Friday, November 30, 2012

Aunt I's Jamaican Restaurant in Miami

Small Jerk Chicken

When I read about this small local chain in a writeup about all of the Carribean food available in the Miami, I got excited. (I think that the last time that I had jerk chicken was back in college!) I thus came here to fill my belly with Jamaican food before heading back to the hotel.

The good thing was that the chicken was a lot spicier than I thought it would be. But being hacked up into that bony mess above made it a bit hard to eat, especially when coming across a dry skinless piece of chunky breast meat without the benefit of those scotch bonnet peppers. I still washed it down with that super perky Jamaican ginger beer though, and I'd be curious to see what the rest of the menu is like.

Captain Jim Hanson's Seafood, North Miami

Collosal Stone Crab Claws

I needed a quick snack this afternoon to keep me going before dinnertime, and I figured what better to do that while I was here than more of these local stone crab claws? This shop (12950 West Dixie Highway, 892-2812) was rated decently in Zagat for being no-frills and cheap, and thus fit my personality just right. I stepped in, grabbed a refreshing amber bock, and waited for my stone crab claws, which I heard them hammering away at in the fish market section of the venue.

And boy, did they need to hammer at it. See, I got the biggest "collosal" sized-claws this time (as opposed to the smallest "medium" ones from the other day). This made the shell so darned thick that it was even thicker than Sri Lankan crabs from back in Singapore. I struggled so much with applying a nutcracker to a particular piece that the staff suggested that they just bring it back to the market to use a hammer instead. But yes, after getting it all open, this firm tasty meat was delicious, even without covering it up in butter or that mild mustard sauce.

I'm not sure why I had such a bad and tasteless experience with this stuff the first time I had it. Maybe it was off-season and they had kept it in storage or something. But now I'm loving this stuff, and can definitely see what all of the fuss is about. I'd be eating it quite regularly if I lived in the area. It's still pretty pricey at the end of the day; those two claws above were about $35, even at this bargain venue. I'd hate to see what kind of prices they were charging at more upscale places like Joe's.

La Camaronera Restaurant & Fish Market, Miami

The Original Pan Con Minuta with a Malta India

With the week's meetings completed, I grabbed a rental car to make my way back into the city to hunt down more local food, with this one being a particularly interesting Cuban seafood shop (1952 West Flagler Street, 642-3322). Indeed, once you stepped inside, it smelled like a fish market. And yet, the seafood cabinet was just a small portion of the venue. The bulk of it was a big open kitchen surrounded by a low counter where everyone stood around chomping at fresh seafood that appeared in minutes upon ordering. Sweet!

I grabbed their signature snapper sandwich above, which was pretty cool in that they left the tail on. Dressed only with a small amount of sauce and onions, this thing was delicious, especially when doused with what seemed to be a Colombian Sriracha sauce. Everyone in there seemed to be having a good time; I think I was the only person in there not speaking Spanish. Anyway, I washed this all down with that malt beverage above. I never realized that this stuff was so common in Carribean cuisine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

El Mago de las Fritas, Miami

Frita Cubana

We'd been eating non-stop already, but there was just one more thing that I wanted to get before heading back for meetings: a so-called Cuban burger, and this place (5828 Southwest 8th Street, 266-8486) was supposed to be the best in town.

I think that built up my expectations too much. After all, what's not to like about fried potatoes shoved into a burger? Well, the tomato-ey sauce in this one made it taste a bit like a sloppy joe, and there really wasn't a lot to get excited about. At least I tried it.

Versailles Restaurant in Miami, Florida

Clockwise from bottom: cafe cubano, cortadito, and pastelitos de guayaba y queso

This place (3555 Southwest 8th Street, 444-0240) is an institution for Cuban food in Miami, so we stopped by here for some Cuban coffee at its outward-facing bar. The super sweet coffee hit the spot, as did the guava and cheese-filled pastry. I'm assuming that these guys have no relation to Versailles in LA?

Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market, Miami

Stone Crab Claws and Fried Conch

The first time I had stone crab claws, I was not impressed. And yet, being in Miami this week, I had to take advantage of the local seafood, so we came down to this cool seafood place by the river for an early lunch today (398 Northwest North River Drive, 375-0765), grabbing a set of small claws as well another local delicacy: fried conch.

The conch was firmer than I was expecting - and in a good way. More importantly, this experience has completely changed my opinion of stone crab claws for the better. Granted, they still weren't as delicate as dungeness from back home. But they had a mildly sweet and rich taste to them, so much that I wanted to get another plate of larger claws afterwards. I think I'd better get some more later this week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A United Express "p.m." Box

A United Express p.m. Box

Here was the snack box that they handed out on this tiny Mesa Airlines regional flight tonight. It was a bit salty, but hey - have you ever seen hummus served in a tube like that before? (Oh wait - I guess Osia kinda does that, but in a slimmer toothpaste-like tube instead.)

A Pork Chop on United

Pork Chop with Morel Sauce

This pork chop with morel sauce was definitely one of the better things that I've had on United. Sure, it was a bit dry, but I wolfed this thing down in seconds. All that was left on the plate in the end was the bone.

Sushi Kyotatsu at Narita Airport

Maguro Zukushi

Whenever I transit in Narita, I usually head straight for one of three venues: the United Club, the ANA Lounge, or that ANA FESTA food court. But I was always kinda curious about that sushi bar near the United gates that I always saw just before hopping onto my connecting flight. You know, the one with the sign that says "last chance to enjoy good sushi and good sake before you leave"? It sounded a bit touristy, but I gave it a try today, especially since time was too tight to head to the other places (Terminal 1 Satellite 3, 476-32-1777).

It turned out to be proper sushi, as seen with the progression of those maguro pieces from akami to chutoro to otoro above (and yes, the prices were high to match too). More importantly though, the service was surprisingly fast, with at least three or four chefs behind the counter for probably no more than 20-25 diners. The place was very small and cramped, so one can't expect to park all of one's luggage comfortably and sprawl out with a computer. But I was in and out of there in maybe just 15 minutes anyway. I wonder if their outlets in town are just as fast.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

NamNam Noodle Bar, Raffles City

Gỏi cuốn

This place wasn't very high on my priority list when I had first heard about it, mainly since I haven't had much luck with Vietnamese places around here, especially ones that are as commercialized as this (252 North Bridge Road #B1-46, 6336-0500). But when I passed by the other day and saw counter-style seating as well as an externally-facing bánh mì bar, I was intrigued.

At first, it was better than I thought it would be. The cute little gỏi cuốn above were tiny but tightly wrapped, while the dipping sauce had a surprising bit of pâté in it, if I tasted it correctly. It was much more sophisticated than I had figured it to be, and in the spirit of that, they also offered a bowl of phở that featured wagyu, whose meat was naturally very tender. Unfortunately, I really didn't care that much for the lean broth.

Similarly, the ingredients inside the bánh mì were rich, spicy, and refreshing. But Sandwich Saigon still reigns supreme when it comes to the bread. Either way, it looks like they have a breakfast deal starting at 8 AM on weekdays (and they've opened up a shop at Wheelock Place too), so I may just have to stop by here one day before heading into the office.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bornga from Korea in Singapore

From front: Ggot Sal and Woo Sam Yeop

Another day, another restaurant from Korea (1 Vista Exchange Green #02-24, 6694-4696). Actually, I tried to come to this place at the Star Vista a few weeks ago, but got turned away because it was completely packed. Tonight, I got here early enough that I was able to be seated, ordering the celebrity chef's famous woo sam yeop as well as some unmarinated ggot sap.

With just one bite, one could tell the quality here was several notches above that Kkongdon place. The signature woo sam yeop in particular was something I'd never had before: super thin slices of beef in a lightly sweet sauce that was delicious. Actually, it was a bit reminiscent of a Yoshinoya gyudon, but more refined. Cool.

