Friday, March 30, 2012

Returning on Air China: Is That Fish??

Fish on a Plane

Tonight's in-flight selections were presented using the quintessential airline question: "chicken or fish?" I opted for the latter, especially given that I'd had some half-decent fish in mid-air recently. But clearly that set the wrong expectations in my head.

When I rolled back the foil cover on this thing, I had to look twice to make sure that the flight attendant gave me the right one. Were those tater tots?? Or even silkworms or something? Nope, they were fish...mildly sweet processed fish. And nasty enough that I couldn't eat more than just one or two.

On top of that, this was a completely full flight, presumably due to the long weekend ahead in China. Oh well. At least the power outlet under my seat was activated the entire way through.

Jiangzhe Food from Kong Yi Ji, Beijing

Chinese Yellow Wine

See that little cup at the bottom with the shredded ginger? It looks like it might be dark Chinese vinegar for dipping steamed dumplings into, but it wasn't. It was that Chinese huangjiu stuff, which my host insisted on getting for lunch today. Ironically, the server said that this stuff can be used to *cure* hangovers, and I suppose that I can see why. It didn't really taste of alcohol, and instead had a light sweet taste after being paired with one of those sour plums in the glass. The porcelain-ware was pretty cool too as hot water was used to keep an inner cylinder of the stuff warm.

Anyway, this was from a Jiangzhe restaurant here in Beijing (8 Chaoyang Park Road, 6508-2228), which was a refreshingly light change here after all of that spicy food from yesterday. I particularly liked a fatty pork dish that they brought out: shove some of that meat into a bun together with some pickled veggies and down the hatch it goes. The decor of this place was pretty cool too, with its koi pond and Chinese courtyard-like setup - I felt like I was in a Zhang Yimou movie. Apparently they have musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments if you come here at dinnertime too. I'd come back again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Random Xinjiang Skewer Place

Yang Rou Chuanr

I have no idea what the name nor address of this place was. But after that dinner, one of my colleagues suggested that we go get even more food. Specifically, we were getting yang rou chuanr, or Xinjiang skewers, from a place that was totally local without a tourist in sight.

And I'm not sure exactly what cuts of the animal he ordered, but one of them seemed to be chunks of flame-grilled fat, which admittedly was pretty darned tasty. He also got some kind of organ meat that we got last time. I didn't really care that much for that one, but it was still edible. Anyway, these were just little tasters at the end of the day.

The Golden Horse House (Jin Ma Fang)

Deep fried bumblebees

I think that was the right translation from Chinese, even if these guys in Beijing didn't seem to be using the English name above (and I can't read the address of this place, but the phone number was 8428-2279). Anyway, they specialized in Yunnan cuisine, which I was told is spicy, albeit a bit different from the Sichuan style. More than anything, my colleagues wanted to come here for some exotic food.

Yes, those are insects above, and specifically bees in the foreground. I actually kinda liked them, as they were just deep fried with salt and were hardly mealy at all. I'm not sure what the long black things were in the back but they didn't taste as bad as one would think either. Other stuff that came our way included things like duck heads (those salty things went well with some cold suds) and large intestines; Andrew Zimmern would indeed feel right at home here.

In the end, the thing that elicited the strongest reaction from me was a fish mint salad again, except this time it used the yellow roots rather than the green leaves. And let me tell you, the taste was so strong that I nearly spit the stuff out, vowing never to eat that again. I think that my colleagues were delighted to have finally defeated me.

China's South Beauty Restaurant



I'm sure that the name of this impressively posh Sichuan restaurant chain sounds better in Chinese, but I liked the food either way. My colleagues ordered a bunch of things, including shui zhu yu, as well as a bunch of similarly big pots full of chili peppers and oil, but with variations in the ingredients, like shrimp or pig's blood.

Indeed, it turns out that my colleagues were intentionally trying to go for shock value, particularly with something that they caled a "Sichuan salad." No, that wasn't anything like that Let's Toss! place, but rather something with actual greens, and to be specific, something like that Vietnamese fish mint stuff, which I absolutely hate. To their surprise though (and even my own), I didn't mind it too much when it was drenched in all of that Sichuan chili oil and salt, as the taste of that leaf was hardly noticeable after that. In fact, I kept going back for more and more of it.

