Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Singapore Noodles" in Singapore?

Sin-Chew Fried Bee Hoon

"Singapore Noodles" is such a common menu item at Chinese restaurants in the US that you take it for granted. So of course it was a bit of an awakening when I arrived in Singapore a number of years ago to find that one could not get that stir-fried curry-powder-seasoned rice vermicelli dish here. No, it's not because they just call it "noodles" here...you can get noodles here of course, but just none of it with that signature curry powder that makes it "Singapore Noodles."

Hence, I was a bit intrigued when I saw "Sin-Chew Fried Bee Hoon" (effectively, Singapore Noodles) on the menu at this little smoky shack called Brastaji Halal Seafood at Apollo Centre (#01-02, 9119-0366). Could this perhaps be the elusive Singapore Noodles that I was looking for?

Nope. There definitely wasn't any curry powder in this thing. This was just a very simple plate of greasy rice vermicelli. How ironic it is when one of the only places to get "authentic" Singapore Noodles is in the US rather than Singapore. I guess I can't blame folks back home who find it a bit weird when I spend 16 hours to fly across the Pacific Ocean and request a plate of Singapore Noodles from a Chinese restaurant there.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bombay Woodlands has moved...sorta

Bakala Bath

I was a bit shocked when passing by Tanglin Shopping Centre a couple weeks ago: Bombay Woodlands seemed to have shut down in favor of some fancy "Indian Grill" place. Thankfully, I realized later that Bombay Woodlands was still around, but just a number of doors down and in a much smaller rendition (#B1-12, 6836-6961) of its former self. In the process they got themselves some new placemats, porcelainware, and printed menus.

The food itself looked generally the same (although there was an oddly placed Mexican dosa on the menu...huh??). I selected a couple things that I'd never had before, most notably the bakala bath, which was some kind of cold rice mixed with yogurt and cucumber. I was hoping for a refreshing yet edgy taste, but it turned out to be quite a bore. Well, I guess that the rest of their items will always be there.

And in case you're wondering, that Indian Grill place is indeed run by the Bombay Woodlands people (apparently they started the other place just to be able to offer non-vegetarian food). What was more surprising to me though was that these guys are also behind Bombay Cafe. So all of that effort to go way out to Tanjong Katong Road to try what was allegedly the best chaat in Singapore was perhaps rather futile, given that it was run by the same guys who provided my very first taste of chaat right inside the city. Hmph!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

333 Bak Ku Teh, Balestier Road

Bak Ku Teh

Founder had a huge line tonight, so we popped on down to one of their neighbors a few doors down instead (and that's their competitor in the easterly direction BTW, not westerly). While still filled with mushy garlic cloves and meaty ribs, the broth wasn't quite as peppery nor fulfilling as I prefer. Next time Founder is that crowded, we'll probably just turn south toward Old Havelock Road.

Pork Knuckle from Brotzeit

Pork Knuckle

Here's the pork knuckle from Brotzeit. Similar to Baden-Baden's version, this featured crispy and tasty skin surrounding tender meat that just fell off the bone. But they did pre-slice this one a bit to make it easy to eat, not to mention dressing it up with a bit more garnishes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dumplings from Xiao Ping in Geylang

Chinese dumplings

Here's just a quick shot of the dumplings from the Whispering Man's new spot in Geylang. I'm really getting quite hooked on this guy's stuff. I wouldn't have thought so, given the mixed feelings that I had when I tried both his old shop for the first time and his new shop for the first time. But having eaten here three times in the past six days, I think it's safe to say that it has grown on me very quickly. He just keeps it simple and knows how to select the right ingredients and seasonings to bring a smile to my face.

Sausage Co. Hotdogs, Icon Village

Beef hot dog with sauerkraut and tomatoes

The Icon is a new housing development next door to the Amara Hotel, conveniently enough with a small retail mall on the ground floor. I went over there today to see if there were anything interesting, but half of the shops weren't even open yet. Without much else of a choice, I stopped at this little hot dog stand on the side (12 Gopeng Street #01-21, 6534-9876).

It seemed simple enough; pick your sausage and toppings. I grabbed a beef hot dog, topped it with some sauerkraut, tomatoes, and mustard, and down it went. While nothing to make me shout for joy, the dog was better than I thought it would be. Interestingly, the bun was like some of that soft local bread that's commonly baked around here.

Bockwurst with American beef chili and mashed potatoesIt was a bit small though, so I went back for another, this time grabbing the bockwurst. I knew better than to ask for chili (or as they called it, the "American beef chili"), but I wasn't going to jump to conclusions yet, and was hoping that it would surprise me. Tough chance...this chili was sweet (ugh!). And what's that weird-looking ball on top? A scoop of cold mashed potatoes (don't ask).