Word to the wise though: if you come here as a solo diner like I did tonight, they require you to buy at least two meat courses if you're getting the BBQ. And since it was intended for at least two people, be prepared for not only a ton of banchan, but also a ton of fresh wraps, all of which was incidentally refillable. There was no way anyone could accuse me of not eating enough greens today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Korea's Kkongdon in Singapore

Pork Belly

A BBQ chain from Korea has opened up an outlet at Marina Square (6 Raffles Boulevard #B1-01, 6336-2580), and it's run by the folks behind that nasty Jack's Place chain, of all people. That wasn't very encouraging to hear, so I wasn't getting my hopes up. But apparently this is a budget chain in Korea too, and accordingly so, I lowered my expectations.

The good thing was that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Wooden chopsticks aside, this place was actually half-authentic, and was surely a heck of a lot better than that terrible Seoul Garden place...or even that His.tori buffet place. Granted, at these prices, one couldn't expect high quality. But it worked for me, especially after loading up on unlimited kimchi and greens.

OK, there was one catch to these cheap prices: the ventilation here was terrible, and I made the mistake of coming here in a suit. So even though the pork belly above was a cheap S$16 (US$13), I'm going to have to pay for dry cleaning now. Next time, come dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, and definitely don't plan any meetings afterwards!

Pita Pan at Marina Bay Sands

Half Pocket Sandwich on Za'atar Pita

I was over at Marina Bay Sands for a meeting this morning and needed a quick lunch before rushing back to the office. At first, I was hoping that maybe Daniel Boulud had some kind of an express lunch set or something, but then it dawned on me that I hadn't been to Pita Pan yet, and it'd sure be a heck of a lot cheaper and faster (2 Bayfront Ave #01-87, 6688-7450).

Now, I never really liked falafels in the past, mainly due to some really bad renditions from back in school that were dry and tasteless. So today's half pocket sandwich was like night and day, as these the falafels inside were crispy on the outside and moist in the middle, making them a delight to eat, especially when one could dress the pita with an impressive spread of veggies and sauces.

It was only afterwards did I realize why this place was so good; it's actually run by an Israeli celebrity chef. I'll easily come back here again, but admittedly more for the falafel rather than the shakshuka that I got afterwards; the menemen-like thing was tasty, but the sizzling pan made it too difficult to eat quickly, especially in the searing heat of this open air venue.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ramen Bari-Uma, Tanglin Shopping Centre

Ajitama-Uma

Another ramen shop has opened up in Singapore. Not to be confused with Uma Uma Ramen down the street, these guys are Ramen Bari-Uma, taking the location of the former Bombay Woodlands (19 Tanglin Road #B1-01, 6887-4484).

It surprised me. The mildly thick tonkotsu broth was so savory that one might have even thought that they slipped in a bouillon cube, kinda like how Tsukada Nojo tastes. The thick cut of pork was so much better than your everyday chashu, as they scorched it on the outside and topped it with a dab of sauce. And the gyoza came out piping hot and crunchy.

Rock on. This place has easily catapulted itself into my list of Top 3 ramen shops in town. Keisuke and Musashi, watch out. I'm going to be coming here a lot more instead!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First Class out of SFO on SQ 15

Lobster Medallions

I think I've only flown First Class on SQ once or twice. Those were regional flights, and hence using the older seats. So I took advantage of this (very rare) paid Business Class itinerary to upgrade, especially since I had a full day of meetings waiting for me the next day. Note though that these were not those famous double-bed suites that SQ uses on the A380 - I don't think they even allow upgrades to those. The seat on this 777-300ER had no sliding screen doors, but it was still certainly very generously wide and long, and complete with a huge LCD screen. Interestingly, there were no overhead bins; I guess that there was enough room in the compartments under the screen that one could stow any carry-ons there.

