Sunday, December 31, 2006
Alas, A’s been hit by a particularly bad bout of gastric flu since Friday, probably from a dodgy fried bread curry puff thing. It’s kinda put a dampener on our New Year’s revelries, but we still managed to drag ourselves out to Tampopo at Liang Court for a quick New Year’s Eve dinner before heading over to the National Museum to catch our friend P’s performance at the Countdown.
Tampopo is a ramen joint tucked away in the basement of Liang Court, within Meidi-ya supermarket. It was the last ramen joint on our must-try list after hearing about their famous ‘Black Pig’ ramen. (Black pig is also known as Berkshire pork, or Kurobuta pork in Japan, and is prized for its fine marbling of fat and exceptional flavor. Berkshire pork is well known for its perfect combination of juiciness, flavor and tenderness.)
Tampopo certainly didn’t disappoint. I ordered the Black Pig Shabu Ramen, which was ramen in a spicy Kyushu (pork bone) soup with wafer-thin slices of pork. The ramen and soup were nothing spectacular; what shone through was the pork – each slice was lined with thin layers of fat, and each mouthful literally melted in the mouth. It was really some of the best pork I’ve ever had.
A had a simple miso ramen because he wanted something really basic that would wreak the least havoc on his tummy. It may have been simple but the soup was still very tasty.
Since we were in a restaurant specializing in Berkshire pork, I couldn’t resist ordering a black pig tonkatsu to share. Once again, one bite and it was clear that it was no ordinary katsu. The pork was meltingly tender and juicy, without any hint of dryness.
I’m definitely very impressed with the place; service was very polite and the food exceeded our expectations. We’re already making plans to come back because we saw quite a number of other dishes that we really want to try as well.
Happy New Year, everyone!
I quite like the place. Generally friendly staff and lots of stuff I won’t mind trying. Portions are enough for two people to each have a ramen and still share a large side. Besides the ramen, the other stuff looked pretty good too.
#B1-50 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Opens: 11.30am to 10pm daily
(No reservations for weekend dinners – walk-in only)
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Before Thursday night, I was a Morton’s virgin (even A has been here before), and after hearing and reading so much about it, we finally had the opportunity to go. Since it’s definitely a pricey restaurant, we had to find an occasion, so on A’s birthday we went for dinner with his parents.
I expected a very formal, fine dining experience because I’ve been told that it’s a very quiet and romantic restaurant, where people speak in hushed tones and you’d feel uncomfortable if you accidentally clinked your fork against the plate too loudly. Which is why I was very surprised to see the restaurant three-quarters full when we walked in, with children at a fair number of tables. There was also a pretty high level of background noise, to the point where you’d have to speak quite loudly to your dining companion to be heard. Suits me fine; I hate restaurants where you can hear a pin drop and I have to restrain myself from talking too loudly and seeming uncouth.
The Morton’s experience begins with the waiter pushing a trolley laden with – a large silver platter with one cut each of the steaks that they serve (bone-in ribeye, Porterhouse, New York strip steak, double cut Fillet Mignon, and double Porterhouse) so you can see the monstrous sizes, a live Maine lobster (poor thing), a fillet each of tuna and of salmon, and some perfunctory vegetables like jumbo asparagus. The waiter then proceeds to recite the entire menu by heart, at train wreck speed, whilst pointing to the corresponding items on the trolley for your visual gratification. After he’s done, you’re none the wiser about what they offer (unless you’re sitting near the blackboard with the menu, like we were), and they give you the menu anyway so you can decide what you want.
The portions here are absolutely huge, so if you think about it, it’s not that expensive since 2 people can easily share a starter, steak and dessert and still be very full. The bone-in ribeye and Porterhouse steaks weigh in at a ridiculous 680 grams each (about one and a half pounds), and cost $84 and $86 respectively. A double-cut Porterhouse (1.3 kg; 3 pounds) is $172.
What I like about the place is that they don’t try to make you spend as much as possible. The waiter actually advised us that a double Porterhouse and a bone-in ribeye for 4 of us to share was way too much, and told us a single Porterhouse and ribeye would be more than sufficient. Sure enough, it was.
We ordered the Porterhouse and the ribeye because those seem to be their specialties. The ribeye comes with the huge rib attached (photo right).
The Porterhouse (below) is essentially a larger version of a T-bone steak. On one end of the T-bone is the striploin, and on the other end is the tenderloin (fillet). So you essentially get to try two different cuts of meat on one steak.
