Friday, May 29, 2009

Cafe d’Orient

C says:

So sorry for the radio silence. A’s been off serving the nation for the past 2 weeks, and to top it off, we’re also on somewhat of an austerity drive for various reasons, including our recent extravagant holiday. So you may hear less of us, or you’ll find us writing about slightly more modest establishments.

This cha chan teng in Sunset Way definitely fits the bill. We went there on Y’s recommendation and we were very pleasantly surprised. I judge every cha chan teng by its instant noodle dish – Streets (which now has branches at Raffles City and Liang Court) passes with flying colours, Xin Wang not so much. The one here was a soup version and it was much better than Xin Wang’s, and they were very generous with the ingredients, piling on ham, luncheon meat and an egg.

A had the pork chop baked spaghetti which was more his thing than mine, but not too bad all the same. It was a very no-frills, old-school dish – very much comfort food.

We also shared the mocha spare ribs, which were much better than expected. The meat was really juicy and tender, and the mocha flavour was distinctive yet not overpowering.

They’re currently having a 30% discount on all a la carte items, which works out to a very reasonable meal indeed. This place is definitely a viable option for when we want to eat out but don’t feel justified in splurging. Pity about the rather sad name.

A says:

The food’s pretty decent and the prices are reasonable. I’ll be back if I feel like some quick cha chan teng food in the area.

Cafe d’Orient
Block 106 Clementi St 12 (Sunset Way)
#01-38L (next to Rocky’s)
Tel: 6777-4680
Open daily: 11 am to 11 pm

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Skinny Pizza

C says:

Skinny Pizza has its own outlet at Suntec City, but it’s also available at Barracks/House at lunchtime. Inspired by tissue pratas, these pizzas aren’t really your typical Italian pizzas. No tomato sauce, hardly any cheese and paper-thin crusts, these are more like giant crackers topped with salads.

We had the wild truffled mushroom pizza, which comes with shaved parmesan cheese and lots of rocket salad. This was quite tasty and because it was so light, felt quite healthy too. They’re pretty generous with the topping, but they must be subtly cutting back in other areas cos there was barely a hint of truffle.

It was even worse with the truffle fries that the accompanied the American Sliders we ordered. I’ve always been a fan of the truffle fries here, but after not being here for quite a few months, they were very underwhelming. Previously you could smell the aroma of the truffle oil as the plate approached, but today I had to eat about 5 fries before I could detect a faint trace of it.

We shared the churros as well, which pretty much undid any element of healthiness that the skinny pizza may have offered. Deep fried dough sprinkled with icing sugar, and dipped in a combination of chocolate and condensed milk. So much for our post-holiday diet.

A says:

Some friends have told me that they’ve had bad service here, but we’ve always been treated very well.

Food-wise, the skinny pizza wasn’t really my thing although I think I’ll try another topping before I make my final call. The churros were good but also didn’t blow me away.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Food For Thought

C says:

Oh dear... it’s taken us a year and a half from our last post on the red velvet cake to actually come here for ourselves to check out the food. We were here on a Friday night and it was pretty crowded. As a result it was quite noisy, and the steady stream of orders meant the kitchen was churning out food non-stop, and soon the place had that distinct “frying garlic in small enclosed place” smell.

I had the pulled pork sandwich that I’ve been eyeing all these months, but sad to say it didn’t live up to expectation. First of all, the online menu mentions that it comes with crisp pork crackling and baby spinach leaves, but neither were present tonight. The pork itself was a bit on the dry side, and the barbeque sauce was quite average.

A had the oven roasted steak sandwich set, which came with a mushroom soup. I’m not sure if ordering the set shrinks the sandwich, because his sandwich was about a third smaller than mine. His sandwich was better than mine, but I wouldn’t say it was wonderful either. The shitake mushroom soup impressed me the most. It’s made without cream so it tastes pretty healthy and is packed full of moreish mushroom flavour.