In terms of food, it looks like my hypothesis about soup in First Class still stands. There were several varieties available, including Korean maeuntang, but my favorite was a spicy Mexican one done by Alfred Portale. It was so good that I could have easily had several bowls of that alone. Just for sheer novelty value, I also got some caviar to start, as well as something else that I didn't expect to see in that leather-bound menu: Krispy Kreme! (Haha - they definitely weren't as good as being straight from the fryer though!)

In light of all of that, the bulgogi that I pre-ordered turned out to be the least exciting of them all. Fortunately, it was better than that gyu-don on the way out, but I think I'm done with this Book the Cook stuff. Next time, I'll just order from the normal menu. It's strange that there weren't any Indian meals on the menu though; this was still an Air India code share.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Breakfast Pie from Room Service

Breakfast Pie

Gosh, I can hardly remember the last time that I ordered room service. But I was in a rush to get to my morning meetings before heading to the airport, and to my surprise, the room service prices at this hotel weren't as outrageous as I had thought, with this item above being only $10. I had no idea what a "breakfast pie" was - I figured that maybe it was like that tamale pie that I had a couple of months ago. It turned out to be this tortilla-wrapped omelet, if you will, and it was actually good enough that I shoveled it down in seconds.

Granted, the low food price was probably subsidized by the room rate at this hotel, which was quite outrageous for what was only a mid-range hotel at best (I believe that there is a convention in town right now or something). And interestingly, they still left you a section to write in a tip, despite the fact that they already added a service charge *and* gratuity to the meal. I felt kinda bad for not giving the delivery guy anything as a result - I really hope that the hotel gives him his take of that "gratuity" that they slapped onto the bill.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks

Idaho Rainbow Trout

I've never really been a fan of McCormick & Schmick's, which is strange since this wood-paneled seafood chain would seem like exactly my kind of place. But I never liked how a lot of things on the menu tended to be unnecessarily dressed up, like encrusting stuff in sesame seeds and pairing it with an Asian ginger sauce.

Fortunately, the minimalist in me found this simple broiled rainbow trout on the menu, which was light and tender. Unfortunately, the veggies were disappointingly tough; so much that I was practically sawing through them with my knife. But hey, it was fresh and was near the hotel, which suited me just fine considering how exhausted I am.

A Random Bagel For Breakfast

Sesame Whole Grain Bagel

I needed breakfast before a long day of non-stop meetings today, so I stopped at a random bagel shop down the street from the client site. This one was strangely soft, but it did the job, I suppose.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pho Tau Bay in San Jose, California

Phở Tai Sach

I wasn't really in the mood for Vietnamese food tonight. After all, there seemed like so many good Mexican places not far from the hotel that I could have gone to. But I'm starting to come down with a cold, and I figured that perhaps one of the best remedies I could get to fight that was a piping hot bowl of phở. I had heard of this small local chain before, and so I came down to an outlet of theirs to try it out.

Unfortunately, it was a letdown. Maybe it was just because my taste buds aren't working 100% right now, but man, that broth was bland. Granted, the ingredients they used were pretty fresh, but I won't be getting any cravings for this place. At least it's good to see that they are open from 8 AM to midnight though; that might come in handy one of these days.

Schaub's Meat Fish & Poultry, Palo Alto

Fred's Sirloin Sandwich

After taking care of a few things in the area today, I figured that it would be a good time to come to this place to try their famous Fred Steak (395 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-6328). Actually, the labels on the meat here read Fred's Steak, but for some reason people call it Fred Steak.

Perhaps more peculiar than the name was the meat's hideous appearance, being completely black both before and after cooking, apparently due to some secret marinade used by the guy who invented it. But once sliced up into a sandwich like that, it basically just looked like slices of pink roast beef. And unfortunately, it didn't really taste that different from roast beef either.

Frankly, I couldn't see what all of the fuss was about it. I mean, sure it was tender, but I couldn't taste anything that special, even after plucking out individual slices from that sandwich so that it didn't get covered up by all of the mustard and pickles. I guess that I'll have to try the real thing one day and grill the entire cut of meat on a barbecue.

