Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vietro at the CPF Building

Beef Noodle Soup Combo

Similar to that cluster of sandwich shops out on Robinson Road, the number of Vietnamese lunch spots out here in the CBD keeps building. This one (79 Robinson Road #01-07, 6223-6964) isn't even a standalone store; it's just a subset menu of that commercialized PastaMania chain, who has an outlet here.

And that feeling came through in the food too: the broth was mildly sweet and synthetic tasting, and they already pre-dunked all of the veggies into it, including the lime (you could opt for extra bean sprouts, basil, and chili for another fifty cents though). In the end, I could still eat it, but I'd rather head on over to Pho 99 instead.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pho 99 Vietnamese Delights, Singapore

Pho Nam

Whoa - here is another Vietnamese place that has popped up in the CBD (58 Amoy Street). It was better than I thought it would be; even though the stingy volume of bean sprouts were pre-placed into the bowl, they provided a hearty amount of basil and even cuts of saw-leaf herb. The broth was not too cinnamon-y, and the goi cuon were fresh. And they even boasted of Trung Nguyen branded coffee from Vietnam!

What a change Singapore has seen in Vietnamese food lately. Just a couple years ago I was whining about the lack of Vietnamese places around here, and these days they are practically everywhere. Either that, or I just never knew that these places existed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wine Garage, Riverside Point, Singapore

The Garage Burger

I normally would not go to a store named Wine Garage given that I'm really not much of a wine person. Yet I kept hearing story after story about how good the food was here, so I came by on my way home tonight to check it out (30 Merchant Road, #01-07, 6533-3188).

I'm glad that I did. All I grabbed was a simple burger, but it was so tender and tasty (and the bun was so light and buttery) that it didn't even need the extra bacon topping that people seemed to have raved about. Granted, the patty was so juicy that it nearly became an Eddie Murphy welfare burger as the juices poured out of it, but I inhaled this thing so quickly that the bun didn't get much of a chance go mushy. The fries were done more like tasty chips, and you've gotta love the fact that they bring out hummus with crispy flatbread to every table.

What perhaps made me even more happy was the fact that the service was very down to earth, contrary to any stereotype about pretentious wine snobs. They were attentive without being excessive, and confident in what they were doing. Thumbs up for me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bishamon Sapporo Ramen, Great World City

Special Miso Ramen

I was kinda looking forward to the opening of this new place (1 Kim Seng Promenade #01-21B, 6235-2890), but wasn't so excited after seeing how they finally presented themselves. Well, seeing that they claimed to hail from Sapporo, I appropriately grabbed the Special Miso Ramen, and the good thing is that it was tastier than I thought it would be. They kept the noodles satisfyingly firm too.

But alas, I won't be making any extra effort to come back, in large part just because I'm more partial to Kyushu ramen than Sapporo (miso ramen usually strikes me as excessively salty). Too bad that their gyoza wasn't even available tonight either. If anything, this just reminded me that a visit to Miharu is long overdue.

Friday, October 26, 2007

La Forketta Gastronomia Italiana, Singapore

Meat Lasagna

Based on outside appearances alone, I could never really get too excited about this place (491 River Valley Rd #01-01, 6836-3373). It had a cheesy-sounding name, ultra-commercialized decor and logo, and a pizza/pasta-heavy menu (our expressionless waitress thought that risotto was a type of beer, BTW). So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed a number of items here.

The bowl of bread that came to each table was encouraging. Light, fresh, and inclusive of tomato sauce-topped varieties that almost resembled pizza, the bread got me quite excited, especially since I usually don't like bread that much. I had a good time with a couple of the baked items too, such as the baked penne pasta with meatballs, which were topped with cheese and breadcrumbs and done just long enough to get it slightly crispy on top. The meat lasagna, while not necessarily crispy on top like I like it, was still super rich from all of the cheese too. My, how deceiving appearances can be.

Still, it wasn't a total home run. A couple of the (boiled) pastas that we had were nothing too inspiring, and were also a tad overpriced considering that they were just pasta: around S$20-25 (US$13-17) each...and they even surprised us with a S$4.50 (US$3) charge for that bowl of bread that they shoved onto your table without asking. Perhaps the pizzas would be more remarkable; even though we didn't try any, they did seem to be moving them in heavy volumes tonight. Well, given the prices, I wouldn't make any extra effort to come here. But the baked items that I had were better than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yakitori Uma, Orchard Plaza

This was supposed to be negima but I think they swapped this for some garlic thing

This is a new yakitori place (150 Orchard Road #01-26, 6734-8368) that I noticed a few weeks ago while it was still under construction. Hoping that it had finally opened by now, we came by tonight to check it out. Fortunately, they were open.