Even the red velvet cake was a bit disappointing. Maybe it’s because they served it straight from the fridge rather than letting it come to room temperature, or maybe it had been sitting around all day, but it was nowhere near as good as the one I tried when V bought it for me at work. This time the cake was quite dense and dry, and the cream wasn’t light and creamy either. You can even tell from the photos that the one on the right doesn’t look as moist, and the cream is a bit yellowed and stiff.

Maybe this place is better at lunch or tea time, when the cakes are baked fresh. I don’t think this place is a destination, though if we’re ever at the National Library we may pop by. They do a pretty good Earl Grey tea milkshake.

PS: Be careful; I got attacked by their chair. They have simple unpolished wooden chairs and while dragging mine in, the rough underside scraped a flap of skin off my finger.

A says:

After wanting to come here for so long, I was left rather disappointed by the food. I did like the milkshake though.

I was impressed by the friendly staff, although it’s more of a DIY kind of place. You place your order at the cashier and get your plain water yourself. The water’s free but you’re encouraged to leave donations for charity when you take some.

I’m recommending this place just because of the support they give to Asian charities (without being too preachy). While the food’s not great, you do leave with a good feeling.

420 North Bridge Road
North Bridge Centre #01-06
Tel: 6338-8724
Monday to Saturday
9am to 1130am (Breakfast only)
1130pm to 230pm (Lunch Menu)
230pm to 530pm (Drinks and Desserts only)
530pm to 1030pm (last order for dinner 9pm; after 9pm drinks and dessert only)
Closed on Sundays & Public Holidays

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Queen and Mangosteen

C says:

This gastropub that opened fairly recently is currently our new favourite dining destination at VivoCity. We came here twice in the span of 3 days – once on a Saturday afternoon and the next time on Monday evening after work. Hence the dramatic difference in photo quality, and also how we managed to try 5 dishes. We may be atetoomuch, but even we have limits...

The specialities here are apparently the mini burgers, and the fish and chips. Surprisingly, both appear in the Nibbles section of the menu rather than the mains, and for the price and corresponding portion sizes (fish and chips for $12 and the burgers for $16), these are very good value.

The fish and chips are given a slightly Asian twist here. The batter has a hint of lime leaf, and it’s served with a curry tartare sauce that’s a little strange on its own, but goes well with the fish. The fish itself, 3 pretty generous pieces, is really fresh, flaky and moist.

I always make a point to ask for my burgers to be cooked medium rare, because more often than not most places don’t get it right anyway. I’m happy to say that they didn’t disappoint here. The dish comes with 3 mini burgers; the patties are about 100g each, and served with a slice each of tomato and onion. They were very simple, no-frills burgers but were juicy, done perfectly and very enjoyable.

The only proper main course we tried – lamb chops with mash and arugula salad – was good too, but at twice the price of the nibbles but almost the same size portion-wise, this isn’t the most value for money. Taste-wise the lamb was very tender, but I didn’t quite like the sweetish dressing for the arugula salad.

Hot off our new obsession with all things cheese and ham related, we also tried the duck rillette with mini baguettes, and the cheese platter. The rillette was pretty good but very oily; the cheese board was surprisingly good and actually paired very well with the rillette dish.

The slightly kooky name apparently stems from a rumour that the mangosteen was Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit. Whatever the story, the name really suits the whimsical vibe of the place.

A says:

The food is here is very good though I’m not sure it fully lives up to its gourmet pub food billing. The prices are not cheap but the large portion sizes (especially for the nibbles) and quality of the grub mean you get great value and it’s totally worth it. I’ll definitely be back to have the mini-burgers again.

The Queen and Mangosteen
#01-106/107 VivoCity1 Harbourfront Walk
Tel: 6376-9380
Sundays to Thursdays - 11am to midnight
Fridays, Saturdays and Eve of Public Holidays - 11am to 1 am

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Our trip, Part 1: Vancouver

C says:

We’re back! We had a fabulous time, and Vancouver is now our number one retirement destination, due in no small part to the availability of good food and amazing produce. We actually ate better and fancier in Vancouver than in Vegas, though maybe it’s not that surprising considering the wealth of decent fast food in the US.