We ordered both of them medium rare, after ascertaining that their medium rare wasn’t a medium in disguise. The steaks were both cooked perfectly, and because their meat is aged for three to four weeks, even the rare bits in the centre were pink but weren’t bloody at all. Out of the three different types of meat that we had, we were surprised to find that the striploin from the Porterhouse was the best. It had the best mix of flavour and tenderness. The tenderloin was a tad flat-tasting, and the ribeye was sinewy in some places, probably because of how thick the cuts are – almost 2 inches before cooking.
The meat had a good chargrilled flavour, but it wasn’t as tender as I expected it to be. A said the last time he went, he had the Prime Rib ($95) and he said that in comparison, the Prime Rib was much better. Maybe it’s because they use both US and Australian beef – because of import regulations, any beef imported from the US can’t have any bones, so all the bone-in steaks at Morton’s are Australian beef; the only items that are US beef are the boneless ribeye, and the Prime Rib.
We shared a hot chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert as well. It costs a whopping $23, but when they heard that it was A’s birthday, they were sweet enough to give it to us on the house. Apparently it used to be called Godiva chocolate cake, but they’ve since stopped using Godiva chocolate so now it’s just called hot chocolate cake. It was pretty good, one of the better ones I’ve had. They clearly use good quality chocolate because the oozy centre is luxuriously fine and smooth.
I must say that my first time at Morton’s, though far from a disappointment, didn’t quite live up to the sky high expectations that I had. I’m now racking my brains to think of another special occasion when we can come back and try the prime rib next.
The place was way more busy than the last time I went many years ago. If memory serves me, only 3 or 4 tables were occupied and it was pretty dark like an old school Chicago steakhouse back then.
I particularly remember being blown away by the size and the taste of the prime rib. The waiter recommended it but we decided to try the other steaks instead. We really should have listened to him because while the steaks were good, given the high expectations, I was seriously under-whelmed.
I’m glad me mum gave the waiter a nice tip. The service was great although a bit slow. Probably because of the crowd, which C thinks was due to the holiday/bonus season. I guess we’ll see when we next go back.
On a side note, although the focus is usually on the huge mains (with minimal garnishing), I must say that the sides are very, very good as well.
Morton's of Chicago
4th floor, Oriental Singapore
5 Raffles Avenue
Dinner only, from 5 pm
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Whenever we go to La Mian/Xiao Long Bao restaurants like Crystal Jade and Din Tai Fung, A and I are actually bigger fans of the xiao long baos than the la mian. In fact, we always just share one la mian, and load up on the xiao long baos. For some reason, at both restaurants I’ve yet to find a la mian dish that I can call my favourite. I don’t like dan dan mian because it’s too peanut-y, and Crystal Jade’s various versions of la mian always end up tasting the same – like noodles drenched with mapo tofu sauce. Tasty enough, but not warranting repeat orders. Din Tai Fung has less choices, and we end up ordering either the beef or pork chop noodles in soup.
Which is why I was quite psyched when my sister-in-law told me about her current favourite dish at Crystal Jade – the kou shui ji (loosely translated as saliva chicken. Probably intended to mean that you’ll drool when you see/eat it, rather than any other grosser reason). We headed to the Scotts branch on Wednesday night to try it out, and also to see what’s left of Scotts and bid it a fond farewell before it shuts its doors for good in a few days’ time.
The kou shui ji is basically steamed or poached chicken, the white chicken rice kind, topped with a delicious sauce that seems to be a mixture of the chili sauce/oil that they provide in the restaurant, ground peanuts and chopped spring onion. You can either order the chicken on its own ($7 for a portion), or get a set for $16.80 that includes half a chicken, some la mian, Japanese cucumbers and century egg. We opted to share one set, and got a couple of portions of xiao long bao too.
The waitresses warned us that the kou shui ji dish is cold, and it certainly was, down to the noodles as well. But it was really good – the sauce was just right for me; any more peanuts and it would have been too much. It was spicier than expected but still completely manageable. The combination of textures in the dish was great as well – the chicken was smooth and tender, the cucumber was cold and crunchy, and the century egg provided a rich and creamy taste. The noodles were average, but I figure they’re just meant to be vehicles to mop up the sauce.
One thing to note though – the chicken isn’t boneless, so if you’re like A, who only eats boneless chicken, there’s only the breast meat portion of the half chicken for you. A ended up having all the breast meat and about 80% of the noodles, which suited me fine. I went low carb, and had the rest of the half chicken – wing, thigh and the rest of the good bits.