They had all sorts of the usual kushiyaki favorites, most of which fared fine despite some very minor nitpicking (e.g., the kawa, while tasty, was not as thin nor crispy as I would have ideally wanted). And despite the name of the restaurant, basashi was nowhere to be found. But by and large, each skewer worked for me.

What was perhaps more notable was the fact that they had a kushiage section on the menu. All lightly battered and piping hot from the deep fat fryer, these little bad boys brought memories of Osaka screaming back to us. Seriously...someone should just open a dedicated kushiage place in Singapore; there are plenty of yakitori places here as it is. If I come back, it will likely be more for the fried goods.

The Cathay Restaurant, Singapore

Baked BBQ Pork Pastry

These guys (2 Handy Road #02-01, 6732-6623) apparently have quite a bit of history in Singapore, and have recently risen from the ashes at the new Cathay building. I didn't expect much from this place, figuring that it would be just another Chinese restaurant in the city, but I left pleasantly impressed.

We had all sorts of things today, including some dim sum that I had no complaints about (and certainly liked the Cantonese style chili sauce). But what really got me going was the deep fried crispy silver bait fish. This little plate is of course available elsewhere, but these guys seasoned them just the way I like it, with scallions and little bits of dry chili pepper. The crispy roasted chicken was exactly as advertised too: light and crispy while dusted with fine grains of cereal. And while the steamed rice with waxed sausages & taro served in hot stone pot was a bit too smoky for me, I nearly jumped for joy when they scraped off some of those crispy rice edges and put them on a plate in front of us.

Verdict? I liked it. The food today was more memorable than what I had at the New Majestic Hotel sometime back, and I wouldn't complain about coming here again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

QQ Rice, Plaza Singapura

High Fiber

I heard about these guys a while back, but the appearance of these globs of rice were never that attractive to me (especially when that purple rice was featured). Yet, my curiosity during a Saybons soup run somehow diverted me to this stall (Plaza Singapura #B2-34, 8100-3436, with another location at Novena Square). They had all kinds of variations of rice to be paired with all sorts of stuffing, but I went for one of their pre-made combos, which was some high-fiber thing or something.

This thing had so many random things in it that I wouldn't even try listing them, but suffice it to say that it tasted better than I thought it would. And it was only after I ate this did I realize the Taiwanese connection: this is basically a hip version of those rice globs one eats for breakfast over there, but complete with all of the quirkiness that one often finds in modern Taiwanese food. Admittedly, I'd much rather go for a simpler musubi instead, so I won't be making any extra effort to come here again. But if my office were a little closer, then I would probably come back, if anything just as a handy way to purge my system with something healthy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mmm...Hospital Food!

Chee Cheong Fun Hospital Food

Here's one that I'll bet you don't usually see in food blogs: hospital food. (No worries; I've been discharged.) What struck me about this wasn't so much the food itself, but about how similar everything was to airplanes. You get your choice of a Western vs Asian meal, you get it served on a tray, and it comes at a preset time. Moreover, you have bedside controls to recline your seat, change TV channels, and even call the attendant over. Scary!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Parklane Noodle House, Sim Lim Square

Bak Chor Mee

Here's an updated photo of Parklane's bak chor mee, although this time from Sim Lim Square. Perhaps more notably, I came early enough today to get a healthy scoop of fried pork lard bits thrown onto this bad boy. The slice of squid on top was a bit strange though.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Red Oriental Korean Chinese Restaurant, Singapore

Jjam Bbong

There are so many Korean restaurants in Singapore, but this one in particular (76 Amoy Street, 6327-9036) caught my eye, as it boasted of "Korean Chinese" food. The menu items looked largely like Chinese food adapted to the Korean palate, so I figured that it might be an interesting adaptation like that Korean Japanese food at Bakang Tuna. I was wrong.

I asked for a recommendation and I got this rather sad looking bowl of noodles (spaghetti, apparently) and squid sitting in a typical Korean red broth. Fortunately it tasted better than it looked, but it wasn't anything to draw me back.

I am not sure if I understood the background here either. These guys were from mainland China, suggesting that it was actually Korean food adapted for the Chinese rather than the other way around. Then again, the guy talked about making it sweeter for the Singaporean palate, so I'm not quite sure what was going on.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SQ's International Selection from Taipei

sauteed chicken with mushroom in spicy tomato sauce served with fettucine pasta and vegetablesUgh...from one bad meal to the next. This "sauteed chicken with mushroom in spicy tomato sauce served with fettucine pasta and vegetables" was something that I practically had to force feed on myself, and the "seafood with mixed lettuce and thousand island dressing" appetizer with cuts of squid and fish was even worse. What a streak of bad food lately.

