Sunday, May 25, 2008

First Grade Seafood Palace (Eng Seng)

Pepper Crab

I had heard about this "Still Road Crab Place" for quite a while now (247 Joo Chiat Place at the Eng Seng Restaurant, 6440-5560), with many people claiming it to offer the best pepper crab in Singapore. But I had never made a concerted effort to eat here given how lines started forming as early as 5 PM. Yet after a bit of discussion about this place with a few of their regular customers last night, I decided to come down for an early serving of crab and beer this afternoon.

I arrived at 4:15 PM in an effort to try to beat the crowds. This turned out to be a good thing as the place was already half full by the time I got there. The "crab nazi" lady was hardly the evil witch that I had read about online; instead, she had a rather jolly demeanor and didn't force anything on me aside from a two crab minimum. And that quota turned out to be a good thing, as these were good enough that there was no way I could have been satisfied with just one.

What made this pepper crab so different from all the other pepper crab available around town? It was the fact that it had just a touch of sweetness. Normally I am turned off by sweet food, but this one was done mildly enough that it wasn't annoying. More importantly, it was caramelized a bit, which when combined with the smoky aroma from the wok, really got me excited. It reminded me a bit of Guinness pork or even Meng Kee's char siew from KL, all of which have that same smoky-scorched-greasy-candy-like taste. My only gripe was the useless lettuce sitting at the bottom of the plate, as some of the cooked-lettuce taste made its way into a couple of pieces of crab that had come into contact with it.

Yes, I'll come back again, but I definitely won't think of this as a place to get dinner, especially seeing how lines really did start to form after 5 PM. If I return, then it will really be for just a late afternoon snack. That suits me just fine given my number one rule about eating crab: never eat crab when you're hungry. Oh, and my shirt is rather soiled now from all of the black pepper splatter, so remember to dress down too. It's an old school open air venue anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mini Egg Tarts from Yan Palace

Mini Egg Tarts

I don't often eat dim sum in Singapore, so this place (531 Upper Cross Street #01-49 at the Hong Lim Complex) was a new one to me. I wouldn't go nuts over any of the food, but it did the job. I suppose that I rather enjoyed their little cups of porridge with those refried bits of yio tiao on top.

As with most dim sum though, just be prepared for that pork-lard-induced food coma that strikes afterwards.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hotpot from Ba Yu Ren Jia

Sichuan Mala Hotpot

Here's the hotpot from Ba Yu Ren Jia. The taste of the broth and such worked, but the quality of the meat couldn't quite hold up to our liking. Spotty service and air conditioning made this a bit of a painful experience too. Either that, or we've lost a bit of our taste for this brutely spicy and oily dish. Somehow my mouth still waters when I look at it though.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hana Hana Japanese Restaurant, River Valley

Kawaebi Karaage

Here's a new Japanese place that didn't seem too encouraging from the outside with its weird pink lighting and nine year old J-pop blaring on the speakers (223 River Valley Road, 6738-5858). But a quick scan of the menu showed that it was serving simple izakaya fare, so I plopped myself on down to grab a spread of some of my favorites.

The good thing is that many of the items turned out better than I thought it would, including their eponymous salad as well as their kawaebi karaage, even if I was a bit surprised to find it battered. Still, it wasn't so mindblowing that I'd go out of my way for it. Indeed, some of the kushiyaki items were a bit soggy and thus forgettable. But by and large, this was passable. I only wish they weren't trying so hard with the decor.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mapo Tofu from Ba Yu Ren Jia

Mapo Tofu

Here's the mapo tofu from Ba Yu Ren Jia (thanks for the tip). It was a bit thicker than I was expecting but was otherwise spot-on, and helped to easily shovel down two bowls of steamed rice with it.

In that sense, I'm not sure why the Sunday Times criticized it for being "one-dimensional without enough sweetness and sourness to balance the spices." This dish really isn't supposed to be sweet or sour. Maybe he was comparing it to the Japanese version or something?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ba Yu Ren Jia Restaurant, Singapore

Water Cooked Fish

Man, my stomach is still burning after having eaten here (791 North Bridge Road, 6297-9148), which was rather unexpected. In fact, when I saw this fluorescently-lit place last week, I dismissed it as just another Sichuan restaurant in Singapore. But after the Sunday Times published a favorable review of this place today, it made sense to come check it out, especially since we needed to be in the neighborhood this afternoon anyway.