And yes, I liked the non-spicy food that they had here too, including a refreshing soup as well as some thinly sliced beef reminiscent of a Yoshinoya gyudon. I should have been more careful when eating my cold noodles though. That dallop of freshly minced garlic was the last thing I needed before heading off to meet a client for the first time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Xinjiang Skewers from a Hutong in Beijing

Roasting Xinjiang Skewers

After a long day of meetings, I needed a quick snack. Most places around the hotel were closed, but there were a few places in the dark alleyways nearby that were still serving food, including a number of dudes on the street with a grill selling Xinjiang skewers. Cool...especially when they had makeshift signs with the character for kushiyaki dangling away to advertise their goods.

At first, I ordered only two of them, seeing how gigantic those eye-poking things were out at that touristy night market yesterday. But they kept refusing to do it for such a small quantity, and it was only after I finally capitulated to buy five of them did I realize why: these were tiny skewers instead. They were fatty, salty, and spicy - and all for only 1 RMB (US$0.15) each...just what I needed after a long day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Donghuamen Night Market, Beijing

Crab Roe Buns

After finally peeling myself away from that mess at Wangfujing, I made my way down the street to another night market, which fortunately was much bigger and spacious and hence less hectic. They tended to sell a lot of the same skewers and such, so I went to try to find something more unique, the first of which were these crab roe buns above. Unfortunately they didn't taste as good as they looked. I mean, there was nothing wrong with them per se, but they just weren't anything so mindblowing that I wanted to get more.

Soft Shell Crab Kebab

I moved on, trying out other little things like fishball soup or these soft shell crabs on a stick, which unfortunately didn't taste great either given that he slathered it in some kind of sweet sauce (and yes, I got some amusing looks from people watching me shove this three-crab-kebab into my face). I ate one and sadly threw the rest away, as well as a similarly sauced-up fish. Other stuff that I tried included some kind of beef and pig tripe, which again wasn't so interesting that I wanted to finish it, as well as some vegetarian stir fry, cold spicy noodles, and spring onion burrito-like thing, none of which were seasoned the way that I would have hoped.

Sour Milk Yogurt

After all of that sodium though, I needed a drink, and I found a bunch of people buying these little ceramic things. When I asked the guy what it was, he told me that it was "sour milk." At the risk of getting Alien Nation flashbacks, I tried one, only to realize that it was sweet and chunky...it was basically yogurt. Frankly, that was probably one of the best things I ended up getting out of the entire night, especially since that Beijing Beer was pretty nasty. OK there was one more thing that I liked: those candied haw fruit things on a skewer. I just wish there were a better way of spitting out the seeds.

Wangfujing Snack Street, Beijing

Scorpion and Seahorse Kebabs

I think on most of my previous trips to Beijing, a colleague almost always had some restaurant in mind to go to. I thus never really got much of a chance to go hunt down some street food on my own, even though I kept seeing some kind of cool night markets in TV shows before. Fortunately tonight, my hotel was within walking distance to a couple of these night markets, so I made my way down there, the first one being the Wangfujing Snack Street. Surely enough, the very first stall on the right was a guy selling live scorpions on a skewer (like right out of an Andrew Zimmern episode), not to mention other creepy crawlies that looked downright unappealing.

Little Birds on A Stick

Fortunately, most of the other stuff was less extreme, like those little birds above, Xinjiang skewers, or little pork pancake things. I wanted to get something different, so I found a guy doing some fried spicy tofu that looked pretty good. It was only after I ordered it did I realize that I got stinky tofu, which wasn't actually that nasty - it was in fact good enough that I finished it. And the shawarma thing below? At first it looked like one of those Chinese burger things, but when I got it, it was as small as a taco. Ironically, the words on the wrapper said none other than "Turkey döner kebap." Hmph.

Doner Kebabs in China

Perhaps more interesting was the fact that this place was filled with tourists. And I'm not talking about foreign tourists, but rather local ones, who in fact seemed just as scared as the next guy of eating live scorpions. Either way, it is amazing that there aren't more injuries here; so many people are walking around with three or four Xinjiang skewers in their hands, eating while walking, such that a whimsical turn in this crowded alley could easily poke someone's eye out. I won't bother mentioning the "farmer rockets" and loogie hocking that I kept hearing random people making on the side.

A Surprisingly Decent Air China Flight

Fish with Rice

No, I'm not referring to the meal above, which was pretty dry and nasty (don't even get me started on that salad in the corner). But I was surprised by the amount of legroom in today's Air China flight, not to mention the fact that they even had power outlets that kept me productive on the way up to Beijing, even if the power didn't come on until a couple of hours into the flight.

And this wasn't even in their so-called Premium Economy Class with screens in the headrest of the first two rows, but rather the cheap seats behind that where central screens had to drop down from the ceiling. They even had nose/belly mounted cameras like Japanese airlines, as well as an interesting faux-3D in-flight map that looked better than what we usually see on other airlines.

