Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ah Tai Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre

Ah Tai Chicken Rice

When I first moved to Singapore over ten years ago, my favorite chicken rice stall at that time was by far Tian Tian Chicken Rice. But over time, I found that I didn't like it as much as before, particularly in recent years. I wasn't sure if it was because my tastes had changed, or if Tian Tian itself had changed. So when I read that the former chef at Tian Tian had opened up his own shop, Ah Tai, just a few doors down at Maxwell Food Centre stall number 7, I wondered if maybe the old Tian Tian that I used to love was back. I came down here for lunch today to find out.

Interestingly, Ah Tai already had a line forming when I got there at 11:30 AM...all while Tian Tian was empty. The most notable thing about this guy was how big and fluffy his rice was. The chicken was very tender, but other than that, there wasn't really anything else that stood out about it. Indeed, I didn't really care for it that much in the end because it wasn't that fragrant (no sesame oil nor scallions). I was still a bit hungry though, so I figured that I might as well get a competing plate from Tian Tian while I was here to see what the difference was.

Tian Tian Chicken Rice

I immediately liked Tian Tian better, most notably because of a bit of sesame oil from that sauce, even if I still had to proactively ask them for the garnish. The soup was also much richer in chicken taste, whereas the soup from the other guy was just plain salty. Now, admittedly it still wasn't the same Tian Tian that I used to remember, although frankly I'm struggling to put my finger on which chicken rice shop I ultimately like the best these days. Based on what I wrote before, it sounds like it would be a tossup between Yet Con, Loy Kee, and Yeo Keng Nam. But I haven't been back to those guys in many years either, so who knows if they've changed too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spargel and Ham Pasta from Marché

Spargel and Ham Pasta

It's Spargel season. I didn't quite feel like paying S$21.50 (US$16.90) for a small plate of it again, but maybe having it with some of Marché's homemade pasta would be a bit more interesting. I liked it, as somehow the asparagus seemed a bit more tender and sweeter this way, even if it was covered in a rich cream sauce. Unfortunately, that Karamalz bottle in the background was pretty nasty. It was a malt beverage, but had two key shortcomings. First, it was non-alcoholic, and second, it was a little sweet. Ugh!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Discovering Dian Xiao Er in Singapore

Duck Roasted with Ten Wonder Herbs

I must have passed by outlets of Dian Xiao Er numerous times, but I never really had any inclination to go inside, in part since it just seemed like any other Chinese restaurant around town. It was only upon looking at their menu did I get intrigued by some signature duck that was roasted with Chinese herbs. I'm not exactly a fan of Chinese herbs, but somehow this got me curious, and we came by tonight to give it a try.

I'm so glad that we did. That duck was delicious, mainly because of all of its tasty fat and crispy skin - and nary a sign of bitter herbs to be found. The dark sauce that it sat in was also much thinner and lighter than I was expecting, thus complementing the taste of the duck rather than overwhelming it with any kind of thick sweet stuff that one usually gets at other places. I got a little shot glass of huangjiu to go with it, as well as some thick geng soup, the latter of which was not as refreshing as the one at Teochew Restaurant, but still did the job.

Yes, we'll easily come back, perhaps super-sizing to a larger portion of that wonderful duck. Indeed, it was interesting to find out that these guys were actually run by the same guys who do Soup Restaurant, which not only explains why we liked the food, but also the similarity in its cozy Chinese-themed decor. I can't believe that I've been missing out on this place after so many years!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

People's Park Food Centre in Chinatown

Chuan Bei Liang Fen

In all of the years that I've been in Singapore, I've never been to People's Park Food Centre, in part because I figured that it would be filled with local food stalls just like any other hawker center. But as it turns out, there is one row of stalls along the eastern edge serving food from mainland China instead, including a place focused on ma la xiang guo, which incidentally had the longest line of them all. Next door to that was this guy selling a few different kinds of noodles (stall 1044), such as this chuan bei liang fen. It was spicy, but it definitely wasn't as refreshing as those Shaanxi noodles from Geylang, especially since these noodles still came out half-warm.

Ma La Liang Pi

Fortunately, I spotted a number of other stalls out in the courtyard (even further east just outside of the train station) where I went to get this bowl of ma la liang pi next. It was using heavier rice noodles, but it was definitely much more fragrant, in part due to a peanut sauce on top, if I identified it correctly. I definitely prefer this one over the first guy, but unfortunately neither of these could compare to those Shaanxi noodles in Geylang.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vegetarian Phở and Bún from Pho Hoa

Vegetarian Pho

My original order was actually a normal bowl of phở. But a few seconds later, it dawned on me that I barely had any veggies today, so I immediately switched my order to the vegetarian version, seeing how the picture on the menu seemed to show it loaded with fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, that also meant that the broth was no longer beef-based, which effectively made this thing not that different from a soup version of yong tau foo (basically, poached vegetables in clear soup), albeit with fresh basil and a squeeze of lime. Actually, it got better with a bit of that fresh chili...so much that I still drank it down to the last drop. But I really should have gotten the normal phở.

