Thursday, July 31, 2008

Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice, Balestier Road

Chicken Rice Set

When one of the local papers out here did a story naming the "Four Hainanese Chicken Rice Heavenly Kings" last week, I wasn't surprised to see some very popular names on there: Chatterbox, Boon Tong Kee, and Five Star. But there was one that I didn't recognize at all: Loy Kee. We had a chance tonight to come down and check it out (342 Balestier Road, 6252-2318).

I liked it a lot, mainly because of the heavy dousing of sesame oil all over. Granted, it was a bit excessive; almost to the point where it was dripping off the chicken. But it made it so tasty that it wasn't until I made it halfway through my chicken portion did I realize that I hadn't even tried the hot sauce yet (whose refreshingly sour taste also scored points with me). Tie it all together with the ultra firm and fluffy rice, and I was quite happy. They definitely weren't shy on the flavor here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bombay Burgers in Singapore

Wada Pav

I was thinking about this thing all day. Luckily, I found a lady at Lau Pa Sat's stall #60 (Makan Mumbai) selling a bunch of Indian snacks, including wada pav, sometimes known as a "Bombay Burger." This deep fried potato patty came with a tangy green chutney and some spicy red chili powder that all came together into a total grease bomb of a good time. It totally hit the spot.

I've never been to Mumbai, so I don't know how this compares to the real deal. And despite being vegetarian, there is no way something this oily can be considered healthy. But darn, was it good. I got so excited that I accidentally inhaled some of the chili powder as I took a bite. I practically had to cough up a lung in order to clear my throat. It was totally worth it though.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Jane Thai Food, Orchard Towers

Beef Salad

So...Orchard Towers, eh? Yeah, it was a bit weird coming here looking for food, especially right when this building's infamous line of business started to get going in the evening. But we were in the neighborhood and had heard about this Thai place for a while (400 Orchard Road #04-30). And if history has taught us anything, sometimes such seedy environments are exactly the right place to come look for good food.

And how burningly correct that was. Damn, the food here was f*ckin' spicy. The tom yum soup was delightfully painful to drink, while the refreshing som tam brought us right back to Thailand. The beef salad above didn't look like it packed much heat, but you knew it when it hit your mouth. Now, this place won't get any points for freshness of ingredients: the shrimp in the soup were horrendously powdery. But when the food was this brutally spicy, I guess it really didn't matter in the end. I'm going to be paying for this on the throne tomorrow morning.

If you're willing to brave the elements to head all the way up to the fourth floor for this, then try coming just after 8 PM. When we arrived before eight, there were still a lot of the neighboring employees (or are they better called entrepreneurs?) taking up all of the tables. After the clock struck eight though, the place had cleared out, presumably since their "shifts" were starting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seaweed Soup for Breakfast

Mee Kia Soup-based Bak Chor Mee

Here's a quick bowl of pork and seaweed soup from a random stall here in Singapore (actually, it's a soup version of bak chor mee). I love how this guy loads his bowls up with a crapload of much that I've been craving it every morning this week.

Yup - this is a breakfast thing, and this guy is only open in the morning. As strange as it might have seemed at first, I love the concept of having a light and savory bowl of soup for breakfast. It sure beats Frosted Flakes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Penne Carbonara on UA Econ Class

Pasta in cream sauce

This was the "pasta in cream sauce" selection tonight. No, my upgrade request didn't go through, but I didn't mind this meal too much as it was pretty much a penne carbonara of sorts with a bearable sauce and a few slices of mushroom to boot. The cramped middle seat in the back of the plane, on the other hand, was another story.

Nantensei, Narita Airport Terminal 1

Negitorodon and Meron Soda

Since we were in transit, we couldn't quite get to the shops outside of immigration, but fortunately we were able to find some nibbles at Narita Nakamise's ANA FESTA Food Court. And unlike a nasty food court in the US, this one had a number of shops specializing in tasty things such as ramen, soba, curry, and Japanese pasta. I went for the donburi shop (Terminal 1 South Wing 3rd Floor, 0476-34-7831) and obtained the negitoro don pictured above.