Another Run on SQ 16 to SFO

Gyu-don

Time for a very fast run to the Bay Area. Indeed, time was of the essence on this tight trip in the middle of a very busy week, but fortunately I had Book the Cook privileges on this itinerary. I chose this gyu-don, which tasted as bad as it looked. I was expecting something at least half-comparable to Yoshinoya, but got this goopy thing instead. I wish I had gotten the bibimbap that I saw on the normal menu.

Seolleongtang

Upon arrival at Incheon, I figured that I'd give this Pungkyung Maru place a try. It looked like a nicely decorated restaurant from the outside, and I figured that the food had to match, right? This was a letdown too. The seolleongtang here was pretty tasteless, even if it came with a couple of huge dumplings inside. I had a much better experience with the Lotteria food court last time.

Nakji Bokkeum

And on the final leg in, I went with the Korean meal on the normal menu, which was probably the best of the bunch. Now, that didn't mean that I particularly enjoyed it, but given the letdown with previous two meals above, this spicy octopus seemed like the best thing I'd had on the entire way in.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Some Penang Cuttlefish Kang Kong

Penang Cuttlefish Kang Kong

This was unplanned. The presentation that I was supposed to attend at Resorts World Sentosa this morning was nearly an hour behind schedule. And I was starving (the coffee break was running behind schedule too!). So I figured that maybe this would be a good chance to head to the surface to get an early lunch first. I didn't have enough time to go very far, so I went into the Malaysian Food Street to see what was there.

This Penang cuttlefish kang kong seemed the healthiest of them all, as well as the most unique...at least, based on the picture on the menu. When I got it, it was drenched in all of this dark sauce. Fortunately, it wasn't as sweet as it looked (it was sweet instead), but there was so much darned sauce on this thing that they might as well have poured it into a cup and given me a straw. Note to self: next time ask them to skip the sauce.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Keong Saik Snacks by Jason Atherton

DIY Tuna Tartare and Shaved Asparagus Salad

The first - and only - time I ate at Esquina, I went away liking the quality of the food, but I was also turned off by the high prices as well as the upscale approach to it all. Indeed, I was so discouraged by it that I really had no desire to go to his restaurant at the Gardens by the Bay when it opened later.

But when I heard about his next establishment (49 Keong Saik Road, 6221-8338), I got interested. After all, it was supposed to be a cheaper, casual place serving hot dogs, but presumably with the same respect for quality ingredients as Esquina up the street? Cool. Some "snacks" before dinner sounded like exactly what I needed after eating nothing but leafy greens and fruit all day.

I liked it. I didn't get the aforementioned hot dog, but I liked the tuna tartare above as well as the salad I got along with it. Granted, each of these little plates ran about S$17 (US$14), so it wasn't as cheap as I had thought. But it was definitely cheaper than Esquina, and the service was respectably fast too. I'll come back here again.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Poulét Amazing French Roast Chicken

Chicken Roti

I have no idea what this dish is supposed to taste like. But with a tagline like that posted high above at its new outlet at Great World City (1 Kim Seng Promenade #02-K2), I couldn't help but be curious. Fortunately, it was better than I had thought: a super moist and tender chicken paired with a delicately sweet and creamy sauce underneath. I won't exactly get cravings for this (it's definitely not Zankou), but I'd eat it again. I can't believe that this is from the people behind Thai Express!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Finally Trying That Weird Green Ramen

Green Spicy Tori King Ramen

I needed a quick meal today and thus figured that this might be a good chance to finally give that weird green version at Keisuke's Tori King a try (Keisuke-san was still here today, BTW). The good thing was that the broth was hardly affected by that wasabi-based sauce. If anything, I tried to protect my broth from getting too tainted with it.

