm still having trouble wiping this grin off my face (kinda like Jack Nicholson in Batman, although less creepy of course).

The thing that really got me started was the feijao amigo, which was basically a black bean soup, but thin and poured into little cylindrical cups like one might pour a little breakfast fruit juice into (in fact, I think they described it as "black bean juice"). Now, this was salty of course (and borderline excessively at that), but the rich fatty taste really lit up my eyes, and I knew that we were onto something good. I thus went off and grabbed a number of other items, including some tongue (sliced very thickly but remaining very tender) as well as the osso buco-like oxtail, which was pleasantly surrounded by lots of watercress (I love the radish-like bite of the stuff).

CanjiquinhaAnother one of my favorites was canjiquinha, which I believe was also some kind of grain but stewed into a tasty porridge-like substance that soothed on its way down. They also had some kind of shredded beef thing, but again, salty (unlike the sweet honey-like stuff from Thailand). I finished it all off with some of the candy-like licor de jenipapo, thus making for a very satisfying meal. It sure was a nice respite from all of the grilled meat, although of course that will inevitably be coming later as one must get churrasco while in Brazil. :)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TAM's Domestic Inflight Service in Brazil

A cheese sandwich and guarana

This was looking a bit dismal at first. The only thing we got on the first leg of this domestic flight up to Rio was a measly little piece of candy during boarding. We didn't even get a glass of water, thus making that little foam cup on Aerolineas Argentinas look generous.

An Arcor Butter ToffeeOnly when we reached the second (and heavily delayed) leg did a few sandwiches get handed out, which was a bit puzzling considering that it was the shorter of the two legs. At least guarana was available among the drink selections. It may not have been the caipirinha that I was fantasizing would be offered by a Brazilan airline, but I suppose that would have been as realistic as carving churrasco on the airplane too. Dream on.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Brazilian Soft Drinks

Antarctica Soda Limonada Industria Brasileira

Here's what I got when I asked for 7-Up here in Brazil - some local version. It didn't taste any different, but I had to remind myself again that "lemonade" means 7-Up in many countries outside of the US.

When one comes to Brazil though, one has to be sure to get guarana, a local caffeinated soft drink with alleged health benefits coming from the fruit. I don't know how to describe it aside from it tasting like fruit soda, but I had a couple different cans, including one from the Coke team as well as from the local Antarctica bottlers that did the limonada above. I couldn't really tell the difference between the two, but they were both relieving in the blazing heat.

Meat, Meat, and More Meat

Providing some chorizo

This really is turning out to be quite the carnivorous trip. Here's yet another plate of random cuts of barbequed meat, although this time I was able to grab a picante version of chimichurri to go with some of this. It was much more sour than it was spicy though, and reminded me a bit of giardiniera (they also had a couple no picante versions, but those were basically just sour). I thus went ahead without the chimichurri on these pieces.

Clockwise from bottom: picante chimichurri, chorizo, short ribs, some cut of beef, and leg of lamb...or something like thatOne other interesting thing to note is that most of the meat in these parts is generally cooked all the way through, which one might imagine to be quite blasphemous, especially with a tougher exterior created as a result. But there was enough fat and salt content in the chorizo and ribs that it didn't really matter...the burnt edges combined with the fat and salt actually tasted pretty good. In fact, it kinda seemed like a cross between beef jerky and bacon, if there were such a thing. Granted, this was a bit of a tourist trap that we ate at, but it still all went down quickly.

Margherita PizzaAfter so many days of eating straight meat though, I am admittedly getting a bit tired of it (something I never thought I would say). So I grabbed a quick pizza tonight. Why come all the way over here to get Italian food? Because there is a huge Italian population here, making Italian a good alternative to Argentinean meat, especially if you are of the anti-Atkins persuasion. I grabbed a simple margherita pizza, which did the job with a light (if slightly undercooked) crust and a healthy dose of olive oil drizzled on top. It may not have been Italy (and was a bit on the salty side too), but it was one of the better ones that I've had, and perhaps more importantly, I was very relieved to not be eating meat again. Note to self: next time you come down to Argentina, be sure to purge yourself clean of all meat for one week in advance such that you don't get sick of it so quickly again!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Foam Cup on Aerolineas Argentinas

A Foam Cup on Aerolineas ArgentinasNo, this isn't very exciting to look at. The only reason I'm mentioning it is because this was of so little value that I wonder why they even bothered with it. Basically, all they provided in economy class today was a selection of some basic drinks like Coke or water, poured out of a big plastic bottle into a tiny little foam cup that was already half filled with a giant ice cube such that you could barely get a couple sips out of it (I ended up eating the ice cube too like a dehydrated man combing the desert).