Clearly I need to go for better toppings next time, but at least the wiener itself was fine. And in case you're wondering why the surface in the background of the photos looks like cement, it's because this was just a outward-facing stand without any seating, so I just sat down on the ground and ate. That's probably all that this will be for me then: a quick snack in case I need a bite to or from the train station. There are a couple Korean restaurants slated to open at the Icon soon that I do want to check out though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kinara North Indian Shore Cuisine

Gosht Vindaloo and Safed Chawal

OK, a North Indian restaurant probably isn't the best place for vindaloo. But amidst all of the Indian restaurants out on Boat Quay, Kinara stood out from the crowd, particularly since I'd heard so many things about it in the past (57 Boat Quay, 6533-0412, plus another location in Holland Village).

I was a bit worried when the vindaloo arrived with a thin slice of tomato on top, which said "classy" to me rather than the grimey scorcher that I was looking for. And while it was a bit more refined (read: milder) than others that I've had, it still did the job of filling my belly in the end. I was probably more impressed by their mulligatawny soup, which was unexpectedly thin yet gently spicy and garlic-y enough for me to enjoy. I wonder what the rest of the food is like here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tuckshop, Tanjong Pagar Road

Steak Sandwich

I can't remember where I had read about this place (21 Tanjong Pagar Road #01-05, 6534-9287), but it was a good thing that somebody wrote about it, or else this place would be impossible to find (there wasn't really any signage outside, but it was next door to Oso). And once inside, it was clear that it really was a bar rather than a place to eat. They had happy hour drink promotions everywhere, a drum set in the corner, and pair of Technics 1200's (but horizontally oriented and with the dust covers still attached). There was only a very limited food menu; just a few sandwiches, salads, and pizzas. I went for the one thing that I read about: the steak sandwiches.

It didn't look too encouraging at first. The sandwich was stacked so high that I wondered how anyone could fit it into their mouth. Worse, it looked as if they simply just took one big steak, cut it in half, and stacked the two brown pieces on top of each other. Only when I looked closer did I realize that the top "patty" wasn't beef, but rather a portobello mushroom, complete with caramelized onions inside. And together with soft focaccia, it actually compacted itself down to bite-sized proportions once you gripped the thing in your hands.

The mushroom and onions got a thumbs up from me. The steak, however, was a bit puzzling: it was so tender that it (somewhat disturbingly) almost had the consistency of tofu. OK, I'm exaggerating, but was it naturally that tender? In either case, I suppose that it was a good thing, as a super-tender steak was much better than running into a tough unchewable piece of gristle halfway through the meal. I might not have liked this so much that I'd be coming back here right away, but it was better than I thought it would be.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"My Rice" Chicken Rice, Balestier Road

Chicken Rice

This was a completely random meal. Running an errand out on Balestier Road today, we stopped at a coffee shop to grab a quick bite (Wan Lee Food Court at 567 Balestier Road). I wasn't expecting anything special, but to my surprise, there was a hawker inside claiming to be the "former Mandarin Singapore Hotel Chatterbox chicken rice chef." Really? OK, let's give this one a shot.

Now, was it just me, or did this look like the exact same porcelainware that they used at Chatterbox? (before they remodeled into that plasticky place, that is) Food-wise, I guess it was fine; the chicken was tender and the rice was tasty. But for some reason I seemed to remember a little more "oomph" from the old Chatterbox version that I couldn't find here (especially the chili sauce). Then again, I wasn't exactly a regular at Chatterbox, so I may be totally wrong on that.

At S$5 (US$3.30) for the set, it seemed like a high price to pay for chicken rice. But they did give umlimited refills of rice with that, and it sure was a heck of a lot cheaper than Chatterbox in the end. And hey - it was on the same porcelainware.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A S$40 (US$27) Durian in Geylang

S$40 Durian

Damn, this durian was a whopping forty bucks (US$27)! I didn't choose it, nor did I really eat much of it (nor pay for it, thankfully), but the one bite I did have did seem to come across as a bit more polished than others that I've had. Then again, I don't really eat that much durian to begin with, so I really wouldn't know what was so special about this particular variety (it was the most expensive one that the guy had to offer). Is it like paying S$69 for a Japanese melon?

Xiao Ping Skewered Meat Shop, Geylang

Skewered Meat

At long last, the Whispering Man has resurfaced. After being forced out of Chinatown due to increased rent, one of our favorite guys around has moved right into the island's red light district (2 Lorong 23 Geylang, 9677-1160). And instead of focusing on his hot pot again (an item that had quickly become a commodity around here), he has taken a different route by selling some kind of Northern Chinese skewered meat.

I'd never had anything like this before, and I was originally expecting it to be a koobideh-sized concoction. Instead, these were tiny little skewers, a bit akin to satay or yakitori (indeed, one of the Chinese characters in the name of his shop was kanji for kushi, and he even had one of those hooded contraptions to grill it in). But the seasonings were completely different. Dusted with fennel seeds and chili powder, this thing tasted like that Mongolian hot pot stuff. He also gave us some kind of mala soup, which was surprisingly dark rather than red, and filled with tofu skin, kelp, and flat rice noodles. We rounded off the meal with a side of Northern Chinese boiled dumplings, which also had some kind of prominently-figured seasoning in it (was it five-spice powder?).