Sure, the fact that this was a lightly-loaded flight helped give me a bit of space. I wonder if it was so empty in part because most people would tend to gravitate to SQ instead (including myself, who was initially disappointed when the agent told me that SQ wasn't available). Now the trick will be to see if I can get such a good experience on the return leg later this week.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ramen Champion at Changi Terminal 3

Riki Ramen

The folks at Ramen Champion opened a satellite outlet at Changi Airport not long ago. And as frequently as I go to the airport, I never really got a chance to come down here given that my flights were usually at off-hours. Today, we finally had our chance, as our flight landed just in time for dinner, so we took the Skytrain over to Terminal 3. This is a much smaller outlet than the Iluma version though, and thus there were only four vendors rather than six. And two of the four were already at the Iluma outlet, so I focused on the remaining two: Riki and Gensuke.

Gensuke Ramen

The former's was pretty much a standard jirokei and hence nothing that evoked a reaction from me either way. The latter's was a chicken base whose strong taste and thick consistency was much better than Marukin. But I've had way too many carbs today (breakfast this morning was a basket of French pastries), so sadly I didn't really eat the noodles in the end. It was good to try both of these, but I probably won't make a huge effort to come back.

Fish in Today's SQ Hindu Meal

Hindu Fish Meal on SQ

Here was the Hindu meal on today's return flight, featuring fish, which to my surprise was tender and tasty. I wonder if SQ has plans to replace these old economy class seats on regional flights anytime though; mine was so old that the entertainment system wasn't even working anymore.

Hanoi Airport's Business Class Lounge

Phở Gà

Yep - that's a bowl of phở gà from the (non-SkyTeam) business class lounge at Hanoi Airport. A beef version was available too. One couldn't expect much when the broth was microwaved in front of you, but it became bearable enough when garnished with enough lime, chilis, and black pepper.

Perhaps more interesting was the local Chardonnay from Dalat that they were pouring here. The word "Excellence" was in big letters on the label, but that didn't quite align to the expression on my face that appeared upon trying it. Those little spring rolls weren't anything to get excited about either; it was a bit like trying to eat a chewing gum wrapper.

Well, hey - all of this was free after all, and it was cool to be able to try so many local things here, including some local beer. It was definitely the highlight of an otherwise dull airport slightly reminiscent of a smaller Denpasar.

Sights From the Streets of Hanoi

The Fruit Lady

Here are just a few things that we saw off the streets of Hanoi this weekend, the first of which was this fruit lady. The cool thing was that everything could be laced with dried chili powder, be it pineapple, green mango, or even strawberries. It was different, but in an excitingly good way. We made frequent use of these fruit vendors nearly every day.

Ready-made Soup Stock

Next up was something that I spotted at a local market. At first it looked like just a bunch of clams and herbs packaged up for you to presumably make soup at home. But then I noticed a giant bladder behind it containing what seemed to be soup stock.

Ca Phe Paris Mia

Lastly, I went and had another taste of weasel coffee while I was here. This US$3 serving was more than four times the price of the normal coffee, and as with before, it had a bit of a chocolate taste. But it also had a fragrance that reminded me of pipe tobacco. Either way, it ironically didn't really taste much like coffee anymore.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quán Phở Gia Truyền in Hanoi

Quán Phở Gia Truyền

After that last snack, a crisp bowl of clear soup sounded like exactly what I needed to wash this down, so we came down here (49 Phố Bát Đàn), a place that is lauded so much for its quality of phở that lines form regularly. And it was indeed pretty cool with its giant vat of soup in the side room and cuts of beef hanging on the side for them to slice to order.

Phở Tái Nạm

Unfortunately, I didn't really care for the mildly sweet and otherwise plain-tasting broth, especially when the condiments at hand were minimal too. Earlier today, I was on the fence about northern versus southern-style phở. If this epitomizes the best of the northern style, then I think my preference just swung to the southern style, whose punchier broth and accompaniments are more unique and satisfying to me. I liked the beef here though, and it was a cool experience to come here either way.

Bánh Cuốn From 72 Hàng Bồ, Hanoi

Bánh Cuốn

We weren't super hungry yet, so we stopped by this little place for a quick snack of bánh cuốn, which is basically made in a crepe-like process using rice flour, but then scrunched up and filled with minced pork and mushrooms before being accompanied by the requisite set of greens, fish sauce-based dip, and chili peppers. I liked it better than chee cheong fun; the filling was savory, and the herbs kept it fresh-tasting.