I wasn't expecting the fish to be pressed into such a smooth hamburger patty-like shape on top of the rice, but its light fresh taste still did the job of getting me something a bit healthier than all of that artery-clogging food from last week. Besides, I was able to get some of my favorite Japanese melon soda as well.

Inari Sushi at UA's Narita Lounge

Inari Sushi and Otsumami

Cool - there was a platter of inari sushi available here at the United lounge in Narita today. Add in a few cold ones from the Narita beer machine and a quick shower, and I was refreshed for the final leg of this run back home.

Bourbon Biscuit and CookieAddendum: they also had these Bourbon-brand biscuits and cookies. I was hoping that maybe they would be bourbon-flavored or something, but now that I look at it, I think it's a brand from the UK or something. Can anyone confirm? They still have those French kiri cheese things here too.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Charlie Trotter on United

Orange and ginger duck leg confit and soba noodle salad, jicama, and organic ginger-soy-hijiki sauce

This was a nice change. Today's menu on United was designed by Charlie Trotter, and I liked every bit of it. The duck leg confit and soba noodle salad was refreshingly light yet tasty thanks to the ginger-soy-hijiki concoction on the side, while the herb-rubbed chicken breast was tender and played a suitable role against the richness of the morel risotto as well as the tartness of the olive-caper sauce. I'm really liking this celebrity chef thing on airlines; I liked this meal so much that it has easily motivated me to go try his proper restaurants next time I'm in Chicago.

My Breakfast on Southwest

A Jalapeno Cheese Bagel from the Great American Bagel Bakery with a glass of Bloody Mary Mix

Here was my breakfast on Southwest this morning. I dodged the peanut torture this time by buying a bagel at the airport beforehand. The jalapeno cheese flavor went well with the in-flight Bloody Mary mix at least.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bouchon at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Croque Madame

All of the junk food in this town aside, one thing that has been popping up a lot in Las Vegas in recent years has been the number of fine dining establishments. We took this opportunity to hit up Bouchon (3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 414-6200), an outpost of the French Laundry's Thomas Keller, and unrelated to Les Bouchons in Singapore. While one would naturally find a number of fancy dishes available at a place like this, I went for something simpler: a ham and cheese sandwich, largely because I was so inspired by that lovely BLT that he created for Spanglish.

Lo and behold, in croque-madame fashion, it had an egg sunny side up on it. It pretty much tasted like it looked, full of quality ingredients and rich in taste. In some ways, it got to be a bit too rich and filling, but regardless, I can see why this guy is so hailed in the industry. He can take something so simple and present it as something so wonderful, all while staying very rustic and humble. We were quite happy with this place.

Nathan's Famous in Las Vegas

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs

OK, as long as we were doing both hot dogs in Vegas and New York transplants in Vegas, then we might as well combine the two and visit a New York hot dog transplant in Vegas. Nathan's was of course the place behind the hot dog eating contest, and for some reason, they had stalls all over Las Vegas.

We grabbed a couple just to see what they were like, and I was pleased to find that I liked them a lot. This was mainly due to the dog's crispy exterior, but also due to the tasty meat inside. While I certainly can't fathom eating more than 50 in one go like those hot dog eating contestants, the fact that these dogs taste decent certainly makes it easier to comprehend.

Carnegie Delicatessen, Las Vegas

Combination Matzoh Ball and Noodles Soup

Just as we were stumbling around late at night thinking of a bowl of hot soup, we spotted this place in the distance. "Hey - is that...," I mumbled. "Wow, it is!" Yep - they've opened a Carnegie Deli in Vegas. And no, it was not at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, but rather at the Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 791-7111). What was pretty much at the top of the menu? Matzoh ball soup, of course. Couldn't have asked for better timing.