Admittedly this wasn't so arousing that I'd come running all the way out here regularly just to eat it, but I definitely liked it, and was glad to have tried such a unique thing. It is just such a shame that his stall was buried in an alley that made it hard for it to stand out from the crowd. If you do come down, look for the New Good Place Eating House closer to Geylang Road with the yellow plastic chairs and enter the alley behind the New Cathay Hotel. His white signboard is a few stalls down (if you hit the local seafood and satay stalls at the end, then you've gone too far). And oh yes - if you call him in advance, he'll still prepare his old hot pot for you.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tong Fong Fatt, Maxwell Food Centre

Chicken Rice

I wasn't explicitly trying to get chicken rice today. But a stroll through Maxwell Food Centre brought me to a stall (number 17 with the Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice sign) with an amusing string of carcasses hanging in the glass case that I'd never really seen before, almost like the alien in Predator who proudly displayed his collection of human skulls.

His trophy caseWell, the chicken itself was tender and surprised me with a touch of sesame oil. But the sauce on top was also a tad sweet (and the soup was even sweeter, all the while being a bit on the bland side), thus definitely forcing this one far below its nearby competitor Tian Tian for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

More from Menya Shinchan

Salty Dried Sardine Ramen - Rich

OK, this wasn't exactly the instant noodles that I was referring to last night, but the price of this meal was literally lower by a factor of ten, so I could still feel pretty guilt-free. Besides, something about the food was drawing me back here despite those mixed feelings the other day.

Perhaps it was all the signs around the shop stating that "dried sardines taste ramen is exploding [in] popularity." I was curious, so I grabbed a sardine-based bowl in the rich salt-based option, the broth of which which turned out to be thin and savory. And perhaps more importantly, the noodles were delightfully firm...almost to the point where they seemed nearly raw, but in a very good way. I think I still prefer the smokier taste of the pork-based broth, but the refreshing feel of this bowl was fitting for today.

And yes, I did finally grab the cheese gyoza, which was probably the best part of the meal tonight. The cheese wasn't in the stuffing, but rather sprinkled around in the pan. This formed a perfectly browned skin that connected the individual pieces together, and ended up tasting very much like cheese dosai. And there was even a little squirt of a Cheese Whiz-like stuff on the side of the plate for you to dip into if you want (evil laugh). My opinion of this place has taken a very abrupt turn for the better, and I'm definitely coming back for more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant, Singapore

Matsusaka BeefOh geez - this was another major reaming in the past few days. We knew that this place was expensive (270 Orchard Road #01-15, 6737-1160), after having browsed their menu at the door a year or two ago but never entering. Tonight we were in the neighborhood and weren't very hungry, so we figured what better time to finally come here to try it out; the logic being that if we weren't that hungry, we wouldn't order that much, thus keeping prices down.

In retrospect, I laugh at how ridiculous that sounded. Our biggest mistake: sitting down at the sushi bar and telling our chef to start us off with one of his recommendations. What came first? A plate of very thinly sliced sea bream, which was very refreshing, although I felt it necessary to go very light on the accompanying ponzu sauce, lest it overpower the taste. Next we asked him for "something aburi," seeing how the row of sushi chefs frequently seared items behind the bar. Our guy suggested beef, to which we agreed. Notice how he just said "beef." Yes, those thin slices were very tender and dressed up to become very tasty, but it wasn't until the end of the meal that we realized that that "beef" was Matsusaka beef.

Kanpachi SashimiMind you, all of this time, we weren't really conscious of the prices, and just kept ordering a few more various cuts of sashimi and a closer of ochazuke. When the bill finally arrived, my eyes popped out of their sockets upon seeing the total break through the double-century mark (with the first two aforementioned items accounting for about half of that). Oh crap! [striking forehead with an open palm and shaking head] While the initial strategy did hold true in that we really didn't order that much to eat (only about six items between the two of us), we failed to realize the cost of those individual servings.

To their credit, I guess they do have a number of much more affordable meals available here, so that's just what we get for sitting down at the bar and asking for recommendations without a menu. And I suppose that the high cost can be justified by the imported seafood, ultra-meticulous sushi chef skills, and the uber-intensive service (there were so many wait staff around that our plates got changed a countless number of times). Sure, it was good. And yes, it was healthy. But clearly we can't afford to come here again, and will be relegated to eating instant noodles for the rest of the week as a result. [stumbling away with a limp]

Monday, July 16, 2007

Menya Shinchan Japanese Noodle Restaurant

Soya Sauce Pork Bone Ramen Super Rich Sinjiro with Vegetables

I never even knew that these guys existed until it was pointed out to me some time ago. Tucked away from sight inside the Riverside View courtyard (30 Robertson Quay #01-05, 6732-0114) sat this little ramen shop with an extensive menu, not to mention a very well-stocked selection of condiments at every station. After looking through everything that they had to offer, I finally settled on the "Soya Sauce Pork Bone Ramen Super Rich Sinjiro with Vegetables," which is only available on weekdays.