Bánh mỳ Phố Huế in Hanoi

Bánh Mỳ

What visit to Vietnam would be complete without bánh mì? This shop (118A Phố Huế, 3822-5009) was yet another recommendation from our hotel's concierge as one of the best in the city.

But it turns out that - similar to phở - the way it is done up north is quite different from the way it's done down south. Gone are the pickles, cilantro, and fresh chili slices, and in its place are salt, pepper, and a red chili sauce.

That's too bad, since a huge part of the appeal for me is the freshness provided by those southern garnishes. At least the bread was still light and airy, and the chili sauce kept it interesting. I wonder if the different spelling (bánh mỳ) is also a northern thing?

Bún Chả on Mai Hắc Đế in Hanoi

Bún Chả and Nem Cua Bể

Ever since I saw that old school Bourdain episode when that shopkeeper was grilling pork out of an old automobile wheel on the streets of Hanoi, I've been fixated with the idea of coming to this city to get some bún chả. This street in particular is apparently one of two areas in the city that is known for this stuff, and this shop's (47C Mai Hắc Đế, 3978-2757) version was as good as I had imagined it to be.

The thin cuts of tasty flame-grilled pork were of course a big part of that, but it wasn't complete without the rest of the ensemble, be it the fresh herbs, cold dipping sauce, or spring rolls that accompanied it. The only thing to keep in mind is that it is mainly a lunch thing, so I'll need to remember that, lest we forget and try to get it for dinner or a late night snack.

Afterthought: Now that I look at it, it looks like I have had this stuff down south before - and liked it just as much. But this is supposed to be something that is really from the northern part of the country.

Phở 10 Lý Quốc Sư in Hanoi

Phở Bò

We came down here for breakfast this morning on the tip of our hotel's concierge, who told us that this shop (10 Lý Quốc Sư, 3825-7338) had some of the best phở in town. Yes, it was tasty, especially with those super thin yet fatty cuts of beef in there. But perhaps more importantly, it was interesting to see the differences between northern and southern style phở bò, the latter of which is of course the one that I'm more used to in Saigon as well as in the US.

The greasy quay fritters that commonly accompany the bowls up here were one obvious difference. But the northern style is also not overloaded with all of those fresh herbs and beansprouts like one usually gets with this stuff. The broth is lighter and clearer (contrary to what I had originally thought), and the garnishes include things like pickled garlic too. I wolfed this thing down in seconds; those little orange chilies packed some heat for added pleasure.

At this point, I'm not sure whether I like the northern or southern version better. Each has its own traits that make it good in its own right (like different styles of pizza, I suppose). But if we come back here again, I should go for the works next time. We saw them poaching raw eggs in some of the bowls and it looked interesting enough to try.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Phở Gà Off the Streets of Hanoi

Phở Gà

As amazing as that last meal was, the portions weren't very big, which meant that I still had room to try some other goodies off the streets. So I got this bowl of chicken phở gà, which only on this trip did I realize was a bit of a specialization of Hanoi rather than a cop-out for the real thing.

And while this bowl of silky noodles was good, especially with some black pepper as well as those greasy youtiao-like quay things dipped in it, it still didn't really do it for me, as it just tasted like your everyday soup noodles rather than a proper bowl of phở. No worries though; beef phở was surely coming tomorrow.

Chả cá Lã Vọng in Hanoi, Vietnam

Chả cá

A Vietnamese colleague of mine has told me on numerous times that I *must* go to Chả cá Lã Vọng whenever I'm in Hanoi. It is an institution up there - so much that the street is even named after it. I had a similar dish once before down in Saigon, but didn't really remember too much of it. So I was floored tonight upon finding how good it was this time, straight from the source. It was so unbelievable that I must have said, "Oh my God, how good is this??" at least three times within a time span of less than five minutes.

I suppose that it's not hard to make something good when it's sitting in a pan of bubbling oil. But what made this thing really come together was the dill weed (and turmeric?), not to mention all of those other green herbs that we threw here, all on top of rice noodles and seasoned with some fish sauce. The fish was super tender, and we cleared this thing so quickly that we didn't even realize that we finished two portions already. That was hands-down one of the best meals I've had in a very long time, and all for only 170,000 dong (US$8).

Just be sure to go to the original one at 14 Rue Cha Ca (3825-3929) rather than the knockoff of the same name across the street that we almost got duped into. I knew something wasn't right when a tout approached us with a menu (i.e., if this place were such an institution, why would it need to be so aggressive in pulling in people?). The real shop does not have a flashing neon sign (at least, not at the time of writing), has a very steep and narrow wooden staircase, and most importantly, does not have a menu. As you can see above, they only have one thing available, and man, have they perfected what they do. Awesome.