I can safely say that I’ve personally found a dish that I will be ordering again and again whenever we go to CJLMXLB (can their name be any longer…). As for their xiao long baos though, they were a little disappointing and no where near the standard of Din Tai Fung, in my opinion. There was insufficient soup in the baos, and the skin was really thick and starchy. It was quite ok when the baos first arrived and we ate them hot, but once they cooled down, the skin got cold and tough. Din Tai Fung’s baos are much more refined, with much thinner skin which doesn’t overpower the meat filling.
I guess if we want noodles, we’ll go to CJLMXLB for the kou shui ji set, but if we have a craving for xiao long bao, I’ll still satisfy it at Din Tai Fung instead.
It's sad to see what's become of Scott's in its final days. The food court was pretty decent and one of the best when it opened way back in the day. Always too crowded for me to want to go though.
Anyway, the service at CJLMXLB was good as with all CJ restaurants. I've realized I prefer Asian noodles cold and spicy so the dish was pretty much up my alley (except for the Century Egg and bones in chicken). Decent portions to share if you order a side or two.
As for Xiao Long Bao, since I douse the thing in vinegar and don't really taste the bao, i think I prefer this to Ding Tai Fung, just cause it's cheaper.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
We’ve finally found a place in Singapore that sells Sarawak laksa again. I discovered this dish through my grandmother, who still makes the best one I’ve had, but since I can’t ask her to cook it all the time, it’s been an ongoing quest to find somewhere, anywhere in Singapore, that sells this. There was a stall ages ago in China Square, S will remember, but it closed down after a while.
This set the trend for all other Sarawak laksa stalls that I managed to find. I’d find one, be thrilled and have it once, and the next time I went back it would have closed down. I guess Singaporeans may be used to local or even Penang laksa, but Sarawak laksa is still unknown to almost everyone. It has a taste that I simply cannot accurately describe – it’s not sour like Penang laksa, nor rich like local laksa. It’s just… different. It’s like a curry noodle but not as rich. It’s a dish that has to be tasted to be understood.
You can imagine my delight when I realized there was a Sarawak stall in one of the food courts near my in-laws’ place. The corner stall sells only Sarawak laksa and Sarawak Kolo mee. We went on Sunday and decided to try both dishes. The Sarawak laksa really hit the spot – it was really authentic, down to the thin beehoon used, and the garnishing of taugeh, chicken, prawns and sliced omelette.
As for the Kolo mee, it was the first time I’ve tried it, which is apparently a Sarawak take on won ton mee. It’s chewy egg noodles tossed with onion and char siew oil, and served with char siew, minced pork and some vegetables. At first glance it seems a little colourless and bland, but after a mouthful I was pleasantly surprised. The noodles are delightfully springy, and it tasted very uncomplicated and clean, yet still had a subtle flavour of the char siew oil. It may not be all that healthy but it certainly tasted so.
I do hope this stall sticks around for a while. I’ve recently read that a few more Sarawak restaurants/stalls have been popping up, so I hope I can get a more regular fix of my Sarawak laksa and now, kolo mee.
C can have the Sarawak laksa since I prefer the Katong version. I’m a big fan of the kolo mee though. Simple clean taste mixes well with char siew oil. Think we’ll come back now and then since it’s near my folks’ place. Mad props to my mum for pointing this place out!
Sarawak Laksa stall
Block 130, Jurong East
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Some of you may remember that we were unceremoniously turned away when we tried to have lunch at Au Petit Salut the day we left for our trip. Undeterred, we called the day we landed for a lunch reservation the next day, and were (grudgingly) given an outdoor table, with strict instructions that they “hold the reservation for only 15 minutes”.
The set lunch is very good value at $22+++; you can get an Executive set lunch for $38+++, but the choice isn’t as varied. For the regular set lunch, there are about 5 or 6 choices each for starter, main and dessert.
I had the pork rillette to start off, and A had the escargots with garlic butter. The rillette was pretty much like a pate, quite fatty but very good when eaten with some baguette.
I decided on the Pan-seared ‘Onglet’ beef with confit shallots and French fries. This was pretty much a seared steak, and done to a perfect medium rare, as requested. The fries were light and crisp, and the shallots were tasty, if a bit overpowering.
A had a grilled tuna which was slightly disappointing, in the sense that even though we were asked if we wanted the tuna done rare and we said yes, it still arrived almost cooked through except a tiny pink centre. It was quite tasty with the tomato-based sauce, though, but it would’ve been so much better if it had been less cooked.
I had a chestnut mousse cake for dessert and A had a very gelak crème brulee.
Overall, and pending being able to get reservations of course, I wouldn’t mind coming back here for a very good value lunch. Iggy’s is still tops, but that’s an unfair comparison really, since Iggy’s lunch costs twice as much.