GyozaI wasn't too impressed at first. This thing was loaded with so much cabbage that it reminded me a bit of champon, something that hasn't necessarily been one of my faves. It took quite some time to clear all of the cabbage and bean sprouts on top before finally reaching the noodles underneath, by which point I was a bit stuffed. The gyoza was a bit soggier than I was hoping for too, despite coming out with a potentially exciting skin from the bottom of the pan connecting all the individual units together.

The funny thing is though that I can't stop thinking about this place. Maybe it was those delightfully firm and thick noodles, or maybe it was those peculiarly placed drops of soy sauce on top of the cabbage. Maybe it was those tender chunks of chasyu, or maybe it was that surprising gyoza stuffing (was that some kind of fish or even bonito inside that I detected?). So despite not really liking it when I ate it, I want to go back for it again (yes, I'm puzzled too). They had some kind of cheese gyoza on the menu that sounded particularly interesting too.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Patara Fine Thai Cuisine, Singapore

From Front: Essan Grilled Pork Neck and Aubergine Stir-fried with Shrimp Paste, Chilli and Basil

Man, did we get duped tonight. Drawn here by a S$40 (S$27) voucher from American Express, we figured that getting S$80 (US$54) worth of food - the voucher's condition of a minimum spend - for only half of that sounded like a good deal, right? It wasn't quite that easy. Not realizing that things like the tom yum goong were charged on a per person basis (at a whopping S$12/US$8 each, mind you), we unconsciously broke through the triple digit mark when picking our dishes. And while we got the forty bucks off, our price tag was still rather high after adding in the tax and service charges afterwards. Damn! We got suckered in by one of those half-off deals again.

Was the food here (163 Tanglin Road #03-14, Tanglin Mall, 6737-0818, with another location at Raffles City) worth it at least? The tom yum goong was refreshingly spicy, and a couple other items fared fine too, but I was really bummed with the "grilled pork neck" off the Essan Signatures section of the menu. This was supposed to be namtok, right? Instead of exhibiting the excitingly spicy taste that I was expecting of Issan cuisine, the sauce was thick and sweet. Was this a result of them billing themselves as having a modern twist to their food?

In the end, I suppose that they did use quality ingredients, and the classy linen-strewn ambience helped to justify the lofty prices. But given my disappointment with the pork neck (and simply being accustomed to paying very little for Thai food), this ended up being a rather regretful meal in the end. At least we had some extra food to take home for a snack later.

Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle, Pek Kio Market

S$3 Soup Prawn Noodle

Eight months after someone recommended this place did I finally make it down here today. One has to sort through all of the other competing prawn noodle shops here, but it looked like it was stall #01-15. And it's good that I came here for breakfast, as I actually came down here a few months ago for an early dinner, only to find them closing up shop already.

I was a bit taken aback when I arrived today though, as the lady literally yelled at me for not being able to effectively convey what I wanted in my bowl. I mean, sure there are some grumpy proprietors around, but this one was raising really raising her voice. I mumbled a few expletives to myself after the incident, wondering if the food were really that good.

S$3 Dry Prawn NoodleFortunately, it was. My first bite into the tender longitudinally cut and peeled shrimp was a good sign...and I got the el cheapo S$3 (US$2) version too. Following up with a bite of the firm noodles only further reinforced that good impression. It didn't even occur to me until later that she had given me the soup version (I guess I can see why she was frustrated if I didn't even make it clear which version I wanted). The little cubes of fried pork lard sitting in the broth instantly got me thinking that the dry version must be even better with that. Even if she were going to verbally abuse me again, that first bowl was encouraging enough that I went back to grab the dry one.

Interestingly, the second time around, she was a completely different person: warm, engaging, and smiling. It was almost as if I had passed her initial hazing ritual and was now initiated into the club. And quickly did she deliver the dry version for me. What seemed to be a rather heavy use of minced garlic here was a bit of a turn off for me at first, but nonetheless the rest of the bowl still worked. Perhaps it was because it was rescued by the radioactively orange soup, which exhibited a touch of sweetness to it that was surprisingly not annoying to me, but instead gave it just the right touch of refinement to make it inspiring. I'm not exactly a prawn noodle expert here, so I am having trouble making a comparison to some others that I've had. But I can see what all the fuss is about and I'm glad that I came.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cod on UA Biz Class

Grilled cod fish with clam tomato sauce

Here's the "grilled cod fish with clam tomato sauce" from United tonight. While not anything that I'm going to miss, it was more tender than I thought it would be. And perhaps more significantly, filet mignon was not offered as a menu choice.