And while I didn't have the stomach space to order one of those gargantuan pastrami sandwiches that I really wanted, I was happy to be here, seeing that it had been a while since I'd been to a proper deli (even if this one was smack in the middle of plasticky Las Vegas). More importantly, we received some standard issue briny kosher pickles, something that I've been unsuccessful at finding in Singapore given how the Seah Street Deli was changing their pickle suppliers for a while.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Snack Nook at Slots-A-Fun, Las Vegas

Giant 1/2 Pound Hot Dog and Bowl of Chili

Ever-tacky Las Vegas isn't exactly someplace I'd go to look for unique local food, but there was one destination that was at the top of my list: Slots-A-Fun next to Circus Circus. What was the big deal about this place? They're known for having this giant half pound hot dog for only 99 cents (2890 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 836-6761).

Mind you, 99 cents only gets you the wiener, bun, and access to the mustard and ketchup on the counter. If you want onions or relish, that's 25 cents more. If you want chili, cheese, sauerkraut, or jalapenos, then that's 75 cents more. I was just attracted to the thought of a revoltingly nasty but giant hot dog, and had to come see it for myself.

In the end, the taste of the dog itself wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But in the world of cheap hot dogs, I'd prefer Gray's Papaya instead (or even a Costco hot dog, for that matter). And no, that bowl of chili on the side there wasn't anything to write home about either.

Peanuts on Southwest Airlines

Peanuts and Ginger Ale on Southwest

It's been a long time since I've flown Southwest, but it looks like they were still doing the usual peanut and drink giveout here. I was hoping that they might have changed it to something like a snack mix instead. Well, when I saw a Virgin America plane taxi-ing on the runway next to us, I realized that next time I should try them to see what their in-flight experience is like. After all, they regularly fly the same route as we were on today.

The Counter: Custom Built Burgers

My Creation: a 1/3 pound beef burger cooked medium served on a bed of lettuce blend with Tillamook cheddar, grilled onions, roasted chiles, sprouts, and tomatoes, all on a hamburger bun with horseradish mayo on the side

Here's small chain of burger stores popped up in the area a few years ago. It featured a long checklist-based ordering form that allowed one to "customize" his or her burger. It was a bit gimmicky, but I suppose that it achieved the personalization that it set out to do. I took a relatively conservative route and got the creation pictured above: a 1/3 pound beef burger cooked medium served on a bed of lettuce blend with Tillamook cheddar, grilled onions, roasted chiles, sprouts, and tomatoes, all on a hamburger bun with horseradish mayo on the side.

I was a bit bummed to see this thing piled up so high when it came out. Moreover, it ended up being so greasy that I nearly felt nauseous after a while (the so-called onion strings that we got on the side were literally dripping in oil, albeit miraculously staying crispy all the same). I liked the quality of the ingredients as well as the concept here, but in execution I wished this thing were much leaner. Maybe I should have chosen my items a little better.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hot Dog on a Stick (Cheese, Actually)

Hot Dog on a Stick

Heck, as long as we were in a shopping mall's food court, I figured I might as well take advantage of it and go to that ubiquitous food court outlet that I actually do enjoy: Hot Dog on a Stick.

In this case, it was actually a Cheese on a Stick, but the mildly sweet corn meal surrounding the rich melted Pepper Jack interior hit the spot, together with that giant but very fresh lemonade (with cherry syrup added, of course). So much for that healthy food that I was looking for earlier today.

Great Khan's Mongolian BBQ

Mongolian BBQ

Alright, American food courts aren't exactly a place to get good food. But heck - they had this Mongolian BBQ stall, so we stopped on in tonight, especially since I prefer to get my Mongolian BBQ from the US rather than Taiwan.

The usual procedures applied here - load up your single serving bowl as best you can and hope that none of the noodles fall off when you get in line for the grill. Since they had a guy administering sauces, I asked for a spicy mix with garlic and sesame oil; it fared better than when I do it myself. I still prefer a dedicated Mongolian BBQ shop, but this worked for me tonight.

Wahoo's Fish Taco in California

Combo Platter 2

Despite being from California, I've never really been a big fan of fish tacos, as the grilled fish was just too lean to be exciting. But I figured that it wouldn't hurt to get something a bit healthier today, and hoped that Wahoo's might change my opinion about these things. I suppose that Mark DeCarlo's Taste of America episode on fish tacos provided a bit of inspiration too.