A Bia Hơi In Hanoi...Finally!

Bia Hơi

Ahh...finally. This makeshift bar with plastic stools on the streets of Hanoi was something that I'd heard about for a long time, and thus was one of the three main things that I had to get to when I was here (more on the other two later). And I'm so glad that we finally made it to one. See, the words bia hơi mean "fresh beer." Local breweries churn out generic kegs of fresh beer every morning that is intended for consumption the same day. It is apparently largely unregulated, and these little stands across the city sell it for dirt cheap; basically about US$0.25 a glass.

Granted, it's not like the beer itself was anything that special; in many ways, it was just your typical local lager, and a bit further watered down, at that. But it was fresh and went down quickly, and was a heck of a lot better than Tiger Beer. More importantly, sitting there on the street was a cool way to soak up the local culture: grab a few snacks like sunflower seeds or prawn crackers to go with your suds, chat up your neighbors, or plain and simply just watch the hustle of street activity in the Old Quarter, all under lighting provided by a naked light bulb dangling from a wire suspended by the tree overhead. Priceless.

The Sofitel Metropole's Niçoise Salad

Sofitel Metropole Niçoise Salad

I've never really cared that much for Niçoise salad before. Granted, part of the reason was simply because I was eating it in the wrong places. But part of it was also since canned tuna kept reminding me of Chicken of the Sea.

So on this urgent refueling stop here at the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi, I figured that maybe this would be a good chance to give it another shot. After all, these guys claimed to be famous for their grilled tuna version. And I'm not exactly planning to be in France anytime soon, so this may very well be as close to authentic as I can get for now (Vietnamese street food will be aplenty in the next day or two anyway).

Unfortunately, I still didn't like it. Sure, the tuna was of decent quality, as were the rest of the greens and such underneath. But it was still a rather boring salad, paling in comparison to some of the stuff I usually order on my lunch breaks near the office. I suppose that one of these days I should get myself to France to find a rendition of this that finally gives my opinion of it an about-face.

Going Back To Hindu Meals on SQ

SQ Hindu Meal

I pre-ordered a Hindu meal on SQ again today. This one was a bit of a letdown, but only because I've had such great experiences with these in the past that my expectations were very high. This one wasn't quite as spicy as I had built up in my mind, although that chicken sure was rich. It looked better than whatever they were offering on the standard economy class menu either way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Purple Mustard, Icon Village

Barnyard Dog

I wasn't going to post anything about about these guys at first; frankly I didn't really care that much for the taste of this thing (12 Gopeng Street #01-31). But it was just so amusing the way they poured this excess of colorful sauces all over it...and hence the name of the shop, Purple Mustard. (If I read it correctly, the color of that comes from blueberries.) Anyway, I'll probably just wait until I go home to get my hot dogs instead.

My First Lentil Dhoka (I think)

Dhoka

At first glance, I thought that those little yellow things in the foreground were a sweet dessert. But when I asked the guys at Sanskruti to give me some of them, they pointed out that they were "starters" instead. I went for them anyway, only to find that they tasted like, well, cornbread. Except that they were made from lentils, which I found out later when I looked up their name, dhoka. They were a bit dry here though, so I ended up dipping them into my dal, which of course is also lentils.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Latteria Mozzarella Bar, Duxton Hill

Burrata

Mmm. Having taken over the grounds of The Jackson Plan some time ago (40 Duxton Hill, 6866-1988), these guys specialize in mozzarella cheese, with all sorts of varieties available. I was curious to see how they would do a basic caprese, and it was delicious, with a full flavored olive oil and rich cheese. I also had a decent risotto here, but frankly I was more fixated on the cheese, which I'll likely focus on next time I'm here. Too bad it's so darned expensive though. So much for hoping for a lower-priced version of Mario Batali's Mozza.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra in Singapore

From left: rice kheer, gajjar ka halwa, lime and basil sorbet

When I had heard that a celebrity chef from India had opened up a shop at the Marina Bay Sands serving northwestern Indian kebabs, I knew that I had to come (10 Bayfront Avenue #B1-01A, 6688-7395). Indeed, this guy is somehow associated with my favorite Bukhara too. And fortunately, they were running some lunch sets that brought the prices down a little closer to earth. It still wasn't cheap, but there's no way that I'd pay those unnecessarily upscale prices on their a la carte menu.