Good enough food though I expected better from the place’s reputation. Service was surprisingly friendly since I had expected them to be snooty. Biggest surprise was how packed it was with Japanese tai-tais. The place was crawling with them. Overall, I think it’s not bad, but I won’t be top of my list of places to go for lunch. Note to self: cappuccino better than latte.
Au Petit Salut
Blk 44 Jln Merah Saga #01-54
Lunch: 11.30 am – 2.30 pm (closed for lunch on Sat)
Dinner: 6.30 pm – 10.30 pm
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
We’re back! Don’t worry, we’re not going to launch into a detailed review of all the stuff that we ate over our two-week trip, because that would just bore everyone senseless. Rather, we’ll just give a brief summary of the highlights of our culinary adventures in the far North…
One of our first and most memorable meals was in Zetor, in Helsinki. It’s a funky restaurant and the menus are designed to look like tabloid newspapers, with creative names for their dishes. The starter we shared, a blini cooked in clarified butter served with red onion, sour cream and salmon roe, was absolutely delicious.
On our various husky, reindeer and snowmobile excursions, we had lunch stops in little huts or tepees seemingly in the middle of nowhere, yet equipped with pots, pans and crockery for serving up surprisingly yummy food. Reindeer meat featured in all 3 meals – a reindeer stew with potatoes and carrots for one, and a delicious sautéed reindeer which was cooked with just butter and some salt. All cooked over a huge open fire out in the wilderness.
Being the Amazing Race junkies that we are, we couldn’t not pay a visit to Kappeli in Helsinki – a lovely café overlooking the main Esplanade park. (In the latest season, the racers had to come here to access some messages from home that contained their next clue.) They only had their Christmas lunch menu available, with two main course choices, so A and I had one each – a grilled pikeperch pillet and a fillet of beef. Both were really good – the beef was tender, and the charred edges of the fish gave it great flavour.
No visit to Helsinki would be complete without a visit to Fazer, Finland’s oldest confectioner. They mass produce chocolates for sale, almost like the Cadbury of Finland, but in the Fazer Café, they have the most delightfully light and delicious desserts as well as their signature chocolates. A had their Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream, and I had an incredible swiss roll-esque dessert with sponge fingers, cream, peanuts and jam. Both were absolutely heavenly.
We had some interesting food in Norway, the highlight of which was dinner at Stortorvets Gjestgiveri, Oslo’s oldest restaurant. Again, only their Christmas menu was available, so we ended up having two of Norway’s most traditional Christmas dishes. The first was Pinnekjøtt - rib of lamb, which has been salted, smoked with birch and dried. It is served plainly steamed, with boiled potatoes and mashed root vegetables. It wasn’t as salty as I expected; it was incredibly tender, with an intense lamb flavour. It’s served in two servings, but after the first and absolutely huge serving which I had to struggle to finish, there was no way I could handle the second (albeit smaller, apparently) serving. A had the Christmas pork platter, containing sausage, roast pork, pork patties and pork ribs. Again, the portion was utterly huge, but absolute heaven for pork lovers.
Another interesting restaurant was D/S Louise in Aker Brygge, which is a hip new precinct in Oslo. The restaurant is designed to look like the interior of a luxury ship, and occasionally they play recordings of ship horns. Maybe it was our imagination, but I could’ve sworn I felt the floor sway a little too… I had a very good but very filling bouillabaisse here, chock full of fish, prawns, mussels, asparagus and a grilled scallop.
All in all, from our experience I think that both as a city and a gastronomic destination, Finland has more to offer than Norway. Somehow the food in Finland has that extra something, perhaps it’s more inspired, or simply just prepared with more heart. The take-out salmon that we bought for dinner one night from Stockmann, a department store in Helsinki, was more satisfying than the food at some of Oslo’s supposedly good bistro restaurants. Similarly, Helsinki as a city is just more charming and inviting than Oslo. We’ll be back… in the not so near future, perhaps, but we’ll be back.
Nice, clean place. Food was good and almost satisfied my salmon mania. Salmon ROCKS!
Not as nice as Finland but had more variety in landscape. Also, huge proportion of pretty girls. Too insanely expensive a country though. You even have to pay 5-10 Kroner (S$2+) to use the public toilets. And the difficulty in finding toilets makes me think these people are a severely constipated lot.
Maybe worth a short visit, but it’s not worth going back. If we do, I’ll just have hot dogs. According to a magazine article I read there, hot dogs are hugely popular there, even though I didn’t see any stands till in transit at the airport. But the hot dog that we did have there was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Also, they drink lots of coffee in Scandinavia so most places make a good latte. Surprisingly, their cappuccinos are good too. Must be in the rich milk they use.