Unfortunately, this was just as I remembered it - very lean compared to my usual helpings of pork. Sure, it was still tasty enough for me to clear down the entire plate together with rice and beans, but next time I think I'll try going for their shrimp version instead. One could always fall back on carnitas in the worst case.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Steamer's Grillhouse, Los Gatos

Saffron Seafood Risotto

That was a lot better than I thought it would be. I wasn't quite sure of what to expect from a place called Steamers (31 University Ave, 408-395-2722), whose menu looked like it was trying to fancy things up a bit from the more humble seafood places that I'm such a huge fan of. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed every part of the meal here, from the freshness and honesty of the food to the not-as-pretentious-nor-fake-as-I-had-envisioned decor.

Vanilla Bean Creme BruleeFrom start to finish, it all worked. The chowder was extra rich, the risotto was done just right, and the creme brulee was loaded with little vanilla beans. I particularly liked the fact that they had a local fish, petrale sole, on the menu, done in a lemon butter sauce and paired with a coleslaw made hearty by the aroma of little bits of bacon. Thumbs up...I'll happily come back here again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brentwood Cornfest 2008

Garlic Fries

You might be wondering - why isn't there any corn above given that this was about an event called Cornfest? That's what I was wondering too when we got there. Sure, there were tons of people, lots of events/entertainment, and plenty of things for sale. But in typical food festival fashion, I was expecting a lot of the food to revolve around the namesake produce, perhaps in the form of corn soup, corn salad, or maybe some corn-based snacks.

Instead, there really weren't many corn options available. Sure, one could get grilled ears of corn and some sweet kettle popcorn too, but not much else that was corn-based (and no, corn dogs didn't count in my book!). The rest of the food stalls were selling standard fairgrounds-type grub, be it sno-cones, sausages, or nachos. The garlic fries that we got at this one stand were cold and unappetizing too.

Now, the grilled corn that I did get was quite a delight with its fabulously tender and delicately sweet kernels. But having to pay a $10/person admission fee (and $5 parking) was a bit of a letdown given what we had seen. I'm sure it was a fun event, especially for locals catching up with each other, but I was a bit bummed after having made such a long trek up there. Hopefully there will be more vendors with corn-centered offerings in the future.

CheladaOn a side note, it was quite interesting to see this Chelada drink there, which was a mixture of Budweiser, Clamato, salt, and lemon. Clearly this was a play off a proper michelada, even if I'd never had it with Clamato before. It was much thinner in consistency than I was expecting, but all went down well.

King Eggroll Restaurant, San Jose

King Eggroll

King Eggroll is one of those local legends that I never really quite got a proper chance to eat before, as it was usually out of a big party platter that had been sitting around for a while rather than coming down to the store itself (980 Lundy Ave, 408-729-8307). As such, I still wasn't quite sure what it was about this little hole in the wall's egg rolls that had attracted such a cult following. After having eaten them from the store today, I think I now know.

It may have looked like any other egg roll, but this thing surprised me with its paper thin and crunchy wrapper, inside of which contained a light meat and vegetable filling that was hot enough to scorch the roof of my mouth. Similarly, some deep fried wonton things on the side looked like the usually half-cold-and-too-thick variety but turned out to be airy and crisp instead, all the while hiding a fresh shrimp and meat filling that was a pleasure to eat. There wasn't even any point in using that red sweet-and-sour sauce on the side.

Now, these guys had quite a bit of other stuff sitting in a bunch of Panda Express-like troughs that I didn't care to explore. But there were a number of Saran-wrapped Vietnamese items like fresh spring rolls sitting on the counter for sale too. If this shop is run by Vietnamese owners, then that makes a lot of sense. Either way, it was much better than I expected, and beat the pants off Singapore's Old Chang Kee.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Elements Euro-Asian Fusion Restaurant

Tea-Smoked Duck

I hesitated a bit when tonight's dinner suggestion was for this Vietnamese-French place located deep in the San Jose suburbs (6944 Almaden Expressway, 408-927-8773). Not only am I not a big fan of fusion, but memories of a similar concept in the South Bay also came to mind. Well, I hoped that my pre-conceived notions would be proven wrong given all of the great things that I had read about this place online.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of it when we arrived, given its tinted windows and neon signs yet much more upscale decor inside. I couldn't quite figure out what they were trying to do with the menu either: while one would expect items like Vietnamese egg rolls on it, I was rather baffled by the presence of a cheeseburger as well as ravioli. I ordered the tea-smoked duck, which was much more tender and pleasantly smoked than I was expecting. But I am not a big fan of sweet things, so unfortunately the fruity sauce on top prevented this from being anything that I would crave again.