The good thing was that the food quality was indeed very good. I particularly liked a couple of fish and chicken kebabs and curries, even if the only thing pictured above here was the desserts (sorry, the lighting was really dim in there). Unfortunately, I didn't care too much for the service. Sure, the food came out quickly, but several of the staff were rather unpolished, which is sad considering how lofty the prices were here. In that sense, there are plenty of other upscale Indian places to go to next time.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Haramiya Japanese BBQ, The Central

Karubi Set

Yes, I noticed these guys (6 Eu Tong Sen Street #03-87, 6534-9468) earlier today when I went to Shabu 29 next door. Yakiniku can get darned expensive, so when I noticed that they were doing sets for no more than S$18 (US$15), I was intrigued, especially since the decor was leagues beyond some of those nasty buffets. I thus got my hopes up that I had finally found a place where I could get proper quality yakiniku at reasonable prices, and we went here tonight to see if it were any good.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for, both in terms of portions and quality. The portions in this set were pretty darned tiny, and there wasn't really anything in the food that got me excited about the taste either. Sure, the staff was friendly, service was fast, and the decor seemingly a bit upscale. But there's only so much that they can give you for S$18. At least the a la carte menu had quite a lot of other things available, and at prices that weren't that extreme either. So maybe one day, I'll come back here to do a more proper yakiniku run.

Shabu 29, The Central, Singapore

Sukiyaki

This place (6 Eu Tong Sen Street #03-88, 6327-7887) is run by the people behind Tampopo. It's been around for a while now, but I kept forgetting about it until I finally came down here today and noticed that they were doing a sukiyaki lunch special for just S$12.80 (US$10). This was a considerable savings against their normal prices of about S$30 (US$24) or more, even if this version excluded things like rice, which I had to add separately for S$3 (US$2.30).

It turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be. Part of it was simply because my expectations were very low, based upon what one could get at Tampopo proper. Part of it was also a sense of futility after many failed attempts to get a decent experience elsewhere. But the ingredients here, like the tofu, were better than I thought they would be.

Too bad they only offered a sweet sukiyaki broth at this price though. Shabu shabu was available, but only on the regular menu, whose prices were multiple times higher than this. At least this experience was encouraging enough that I'd be willing to come back again some other time for that, hopefully with someone else paying for the meal.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Legacy Continental 737 from HKG

Continental Airlines Pasta

United used to run giant 747's out of HKG to SIN in the past, although they were usually only half-full from what I could see. So it was interesting to see them running this tiny Continental 737 out here tonight, especially given that it featured the two-cabin configuration that one usually sees on domestic US flights instead (i.e., no international lie-flat seats, despite being out here in Asia). But this Continental flight was still much better (service, food, etc.) than that lousy seat they gave me on the long haul out of SFO, which was nearly all the way in the back of a United 747. They didn't even give me Economy Plus.

Now that I think of it, they ran a 747 on the way up to Narita this week rather than the 777's that they used to use on that route. I can only assume that all of this was the result of the Continental merger. I also found out upon check-in at SFO that the standby upgrade list is no longer dependent on your status (check-in time doesn't matter either), but rather on the price that you paid for your economy class ticket. That's fair, but it just makes my 1K Million Miler status seem rather useless now, especially if it's becoming harder for me to get upgraded.

In fact, I didn't even bother going into the United Lounge at SFO on the way back, mainly since they charge for Wi-Fi if you are flying peanut class like I was. So I just parked myself in the food court where I got Wi-Fi for free. It's unfortunate that this new schedule via HKG gets in later than before too. When all was said and done, I kinda wish that I had flown ANA instead.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tres Potrillos Taqueria in Sunnyvale

Birria Chivo

I wasn't expecting to get this here (670 North Fair Oaks Avenue, 735-8657), especially since menudo was something that they only serve on weekends. But when I looked at the list of specials today, goat soup was up there. And given what a great experience I had with it the other day, I had to get a bowl here too.

Unfortunately, I didn't like this one as much. Sure, the soup was tasty, the corn tortillas were piping hot, and the meat was tender enough to fall off the bone again. But it just didn't get me as excited as the other day, in part because of how darned huge the bowl was (i.e., it's not very good toward the end when it starts to get cold). They also didn't provide many condiments to dress this with either, even though the salsa bar here was pretty darned impressive with its chips, pickles and radishes. Also working against me was the fact that I was intentionally avoiding onions before getting on a long haul flight back to Asia, especially since United says that I didn't clear the upgrade list.