Vegetarian Bun

After that, I realized that I still needed more food, so I figured that I'd give the vegetarian bún a try. It certainly came out quickly, seeing how they didn't have to heat up any broth to pour on top of it. I liked this one better, as it was effectively still the same bún that I'm used to getting, except sans meat. Next time I'm down here at the Pho Hoa stall at the basement of Takashimaya, I'll get normal beef phở but pair it with a side of this stuff for a half-hearted attempt at getting a serving of vegetables.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Salt Tapas & Bar, Singapore

Moroccan Tartare

I've only been to Salt at the top of ION Orchard once, and that was for a corporate sponsored event. But I liked that signature crab omelette enough that I figured that it'd eventually be worth trying his new tapas bar down at Raffles City Shopping Centre (252 North Bridge Road #01-22A, 6837-0995). Tonight, I finished a meeting next door at the Swissôtel Stamford, so I made a stop here for a quick snack before heading home.

Similar to my experience at Esquina the other day though, this place wasn't that traditional; I suppose that it was more of an extension of his Australian restaurants instead. At least I liked the Moroccan tartare above (think: raisins and cumin), as well as the bone marrow and duck rillettes, all of which were decent quality. But it was yet another huge wad of money out the door again, so much that this may be my first and only time there.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Esquina Tapas Bar, Singapore

Fried Quail Eggs, Asparagus and Iberian Ham Salad with Truffle Mayo

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding this little tapas bar in Chinatown lately (16 Jiak Chuan Road, 6222-1616), most likely due to its association with a Michelin-starred chef and his decorated past in the UK and Spain, not to mention the no reservations policy there. Tonight, I was on my own for dinner, but I wasn't super hungry yet. So I figured that this would be a perfect chance to stop by for a few small snacks on my way home from work, especially since it'd probably be easy for me to squeeze up to the counter as a solo diner if I got there early enough on a Monday night.

Fortunately, my bet was right. The staff immediately made eye contact upon approach, happily seating me at the counter. The guy sitting next to me was a regular, and he had already started pointing out to me the things to get. And while the quality of the ingredients was certainly very good, I wasn't a big fan of the modern (almost fusion-like) approach to the food. For instance, the scallop ceviche was tossed in a rather Asian-like dressing, while the prawn special tonight was done in a mild curry with thin slices of almonds. The thing I ended up liking the most was the one that was the most traditional in nature: that asparagus salad above, topped with fried quail eggs and a few bits of ham. (OK, the bone marrow was good too, but I still prefer the minimalist version at St. John's.)

Well, I take solace in the fact that it was cool to watch the kitchen at work...it was like a symphony with tonight's chef shouting orders and his staff magically delivering individual components to him over the course of the night. He was very friendly too, even taking the time to stop what he was doing to ask if I was OK. Still, the damage was nearly two bills tonight, which means that I effectively won't be coming back here again unless someone else pays. For that kind of money, I'd rather go to Santi, although I guess that's no longer an option in Singapore anymore.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Din Tai Fung Singapore Has New Menu Items

Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Patty and Green Chilies Stuffed with Marinated Minced Meat

It looks like Din Tai Fung in Singapore has some new menu items - or at least, the one at Marina Bay Link Mall does. These little egg roll-like things were my favorite of them all, with a light and crispy skin as well as a savory slice of aromatic duck inside. The biggest letdown, however, were those stuffed green chilies in the back, which were not even the slightest bit spicy, but rather annoyingly sweet. The same could be said of the the noodles with spicy sauce, which again were not spicy but sweet. Actually, the biggest surprise was probably the chicken-based xiao long bao. It was still the same little dumpling, but just imagine Mom's chicken soup inside: refreshingly comforting. I'll get that one again.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fish Burger from Freshness Burger

Fish Burger

If that looks like a lot of lettuce in there, that's because I explicitly asked for it. See, Freshness Burger had a little sign at the cash register that suggested making their burgers healthier by requesting more veggies (for free). They also suggested reducing the amount of sauce - and interestingly, with a "warning" that it might actually make it taste better. Either way, it was more surprising to me to that the patty was less than half of what the clown provides...and ironically, without the wasabi sauce either.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Usual Fruit Platter on SQ

Fruit Platter

Yes, this fruit platter thing is starting to become a regular thing for me. It sure is a heck of a lot healthier than those regular meals. This one was a bit different in that it came with a banana and kiwi, the latter of which got a bit messy when one had to peel it. Perhaps more interesting was that the seats on this flight yet again did not have power outlets, even if the flight on the way up did. I wish they would standardize on those other seats instead.