Still, nearly every table was filled tonight. These guys clearly put quite a bit of effort into plating the dishes, and I felt that they successfully made them look attractive without being tacky. I rather enjoyed the mildly tart taste of my fresh spinach and green apple salad too. But in the end, I usually don't go nuts for fusion, so I'm clearly not the right audience for this kind of place.

Erik’s DeliCafé, Northern California

Abbott's Habit

This local shop across the South Bay used to be one of my favorite sandwich shops around, largely because of a single ingredient that instantly distinguished their goods from their competitors: alfafa sprouts. I didn't capture them very well in the photo, but the taste of the sprouts stood out so much that childhood memories came rushing back to me with my first bite of this roast beef and mushroom-based sandwich today.

Of course, there is more to it than just the alfalfa. They have a so-called "secret goo" as well as sliced red onions that further justify their claim of "sandwiches with character." But I just can't imagine a sandwich at Erik's without alfalfa. In fact, I recall walking away from Erik's when there was an alfalfa scare a good number of years ago, upon which they naturally stopped including the stuff in their food. Thankfully, it's back now, and made all of the difference. Delicious.

Breakfast at Hobee's California Restaurants


The full name of this place is Hobee's California Restaurants, although that doesn't necessarily mean that they are all across the state. In fact, they aren't even across all of NorCal. But they do run multiple locations across Silicon Valley, and I usually associate it with breakfast. I haven't been here in a while, so it was good to come down here to kick off our day.

I ordered what they boldly called BDBIT, or "the Best Darn Breakfast in Town," which could include their famous blueberry coffeecake should you so chose. Contrary to how it sounded, this was not coffee-flavored, but rather was made to complement a cup of coffee. Their version was a bit crumbly, but the thing that made it work was the crusty brown sugar and whipped butter on top. This plate also featured what they called "country-style" hashbrowns. I'm not quite sure of what that meant specifically, but what came out were some chunks of grilled potatoes, if borderline scorched.

The Best Darn Breakfast in Town? I don't know if I'd go that far...some form of pork-based product (a requirement to even qualify for that title in my opinion) was glaringly missing from this ensemble. It's probably a bit hard to beat the funkiness of Buck's of Woodside too. But there was nothing bad about this plate, as it did satiate the basic needs of a solid breakfast today. I don't know how the rest of the menu fares though, as this is all I order when I come here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Freshness of In-N-Out Burger

Combo 2

Here's an updated photo of In-N-Out. It's been so long since I've had one of these things that I had forgotten to tell the guy to grill the onions first in order to escape the inevitable dragon breath that resulted from the raw ones that got shoved in here instead. Either way, it was good to get a reminder of how fresh it all tasted, as evident in everything from the crispy lettuce to the freshly cut fries. Mmm...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Habanero Wings at the Old Pro, Palo Alto

Habanero OP Wings

Whoa - the Old Pro has moved downtown (541 Ramona Ave, 650-326-1446). I have fond memories of the lip-burningly hot habanero wings from this beat up old sports bar years ago, and now things seem to have changed. Yes, the new location is much bigger, but I don't remember the wings being so meaty and tough before, nor do I remember the habanero sauce being mildly sweet. And they definitely didn't have those fancy little fried noodle bits sitting underneath in the past. I was pretty let down today as a result, but maybe my memory is a bit hazy given all of the beer that is usually consumed with such things.