My favorite of the bunch was the sliced fish soup, which was puckeringly sour as a result of the pickles inside (a bit like drinking the juice that comes with a Teochew-style fish). I enjoyed the crab too, which surprised me with its fennel seeds, making these little fried thin-shelled crustaceans taste a bit like Xiao Ping's meat skewers. The warm taste of the beef noodles seemed worth coming back for more as well.

I did encounter a couple of my pet peeves though: the string beans were soggy and uninspiring, while the saliva chicken came attached to cut-up bones. The quality of some of the ingredients didn't sit that well with me either, and they seemed to use more brute force in the seasonings than places like the now defunct Chuan Restaurant, whose "water cooked fish" was more polished. But I left pretty satisfied in the end...enough to come back to try out more - including their hot pot. Now I've just gotta find some milk to douse out these flames in my stomach.

Sesame Chicken Rice at Tiong Bahru

Sesame Chicken Rice

This is turning into a bit of a chicken rice blog, eh? I assure you that it's not intentional. We just happened to be walking through the second floor of the new Tiong Bahru Market when I noticed that one of the birds hanging in the display case of stall number 47 was encrusted with sesame seeds. "Why is that chicken covered in sesame seeds?," I asked. "Because it's sesame chicken," the proprietor responded. One of my open palms quickly hurtled toward my face as I buried my eyes in it. "OK, let's give it a try," I thought.

To my dismay, my plate of chicken arrived doused in a thick gooey sauce. Worse, the sauce was sweet, while the chili sauce on the side also had a mildly bitter aftertaste, as if they ground laksa leaf into it or something. And the sesame seeds really didn't lend that much to it all aside from the texture. While the gooey sauce and laksa-infused chili sauce would no doubt be quite appealing to many palates, it unfortunately had the opposite effect on mine.

This probably would have been much more appealing to me had they just used a salty sesame oil covering on top of it like at Yeo Keng Nam. I suppose that sesame seeds themselves are no substitute for sesame least, not when they are covered in that gooey sauce. I should just ask to pass on the sauce next time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Yeo Keng Nam Hainanese Chicken Rice

Yeo Keng Nam Hainanese Chicken Rice

I'm a sucker for anything in sesame oil, so it was easy for me to like this place (8 Braddell Road, 6285-4261). They didn't pour on any of that thin sweet sauce like some other places do. As a result, these guys easily became one of my preferred chicken rice places around town.

But I probably won't make any huge effort to come all the way out here again. I still get more excited at the thought of things like the wonderful rice at Yet Con instead.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sundanese Ikan Nila Goreng

Ikan Nila Goreng

This "dancing fish" from House of Sundanese Food here in Singapore is a bit of a gimmick. But it's hard for me to resist deep fried fish, especially one whose bones become crunchy little edible treats in the process.

O'Learys Sports Bar & Grill, Singapore

Boston Celtics BBQ Burger

This burger wasn't necessarily anything to go nuts over. But what *was* interesting was the fact that this Boston-themed sports bar was actually a big chain from Sweden. And of all places, they opened a location at the new Singapore Flyer (30 Raffles Avenue #01-04, 6337-6718).

Nope - there are no Swedish meatballs here. But it does add another place to get American food around here aside from Dan Ryan's and the Seah Street Deli. I'll probably just wait for my next trip home though.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My Best-Of List: Year Three

Wow - it's been three years now. This time I'm not going to mess around with any list of restaurants in Singapore; some of those places changed hands so many times that it was hard to keep it consistent. Instead, here is a list of the ten most mouth-watering meals that I've come across over the past year, regardless if it was in Singapore or not. Here it goes, in reverse chronological order:

Gogyo's "Burned Ramen" in Tokyo
Typhoon Shelter Crab in Hong Kong
Pozole in Mexico City
Hot Doug's in Chicago
A Muffeletta in New Orleans
Chakey's Salt Baked Chicken in Singapore
Pandan Coconut Dough Things in Singapore
La Vic's in San Jose
Wagyu Teppanyaki in Kobe
Xiao Ping Skewered Meat in Singapore

An honorable mention goes to Thunder Tea Rice in Singapore. Why? Well, you've heard of "carbon offsets," right? I consider this stuff to be a "cholesterol offset." If red meat and butter have entered my stomach recently, then I purify by loading up on Thunder Tea Rice. While arguably bland, I still find it tasty enough to eat with a smile, especially given how refreshing and healthy it is.