As usual rather than detailing each and every thing that we ate or place where we dined, we’ll just share some of the gastronomic highlights of the trip.

Vancouver is fast becoming a foodie’s heaven. You can eat at some of the best restaurants in the city at fairly reasonable prices. In fact, even their most fine dining restaurants still retain a casual, non-intimidating vibe. They’re also very proud of their local produce, with menus everywhere proudly proclaiming that they serve “BC salmon”, to give the most common example.

One place that encapsulates everything I just mentioned is Raincity Grill. This is one of Vancouver’s fanciest restaurants, yet we still felt quite at ease and not at all patronised. They even surprised us with a platter of 3 raw oysters on the house, because they felt bad for making us wait too long between courses, even though we never complained.

Local produce is very much showcased, to the extent that they actually have a 100-Mile Tasting Menu featuring ingredients from within a 100 mile radius. Some of the highlights included a platter with five bite-sized portions of appetisers on spoons, the seared scallop with winter root vegetables, and pork loin from pigs reared so organically that the meat was prepared medium rare.

One of the reasons I was so disappointed with the meat and cheese platter from our recent visit to Don Quijote is because of the sheer variety and quality of the cured meats and cheeses that we tried in Vancouver. First, Salt Tasting Room in Gastown was one of the most interesting dining experiences I’ve had because it opened my eyes to so many different flavour pairings of meats, cheeses and condiments. The concept of Salt is simple – on a blackboard they have 10 cheeses, 10 hams and 10 condiments. You can either pick and choose 3 of each to create your own tasting plate, or leave it to the experts to choose the best pairings for you.

We selected a few, and left it to them to fill in the gaps and to create the pairings. They did a fabulous job, introducing us to ingredients and combinations that we never considered before. The blue cheese and honey was a winner, as was the Jambon Des Ardennes with quince paste. I hadn’t even tried quince paste before but now I’m a fan.

Finding Salt was an experience in itself. The address simply says Blood Alley, Gastown. We assumed Blood Alley was a cobblestoned path of some sort, and walked all of Gastown twice in an attempt to find it. We passed a dingy back lane a few times with nothing but dumpsters, but after increasingly frustrating failures to locate Blood Alley we finally stopped to peer down the back lane and noticed, far FAR off in the distance, a flag with an upside down salt shaker. Argh!

Granville Island Public Market is similar to Borough Market in London. On the plus side it opens every day, but it’s less suited to random grazing for tourists and more towards home chefs shopping for ingredients. Still, one of the highlights was a stall selling a staggering variety of cheeses, prosciutto (the common English vernacular use of the term meaning cured hams, not the generic Italian word for “ham”, so as not to offend any readers), salami and more.

The photo shows just a small selection in one corner of the display window. I was both blown away by the variety, and terribly upset that we don’t have an equivalent stall in Singapore. They do a picnic platter with a selection of cheese, prosciutto, rillette and cornichons, which of course we had to try. While not as novel as Salt, it was still very satisfying, in particular the double cream Camembert which was superbly rich and creamy.

We’d watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Vancouver shortly before we left, and one of the restaurants that was featured was Tojo’s, arguably Vancouver’s best Japanese restaurant, and these days one of the few where the namesake head chef is still very much hands-on in the kitchen. We decided to try a mid-priced omakase, and with great anticipation settled down expecting to be amazed.

I hate to say it, but we were rather underwhelmed and to this day I don’t understand why. To be fair, we were presented with flavours and textures that we’d never tried before, like tuna scraped from the bone mixed with a Japanese mountain yam, but while it was novel we didn’t find ourselves really loving it. Some of the other dishes were halibut cheek with sautéed vegetables in a soy and miso sauce, braised bluefin tuna, and a sushi platter. Strangely enough, we actually had more of a ‘wow’ reaction to the simple garlic tuna nigiri sushi in Vegas, from the MGM Grand’s perfunctory Asian restaurant, Grand Wok.