Martens Pils Beer from Belgium?

Martens PilsThis was just a random beer from United's Red Carpet Club at Hong Kong airport. Its aftertaste wasn't something that I particularly enjoyed, but it helped take off the edge after this long overseas flight (and especially since the air conditioning at the airport here didn't seem to be working very well today). Is it really from Belgium like the can states though? The lightness of it doesn't seem too fitting, reminding me a bit of local Chinese beers instead.

No Filet nor Omelette on United!

Korean barbecue beef with bulgogi sauce

Whoa - did I read that menu correctly? United's menu back to Asia today did not feature any filet mignon nor omelette! Instead, there was a "Korean barbecue beef with bulgogi sauce" and "pesto ciabatta with mesquite turkey." Of course, the menu's name for the former led me to believe that it was going to be thinly-sliced bulgogi, so I was a bit surprised when I saw those huge chunks of meat arrive. It wasn't something so tasty that I'd crave it, but at least it was a break from the usual (and despite the tough leathery look in the photo, this stuff actually crumbled apart quite easily).

Pesto ciabatta with mesquite turkeySimilarly, the pesto ciabatta (or "hot sandwich" as the flight attendant put it) reminded me a bit of the open-faced sandwich I had on a domestic UA flight sometime back and was a bit too heavy on the bread for me. But hey - at least it wasn't an omelette. Too bad there was a human hair in my sandwich though. The shrimp in the "lemon grass skewered shrimp and Genoa salami" starter earlier in the day were peculiarly absent from my plate too, even though my neighbor got them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Burger Joint, San Francisco

Hamburger and Fries

Here's an updated photo of that burger from Burger Joint (at SFO's International Terminal today, but with other locations in the Lower Haight and the Mission). These guys take a healthier tack than the artery-clogger that I was looking for earlier, but the freshness and simplicity are still qualities that I really wish others would aspire to. Witness the perfectly firm tomato slice, thin and mild red onions, and just the right amount of mayo spread onto the crown.

And while they overdid the thin Niman Ranch patty to a disturbingly dry state again (I should have asked them to keep it rare instead...was it for food safety reasons?), at least it gave it such an excitingly flame-broiled taste that it would make Burger King jealous. I also liked how they somehow made the thick-cut fries crispy without being greasy. This was all very refreshing, and just goes to show how simple yet quality ingredients are all that one really needs. Rock on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tanto Japanese Restaurant, Sunnyvale

Natto Tofu

Before I had moved to Singapore, one of my favorite places to eat in the San Francisco Bay Area was Tanto, an izakaya on Saratoga Avenue. The food was so amazing that we were regulars, literally eating there every Friday night after work for several months and even having bottles of sake kept with them. I haven't been back there since then, but it looks like they have since expanded to Sunnyvale (1063 E. El Camino Real, 408-244-7311). We went there tonight to revisit this old favorite of ours...not even needing to look at the menu, in fact, as we seemed to know nearly every single dish that we wanted by heart.

Unfortunately, things seemed to have changed a bit. Sure, the menu was generally still featuring izakaya fare. But the daikon sarada that arrived first was shredded a bit more crudely than I remembered, and served as a indicator for what was to come next. The gariku suteki, which used to come in a little hot plate with nothing but steak and garlic chips sitting in bubbling butter, came out sitting on a little bed of French fries tonight. And while some other items like the asari bata and potato mentaiko stuck true to form, it just wasn't the same mindblowing meal that we had become so accustomed to.

I suspected that maybe it was just my memory messing with me again, but my buddies who still live in the area concurred with my disappointment, so maybe it wasn't just my imagination. We used to like this place so much that we felt that it was better than many izakaya in Japan. And while the food was still very far above average tonight, it was hard to make the same claim now. I am not sure what had happened; maybe it was their expansion into other outlets, or maybe it was the fact that one of their chefs left and started his own place (but I wasn't as excited about Gochi either). Oh well. At least I live closer to Japan these days.

Number 24 from Togo's Sandwiches

Togo's Number 24 on Parmesan Bread

I guess this has become a bit of an unintentional nostalgia run. Out of convenience before rushing off to a meeting today, we hit up Togo's, a Northern California sandwich chain that I haven't been to in ages. They've changed their logo a bit, and the bread selection seems different (wasn't there one with onion baked on the outside?), but the signature numbering scheme is still there, including my favorite number 24, or turkey and avocado, complete with pepperoncini to give it some bite. While definitely not as amazing as Potbelly Sandwich Works, Togo's always fared better than Subway in my mind precisely because of all of those ingredients.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Versailles Cuban Food, Los Angeles

Chicken and Pork Combo

Here's another one of my favorites from LA, and fortunately for me, it looked like they conveniently opened up a shop that was on my way to the airport today (1000 N. Sepulveda Blvd in Manhattan Beach, 310-937-6829, with several other locations across the Westside).