Note that this is back on the old SQ crockery...no new SQ econ class today. Did anyone see the photos of the beds on the new A380 today, BTW? Nice.

TASTY Steak, Taipei

TASTY Steak

I love the food in Taiwan. No wait - let me be more specific. I love the *local* food in Taiwan. But I've also had simply atrocious meals in Taiwan. Indeed, a number of meals over the past few days here have been quite a letdown. So when our colleagues took us to this local steak chain today for a quick lunch near the office, I had mixed thoughts. On one hand, I was excited since I have had a memorable localized steak in Taiwan before, and my curiosity was piqued after having noticed this chain's outlets across the city over the past few days. Yet, I still took my expectations down tremendously since something inside me knew that I wouldn't like it. While the food did better than I thought it would, my instinct was generally correct in that this would be a disappointing meal.

I guess my gripe was that everything was really tacky (and ironically, I think they did all of this to make it look classy). Offering a eight course lunch today (again, trying too hard to be classy?) at NT$499 or US$15.20, they started with stuff like "beef pancakes" that turned out to be cuts of beef and onions sitting on a sliced cracker with melted cheese and topped with cherry tomatoes. While not horrible in taste, it just seemed very fake, as if they were trying too hard to make it elegant. Similar thoughts applied to the French clam soup, whose creamy base and fresh clams actually did work for me, but the topping of the dough fritter and almonds seemed a bit odd (is the French part just a marketing ploy like "Mongolian BBQ"?). Finally, the original TASTY steak (yes, in caps), was so tender that it went down quickly, but came topped with a pet peeve of mine: black pepper sauce.

I suppose that if one has never tried localized Western food in Taiwan, then this could be a cultural experience. But it just made me feel downright uncomfortable. I was told afterwards that this is actually the downscale version of a classier steak place that charges two times as much, so maybe that would be a bit better. But yeah, this is one of those meals from Taiwan that I would like to forget about.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Shin Yeh, Taipei

Lamb Chops

These guys are supposed to be one of the best-known restaurants in Taipei, with their new location on the 85th floor of the Taipei 101 skyscraper sporting a waiting list an entire month long (wow!). I was intrigued as a result, even the little voice inside my head told me that I wouldn't like that modern Chinese fusion food that they were advertising.

I should have listened to that voice. Actually, I did like those tender and nicely grilled lamb chops. And most of the other items were more traditional (like stir-fried spinach with garlic) that, despite the fancy plates, worked fine. But I'm not sure what the big deal was about this place. The food wasn't so uniquely spectacular that I'd come running back here; I suspect that it was just the fancy decor instead. In that sense, I suppose that it would work for a business meal, but I won't be coming back here solely for the food.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Couple of Grape Calpis Variations

The one on the right doesn't have yogurt in itGeez - there sure are a lot of Calpis variations here in Taiwan (were there even this many in Japan?). Here were a couple grape-flavored ones that I spotted at a 7-Eleven today, the first of which (on the left) was my favorite of them all, combining the signature Calpis yogurt base with the fake grape taste of Bubblicious gum. The one on the right was a bit puzzling though, as there was no yogurt in that one; it was really just a fruit drink. Is that why they kept the Calpis logo so small?

Genghis Khan Restaurant, Taipei

Mongolian BBQ

It may seem weird to come all the way to Taipei and eat Mongolian BBQ, but don't forget that Mongolian BBQ is actually Taiwanese. We asked the hotel's concierge for a recommendation and he pointed us to this place (Nanking East Road Section 3 Number 176, 2711-3655), apparently a quite well-known one that has been here for ages. And the age certainly showed. This place wasn't pretty, that's for sure. Then again, which Mongolian BBQ's are?

As expected, they had the requisite trays of thin frozen meat sheets and vegetables, complete with a row of sauces and the signature round grill to cook your selections on. They also provided those Taiwanese sesame bread things. But surprisingly, there were no noodles available, nor any sesame seeds to sprinkle on. It admittedly didn't make that much of a difference in taste in the end, but it was interesting to see that (are all Mongolian BBQ's in Taiwan like that?).

Around the grill they go!Perhaps what was more disappointing though was the horrible looking buffet spread that they ran concurrently. They had all sorts of prepared food, including soup, salad, and ice cream (and even some of that seasoned edamame), none of which had any appeal to me. They also had a grill on the side that prepared fish, chicken, and even Taiwanese sausages (with raw garlic cloves on the side) that nearly pulled me in. But I kept my distance.

This place is probably known for just being an all-you-can-eat bargain at under NT$500 (US$15) per person more than anything. In that sense, this was quite a letdown, and frankly I'd much rather just go to the US to get Mongolian BBQ instead. Unless someone can recommend a better Mongolian BBQ place in Taipei?