Dungeness Crab from the Fish Market

Whole Dungeness Crab

Here was the cold Dungeness crab from the Fish Market in Palo Alto today (3150 El Camino Real, 650-493-8862). I was surprised that they didn't provide the shell and the corresponding crab butter underneath. And for some reason, the taste of the meat seemed almost drained out of it today. But I'm always going to be happy to get my hands on some Dungeness crab, wonderful creatures that they are.

United International First Class Lunch

Beef Wellington with coriander red pepper sauce

Sweeeet...we got unexpectedly upgraded into First Class on our long-haul today. I'm not sure how much the menu differed from Business Class, but I'm pretty sure that the latter didn't have the option of getting a little cup of cream of mushroom soup. It was also interesting to see Beef Wellington on the menu, even if it was effectively just a repackaging of UA's very common filet mignon in the end.

While I'm certainly not going to complain about getting such a nice bump up, it's too bad that we were still on one of the planes with the old-school 8mm tapes and a tiny little screen. I hope United completes its renovations to its Pacific fleet soon. Arguably even SQ's SpaceBed is still better than this old-school First Class seat.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh

From front: pig trotters, vegetable ends, and bak kut teh

This bak kut teh place (58 Seng Poh Road #01-31, 6224-4990) was a random stop that we had made after having found both Ya Hua and Ah Peng closed on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, the broth here was super peppery, which was a big plus in my book. There weren't any cloves of garlic provided, and they are only open from 6:30 AM to 9 PM (thus eliminating the possibility of any late night post-drinking meals here), but it did help to start the day today.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Chashudon from Baikohken

Chashu Don

Here's the chashudon from Baikohken. The cuts of pork are too thick in my opinion, but it definitely is a generous serving in such a little bowl. Either way, all of that raw negi on top means that a dragon breath alert is in full effect, especially if you're on your way back to the office after that.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Revisiting Tian Tian Chicken Rice

Tian Tian Chicken Rice

Here's an updated photo from Tian Tian Chicken Rice (Maxwell Road Food Centre Stall #10). I don't know if it's my imagination or not, but the cuts of chicken seemed a whimpier than before (and I thought I remembered more of a sesame oil aroma here).

Well, I still enjoyed it all, be it the fragrant rice, refreshing chili sauce, or tender chicken itself. I guess that I haven't come here in a while. Interesting that there's a picture of Bourdain on the stall's glass casing now. But they still aren't giving me any of the green garnish unless I explicitly ask for it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jolly V Fried Chicken, Lau Pa Sat

Jolly Meal 3: Palábok with Chicken

OK, this wasn't really meant to be a streak of Filipino food at Lau Pa Sat, but I just happened to notice these guys while I was here, and was curious to try a plate while I was at it. The chicken was different: rather than a rock-hard batter, this coating seemed almost bread-like, which was a nice change of pace. This was supposed to be a knockoff of the big Filipino fast food chain Jollibee, but I've never been to one of those so I really can't make a valid comparison.

Perhaps more interesting was the fact that my so-called Jolly Meal came with a serving of pancit palábok, a Filipino-Chinese dish similar to Thailand's kanohm jin noodles but topped with some sort of Filipino sauce. Contrary to how it looked, it wasn't a sweet nor sour sauce at all: it was just salty enough for me to enjoy. I suppose that I'm never going to complain about anything that it topped with crushed pork rinds though.

Hotshots Flame-grilled Burgers, Singapore

Cheese Burger Deluxe

Man, there are a lot of Filipino stalls here at Singapore's Lau Pa Sat. Granted, hamburgers might not immediately strike you as Filipino food, but this was a chain from the Philippines. I wasn't quite sure what to expect given the sloppy appearance of these burgers, but my Cheese Burger Deluxe ended up being so good that I inhaled it in less than a minute.

What the heck was it that made it so good? It was the Cheese Whiz-like sauce. It may sound nasty, but think of the richness of a Philly cheesesteak coming together with the flame-grilled taste of a burger, all with a very moist patty. This stuff would probably be fabulous after a night of heavy binge-drinking, but I liked it even when I was completely sober.

The only catch was that they took their time in making these things. It literally took longer for them to make one than it did for me to eat. It was worth the wait though. I wonder how the other burgers here taste.