Sunday, August 31, 2008

National Buffalo Wing Festival, New York

Anchor Bar at the National Buffalo Wing Festival

It might be an amusing story if I said that I got so scared of that Swiss Chalet place that I quickly fled the next day to get some chicken stateside. But the truth is that this quick run across the border was planned all along. I barely caught the tail end of this annual weekend festival today, thus missing shows like the buffalo wing eating contest. Fortunately, there was still enough food for me to introduce quite a few varieties of wings to my belly.

The shop that I had to target first was Anchor Bar, the supposed inventor of buffalo wings. True to form, their wings were exactly as I like them: small yet full of tasty skin, not breaded, and with a quintessential sauce that could even be upgraded to a darker suicidal version should you so choose. A couple of shops down, a local shop called Danny's was selling buffalo wing soup, which was richer and more hearty than it sounded.

But perhaps what got me the most excited was Sean's Booyah sauce a couple of booths on the other side of Anchor Bar, and allegedly an award winner at that. I was a bit disturbed by how artificially orange the sauce looked when I first got it, but after one taste I realized that the reason why it was so bright in color was probably the same reason why it won that award: the thing was loaded up with so much butter that you could almost taste more butter than hot sauce. It was rich, sinful, and totally delicious.

Yes, other stuff was available at the festival too, including corn grilled directly over a flame, as well as some sandwiches and drinks. But clearly the variety of chicken wings was the focus. There were a number of regional chains there (and even corporate giant KFC - hmmm), but I mainly stuck to the booths that were from Buffalo itself. In that sense, I had to be sure to hit Swings Wings, a stall with some of the longest lines this afternoon, perhaps because they featured a number of atypical sauces like garlic butter. Call me traditional, but I didn't care for those too much, especially since some of them were rather sweet. But I'll go back for more Anchor, Danny's, or Sean's Booyah any day. Those were truly finger lickin' good.

My Canadian Breakfast

Bagel House's Montreal Style Whole Wheat Bagel and a Happy Planet Drink

I don't plan to go to Montreal on this trip, but I did want to try to get a Montreal-style bagel while I was here in Canada, even if it were a bit of a stretch. Apparently Bagel House was one of the few shops in Toronto that could do a proper Montreal-style bagel, so I grabbed this whole wheat one this morning to see what was so different about them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I liked it over the usual New York style bagel, as this was much softer, sweeter, and simply tastier. Granted, the last characteristic was probably more a function of all of the seeds and seasonings on top, but I just liked how it didn't even require any cream cheese spread. So why aren't Montreal-style bagels more popular?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Swiss Chalet, Toronto, Canada

Classic Quarter Chicken

I hate chain restaurants. But after a long flight today, I just needed something quickly to fill the belly before collapsing into my hotel bed, and one of these Swiss Chalets was conveniently nearby. Besides, it was a Toronto-initiated chain, so I might as well try it out, right?

I ordered a quarter of their popular rotisserie chicken (the name of the restaurant apparently came from the architecture rather than the food), but my jaw just dropped when this plate came out. Did I step into a high school cafeteria or something? This looked so institutionalized and lifeless that hospital flashbacks came running back to me.

Well, don't judge a book by its cover, right? I was hoping that maybe the taste would surprise me, and that maybe the famed Chalet Sauce on the side would save it. But alas, it was still bland and uninspiring. Even the salad made me feel like I was eating at a mess hall or something. Well, at least the service was prompt and the food was healthy. Taste-wise though, Nando's and Zankou have set the roast chicken bar so high for me that everything else just pales in comparison.

Air Canada's Executive First Suite

Smoked Trout, Gravlax, Filet of Halibut, Salmon, and Pumpernickel Bread with Mustard Dill Sauce

This was the meal that I got on Air Canada today before landing, featuring four different kinds of cold fish. Frankly, it was a far cry from that cold platter I got on Lufthansa recently, but it did the job.

Perhaps more interesting to me was this so-called Executive First Suite. Despite the name, this was effectively business class on this two-class plane rather than the first class mansions that SQ and Emirates are known for having. The herringbone layout took a while to get used to at first, especially when taking off sideways and pointing inwards. It also seemed a bit claustrophobic at first given that the seats weren't that wide, and the dividers were a tad high.

But in the end it was rather comfortable, and was one of the few lie-flat business class seats where the controls really made it clear how you could adjust your seat. This was all fitted with that mood lighting that slowly changed to simulate the sunrise, as well as some big VOD screens, even if they were a bit buggy. It sure was better than United's old school first class either way, and it was also nice to have a bathroom with a porthole, not to mention a full-length mirror and hands-free faucet.