The thing these guys are known for is the famoso pollo versailles, or their namesake chicken. (In case you're wondering about the odd French name, Versailles is apparently in reference to the glory days of Cuba right after the Treaty of Versailles was signed.) That chicken is so darned good that I've never ordered anything else here, despite the fact that many varieties of steak and pork on the menu sounded pretty enticing. So I was happy to order a combo platter today that featured both the chicken and pork.

And the thing that makes their chicken so unique is the sauce slathered all over it. I remembered it being garlicky (I think someone once said that there was enough garlic in it to kill a small animal?), but it had been so long since I last had this that I had forgotten about how sour it was too...in a good way. The shredded pork from my combo plate was sitting in the same sauce with raw onions, making you pucker your lips and salivate as you ate. And in case the sauce got too sour, you could always take a bite of those caramelized plantains to offset it. Yum...I'd forgotten about how good this place was.

Side note: one nice addition to the annals of local drinks is Materva, apparently a Cuban soda based on yerba mate. This stuff is now bottled out of Miami.

Breakfast at LA's Grand Central Market

Carnitas Taco

My company accidentally put me in a hotel in Downtown LA last night, which was a bit less convenient for my meetings today. But the silver lining in all of this is that I could easily hop on over to the Grand Central Market (317 S. Broadway, 213-624-2378) for a quick breakfast before heading off. There were several options there of course, but it was clear that the best choices were going to be from the Mexican stalls. I grabbed a carnitas taco and gordita, both of which featured whopping amounts of shredded pork and fresh seasonings that went down in the blink of an eye. It was also fun to stand and eat off the ledge in front of the stall.

Grand Central MarketOf course, there were plenty of fruits and vegetables on sale too, but my interest was piqued by the guys selling all sorts of chili peppers. While the guy I talked to didn't have any of the infamous habanero, he promised to give me the next hottest thing: dried chile morita mexicano. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm bringing a bag of it home and am hopeful that it will similarly elicit some tears and heavy panting upon consumption.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers, LA

From left: cheeseburger and tamale at Tommy's

I can't believe that out of all of those years that I spent in LA, I never went to Tommy's, a 24-hour institution out here (2575 W. Beverly Blvd at Rampart, 213-389-9060, with other locations across SoCal). I guess that I'd always been satiated by some of the knockoffs, like Big Tomy and the like (sounds like the X-berto's phenomenon down in San Diego).

Anyway, the original Tommy's is known for its chili cheeseburgers (actually, everything on their menu has chili on it), and that's exactly what I came for here tonight. Even at nearly 10 PM on a Sunday, the line was getting long, but I got my burger and tamale quickly and placed myself at the standing-room-only shelves along the walls of the shop outside, reminding me a bit of Superdawg in Chicago.

If you're wondering where the tamale is in the picture, it's on the right of the burger, buried underneath the chili, onions, pickles, and tomato slice. Actually, this chili, apparently the secret to this stand's success, was more of a baby food-like goo, rather than a more traditional chili with discernable beans and meat. And while it wasn't very spicy (some pickled peppers on the side helped), I guess I can see why this stuff is so popular; its mushiness did go well with the rest of the ensemble (the patty is very thin here, by the way). Despite it looking like a big messy slathering, it surprisingly wasn't that messy to eat.

Admittedly, I still prefer the non-chili-laden egg burger at Big Tomy's though. Maybe I've just had too much chili cheese [insert your choice of meat here] recently, but I'm glad I finally came down here after so many years to see what all of the fuss was about. No doubt this stuff would hit the spot after a night of drinking.

Cioppino from The Fish Market, CA


When in California, eat Californian food, right? One local dish that I haven't eaten in a very long time is cioppino, a seafood stew from Italian immigrants in San Francisco. And while I knew that suburban outlets of The Fish Market weren't going to be like local joints up in SF, time was a bit too tight today for a run into the city. Besides, I'd always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for these guys, and hoped that they could at least do the dish partial justice.

ArtichokeUnfortunately, their cioppino turned out to be the low point in the meal, as the slightly mushy quality of the seafood left a bit to be desired. The taste of the broth was still savory with all of the mussels, fish, squid, clams, shrimp, and dungeness crab contributing to it, but I was hoping for something a bit more refreshing.

Anchor Steam Beer and Sourdough BreadFortunately, the very light juice from a starter of steamed littleneck clams worked out well, and I also successfully scored an artichoke this time. Having an Anchor Steam and sourdough bread (one of the few forms of bread that this non-bread eater enjoys) on the side further helped to console my desire for local food. But next time, I'll probably stick to those skewered shrimp instead of the cioppino.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Happy Hound, Los Gatos, California

Chili Cheese Dog and Fries

This place was an old favorite of ours when we were growing up (15899 Los Gatos Blvd, 408-358-2444). I had particularly good memories of the burger, and was coming here today with the intent of grabbing that, especially since I haven't had much luck getting a real greasy burger in Singapore (over there they are oftentimes made of unnecessarily thick patties, all the while lacking the artery-clogging taste that a good burger should exhibit).