The Taiwan Beer Bar, Taipei

Draft Taiwan Beer with Edamame and Cucumbers

I was really looking forward to this place (85 Bade Road Section 2, 02-2771-9131). Setup as a retail extension to the Taiwan Beer factory, it promised not only cheap alfresco Taiwan Beer, but also beer on tap, which I was hoping would resolve the issues that I was having with the taste of the stuff.

It was a bit of a letdown when we arrived though. The outdoor tables were swarming with flies and the indoor area was dimly lit (in the daytime, anyway), giving it a bit of a musty feel. I must have built up the wrong expectation in my head; I was thinking of something nice like the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam with a gift shop and all, but this was a pretty run-down hole (gotta love the wall created with empty kegs though).

Well, never mind the appearance...how was the beer? Unfortunately, I still didn't like that aftertaste. Sure, it wasn't as bad as it was when it was in the can, but I still didn't care much for its bitterness. They did have some interesting bar snacks though. We grabbed some edamame, which was quite shocking when it first arrived as it was covered in oil and black pepper. But it tasted much better than it looked, especially since it was infused with Chinese five spice or something. It was definitely an interesting experience to come to, but probably not one that I'll go back for.

Chili House Restaurant (Wu Chao Shou), Taipei

Red oil wontons and dan dan mian

Whoa - these guys have renovated their shop (Zhong Xiao East Road Section 4 Number 250, 02-2721-6088). Looking a bit more elegant than before, these guys apparently started in Chengdu and moved here after the Chinese civil war. And being from Chengdu, of course they specialize in Sichuan food. It's obligatory to get the red oil wontons that they are named after (in Chinese, anyway). While the wontons are impressively small and tightly wrapped, it was a tad too sweet for me. The dan dan mian, while also appropriately small, was also a tad too overpowering in the garlic department for my taste.

Hot and Sour NoodlesFortunately, another big bowl of hot and sour noodles worked out nicely, even if that bright red stuff wasn't the healthiest thing in the world. One can't help but chuckle at the little sprigs of veggies that they top it with...as if that were going to make it healthier.

Fen Jen PorkThese guys also pushed their steamed fen jen pork ribs as a signature dish, which we probably shouldn't have gotten, especially since I hate those little fragments of broken bone that one comes across. I think still prefer Lau Deng near Yong Kang Street instead. True, Lau Deng's pork ribs have similar issues, so I guess I simply don't like this dish period (even though I do like the sticky rice). But I like their red oil wontons and dan dan mian better.

A Quick Taiwanese Breakfast

Egg shoved into a Shao Bing

Here's just a quick Taiwanese breakfast from a Yong He Dou Jiang outlet near the hotel. They shoved some egg thing in the middle of this flaky stuff, although it was still a bit dry (nothing that a squeeze of that red chili oil couldn't fix though). We of course also got one of those long yio tiao sticks, which was so much fresher, lighter, and airy than some of those that we get in Singapore. And all of this was dirt cheap - throw in some soybean milk and it was only NT$49 (US$1.50).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

An NT$3 Difference Between Taiwan Beer Types

Taiwan Beer and its Gold Medal Companion

I've got a bit more clarity on the differences between those Taiwan Beer varieties now. I did a quick blind taste taste to see why the "Gold Medal" version commanded an NT$3 (US$0.10) premium: it's ever so slightly smoother than the basic variety.

But of course that's coming off of a very low base, as I never really liked Taiwan Beer much to begin with; that heavy aftertaste never went over well with me. Then again, these were cans purchased from 7-Eleven. Hopefully we'll get to visit the Taiwan Beer Bar tomorrow, where clearly the beer will be on tap, and will finally give me a better taste of the stuff.

33 Ice Town on Da-an Road in Taipei

Mango Shaved Ice

Mango was out of season last time we went to the famous Ice Monster, so I was a bit surprised to find mango available at this random shop (Da-an Road Section 1 Number 42, 02-8773-8533), despite it also being October this time. This huge bowl for NT$120 (US$3.70) was not only drizzled with the condensed milk that is so common in Taiwan, but also shavings from some kind of frozen mango juice/milk thing, as best as we could make out.

Well, whatever it was, it was exactly what our thirsty (and chili-inflamed) stomachs needed for soothing. Maybe we should head over to Ice Monster and see if they have mango now.

Chuan Wang Gourmet Beef Stew Noodle, Taipei

Taiwan Beef Noodle

Taiwan is quite famous for its beef noodles, but admittedly I've never been that huge of a fan of it. So when I heard that this place (Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 Number 94 Second Floor, 02-2711-0388) had won some award for having the best beef noodles in town, I wanted to give it a shot to see how good it really was.