Shanghai Ren Jia at Pudong Airport

River Shrimp

I needed lunch before getting on the plane today, so I stopped at this restaurant outside of immigration at Pudong Airport Terminal 2. Fortunately, they had river shrimp here, so I grabbed that, even if it was of the cooked variety. It was delicate and tasty, but also a bit pricey at 108 RMB (US$17) for that tiny serving above. I also grabbed more of that shan si eel, which was much more peppery here than the other night - in a good way. I gobbled it down in seconds.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Di Shui Dong, Shanghai, China

Chinese Ribs

A colleague of ours took us to this place (56 Mao Ming Road, 6253-2689) because it was allegedly Mao Zedong's favorite place to go to in Shanghai. I have no idea how true that was, but there were some things named after him here, like some fried shrimp thing that looked like...well, fried shrimp. We were told that these ribs were the things to get here though, so we grabbed this along with a few other small spicy starters (this place specializes in Xiang cuisine from Hunan).

Now, when I heard about spicy Chinese ribs, I thought of those gigantic ribs from Three Guizhou Men in Beijing. So I was surprised to find these much smaller...in a good way. They were also covered in cumin and fennel, which made it basically taste like yang rou chuanr. Most of the other dishes like the spicy cold noodles were fine, but this place was also surprisingly touristy too, most likely the result of being listed in some travel book.

Random Noodles from Huanghe Road, Shanghai

Some kind of noodles

I have no idea what this dish was called - nor the name of the shop that I got it at, for that matter. But I needed some kind of soup noodles to sit in my belly, and Huanghe Road once again was the late night area that the hotel figured that I should go to. I walked into a random shop and he recommended this, which wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, but it still did the job in the end, especially with some of their chili oil.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Harbour Plaza, Shanghai, China

Mini Abalone

At a quick glance, I initially thought it was a plate of mussels. Only when I looked at it again more closely did I realize that they were miniature abalone. It was good - along with a number of the other dishes that were brought out as part of our banquet at this chain restaurant tonight. I particularly liked a caramelized fish thing that apparently is local to Shanghai - it almost tasted like candy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Xing Tai Canteen, Huanghe Road, Shanghai

Xiang You Shan Si and Drunken Prawns

I hope I got the name of this place correct - it was the best that I could figure out using nciku. I wasn't specifically planning to come to this shop either (137 Huanghe Road, 6372-5871). But the hotel's concierge mentioned that this street was well-known for having a lot of local food, so I had the cabbie take me to the street to see what I could find.

OK, there was something I was specifically looking for...or two. They were two dishes that I immediately associate with Shanghai food that aren't commonly available anywhere else (so that means *not* xiao long bao nor sheng jian bao). It was that white pepper eel dish as well as drunken prawns, and this shop had them. So I sat myself down and ordered exactly those two items.

While it might not look too appetizing in the photo, the former came out with that white pepper fragrance emanating off of these delicate strips of mildly sweet eel - I gobbled this plate up in seconds with a bowl of rice. The raw prawns, however, were bigger than I was expecting, as I had smaller river shrimp the first time I was up here. Having to peel these bigger guys made it less convenient to eat.

A Better Fruit Platter on SQ

Fruit Platter

Here was my fruit platter on SQ this morning...fortunately they filled this one up so that it wasn't like the embarrassingly empty plate from last time. And those yellow/orange things in the middle were not cantaloupe, but rather some very sweet mangoes, which was a pleasant surprise.

Perhaps more interesting was the fact that this A330-700 had some documentation in the seatback pocket suggesting that SQ had contracted OnAir to provide not only in-flight Wi-Fi, but also in-flight mobile phone and SMS connectivity, as long as you were on a plane fitted with it (and flying over countries that had approved of it). I couldn't get a signal either way.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Soon Lee Pig Organ Soup, Singapore

Meatball Soup

Zion Riverside Food Centre has finally reopened. It was largely the same thing aside from a new paint job, overhead lighting, and most notably the restrooms (which hopefully will stink less of disinfectant!). Most of the stalls were still there, including the Teochew noodle man, the famous char kway teow guy, and the fish soup lady. It looks like the satay guy is gone though.

Either way, I hadn't been to this kway chap stall (number 14) yet. And admittedly I was in no mood for innards, but this meatball soup looked pretty good - fortunately it turned out to be pretty good too, with an edgy stank to the meatballs (in a good way, like Punggol Noodles) that went well with my white pepper laced broth and the sour chili sauce. I'll come back to get this again.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Wantan-Men from Ippudo Singapore

Shoyu Wanton Ramen

I wasn't quite in the mood for a thick tonkotsu this morning, so I went instead for the wantan-men at Ippudo, seeing how they used a shoyu-based broth. Unfortunately, it turned out to be mildly sweet, and borderline annoyingly so - such that I didn't really enjoy it too much. And perhaps due to a couple of recent visits to Noodle Place at Centrepoint, I inappropriately had Cantonese wanton mee in my head instead, to which this one certainly was not as fragrant. Next time it'd be worth checking out some of the other off-beat items that I saw on the menu here though; most notably the yaki ramen and hiyashi ramen.