Yet for some reason, I ended up getting a chili cheese dog instead, probably because it seemed fitting to get it when the place is called the "Hound." The shredded cheese on top was just as comforting as I remembered it, but I was rather let down with the chili, being pale in comparison to Pink's in LA. Don't get me wrong; it was still a decent chili that was by no means bad (and maybe my memory of the food here has been distorted by my many years of absence), but I was also slightly let down by the dog itself, which didn't really feature much snappiness in the casing.

I'm still glad I came though. On its own merits, it was still a very tasty hot dog, and certainly much better than others I've had recently. The crowded countertop environment was still the same, and the light yet tasty fries were better than I remembered them. I do want to come back again and get the burger. Hopefully that one still tastes like that magnificent beast that I remember from back in the day.

An Unintentional Stop at Krispy Kreme

From front: Original Glazed and Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled

I didn't mean to make Krispy Kreme my first stop in the US (honest!). I just wanted to pull off the road to grab something to drink. But since they were right in front of me with the neon "hot light" on, I figured that I might as well grab a doughnut.

Mmm...doughnuts!OK...maybe that was two. But I haven't been in any mood to wait in that ridiculous line at the local doughnut shop in the basement of Raffles City Shopping Centre back in Singapore, so I guess I can half-justify ingesting these excessively sweet little things.

Besides, I got to check out Google's free municipal Wi-Fi service here in Mountain View, which was used to upload this post. It was a refreshingly easy registration process, by the way, with literally only one button to click and no forms to fill, assuming that you already have a Google account and are logged in.

Variations on UA's Filet Mignon and Omelette

Shiitake mushroom omelette with Mornay sauce

Pan-seared filet mignon with porcini sauceIt was no surprise that United was serving filet mignon for dinner and an omelette for breakfast again. But at least there was some variation this time that generally worked for the better. The "pan-seared filet mignon with porcini sauce" was encrusted with lots of coarsely ground black pepper that I liked (even if the greyish color made it look rather lifeless), while the "shiitake mushroom omelette with Mornay sauce" was, well, filled with some shiitake mushrooms that put a nice spin on it. It sure was a break from the routine.

Ebeneezer's Kebab, Hong Kong

Doner Kebab, or as they call it, Lamb Spicy

With the demise of Dharma's in Singapore, getting a post-drinking kebab late at night has not been easy. So of course while in HK, I jumped at the opportunity to hit up the ever so convenient Ebeneezer's (89 Lockhart Road in Wanchai, 2529-3738, with other locations in TST, LKF, and Discovery Bay), which as usual was overflowing with patrons from the nearby pubs also craving this delightfully nasty treat.

I grabbed the popular #1 doner kebab (or as they put it when I ordered, "lamb spicy," in reference to my choice of meat and sauce). I don't suppose that there is much else to say here except for the fact that all of this flavorful goodness was exactly what this beer-filled belly needed. Ahhh...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Dai Pai Dong in Fo Tan, Hong Kong

Chinese Escargot

Dai pai dongs are basically outdoor eating establishments in Hong Kong, and apparently they are quickly becoming a rarity these days, in favor of more sterile air-conditioned venues (it's odd to think that too when you're so used to eating in the many non-aircon places in Singapore and Malaysia...I guess this is basically like a cze cha?). So I'm really glad that we made the very long trek out of the city to Fo Tan, which apparently has a rather famous spot for chicken congee and roasted pigeon. There were three big establishments in this center; we ate at the one on the left called Chun Chun (2697-3835).

Blue Girl BeerThe meal started with the usual wash-your-utensils-in-hot-tea ritual so common in HK. And perhaps a bit more amusingly (not to mention fun) was the subsequent process of dumping the "used" tea on the ground, a nice perk of being outdoors on little stools. Of course we grabbed the pigeon and congee, the former of which tasted like a nice little salty duck, while the latter came in that nice mushy form with nearly indistinguishable grains of rice that I love about the Cantonese version. We also had some kind of local crawdad/shrimp thing. I don't know what these were called (nor did they have much flesh inside after shelling them), but being greasy and salty, they were a perfect accompaniment to some beer (despite what the "Imported Blue Girl Premium Beer" name might lead one to believe, this was a local Chinese beer).