To my surprise, these guys had multiple variations available, a bit akin to a Japanese ramen shop offering varying broths and toppings (indeed, they even operated a bit like ramen shop with little trays and such). The signature version here came topped with tomatoes, which was quite unexpected, forcing it to deviate from the traditional Taiwanese beef noodle taste that I was used to. There was a condiment station with pickled veggies and a potent red chili oil that brought it closer to home once you added them though, and in the end, the tomatoes actually fit in quite well to the whole ensemble. Yes, the meat was very tender too.

That worked for me. Honestly, if this was how traditional Taiwanese beef noodle tasted, then I would eat a lot more of it. In the meantime, I guess I'll just come straight here (or get the mainland Chinese version in Chongqing). Another bonus for this place is that they offer three sizes, so you can pop over here for a small bowl and still have enough stomach space leftover for snacks across the street like Ay Chung's oyster noodle. :)

Ay Chung Now Sells its Chili Sauce!

Ay Chung Chili Sauce

Cool - Ay Chung Oyster Noodle has a shop on the west side of the old Sogo now (Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 Alley 17 Number 2, 2721-9899), complete with actual seating and a plasma TV! OK, they are open benches, but they are better than squatting way out at the Ximenting location.

They are also selling their notoriously spicy hot sauce (yay!). We bought a bottle to bring home, although interestingly it needs to stay refrigerated, so we'll have to check it in our bag and let the cold temperatures of the cargo hold keep the bacteria from getting too excited.

Taiwanese Corn and Sausages

Deep Fried Corn

There's a number of typical things that you'll see on the streets of Taipei, one of which is barbequed corn. But I hadn't seen this one before. (Is it new?) This corn was battered, deep fried, and then seasoned to your choice (garlic powder, curry, etc.). While deep frying it wasn't exactly anything that I'll rave over, at least it was less sweet and heavy than that sauce that is usually slathered all over the barbequed version.

Taiwanese SausagesCoincidentally, this husband and wife stall was selling grilled sausages too, which we also grabbed. Keep in mind that red Taiwanese sausages, while mildly sweet, are also extremely fatty. The way to cut through that grease is to bite off some sausage and chase each juicy morsel with the piercing bite of raw garlic (a bag of peeled cloves were sitting in a bag on the side). Dragon breath and artery-clogging issues aside, what's not to love about eating fat and garlic? It's a match made in heaven.

Some Kind of Tainan Fish Stew and Rice Cake

Some Kind of Tainan Fish Stew and Rice Cake

This little shop right outside the Shilin MRT station in Taipei was specializing in some really small bowls of gooey stuff from Tainan. We stopped in and asked for one of each. The first was a thick clear stew with mashed fish balls in it. Actually, "stew" is not the right word to describe it, since I think the thickness comes from corn starch, but a good squeeze of hot sauce dumped into this made for a quick and easy snack (especially if you're a cilantro lover like me).

The other item was some kind of rice mashed up and shoved into a bowl (and steamed, I think?). It turned it into some kind of a cake-like stuff upon which some sauce got dumped onto, almost tasting a bit like carrot cake (especially with some of that hot sauce too). Anyway, these were just a couple quick and easy pre-dinner snacks for us, conveniently priced at just NT$35 (US$1.05) each.

Treats from a Taiwanese Convenience Store

Tea Eggs

You know that you're in Taiwan when you walk into a 7-Eleven (or one of its competitors) and the whiff of tea eggs hits you in the face. Someone once described this as a horrendous looking cauldron of dark eggs boiling away at the front of the store, and indeed, it doesn't look pretty. But these are just eggs hard boiled in soy sauce and some tea leaves for extra flavor, thus making it quite a simple and savory snack.

More Calpis VariantsI also found some more Calpis variants today. A quick glance at the bottle on the right looked like there was a vegetable-flavored one, as if V-8 met Calpis. My curiosity was piqued. But when I took my first sip, it turned out to be largely apple-flavored. Only then did I look more closely to realize that it was just an apple and carrot depicted on the label, the latter of which didn't really come through in the taste.

Mo Far KorFinally, I found what appeared to be some mo far kor in a bag here. I didn't buy any, so I don't know how it tasted. But this didn't have that mysterious dude on the front either.

A "China Pizza" from Taiwan

China Pizza

I don't know what this streetside snack is called (aside from the self-described "China Pizza" on the wrapper). But it was kind of like one of those Chinese scallion oil pancakes...except that they beat the crap out of the thing with spatulas just before they serve it up to you hot off the griddle, the point of which is to fluff it up, I believe. Note that the texture of the dough is stringy rather than a big contiguous piece like roti prata is.