But I still couldn't get into the idea of eating the chicken with it either, as it was just too out of place for me. I wonder why he didn't use yuzu instead; chicken goes amazingly well with a bit of spicy citrus. Anyway, I'll probably end up focusing on the black version from here on out, especially if it's the same sansho-based version that he uses over at Tonkotsu King.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Japan's Tsukada Nojo in Singapore

Tori Nikomi Soba Shio

Man, this week has just been filled with Japanese restaurant openings, eh? I came down to the new Atrium@Orchard section of Plaza Singapura earlier this week to attempt a walk-in at this chicken hot pot chain from Japan, but they were completely booked for dinner. I thus figured that maybe it'd be easier to come here for lunch instead (60B Orchard Road #01-81, 6336-5003).

But when we got here today, they weren't serving the full-on bijin nabe for lunch, but rather single-serving bowls of noodles that presumably used the same savory yet mildly thick chicken stock that they used for dinner. Interestingly, it almost tasted like bouillon cubes, but I can only assume that this was done completely naturally, seeing how much they bragged about the quality of the jidori chickens that they bring in from Japan and stew for eight hours, providing lots of healthy collagen.

Anyway, the light phở-like rice noodles that I chose were exactly the light thing that I needed, and I liked it better than Keisuke's Tori King. (Keisuke really needs to offer a boneless option - seriously.) I still have yet to come here to get the proper hot pot for dinner though, so I guess I'll have to find a minute to call ahead for a reservation one of these days.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Bakmie Jakarta by Jiak Bak Mee

Bakmie Ayam Pangsit Goreng

I wasn't planning to come here this morning (117A Killiney Road). But I needed to go to the SingTel shop at ComCentre when I noticed the sign for these guys. And fortunately, they open at 10 AM every day, so I went upstairs for an early lunch.

I liked it...at least, I liked the bakmie bakso sapi set that I had featuring mie lebar wide noodles. It was basically Indonesian noodles combined with Indonesian meatballs, all fueled by a decently potent hot sauce.

It still wasn't enough food though, so I got another bowl above, this time choosing something called yamien for my noodle selection instead. Fortunately, it wasn't as sweet as I imagined it to be, but next time I'm definitely choosing the mie lebar.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Kitakata Rahmen Yamakichi, Orchard Plaza

Shio Jito Ramen

I normally wouldn't eat ramen for both lunch and dinner; one bowl is already unhealthy enough after all. But for some strange reason, a second ramen shop also picked today as their opening day, and I came down here to see what it was like. Occupying the former grounds of Noodle House Ken (150 Orchard Road #01-18), these guys specialized in kitakata ramen.

I'm not exactly any expert in kitakata ramen, but this was better than I was expecting. The broth was crisp and light, going very well with the curly noodles. Unfortunately, some of my gyoza were still cold in the center, but I'll probably be back here from time to time when I'm yearning for something light. It looks like they are open late too.

Ramen Keisuke Tori King Has Opened

Chicken Ramen Special

When I heard that Keisuke was planning to open another outlet at the refurbished 100AM mall at the Amara Hotel (100 Tras Street #03-15, 6604-6861), I marked my calendar. (Yes, Apple fanbois line up for product launches, whereas I get pumped up about ramen shop openings instead...go figure!) Actually, the mall wasn't even really open yet; the escalators were off, making me worry about whether these guys were going to meet their opening date. But the friendly staff on the ground floor were waving people to the elevators so that one knew where to go.

The place was decorated a bit like Keisuke's Tonkotsu King down the street, but was several times bigger. And the menu, as the name suggests, was not focused on pork, but chicken instead. Fortunately, Keisuke-san (who was here in person today, by the way) did a much better job of a chicken-based broth than the Nantsuttei folks tried to do with Hachifukumaru. The thick broth was savory and edgy enough to be unique, and was probably my favorite part of the bowl.

Alas, the strange thing about this meal was the giant chicken thigh with the bone still attached. Fortunately, the meat was tender enough to fall off the bone without requiring the use of one's hands, but I kinda wish there were a sans-chicken option so that I could just focus on the noodles and broth. I'll come back here to try the peculiar green version eventually though. It was apparently wasabi-based, which sounds rather off-putting. But if Keisuke-san can do as good of a job with ingredients as he has in the past, hopefully it will be more palatable than I'm imagining it to be.