Actually, my favorite of the bunch was probably the so-called Chinese escargot, which naturally featured snails (and even a basket of garlic bread on the side), but in a mildly spicy Chinese sauce. Upon pulling the body out of the shell with a skewer, you find that it is much longer and firmer than what we are used to in the French variety (I presume that these were aquatic snails rather than terrestrial?). The dish had the added bonus of some huge chunks of stewed daikon sitting at the bottom of the pan. We closed off the meal with another surprise: stir-fried vegetables featuring entire cloves of garlic and bacalhau (think: neighboring Portuguese influence of Macau). Anyway, that was a fun meal (yes, I washed my hands of the grease afterwards with the hot tea, pouring it onto the concrete below), and I'm glad that I got to try so many unique things.

Poached Eggs and Filet on UA Biz Class

Poached eggs on filet mignon with Hollandaise sauce

It wasn't surprising to see UA serving filet mignon again. But what was surprising was that it was being served for breakfast. And that turned out to be a good thing, since this "poached eggs on filet mignon with Hollandaise sauce" featured a nice small (and tender) cut of meat that worked quite well with everything else.

Nice one. And it sure beat that usual omelette routine that they have going.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Trang Tiem An, Joo Chiat Road

Banh Mi

This was an old recommendation that we finally got around to checking out tonight. All the way out near Geylang Serai (82 Joo Chiat Road at the Eastern Wind coffeeshop) was a little stall serving what seems to be the closest thing to real Vietnamese in Singapore...that I've been able to find, anyway. We grabbed quite a few things, but the best of the bunch was the banh mi, which featured super light bread and tasty pate to beat the pants off that Baguette place at Raffles City. We liked these so much that we got seconds.

We of course also grabbed an obligatory bowl of pho, which did indeed come out with very spicy chili peppers in it. Unfortunately the broth was a bit sweeter than I prefer, and that taste also carried through into another random bowl of something that featured short stubby rice noodles and some kind of mystery meat. Really - I had no idea what those little squiggly things in my bowl were. I just told him to give me the dac biet, or "special," and I got cuts of what appeared to be some tube-like thing, some other dark organ meat (with a not-so-pleasant taste to it, I might add), as well as a knuckle or something. Even if I didn't like it, it did remind me of stuff that I did find in Vietnam. They had Vietnamese snails if you wanted them, and even though the goi cuon was sitting pre-made in the glass case, it was still much fresher, livelier, and firmer than those horribly limp things at Pho Hoa.

Some dac biet surpriseNow, before anyone comes rushing here expecting a nice elegant meal (especially the person who seemed to take issue with "mistresses" dining near them some time ago), be forewarned that you're going to find what appeared to be "staff" from some of the neighboring pubs down the street eating here. But if you ask me, I'd consider that to be a bit of an endorsement, even if the sweetness of the pho will discourage me from making another run at this place.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Light Yet Pricey Dinner at Hediard

Croq’ Ferdinand

Here's the Croq’ Ferdinand tartine from Hediard, featuring gruyere cheese on the outside and Parma Ham with mornay sauce on the inside. Actually, these tartines weren't exactly very filling, so I also picked up the tartine of the day (which today featured shrimp and tomatoes in a veal-based sauce or something) as well as the gazpacho soup. All of these were tasty and fresh, with the gazpacho in particular being on par with many that I've had in Spain.

And while this all was light and pleasing to the the stomach, it was rather painful to the wallet considering that each tartine cost around S$20 (US$13). Throw in the soup and those two Perriers that I had, and it sure added up quickly...I've gotta be a bit more careful next time.

Benny's at Maxwell Food Centre

Hungarian Beef Goulash

I read about this place in the Sunday Times not long ago, and was in the vicinity today, so I stopped by to check it out (Maxwell Food Centre #01-16). Now, I'm hardly in any position to be able to attest to the authenticity of the Hungarian Beef Goulash, apparently one of the owner's claims to fame. But it was tender and tasty enough on its own merits, despite not really being spicy and all the while having what seemed to be an excessive amount of garlic.

While I might not necessarily rush back here for this, it was better than I was expecting for a "Western" hawker stall (maybe I'll come back for some cheese-stuffed pork thing here that sounded rather intriguing). Interestingly, this guy also runs an F&B consulting business on the side; you've gotta give him due respect for taking a risk and doing something different.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Whoa...Tanglin Marketplace has Artichokes!

Artichokes in Singapore!!

Being from California, I pretty much grew up eating artichokes. But living on the equator now means that getting artichokes are nearly impossible, and my trips to more temperate climates unfortunately were not timed well with artichoke season either. So I was quite surprised the other day when I noticed that the supermarket at the basement of Tanglin Mall had artichokes (whoa...that required a double take!). They were a bit on the small side (not to mention expensive at about S$18.30 per kilogram, or basically around US$3 a head), but I was so excited to see this that I had to grab some.

Yeah, I had to prepare them at home, but steaming them in a pot with some salt and lemon juice isn't exactly rocket science. Besides, SanoBar no longer offers artichoke due to lack of demand. Here's to hoping that the supermarket keeps selling them then.