We’re still wondering why we didn’t have the mindblowing experience that we were expecting. Is it just that – did our expectations get in the way? Or are our palates just not sophisticated enough to appreciate it? This was our first ever omakase meal, so maybe we’re not used to what’s usually offered at one. If we’re ever feeling flush enough, perhaps we’ll go for one here and see if our experience is any different.

Another joint featured in No Reservations: Vancouver was Japadog – literally, Japanese hot dog. This hot dog stand probably isn’t as bizarre to us as to some Westerners, because we’re quite used to concepts of fusion Japanese food, like Jap pastas and pizzas. We tried the Okonomiyaki and the Terimayo, both with a Kurobuta pork sausage. The sausage is partially sliced while cooking, creating more surface area for crisping and charring. Paired with all the mayo, teriyaki/okonomiyaki sauce and seaweed/bonito flakes, the result is a very messy but very juicy hot dog.

A says:

Excellent food. Superb service. Awesome cold weather. One of the biggest surprises on our trip was discovering Tim Hortons, a Canadian fast food chain that does donuts, bagels and more. The donuts were crap but the bagels were awesome. We came here almost every day for breakfast.

The dining highlight of Van for me was Salt. The portion sizes are perfect and, considering the quality of food and service, very reasonably priced. A definite must-visit when in Vancouver. That’s if you can find the place, which is an adventure on its own.

After a disappointing meal at Tojo’s, I wasn’t expecting much from Raincity Grill. Thankfully, the food was excellent, although due to the large party they had there that night, service was exceptionally slow. Almost Hell’s Kitchen slow. I have to at least give credit to the staff who gave us free oysters while waiting.

I wasn’t as blown away by Granville Market or Japadog as C was. I actually prefer our quick brunch at Cafe Crepe along Robson Street.

On a whole, the only thing I found lacking in Vancouver was the coffee. All the cups I had were very mediocre. Very strange considering the strong coffee culture they have there.

Our trip, Part 2: Whistler

C says:

One of the more, if not the most, memorable restaurants of the trip was Elements Urban Tapas Lounge in Whistler. They serve food tapas-style, i.e. smallish portions meant for sharing, but the food is more fusion Canadian than Spanish. We liked it so much that we ended up having three out of four dinners there, trying new dishes each time.

We’ve featured four of the best in the collage. The roasted duck breast with hoisin sauce and avocado was my personal favourite dish, possibly of the entire trip. I’ve never had such tender and juicy duck breast before, almost melt-in-your mouth. The lamb mini burgers with mint yogurt had quite a strong lamb flavour and weren’t at all dry. The flank steak with caramelised onions and blue cheese was A’s favourite dish there, and the seared sesame-crusted tuna with a ponzu dipping sauce was also fantastic.

What is it with tapas and crepes ending up as our favourite food on holiday?! Another note-worthy place in Whistler was Crepe Montagne, an authentic French creperie where we had possibly the best crepe ever – a seafood crepe with a creamy bisque sauce. This was superb because while most crepes tend to be just creamy and cheesy, this seafood bisque sauce was so much more flavourful.

A says:

My idea of dining on a ski/snowboard trip consists of donuts, sandwiches and cup noodles. Whistler has blown all that away. In fact, we ate better in Whistler than anywhere else on our trip.

My favourite single dish of the trip was the seafood crepe at Crepe Montagne and my favourite restaurant menu was at Elements. And on a side note, if you need a really filling meal before you hit the slopes, drop by Beetroot Cafe.

Our trip, Part 3: Las Vegas

C says:

We ate so well in Canada that we decided to go pretty simple in Las Vegas. We mostly had fast food or food court fare (Panda Express!), but we did have a few interesting moments nonetheless.