I'll still come back here, most likely as a pit stop on the way up to SFO again. The ceviche looked pretty good, and apparently they are known for doing some San Diego specialties like carne asada fries and a peculiarly named California burrito. But for the goat soup, I prefer Birrieria Jalisco, in part simply because the portion size is so much more reasonable.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Birrieria Jalisco, San Jose, California

Birria Chivo Chica

Mmm...that was delicious. See, I've been meaning to try some Mexican goat head soup for a while now, but only had the chance to finally get it today from this little shop just down the street from El Sol Market (693 North 13th Street, 288-9437). And while the piece that they gave me today didn't seem to be the head itself, it had tasty fatty goat meat that just fell off the bone, and garnishing it with those various Mexican condiments made it all the more tasty. I liked this even better than menudo, and am definitely coming back again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Old Pro's Double Double in Palo Alto

OP Double Double

Not to be confused with the Double Double from In-N-Out (nor Slater's 50/50 from SoCal), this was the OP Double Double from the Old Pro in Palo Alto. Yes, the two patties plus onion ring stacked in this thing made it too tall to eat, so one basically had to either smash it down or take the thing apart and eat it in pieces. I did both. The Niman Ranch patties were tasty, if a bit overcooked.

They are also now providing a ghost chili option among the selection of buffalo wing sauces; as if habanero wasn't hot enough. Actually, I liked the habanero sauce better than last time, and they stopped resting them on those fried noodle bits too. Granted, the wings were still a bit too meaty, but the sauces were surprisingly addictive. I even used them to dip my fries into, despite how much residual heat they kept providing.

Tacos from Alviso's El Taco de Oro Again

Al Pastor and Cabeza Tacos

I didn't intend to come down here again. But I finished a meeting in the neighborhood and still had a bit of time before dinner, so I figured that it'd be good to grab a quick snack to keep the hunger pangs at bay. They were yet again out of the tripe tacos today, so I grabbed an al pastor as well as cabeza (beef cheek) taco, all for a total of just US$2.50. Gotta love these things: cheap, delicious, and small enough to leave you enough room for dinner later.

CurryUpNow, San Mateo, California

Deconstructed Samosa

A name like CurryUpNow wasn't exactly anything that got me excited the first time I was told about these guys. And yet I kept hearing about these guys in passing, in part because they run a bunch of food trucks in the Bay Area, along with a bricks and mortar spot in San Mateo - not far from Jeffrey's, in fact. I needed to be there today anyway, so I stopped by here for a quick lunch while I was at it see what all of the fuss was about (129 South B Street, 477-1001).

I liked it. Sure, it featured basic Indian food like thalis and lassi. But they also had some interesting twists like sweet potato fries and Indian burgers, as well as the "deconstructed samosa" above, which was basically a samosa chaat but garnished with mini samosas. Oh - and burritos, which was apparently one of the things that got these guys off the ground in the first place. We've of course seen Korean tacos before, so why not Indian burritos?

Yes, I'll come back again, most likely to give that chicken tikka masala burrito a try. The decor was surprisingly well done too; looking a bit like Nando's or maybe even a Starbucks. Then again, hopefully I'll just come across one of their trucks at A Moveable Feast next time I can get to one.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dio Deka, Los Gatos, California

Mithia

Mmm...that was much better than I thought it would be. Granted, it did have a Michelin star and all. But we were deep in the 'burbs, so I was surprised with this Greek place tucked away inside a little boutique hotel (210 E. Main St, 408-354-7700).

Not only was the food good, but the service and decor were great too. My favorite was the grilled octopus as well as the abalone, both of which were seasoned perfectly, as were the mussels above. Apparently this guy spent some time at Ubuntu in Napa as well as nearby Manresa, which perhaps explains a few things.

My only gripe was a cauliflower that was unnecessarily salty, but they did say it was salt-baked (I was expecting, as with many other salt-baked dishes, for it in fact to *not* be salty). But I'll easily come back here again - most likely for small plates and wine, if anything.

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, SF

Mousetrap Sandwich

I'm not sure how I came across these guys - I think they might have been featured on a TV show or something (1 South Park Avenue, Suite 103A, 415-243-0107). Anyway, after getting out of the airport today, I needed a quick bite before heading into the office. So I came here, where they featured a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and sides.

I went for the most basic "mousetrap" sandwich, which didn't have any meat or fillings in it, but was still tasty given the quality of the bread. The apple was a nice touch too; one can't help but think of school cafeterias as a result. Next time I'll have to be sure to try the other the other varieties that they were offering.