Anyway, this was ultimately just another medium with which to consume salt and grease, but they kept it light enough on the latter to keep you from feeling guilty about it, all the while still keeping it tasty and affordable at just NT$25 (US$0.75). They also had an egg option should you so choose.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tai Ho Dien, Taipei

Hot Pot

While hot pot places are all over this city, these guys (Hsin Yi Road Section 4 Number 315, 02-2705-0909) in particular are known for being a more upscale one that local celebrities go to. What's the difference between this and one of those cheapo all-you can eat places? It definitely wasn't the decor; even here, you were still using plastic spoons and paper cups (and they don't take American Express either). It all came down to the quality of the ingredients instead. Witness those huge sheets of marbled meat, fresh plump mushrooms, and even a huge bowl of sliced scallions whose aroma was delightfully fragrant.

In fact, the scallions played quite a pivotal role. We were told that the proper way to eat this stuff is to use the red broth as the dipping sauce in your bowl, and nothing more, short of some scallions tossed in. And when your meat was done, take it out, wrap it around some more scallions, and then dip the roll back into your red broth sauce with scallions (dragon breath alert indeed!). They did have a huge bowl of Taiwanese sa cha sauce if you wanted it, but they basically said that it was only for wimps...or at least, only for stuff that you dipped into the non-spicy side of the pot. I didn't know that (and don't remember seeing this scallion roll technique in Chongqing).

Admittedly, I still ended up using the sa cha sauce, but it was a bit too sweet for me. And in that sense, this meal was a bit of a buzzkill, even though there the ingredients were certainly top-notch. (Am I getting tired of Taiwanese food?) At least it was better than that stuff from last night. But at around NT$1,000 (US$30) or more per person (this place is a la carte), it had better be.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some Taiwanese Hot Pot Chain

Beef Shabu Shabu

I've had a lot of great meals in Taipei, and I've had a lot of bad ones. Unfortunately, this one fell into the latter category (I dunno the name of the place...it was a bit random). It looked OK at first, with individual hotpot stations and beautiful slices of meat. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of upgrading to some pickled cabbage broth, which turned out to be nothing more than kimchi soup (I was expecting something like Wei Lu instead).

Argh...that ruined the whole experience for me, only to be worsened by the fact that the meat provided was rather paltry (despite the appearance on the platter), while a huge plate of veggies filled your stomach instead. The only saving grace was the Taiwanese sa cha sauce that I could dip into, but I was pretty bummed at the wasted stomach space. In retrospect, I should have just sent the broth back and asked for the basic soup instead. At least it was cheap at only NT$200 (US$6.10), probably driven by demand from the university students in the area.

KiKi Restaurant, Taipei

Spicy Shredded Chicken

KiKi is a well-known Szechuan restaurant in Taipei that has apparently spread to multiple locations since I was last here. I guess that it is localized a bit, but my spicy shredded chicken today was still mouth-watering. Another boiling intestine and blood cake thing today was also full of that tasty red chili oil, despite how odd the description might sound.

I didn't realize that they had a bunch of non-spicy stuff here too. Some shrimp pancake thing that my colleague got was extra tasty and fresh, as were those fried shrimp he got. While I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way for this place (except maybe for that huge bottle of plum juice), it was a convenient lunch near the office today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Indian Meal on the New SQ

The Indian SQ Meal on New Trays

Thanks to a code share with Air India, there was an Indian meal selection on tonight's flight to Taipei, which I eagerly ordered. The meal ended up not being that memorable in the end, but have you noticed that the economy class serving trays were completely different this time? That's because I finally got one of those 777's that SQ recently refitted with those new seats.

And while those new business class seats looked like mansions as I passed by them in the aisleway, I really enjoyed the peanut class seats too, with everything from laptop power to a smart recliner where the seat bottom slides out concurrently. Most importantly, the screen with its 16:9 aspect ratio was much more comfortably sized than those old ones, all the while with little touches like a small reading lamp underneath and even a vanity mirror built into the tray.

I liked this even better than SQ's A340 Executive Economy seats. Granted, these seats were hard enough that it would still be uncomfortable for a long haul, but I'd definitely appreciate this on a short flight.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Yoshinoya Singapore's "Large" Beef Bowl

From left: large beef bowl and regular beef bowl

Can anyone tell the difference between these two bowls? Neither can I. Aside from a slightly wider rim on the left one, they pretty much look the same, right? Well, the one on the left is the "large" bowl (versus the regular bowl on the right), which was quite shocking when I first ordered it; at Yoshinoya in the US anyway, a large bowl gets you one of those big rectangular bowls rather than the smaller round one (is there a large option in Japan?). Seriously...is there really that much more food in the large bowl to justify the price difference?