Granted, this domestic (and heavily delayed) flight was less than two hours, and I think that the cabin service was delayed until the tail end of the flight in part due to turbulence, so it's not like anyone can expect much here. But even with that, I would have thought to at least have one or two local Argentian selections at your disposal, or at least maybe a little bag of nuts or something. Oh well.

Alfajor Cookie Sandwiches from Argentina

From front: alfajores caicayen and alfajor de maicena

Dulce de leche is a sweet local milk-based spread not too much unlike Singaporean kaya, but brown in color rather than green. Spread between two cookies, this creates alfajor, which basically could be described as an Latin American version of kaya toast or PB&J sandwiches.

We grabbed two different versions at a random corner coffeeshop today: a small alfajor caicayen and a bigger alfajor de maicena, the key difference being the the type of cookie being used (apparently there are all sorts of other varieties around, including from the neighboring countries). This non-bread eater preferred the more compact former rather than the bigger fluffier latter, but in the end, the real treat was the spread itself, which had just the right degree of richness, sweetness, and thickness.

The spread is used quite heavily around here; I encountered some of it stuffed inside another random pastry at breakfast today, as well as inside a churro. So not all food around here is meat-based after all!

Hot chocolate with bags of sugar and sweetenerWhile we were at it, we also grabbed some cups of hot chocolate, something I failed to get on my last trip to Spain. We're not talking about any of that instant powdered Carnation crap we are used to. This stuff was about twice as thick...and unsweetened at that (sugar is of course at your disposal if desired). It probably wouldn't be too elegant to add Peppermint Schnapps to something so velvety though. :)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Some Local Argentinian Drinks

Imperial Cerveza Especial

Here's just a bit more in the ongoing search for local drinks. The first is another local beer, called Imperial Cerveza Especial. Admittedly, I don't really remember too much of the taste, but I was so tired and thirsty that it certainly was a huge relief from the heat of the sun here today.

Ser and Paso de los Toros

And here's a couple on the soft drink side. The pomelo-flavored Paso de los Toros tasted just like I would have thought (actually, this is from neighboring Uruguay, right?), but the Ser surprised me a bit as it was a bit on the thick side (not quite as thick as nectar, but getting there), yet it was still carbonated. Plus, the orange-peach combination was a bit different. Either way, they quenched the thirst when I needed it.

El Establo, Buenos Aires

Bife de chorizo with a few drops of some kind of sauce on the closer end of the plate

This place (489 Calle Paraguay, 4311-1639) came recommended by a family sitting next to me at Las Nazarenas yesterday. It was a much more humble and downscale place, and I don't think I even saw an asador fire pit in here (instead, they just had the flat parrilla grill). It didn't matter though - we were in here to get more steak (hey - this country apparently has one of the highest beef consumption rates in the world).

I picked up the bife de chorizo cut today, which is another popular one out here. Contrary to how it sounds, this cut has nothing to do with sausage. Instead, it's just a NY strip, although it seemed to have the taste of a ribeye. Either way, it was tastier than the bife de lomo thanks to some of that fat interweaved into the meat. They also had some bottles of sauce on the table, which was unclear to me if it were that local chimichurri or not (it tasted an helluva lot like A-1 Steak Sauce instead). Regardless, that vinegar-based stuff just covered up the great taste of the meat itself, so I didn't really use it too much.

I don't know if I'd go so far to say that this place was better than Las Nazarenas (maybe there were even better things to order here?), but it was tasty, and it worked for me. The good thing is that they offered half-orders, which is great considering the gargantuan sizes that are considered to be "normal." And most of these cuts were priced at about 20 Pesos; thanks to the beauty of the Argentine currency devaluation, that clocks in at a whopping US$7 or so. Gotta love it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Las Nazarenas, Buenos Aires

Bife de Lomo and Papas Fritas

After about 43 hours of door to door transport all the way from Singapore to Argentina, it was rewarding to finally make my way to a parrilla for some of the local asado grilling that Argentina is known for. This spot (1132 Reconquista, 54-11-4312-5559) was a total random selection as I walked down the street. When I saw a number of butterflied carcasses surrounding a huge pile of burning firewood (I think it's a local tree called quebracho?), I knew I had to stop in.