Going Back to the SilverKris Lounge in T3

SilverKris Lounge food

I very rarely - if ever - am able to get upgraded on SQ. So it's not very often that I get access into the SilverKris Lounge given that SQ reserves that for first and business class only, deferring all others to the lowly KrisFlyer Gold lounge. And United, with whom I am flying with today, always gives you a voucher to the even more plebeian SATS Premier lounge next door to that.

Yet somehow it never dawned on me until recently that I didn't have to be flying SQ in order to get access to the SilverKris Lounge. I just needed to be flying some form of Star Alliance Business Class. When I last figured this out on an upgraded Lufthansa ticket, I was in Changi Terminal 2, which was of course still the older terminal. Today, while on an upgraded United ticket, I was in Terminal 3, so I made my way into that posh marble-laden lounge that I had only visited once before.

And it reminded me of how much of a step up this was compared to those other two lounges, both in terms of decor as well as the food spread, which was multiple times larger here, including a decent cheese selection. Even the porridge bowls were gigantic here compared to the tiny little things that they provide elsewhere. Sure, the taste was unappealingly bland, but I'd much rather come here than that SATS Premier lounge, assuming that United continues to clear my upgrade requests, that is.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My First Taste of Chicken Rice Balls

Malacca Chicken Rice Balls

Malacca is not a far drive from Singapore. And yet in all of the years that I've lived here, I've only stopped there once...and that was such a quick stop that I didn't even get a chance to try what Malacca is known for: chicken rice balls. So when I saw it here at one of the stalls in Resorts World Sentosa's new Malaysian Food Street, I figured that this would be a good chance to finally try it.

I don't know if it was that big of a deal though. It was basically just chicken rice, except that the rice was not a bunch of fluffy grains in a bowl but rather a stickier version formed into little spheres. And I don't know if it was just this stall or not, but the chili sauce was rather tame. I suppose that one can't expect much given that we were not in Malacca itself, but it was interesting to see them using very yellow chickens.

This amusement park-like food court was darned crowded today either way. Its faux-retro decor was a bit like the Yokohama Raumen Museum, but Malaysian instead, with a variety of food from across Penang, KL, and Malacca. Unfortunately I missed the KL Hokkien Mee (not to be confused with the Penang Hokkien Mee). Instead, I waited for the Ampang Yong Tau Foo, which was a bit of a yawner, even if seemingly true to form.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Beef Ramen from Yoshinoya Singapore?

Beef Ramen

OK, I kinda knew that this was going to be nasty. In fact, after having seen what they had done with shabu shabu, there was really no reason for me to order this at all. Except that for some reason, soup sounded better than rice tonight, so I figured that I'd give this special a try.

And perhaps not surprisingly, the noodles were nasty (i.e., soft), while the broth wasn't exactly anything brewed on the spot either. It was hardly what one would call ramen; it was more like soup noodles topped with their usual gyudon beef, the latter of which was the only redeeming quality. Indeed, in the end, I went back up to the counter to order a rice bowl afterwards. So much for that soup.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tampopo's Hotaru Ika to Negitoro Don

Hotaru Ika to Negitoro Don

Hotaru ika is apparently some kind of squid from Toyama that glows in the dark, and they were in season today at Tampopo. They had run out of the cooked version that they normally use in this bowl, so instead they gave me raw ones at a slight premium. I had never had these little things before, so I was curious to know what they tasted like.

To my surprise, each one had a small bladder of juice (or guts?) inside that burst open upon biting into it. It was kinda like eating that old school Freshen Up gum with the gel in the center, except that in this case, the filling was thin and fishy. It may sound kinda gross, but I can see why people like it: sure, it was a little fishy, but it was savory too.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Chong Qing Grilled Fish Restaurant, Singapore

Chong Qing Grilled Fish

I walked past this place a few weeks ago (18 Mosque Street #01-01, 6225-0087) and noticed how it was completely packed with people. Given all of the other Sichuan places around, I wasn't quite sure what made this place so special. But when I saw the grilled fish on a burner on everyone's table, I realized that it indeed looked interesting enough to come down here at another time to give it a try.

The good thing was that the fish pretty much tasted like it looked. Being covered in all of those Sichuan spices, one might think that it wasn't much more than your everyday shui zu yu. But this fish had the charred effect of being grilled on a fire first, almost making it a bit like ikan bakar but sitting in Sichuan spices - and a darned tongue numbingly concoction at that. The sodium was excessive, but that just comes with the territory.

The starters and sides were dismissible though; there were plenty of other places around that one could get much better ones at. As it turns out, these guys also run the haplessly named Let's Toss!. And just as with that place, these starters weren't anything special, but they did the job, I suppose.