To be fair, containers can be deceptive (witness those Hoegaarden glasses that look huge but only hold a single pint). So maybe there is more food, but I sure don't feel it. Next time, I'm ordering two regular bowls instead.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dumpling King, Alexandra Road

Dumplings

A name like Dumpling King sounds promising, right? We came on by here (354D Alexandra Road, 6474-7889) tonight to test our instincts. I was hoping for something similar to that hundred dumpling place in Beijing, but nary a clove of pickled raw garlic was to be found.

Nonetheless, we got some dumplings, both of the pan-fried and boiled variety. The pan-fried dumplings were unattractively large and gushed of oil when you bit into it, but I suppose that they worked if you ate them while they were still hot. And the stuffing of the boiled dumpings were fine, even though I prefer the Whispering Man's exotically spicy stuffing better. Then again, they offered many other varieties, so perhaps we simply ordered the wrong stuff.

Anyway, what was interesting was that throughout the meal, we kept thinking that this place was like a downscale Xin Tao Yuan, especially given that shredded pork roll stuff that they aggressively pushed on us. Only when we checked out did we find out that these guys were in fact an offshoot of that very same Tanjong Pagar restaurant. I definitely wouldn't go out of my way for this place, but I suppose that if anyone were ever forced to go to Ikea but is sick of those Swedish meatballs, then one alternative is to hit this place diagonally across the street on your way in/out.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chakey's Salt Baked Chicken - from Tang's

Chakey's Salt Baked Chicken

Sweeeeet...Tang's on Orchard sells Chakey's salt baked chicken in their basement. These are stamped with the original Chakey's logo rather than that Hiang Kee name from Saturday (and yet both spots had the brown Chakey's box), so I'm not quite sure what the deal was there. And despite Serangoon being in the name, it looks like the original Chakey's is located at 97 East Coast Road.

Well, I may not have a complete grasp of its background, but I sure do like it. I actually bought this yesterday so that I could bring it into the office today for a convenient lunch. On a suggestion, I ate it cold right out of the fridge. It was so good that I didn't even need to go as far as to smear it in any of that coagulated fat. Yum.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Salt Baked Chicken from Upper Serangoon Road

Chakey's Serangoon Salt Baked Chicken

Hey that was pretty darned good...and it was purely by chance too. We stopped at a kopitiam on Alkaff Ave (where Upper Serangoon Road meets MacPherson Road) just to get a drink when I noticed a display case selling paper-wrapped salt baked chicken. "What the heck is salt baked chicken?," I wondered. Based on the name alone, I would have thought that it were a salt-encrusted bird, so I was quite bummed when the lady unwrapped the thing to find it drenched in a dark sauce.

Little did I know that that very same sauce was exactly what made this thing so delightful. Of course the meat was moist, but more importantly, the sauce was actually more oil than it was soy sauce. This was a very good thing as it not only kept it from being excessively salty, but also the oil (was it the chicken's natural oil?) was so flavorful that I couldn't stop dipping my pieces back in it. I didn't even bother with that chili sauce on the side, which was good on its own but not even necessary when that tasty oil is around.

What a pleasant surprise; I'm definitely going to try to get this again. I'm a big confused about the naming though. This shop in particular had "Hiang Kee" stamped on the paper wrapping, but they also put the chickens in brown takeaway boxes labeled with a Chakey's brand on it. I'm not sure if the chickens were done here in this very shop or if it were a mass brand that gets distributed around, but it seems like boxing it up for home consumption is the way to eat it. In that sense, it kinda reminds me of those BBQ chickens from back home that one picks up at the deli section of the supermarket using potholders and those foil-lined paper bags so that the whole family can enjoy it later.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Robataya Yoyogi at The Pier

Kurobuta Kashira

This (80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-04, 6733-2711) is apparently the sister restaurant of Yoyogi across the street, but in robatayaki style, complete with the central grill, fresh ingredients, and paddles. There was definitely no shortage of selections here.

We grabbed quite a few items, nearly all of which fared pretty well. But the item that stuck out the most was the kurobuta kashira cheeks. I suppose that anything made from kurobuta is bound to be good, but all of the tasty pork fat lightly charred by a flame really lit up this skewer. The shiitake was also delightfully fragrant.

Thumbs up for this place (it was better than I thought it would be). But just be sure to get some money ready beforehand since all of these little things can really add up.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Astons Specialties, East Coast Road

Porterhouse Steak

This place has been generating so much buzz over the past year or so that apparently huge lines form here regularly (119 East Coast Road, 6247-7857). I happened to be in the neighborhood tonight, so I figured that I'd stop by to see what all the hubbub was about. Fortunately there was no line when I arrived, so I got seated immediately after placing my order for a porterhouse steak at S$29.90 (US$19.90).