Vegas is the land of buffets, with some going as low as under $15. We didn’t feel like gorging ourselves silly on poor quality food though, so we decided that the only buffet we’d go for this time was the renowned gourmet buffet at the Bellagio. Queues around dinner time are apparently legendary, but because we hadn’t had lunch, we were starving by around 5.30 and sailed in without waiting.

The Japanese section was average. The spicy tuna handrolls weren’t too bad but the nigiri sushi had way too much rice and not enough fish. The crab legs were sliced in half lengthways to make it really easy to get at the meat. Again, these were good but not fantastic, as the crab flesh had that slightly watery texture from being frozen and defrosted.

The highlights of the buffet for us were the meat/carvery section, and the dessert bar. There was quite an astounding variety of meats – prime rib, Kobe beef brisket, venison tenderloin, turkey, lamb chops and beef wellington. Side dishes included lovely grilled asparagus and sautéed button mushrooms. I think the meats made the buffet more or less worth the price ($28 on weekdays, $36 on weekends) – I asked for the prime rib to be seared and it tasted fantastic. The venison was tender and the lamb chops were really good too.

There was a staggering array of desserts, but by then I was so stuffed that I could only manage a cream puff and two helpings of a lovely cheesecake. Weekday lunches are only $20, so if the dessert selection is roughly the same, next time I may just come for lunch and focus on the desserts.

We went with cousin S to Burger Bar at Mandalay Place, Hubert Keller’s (of Fleur de Lys) innovative burger restaurant that really lets you customise your burger to your satisfaction. From the bun to the patty to the cheese to the toppings, you can build your burger exactly the way you want it.

This may be one of the best high-end burgers I’ve had. S had an Angus beef patty with mozzarella and baby spinach, A had a Ridgefield Farm beef patty with Provolone cheese, bacon, a fried egg and aioli, and I had an Angus patty with blue cheese, bacon and Portobello mushrooms. The burger was a perfect medium rare, the meat was full of flavour and the patty was loosely packed and therefore really juicy. I also like how fries are an option, so we opted out and therefore weren’t completely stuffed.

Of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without having an In-N-Out burger. Specifically a Double Double, with 2 patties, 2 slices of cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce and special sauce. This was completely different from Burger Bar but in my opinion, no less satisfying. A begged to differ, claiming that it wasn’t as good as he remembered. Well, I guess I haven’t had it as often as he has, so maybe I’m less jaded, but as far as old-school burgers go this was perfect.

Serendipity 3, that ubiquitous NYC diner featured in the movie with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, opened a branch in Las Vegas just 3 weeks before we arrived! Woo hoo! After hearing friends and family wax lyrical about the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and wondering how good it could possibly be to warrant such rave reviews, we finally got to try it for ourselves.

Well, now we know what the fuss is about. I can’t even begin to describe how good it was. It’s like nothing that I’ve tried before – not exactly a milkshake, yet not simply a cold chocolate drink because there are tiny little ice crystals in each slurp. I don’t know how they’ve managed to get such intensely chocolate flavour into a frozen drink, but they have and that first sip is truly an experience.

It comes topped with a mountain of sweet whipped cream topped with dark chocolate curls. (Ours collapsed slightly on its way to our table; it’s supposed to look more like the picture on the left.) I would advise against mixing the cream into the drink, which is what we did. Firstly, the sheer amount of cream is a heart attack waiting to happen, and if you eat it separately you can control how much you consume. More importantly, the cream tends to water down the intensity of the chocolate, so drinking it neat is the best way to appreciate it.

Well, clearly we need to do double time at the gym to make up for everything that we consumed on our trip. Do let us know if you want more details for the various places that we visited.

A says:

OMG! Serendipity 3 is one of the most amazing restaurants EVER! I could feel my arteries getting clogged as I went through the mountain of cream on the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. Plus the portion sizes are HUGE!

The Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay also rocked. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have gone there on the same day as In-N-Out. The In-N-Out burger really can’t compare.

Finally, never, never, NEVER eat at the food court at the Luxor. I felt sick enough to puke after the chilli dog I had there.