Blue Ice Beer from Hong Kong

Blue Ice Beer

Here's an interesting brew that I noticed while transiting here in Hong Kong: Blue Ice, which apparently is from the San Miguel folks, albeit the San Miguel team in Hong Kong rather than the Philippines. Indeed, its watery taste was a bit similar too. So while it was nothing to shout about, I sure preferred this over those nasty ones that I found the other day. Note the retro pull tab in use on these cans.

BTW, is it just me, or has HKIA become more stuffy lately? I mean, I know that it's summertime, and cooling this big airport sure wouldn't be too energy efficient. But I never seem to remember it being so borderline uncomfortable inside before. Maybe I've just had bad luck with their air conditioning during the past few runs that I've gone through HK.

SQ Business Class...but old school

Singapore fried carrot cake

One thing great about SQ is that they often serve local street food in the air, as seen by the satay that they usually serve in Raffles Class. Now, that wasn't available this morning, but you could get "Singapore fried carrot cake," which I found to be on par or perhaps even better than some street hawkers. I didn't care too much for the hot sauce on the side but the stuff was pretty darned spicy already, and I was impressed by how fresh the shrimp were too. Yum.

The optimist in me was also hoping that my plane today would feature the new super-wide SQ Business Class rather than the previous SpaceBed, but that didn't quite happen. In fact, it went in the other direction with the old school seats that preceded the SpaceBed. This was so old that the video system wasn't even VOD-enabled, although I guess that doesn't surprise me for some of the short haul flights. It also looks like they've dropped that Raffles Class name for a while now. Clearly I don't fly SQ Business Class enough to notice.

The SilverKris Lounge at Changi T3

My fruit and fish congee

Whoa - what a difference SQ Business Class makes. While there really wasn't much to complain about with the KrisFlyer Gold lounge at the new Changi T3, the SilverKris lounge next door made the former look like a puny hole in the wall. Massively larger, this place just smelled of leather when you walked into this marble-clad palace. Everything was clearly done with opulence in mind, as if you had walked into a St. Regis Hotel rather than a plain old Sheraton. And yes, it was nicer than the SilverKris lounge in Terminal 2.

The food area was huge too, with several aisles of a spread, as well as countertop seating if you liked. But alas, lounge food was still lounge food (no, there was no omelette station or anything, if that's what you were thinking), and I stuck to my usual congee and fruit. Not that I'm complaining.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Melon Candy and Melon Soda

Melon Candy and Melon Soda

OK, I'm on a bit of a Japanese melon streak here, but I came across these on two separate occasions today, the first one being a simple hard candy while the other one being a soda. The latter was much lighter in taste than the Fanta version, but it did the job. One of these days I should just go splurge on a real melon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mushroom Park Restaurant, Singapore

From bottom: mushroom treasure rice, mutton, and beef

Meat substitutes had never really struck me as anything to get excited about, be it in the form of garden burgers, Chinese "vegetarian duck," or that TVP stuff from Home Economics classes. But I was quite impressed with what this hotpot transplant from Taiwan (87 Serangoon Garden Way, 6281-7600) had done with its mushroom sashimi. Other items that struck me included some mushrooms that looked just like slices of liver, as well as shredded mushrooms that practically tasted just like pork floss.

Granted, the red slices in the background of the photo above actually *were* proper slices of cow and lamb carcass. But everything else here was pretty much very mushroom and vegetable-focused, and all presented in fully-serviced set meals, the latter point of which was reminscient of other Taiwanese encounters - except that this didn't come across as tacky.

Thumbs up for me, especially given how they weren't stingy with the portions here either: my belly was so full of soup and mushrooms when I left that I nearly exploded. Plus it was a hell of a lot more guilt-free than an oily and salty Sichuan hotpot. And yes, this completely blew away local rival Mushroom Pot given the ingredient quality and focus here. The new Seah Street location will make Mushroom Park easier to get to next time too.

NZ's Reload Juice & Salad, Singapore

Large Smoked Chicken Salad

There aren't many places to get a salad in Singapore, but this juice bar from New Zealand has made its way over to Millenia Walk (9 Raffles Boulevard, #01-K12, 6883-1089). It served the usual spread of smoothies and wheatgrass shots, and also featured salads shoved into these Chinese takeout-like boxes. They had a bunch of pre-configured choices, or you could go the custom route.