Frankly, I wasn't expecting much. I figured that it was a lot of overblown hype, and that the food really would only be fair. So I was a bit surprised when I took a bite from the smaller tenderloin side of the T-bone to find it very tender and generally pretty tasty on its own merits. That part went down in a jiffy.

Unfortunately, the bigger strip loin side was a bit tough. I might have been able to live with that, but then I got to the corn on the cob, which was so lifeless that it seemed as if it had been sitting around in boiling water or something for quite a while. In the end, this place reminded me of some downscale chains back home like Sizzler (I've never been to Sizzler in Singapore, BTW, so I don't know if it's the same here or not). Or maybe it's more like a local hawker serving "Western food," but in a nicer restaurant setting.

Well, maybe I ordered the wrong thing. The roast beef on the menu sure looked interesting, but that was running at a whopping S$60 (US$40) or so, and the waitress couldn't explain why it was so expensive. Maybe it's the burgers here that are better. I can see why people would like this place, but it's not for me, especially if I had to wait in line. Besides, they don't take American Express, which is a pet peeve for mileage whores like myself.

Saybons French Food Factory

Clockwise from upper right: broccoli & cheddar, tomato, mushroom, and seafood bisque

Cool. This little stand at the basement of Plaza Singapura (#B2-32, 6884-9018) sells nothing but soup plus some crepes and bread. The soups are poured into cups so that you can walk and drink at the same time, and yet are still thick enough to be tasty and rich. I had all four of their selections and had no complaints, especially since they were kept at just the right temperature so as not to scald your tongue.

I hope that these guys open up a shop down further down into the business district...this stuff would be great for lunch every day. Here's to more having more soup shops around!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pho Lan, Prinsep Place

Pho Bo

Yes, this was somewhat of an intentional pho streak over these past few days. I actually tried coming down here for lunch the other day (44A Prinsep Street next to Trattoria Lafiandra, 6835-9441), only to find that they didn't open until 5 PM. When I finally made it down here today, I found that - contrary to what the name suggests - this wasn't a dedicated pho shop featuring various cuts of beef for your picking...instead, there was just a single pho bo available amidst all sorts of other Vietnamese dishes. Moreover, the place doubled up as a Western restaurant called Fillet (oddly, you could get buffalo wings here), and they also had all sorts of artwork on display.

Well, I came for the Vietnamese food, so that's what I was going to try. And it generally worked for me. The goi cuon rolls were short and stubby but wrapped pleasantly freshly and firmly. The pho broth was a bit more cinnamon-y than I am used to, but I still slurped it all up quickly. I probably won't be coming here again on my own initiative (my preference is for a more humble and dedicated pho shop like Pho Hoa or Pho 24...even if they are mass chains), but I left here with a half-decent impression nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Saigon's Pho 24 Really is in Singapore Now

Pho Tai Nam Sach

Yup, Pho 24 from Saigon really is in Singapore now (Millenia Walk #01-26, 6337-4475). Adorned with that same signature green logo, this place is in fact sitting on the former grounds of the old Big O Cafe (which in turn was on the grounds of the old Philly's Flavors).

Was the pho the same? Unfortunately, I got a bit too excited with the huge chunks of lime that I changed taste of the broth too much before trying its untainted form. But the bowl went down quickly enough, so I suppose that was a good thing.

And while the fresh spring rolls were disappointingly limp (and took forever to come out), that won't deter me from coming back. The chain's move into Singapore is definitely a welcome one.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ri Xing Xiang Ji, Maxwell Food Centre

Ri Xing Xiang Ji

Hey that was pretty darned good! I don't know what these little fried balls of dough were called, but the pandan coconut version was exactly what I was looking for: a mildly sweet and greasy snack to pop in your mouth. I liked these guys (Maxwell Food Centre Stall 76) better than that hum jin pang stuff. And arguably these greasy things are more suitable for being called the local version of Krispy Kreme.

Yummy Viet, Smith Street

Pho Dac Biet

Here's another Vietnamese place that I've been meaning to try for a while (28 Smith Street, 6222-5191). It was encouraging at first, with a proper soda chanh and tightly wrapped goi cuon coming first. But things were a bit puzzling when the pho arrived.

First off, all of the garnishes were already sitting in the (very small) bowl. Perhaps more strangely, the broth was both sweet and salty and missing the beefy depth that I look for. I almost wanted to grab another dish to help save the experience, but I gave up in the end. No worries though...there are a couple new pho shops in Singapore that I do mean to go try when I get a chance later.