As one would expect of a place like this, all sorts of cuts of the cow were offered (including the innards). I settled on the bife de lomo, which was basically a cut of loin or filet mignon (ironically after all that whining about United Airlines lately), but nearly three inches thick. This delivered on all promises with a solid aroma and juicy inside despite being a bit on the well-done side, which is apparently the local preference. I admittedly still prefer Ruth's Chris with the sizzling butter on top for a bit more extra punch, but hey - this was Argentinan, and it was indeed a great cut of beef.

The empanada is in the lower right hand cornerNow, one interesting thing that they provided at the start of the meal was an empanada, which is a local meat-filled pastry that reminded me a bit of a Singaporean curry puff (or an Indian samosa). It was also interesting to find that their papas fritas (it's apparently typical to get fries or a salad with your steak) had the same fresh-cut-and-fried taste and texture as In-N-Out's fries, but whose grease was a touch tastier and whose cuts of potato were much more characteristically "human" than the uniformly cut stuff one gets at In-N-Out.

Quilmes CristalAnyway, this is definitely a very encouraging start to what is going to be a very carnivorous trip. Here is also another page to add to the ongoing tastings of local beer, this one being called Quilmes Cristal and seeming rather commonplace around here. It was fine, although I know that I'll definitely need to jump on the Argentinean wine soon too.

A Fruit Plate on United

A Fruit Plate on United

Here's just a quick fruit plate from United this morning. The kiwi was a bit dry but the pineapple was super ripe and sweet. And no omelette was offered. :)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cheese Tortellini on UA Biz Class

Cheese Tortellini on UA Biz Class

Yay! The upgrade request finally went through this time. And surprise, surprise...what is on the menu? None other than filet mignon. To my surprise though, they did have a tortellini dish, so I went for that instead. It wasn't anything great, and pretty much tasted like it looked: reheated pasta and sauce that made the former mushy and the latter dry. And the parmesan shavings on the side were dried out.

Well, this was on an airplane after all. At least the crab salad and Montrachet cheese starter was a nice break from the usual shrimp (as if I hadn't had enough crab already). And now finally I have a good seat to catch up on my zzz's and reset my body clock.

Bethesda Crab House, Maryland

A half dozen crabs

I've wanted to go hit a Maryland crab house for ages now, but never seemed to have gotten around to it on former trips to Washington, D.C. Since my layover at Dulles today was a whopping six hours though, I figured that I'd pop out of the airport real quickly to grab some of those blue crabs. I was told that Baltimore has some of the best places in the area, but with ugly afternoon traffic and a long drive to Baltimore from Dulles ahead, I decided to set my sights on Bethesda instead, where the appropriately named Bethesda Crab House (4958 Bethesda Avenue, 301-652-3382) awaited.

This was exactly what I was looking for: a straightforwardly no-frills shop with benches covered in newspaper and a very limited menu of basically just crabs (as well as some crab cakes, cole slaw, etc.). I called ahead for a half dozen crabs, and immediately came out six steaming hot crabs covered in Old Bay, complete with the requisite wooden mallet, knife, extra Old Bay, and vinegar.

What fun it was to eat these things, as I started to get the hang of the whole mallet-and-knife process (it almost seemed like a test of how good your skills were) and scooping out the crab butter from the inside. Despite being smaller than Dungeness crabs from the West Coast, these blue crabs had a surprising amount of meat (more than those flower crabs from back in Singapore). And while I still prefer the delicate taste of Dungeness flesh, the finely textured meat of these blue crabs was very addictive, especially when your Old Bay-covered fingers accidentally brush some of the salty (and mildly spicy) concoction off onto the meat as you crack it. Dipping in vinegar also provided a relieving contrast when needed. It's so beautiful when something so simple tastes so wonderful.

Decimated!

As usual with crabs though, don't come when you are hungry, don't come when you are in a rush, and don't come when you are dressed nicely. This is a down-and-dirty process that takes time, and calling before you go is strongly recommended: when I arrived at about 5 PM today, they were already turning away people, saying that they were out of crabs. Fortunately I secured and cleared my six crabs with ease, and I absolutely loved it. Now I'm returning to the airport complete with crab guts splattered all over my clothes (not to mention the smell of Old Bay in my fingers, no matter how many times I've tried to wash my hands). Since Dulles doesn't have shower facilities (ugh!), I just hope that my neighbor on the plane doesn't really notice. At least the business class upgrade went through on this third and final leg.