While its selection of ingredients was nothing that I would go nuts over, it did the job of providing a healthy yet satisfying meal. They're pretty slow at making everything to order though; in that sense, I'm not sure how they keep the nearby office worker crowd happy given how that is clearly their target audience. Then again, I suppose that there isn't much else of a choice when it comes to a dedicated salad place.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Danish and Dutch Beers in Singapore

From left: Red 8.6 by Bavaria, Bear Beer, and Royal Dutch Post Horn Premium Lager

For some reason that I can't figure out, low-end beer that one buys at convenience stores in Singapore is often from Denmark or Holland. I picked up a few of them the other day just out of curiosity, and tonight I tried them out.

The first one, Red 8.6 by Bavaria, was so nasty that I practically spat it out. It was one of those high alcohol content beers, and tasted as if it were rotting. The second one, Bear Beer, was also a "strong beer" but fortunately didn't taste as bad as the first. That didn't mean that it was good though. Finally, the last one, Royal Dutch Post Horn, was a bit more tolerable. But that was of course relative to the other two, and was not really anything that I would opt for again.

Yes, the first two were pretty much like malt liquor back in the US. Are these even popular in their home countries? Heck, are they popular here in Singapore? And sorry for all of the packaged goods lately; frankly I haven't seen too much lately that has been inspiring.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pokka Melon Milk

Pokka Melon Milk

Here's one that I'll bet you don't see every day: Melon Milk, from the Japanese beverage company Pokka. What's Melon Milk? Well, the ingredient listing on the can says that it's made from melon juice and milk. OK, that plus water, sugar, and some very long chemical names. But yeah, it's basically Japanese melon-flavored milk.

It may sound a bit wierd, but if you like Japanese melon as much I do (or for that matter, Japanese melon soda), then this one will glide right down your throat too. Anyway, here's another one to file away under Japanese drinks.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Boy Bawang Cornick from the Philippines

Boy Bawang Cornick Garlic Flavor

Cool...a Pilipina colleague of mine went home to Manila last weekend. She knew how much I loved Chicacorn, so she brought back a bag of this competing Boy Bawang stuff.

I heard that this stuff was supposed to be a bit different from Chicacorn, but I couldn't detect the difference. It was still the same wonderfully greasy, salty, and and spicy (not to mention dragon breath-inducing treat) that I remember from the other bag. Rock on!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bang Bang Chicken and Rat Noodles

Bang Bang Chicken

Bang Bang Chicken. At first I snickered at the name, wondering in a mildly perverse way, "What the heck is Bang Bang Chicken??" It took me a couple of seconds before I realized that it was actually Szechuan Bon Bon Chicken, a close relative of the spicy sesame and peanut sauce-covered dan dan mian. See, we were at the newly resurrected Canteen (1 Scotts Road #01-101B, 6738-2276), which now focused on modern renditions of local food like a "chili crab sandwich." I am not a big fan of fusion, so I was a bit concerned when they said that their version of Bon Bon chicken came in a salad form. But I was rather happy with how well the spicy garlicky mixture came together with the greens in the end.

The amusing names didn't stop there. The dish that was featured most prominently on the menu was the XO Sauce Lo Shi Fun, the last three words of which literally translated into "rat noodles." No, they were not made of rat meat; it was named as such because the fat and stubby rice noodles looked like rat tails. I wasn't as big of a fan of this one though. These guys topped the noodles with some ground meat and bits of century eggs, all of which was delightfully spicy but nothing that I'll crave at the end of the day.

Still, one thing that scored big points with me was the fact that they had cans of Calpis featured right at the top of the drink list. I don't think I'll be making any huge effort to come back, but if I do, then I'm definitely ordering the Bang Bang Chicken again. Besides, it's just so much fun to say out loud in English.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Return Leg on Airebus

Some Thai Green Curry on Airebus

Here was the Airebus meal on the return to Singapore. This Thai green chicken curry was so boring that I hardly even touched it. But to be fair, that was probably more of a result of the half chicken that I managed to gobble down at Nando's again just before getting on the bus tonight. It's hard to beat that spicy Nando's chicken!

How about my thoughts on Airebus versus Aeroline now that I've gone through this return leg? Interestingly, the service tonight was much more engaging than on the outbound leg, which was certainly appreciated. But something about my experience on Aeroline still seemed more solid for some reason.

Well, it doesn't matter. I'm pretty much going to stick to Airebus from now on, mainly because the embarkation points are so close to where I need to go that it was nearly door-to-door service. And that door-to-door timing without having to go all the way out to the airport and back (on both the KL and Singapore sides) is precisely one of the reasons why the bus is so much better to me than flying.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nando's Peri Peri Chicken

1/4 Hot Chicken Meal with Fresco Salad and Peri Corn

It is a bit uncharacteristic of me to be in another country and yet go eat at an international chain restaurant rather than something local off the street. Moreover, this was a chain restaurant that I'd been to in Penang ages ago, so it wasn't like it was anything I hadn't tried before. But after noticing so many Nando's stores in London a couple of months ago (yet not wanting to spend any precious time at a chain restaurant then either), I couldn't stop thinking about trying it again. There aren't any outlets of this spicy chicken chain in Singapore, so I was sure to come get some when I was up here in Malaysia.

This is a South African restaurant whose Portuguese founders created a chicken dish that centered around the "peri-peri" African birds-eye chili pepper. Specify the degree of spiciness that you want, and your bird comes out slathered in the appropriate sauce. I opted for the "Hot" version, which turned out to be respectably spicy enough for me to try stepping up to some of the spiciest "Extra Hot" sauce on the side. I couldn't quite detect the difference in heat between the two, but the sourness of the lemon juice did come across much more prominently to me when I dipped directly into the sauce. All of this time, the flame-grilled aroma of this surprisingly moist bird still came through.

Now, one could argue that the flavors here are a bit too in-your-face and could use a bit more refinement. But my belly was warm enough after the meal that I still enjoyed it - more than that "Portuguese" chicken sold at that Charco's stall at Singapore's Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5. I can see why this Nando's place is so addictive now. I sure hope that someone opens one in Singapore soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Taking the Airebus to KL

Breakfast on Airebus

I absolutely refuse to take flights to KL, largely on the basis that it's a lot more stress-free on a contiguous bus ride with laptop power and a cellular connection instead, especially without constantly getting interrupted by stopping for security, waiting for the flight, getting on/off a taxi, etc. I was quite happy with Aeroline's coach service on my last trip, but this time I wanted to try out another one that I spotted a couple of months back: Airebus.

Similar to Aeroline, these guys featured big reclining seats with power outlets. Unlike Aeroline, these guys had VOD-screens, although the selection of rather dated content wasn't anything that I cared for. The tiny room temperature meal above wasn't exactly anything to get excited about either, but at least it was a step up from the Aeroline meal that I got last time. Still, I think I recall the condition of Aeroline's buses being a bit more solid, but maybe that was just due to my choice of Airebus' so-called "Business" class bus, whose city center drop-off locations were more fitting for my trip.

Anyway, just a few notes to myself if I decide to take these guys again. First, there was no waiting area at the DFS Scotts building as it hadn't even opened by the time the 8 AM bus arrived, so I just sat around on the steps outside. Secondly, the seat in the front left seat with the leg rest was roomy, but didn't recline flat, and was also exposed to some of the noise from the driver. Lastly, there was no bathroom on this bus (but there was one on the cheaper "Executive" class one, even if that went to a different drop-off point in KL).

Maybe I'll have a different experience on the ride back, but right now I'm torn between Aeroline and Airebus. Airebus's Business Class is better on paper and has better drop-off points for me, but I seem to recall having a smoother experience on Aeroline. At least today's ride was unbelievably punctual, leaving at 7:55 AM and getting in at exactly 1:00 PM, just as scheduled.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tanyoto, Liang Court, Singapore

Sichuan Hotpot

The name of this Liang Court-based restaurant may sound Japanese, but it's actually a chain of Sichuan hotpot restaurants from mainland China, having now planted itself here in Singapore (177 River Valley Road #01-25, 6836-6839). And a darned upscale hotpot place it was. We're not talking about any beat-up all-you-can-eat place anymore; we're talking about a place with warm oshibori to start, plush seating and tableware, and some of the most courteous service I've come across in a place like this.

Of course, the prices were upscale too. Even without having ordered the wagyu option here, two of us broke past the triple digit mark just by loading up on individual plates of meat. Arguably, it was worth it, mainly due to the high quality of the ingredients. But next time, I'll also be wiser in my menu selections by passing on some of their touted specialities, such as the fried Sichuan pork thing as well as the tomato-based broth. While the latter was fine, I preferred the light and savory fish-based broth much more. We didn't quite venture onto their so-called "secret recipe fish lips" though. If anyone tries that, please let me know if it's worth it or not.

Actually, they had a few cooked dishes here too, including a reasonably-priced weekday lunch set. But I had bones to pick with most of those (too oily, too salty, or too garlicky). And admittedly, after having eaten here four times in the past three days, I've gotten a bit sick of it all. But I am still impressed enough with this place to give it a thumbs up in my books. Now I've just got to eat enough salad this weekend in order to purge out all of the grease built up in my belly.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Wiener Schnitzel from Brotzeit

Wiener Schnitzel

Here's the Wiener Schnitzel from Brotzeit. This super thin and tender veal with light breading and a squeeze of lemon totally hit the spot for me...so much that I'm still craving it despite having just eaten it. Mmmm.